I watched “The Brit Awards’ last night and saw a new band called ‘The 1975’; charismatic singer, catchy pop tunes etc. They won an award and looked very proud!
But I’m reliably informed, (the gift of teenage children), they have received criticism for looking ‘Emo’ (moody, angsty, sullen) whilst not sounding it. The Emo look is all about black nail varnish, black eye-liner, messy hair, black clothes.. but the 1975 are singing happy pop tunes… the outrage.!
So I was watching their latest video ‘The Sound’ with my children the night before, and we laughed at the fact that throughout this rather arty video and enjoyable tune, there would be occasional flash cards repeating some of the more negative criticisms they received in previous years;
‘out of tune’
“there is no danger in this music at all”
“pompous arena synth pop”
‘bland monotone beats’
Trying too hard”
“Do people really still make music like this?”
“they’re essentially making robotic Huey Lewis tunes”
So what’s going on? a promotional video which displays some of their most withering criticisms?
Well it’s a tough world this pop business, and a lot of criticism comes to bands trying to work towards a successful career. Criticism can be pretty devastating.
But equally devastating can be taking those same challenges and rolling them over, subverting them and showing the weakness and shallowness of the criticism, as one commentator, Emma, on YouTube says;
“this, ladies and gentleman, is how you deal with hate”
So why discuss these things at café eucharist, what about the God bit?
Well I’d suggest that we all face challenges in our lives; and across the UK we are also facing huge challenges to the way the world is. We cannot ignore global inequality, environmental destruction, poverty and desperation in our own neighbourhoods. We also see the rise of a pernicious right wing agenda in global politics, and the persistence of un-reason-able terrorism.
The world feels dangerous, and it is.
But what is our response? Can humour offer something to break the deadlock of us/them politics, can subversive satire reveal a new way of seeing, lampooning the hatred of those who would want to shut others down, (like the band).
When we celebrate the Eucharist we are celebrating God’s subversive resistance to hate. The crucifixion is not God ‘fighting fire with fire’, it is not shutting down our borders, it is not the domination of any worldview.
Instead it is the final joke, the biggest satire; God allowing the flood of hate to flow, and yet respond with love. The crucifixion is God’s joke on the powers which want to belittle and subdue, it is the force of love which laughs at the violence,, sees through the sword waving and says ‘you are still loved, for love is stronger than all of these’.
Jesus joked so many times in these ways, lampooning the prejudice of those around him, creating absurd images of logs in eyes and naked people in court. and the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15.21) described as a dog; we can imagine Jesus and her wryly observing each other as they satirise the prejudice of those around them.
So what do we do? How do we respond? Looking for ways to avoid confrontation head on, we can subvert the logic of conflict; looking for humour and laughter as a way to humanise and to de-escalate the conflict, means we don’t fight violence with yet more violence.
We must resist, we must engage, we must stand for justice and for a renewed, hope-filled vision of the world… but let humour and satire fund our struggle, let it reveal the absurdity of the voices that wish to divide us. Humour can be powerful; deflating privilege and power. It has always been, but we may need it now more than ever ..
It was a very powerful and inspiring film… and personally challenging. It showed a man of incredible creative energy and drive who worked with great purpose and openness; still innovating, still exploring.
It also showed how he learned of his terminal cancer diagnosis, and how in the last years – knowing his time was limited – he continued to work and innovate, and indeed turned his death into a piece of art; leaving questions – and surprises – still.
The film left me asking ‘what am i doing with my life?’ When you see so much drive and creativity it does raise those kinds of questions… am i doing enough? How can i be more productive, more creative?
I wonder how many of us struggle with the thought ‘what am I doing with my life?’ When compared to others it can seem very easy to become self-critical, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. We are all more aware of our shortcomings and weaknesses than others around us. And in an era of social media saturation it is all too easy to think we are not doing as well as others around us – not the great parent, partner, activist, right-on thinker etc. as all those smiling, trouble-free lives we are exposed to.
