In the past week, it’s suddenly become commonly accepted wisdom that congregational singing is dangerous. We’ve been told that singing together in church could lead to a “super-spreading event.” We’ve been warned that if we sing together in worship, we will expose ourselves to higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Except that none of that is verifiably true.

Does singing together spread COVID-19? The correct scientific answer is: possibly.

We have anecdotal evidence of people being infected after a choir practice. We have a study from 1968 on tuberculosis. However, a causal link between singing and the spreading of COVID-19 has not yet been scientifically established.

But you wouldn’t know that from how pastors and church leaders are talking about it.

Two weeks ago, TGC posted an article with the click-baity title “Is Congregational Singing Dangerous?” (Implied answer: yes.) This week, an article by Houston pastor Steve Bezner has been making the rounds. In it, Bezner claims: “Some studies have suggested that singing—yes, singing—spreads respiratory droplets further than coughing.”

Notice the key word: suggested. Apparently the mere claim that “some studies have suggested” is enough to count for empirically verified science in some circles. But hold on a minute… when you actually drill down into the details to learn what science has established, a different picture emerges:

So, just line up the data: COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets; singing produces aerosolized particles, which are even smaller than droplets; choirs have gotten sick after singing together; therefore singing is dangerous! Case closed, right?

Except that’s not how science works. Correlation does not equal causation. As a researcher quoted in the Guardian article points out: “The evidence for a link with singing and spreading the virus may look compelling but is still anecdotal… Without data from comparably large groups who interacted in the same way but didn’t sing, it’s hard to be certain that the singing was responsible.”

In private correspondence, a pulmonologist who runs the COVID ward at his local hospital made the same point: “We know from news reports that churches have been identified as areas where concentrated transmission has taken place. Singing? Close proximity? Fellowship? We cannot tell which one is responsible.”

At least one researcher, in fact, claims to have evidence that singing ISN’T the cause of the choir outbreaks. Professor Christian Kähler of Military University Munich told the Guardian: “I have been studying how droplets and aerosols behave for decades, and I was very doubtful that musicians and singers were spreading the virus. So I decided to measure just how strong was the airflow from them… We studied singing in low and high frequencies… And based on the flow analysis we did of these performances… [we] found out that singing is quite safe. It was not the cause of the outbreaks of Covid-19 at these concerts. Air was only propelled about half a metre in front of a singer, and that is not far enough to cause the infection levels of these outbreaks.”

Now: we’re learning more about COVID-19 every day. It’s possible that further research will establish a definitive link between singing and spreading. But we shouldn’t act as if such a link exists when it doesn’t.

Some authors on this issue have done a fair job hedging their bets (“While the data is still coming in, it appears the path forward is wise caution… singing may generate more risk than normal speech,” writes Ken Boer at TGC). But others have made outright false statements (“the virus spreads through singing,” Steve Bezner claims). Part of the dynamic at play in this moment is the proliferation of secondary sources (blogs, Medium posts, Twitter threads, etc) where reputable sources (epidemiologists, biologists, infectious disease specialists) draw inferences and make their own conclusions in an attempt to offer their “expert opinion” on what we should do. Though at times these insights can be helpful, they’ve created a nebulous universe of pseudo-science where hasty and unverified conclusions are shared with frightening speed and presumed authority. For instance, in an article linked by Bezner, Erin Bromage, a Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, flatly assumes that the Skagitt Valley Chorale became sick through singing: “Deep-breathing while singing facilitated those respiratory droplets getting deep into the lungs. Two and half hours of exposure ensured that people were exposed to enough virus over a long enough period of time for infection to take place.” Bromage claims to know that “deep breathing while singing” caused the infection in the chorale members, despite the fact that this has never been established. As the L.A. Times reports: “There is still much to learn about the choir outbreak, starting with the original source of the virus… the county official said she hoped that a study would be conducted someday to determine how the infection spread.”

