Saturday, September 24, 2011

From "Air Guitar" to "Air Preaching"

In my book, Mashup Religion: Pop Music and Theological Invention, I suggest that those who compose theology at the interface between the academy and popular culture, whether creating blogs, engaged in religious education, advocacy, preaching, etc., could learn a great deal from those who make popular music. One element from popular music making that could easily migrate over into performance-based modes of popular theologizing, especially preaching, is the art of "covering" other artists work (riffs, hits, beats, rhythms, etc.), and then "styling" on those tropes until they become one's own. There are many aspects of the larger process of "covering" the work of others, but one useful aspect is found in what is known as "air guitar." Air guitar playing is the act of imitating the rhythms, notes, accents, movements, riffs, cadences, and overall style of another guitarist. For the actual guitarist, this is the beginning of the process of "living into" another artists unique style, absorbing much of it, and making it one's own. Here's a great short clip of Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page almost unconsciously engaging in air guitar to a classic riff by guitarist Link Wray.


This practice could easily migrate over into the way one learns to preach or compose theology in general. For instance, now that so many sermons are available in recorded form online, it is simple to listen to or watch preachers who are seasoned and have lots of great "riffs," and then "air preach" their work, embodying gestures, attitudes, or facial expressions (if video is used), but more importantly, learning any number of stylistic "tropes" or figures of speech that could be used in sermons. Here is one I sometimes use in class by the renowned preacher Fred Craddock. Like Link Wray in the video clip above, Craddock's style represents a now classic genre of preaching sometimes called "inductive preaching," in which the preacher begins with the particulars of experience and moves slowly toward a large idea. One of Craddock's favorite tropes for getting listeners on board experientially is to have them imagine a word or category of thought with him. It's a simple trope, and I sometimes have students listen to him several times, then "air preach" with him, and finally "style on" his work by choosing another word or category and developing it in a similar way. Try it out. Here's the sermon clip containing the trope used by Fred Craddock.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Wound 3: The Wounding of “Spatial” Desire

This is the third part of a series of posts in which I've been developing a "practical theology of desire" as a mashup of a cluster of books on my shelf - asking for input along the way from readers. I've received a few revisionary thoughts, and suggestions of songs and images to post. Thanks! If you want to go to the beginning of this project click here. Now, on to the next post.

The third deep desire that we all have is desire for a dwelling space with God and one another. This side of heaven, this desire is deeply organic, a desire for fullness of dwelling as a creature of the planet and cosmos – in a dwelling space that cannot be possessed, but is simply given to every living thing. This desire is eucharistic and doxological, laced with thanksgiving and praise for the freely given and all encompassing space in which the organism flourishes.

This desire is wounded, however, by another form of spatial desire, the cultural desire for a dwelling space fitted to human creatures. According to Paul Tillich “the power of space is great….It is the basis of the desire of any group of human beings to have a place of their own….” (Theology of Culture, 32) This desire for cultural space often runs at odds with organic spatial desire. Cultural desire can insulate itself from cosmos, lose touch with the environment, become a totality referring only to itself, a world in which human beings are estranged from each other and from the planet…objects, consuming and manipulating other objects.

Legendary Shackshakers, "Somethin in the Water."

Listen to full Mp3 here.  

Joe's got the Union Carbide Blues.
Diggin' ditches since '62.
West Paducah, "City on the Glow."
Baby fingers growin' out of his elbows.

Down in Building C-4 double nought,
Sonsabitches thought they'd never get caught
Guzzlin' Golden Pond whiskey at work,
Beatin' them drums down into the dirt.

And puttin' somethin' in the water.
Somethin' weird in the water.
Killin' your sisters and your brothers.
Somethin' in the cold well water.

(So while you're) sneakin' gold out of hydrogen bombs,
Platin' pistol grips and carryin' on,
Your boss is doin' the exact same thing...
Suckin' atoms out of your sewage drain.

(And that) dense fog of uranium dust
Can't hide them leaky buckets of rust.
The ugly truth'll put you in the ground,
So rise up and burn the pumphouse down.

(They said) "Joe's a hero of the Cold War, man.
Died with a broken witchin' wand in his hand.
Got to keep this wet county dry as a bone.
Y'know some stories are best left untold."

But Michael Carneal, born to kill at will,
Mollycoddled on curdled mother's milk,
Smuggles his muzzle into Heath High School
And shot his friends holding hands 'round the flagpole.

Must be somethin' in the water,
Somethin' weird in your mothers.
Blame your greedy grandfathers,
For puttin' somethin' in the cold well water.

