Saturday, 29 June 2013

Dancing in the church

In my time at Sonar, I have been known to dance to some of the music.

I am a dad, of course, and so I fully accept that things which encourage me to dance may not be in the best interests of everyone. I am also fifty, but, apparently, I dance like someone half my age. Of course, I don't have the physique for that really, or the endurance. On the other hand, I no longer care.

It is not so much that I still have the moves - I never had them, and even if I did, they would be different now. What I do still have is some ability to head a beat still. Of course, it helps if it is being blasted at 120Db. And is vibrating your innards.

Dancing in church is something I have not done for a long time. For which, I think, everyone should be grateful. Other people do, of course, and I am not sure it is a good thing.

Now I need to make a clear distinction here between professional, liturgical, interpretive dance and what I am talking about. I don't mind some professional quality dancing - I am not especially awed by it, but if it is done well, it can be exceptional and moving. Even liturgical dance can be an enhancement to some peoples worship, so if it is done by people who can dance, that is, in my mind, acceptable.

The problem I have is with the style of ordinary"dancing" in church. That is, ordinary people jigging to the music played as worship. There are three real problems I have with this:

1. There is a certain "way" of dancing in church. It is not actually very freeing, it is ritualistic just as much as so much else in the church is.

2. The majority of worship music is not danceable. For me, it really doesn't make me want to dance - I have because it is the done thing, but in honesty, the music never made or makes me want to dance, in the way that the Sonar music did.

3. Most people in church do not have a sense of rhythm or the style to dance anyway. This is not a problem in the Sonar environment - everyone is just having fun, enjoying themselves, and the music helps to relax people.

The thing is, if the church had music that was actually really danceable, music that was proper dance music, then maybe it would be OK to dance to it. Maybe that would discourage those who currently like to dance to it. Maybe it might make the church less embarrassing.

Dancing in the church is a good idea. The problem is that the current music is undanceable, the current dancing is humiliating, and the current dancers are too old.

The quote usually used against this is that of King David who, when his wife laughed at him, is that he said "I will become even more undignified than this." I suspect that is David came into many churches, he would say "Well, maybe I won't become quite that undignified."

It also strikes me that when church decide to organise a social dance event, what does it normally do? A Barn Dance.

I loathe Barn Dances. I loathe the formal dancing, I loathe the structure and organisation of this moving to music. If I am going to dance, in the sense of moving to the music, I want the music to tell me what to do. Yes it is pretty undignified; yes it is unstructured; but it is worship.

Or at the least, quite a lot of fun.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Church music

OK, I want to start this particular set of rants by a simple and bland statement:

99% of music in church for worship is unmitigated crap.

Note that I do not mean that the musicians are not talented, at least some of the time. Or the worship-leaders and song-choosers are not doing the best they can. If all you have is crap, and everyone expects the same sort of crap, you have to provide crap.

I am at Sonar, and have all sorts of thoughts coming from it - Sonar is a music festival in Barcelona, mainly focusing on "modern" - generally electronically inspired music. Kraftwerk were headlining one night, the band who have inspired many of the other acts, I suspect.

I went to hear Elektro Guzzi the other day. They are not everyone's style, I would accept - 50 minutes of bass, drum and guitar playing, somewhat avant-garde.And pretty load - at the ear abuse loud level.

And yet I was there dancing away (and I have another post on dancing, so I will put my comments there), along with many others, and enjoying myself. That was, for me, a form of worship. It was engaging with the music to help me touch something of the Numinous - the divine that is other.

And yet I have heard - not specifically to that, but in general - "how can you worship to that?" to which I have two answers.

1. Watch the audience, the musicians. Get involved. And then reassess your definition of worship, if you still need to.

2. How can you actually worship to some anodyne 70's MoR music? Which is roughly the genre of most "contemporary" worship music. It is boring elevator music. The words are meaningless unless you are part of the "elite" who understands Christian-speak. And are therefore a theological exploration. How on earth can you worship to that?

