Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dylan on a Sunday

Today I drove through Oklahoma, Kansas, a corner of Missouri and southern Iowa. I was tired from packing my moving truck the day before. I needed companionship and it needed to be interesting. Fortunately, I had a crisp NPR station all day. So, in addition to news and Prairie Home Companion, I heard three great interviews. One was with the singer and songwriter (brother and sister) from the Cowboy Junkies on the 20th anniversary of The Trinity Session. I will definitely be buying that cd and am embarrassed I haven't already. The second was an interview with a young woman from Malaysia (didn' get her name) who posted a song on youtube and was signed to a recording contract. She plays uke and sings like Norah Jones. And she's touring with Pete Yorn right now. I will be looking for that concert. And then there was an interview with a dude (didn't get his name) who had a band (didn't absorb that either), plays a different kind of music (hard to describe). One song they played was a Dylan cover, Subterranean Homesick Blues. Sounded nothing like Dylan, which is why Dylan is so great. Everyone can hear themselves in a Dylan song. And SHB is such a fun song. I love the Dylan video ( Classic. So, thanks to NPR I drove my 26 foot Penske truck in great company.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gospel and Cultures, 4

So, what do we mean when we use the word culture? And how would that relate to what we've been describing as gospel?

In her book, Theories of Culture, Kathryn Tanner notes a significant shift in how culture is thought of in relation to the postmodern turn. Earlier, modern understandings notions depicted culture like a piece of land. It is a fixed space, a conceptual whole, that informs all that we do. It's not so much that we think about our culture, but that we think with it (notice the culture as idea, or mental construct). It precedes us and determines us. From this perspective, a context holds still and translation is the cultural work of moving something from one place to another. Culture is one big thing with discernible features limited to a certain geography.

Postmodern theories see culture in less static terms. It's not so much a continent as a stream. It is always moving. In fact, it's not quite right to speak of culture in the singular. We are always impacted by cultures, several moving streams that pass through our lives. Cultures, therefore, are not a conceptual whole, but are in conversation. Tanner goes so far as to describe cultures as contested. Experiencing culture, therefore, is as much about the terms of discourse as the conclusions, as much about the process as the result (which is always moving).

If Tanner and others are right, then some of how we think about the church's relationship to the world is insufficient. If a culture is a static whole, then the world is simply a target for the church--a big dart board. Mission is often thought of as taking a static gospel to a stable world. The context becomes decorative, a matter of style ans tastes, that can be adornment for the gospel. God is completely on the side of the gospel, all the arrows pointing in the same direction.

As we have seen, gospel is not as static as we are sometimes led to believe. And if it is appropriate to refer to cultures as contested, fragmentary accounts of our lives, then we have two dynamic elements in play when we speak of gospel and cultures. Gospel is moving and cultures are moving. This changes, at least potentially, how we view the world and God's movement in it.

We've thought of gospel and culture as two fixed land masses. That tends to produce a certain kind of engagement. How would that change if we think of both as narrative structures, moving streams, that are mutually implicating? This is the question. I'm on this question and expect to be exploring it with congregations with whatever time and energy I have left. And here's the big thing for me at this point. Thinking of gospel and cultures these ways requires that God be active in both. And for many, that's a game changer.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

KINK on a Sunday

I know, just sounds wrong. But KINK is in fact a radio station in Portland, my fm home. Every year they put out a cd of live performances done in their studios. And each year I do my best to find the new cd when I travel to Portland. I've found new artists through the KINK Live cd's: Brandi Carlile, Tyrone Wells, K T Tunstall, Jason Mraz, Rocco Delucca and others. I've come to appreciate older artists that I was only somwhat familiar with: Suzanne Vega, Jesse Colin Young, Alanis Morisette, David Gray. And I've discovered songs that are unusual that are some of my favorites: You Know You Wrong, Come to Jesus, Soulshine.

But the best thing to me about the KINK cd's is the live and spare nature of the recordings. You get voice and you get acoustic guitars. Take for instance, Matchbox 20's, Disease. Slowed down. Rob Thomas' bluesy voice. Acoustic accompaniment. Great stuff. I love Jesse Colin Young's cover of the classic, Get Together. "Come on you people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another..." The guitar is sooooo good. And his vocal interpretation is unique, but not so much that you can't sing along. Sia's, Day Too Soon, is one long, longing run. Her voice so full of pathos, raw but smooth. Beautiful. The guitars on Alanis Morisette's, Everything. Brandi Carlile's vocals on What Can I Say. There are just so many great performances.

There is nothing like live music. There's so little between the performer and listener, no production, no gloss. Just connection. On the KINK cd's they have to go for it in one take, and they're reaching for it in a way that maybe they won't when they're getting it perfect in the studio. And so many of the KINK performaces are that immediate. KINK on a Sunday is a life giving thing.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Green Day on a Sunday

It's not Dylan on a Sunday, but I found myself listening to Green Day's new cd, 21st Century Breakdown, on a plane from Seattle to Chicago today. I like it. And there's a big piece of me that says I shouldn't. I like the punk beat and the guitars. Just do. And I like that the vocals are melodic and full of great hooks. Whatever they're singing about must be fun.

But its not fun, not really. It's sad and violent and full of anger. And so a big part of me says I shouldn't like that. But I kinda do, and for some of the same reasons I like the missional church literature. I know, what do Green Day and Douglas John Hall have in common?

Both are railing against Christendom. Green Day is music from below (where the Magnificat comes from). It's the music of the food stamps generation, buried beneath the massive layers of Western society. There's no making peace here. Making peace with the powers that be is a choice for death. In Green Day's case, refusing to go along, naming the disease of it all, dressing it all in death and rage, is the only way to live.

What is striking to me about Green Day is not so much the language of violence and protest, or even the obvious slams on religion and church, but the way sacred language is turned on its head. The words of redemption appear in their lyrics more than most artists I listen to. And I think that someone ought to sing the hallelujah in this world precisely the way they do, to keep church folk from singing it too easily.

I don't want to live many Sundays in their world, but today I'm glad I did.

I can't see a thing in the video
I can't hear a sound on the radio
in stereo in the static age

Hey, hey it's the static age
This is how the west was won
Hey, hey it's the static age millennium

All I want to know is a god damned thing
Not what's in the medicine
All I want to do is I want to breathe, batteries are not included
What's the latest way that a man can die?
Screaming hallelujah?
Singing out "the dawn's early light"

The silence of the rotten,forgotten
Screaming at you

I can't see a thing in the video
I can't hear a sound on the radio
in stereo in the static age