According to Tillich, his own existentialism expressed a protest against this cultural wounding of spatial desire, a protest “against the position of man (sic) in the system of production and consumption…become a part of the reality he has created, an object among objects, a thing among things.” (Theology of Culture, 46) Tillich's existentialist theology was a protest against life lived in a self-imposed illusion. Wendy Farley elaborates on the way in which this illusion functions: “A theory of reality (in this case the reduction of reality to things) is permitted to mediate the experience of beings to such a degree that not only is the reality of beings concealed but the very question about their reality is precluded….To struggle with questions of environmental responsibility in a way that accepts this reified ontology already cedes most of the questions in advance to powers bent on the most efficient exploitation of the environment possible. It is as if one agreed to accept, ‘for the sake of argument,’ the Nazis’ characterization of some persons as subhuman and then, on that basis, decided what range of treatment was appropriate….”(Eros for the Other, 198)

John Prine: Paradise

When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there's a backwards old town that's often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.

And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away

Well, sometimes we'd travel right down the Green River
To the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and we'd shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would kill.

Then the coal company came with the world's largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.

When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I'll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin'
Just five miles away from wherever I am. 

Cultural desire for space can potentially work together hand in hand with organic desire for space. Cultural space is potentially a much needed good, a way to create hospitable spaces in which more forms of life can flourish than could otherwise survive or fully flourish in a strictly evolutionary organic context –the weak, vulnerable, and those easily trampled.

Steve Earle: City of Immigrants

Livin’ in a city of immigrants
I don’t need to go travelin’
Open my door and the world walks in
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

Livin’ in a city that never sleeps
My heart keepin’ time to a thousand beats
Singin’ in languages I don’t speak
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of black, city of white, city of light, city of innocents
City of sweat, city of tears, city of prayers, city of immigrants

Livin’ in a city where the dreams of men
Reach up to touch the sky and then
Tumble back down to earth again
Livin’ in a city that never quits

Livin’ in a city where the streets are paved
With good intentions and a people’s faith
In the sacred promise a statue made
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of stone, city of steel, city of wheels constantly spinnin’
City of bone, city of skin, city of pain, city of immigrants 

[All of us are immigrants
Every daughter, every son
Everyone is everyone
All of us are immigrants

Livin’ in a city of immigrants
River flows out and the sea rolls in
Washin’ away nearly all of my sins
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of black, city of white, city of light, I'm livin' city of immigrants
[All of us are immigrants, every daughter, every son]
City of sweat, city of tears, city of prayers, livin' in a city of immigrants
[Everyone is everyone, all of us are immigrants]
City of stone, city of steel, city of wheels, livin’ in a city of immigrants
[All of us are immigrants, every daughter, every son]
City of bone, city of skin, city of pain, city of immigrants
[Everyone is everyone, all of us are immigrants]
[All of us are immigrants]

What is it that can keep organic and cultural desire on the same pathway? What can keep them linked together in such a way as to express both a eucharistic and hospitable desire for dwelling space, in the deepest sense of these terms? Gibson Winter, in his book Liberating Creation, argues that only the emergence of a genuinely organic-aesthetic paradigm of thought can bridge these two deep and often conflicting spatial desires. Winter argued for a broad theological ethic of the organism’s dwelling in the world, organized by an overarching symbol and aesthetic of divine justice.

Similarly, Wendy Farley argues for a unity of the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of desire. As Farley puts it, “The throb of beauty running through life carries with it a judgment against wanton destruction or exploitation.” (EO, 80) “Beauty refers to that about a thing which makes its existence not a matter of neutrality or indifference….a kind of pure gratuity.” (EO, 80) Beauty refers to ”the value ladenness of reality.” (EO, 81)

Spatial desire, like our other wounded desires, always, in Farley’s words, “runs in a direction opposite to that of totality: outward, toward others, toward the world.” It is desire that is “enchanted by this reality, in its concreteness, variety, and beauty….” (Eros for the Other, 67) Spatial desire, therefore, has the potential to draw us ever more deeply into the world in which we dwell, experiencing the wounding of that world as, in Sally McFague’s words, the wounding of “God’s Body.” (“Intimate Creation,” 36).

Bruce Cockburn: Lord of the Starfields

Lord of the starfields
Ancient of Days
Universe Maker
Here's a song in your praise

Wings of the storm cloud
Beginning and end
You make my heart leap
Like a banner in the wind

O love that fires the sun
Keep me burning.
Lord of the starfields
Sower of life,
Heaven and earth are
Full of your light

Voice of the nova
Smile of the dew
All of our yearning
Only comes home to you

O love that fires the sun
keep me burning 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

II. The Second of Five Wounded Desires: The Wounding of Ethical Desire

Wound/Desire 2: Violence and Ethical Desire

The second wound is violence, which wounds ethical desire or the desire for human flourishing in the world today. In this situation, according to theologian Sally McFague, the “arrogant eye” which objectifies, triumphs over the “loving eye” which “acknowledges the other as subject.” (McFague) Levinas calls this “voluptuosity” – not love of the other, but love of the love of the other, which is really love for oneself (see Black, 121).