In Bezner’s defense, he’s likely taking Bromage’s word for it and treating his assertion as an established scientific fact. But Bezner would have been wise to check the primary sources himself. And this is the problem I’m trying to address: a telephone game that’s leading to great confusion among church leaders. Bromage on his blog draws an unverified conclusion; Bezner on his blog assumes and amplifies Bromage’s assertion; a church planter I know reads Bezner’s blog and shares it with his church; and the average person in the pew walks away convinced that congregational singing is dangerous.

The way each church treats the questions at hand (choosing to gather or not gather, sing or not sing, wear masks or not wear masks, etc) is up to them. My purpose in this post is to urge us to strive for accuracy and precision in how we talk about this. The past three months have created heightened anxiety and fear and concern in all of us. If we now give God’s people the impression that singing is certifiably dangerous, we do them a great disservice.

*ADDENDUM*
Some have asked: granting my point that the evidence is merely anecdotal and not scientifically verified… isn’t that still a good enough reason to refrain from singing in worship? It is not my goal in this post to address the “should we or should we not” question. My point is summarized in the title: please stop saying singing is dangerous. My concern is not with what churches choose to do, but with the way their justification of these decisions treats a possibility as a certainty, creating unwarranted fear, anxiety, and division within the people of God.

If you’re a parent, one of your most important responsibilities is protecting your children – and yourself – from the torrent of degrading, disgusting, and depraved material that’s out there on the internet. The same network connection that brings much good – online education, gospel proclamation, and funny videos – can also be a source of tremendous evil. And with a global pandemic making us more dependent on the internet than ever before, we need to be vigilant about protecting those we love. Which is why you need to install a router-level internet filter.

Using parental controls on your individual devices is like putting a water filter on every single faucet. A better solution would be to install a water filter on the main water line coming into your house. And that’s what router-level filtering software (i.e. DNS resolution software) does. It filters your internet traffic at the source – your main router connection – so that every “downstream” device that connects to your wi-fi is automatically protected.

A company called Cloudflare just introduced a new DNS-filtering product last week. I personally use a different DNS-filtering solution, so I haven’t installed this one personally. But a IT-specialist friend of mine highly recommended the new Cloudflare product and advised that every Christian family should consider installing it. It’s totally free, it’s regularly updated, and it filters out both adult content and malware. You can install this internet filter in just minutes with a mild level of proficiency – and even if you’re a total tech novice, there’s probably someone in your immediate circle of friends who can help you get it up and running.

One caveat: solutions like this only work for internet traffic; they don’t filter your cellular connection. So if your household owns devices that have both wi-fi and cellular (like smartphones), you’ll still need to address the cellular side of the equation. (Which is why, in our household, we stick to wi-fi-only devices.)

Would you let your kids wander dangerous neighborhoods alone? Would you let them start conversations with any stranger at the playground? Would you let them play with dangerous weapons? Then don’t let them near an unfiltered internet connection either. Lock your wi-fi down with a DNS-level solution like Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 for Families. It’s a simple and easy way to love and lead your family.

In times of uncertainty, one of the ways Christians should be distinct is in our application of wisdom. We serve a wise and understanding God; we are called to be “a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6). We have a whole genre of Scripture called Wisdom Literature, and in a moment like this, it’s Wisdom Literature that should ground us and guide us.

Here are five ways to live with wisdom in the midst of a global medical pandemic:

