This summer I was asked to pitch in as the Liturgical Coordinator at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC, a little town located just outside of Asheville on the Appalachian Trail. I'm ready to pack my bags and live there if I can figure out how to do so. But that's another post for another day.
I had what you would call a typical Goose experience. I was challenged and edified. I was with people who struggle with faith and justice and work as pastors, artists, activists, and scholars. It's a good group. I left invigorated and ready to take on the world.
I also left heartbroken.
Meet Yara Allen. A self-proclaimed "Theo-Musicologist," Yara is a brilliant scholar and musician who provided not just musical leadership, but a strong liturgical lense through which she helps craft the Moral Monday events in North Carolina with Dr. William Barber. I listened to her speak of collective effervescence and other such notions I am familiar with through my ritual theory work. She spoke of communitas and liminal space, though she never used those specific terms. Collective effervescense, however, was a term she did use and she clung to. It was...inspiring. Truly. Follow her on Twitter.
I learned a couple of things from her. First, I saw how one employs scholarship in a very tangible way to help edify a community. That's incredibly important and was great to see done well. Second, I was reminded that it helps to have a reason to sing.
An intention. A motivation to the musicking.
So simple, but there I was squirming in my seat with the realization that I have forgotten why I sing. I am left wondering what my reason was in the first place. I'm going to be spending some time reminding myself, I think.
I got a little maudlin after the festival and scribbled down theses words, too. Ah well. Melodrama prevails.
Singing was/is something I love(d) and would like to love more deeply. Also, I made myself a promise that music would be the cornerstone of my life in some way. Song has been that way for so long. I don't know if it will remain such, but making music...why? I just don't have an answer to that question right now. I used to be able to tell you. But lately it has been very, very hard to sing at all.
Another reason is this:
I understand that musicking is like any other complext set of human behaviors. It can be employed to virtually any end imaginable. Music doesn't bring peace all on it's own. You have to want to bring peace with music and employ music to that end. If you doubt my claim, I refer you to the music of Nazi Germany or any of the present day Skinhead groups.
But there was this guy, Matt Morris, and he awoke to something and his awakening is pulling at me as well. Then there was Traci Blackmon. Here's a shot of the two of them talking...making plans.
Then there was Emmanuel Jal. I'm still working on that. God god...And Bree Newsome. Yes, the woman who climbed to the top of the flag pole in South Carolina and took down the old stars and bars. She blew me away. She also posed for a selfie.
All of this is, of course, about more than singing.
Singing can be about more than singing. Singing can also be about the why of singing. With all that breathing and bodies resonating and sounding in space, it can be ornamental or it can be about something. I'm looking at this mess and wondering what the hell I've been singing about all this time. I want to be about something with my music again.
So it is back to the beginning in a way. Charles Seeger was the "first" ethnomusicologist in the United States. He was also Pete Seeger's daddy. I'm going to have to take this thing all the way back. Likely further than this.
But there it is.
Praise be to the Wild Goose and all the good music. I'm grateful.
Filed Under: liturgy
What is going on here?
You have stepped through the veil
into a temple without walls jet-lagged,
road weary, burned out, intrigued, hopeful,
enthusiastic, and just a little confused.
You have entered a basilica
where the dome of heaven itself is the ceiling.
Shrines and altars line the route on our pilgrimage together;
a holy time;
a thin place crafted by your hands
and kissed by the Holy Spirit
inviting you to join in The rhythms of our time together.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
This is the three great days of Holy Week,
a continuous liturgy that begins on Thursday night
and concludes on Sunday morning.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
This is a tent revival
where we will testify to the movement of The Divine
in our streets, classrooms, courthouses, homes,
and even our churches urging one another
to wake up to the truth that the holy is in each of us.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
This is a festival of art and music where we are reminded
that we are bodies-good creatures-blessed icons of heaven on earth
and we can move and sing and be engulfed
in landscapes and soundscapes of hope.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are you, the peacemakers.
Blessed are we, the peacemakers.
This is the liturgy of Wild Goose. Welcome.
There are a great many articles about the digital terror we call the "selfie." Narcissistic, they say. Shallow, they say. A sign of the end of civilization, they say. Hyperbole aside, I want it known that I love your selfie.
It's true. I do. And I want to see more of them.
This is the thing about social media; it is a great way to see someone. We see what they want to show us, of course, but that's a familiar enough human habit. We get to see who their friends are, what they like and dislike about their day, what they had to eat, or their favorite book. And when they turn the camera upon themselves, we get to see their faces.
I love your face. This is why I am on FACEbook. Subtle, no?
