Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Sherry Cothran’s “Strange Woman”: Popular Music as Parahomiletic
Those who spend their time listening only to Praise and Worship music as it is packaged by the mainstream media and publishing houses will miss the brilliant homiletical interpretations of scripture that can be found in music that is being made outside the boundaries of the Christian music industry. Much, if not all Praise and Worship music avoids narrative. It’s verticality is focused on God and Christ in a timeless, “awesome God” kind of way. It is meant to facilitate worship as adoration. If such music were to stray one inch toward narrative, it would shift from being adoration to being thanksgiving. Instead of praising God for who God is in and of God-self, the music would have to tell some of the story of why one is praising God in the first place – a story would have to be told and we would find ourselves remembering God at work in particular times and places.
Homiletics is always a timely, and time-saturated reflection of who God was and is and continues to be. It is “expository” and banks on memory, and, as we all know, memory is a theologically contested domain. Memory can be selective. Memory can be influenced by ideology, patriarchy, the will to power, and suffering. How one re-members the past in the present is the key to homiletics.
It is in this contested homiletical domain of memory that we experience the music of Sherry Cothran on her CD entitled Sunland. Cothran wrestles with the memory we have of the women of the Old Testament – Rahab, Jepthah’s daughter, the Woman of Endor, Jael, Deborah, Huldah, and the Strange Woman of Proverbs.
Cothran’s interpretation of the so-called “strange woman” in the book of Proverbs is not standard fare. It owes much to her education with Hebrew Bible scholar Jack Sasson at Vanderbilt Divinity School, filtered through her poetic genius and her pastoral and homiletical sensibilities.
In most of the standard biblical commentaries, this “strange woman” is at odds with the “wise woman.” As Cothran’s lyric puts it:
Maiden of the storm
For chaos you are blamed
But Cothran's lyric doesn’t leave the strange woman there, “banished to the dark” by “a man” because she is “a woman he cannot tame.” Instead, Cothran sees in her an interruption in human-contrived order – a Godly interruption, “made” by God:
In a world with a rage for order
God sends a wind that won’t obey
In a world with a rage for beauty
God has made something strange
In a similar way, biblical scholar Claudia Camp speaks about the Strange Woman as a kind of "trickster" character, one who in many ways intersects and mirrors Woman Wisdom.
Instead of seeing her as evil, therefore, Cothran’s song invites us to see in her a feisty, trickster-like power for life in the midst of one’s orderly “place” in a man’s world.
And she sees other women in the Old Testament, such as Lot’s wife, as representing this same power. And she also identifies this excluded life-force with the narrative of the Christ-child – who represents the same creative chaos in the midst of contrived order.
You bite the serpent back
Upset the applecart
Stare back at what you lost
Without turning into salt
Stay away from our men
Our model citizens
There’s no room for the strange woman in the inn
Again, Claudia Camp:
We need more of THIS kind of music. Deeply poetic, educated, devotional, grounded in faith, and always re-thinking biblical truth for our world in new and helpful ways. Take a listen to this amazing song: Strange Woman.