  1. Don’t believe everything you hear. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). There is a LOAD of misinformation out there, even from normally reliable sources. In a moment like this, all news agencies want to get “the scoop,” and widespread anxiety rewards sensationalism and excess. Sloppy journalists have been caught re-tweeting secondary sources rather than doing the hard work to verify the facts on the ground. So in this moment, it’s wise to live by the adage: “trust but verify.”
  2. Don’t assume the future. “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). Anxiety brings tomorrow’s worries into today. If you’re watching what’s happening in Italy and assuming that’s what’s going to happen in Omaha – you’re doing the very thing Jesus counsels against. Wisdom doesn’t assume the future; wisdom lives patiently and wisely in the present. In this moment, there are SOME people (epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, and so forth) who get paid to predict what COULD happen, so they can help us act to KEEP that from happening. Unless you’re one of those people, you shouldn’t be worrying about the what-if’s and the what-could-be’s. (Nor should you be sharing the what-if’s and what-could-be’s on social media. That only spreads anxiety to others rather than helping them grow in wisdom.)
  3. Be slow to speak, and don’t speak of what you don’t know. “Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly.” (Proverbs 16:22). From my social media feed, it appears that suddenly everyone has become an expert on coronavirus. Suddenly everyone feels qualified to instruct on best-practices or pass judgment on what a city, government official, or church leader did or didn’t do. Wise Christians don’t join the chorus of folly in moments like this. Rather, wise Christians are prayerful, patient, and discerning; they speak calmly and with gentle wisdom. They know that the common good depends on steady, wise sharing of credible information from reliable sources.
  4. Be a person of peace, not anxiety. “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). Wise people are peaceful, gentle, reasonable, and merciful in the midst of a crisis. They shun panic and despair. They avoid doomsday prognostications and worst-case scenarios. They take action patiently and diligently. And they are able to do so because they have steadied their internal world through prayer and communion with God: “I have stilled and quieted my soul” (Psalm 131:2).
  5. Don’t fear bad news. “[The righteous person] is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7-8). This doesn’t mean the righteous person won’t GET bad news; it means he doesn’t live in fear of that news. God’s people will be affected by this pandemic. Some of us will be infected. But Christians do not live in fear of sickness and death; rather, we taunt death (1 Corinthians 15:55), because Jesus has already defeated it. In moments like this, rather than capitulating to the same fears of the society around us, we can live with joyful confidence in the God who has triumphed over death.
We’re all living through the same moment. What sets Christians apart is HOW we live through this moment. May we live as a people marked by wisdom… and may that wisdom show forth in ways that glorify our Creator and Redeemer.

I recently took a sabbatical. And one of the joys of being on sabbatical is that you can devote time and attention and energy to pursuits that otherwise might seem frivolous and tangential and unrelated to your actual vocation. That’s how this heavy metal timeline came to be.

On sabbatical, I was hanging out with a group of friends we call “The Soul Brothers.” The Soul Brothers are music lovers, and one night we got to talking about music. I asked my friend Steve, who’s a heavy metal aficionado, what qualifies a song as “heavy metal.” Apart from “you know it when you hear it,” what defining features separate heavy metal from regular old rock-n-roll? And that started us down a rabbit hole from which we never really extricated ourselves. Our brief Google research unearthed theories upon theories upon theories… and of course, every artist wants to defy categories, which leads to endless debate over whether such-and-such artist should properly be understood as thrash metal or hardcore or crust punk or post-hardcore or something else. In the end, the Soul Brothers issued a challenge: why not answer my own question?  They charged me to use my teaching gifts to create an accessible “family tree” for heavy metal bands – one that doesn’t encompass every band and sub-genre and metalhead nuance, but that explains the basic evolution of the genre for the casual listener.

This post is the result of that challenge. Rather than a family tree, I built a timeline that traces the basic “flow” and evolution of the musical style known as heavy metal. Many of the explanatory nuggets below are cut-and-pasted from various sources I scoured over multiple days of internet research. I make no claim to originality for any of it. The descriptions below are largely borrowed from other journalists, painstakingly culled and condensed by yours truly. What IS original is my curating and arranging of the material in this fashion.

I dare say you won’t find a more concise, clear, accessible introduction to heavy metal anywhere else! Which may lead to a comment thread full of arguments over the generalizations I’ve made and the additional nuance that may be needed. And I’ll be the first to welcome your input. But remember: we’re trying to put the cookies on the bottom shelf. Feel free to suggest whatever additions, subtractions, or amendments you think may be needed in the comment thread.

1968: HEAVY METAL IS BORN

  • Heavy Metal pioneers Black Sabbath

    Three genre-defining bands formed in 1968: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, & Deep Purple. Also in 1968, Steppenwolf recorded the lyric “heavy metal thunder!” in their song “Born to Be Wild,” which christened a de facto name for the budding new genre.