PJ Harvey "Me-Jane"  

Oh damn your chest-beating, just you stop your screaming
It's splitting through my head and swinging from the ceiling
Move it over, Tarzan, can't you see I'm bleeding?
I've called you by your first name, good Lord it's me-Jane!

And I'm rolling 
Split head
And I'm moving 
I'm me-Jane

Oh damn your chest-beating, just you stop your screaming!
All the time you're hunting swimming fishing breathing ?
Don't you ever stop and give me time to breathe in?
I've called you by your first name, good Lord it's me-Jane

And I'm running 
Split head
And I'm moving 
I'm me-Jane
And I'm trying 
To make sense
You're screaming

Don't load it on me
Don't load it on me
Don't load it all on me

Tarzan, I'm pleading, stop your screaming!
You've got me many walls around here, but no ceiling
Oh, move it over Tarzan! Can't you see I'm bleeding?
Good lord you never stop!

Don't load it on me 
Don't load it on me 
Don't load it on me 
Don't load it on me-Jane

Don't load it on me-Jane
Don't load it on me-Jane
Don't load it on me-Jane
Don't load it on me-Jane 

Rene Girard comments on this wounding of desire, naming it “mimetic desire.” According the Rowan Williams’ summary, "I learn to desire by seeing the desire of others; and the danger of this imitative process is that I then conceive myself as competing with the other for what I have learned from the other to desire. This rivalry in desire more and more distracts me from the object and locks me into a destructive mutual hostility with the other: I look no longer at the object but at them.” (Williams, 126).

The writings of Jewish post-holocaust philosopher Emmanuel Levinas capture many of the elements of this wounding of genuine ethical desire. For Levinas, the visage or “face” of the vulnerable other presents each of us with a profound obligation or responsibility. Understood in its best light, this obligation is not a suffocating burden but a liberating desire for the freedom and wholeness of the other person. (See W. Farley) As international xenophobia increases, however, mimetic desire increases and the desire for the well-being of the other is hidden behind the trumped up need to protect “one’s own.” The myth of scarcity overwhelms the myth of plentitude, and “I have to get and hang on to what is mine” even at the expense of others. We worship God as “Totality” rather than “Infinity,” the Holy One, instead of the Holy One-for-the other,” a triumph of the god of ontology over the god of ethics. 

This often leads to a belief in what Walter Wink once called "the myth of redemptive violence." Like the Western B-movie plot line, redemption is tranquility in our town and anything goes in protecting it from dangerous "others." 

American girls 
American guys 
Will always stand up and salute 
Will always recognize 
When we see Ol' Glory flying 
There's a lot of men dead 
So we can sleep at peace at night 
When we lay down our heads 

My Daddy served in the Army 
Where he lost his right eye 
But he flew a flag out on our yard 
Til the day that he died 
He wanted my mother, my brother, 
My sister and me 
To grow up and live happy 
In the Land of the Free 

Now this nation that I love 
Has fallen under attack 
A mighty sucker punch came flying in 
From somewhere in the back 
Soon as we could see clearly 
Through our big black eye 
Man, we lit up your world 
Like the Fourth of July 

Hey, Uncle Sam put your name 
At the top of his list 
And the Statue of Liberty 
Started shakin her fist 
And the Eagle will fly 
Man it's gonna be hell 
When you hear Mother freedom 
Start Ringing her bell 
And it will feel like the whole wide world is raining down on you 
Ohh Brought to you courtesy 
Of the Red, White and Blue 

Ohh Justice will be served 
And the battle will rage 
This big dog will fight 
When you rattle his cage 
And you'll be sorry that you messed with 
The U. S. of A. 
'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass 
It's the American way 

Hey, Uncle Sam put your name 
At the top of his list 
And the Statue of Liberty 
Started shakin her fist 
And the Eagle will fly 
Man it's gonna be hell 
When you hear Mother freedom 
Start Ringing her bell 
And it will feel like the whole wide world is raining down on you 
Ohh Brought to you courtesy 
Of the Red, White and Blue 

Zygmunt Baumann notes that the wounding of ethical desire is deeply influence by “the wish to consume. To imbibe, devour, ingest and digest – annihilate. … Desire is an impulse to strip alterity of its otherness; thereby, to disempower. …In its essence, desire is an urge of destruction. And, thought but obliquely, the urge of self-destruction; desire is contaminated, from its birth, by the death-wish.” (Bauman, 9)

And so we encounter within our human condition a second wound – violence, which is the wounding of ethical desire –  or a wounding of the desire for the healing and wholeness of all human others.