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MJ GVL 2014

Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, a professor of theology, once declared that Gospel-spirituals were ‘chants of collective exorcism’ (Modern Christianity, 2010 p.317).

Duggan was inadvertently pointing out that being passionate involves an audience/community – it invites participation.

I think that when we consider the difference between passion and being passionate we can identify more precisely what the word passion truly implies.

I consider having passion (noun – passive/static) and being passionate (adjective – active/dynamic) separate – the former is based on appearances the latter is based on tangible evidence/substance. To be sure this is a subtle distinction falling closely inside the realm of semantics. However it is fair to suggest that being passionate is different from simply just having passion.

For instance: a working thesis of mine is that a lot of people like the idea of something or someone’s existence, yet they do not like the reality that that something or someone exists.

This shows we can have passion which is expressed in our attraction to an idea or, we can be passionate which is expressed not just in our attraction to an idea, but also to its reality.

This observation is helpful in understanding the distinction between the words passion and passionate. For example: having passion is passive, it is always receiving and it essentially goes nowhere.

Alternatively being passionate takes joy in existence. It is the description of a dynamic-active acceptance of something or someone. In theological terms this is evidenced by the idea of worship which involves a willingness to be ‘vulnerable’ and contribute (Brene Brown’s Gifts of imperfection, 2010).

Worship in this sense is the grateful acceptance of an invitation, one handed mysteriously to us from the Holy Spirit. This is an invitation to join the living, breathing life of the Divine (Phil.2:1, 2 Pet.1:4).

Possibly the best way to explain my point is visually. Take for example Mahalia Jackson (linked). It is difficult to just sit by and witness her ”passion” like an indifferent spectator would. This is because we are moved and drawn in by her authentic passionate response.

The Holy Spirit inspires change and her gratitude is deep and authentic. I think we could probably say that what we are witnessing is her passionate, active and dynamic participation with Father, Son and Spirit. Hers is a Holy participation and we are invited to hear (Rom.10:17) and then be enabled to move beyond ourselves. In this way our worship becomes a ‘chant of collective exorcism’.

Instead of consuming the message we are consumed by it! Similarly when we witness the cry of a martyr, through that experience we become martyrs (Tertullian).

This fits with my premise that having passion is to be considered separate from being passionate. Subsequently we either accept the invitation to participate or we sit back and eventually switch off.

The Holy Spirit’s role in igniting human passion is a primary elementin the creative formation and delivery of any passionate message and response.

Whatever forms that message may be the Holy Spirit is the one who inspires movement. The Spirit does this by inspiring change towards an inclusion into the content of that often disturbing message.

There His life giving breath (Job 33:4 ESV) is whispered into our hearts summoning us to the ‘freedom of response and fellowship’ (Barth C.D II/2) with God.

Consequently we will almost ALWAYS walk away ‘disturbed’ (Barth C.D. IV/II 1958, p.524) by a decisive and deliberate encounter with the transcendent God. The ‘Free God’ (Barth) who has chosen to make himself known in that time and place.


©Rod Lampard, 2014.

Sometime back I pointed to a statement, found in Amanda Porterfield’s ‘Modern Christianity’.

‘African American spirituals are “chants of collective exorcism” that delivered souls of black folk from total despair during the pre-civil war era in the United States’(2010:317)

The phrase is situated right at the beginning of Cheryl Kirk-Duggan’s essay entitled ‘Spirituals and the quest for freedom’. It’s been a while since I read the essay, but the impact it had on me has lived on.

Along with the socio-political context of Kirk-Duggan’s statement, it might also suit as a framework for the positive theological impact on music, architecture, proto-science and general intellectual activity of the Church (read: Commonwealth of Christ) in the middle-ages.

For example: among other things aspects of life in the Middle Ages reflected pain, suffering and oppression. in light of a transcendent point, that drove a reverential hope in God’s covenantal promise of deliverance. They were collective actions towards the Lord who alone is God, as He chooses to do and be for us[i].

Communal “exorcism” then, looks for a penetrative breakthrough, a freedom already granted under the interactivity of the one who ‘is not far from us’[ii].