I love that weary "resting face" you posted yesterday. I love that you have a selfie stick and take pictures of yourself with your friends every time you get the chance. I want to see these people you talk about. I want to see you with them.
Of course, those new glasses make you look smarter. The new lipstick isn't really your shade. And, yes, I wish I were with you at the festival.
I cobble together all these selfies you post. Somewhere in the aggregate or between them all is you.
After all, you are the reason I am online in the first place.
So, keep posting selfies. I want to know you better. Pay no attention to the naysayers. It is always good to see your face.
Once I imagined God or the spirit of the universe as a conductor of sorts. You know, standing there in front of all creation waving her arms frantically in the attempt to get us all to play nicely together. Or, at the very least, to play some semblance of what was on the page. This is, of course, to no avail.
You see the brass is out of tune and the reeds are all broken and somebody is playing the timpani too loudly.The noise that is made is chaos. I have come to love it.
No one seems to care that their instruments are out of tune. There is some grace in the score and certainly grace in the hearing of the conductor.
The trouble is that everyone keeps playing as if they were the only one who knew how to play.
One oboist insists that their A is the correct A. This proves problematic for the folks playing the gamelan. Once again, the timpanist doesn't hear anybody else.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
The percussion of war drowns out all other music for the one playing the drum.
But this is all beside the point. I wake up now each morning and there is so much new noise. There is so much around me and in my head. I cannot silence it. I have lost the oboist. Even the tuba has gone silent. Or is lost amidst the chaos. I am blind to the direction of the conductor.
Each morning I insist on rising. The light streams in my window and I get up again. My newborn son is playing a new music.
It is all I hear.
There's a lot that could be said about today's drive home from the church picnic. A lot.
For example, I could say that the hospitality shown my eight-week old child was heartwarming. I could say that the sermon was challenging and well wrought. I could say that the sky was that impossible California blue. I could say all of these things and I would be telling you something true enough at least.
What I want to tell you eludes me still. So, bear with me as I talk all around it and fumble like a fool. It's my lot in life.
We drove up the hill out of Tilden Park emerging on the ridge-line road (Grizzly Peak?) and with the clear cloudless sky, we could see for miles. Stunning as this vista was, what I wanted was music. My radio was on, so I turned it off to hear more clearly, to listen to the soundscape.
Wind. Birds. Cars. The passing jets. Just so much to take in, but no music. Maybe. I am sure it was somewhere, but I found myself wanting more. I want to be inside music, between the sound waves that batter the environment and help us track the passage of time.
I have always made a habit of seeking the space between the tones, looking for the overtones, the hidden pitches, the unplayed melodies. Somewhere in there is Truth, perhaps. I cannot say. All I know is that is what I am constantly listening for.
And today on that drive I imagined a world filled with music making, overt and chaotic. I imagined bathing in that soundscape. I imagined the people and the music they would invent, how it would layer and layer and beat and drone and cause so many to dance and I lost myself for a moment.
Just a moment. Then the road demanded my attention. I checked the rearview mirror to see that EP was well (he was, the boy loves a drive) and I turned the radio on.
I cannot for the life of me remember what the DJ was playing.
When did you last think about the relationship between your community's worship practices and their missions? It's such a loaded conversation. What makes for "mission"? Why do we set the two practices - what we do in worship and what we do after - at odds with one another? Is it simple geography? One happens behind the ecclesial closed doors while the other is more public? I want to know when we lost the sense that our liturgies were public events rather than secret rites. But that's another post.
Keith Anderson has written a response to Rachel Held Evans' post on the sacraments and getting Millennials back in church. From where I sit, both pieces are strong. And Keith's critique is really for those who think that RHE has given congregations afraid of change a get out of jail free card. She hasn't. Quite the opposite. And Keith is driving that point home.
"Judging from the comments I’ve seen in the days since Held Evans’s article was posted, I’m afraid that her assertion has had the unintended consequence of reinforcing the tendency toward inertia exhibited by some Mainline ministry leaders. “See, we’re fine. We don’t need to change,” I can hear them saying. “We can keep doing what we’re doing. Let’s put on some coffee, order some new communion wafers, and wait for the young evangelicals to come pouring in.”
Good luck with that."
He's absolutely right. Rachel is saying something quite different. You see, she's doing the work of connecting the mostly obvious dots. By doing, she offers a critique of the "relevant liturgy" industry. Such liturgy is an invitation into a purity cult whereas her experience of the Episcopal church reflects an invitation into something much broader.
