Thursday, January 30, 2014

"The Challenge" Day 10: Genres, Ghettos, and Starlings

A third of the way there! If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can start at Day 1

I'm taking a class this semester called Emergent Gathering, which is shaping up to be pretty cool. Our first class we had a lecture/discussion led by Pete Bulanow, who is a professional smartypants. The lecture focused on the science and math of emergence--it was, as our professor (Mike Stavlund, whose hair is itself a stunning statement on the power of self-organizing groups and whose book, A Force of Will, you should read) said, a "non-theological, non-ecclesiological, non-liturgical introduction to emergence."

Pete said a number of things that really stuck out to me, and since I'm having pretty good luck letting other people write my blog for me I figured I'd just quote him a bunch.

The thing that got me thinking about connecting his talk to the K-LOVE Challenge is a point Pete made about genres. He was talking about the way that the 'modern' view of reality--very ordered, very neat--is imposed on reality rather than being reality. He compared modernism to a graph laid on top of the world--straight, measurable lines.

To make the point, Pete talked about genres of music. "Musicians didn't invent genres," he said. "Marketers did."

So when I flipped on 91.9 in the car, I thought to myself, "Who the hell invented CCM?"

I mean, the idea that there is contemporary music about faith and Jesus and grace isn't surprising at all. That Christians would pick up instruments and write songs about the core beliefs and commitments of their life is a natural--and very cool--thing.

But at some point, the "sound" of CCM developed into something that others emulated, and that could be marketed to a certain audience. Taglines were developed: "Positive and Encouraging." "Family Friendly and Kid Safe." Certain vocabularies, musical and lyrical, became prominent. And now CCM is a thing unto itself.

Another term that jumped out at me from Pete's talk was "Christian ghetto." The idea that Christians can get kind of stuck in a closed off community, in which we never interact with people outside of aforementioned vocabularies, is fascinating to me. And as a seminarian, worrying to me.

Ironically, though, part of my goal with the K-LOVE Challenge is trying to enter a little bit deeper into the world of the Christian ghetto, since otherwise I'm much more likely to listen to NPR or to something on Spotify than to listen to Christian music. What's happening in here, behind these Jesus walls? What language is being spoken? Is it the language that I speak, or something different? And is the language that I speak able to communicate outside of my own ghetto, or not?

Ok, one last thought. As an example of emergence and complexity, Pete played the amazing video that's been going around the interwebs of the flocking starlings. He talked about how a predator could come at the flock from one direction and, within milliseconds, the far side of the flock has reacted. But there's no leader.

How is that possible? We're not quite sure. But one possibility is that each bird, although unable to see the whole flock, has its eye on seven other birds.

And that's the thing, right? How I move and how I act and how I speak isn't entirely an atomized, individual choice. It's also a product of the seven birds that I have my eye on. The music I listen to. The literature I read. The people I spend my time with.

So although, after the Challenge, I'll go back to listening to non-CCM, I do have to ask myself: "What am I keeping my eye on? And how is it moving me?"


Now playing on "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)" by Chris Tomlin and His Perfect (But Not Nearly As Stunning As Mike Stavlund's) Hair

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