  • Heavy metal is a departure from standard blues-based rock; it’s influenced by 1960s drug culture (LSD, acid rock) and by rebellious/transgressive/counter-cultural sensibilities.
  • Black Sabbath’s guitarist Tony Iommi suffered an industrial accident and was unable to play normally; he had to to tune his guitar down for easier fretting and rely on power chords with their relatively simple fingering. This defined Black Sabbath’s heavy, chugging, metallic sound, and the sound of heavy metal in general.
  • Defining Features: prominent bass riffs, heavy and emphatic drumming, and the “heavy metal guitar sound” – high volume & heavy distortion.
  • Fashion: frayed blue jeans, black T-shirts, boots, and denim jackets; also down-the-back long hair.
  • A Characteristic Song: “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple (1973)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Kiss, Judas Priest, Alice Cooper
  • By the mid-1970s, the three pioneer bands of heavy metal – Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple – were disbanding. As a consequence, the whole movement lost much of its momentum and media interest, giving way to punk-rock.

1976: THE RISE OF PUNK ROCK

  • “Punk” was originally a derogatory term; but it was claimed as a badge of honor by misfits and outsiders who felt they didn’t fit in mainstream culture (or who consciously wanted to reject it). Thus, punk music has always had an “outsider” vibe.
  • Punk was primarily a British phenomenon. It had a strong DIY ethic: simple home-grown recording, straightforward garage-band sounds, a rejection of commercialized music.
  • The trademark punk-rock look

    Punk also rejected hippie culture; it was more anti-authoritarian and rebellious. Its goal was to “outrage and shock the mainstream.”

  • Defining Features: simple guitar riffs; uncomplicated bass lines; generally 4/4 time signature (some bands would shout “1-2-3-4” at the beginning of every song)
  • Fashion: Mohawk haircut; dyed hair; t-shirts; leather jackets; ripped jeans; boots
  • A Characteristic Song: “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones (1976)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Ramones, the Clash, Sex Pistols, David Bowie
  • Quickly after its founding, the punk movement splintered into new wave (more popular) and hardcore punk (more grassroots).

1977: NEW WAVE

  • “New wave” was a poppy, mainstream style of punk-influenced music. It was essentially an “Americanized” sort of punk; music promoters used the name “new wave” to avoid the bad publicity that went with British punk’s anti-establishment vibe.
  • Defining Features: New wave blended the mainstream hooks and polished production of pop music with the sardonic, ironic attitude of punk. It also incorporated themes from disco and electronic music. This was the music style that defined the beginnings of MTV.
  • Fashion: commonly, a “nerdy” look (big glasses, button-down shirts, suits & ties)
  • A Characteristic Song: “My Sharona” by The Knack (Billboard #1 song in 1979)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Blondie, the Police, the Cars, the B-52s

1979: NWOBHM (NEW WAVE OF BRITISH HEAVY METAL)

  • Basically this genre competed with punk in Britain in 1979-1980 – you were either a punk rocker or a metalhead. NWOBHM resurrected the heavy metal sound of the earlier 1970s, infusing it with the intensity of punk rock to produce fast and aggressive songs. Like punk rock, NWOBHM had a DIY attitude, leading to raw-sounding, self-produced recordings and a proliferation of independent record labels.
  • Defining Features: shorter songs with fast tempos; loud guitars featuring power chords; vocals ranging from high pitched wails to low growls.
  • Fashion: long hair and jeans, black or white T-shirts with band logos and cover art and leather jackets or denim vests adorned with patches; metallic studs and ornaments; military elements such as bullet belts and insignias.
  • A Characteristic Song: “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead (1980)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Iron Maiden, Motorhead, early Def Leppard

1980: POST-PUNK

  • Post-punk was a more artsy, avant-garde, philosophical type of music than new wave or traditional punk. “Inspired by punk’s energy and DIY ethic but determined to break from rock cliches, artists experimented with sources including electronic music and black styles like dub, funk, and disco… and ideas from art and politics, including critical theory, modernist art, cinema and literature” (Wikipedia).
  • This photo of The Knack shows the skinny ties, vests, and collared shirts of New Wave/Post-Punk fashion

    Defining Features: punk-rock foundations with electronic/dance influences (synth-heavy); lyrics and fashion marked by artistic, avant-garde sensibilities.

