Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dylan on a Sunday

So, Dylan has a Christmas record coming out this year. I know, huh. Dylan and a Christmas record. That will be interesting. I mean, what does he sing? Can you imagine a barbed-wired, six packs a day rendition of O Holy Night? Not exactly Pavorotti we're dealing with here. Dylan has about a four note range. And even though its all about the interpretation, I cringe to even think about it.

But would he go the other way, away from the high Christmas hymns? I can't imagine Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus. That would scare the kids. Maybe a monotone, I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas or Winter Wonderland.

Maybe it will be a collection of originals. Bob spent 30 minutes writing 20 new Christmas songs. Herod Knows Where You Live, Lost My Shoes in Egypt, Not Hard to be Wise in Bethlehem, That Star Won't Hunt, Holy Ghost Came Callin, Jesus was a Department Store Santa. You know, some sideways take on the story that mixes irony and hope without committing too much in the way of belief. Records them all in one take, no rehearsals. I would definitely buy that record, and even start playing it the day after Thanksgiving.

Hope never reads the story straight off the page. Hope isn't what's at the end of how things might work out anyway. The "new thing" isn't simply the unfolding of the story as we know it, which is why a bit of irreverence, some anachronism, and a little typological playfulness is the way to best communicate hope. Sounds like a Dylan Christmas cd to me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

U2 on a Monday

Last night I was in Soldier Field in Chicago for the second night of U2's 360 tour. It was a spectacular night, one I will always remember.

I am a huge U2 fan, but was somewhat skeptical that a stadium show could scratch my U2 itch. But once the concert started, I was so inside the experience that it just wasn't a factor, at least not negatively. In the words of "Put on Your Boots," the boys from Ireland "let me in the sound." I was close. But on the positive side, it was simply an amazing thing to be with nearly 100,000 people moving with one energy. Even leaving the stadium at the end of the concert, with all those people being pushed through a very limited space toward Grant Park, was a great feeling. We have all experienced something significant together.

But how do you describe the concert in words. The stage was enormous and quite the spectacle (the photo from a set done by Snow Patrol before U2 came on). A multi-media/giant spaceship that moved and lit up and displayed things on an enormous, expandable screen. It was a character in the U2 drama, and most of the time a positive one. The space/future theme of the stage was underscored by the opening as the band walked into "Major Tom" and by the ending as they left to "Rocket Man."

There is simply nothing like live music. The thumping bass in your chest. The ear splitting guitars. The energy of live performers, especially someone like Bono. The surprise of an innovation in lyric or melody or rhythm. This show had everything that makes live music great.

And of course with U2, you're looking for meaning, and Christian meaning. And last night's meaning was hope. This space ship was not 2001 a Space Odyssey, the future as an ominous darkness where technology threatens us. This future was hopeful and full of justice. Gone were some of the darker images related to society (e.g. Bullet the Blue Sky). This was God's future pressing on us.

My favorite U2 song is "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," which has not been a regular on their concert playlists on recent tours. This is properly an eschatological song. There's still something coming, the kingdom come, "where all the colors bleed into one. You know I'm still running." It was their 6th song this evening, right on the heels of Magnificent and Beautiful Day. It was worshipful, and it was not lost on Bono that we were gathered on a Sunday.

The best part of the evening for me was the first encore. The band had left the stage and the first thing we saw to open the encore was an amazing video from Desmond Tutu. He said that the same people who fought for civil rights in America were the same people who fought Apartheid in South Africa and who continue to fight injustice in the world today. He was animated and joyful as he designated us gathered that night as the same people--the very same people who had fought in all of these places. And he promised us that the wind of God's justice would be at our backs. At the video's end, the band played "One." Perfect. And then Bono played his guitar and sang a soulful verse of "Amazing Grace," which led into the properly eschatological, "Where the Streets Have No Name." All we needed was the eucharist. (The people down the row from us had their own elements, an incense all its own).

This was what worship should be. A diverse group moving as one. Pure bliss and joyful embodiment. Praise accompanied by acknowledgement of the world as it is (with not a little complaining and lamenting). And hope for what the world will one day become in the grace of God. A call to belong to that day. Perfect.

Set list

2.No Line On The Horizon
3.Get On Your Boots
5.Beautiful Day / King Of Pain (snippet) / Blackbird (snippet)
6.I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
8.Your Blue Room
9.Unknown Caller
10.Until The End Of The World
11.Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
12.The Unforgettable Fire
13.City Of Blinding Lights
15.I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight / I Want To Take You Higher (snippet)
16.Sunday Bloody Sunday / Rock The Casbah (snippet)
17.In the Name of Love
18.Walk On

1st Encore
19.One / Amazing Grace (snippet)
20.Where The Streets Have No Name / All You Need Is Love (snippet)

2nd Encore

21. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
22. With Or Without You
23. Moment of Surrender

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Moltmann And the Father of Jesus, the Son

This is one of those weeks I will always remember. I drove Wednesday morning from Detroit to Chicago to join around 300 others for a conversation with Jurgen Moltmann, a conversation hosted by the Emergent Village bunch. I will cap the trip with a U2 concert in Soldier Field on Sunday night. Bono and Moltmann, two of my favorite theologians. Awe and wonder all the way around.

Moltmann is 83 years old. His life is an amazing story (you might want to read his autobiography, A Broad Place). He was a German soldier in WWII, taken priosner, and found God in a Sottish prison camp. Amazing story, and consequently his career as a theologian finds few parallels. His work has sounded the themes of hope, justice, and ecology, all in the pursuit of knowing the God of Jesus Christ. His work is important for my dissertation in many ways. I am currently immersed in his books as I prepare for my comprehensive exams in a few weeks. I am richer for this engagement, by a long ways.

