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.


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