  • Fashion: see New Wave
  • A Characteristic Song: “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads (1983)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Talking Heads, The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Model Army, New Order, Violent Femmes

 1981: HARDCORE PUNK

  • Hardcore has been called a “faster, meaner genre” of punk; a “rebellion against a rebellion.” If new-wave took a more commercial and broadly accepted path, hardcore went the opposite direction.
  • Defining Features: Shouted vocals; louder, harder, faster music (every instrument sounds like it’s competing for the highest volume); moshing or slam dancing.
  • Fashion: a dressed-down style of T-shirts, jeans, combat boots or sneakers and crewcut-style haircuts.
  • A Characteristic Song: “Attitude” by Bad Brains (1982)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, the Misfits, early Beastie Boys

1983: GLAM METAL aka POP METAL aka HAIR METAL

  • Def Leppard began as a NWOBHM band; but the release of their third album Pyromania in 1983 corresponded to the advent of glam-metal. Also in 1983, Quiet Riot’s album Metal Health reached number one in the Billboard
  • Once this genre began to decline in the 1990s, “hair metal” became a
    Hair Metal. ‘Nuff said.

    derogatory term used to refer to the bands of this era.

  • Defining Features: the aggression and sonic power of classic heavy metal; the fashion and image of 1970s glam rock; and the hooky guitar riffs and vocal melodies of pop music. The mid-1980s glam metal bands perfected the “metal ballad” – a slowly building rock ballad, frequently focused on love-song themes, that eventually broke into powerful, high-energy guitar-driven heavy metal.
  • Fashion: very long backcombed hair; use of hair spray & make-up; tight denim or leather jeans; spandex; headbands.
  • A Characteristic Song: “Photograph” by Def Leppard (1983)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Van Halen, Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, Poison, Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses, later Def Leppard

1983: THRASH METAL aka SPEED METAL aka POWER METAL

  • The band Metallica formed in 1983, making that year a defining moment for the thrash metal genre. This genre emerged as musicians began fusing the double bass drumming and complex guitar stylings of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) with the speed and aggression of hardcore punk.
  • Philosophically, thrash metal developed as a backlash against the pop-influenced, widely accessible sub-genre of glam metal. Thrash metal was also an inspiration for subsequent extreme metal genres such as death metal and black metal.
  • Defining Features: fast tempos; harsh vocal and guitar timbre; technically demanding guitar solos played at high speed and characterized by shredding.
  • Fashion: see NWOBHM
  • A Characteristic Song: “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica (1984)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: early Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax (the “Big 4” of thrash metal)
  • Subcategory: DEATH METAL – A subgenre spawned by Slayer, whose music was more violent than their thrash metal contemporaries. Death metal’s defining musical characteristic is “death growl” vocals, along with violent and extreme lyrics that explore dark and sadistic topics like psychopathy, delirium, mutilation, exorcism, torture, rape, and cannibalism. Death metal in turn spawned multiple dark and morally questionable sub-genres: war metal, deathcore, grindcore, etc.

1988: “ALTERNATIVE ROCK”

  • Growing out of the punk scene, bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements pioneered a more melodic, mainstream sound that took the late 1980s and early 1990s by storm.
  • This music was “alternative” because it was outside the mainstream; it had the DIY, non-commercial sensibilities of punk, and tended to be released on independent labels. It was sometimes called “college rock” due to airplay on college radio stations.
  • In 1988, Billboard created the “Alternative Songs” chart, indicating that this style of music was growing in popularity.
  • The designation “alternative rock” is probably unhelpfully broad; it encompasses a diverse set of styles unified by their debt to punk rock and post-punk, and their origins outside of the musical mainstream.
  • A Characteristic Song: “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by R.E.M. (1987)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: 10,000 Maniacs, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers

1991: THE SEATTLE INVASION aka “GRUNGE”

  • 1991 marked the first Lollapalooza music festival, conceived by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, and also the release of Nirvana’s first album “Nevermind.” These two events would change the trajectory of popular music in America. Music journalist Michael Azerrad asserted that Nevermind marked “a sea-change in rock music.” Alternative music, which until now had truly been alternative, suddenly entered the mainstream.

