Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bakhtin for Worship Leaders: Ideological Becoming

I recently posted about Bakhtin’s idea of the living word as a useful concept for worship leaders.  Another concept that I think is helpful for understanding the Bible as both flexible and unchanging is Ideological becoming.

The idea of ideological becoming has to do with the ways a person combines available discourses to determine the ideologies they identify with.  Bakhtin is similar to other theorists, who assume that individuals assemble pieces of various discourses to construct their own identity.  To help understand this concept, Bakhtin talks about two different kinds of discourses: authoritative and internally persuasive.

Authoritative discourse refers to reified texts that carry with them the weight of history and authority. “The authoritative word is located in a distanced zone, organically connected with a past that is felt to be hierarchically higher.  It is, so to speak, the word of the fathers” (Discourses p. 342).  This is especially applicable to religious texts like the Bible, whose authority is especially unquestioned in the context of the church.  While this authority gives a text advantages, it also creates a desire for rebellion.  Authoritative texts feel distant and irrelevant, or heavy-handed.  This poses a significant challenge for those hoping to breathe life into authoritative texts.

Internally persuasive discourse is one that an individual accepts into the play of their own identity and with other texts; they become a part of the becoming of a person.  Bakhtin writes, “Its creativity and productiveness consist precisely in the fact that such a word awakens new and independent words, that it organizes masses of our words from within, and does not remain in an isolated and static condition” (Discourses p. 345).  This kind of engagement might release a biblical text or old liturgy from interaction with it as a stagnant, static authoritative text.  What makes a text internally persuasive is its ability to invoke a response (“new and independent words”) and engage with other words.

This is where it becomes important that Bakhtin doesn’t think of these categories as mutually exclusive.  “Both the authority and the internal persuasiveness of discourse may be united in a single word – one that is simultaneously authoritative and internally persuasive” (Discourses, p. 342).  How do we make our worship one that is simultaneously authoritative and internally persuasive?

I think one way is by offering an opportunity for individuals to produce “independent words” in response to the older, authoritative words that might be presented.  For example, churches offer opportunities for congregation members to present their own art or writing in church, or to create art or writing during the service itself.  These active responses allow the words of scripture to become part of us, in dialogue with our own words, and becoming our own words.  As part of our ideological becoming.

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