I have just finished up leading a two-week intensive class on Theology and Popular Music. It was a bit intense, these classes are quite demanding--four hours a day for ten straight days, but they also yield some fruitful conversations, as the immersion deep into a topic seems to have a different dynamic than a class that is stretched out over a regular term. I was attempting some synthesis between understandings of the function of meaning(s) in popular music and the intersections, departures and challenges of theological responses to the world around us. We covered the developmental history of pop music, some of the key genres, artists, producers, managers etc., and of course, the 'business' side of the music industry, as well as the role of technology and culture---essentially, way too much stuff for a couple of weeks, but we did our best to touch on at least some of this in a meaningful way. On the final day I attempted to sketch out something of a beginning posture for the initiation of a conversation between these two elements. Posture, being the operative word, because for me, any act of theology requires a posture, an attitude, from which it springs, and for me, this is first and foremost, listening--to the other--if you don't listen, you can't hear and if you can't hear, you cannot know. All too often, in my experience, people begin with a pre-formed schema, which is then imposed over whatever it might be, and then, what fits is accepted and the bits around the edges are cut-off--negated etc. A bit of a broad dismissal of the theological enterprise I know, but I use that analogy simply to say that my approach is a bit different--I am interested in the surprising intersections that arise because of the rupture and disconnect as well as the congruity and synchronicity between various elements.
Now I taught this class whilst in the midst of what I can only describe as a major life-shift presently underway on my life. I can really fully express what I am going through--I am coming undone, in the best possible ways. This is of course, scary and exciting at the same time, but I want something else in my life and am now at a point, for a number of internal awarenesses to begin the process of making it happen, however challenging that may seem at times. All that to say, that much of what we talked about in class had resonances for me that went way beyond the topics we were discussing. Yesterday for instance, I utilized some of Brian Eno's thinking in an attempt to wrap some things up. I think Eno is insightful, he thinks tangentially and seems to possess remarkable curiosity and insight into many things. Here is a quote from him that I used,
"whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit - all these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It's the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.
Note to the artist: when the medium fails conspicuously, and especially if it fails in new ways, the listener believes something is happening beyond its limits."
Now that is a mouthful, and worthy of some serious reflection I think. The sound of things going out of control-sound of failure-fail in new ways-something happen beyond its limits--it appears to me that there are resonances here with the state of religion-the breaking apart of containers no longer able to contain the sounds that were intense for it. The growing cry in my own life and in many others I come into contact with seems to be some element of a sound, a cry, that is something too loud, too powerful, too momentous for the medium that was supposed to be able to carry it. Is that too strong? It doesn't feel that way to me. Of course, distorting guitars led to the rise of bigger amplifiers, but the desire for the sound of distortion didn't diminish, it actually became a defining element of electric guitar playing, and with bigger amplifcation technologies it could be built into the system and thus 'contained' perhaps the answer with religion is new and different containers, capable of compensating for the distortion. Many want to address the distortion by finding ways to reduce it, but perhaps it is the sound of breakthrough, of new potentialities, new iterations. I have attached a few more Eno-cisms at the end here, just so you can get a feel for the man's mind. You might also want to pick up a copy of his book, A Year, with swollen appendices: Brian Eno's Diary, which will give glimpses of his rather unique take on many things.