    Kurt Cobain
  • The early grunge movement revolved around Seattle’s independent record label Sub Pop. The owners of Sub Pop marketed Northwestern punk rock shrewdly and the media was encouraged to describe it as “grunge”, which came to mean a punk + metal hybrid.
  • Defining Features: the “Seattle Sound.” Seattle music journalist Charles R. Cross defines grunge as distortion-filled, down-tuned and riff-based rock that uses loud electric guitar feedback and heavy, “ponderous” bass lines to support its song melodies. Grunge guitarists rejected the virtuoso guitar solos that had become the centerpiece of heavy metal songs, instead opting for melodic, blues-inspired solos – focusing on the song, not the guitar solo.
  • Fashion: loose-fitting thrift store flannel shirts, jeans, and boots
  • A Characteristic Song: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (1991)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden

1990: ALTERNATIVE METAL

  • Metallica’s self-titled “Black Album,” released in 1991, was arguably a defining moment for this genre (and a pivot point for the band). The “alt-metal” label was applied to a wide spectrum of bands that fused metal with different styles: punk, funk, hip hop, progressive rock, and industrial. Alternative metal artists, though they did not represent a cohesive scene, were united by 1) their willingness to experiment with the metal genre and 2) their rejection of glam metal aesthetics.
  • Houston Press described the alt-metal genre as being a “compromise for people for whom Nirvana was not heavy enough but Metallica was too heavy.”
  • A Characteristic Song: “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica (1991)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Alice in Chains, Tool, Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, post-1990 Metallica, Faith No More

1993: NU METAL

  • Korn, a band formed in 1993, released their self-titled debut album the following year; it is widely considered to be the first nu metal release.
  • Stereogum claimed that nu metal was a “weird outgrowth of the Lollapalooza-era alt-metal scene.” During the late 1990s and early 2000s, nu metal was prevalent in the mainstream. It became more popular than alternative metal, and resulted in a more standardized sound.
  • Defining Features: elements of hip hop, often including DJs and turntables and rap-style vocals. Many nu metal guitarists use seven-string guitars that are down-tuned to play a heavier sound; the genre is heavily syncopated and based on guitar riffs.
  • Fashion: tracksuits; sports team tanks; baseball caps; hoodies.
  • A Characteristic Song: “In The End” by Linkin Park (2000)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Slipknot, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, P.O.D., Korn, Kid Rock
  • Editorial Note: in retrospect, nu metal is disrespected and panned by many, similar to 80’s glam metal. It was seen as a musical refuge for suburban kids with dysfunctional families; it’s sometimes been referred to as “mallcore” or “whinecore.”

1994: POST-GRUNGE

  • The tragic suicide of Nirvana frontman and musical pioneer Kurt Cobain in 1994 brought the grunge movement to an abrupt end. In its place arose a genre called post-grunge, which was essentially a more polished, pop-influenced style of music with grunge sensibilities. The moniker “post-grunge” was originally a term of disdain for bands that seemed to be mimicking the grunge sound in order to capitalize off its success, but the term came to define a broad swath of rock music in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
  • Defining Features: a high-production, polished, radio-friendly sound; mainstream lyrics and song themes. (Grunge lyrics tended to focus on social alienation, angst, addiction, and hypocrisy; post-grunge lyrics are much more likely to focus on romance, relationships, and belonging.)
  • Fashion: see Grunge
  • A Characteristic Song: “Push” by Matchbox Twenty (1996)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Foo Fighters, Live, Creed, Matchbox Twenty, Bush