We need to move beyond a socially engineered version (misconception?) of it and back to an appreciation of its relevance to the Church universal.

Our ideas of “exorcism” need to change, because this act is an exercise of our true freedom. We are essentially reaching for the God, who in Jesus the Christ reaches for us. It is a detachment, a protest and petition against whatever appearances, identity politics, labels and tolerance induced qualifiers might tell us about the nature of freedom. To borrow the theological language of Karl Barth, collective exorcism is related to God’s (“No”) reorientation  of us towards a commanded orientation that is for us (God’s “Yes”).

Prayer is a collective “exorcize”.

This “exorcize” is activated by a liberating ‘encounter between nature and grace – the encounter between both men and women, and the Word of God’[iii]

An act where we are told that when, in, and under Christ, ‘two should agree’ we are to expect God’s own decisive ‘amen’[iv].

“Chants of collective exorcism”, therefore, becomes an important phrase for understanding how God, in Jesus-the-Victor works through us. Radical is the invitation to pray. Not in order to conjure up God, Barth would say, but so that we may call upon Him, in freedom for our neighbours, and our neighbours in freedom for us.

Consequently, “exorcize” (active prayer) becomes understood as an exercise of genuine freedom.

Distinguishing God’s triumph from that of human triumphalism. Finding a thankful paradox in the midst of pain, where we can rejoice in his triumph. Responding to an invitation with prayer and gratitude, for his triumph to become ours.

“Heyr, himna smiður” was written by Kolbeinn Tumason[i] in 1208. The music was composed in the 1970s by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson (1938-2013), one of Iceland’s foremost contemporary composers.” (Arstidir music)

Literal translation.

Hear, smith of the heavens, what the poet asks. May softly come unto me thy mercy.
So I call on thee, for thou hast created me. I am thy slave, thou art my Lord.
God, I call on thee to heal me. Remember me, mild one, Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns, generous and great, human every sorrow from the city of the heart.
Watch over me, mild one, Most we need thee, truly every moment in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin, good causes, all aid is from thee, in my heart.
(FaithandHeritage.com)

Sources:

[i] Deuteronomy 4:32-40
[ii] Paul, Acts 17:28
[iii] Barth, K. 1938 C.D Dogmatics as Ethics, 1.2:791
[iv] Jesus, Matthew 18:19

According to The Way

January 8, 2014 — Leave a comment

downtotheriver

In writing for Amanda Porterfield’s 2010 compendium of essays which make up the book ‘Modern Christianity to 1900: A people’s history of Christianity’, Cheryl Kirk-Duggan discusses the complexity of circumstances, and the resulting deliberative theological nature of African-American Spirituals.

Duggan describes Spirituals as “chants of collective exorcism” that delivered souls of black folk from total despair during the pre-civil war era’[i]

These songs were ‘collective expressions of hope and solidarity’[ii]. They incorporated Biblical stories which were then ‘recast in the terms of the African-American antebellum[iii] experience, emphasising themes of freedom from bondage, divine justice, and redemption of suffering’[iv]

Singers and those who participated in this musical movement towards the cross, towards the empty tomb and ultimately towards Jesus the Christ, ‘climbed from feelings of sorrow to feelings of joy – the practice of chanting enabled people to throw off some of the ill effects of slavery…they named the forces of evil, strengthened people to resist those forces, and encouraged them to seek freedom and justice’[v]

Duggan rightly suggests that the ‘music carried the words, engaged the bodies and emotions of singers, and united people into a community that shared meaning and created emotional distance from the injustice that surrounded them’[vi]

In summing up Duggan concludes that Spirituals in some very specific cases[vii] ‘speak of adherence to a cosmology of divine justice involving faith in God, human responsibility, and desire for freedom. They all reflect an ironic sensibility that juxtaposed the difficulties of physical existence with moral authority and spiritual rewards…these spirituals saved lives and inspired endurance, resistance and hope of freedom.’[viii]

The phrase “chants of collective exorcism” makes me consider at how much Worship music and those involved in it today  overlook this deep aspect of its role and existence in the life of the Church. Maybe we shy away from the term because of the abuse and ignorance that has been forged around the word exorcism?