Later that day - well moderately early the following morning, actually - I was listening to a Skrillex set. I think I was the oldest person there - probably by over a decade. I suspect that I was the only one there with a theological qualification. It was 4:15 in the morning, and theologians tend to spend that time finishing carefully worded arguments not listening to brostep at an insane volume.

Once again, it is not everyone's cup of tea. Not entirely mine either, in fact, but I was glad I went, glad I got a chance to hear him. This raised a different question for me, another interesting one. If this is what younger people listen to - and believe me, they do - how on earth can we expect them to come into church and sing to kum-by-yah sound-alikes? Why would they? Why should they?

Of course, a lot of the answers you get to this boil down to the fact that these are not really the sorts of young people we are reaching out to. We are really looking for nice, respectable, classical-music-liking youngsters. Or at least, MoR-liking youngsters. These are the ones we can possibly reach, and they are hard enough. We will leave the clubbing-Skrillex fans to the youth worker, who can mold them into the shape we like first.

I see some 20-30 thousand young people who God loves and cares for, whom he wants to reach, screaming and shouting and having a good time, and I wonder how on earth it is possible to reach them, to enable them to engage with a wonderful, loving God. A God who, I suspect, loves the banging beats rather more than we suspect.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Abuse - endemic in the church?

I posted a comment on a discussion along the lines that "abuse - of power or position - is endemic in the church". The response was along the lines of "what a ridiculous assertion". I don't think it is ridiculous, because of what I have experienced, and what others have told me, but I want to explore this a little more here.

Firstly, I have just finished watching a documentary about the sex abuse allegations in the Catholic church. A number of things have become clear in this scandal - which has been rumbling for half a century or more. Firstly, when it was originally raised, the response was "priests would never do that" which enabled the abuse to remain hidden for many more years. Then, once the accusations were made to the hierarchy, the response there was to protect the priests involved, not consider the victims.

The response of the "system" was to protect the "system". The risk of people losing faith in the "system" was higher than the risk of letting abusers continue. And, I hate to say it, but I understand their position. They are wrong, but I understand - if the church is the representation of God on earth, then people who lose faith in this institution will lose faith in God.

The problem is that the church - the system - is not the representation of God on earth. It is a human institution, populated by humans who are fallible, but an institution which, at its best, seeks to enable people to engage with the Divine.

The TV documentary made a very significant point - that priests are considered by the church and the people to be a higher form of person. They are raised onto a pedestal, and treated as the embodiment of God, and so if we believe this is what they are, they have to be above criticism. It is unfair to everyone, and the system - the belief system under-girded by the structural system - requires priests to be what they are expected to be. Very few people can live up to that.

I predict that the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church is not over yet. I suspect that it is far wider than has been discovered even yet - maybe not children, but abuse nonetheless.

The problem is that this problem is endemic in the Catholic church because of its ecclesiology. The concept of what the church is means that this problem will not go away until the church changes how it sees itself. That is what I mean by endemic.

But what of other churches? Surely the protestant churches don't suffer from the same problems? What of the Orthodox? Well, they don't have the same "system", the same core problem with their identity of church and God. However they do very often have the same problems of raising the clergy or ministers onto a pedestal, and it is that problem which tends to cause abuse.

If clergy are viewed as beyond reproach, they criticisms of them will be unacceptable. Even when they are not explicitly seen as "Gods messengers", they are very often treated preferentially, because they are "doing Gods work", and so can be forgiven for occasional lapses or failings.

All of which is crap, of course. Until we stop treating clergy or ministers - whatever we want to call them - as "special", they will be able to abuse their positions. Until we stop giving other people power over us, they will continue to abuse that power.

Endemic? Yes, because churches are organisations that make paternalistic power structures into something unchangeable, because they are "ordained by God". What is more, within most church structures, "the system" is present in some form, and the people who could make changes are very heavily invested in "the system", not least because they are paid by it.