1994: POP-PUNK

  • If Seattle was the epicenter of music in the early 1990s, the focus shifted to California in the mid- to late-1990s. As grunge began to decline, a new strain of punk rock was coming to the forefront, rooted in California’s punk scene and headlined by bands like Weezer and Green Day.
  • Defining Features: bright, catchy pop vocals over standard punk-rock guitar and bass lines; a “slacker” vibe. (If punk had an anarchist/misfit feel, and grunge a brooding/angsty feel, pop-punk had more of a “who cares” feel.)
  • Fashion: skateboard fashion
  • A Characteristic Song: “When I Come Around” by Green Day (1994)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Weezer, Green Day, Blink-182, The Offspring

 ADDITIONAL HEAVY METAL SUB-GENRES

  • Anarcho-punk = punk rock that explicitly promotes anarchy
  • Crust punk = English punk rock + extreme metal; pessimistic social/political lyrics
  • Thrashcore = a faster, more intense style of hardcore punk, associated with skateboard culture
  • Grindcore = fusion of heavy metal and hardcore punk; noise-filled and abrasive
  • Metalcore = a fusion of extreme metal and hardcore
  • Mathcore = rhythmically complicated metal; uses odd time signatures
  • Deathcore = metalcore + death metal
  • And dozens of other sub-genres that only matter to those who really care

Candidates debate healthcareIt’s an election year, which means healthcare is again in the national spotlight. Bernie wants Medicare for All. Mayor Pete wants Medicare for All Who Want It. Joe Biden wants to serve up Obamacare with a Biden garnish. Elizabeth Warren wants what Bernie wants, but in a way that Only Elizabeth Warren Can Take Credit For. And so on. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has done its part over the past 4 years to weaken and eviscerate Obamacare – which is probably good, because Obamacare has been basically a nightmare in implementation.

The political debate has polarized, predictably, into two extremes: the left basically wants socialized medicine, and the right basically wants free-market-directed private health insurance. In this post, I want to make the case that both sides are missing the point. So let me begin with a story.

One of my college roommates lives overseas, working as a Christian missionary in sensitive areas. A few years ago, when he was back in the States, I asked him how his medical coverage worked. He explained to me that his missions agency practiced a form of Christian healthcare cost-sharing, and that he and his family LOVED it. I balked. “You mean you don’t have health insurance?” I asked.

“No. I find health insurance ethically problematic,” he replied. And then he walked me through an exercise that left me pondering for months.

“What’s the aim of your health insurance company?” he asked. “Why do they exist?”

“To help me pay for medical care,” I replied.

“Wrong. Your health insurance company exists to make a profit for its shareholders.” He was right, of course, and I began to see where he was going with this line of questioning. “And how, exactly, do they make that profit?” he continued.

“By taking in more in premiums than they disburse in expenses,” I replied.

“Exactly. Health insurance is about profit. That’s why insurance companies deny coverage; it’s why they drop people from their rolls; it’s why they raise premiums regularly. It’s capitalism, plain and simple. Health insurance is not the same as health care.”

This is exactly the problem that Bernie Sanders is willing to name (and then to wildly gesticulate about): the insurance companies and the prescription drug companies exist to profit off the medical needs of Americans. Perhaps you’d argue that they have a right to make a profit; and in a perfect world, I might even agree with you. But this isn’t a perfect world. The dangers of unfettered capitalism grow more and more apparent as the years go by. Bernie is right: the medical lobby is powerful, and they have a choke-hold on healthcare in America. If you doubt that, please read the court documents for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. Or talk to my friend Paul, who had to go on the evening news to pressure his insurance company to approve treatment for his brain cancer. (Other cancer patients around the US affirmed that this is normal: insurance companies routinely deny treatment unless and until they receive massive public pressure. When the PR consequences of being mean start to outweigh the cost of treatment, they relent. Welcome to health care in America.)

As long as insurance companies stand between patients and their doctors, we’ll never have a humane health care system in America. The system is rigged in favor of the insurers: poor people can’t afford coverage; at-risk people can’t get coverage; and even those who have coverage can be denied treatment at will based on the insurance company’s whims. The whole system revolves around the insurance companies. Doctors hate it; employers hate it; and you probably hate it! To really fix what’s broken, private health insurance must go.

