Tag: Power

The Power of Music: Big Jay McNeely driving the crowd at the Olympic Auditorium into a frenzy, Los Angeles, 1953 (Colorized)

I saw this post in a blog on colorizing famous Black and White pictures.  I looked at this and immediately recognized and related to the power a passionate performance and music has over us in the “moment” and how concerts can be a transcendent experience.  I thought this was amazing.  Big Jay McNeely in LA.


Original Photograph by Bob Willoughby | Prints available
Colorized by traquea on Reddit

Originally Published in this blog: http://twistedsifter.com/2013/08/historic-black-white-photos-colorized/

Rock N Roll and the Musical Landscape (My Senior Paper, 2005, Flagler College, Religion and Philosophy Major)

Elizabeth Elkin – Musical Landscape

(Note: This is a 30 page paper that I wrote for my Senior Thesis in Undergraduate Studies.  It is a good read, in both quality and length.  Those avid readers among us, enjoy, and I hope you’ll comment.  I really enjoyed writing this one.)

Rock N Roll and the Musical Landscape


            I would like to begin by saying that this paper is a culmination of two things that have influenced me a great deal while growing up:  landscape and rock ‘n’ roll.

On Landscapes: I grew up without cable television and spent much time playing in the New Hampshire woods, in the sun and snow, and I now vividly remember the textures of the different types of trees, the brown leaves crunching under my feet, or the midnight blizzards that made the night look like day.  I just close my eyes and there I am, standing like I did over 15 years ago, peering into a world that has become spiritual as much as it was a material reality in my childhood.  Landscape, in many ways, shapes our worldview from the moment we become conscious; and we, in turn, interact with it, shape it, and store it within memory as a powerful reminder of who we are and where we came from.

On Rock ‘n’ Roll:  As I became an adolescent, in the middle school years, I discovered something that could take my consciousness to new places on a different kind of journey than I had ever taken before.  I discovered Rock ‘n’ Roll when I stole my dad’s Moody Blues Greatest Hits album out from his music collection. After listening to it once, it was as if my headphones had become a portal to a place where I could feel my emotions and I could sort things out through the moving words set to a syncopated rhythm and in the case of the Moody Blues, an orchestra synthesizer, a flute, keyboards, and whatever else.  I remember memorizing the words unconsciously and before I knew it my thoughts would continually reference not only the words, but also the rhythm and the beat.  Only three years later, after working two jobs just to buy albums at the local music store, my collection contained about 100 albums and I had spent much of my time in concert venues looking for a music that moved me.  Rock ‘n’ Roll took me beyond my parent’s mobile home, especially during the cold winters when I could not take walks through the woods due to the frigid cold.

This paper is a journey in respect to these two things: Landscape and Rock ‘n’ Roll.  With my paper I hope to move the reader into a sense of what a landscape is moving to an emphasis on the sacred meeting points with God, then onto why music is a landscape that transforms the physical world into a new place, and finally to show the viability of Rock ‘n’ Roll as not only a musical landscape, but that it is loaded with the possibility of spiritual encounter.

I will begin with the landscape.  Landscapes being the places where people find meaning as they inhabit and live and create the context (culture) which they use to interpret their life story.[1]  In the first part of my paper, The Meaning of Landscape, I hope to instill a practical sense of the difference of being in space from actually giving meaning to a space, and in that creating place (the words place and landscape are interchangeable during my paper).  The “cityscape” is the most common form of landscape in the modern world and is incredibly becoming important because as I see it, as more and more people are born into the world it is becoming clear that the culture of the city and its suburbia will someday be the only available place for anyone to live—even farms will be forced to integrate into suburbia when the edges of cities collide over time.  I am reacting to this culture of the infinite city, and I try to illustrate my points with the use of places within a city as much as possible. In this I will also show how the stories and relationships that people associate with a place both give meaning to otherwise vacuous space.  It is from the relational element of community in space that I move from place, to a sense of sacred space, in other words, a place that has meaning because we encountered God.  From this point out, my paper will be centered on the relationship in space between man and God.