The point i wish to make today is that we are very used to this sense of pressure to be productive, (or ‘better’) today. The philosophy of positivism has influenced our thinking, and the desire for ‘results’ becomes compelling….
But the biblical witness suggests an alternative reading of our worth. That we are Being, that we have value in not what we do; but in who we are, and with whom we relate.
Of course we like to be creative, to be human is to be compelled towards novelty and curiosity, we naturally develop and evolve, through those same relationships. We are both being and becoming. We are human be(com)ing.
But this requires us to trust the process of life a little more, to trust the moments that we are in, to both ‘be’, and yet seek ways to ‘become’, to be creative and respond.
The contemplative traditions suggests something useful here. They speak of finding God within, in the still voice, of in silence. We often buy into the idea of finding God by reaching out, trying hard, working hard. Yet the mystics would say…
‘take time, be still, be silent, and discover that which is inside you…’
So we are are inspired to be creative and innovative – its part of what makes us human, and for some – that drive is engulfing. But so too is the time to be measured.. quiet and open to possibility.
We negotiate the space between activity and stillness, between creativity and simply being. We can resist the pressure to compare and to conform. We can discover – in the presence and gift of others – the space of be(com)ing.
Martin Scorsese’s new film, ‘Silence‘, is out in the cinemas now.
Based upon the classic book by Shasuko Endo, it follows the story of two 16th Century Jesuit Priests as they enter Japan in search of their mentor. They journey at a time when the Christian communities in Japan were mercilessly persecuted and driven underground. The film, (and book), asks probing questions about sacrifice, suffering and commitment. Most tellingly it explores and examines the constant silence of God in the face of such suffering, and plunges the protagonists into a deeper examination of their own simplistic assumptions. The film, (and book), remains relevant for us today when faced with deep questions about suffering and the way we might begin to understand God within that, if indeed God is caring at all…
One of the other interesting things which arose at this time, through necessity was the beginning of ‘Hidden Christianity’, (Kakure Kirishitan), which over the centuries became something which looked like a strangely muddled synthesis of Christian ritual and Shinto practice. The questions this raises about what faith is, and is based upon, is also worth some serious pondering.
Not for the faint-hearted, but highly recommended.
Last week’s remembrance service was a very moving time. The Poem at the end of the two-minute silence was by Wendell Berry;
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
This Prayer station was developed in September 2016 as a focal point for prayers for the community of both the church, the school and hopefully the wider community.
The writing on the wall is Hebrew script and so reads from right to left. The text is Psalm 148, a hymn of exultant praise to God, whereby all of creation is called into worship and delight of the creator,
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!
The use of Hebrew text is inspired by the artist Michael L. Radcliffe. It is both beautiful, and yet unfamiliar; and refers to the historical origins of Christianity from the Hebrew religion.
The Psalm on the wall indicates the ongoing prayers and praise of creation, that takes places beneath our radar of awareness, like a chant unheard; it even goes under the more obvious surface images, a subconscious prayer which we only glimpse from time to time.
The more obvious prayers are the Icons; an inheritance from the Orthodox Church, making the invisible visible, opening windows to reveal the presence of God in specific moments, (Theotokos-Incarnation, Pantocrator-Christ, Trinity). So the subconscious is drawn into consciousness, and our prayers are spoken into the warm embracing silence.
The Psalm continues its journey on the wall, and through the door to where?
The second images are an evolving piece on the Trinity, the life of God as expressed in self-giving relationship.
Further to this idea of the silent praise of creation, children from the school were asked to write hidden prayers for the community, for family, and the world. These have been wrapped up and are no longer visible, and placed on the walls as small parcels. They represent the silent prayers of all people; our hopes, fears and dreams, and they hold the church in a space of silent, longing prayer.
Please do take time to use the prayer station; light a candle, say a prayer or write in the prayer book, take some time to sit quietly, to think, to reflect and allow those unheard prayers carry and strengthen you in solidarity and hope.