Karl Barth noted that the New Testament says no more than the Old Testament. In reality the New Testament is in fact the answer to the question of the Old Testament; the recollection and the anticipation[ix].

Barth will later write: We exist in a time of grace. Having had ‘proper time break upon us’[ix] we stand in the light of the apocalypse and its, or rather His further unveiling (apocalypse) which is to come. God in His freedom offends the oppressor.

Jesus the Christ is the apocalypse of God – the Word already spoken – the emancipation of humanity for God and for each other.

The judgement of the revealed God who is grace-in-the flesh, suffering in order to reach us because even though religion promises as much, through it humanity cannot reach Him.

At best, religion is our response to God’s act because the God-deed is done in Jesus Christ the Lord – God has been faithful to his word.

The Word already spoken is not a carcass for often hostile and prejudiced, scientific refute. Nor is it the property of empty repetitive ritual found in some forms of religious propaganda. Both these only exist as human quests for lordship, power, influence and wealth. Attempts to reinstate humanity as its own lord over others and by default then over the true Lord.

Instead, the word spoken is to be heard and received.By placing Himself in juxtaposition to us, God enters into relationship with us, affirming His rightful place in our lives in direct opposition to that which wills to enslave us.

As the just-judge he became and will become a contradiction to all that unjustly oppresses us (Acts 24:15).

Barth’s recollection and anticipation could easily be restated as the recollection and anticipation of God’s emancipation. Surely this recollection should mark the nature, character and substance of our worship. An element of collective exorcism defines the consequence as much as the characteristics of authentic worship – where in spirit and in truth our hearts, in prayer are complimented by gratitude.

It is too easy to take God’s emancipation for granted. To deny God our gratitude; withholding our yes to His. To not take His act seriously and instead become apathetic, compliant, disgruntled and open to empty alternatives. We are led to believe that we need to untie ourselves and only find we are slipping further from the firm, unusual hold of God’s grace into a shared despair that both Tolstoy and Nietzsche call the nothingness within the abyss below.

Men and women both clamouring to the top of the heap, pushing each other down, somehow aware of the rising tide (as in the days of Noah, Mt:24:37), yet selfishly trying to carry-on, protecting their possessions and writing the danger off as nothing. Reassuring themselves by telling others that The Way, The Truth & The Life (John 14:6) is nothing but nonsense.

Alternatively we hear and therefore receive a depth of understanding about worship from African-American Spirituals. They can move us beyond the historical and finite possibilities, towards the infinite potentiality established by God, grace-time held in tension with yet-to-be filled time. A time of existence between that which is already an actuality in Christ and that which is to come.

The African-American antebellum way of looking back in order to look forward, established a where-to in consideration of a where from. The way of looking back in order to look forward appears to have an accomplished understanding of ‘the Way’ talked about by Paul in Acts. As the Way became a vital anchor for perseverance and hope for the many who were mistreated, downtrodden, and sometimes forgotten, so it is that the Way remains a strong and true anchor for us today.


[i] Kirk-Duggan, C.A Spirituals and the Quest for Freedom, in Porterfield, A. 2010, Modern Christianity Augsburg Press, p.317
[ii] Ibid, p.317
[iii] Pre-Civil War America
[iv] Ibid, p.318
[v] Ibid, p.319
[vi] Ibid, p.320
[vii] Examples provided by the author include ‘I got shoes’, ‘You may bury me in the East’ and ‘Mary, Don’t you weep’
[viii] Ibid, p.327
[ix] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics: I.II:103-109

Reading through Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonheoffer I have discovered the importance of the ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church’ in Berlin. It seems that Bonheoffer preached there quite a bit.

450px-Emperor_Wilhelm's_Memorial_Church_(Berlin,_Germany)

Source: Wikipedia, circa 1900

B-17_Flying_Fortress_Wikipedia%20Commons_BombingBerlin1944

Source: B-17_Flying_Fortress_Wikipedia

The church was built in the 1890’s, and damaged by Allied bombing during 1943.Today, the church is a reminder of the devastation associated with war. In some respects it also stands as a visual metaphor for what happens when the Church capitulates theology to ideology. Instead of theology being held up as a critique of ideology.