Next, the section Commentary on Music begins to pull out my theory of music as sacred landscape, by going into the recesses of the ancients: Plato who saw the utility in music for the state, then St. Augustine who experienced God in music during times of trouble, and the early worshipping Christian church (the first Jewish and Gentile converts[2]) as it first developed a liturgy that focused on both the utility and ability for sacred meeting in music. I then tackle what may be seen as a crisis of place that occurs in cities due to the nature of our mobile society where the concept of home is sometimes overlooked.  By showing that any space in our modern world can become meaningful by cloaking it in the metaphysical room of music, anyone with a gadget, headset, and a medium (i.e. cd, tape, etc.) can have access to a meaningful place where they can not only have a good time with friends and family though relationships, but also enter into a place where God may meet us and in that space, transform not only the space but our self.  Through this process, we do not have just a space, but a sacred place, a musical landscape in metaphor for the sonic meeting with God.

From there I move to Rock ‘n’ Roll, where I will give a brief history, and build a framework for the emergence of Rock as a modern landscape for meeting the divine and how it has become an almost necessary language for many in our culture, even for communication with God. In all this I hope to have completed a paper that shows music as a metaphysical[3] place of meeting between human and human, and more importantly human and God, with an ending emphasis on recognizing Rock ‘n’ Roll as its own place that is becoming a frontier of the divine encounter, sacred place, in contemporary times. 

I. The Meaning of Place

Whether we are underneath a tree looking out on a field or within a white walled apartment colored by delicate Ikea furniture, we are always interacting with the natural or unnatural environment around us.  But what exactly is space and how does it become more than just normal unnoticed sets of physical phenomena around us?  And how do we discover the “sanctuary of life” where “the awareness…of the presence of the divine?”[4] as Paul Tillich proposed.  In more plain terms, how do we make space into more than just the dust at our feet and the tree to our backs?  Phillip Sheldrake, who authored a book on this subject, separated the two terms, space and place, into two separate definitions.  Space according to him, is abstract, infinite, and subjective depending on an organism’s perspective.  Space, according to this definition is infinite and has significance only to the amount of space that we can perceive.  Sheldrake shows that if we step outside the universe, we would see how much space there really is and how little it seems to matter in this perspective.  Place on the other hand is a whole different story.  Place implies that there is an awareness of what is around you and that it is “tangible, physical, specific, and relational.”  In other words, it has meaning and we have a relationship to it in some way.[5]  So we see that space is what is around us, and we make Places by living in the spaces as an aware creature, creating stories that make those spaces reference points for our journey and understanding.  This is a starting point for the definition of place.

A good example to demonstrate this movement would be walking into an office tower and receiving an interview within a cubicle.  When you first enter the cubicle, it looks like any other; it is just a partition of space among many others and has no special significance to you, but when the interviewer enters the cubicle space, it starts to take on a whole new context.  She asks you a few simple questions that determine your character and you answer, though terrified of the results, to her seeming satisfaction.  There is a moment of silence as she looks over her paper work, then, she frowns, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that you are what we are looking for.  Have a nice day, thank you for applying.”  She gets out of her chair to leave and trips, smashes into the cubical wall and knocks it over to the dismay of a now screaming employee in the adjacent cubical.  This is a story to be remembered forever, and it is the story that makes the cubical space, place.  You go home and tell all your friends and family the tale of the evil interviewer and her  “payback” for not hiring you.  To the interviewer, each time she interviews someone in that cubical, she remembers the day the wall did not hold her as she fell, and to the other employee, the sheer horror of the walls falling down without warning means more caution and more awareness of the weakness of the cubical and more attention to his surroundings.  Suddenly a certain space has meaning and we can laugh, cry, yell, or think on the story that happened to us in a particular space at a certain time in history.  The cubical becomes a metaphor in the three different lives for the experience and emotions humor, humiliation, or fear as the three actors came into contact.  These experiences become part of our memory and help us map out the many days of our lives.

