Sunday, October 30, 2005

Thoughts for Reformation Day

On October 31, 488 years ago, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg Germany.  Little did he know, I imagine, the cultural craziness that was about to ensue, or the tradition of church schisms that would continue for the next 500 years plus (to be perfectly fair, the east-west schism had happened hundreds of years before that anyway, so somebody else really started it).

We mention the Protestant Reformation a lot in my Rhetorical Theory class, and it seems that the reformation has something to do with the history of ideas.  It was clearly grounded in what was going on culturally at the time – the Guttenburg press enabled the reformation as well as the development of democratic ideas.  Luther’s idea of the Priesthood of All Beleivers either led to or was influenced by the individualistic turn in thought at that time.  My colleagues in the Rhetoric of Science tell me that Dr Lessl believes the Protestant reformation led to the development of Science.  I had no idea before recently how interrelated all these events are.

So what has the reformation given us, and what has it left us with?  It lead to some necessary changes within the Catholic church in Europe, and undermined the hegemony of church officials, which was being abused plenty.  It began a tradition of criticizing the church and, unintentionally, of division within the church.  I think the criticism is a proud tradition – we need sincere voices of dissent.  I wonder if the constant division, sectarianism, dogmatism and defensiveness is a necessary side effect of an atmosphere that allows for dissent.  I’m sure Luther would be appalled at the sorts of Protestant-Catholic fighting that has been going on since the Reformation, the entirely un-christian tribalism that even leads to war and terrorism in extreme cases.  Must Reform lead to fighting?  How do we change a bad system while acting in love?  Can we be both prophets for change and voices of unity?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Don't Sell Me Your Christianity

When I was in grade school I hated when we were supposed to sell stuff. My parents hated it too. I hated the way I felt like I was manipulating people into buying overpriced things they didn’t need. I hated feeling like a failure because I didn’t sell enough cheese and sausages. I hate when people try and sell me stuff too – I don’t like to feel manipulated, and I don’t like the guilty feeling when I’ve obviously disappointed someone. When I see people selling things aggressively, I try and avoid them.

Last night I was downtown, and somebody tried to sell me Christianity. Which is a nice enough thing to be offering, but you see, I already have one. I don’t mean to sound arrogant here – I know that I am not the perfect Christian by any means. But this person made me feel uncomfortable immediately with her aggressive style and the way she didn’t give up. And she also made me feel looked down upon, as though she was better than me because she was proselytizing on the street, while I was looking for a fun place to hang out with my friends for a few hours. Even though I answered all her questions in the affirmative (yes I have a church home, yes I have a personal realitionship with Jesus), she still yelled something derogatory after us about “walking away from other Christians.” We avoided that corner after that.

The encounter bothered me, and continues to bother me. I was so turned off by these people who were trying to invite people to their church and share their faith. Even though I am already predisposed to like Christianity, even though I have a home church already. And part of it, I’m sure, was that I knew this girl wasn’t going to get what she wanted out of me. Maybe I should have challenged her to a Bible Knowledge contest or something. But really I just wanted to spend some time with my friends and not be bothered. And the thing that really bothers me about the whole situation is that if MY reaction was so negative, what must it be like for the people they were actually targeting? Is “street witnessing” really an effective witness at all? Can you hand out invitations to religion on a street corner like invitations to try a new restaurant? It seems to me that Christianity is about a lot more than anything you can commodify and advertise one evening on the street. But if Christians are behaving like this, how are other people to know that it isn’t?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bible in High School Curriculum?

I think “name the allusion” is a fun and informative game when one is trying to understand a text, as I told my students. Various things about my training (such as my Jazz Vespers background which was a big game of interconnected texts) makes me think that allusions are important and meaningful. That allusions intend to invoke something about the original text that is cited, and that is why they are used. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that when Martin Luther King quotes the prophet Amos he wants to invoke the authority of the prophet. What happens, then, when an audience doesn’t know an allusion?

This is why I have a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology on my shelf, and why there is a group publishing a textbook that teaches the Bible in High Schools, which I read about in this NRO article. The bible is the most frequently referenced work in western literature (and rhetoric) and many students don’t know the Philistines from the Philippians.

