The 90’s were the Golden Age of what is known as Contemporary Christian Music. Christian radio was still a pretty new thing, pioneered by KLTY and a few others, and so the radio data analysts hadn’t had time to ruin it, and the music it played along with it. Ashley burst on the scene at the beginning of the period, and Caedman’s Call made their way on-stage as the period ended. (Like the 60’s, the CCM 90’s don’t directly coincide with the decade; I generally use ‘88-’97; by the late ’80’s, production in CCM had generally risen to something approaching the rest of the industry, and of course ’97 is the year CCM died.) In between we had the Billy’s (Crockett and Sprague), The Kry, Jars, Kim Hill, Third Day, peak Margaret Becker, the original (good) Newsboys, the genre-defying d.c. Talk, bible scholar masquerading as singer Michael Card, SC2. Oh, and that guy that never wore shoes at his concerts.
And a band that gave you an idea of what the Beatles might have sounded like had Paul and John been able to get along a while longer. This band had had a couple of different names by the time Brown Bannister signed them to a recording contract, and they had taken a third by the time they released their first album. Unfortunately, they picked a name used by another band (who threatened to sue), so they had to change it yet again. That one, PFR, finally stuck.
They were literate, they were tight, and they wrote some of the best pop rock songs put on the radio since Abbey Road’s medley. “Trials Turned to Gold,” “Say,” “Wonder Why”, the list goes on. They are three minutes of awesomeness, a throwback to 60’s singles. Their albums, especially Them and Great Lengths, have held up well; they sound just as good today as they did when they were released twenty years ago.
Earlier this year, while reading a “best of 2017” music post, I found out PFR’s founder and lead singer, Joel Hanson, was still doing music. His album Let Me Tell You Everything made it onto someone’s list. The whole album is great, but the fourth track is the one we’re here to talk about.
What are you doing, hanging around with
People of doubtful reputations?
It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t look right
We’ve got ourselves a situation
“Mumble and Groan” is one of those songs you hear a dozen times before you pay any attention to the lyrics. It opens with an acoustic bounce and just a dash of banjo, has a great chorus, and in general reminds you of vintage PFR.
And then one day you actually listen to what it’s saying.
This thing you’re doing, it makes us look bad
Aren’t you supposed to be on our side?
It’s the story of the Pharisees (the literal ones, not metaphorical ones), a privileged few who are wondering why the Messiah they’ve been waiting for for so long isn’t doing things the way they want them done. And why he’s hanging around with the “wrong king of people.”
How come you’re spending so much of your time
Looking for pennies on the pavement?
They were the influencers, the powerful, the people in charge (if you can be “in charge” when you’re a subjugated people of the Roman empire). The Messiah was going to be the most in charge person ever, so naturally he would be looking to them to do his thing, and his thing was going to be to throw off the Roman yoke, which would of course put them (the Pharisees) really in charge.
Except Jesus didn’t do any of that.
What are you doing, hanging around with people of doubtful reputations?
It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t look right, we’ve got ourselves a situation
He didn’t talk about restoring Israel to her (in their mind) rightful place at the top of the heap; He talked about God’s kingdom. He didn’t talk about the exclusivity of all their rules and regulations and traditions; He talked about repentance and how much God loved them. He didn’t hang around with the powerful and spiritual1, with those that kept the rules and traditions; He talked about coming for the sick, and spent all of his time with (in their mind) low-lifes. Finally, they couldn’t take it anymore. And when people in power start to lose their grip on it, they start name-calling.
And now you go and share your table with thieves
With ****s and sinners
And where are we?
The song couldn’t be more relevant. America is filled with people who feel they’re losing their grip on their power, and they’re reacting accordingly.
One group has watched the (in their mind) “low-lifes” slowly encroach more and more on their territory. They thought they were firmly in charge, and suddenly they found themselves on the outside. They don’t like it, and they’re fighting it tooth and nail. They’ve reached the point of name-calling and making stuff up in order to try to hold on to what they think they have.
You probably agreed with that entire paragraph, and you identified the “one group” as the other group, the group you’re not in. The good news is that you’re right. The bad news is the person in the other group that read it and identified your group as the problem are right, too. That “one group” is all of us.
And we can’t make it make sense
So we just mumble and groan
We have all become mumblers and groaners. And, although it’s sad when anyone does that, it’s especially distressing when followers of Jesus (including me) do it. All of us were the “low-lifes” (1 Cor 6:9–11) before we gave ourselves to Him, but somehow we all drift towards becoming Pharisees—holders of imaginary power desperately trying not to lose it.
Followers of Jesus need to follow Jesus. He cared not a whit for politics. Or power (“although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped”). He cared about “low-lifes”. About repentance. About God’s kingdom. About being obedient to His Father.
His followers need to be doing the opposite of mumbling and groaning.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world… Phil 2:14–15
Mumblers/groaners/grumblers/moaners, or lights in the world. Which do we want to be?