Once space becomes a place of meaning, a landscape is formed; “landscapes may be defined as sets of relational places each embodying (literally and metaphorically) emotions, memories and associations derived from personal and interpersonal shared experience.”[6]  Landscapes are molded by the human hand and mind as we make them fit into our lives.  There is no question that this storied space, the cubical, is now part each person’s story helping to define the identities of everyone who was involved in the coming together of people and circumstances. This is so important because it is within space that we live out our lives.  We work, play, drive, and worship;  yell, fall, and fly within a limited landscape, and these places are what we call “home”.  Home being a place to pass through as we come to personhood, it is where we belong to a community of people we know, but also where we can have a fruitful relationship with plants, animals, and the rhythms of the seasons, and offers us access to the sacred; it “relates us to life itself as sacred.”[7]  Space alone cannot become place, it is only with the human spirit and intelligence that space can have meaning to the otherwise meaninglessness of unexperienced existence.

Sheldrake’s example of the European parish relates this concept.  He mentions that the parish maintained an intense linking of relationships that encapsulate the lives of all within, and to move was to be dislocated spiritually and humanly.  A man walking into another parish’s church for the first time would not understand the message quite as clearly, or get the jokes, because identity within these small communities is synonymous with the geographical location of home.[8]  Of course a parish would have no meaning at all if it was not for the people who lived within its boundaries, who constantly are living their lives, creating stories to tell, and ascribe on invisible signposts the words, which explain that someone has placed a space within their thoughts.

It is interesting that Sheldrake uses the European parish as an example of what it means to be secure in a home, because in modern times, the church is still a common place for communities coming into a space together, creating stories and inter-relating narratives, for purposes that tend to end in worshipping God.  So there is a dynamic in the church place.  There is a community that gives worth to the meeting ground, and on top of that there is the seeking the presence of God.  “The human heart seeks the infinite because that is where the finite wants to rest.”[9] But is it only during mass or Sunday service that we experience the divine in our lives, or are we able to encounter God in other, seemingly less organized and miraculous ways?  Another author on this subject, Belden C. Lane, wrote that a sacred space is “declared” to be different, but doesn’t necessarily seem so right away.  His concept of the “ordinary reconstructed as holy”[10] means that not only are the temples and churches sacred spaces for worship and contemplation, but so would any space where we seek the holy.

To give an example of this, when I come into a place, such as a stone-wall in the middle of the woods, there are many choices: 1) I can walk along the wall to the end of the woods with no second thought other than it was a nice walk to set the mind straight, or 2) I can see the beauty of stone wall, and hear the rustling of the leaves by squirrels nearby, I can kneel and pray by the organized stone, God might meet me, and if there is an encounter with the divine, I may call that place holy.  I may even return there from time to time and remember it as part of my history.  This stonewall is now a place where I met God, where the “finite meets the infinite”,  and in this it becomes part of my story and my identity assuming that I try to understand the encounter.  This meeting with God happened aside from the community, but nevertheless is a story that can be told when the group reconvenes on Sunday morning and thus, still has an element that promotes the community of God.

It is clear that any space that is sacred has become storied space.[11]  The ultimate example of storied space is Jerusalem.  The promised city of the Jewish people is also where Christ was crucified and rose from the dead, and where Islam’s prophet Mohammed, ascended into heaven.  Deep roots of three religions trace back to this holy city, and one can barely walk without thinking of the stories and people that have inhabited the city and its dwellings for thousands of years as civilizations rose and fell.  If history were an oil painting, Jerusalem would be four inches deep, and the painter would have to explain for weeks how each stroke came about, but without the stories, and without the people to tell the stories, a place would quickly lose it’s meaning altogether and as the signposts of story are merely constructs created in our mind to remember.  Stories are in us, as part of our memory.

In the church, every part of the service is telling a story: the story of God in the Old Testament with Israel; the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Ascension of Christ; and the story of God’s people today living under what Christ proclaimed as “The Kingdom of God”[12] seeking to make the world more like the Kingdom of Heaven.  The stories of the ancients are intertwined with our lives as we interact and believe in the same God who lives in relation to a people who are ever telling His story.  The story is progressing each and everyday that we continue to tell it, and the forgotten part of all this faith telling is that all the stories take place “someplace.”  As we live out our faith in ritual, when we experience God, we are “someplace!”  Like when I was in an old northern New Hampshire church sanctuary and I felt God call me to the white-wooden alter, and I dedicated my life to God on brown carpeting.   Moses was on a mountain when he encountered God in the sign of a burning bush; and Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem in an animal shed: “She wrapped him in cloths an placed him in a manger;”[13] Holy things happen in spaces that when storied becomes sacred places to those who encounter the Holy.