I may just be an intertextuality nerd, but I do think that a firm grip on the history of ideas and literature is essential to really understanding any text. Familiarity with the Bible seems especially crucial because all the connotations that immediately come with an invocation of it. If people are claiming the authority of a sacred text, this seems a pretty significant rhetorical move. However, I am a graduate student in rhetoric, is this a level of understanding that High School students need? Perhaps not. But I would argue that a basic familiarity with the Bible and classical mythology is more important than an encounter with Shakespeare or Charles Dickens, which shows up in most High School curriculums. I suppose it depends on what one thinks is the function of a High School education. If it is basic knowledge for life, maybe Bible should be included, especially in the current political climate, where a command of biblical text is a powerful rhetorical tool.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Who Holds Its Pillars Firm

This is a different Psalm 75 poem from the one in the psalmfest, but it’s been floating in my head for a few days. It’s similar to a poem from last month, but sometimes poets get obsessed with things and write a lot about them. (for the ease of the reader, here is the text of psalm 75, NIV)

Who Holds Its Pillars Firm
(Psalm 75:3)

I am one of earth’s people, trembling.
It is I who sits alone in the dark, afraid
to visit tomorrow, knowing that I am
imperfect, and ill-equipped.
Out of desperation
I reach for the grace of God.

But my quaking is nothing, compared
to the earth and all its people. I
read of thousands gone, like flowers
blown over by the wind, when the
earth half a world away makes
its groaning more violent.

Are you the one tapping the earth,
causing its shivers? Or are you the
one who picks up a few and brings
them to safer ground? How do you
chose which pillars to hold?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

modes of communication

Okay, I have been thinking over the past few months how the mode of communication attaches meaning to it. I’ve been meaning to post about it forever, and conversations with friends and in classes helped nuance my ideas. So here’s what I’m thinking: the advent of cell phones, email, IM etc change the meaning of the initial contact, and change the way we think about relational communication. I’ve been thinking mainly about letters vs email and the change in phone significance between cell phones and telephones.

The first issue I’ve been thinking about is cost. With letters and long distance calls on a landline, there is a small but significant cost to the person who chooses to initiate the conversation. When I send a letter to a friend it costs me $0.37 ($0.80 if they are in another country). A small price, but a price nonetheless. Receiving a letter in the mail, then, has inherent value over an email because it cost the writer something besides the time to type an email and the thought to send it. Long distance phone calls work in much the same way. Receiving a long distance phone call used to be like receiving a gift. The caller thought it was important enough to speak to you that they were willing to spend money on it. Because of the way cell phones are billed, this is different. It costs me the same to place a call as to receive it, so the significance of receiving a long distance call is significantly less in the cell phone era. I’m still parsing out what this means for relationships (especially long-distance ones), their significance and their maintenance. I know that if it weren’t for free email, IM, “in” calling, and nights and weekends I’d have lost touch with many people that I am glad to stay in touch with, but does the ease of contact make it somehow less significant?

Another change with the advent of cell phones is this: I now call people instead of places. Before cell phones one had to know where someone was in order to get a hold of that person. One also had the chance of talking to any one of a number of people present at a particular place. Now, if I want to leave a message for someone, I just call his or her cell regardless of time or place. If they are unavailable, I assume I will just be able to leave a voicemail, which my friend will receive when it is convenient. This is certainly more reliable and convenient form of communication, but it also detaches us a bit from place. When our contact-ability does not depend on location, does this make us less aware of the significance of a particular place?

Does all this technology that eases our communication make place and distance less significant? Or does it just make us believe that physical space is less significant? Is this good or bad?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Collision Or (3+4=7) Reviewed

If I had to review the new David Crowder Band album in one word, the word would be this: brilliant.  A few more and I might throw in: daring, beautiful, postmodern.  Since it’s my blog and I get as many words as I want, I’ll elaborate.

The band’s website helps me a little in understanding the cd, although the work itself gives a careful listener plenty of hints.  The website lists us some themes: an eschatological statement regarding death, mortality, good and evil, the second coming, the raising of the dead, oppression, deliverance, hope, bluegrass music, hiroshima, springtime, the quiet waiting that comes just before the loudest sound ever.

I think the real key to understanding A Collision is to view it as a whole.  There are individual parts that are gorgeous or rockin’ on their own and would stand outside the cd: O God Where Are You Now, Do Not Move, and Our Happy Home are among my favorites.  There’s some songs that will work in a worship service just as there were on previous Crowder albums: Come and Listen and Wholly Yours seem particularly apt for this.  But what’s really creative and interesting about A Collision is the way they weave things together.  The little tracks with blips of things to come or things past are the big hints to the throughlines of the album.  Although I think the biggest hint is the interview at the end mixed with the Lark Ascending.  It’s not so great if you’re listening to the cd in the background, but it is a little bit profound.  “why do you keep mentioning the year these people died?” “but most of the time I don’t feel like the Lark.”

For me the piece is mostly about the mystery of death and life.  It questions and marvels and sings and sits quietly.  It’s fantastic, but you have to be willing to think and listen carefully, because it’s unusual.  But I am swiftly falling in love with it, even as I am still trying to figure it out.  (If you want to talk about it with me more, I’m up for that).