"But I believe that the sacraments are most powerful when they are extended not simply to the religious and the privileged, but to the poor, the marginalized, the lonely and the left out. This is the inclusivity so many millennials long for in their churches, and it’s the inclusivity that eventually drew me to the Episcopal Church, whose big red doors are open to all — conservatives, liberals, rich, poor, gay, straight and even perpetual doubters like me."
She sees the connection between the liturgy and the mission of the community with which she worships. On the other hand, the communities seeking slicker styles are often masking an inhospitable theology with their very hospitable aesthetic. The beleaguered Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill is an easy example of what I'm talking about.
What I like about both pieces is that they are desperate to connect the dots between the liturgy and the liturgy after the liturgy (Ion Bria's helpful gloss). Ruth Meyers has a new book out entitled Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission that suggests the image of a Mobius Strip to explain the relationship between worship and mission. It's worth your time, if you like reading that sort of thing. Here's a related essay for you as well. In an interview she suggests:
"I introduce a worship matrix as a tool for preparing missional worship. Take one part of that matrix — perhaps the gathering with which worship begins or the way you arrange and use your worship space. Consider how that aspect of your worship can more fully express God’s love for the world and draw the assembly into deeper communion with the triune God. Experiment a bit — try one new thing in worship and see what happens.
Most importantly, pray and study the Bible, listening for the still, small voice of God and opening your eyes to the ways God is already at work in your assembly for worship and in your neighborhood."
This is what excites me about this kind of exchange we're seeing right now online. People are questioning the relationship between their worship practices and their missions. Deepening our understanding of these two practices and how they are actually connected to one another can only strengthen the ministry of any community.
Rachel and Keith are both right and they are both providing examples of how we might all examine our own practices.
Filed Under: liturgy
Ziggy Marley & Stephen Marley perform "Look Who's Dancing" on the streets of Austin, TX. #LegendaryStyle #MelodyMakers John Varvatos
Posted by Bob Marley on Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Filed Under: theology
Hangs from the rafters
No words may sully
Tale of betrayal,
Blood, and sweat.
Today is one of
Those days when I
Am reminded that I
Cannot get there
And they call this day "good."
What has been done
Cannot be undone
There are no reparations
Only hollow promises of
Redemption and release
She stands in the shadow
Awaiting resurrection and
Recollects for us a time
When as a child she was told
Not to sing. Sometimes
Courage is a child singing
I cannot for the life
Of me remember a
Time when my heart
Did not ache for a
Place or moment or
Smiling face that I might
Recognize and would
In turn recognize me
The self-imposition of
loneliness is like ashes
Upon my forehead, my
Solitude a cloak of
Sackcloth and ostentatious
Enshrouded in God's Love, I am entombed in Grace and anointed with the promise of more. I do not know if I have the patience to wait out Death or the courage to harrow Hell itself. I am struck down by my own words and the urgings of my heart. Here I make my own end.
I am preparing for the Great Vigil.
Packing up a lifetime of regrets and
Remorse, I make my way uphill,
Through the doors, and into the
Courtyard. There, with the others,
I will gather around flame and song.
I shall stand in the dark while God's
Primordial flames begin to burn it
All away. My chaff. My hurts, both
Afflicted and inflicted. With heart
Outstretched I will sing and walk
And pray that in the moment of
Light I might know what it is to
Be born again. Hæc nox est.
Filed Under: poetry
The ministry of Jesus the Christ was inescapably political. At every turn he was setting himself at odds with the powers that be. Rome. Jerusalem. Religious authorities. State authorities. The confusing conflation of the two found in that day and age...
Every act of healing, every act of love,
every proclamation of the jubilee
every lesson taught;
every meal shared;
All of it - political.
A precarious statement from this pulpit given the political activities in the state of Indiana this week. Faith and politics is a mixture that rightly makes us uneasy.
But, Jesus wasn’t running for office. Nor was he lobbying for a bill to be signed into law. The particularities of Jesus’ context were different than our present day circumstances. But that Jesus set himself against the Powers, the Principalities, is plain to see.
"Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
I have a tradition of trying to turn Holy Week into a time of devotion, a time set aside for personal reflection and renewal. Certainly, it is that. But given how we begin this week, this particular service, I wonder if I need to reframe what we are up to this week. What if the political prelude of the procession of palms is the context for the entire story? Rather than treating it like a liturgical prefix, what if we paid attention and saw it as the catalyst for all that will follow. It is the culmination of Jesus’ ministry.
This story isn’t about how everyone around Jesus got it wrong...about how they didn’t understand his true purpose. It is a story about how Jeusus shows us all how far we must go - all the way to the heart of creation itself. It’s not that everyone got it backward. No. Rather, it’s that they simply didn’t take it far enough. They didn’t take it all the way to the cross, to the tomb, and to the third day.
