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Place in this World

September 28, 2010 4 comments

…or the dilemma of Christian music in the 21st century.

This is a response/reflection to my friend Jay Brown’s tripartite blog entitled: “The Problem of Christian Music.”  Before you read this blog, I invite you to read his blog, comment if necessary, then return for my response.

The Problem with Christian Music – Part 1
The Problem with Christian Music – Part 2
The Problem with Christian Music – Part 3

And now my response…

1.  Sacred vs. Secular categorization is a dubious construct.  I’m sure Jay will agree with me here, at least in part.  There are no clear boundaries when looking at communities of faith and culture to determine what is “Christian”  and what is “non-Christian/Secular.”  The word secular comes from the Greek saeculum, which literally refers to the time period or age when an event occurs.  If we look at the term secular in this way, then we’re living in a Post 9/11 age or saeculum.  Secular later came to mean someone who is not bound by monastic or clerical vows, or simply put, part of the laity.  It was only later, through the philosophies of Marx, Feuerbach, and Nietzsche (thanks in part to Hegel’s dialectic) that God was sent packing.

In other words, clear sacred and secular boundaries don’t exist.  It’s all part of the leftover modern obsession/compulsion, where we need to neatly categorize everything.  You don’t have to look far to find God outside of the church, and that’s actually where God intends us to go…but I’ll save that for a later discussion.  And it won’t take you long to realize that there is still the Ananais and Sapphira strain of DNA left in the church.  Google “church scandal” and you’ll see what I mean.

This is all a verbose way of saying that there is a messy (a)theism going on both in churches and in culture.  There is nothing you can point to and say, “A-ha!  That’s distinctly Christian.  Look over there!  That’s devil music.”  You’ll be disappointed every time.  I’m not  saying that if you listen long enough that you can witness God moving through the music of Marilyn Manson…or maybe you will.  What I am saying is that it requires “eyes to see and ears to hear”  to find God amongst the bang and the clatter.

2. Christian radio has a target audience.  A 2008 survey by Dunham+Company found that the typical Christian radio listeners are women 45-54, Pentecostal/Charismatic, living in the south (Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida), politically conservative, and 71% attend church regularly while 10% never attend church.

In a breakdown of preferred programming, 56% listen primarily for music (predominantly women 18-44), 40% prefer teaching or sermons, and 16% said talk was a primary reason to listen to talk radio.  Of course, this all adds up to more than 100%, but we won’t be too picky with Dunham+Company.  While Christian radio does need more variety in it’s programming, it seems that the core audience is happy and that a large portion of Christian radio listeners also want sermons and teaching as part of the programming.

I don’t listen to Christian radio, which is fine because K-Love isn’t going after progressive Christians or “cultured despisers.”  They’re broadcasting for people who pay the bills, and rightly so because it’s a business.  If you don’t like it, change the channel.

3.  Christian artists find themselves theologically homeless.  There are ultra-conservative websites that attack Christian musicians for being too “worldly” and not having enough mentions of God or Jesus, and when musicians “crossover” (again part of the dubious Sacred vs. Secular borderline) they are accused of selling out to the principalities and powers.  Meanwhile, progressive Christians and cultured despisers critically pan or wholly ignore music that is created within the Contemporary Christian genre, and instead listen to mainstream artists (U2, Bruce Springsteen, etc.) that have songs immersed in spiritual themes.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t listen to U2 and Bruce Springsteen.  Their music is refreshing and speaks to our religious core like no praise and worship song ever could.  What I am saying is that it’s time for progressive Christians to (re)engage Christian musicians and artists, to descend from atop the ivory towers and high horses, to shed elitism and pretentiousness…to listen.  I speak for myself when I say that I’ve been given eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear.  I’m with Jay that Christian music needs to reboot, but we can’t demand that musicians write better songs if we won’t listen.

4.  Progressive Christians need to (re)engage mass media.  As one who has mocked Christian radio and television programming incessantly for the better part of 7 years, it’s time for progressive Christians (including myself) to think creatively about mass media.

