19 November 2008

Dear Drummers,

I love Radio Jesus.

I’ve been groovin’ to Radio 91.5 “The Refuge: Positive hit Music” (translation: Christian rock music). When I worked a t the seminary I remember people making snipy comments about Christian pop music because it was considered so light on real theology. I always suspected that some of the professorial consternation included a dose of envy—that Christian Rock has an enthusiastic, even orgiastic audience, something scholarly publications could only dream about. Christian Rock also taps into one of the basic tensions for ministers—they always want their flock to go deeper, to work harder at their faith, to pray with more vulnerability, read more difficult books, and meditate longer. They find that the vast majority of the faithful want simple, non-nuanced and fun experiences that bring them a sense of peace.

Christian Rock co-opts the coolest riffs and most compelling melodies from the secular pop music world, and jams in praise lyrics. Only a few of the lyrics are distinctly dogmatic like the hip hop-lite: “I can’t believe that you died 4 me, gave me eternal life and eyes that see….” Most of the songs are love songs and the lyrics are indistinguishable from anything you’d hear on any other pop music radio station except all sexual energy is excised, as is anger. So you have the heavy metal sound without the earthy bite, and you have hip hop-hop structure with the sweat carefully removed.

What you are left with is a popular art form that is all about one thing: pleading for companionship, in a non human form, without the frailties, vagaries and pettiness that we must endure in every other relationship in our lives. Radio Jesus never lies to us or demands anything of us except our love; never betrays us or comes up short, never confuses us with competing truths. To the biblical scholar steeped in the conflicting truths revealed in every passage of scripture, Radio Jesus is an insult.

But to 99% of the faithful, Radio Jesus is all they really want from religion. Radio Jesus reminds us that on this cloudy day, if you were to just rise high enough, you would burst through the clouds and realize the sun is always shining and it’s constantly a new day in which your mistakes are erased and your welcome never wears out. The theologian comes to faith through the intricate maze of the mind; a faith built carefully brick by brick, and this is a good path for some. Most people come to faith through the need for comfort in a terribly frightening, disempowering and disappointing world, they want a spiritual Jacuzzi.

Well, I suppose there is plenty wrong with Radio Jesus if you look deeply into it, but having steeped myself for so long in the scholarly love of ambiguity and ambivalence, I find the simplicity of Radio Jesus very attractive. I too sometimes want to be loved, and not always worked by God. Because I always live in the grey area between scholarship and mysticism, between the one God and the many, I tend to see Radio Jesus as a collection of awesome and helpful energies rather than as one guy. But that’s just me.

At this Friday’s drum I hope we can enter into a conversation about The Comforter. How do you find comfort in this world? And I hope we can ask the drum to take us above the clouds, or if you wish, beneath the earth, to that place where The Comforter comes to us and gives all the love we need.

See you soon,
Jaime

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