Here's the one thing you should know about Moltmann (from my perspective). HE refuses to think about God apart from the human experience of Jesus. Which sounds kind of obvious to many of us Bible-believing type folks. But Moltmann shows that for most of us, this simply is not the case.

Most of us begin with a version of God based on certain assumptions that we inherited from the Greek philosphical tradition. For God to be perfect, God must be simple, free, unchangeable, impassable, independent, etc. This is sometimes called classical theism, and Moltmann suggests that this view of God results inevitably in a kind of monism--God as a single acting subject and everything else as an object. Christian theology in the West has often assumed this view of God. God was thought of as a single substance, identified with the Father, and the Son and Spirit were sometimes thought of as modes of this one substance. The beginning assumption is the unity of God, the three persons being the hard thing to explain.

Now, here's the deal. There are a lot of problems one gets into when accounting for the real problems of the world if God is thought of as as single acting subject. For the Greeks, the problems of monism were expressed in the problem of theodicy. If God is all powerful, and if God is good, then how can bad things happen? Either God is all-powerful, and not good. Or God might be good, but not all powerful. There are current forms of Christian theology that opt to begin with the assuption that God is all powerful and the goodness of God will work itself out in the end. The tornado that swept through the Twin Cities a few weeks ago was God's punishment for the ELCA's decision to ordain homosexuals, says John Piper, the most prominent voice in the new Calvinism that explains every event as an event under God's providential control. But as Moltmann suggested yesterday, such a God is a monster.

In milder forms, Christian monism simply puts the world on the receiving end of all of God's stuff. The world is perpetual object to God's perpetual subject. All the arrows point one way, and the church is often thought of as being on God's side of the arrows. We've got all the good stuff. The world is simply our target, our strategic concern. This leads easily to mission as a kind of imperialism, or benevolence and evangelism as a kind of paternalism. This is the implication of the criticism Moltmann brings to Barth's theology. (God is a single-acting subject in Barth's theology, from Moltmann's perspective).

Moltmann does not begin with the assumptions about God located in classic theism. He begins with Jesus as the Son of the Father. We know God as the Father of Jesus, the Son. It is in this relationship of mutuality that we begin to understand God. This is true also of the relationship between Father and Spirit and Son and Spirit. God is not one substance in three forms, or one acting subject in three modes. God is three persons who each have centers of action and have a dynamic and reciprocal relationship. And in any relationship, any reciprocity, there is need and vulnerability. There is openness to the other.

In fact, it is this openness to the other that constitutes God as love. And it is this love that makes room for creation. And it is this love that leaves space for a free creation. And it is this love that marks itself as suffering, enduring love. As Moltmann said yesterday, God's power is not expressed by the fact that he controls all things (the opposite of love), but in that he bears all things and suffers all things. This is a game changer in so many ways.

At the conference yesterday, people talked to Moltmann about how his book, The Crucified God, gave them a lease on life--new hope--in the most tragic of circumstances. The loss of an infant son, the persistent struggle of disability, the opression related to class and race and gender. That's a pretty hefty theological legacy. I doubt that Piper's theology has many stories like that. The answer to why in Piper's theology is always God, and that causes more problems that it solves. For Moltmann, there is no answer to the question why and if there were it would not satisfy us. But in the crucified God there is a who and a where and a when related to suffering. There is a God who suffers all things, who lashes himself to the world on a cross, and whose resurrection will not allow suffering to be the last word.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Wilco on a Sunday

This morning is a cup of coffee and the new Wilco. I like Wilco. It's smart stuff, both musically and lyrically. The new cd, Wilco, the Album, is perhaps more modest than their previous cd's. It doesn't have some of the jagged, experimental edges of their earlier work. But that makes it more immediately inviting to me. And so, coffee and Wilco this morning is a pleasurable thing.

Wilco refuses the happy face, the easy ending. Jeff Tweedy sings often with tongue planted firmly in cheek, rolling around in the irony of it all. The title track to the cd offers comfort to world weary listeners. Wilco cares, Tweedy sings, and will offer you a sonic shoulder to cry on--in my case comfort from an itunes download.

Wilco touches for me that feeling related to the complexity of life. Whatever it is we think we're up to gets lost too easily in the thick and bewildering nature of things. Even the offering of one's life for another, dying "alone like Jesus," gets lost in the sweep of generations and the numbing pursuits of daily life. We forget. The grand gesture is lost.

Still, there is somthing about bringing all this brokenness together in one place--this refusal of the easy happy. The fact that all of us are one wing short of being able to fly throws us all together under the same aching need. And there is hope there, in the commonness of our ache and pain.

I've been reading Jurgen Moltmann this week, preparing for my comprehensive exams which are coming up sooner than I need them to be. Moltmann sees the world as the history of God's suffering. He is following the minority theological tradition that begins not with a catlogue of God's attributes, but with the passion of God, his willingness to suffer and his openness to creation. Sorrow is the mark of God's evelasting love, the only place we can accurately attribute to God all power.

So, the paths of my reflection crossed over coffee in the Wilco song, Everlasting, Everything. In all the irony, Wilco still sings of hope.

Everything alive must die
Every building built to the sky will fall
Don't try to tell me my
Everlasting love is a lie

Everlasting, everything
Oh, nothing could mean anything at all

Every wave that hits the shore
Every book that I adore
Gone like a circus, gone like a troubadour
Everlasting love forever more

Everlasting, everything
Oh, nothing could mean anything at all

Oh, I know this might sound sad
But everything goes both good and the bad
It all adds up and you should be glad
Everlasting love is all you have

Everlasting, everything
Oh, nothing could mean anything at all
Everlasting, everything
Oh, nothing could mean anything at all