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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Smith’s ‘World’ offers safe exploration

Nicole Sheets

My West Virginia hometown hugs the Ohio River and has many recommending features, but it’s not what we would call a hotspot for live music. Michael W. Smith hails from a town nearby, so his “Change Your World” tour made it to the Huntington Civic Arena.

Smith’s brand of Christian pop on this album has echoes of Peter Cetera, Toto and Paula Abdul. Nearly every song has at least one key change.

Although “Change Your World” is labeled Christian music, it would not have flown with my church at the time. A drum machine could not lead others to our Savior. Do not get them started on the dangers of electric guitars.

In high school, I was nothing if not earnest about my walk with Christ. I wore T-shirts from the Christian bookstore at the mall. I kept a journal tracking prayers prayed and prayers answered.

And I knew lyrics that lifted up my Lord were not antithetical to a funky, fresh beat.

My parents’ compromise: I could listen to all of the Contemporary Christian music I wanted, but I couldn’t talk about it at church. (My brother faced a similar policy regarding the Harry Potter series.)

Like an arm slid around a shoulder, Smith suavely combines songs about romantic love with more pumped-up worship tunes. He avoids the ambiguous “you” of some worship music. Smith’s antecedents are clear; the love songs pair “you” with a clarifying “girl.” In the duet “Somewhere, Somehow,” he and Amy Grant bandy the “you” between them.

“I Wanna Tell the World” sounds like it could be about proclaiming the Gospel from rooftops, but it’s about falling in love at first sight (“Now I thank the Lord for a love like yours / cause I know it’s gonna last forever.”). I chastely crushed on Michael W. Smith as I held out hope for a story like that, for some faithful hottie to scout me out at the mall or at youth group all-night bowling. That the boys at school who wore NIN and Sebadoh shirts caught my eye, rather than the ones with their Teen Study Bibles, was a conundrum I hadn’t yet figured out.

Need I clarify that I attended this concert with my friend Sarah and my dad?

Listen to one of Smith’s best-known songs, “Friends,” (“friends are friends forever / if the Lord’s the Lord of them”), and picture youths gathered around a church camp bonfire on that last, high-voltage night, that night when you testify about the Lord’s work in your heart, that night when a prayerful group hug might mean you briefly touch a boy’s flannel shoulder.

“Change Your World” was a safe way for me to explore, even blur different kinds of love. That’s surely a vital experience for young people, whether or not they wear their faith on their sleeve.

Nicole Sheets teaches in the English department at Whitworth University. If you have a Story of the Album to tell, email carolynl@spokesman.com.
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