The more I look at these pictures, the more I find myself taking in the serious message that each image conveys.

Sorrow is a corrective. Ambrose of Milan write that:

93. Let, then, nothing call you away from penitence, for this you have in common with the saints, and would that such sorrowing for sin as that of the saints were copied by you. David, as it were, ate ashes for bread, and mingled his drink with weeping, and therefore now rejoices the more because he wept the more.

(‘Concerning Repentance’ L:942-944)

Sorrow doesn’t allow us to ‘abdicate responsibility’ (Lesley Houston, 2013). It compels us to take responsibility by remembering what we did and where we come from. Sorrow involves confession. It is more sobering than sentimentality, nostalgia or having a morbid fascination with the past. Sorrow calls for authentic reflection. It requires crawling,  walking, thinking, waiting, talking, sitting, crying, grieving, apologizing to ourselves and to others. It means running towards the future with a cautious abandon, and having faith as-a-curious-obedience that accepts, as much as, gives mercy.

Kaiser_Wilhelm_Memorial_Church_in_Berlin_proto

Sorrow disarms our pride and negativity. It aligns us towards repentance and forgiveness. Although this comes with a caveat. For example: World War One army Chaplain , Oswald Chambers, wrote:

”There is more pride in human grief and misery than in joy and health; certain elements in human sorrow are as proud as the devil himself. There are people who indulge in the luxury of misery; they are always talking of the agonising and distressing things—“No one ever suffered as I do; there is a special element in my suffering, it is isolated.” At the back of it is terrific pride; it is weeping that will not stop”.

– He Shall Glorify Me, 489

When I look at the remnants of what was the ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church’, I am saddened and reminded of the churches failure, at that time, to accept  ‘calls to behave like the church’ (Metaxas 2010:179). As a result its artistic beauty is left in ruins. The ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church’  is no longer a whole building, it is disunified, much like the church was in Germany during the 1930’s. Therefore, this becomes a an architectural metaphor that perfectly illustrates what happens when the church  compromises on its confession of Christ.

Still, Christians are like salvage merchants. We are called to own the past, deal with it and make progress towards restoration through devastation. Often in spite of the expectations that fall on us to surrender to spirit of the age (the zeitgeist). All the while believing and hoping that what remains as the result of our actions, or the actions of others, is redeemable.

This action turns a static monument into a monumental movement. Since it is only in Him that we ‘live, move and have our being’ (Acts.17:28), scars become beautiful stories of healing, repentance and redemption – ‘God never creates evil out of good, but good out of evil’ (Karl Barth, CD.II.2, 1957:757). The redeemer is behind this creative impetus. Art can direct us towards God, and is itself empowered by Father, revealed through Son and present in the Holy Spirit.

thCABORZFZ_Kaiser Wilhelm Church

Image credit: corinekm

JesusinsidememorialchurchBerlin

Image Credit:Cityscouter.com

Good news 1964_Ambassador College

Source: Good news 1964_Ambassador College


Sources:

Barth.K,  1957 Church Dogmatics.II.2 Hendrickson Publishers
Carson, D. A. 2010, God Who Is There, The: Finding Your Place in God’s Story Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Chambers, O., & McCasland, D. (2008). The quotable Oswald Chambers (214). Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers.hambers
Ambrose Of Milan, 2013. Concerning Repentance (Kindle Locations 942-944). Kindle Edition.
Houston,L 2013 Christian Leadership lectures, Tabor Adelaide
Metaxas, E.2010 Bonheoffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville, USA
PDF Good NEWS, 1964 Edition featuring KWMC
corinekm.blogspot THE GEDÄCHTNISKIRCHE OR KAISER WILHELM MEMORIAL CHURCH, 2009

Related reading:

One Immovable Place, aboldjoy, 2011
Battle of Berlin : Australian War Memorial Issue 25
World War One Sonnets