Jesus is bringing the politics of the Kingdom of God into the heart of the political landscape of his time and it baffles everyone. So they respond.
When faced with the politics of the Kingdom of God,
there is almost always a political action in response;
a flexing of political muscle...
...an attempt to close things down. And that’s precisely what happens.
The powers shut it down. Isn’t this just what political power often does? It sets limits. It closes things down. It builds fences to keep the wrong kind of people out.
And, of course, in our own time, we often use Jesus as an excuse to do just that. We call it the Kingdom, but it’s not.
This itself is a misunderstanding of what the politics of the Kingdom are.
Jesus is trying to open things up. He’s asking for mercy. He’s offering grace. He’s trying to open our hearts and minds. He’s trying to open our communities. He wants to give everyone space to breathe, live, learn, and grow into what God created us to be.
Why are we so afraid of giving one another that freedom?
And why, when we are granted that freedom, are we so quick to renounce it?
This is Holy Week. From top to bottom this entire week of liturgies is a retelling of an act of rebellion that was meant to open us up - to open all of creation - to throw open the gates of Hell, overthrow Death and proclaim life. Can this be our politics?
Look around you at the stations of the cross.
What is devotional is political is devotional again.
A first century march on Jerusalem is an act of politics.
A twentieth century march on Selma is an act of devotion.
Can a twenty-first century procession around the block in Berkeley - that act of devotion - be an act of politics? This is the politics of the Kingdom of God and this is the political devotion that is Holy Week.
It is a politic of love and not domination.
It is a politic of love and not violence.
It is a politic of love and not greed.
This is the insurrection of God.
This sermon was preached at All Souls Episcopal Parish, Berkeley, CA.
Filed Under: liturgy
It's not rocket science. If you've been following along, it cannot be too great a surprise to hear that I was unable to get everything done in time for my oral defense. Not for lack of trying, of course, but there it was. The words stopped. There's a baby coming. I have this full time job that I enjoy. There's much to do and I need to do it all.
I'm not suggesting that anything bad has happened or that any of this is particularly unfair, but I'm sitting here trying to recharge. I petered out. Crashed. Burned. Etc. So, I'm going to take a great deal of down time and await Mixtape's arrival in early April.
Thanks again for all your support and encouragement.
Once upon a time I could work on four hours of sleep. Now it seems that though I only manage 4-6 hours most nights, I can no longer do the intense intellectual (an overstatement, perhaps) work that is needed. I'm sitting here allowing the white noise of the internet wash over me in the hopes that something will spark my energy back up. But it's not happening, sadly.
I'm going to have to regroup.
I am afraid I don't have it in me. Yes, I'm whining, but I'm good at whining. So, there's that. I wonder if there's good work for whiners? What would that be? Radio personality? Perhaps.
I don't know how people work full time and do doctoral work. It's too much for me. I'm not even at the dissertation phase. Lordy. Ugh.
Preachers, when you stand in the pulpit and you talk about limitations and failure, what do you talk about? Is it only ever fictional? Is it only ever Moses' stutter? Peter's cluelessness? Maybe it's Martha's work ethic. Or do you stand up there and say, "So, this one time I really fucked up. Let me tell you about it." Or more generously, "Here's a story of when I hit the limits of what time and energy allowed me to do." Do you ever tell those stories? Why or why not?
I don't know what's going to happen next. I'm going to go back to the salt mines. I may make it. It's also possible that I just won't be able to write any more tonight about semiotics and liturgical song. I just don't know.
I just don't know.
How does a sonic symbol function? Maybe we should first ask, "What is a sonic symbol?" Can there be such a thing? It's a foregone conclusion that there is such a thing, in my not-so-humble opinion. Still, I need to "show my work" as the old mathing attage goes. Let's pray I don't drop a negative somewhere along the way.
What follows is an attempt to distill my comps essay into just a few words. The hope is by doing so, the 30-40 page missive will be more clear to me and I can finish it up today. Here is how I framed the question for my comprehensive exam proposal.
In Sonic Theology, Guy Beck wrote, “While historians of religion have routinely conducted research into sacred space and sacred time, they have curiously overlooked or ‘overheard’ the dimension of sacred sound.” To meet the implied challenge of Beck's words, the focus of this particular essay is the hymn “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” by eighteenth century Baptist preacher and hymn writer, John Fawcett (1740 - 1817) and its present-day use as a communion hymn in many American Baptist congregations.