This should be a pretty simple premise for biblically-minded Christians to agree upon. I’ll admit: it took me a while to get there. I come from basically conservative, free-market, pseudo-libertarian assumptions, and it seemed reasonable to me for insurance companies to exist. Until I began to think about the difference between health insurance and health care. My roommate was right: insurance companies don’t exist to ensure that we have health care. They exist to make money. And they do that by charging us more in premiums than they pay out in expenses. In many areas of our society, such a profit motive is fine and good; but when it comes to life and death, that’s a terribly inhumane and unjust proposal.

(Before you comment: I know there are good people who work at insurance companies, and this would affect their livelihood, and it would involve a massive realignment of a whole segment of our national economy, and so forth. And while those are important emotive concerns, we need to set them aside for the sake of the broader debate. We’re not taking anyone’s job away just yet. We’re debating first principles for the sake of the greater good. Stay with me.)

A few paragraphs up, I said “Bernie is right.” Now we get to talk about where he’s wrong. Replacing insurance companies with the federal government is a recipe for disaster. And that’s what the single-payer and Medicare-for-all proposals seek to do. I admire Bernie for his courage in acknowledging that major systemic change is needed. But he’s crazy if he thinks the federal government is a realistic solution (a folly that most of the other Democratic candidates share). Anyone been to the DMV lately? Been stuck in a TSA line? Had a run-in with the IRS? Placing the federal government in charge of healthcare is a guaranteed recipe for waste, fraud, abuse, and inefficiency. A system that places the federal government between patients and their doctors is no better than a system that places insurance companies between patients and their doctors.

Which brings us to the real solution: we need to get rid of the middleman. It won’t be easy, frictionless, or without challenges. But the only way to a humane healthcare system in America is to both abolish private insurance AND keep the federal government out of health care.

This is where the distinction between health care and health insurance becomes important. Christian convictions should incline us toward a system that provides true health care for as many people as possible. In my opinion, the best way to accomplish that is some sort of a cash-pay system that puts patients directly in charge of both their health care and their healthcare expenses. Smarter minds than me will have to adjudicate the details. But as long as insurance companies and/or the federal government are at the center of the conversation, I think we’re still having the wrong conversation.

Two years ago, of my own free will, I stepped away from my employer-provided private insurance plan. That conversation with my college roommate had been bouncing around in my head for five years, and I couldn’t avoid its implications. My family and I joined up with Samaritan Ministries, a Christian health care cost sharing ministry. It’s an amazing model. We pay cash for all our healthcare expenses, and when we face an expense that’s beyond our ability to pay, we submit a “sharing request,” and Christian brothers and sisters across the country chip in to cover our need. Likewise, every month, we commit to invest a certain amount of money in the direct medical needs of other members.

What’s been amazing to me is how much our doctors love it. They get paid right away – no haggling with insurance companies, no Medicare bureaucracy, no quibbles over whether the visit was coded correctly according to each insurer’s protocols. Most of the time, we get a significant discount on the spot simply for being a cash-pay patient (similar to the up-front discounts various insurers negotiate with doctors). We haven’t had any catastrophic needs yet, so how the system works for a major medical expense remains to be seen. But as the kind of person who does my homework, I’ve talked to lots of people who HAVE had such expenses, and they’ve been satisfied with how the system works.

I realize that scaling such a system to a nationwide level creates a whole new set of questions and complexities. And I don’t claim to have all the answers. What I DO know is that removing the middleman from my family’s healthcare world has been an amazing experience. I feel more connected to my doctor; I take more personal responsibility for cost-checking and avoiding unnecessary procedures; and my doctor’s office saves time and money in billing.

A properly Christian doctrine of original sin should lead us to be skeptical of both the federal government and the insurance industry. The simple polarities of left and right are both wrong. A Christian approach to medical care will prioritize health care, not health insurance. Out of concern for the good of all citizens, it will seek to remove profit motive from the equation as much as possible. And it will move the locus of the conversation back to the simple relationship between patient and doctor.