So yes, abuse is endemic in the church. This does not mean that all clergy are abusive, wrong, dangerous or broken. There are many who work within the system to do good work. But the system itself is wrong, and it needs to be changed.

I just cannot see this happening without a revolution.

Turning Fifty

Later this week I will be hitting my fiftieth birthday. Because I am away on holiday at the time, I have had some of my presents early. One of my friends has given me a free magazine entitled "50+ magazine". As a bit of fun, I should point out, not seriously, for which I am grateful.

The image this magazine paints of life after fifty is about looking back on past life, going on coach tours, buying orthopedic furniture, looking at care homes and planning for my funeral.

I am also aware that I will be eligible for Saga, something that I may well consider if they can get me cheaper car insurance, but nothing else. The idea of being part of the Saga generation is one that fills me with horror.

In fact, as a whole, the idea that this whole image might be appropriate for me is something that fills me with dread, because I am not that old really. In fact, I will be spending my birthday in Spain at the Sonar modern music festival - headliners Kraftwerk, possibly followed by being up all night watching other performances.

That is my idea of how to spend my fiftieth birthday.

I think we sometimes categorise people by age far more that makes sense. I am well aware that I will probably be twenty years or more older than the average age of attendees. But that is far closer to my culture than Saga - I like my music, and I like it loud and banging.

It seems that the church is as bad - maybe worse - at this age typecasting. "We need to do something for the youth", or " we need to provide a club for the pensioners" The truth is that this sort of classification is as wrong as when someone is classified by being "male" or "female", by skin colour, sexuality, whatever.

Classifying people is wrong, partly because it seeks to define people - "old people need xxx", "gay people need yyy" - but mostly because these categories are wrong. There may well be people who are 50 who wish to consider orthopedic furniture. As for me, I will be partying all night on my birthday.

Happy 50th!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Having a sense of humour

On twitter recently, there has been a spoof account called @EmergentBroDude, who is definitely worth following, but has attracted a lot of criticism. Most of this criticism comes from a) the very people who the account is spoofing, who don't seem to appreciate the fun being poked at them and b) people who seem to think that spoofing these sorts of ideas is sacrilegious.

I also follow a couple of "God tweeting" accounts, who also occasionally attract comments like "This isn't what God is like".

I should point out that Emergent is probably somewhere around the position that I might take, should I be wanting to label myself, so I appreciate that my views are, at times, the ones being taken the mickey out of. In particular, the arguments in one of my earlier posts on feminism is not issue was rather well torn apart (actually, not quite the argument that I was trying to make, but one that was quite close to it, and I could have drifted into). The @EmergentDudeBro posts made me think and appreciate how close I was to a view that I would reject if presented to me, but could work myself there quite easily.

But so often, when I see people criticising these parody accounts, I think Get yourself a sense of humour, won't you?

Really, is the god who created the universe going to actually be offended by someone running a  parody twitter account? Given how many people claim to speak his words without any sense of parody or irony, I think someone doing it with the acknowledgement is probably better off. What is better, @TheTweetOfGod saying "My love for you is unconditional, provided you do and think exactly as I say." as a parody, or people who promote this idea as actually being what God is like?

Parody is a long-established way of poking fun at people. If you don't like your parody, then a) identify the aspects that are true; b) change them c) laugh at yourself. Don't say that the parody "doesn't understand what you mean" or is "unfair and unreasonable and blasphemous". OK, some parodies are poor, but the good ones simply reflect back what people hear. It is not easy to appreciate that, but the fault actually lies where the message starts. Not at the parody.

And sometimes, Christians can be very humourless. "Oh we're not," we say, "we laugh at xxx" where xxx is something poking fun at someone else - maybe other Christians, or religious groups. If we cannot actually look at what we claim to believe, what we - ourselves, not others - say is our creed, and realise that it is ludicrous, that it sounds hilarious, that we sound like a parody of it, then we are missing the point.

Christianity is ridiculous. The core tenets of our belief are laughable.

Which doesn't, of course, make them wrong. I mean who said reality has to make sense?