This essay will interpret the hymn and construct a sonic theology through a brief survey of various religious practitioners, the semiotic theories of Thomas Turino (semantic snowballing), Naomi Cummings (listening as an act of love), and Jean-Jacques Nattiez (discourse theory), and the theological notion of "multi-faceted loving" described Augustine's De Trinitae. More than simply about sound itself, a sonic theology is holistic and performative, the sonic elements of the music carrying a variety of theological meanings found in lyrical text, in the ritual context and it performative strategies, in the embodied interpersonal relationships between liturgical participants, as well as participants' memories of past performances of the hymn. This essay will argue that a sonic theology is constructed in ritual context between individuals participating in worship and over time.
I. Introduction: Beck's challenge is a helpful one. Both Sonic Theology and his more recent volume, Sonic Liturgy take seriously the utility of liturgical studies for an ethnomusicologist like himself. Ed Foley and Mary McGann both provide helpful lenses by which one may understand the function of sonic symbols in liturgy. What I am proposing in this essay is that the semiotics approach of (ethno)musicologists Turino, Cumming, and Nattiez provide a helpful accompaniment to the liturgiological frame. The phenomenon of singing in the liturgy is itself the symbol. There is an objectivity to embodied performance that can be described as "symbolic." To get at this phenomenon, I've pulled together a little ethnographic data on the singing of "Blest Be The Tie That Binds" in Baptist congregations. It's commonly used at communion which gives it a handy liturgical context for the purposes of this essay.
II. History of A Hymn: Baptist Minister John Fawcett (1739-1817) penned the text to "Brotherly Love" in a fit of sentimentality when he left his long-time pulpit for a new job in London. He and his wife were eventually overcome with their grief and returned to the former congregation. It's a curious piece that has two melodies assigned to it though DENNIS is the most common. What I cannot uncover, however, is how and when the hymn made its way to the United States. Did it come in a collection of hymns? Or did Fawcett bring it himself when he was invited to speak at Brown? The historical record is unclear (though this too would make a fun project). Over the years Fawcett added several verses though contemporary hymnals include only three or four.
III. Present Day Performance: Here's the fun question as far as I'm concerned...Where did this little tradition come from and how widespread is it? No one knows. Again, did Fawcett suggest it be sung when the Lord's Supper is celebrated? Who can say, but there it is. Baptists across the country stand in circles and hold hands while singing the first verse of the hymn. The question that then emerged after collecting the data was simply, "What does it mean?" The ethnographic data reveals that it means a great many things. And the text of the hymn does not always frame the meaning. Also interesting is that the meaning of the rite (or if it is even a rite) is seldom explained to people performing it. They are left to their own devices to make meaning. Beck's work is a helpful tool to framing just how this happens. And, in turn, the results of the analysis prove to be a rich field and Turnino's "semantic snowballing" comes to the fore.
IV. Semiotics, Theology, Composition: Semantic snowballing is a handy turn that Turnio (ethnomusicology) offers up to describe how symbols, specifically musicking behaviors, accrue meaning over time for communities and individuals. His Peircian framework is mammoth but helpful no less as Turino is interested in how Peirce helps us understand music as a social phenomenon. Similarly, Cumming takes a Peircian approach but to it she adds some feminist critical theory and frames various kinds of "desires" between composer, performer, and audience that adds a helpful affective dimension to Turino's frame. There are different kinds of loving at work. But this is not the only semiotic approach. Nattiez frames a separate trinity of "concept, behavior, and sound" that expands our understanding just a little further. Here is where we have to remember that there is a theological act in the making. Returning to the ethnography, I'll explore this activity and suggest that Augustine's Trinitarian theology is a helpful vessel for comprehending what's at work. There is a risk in this as none of the respondents mention Augustine, but as a liturgiologist, I'm hopeful that I can pull the old sage out of my tool box and put his ideas to work because his "multifaceted loving" is an expansive enough notion to hold these musicological analtytical tools. It is, if you will, my own understanding of the hymn as I have experienced it. Here the researcher adds his own perspective to the ethnography. The snowballing continues and meanings are composed in each iteration of the rite. This is where I will nod to Jacques Attali's notion of "composition." This still feels a little far afield and may simply end up as a footnote (a long one at that), but I think the philosopher has a helpful framing here.
V. Conclusion: I think Beck asks the right question. And turning toward ethnography (McGann) is helpful. Foley's taxonomy, however, feels heavy handed. The semiotic tools I offer expand us beyond functionalism's taxonomies into something a little more generous. Composition happens. We may or may not like it, but as human behaviors are concerned, it cannot be ignored. Framing meaning is not framing orthodoxy. It's simply coming to an understanding of one another in the social life of the worshiping community.
So, that's what I got. Have at it!