I’m not suggesting we take to the channels and airwaves and become the Keith Olbermann answer to the religious right, although that would be interesting.  There needs to be an influx of forward thinking, sane yet interesting Christians in radio and television.  And don’t get me wrong, with the advent of social media (blogs, twitter, youtube, ustream, podcasts etc.) anyone can have a voice , but there are few blogs and podcasts that have the weight of radio and television.  You can’t tell me that TBN is the best we have.

I’m suggesting we take the parable seriously:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

There are many other thoughts brewing in my mind, but they are still fragmented at this moment, so I’ll pause here and leave space for your thoughts/comments.  But before I do, I’ll ask that you pray for this man because he’s

“looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world,
my place in this world.”

Have You Been Incepted?

September 22, 2010 2 comments

…or Justice as Inception/Interruption

This post is a reflection on Anthony Smith’s presentation “Justice as Inception” at Big Tent Christianity in Raleigh, NC.  You can follow Anthony at Musings of a Postmodern Negro.

Justice as Inception

If you haven’t seen the movie Inception, the premise of the movie is that Leonardo DiCaprio is an extractor who steals secrets from people’s minds while they are asleep and dreaming.  After a failed extraction on a powerful business man named Saito, DiCaprio finds out that Saito was auditioning the team to perform a more difficult form of inception: implanting an idea into a person’s mind while they are asleep.

At Big Tent Christianity, Anthony proposed the idea of  justice as inception.  In this sense justice is not an abstract idea, but something deeply implanted in us that moves us to action.  If we are truly people of God, then we can’t talk about justice without doing justice.  We can’t preach about caring for the alien, the orphan and the widow without knowing a few.  We can’t believe that God will “make the crooked places straight” (Isa 45:2), if we are complicit in making things “crooked.”

Justice as Inception isn’t a new idea.  It’s not inherently postmodern either, although it does give me another reason to watch the movie again.  Micah 6:8 comes to mind:

He has showed you what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

To be a person of God requires a different set of eyes and ears, so that we are moved to action when we see or hear injustice.  It requires that we speak truth to power (i.e. Nathan saying to David “You are the man!”) but only after removing whatever planks are blocking our own vision.  Once we’ve been incepted with the idea of justice, there’s no turning back, and the world we now live in is wildly different from the world before.

Justice as Interruption

Justice is interruption.

When we tend to think of justice, particularly in America, we think of justice as “restoring the balance” or “getting what is rightfully owed.”  We often see justice as “reward” or “retribution.”  It’s hard not to view justice this way with all the small claims court shows (Judge Judy, People’s Court, Eye for an Eye, etc.) and personal injury attorney commercials.

While those types of justice have their place in society, that is not the type of justice that we’re called to embody.  “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…”  justice is what we’re called to take to the streets.  It’s Jesus ransacking the temple to drive out profiteering, preventing the stoning of an adulterous woman and forgiving her sin, picking wheat with the disciples and healing a man’s hand on the Sabbath.  It’s that messy, subversive, and at times law-breaking justice that makes the crooked places straight.  It’s the kind of justice that makes law-abiding citizens and suburbanites squirm.

Justice interrupts the daily rhythms of life and it wakes us up at night.  It makes us uncomfortable…and it should.  The gospel is a great message but a difficult one.  It’s much easier to be the Priest and the Levite than the Good Samaritan.  It’s easier for us to avoid the road from Jerusalem to Jericho altogether because “that’s a bad neighborhood.”  Justice requires that we go into unusual and uncomfortable places, and moves us to commune at the table with unlikely people.

Justice interrupts because it washes away all pretension and complacency.  It’s why Amos, and later Martin Luther King Jr. exclaimed:

Let justice roll like mighty waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Justice is motion.  It’s four students sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, NC.  It’s a bishop celebrating mass with his people in El Salvador, and taking a bullet after calling on soldiers of the country to stop the repression and violence.  It’s a man being imprisoned after marching against apartheid.

Justice is part of our ethos.  It’s that response deep within us that says “no more.”  Justice moves us to takes risks.  It moves us to subvert.  Justice opens our eyes to a new world.  Justice costs us everything with no promise of reward.

Have you been incepted?

These are only a few fragmented phrases on the idea of Justice as Inception/Interruption.  If you wish to continue the conversation about justice, please leave any comments you have below.

Categories: Emergent, God, Theology
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