Clouds have assembled and we are praying for some much needed rain.
English from the Latin:
Give peace, O Lord, in our time Because there is no one else Who will fight for us If not You, our God.
(The following are from Psalm 122:6-9)
Let there be peace in your strength, and abundance in your towers
I wish you peace for the sake of my brothers and my family
I have sought good for you because of the house of the Lord God
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee
Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, just as it was in the beginning, and now and always, and forever.
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 nonsense. Reassuring themselves by telling others to welcome the Way as being 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
Some years ago I picked up a book entitled ‘The Naked Christian’ by British author, Craig Borlase. That was 2002. Since then I have completed close to 12 years of middle management in Christian retailing, and I have nearly, more than qualified for a double degree in ministry and theology. Why is this important? It is important because it help’s to lay out the context from which I speak. I cannot in any small way, minimise the significant point of impact that this book had on me at that period of time in my life, and despite the intense learning curves since, still has. Over the next few days, I plan to explore this in more detail, for now here is an introduction.
Within ‘The Naked Christian’, Borlase critiques the social contracts that bind us to a transactional-consumerist nature of relationship. This is based on his own experiences with the results-over-relationship priorities that such social contracts inform. Borlase considers ‘balance to be the imperative of focus’ (p.111) and overall his work achieves that. It is a balanced and helpful discourse concerning worship, ecclesiology, evangelism and mission. His purpose is to bring into ‘focus’ (p.109) ‘two extremes’ within the Christian church which he considers as ‘short-sighted’ (pp.109) and ‘long-sighted’ (p.119). The former are those Christians who have retreated from the world through fear of having their faith contaminated by the world (p.113). The latter are those who have seemingly surrendered themselves to a highly commercialist culture (p.116), and by default have watered down the Gospel to fit in with the whimsical ‘trends’ (p.125) of the world.
Sadly, this applies to some expressions of the church in Australia. Such a modus operandi permeates the socio-economic expectations and ecclesiastic tribalism found in some fashionable expressions of church (p.123). For instance, Borlase is right to assert that the ‘church suffers under the pressure to entertain, and before long the service becomes more about keeping bums on seats than about keeping eyes on God’ (p.15). Sounds too harsh? perhaps. Yet, however we view this, it is difficult to ignore the nasty facets of church practice which Borlase has painstakingly highlighted, for instance:
When we reduce Christianity to looking fluffy we do God wrong (p.122)…When we buy into the line that looking our best is important it can only be a short step to believing that it is only when we look our best that we are truly loved. Carrying a little extra weight? Sorry, you’ll never be happy. Unable to afford the right label? Tough luck, your cool rating just took a dip. Whichever way you look at it, this line of thinking is totally in opposition to God’s way of doing things’.
‘Yes, it’s nice to feel nice, but how sad a state is it when we infect God’s word with the dark heart of conditional self-worth and mindless materialism? Those are two flavours that most certainly have no place in the faith…when Church becomes a fashion show, when looking in the mirror comes in front of the Sunday morning ritual of looking for the Bible, church itself gets affected…we need to watch out for the desire to bend too much in an effort to be relevant…Of course Christianity can be cool, vibrant, artistically challenging and inspiring. But doing things just for those reasons is as ridiculous a motive as they come’ (pp.124-125, reproduced with permission from the author).
In no uncertain terms, if this book had not been written, my walk within the church would have dramatically taken a turn for the worse. I’d had enough of the pretence of church. Such as: the empty rituals, hollow prayers, and the smiles, lies and hi-fives triumphalism that went with them. I was exhausted with the labels, disorientated by witnessing the repeated Spiritual show called ”manifestations”, that suggested God picked the same people every Sunday as a reward for their piety. I was fed up with having my tithing and church attendance record being used as the yardstick, that measured my commitment to Christ, and Christ’s commitment to me. Little did I know it then, but I was being led out of the Churchian ‘cycle of exclusivity and isolation’ (p.44), that is upheld by the false divide between secular and sacred. In short, Borlase introduced me to what authentic church can look like, and helped me to see the Triune God who gives his church permission to both sigh and breathe.
‘What this world needs, is not another one hit wonder with an axe to grind, another two bit politician peddling lies. Another three ring circus society. What this world needs is not another sign waving super saint that’s better than you. Another ear pleasing candy man afraid of the truth. Another prophet in an Armani suit’ ‘
(Casting Crowns, ‘what this world needs’ 2007, Altar and the door)
Borlase. C, 2001 ‘The Naked Christian: getting real with God’ Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.
Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, a professor of theology wrote in Modern Christianity, that Gospel-spirituals were ‘chants of collective exorcism’ (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 theinvitation 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 Spiriisthe 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.