When God first made covenant with Abraham, then Abram, in the book of Genesis, God said, “’To your offspring I will give you this land.’ So [Abram] built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.”[14]  Then Abram went north and “pitched his tent” and built another altar to the Lord even before he called on His name.  Abram built the two alters to remember God in worship and reverence of the divine meeting.  Today the only altars we build in public space are memorials to war heroes and countrymen, but within the church, people buy flowers to decorate the sanctuary altars, which tend to be the place of salvation and first encounter with God for many Evangelicals.  These very altars are where the communion tables sit, and above it are the pulpits, and above that is the choir loft.  The different functions space inherits is not only a place where stories are told, but new stories are created, especially the stories of experiencing God.  Without the places, we would have not have an important ties to our identity.  As we leave the sanctuary, or field, or wherever we meet God, we leave our memories wrapped in the flowing carpets, our hopes and dreams sitting beneath the stones, all a material reminder like a sign of the happiness, fear, or laughter we felt when the breath of the Lord entered and gave life to His Creation.

I conclude this section with a summarization of the terms space and place.  Space is the physical world where we live life, and would remain just the space where we enact our lives if we were just robots taking in the environment and not processing what it means to us.  In its most basic form it is what is physically present to us.  Place is much different in that it is culturally constructed and is based on the meanings that we give it, individually and collectively.  The cubical, the parish, and the sanctuary are all examples of spaces that have been transformed into place.  Sacred place is an addendum to place because it is also “storied space” and we give it meaning with the added exception that it is where we encounter God, which Tillich mentions is man’s “ultimate concern.” All spaces have the potential to become series of divine places, Jerusalem being the prime example where so many have encountered the holy.  In the next section I will begin to show how music itself is a space where one can have a divine encounter.  I will look at the ancients, dissect their views on music, and show how music is incredibly influential.  Music is scary to some, but when harnessed in its utility becomes a powerful place in itself.  I will demonstrate by exploring Plato, St. Augustine, and early Christian worship, that music becomes the transformer that lifts the spirit into a new kind of space, which is not physical, yet at the same time, physically sensed by hearing and made metaphysical as the imagination fills the rest of the senses creating a space that allows people to be aware, and in the ultimate sense, meet with God.

II. Commentary on Music – Music Has Power

Music can be a place in its own right, but first we must build a foundation for this understanding in order to show that the musical journey, experienced by the ear, is just as impacting as the physical journey through landscape.  I begin this foundation with the philosopher: Plato.

Plato: Utilizing Music for the State

The utility of song is the main use the philosopher Plato had for music in the lives of his guardians of the state and by showing this utility, we can build a strong foundation for the use of music as a mover of souls.

Plato begins with music as one side of a scale (being soft and effeminate) and Gymnastics on the other (being hard and brutal).  In The Republic Glaucon asks “And in our opinion the guardians ought to have both these qualities?” and Socrates replies, “Assuredly.”[15]  So music’s main purpose is to maintain a balance between the body and the soul: “a harmonious soul.”  Music’s main use is to be utilized as a balance to soften the harder men of the state so that they would not become brutes.  Whether poetry or song Plato puts some heavy regulations on the application of musical rhythm in his writings.  It is only the Dorian mode and Phrygian modes of song that he allows for the use of his guardians.  It is almost depressing for the musician as Plato scalps away at the different forms of music:   Dorian)  “It is steadfast, consonant with the brave man’s speech (Rep. III 400A),” and Phrygian) “Evocative of emotions proper to society.” Military style, “probably four-four time.”[16]  “There remain then only the lyre and the harp for use in the city, and the shepherds may have a pipe in the country.”[17]  Those styles censored are the Ionian and Lydian modes; the Lydian mode most likely was being associated with drinking songs, dirges, and lamentations.  Of the instruments the “harps, flutes, or many stringed instruments (399D)” were to go immediately, especially the flute, the “sexophone of antiquity, that was associated with girls and drinking parties.”[18]  Plato, the enemy of excess would strip away these gross abuses to personhood and detriments to the working order of his state by censoring music that did not develop good character.

Plato mentions that he is not an expert on styles of music and neither is Glaucon,[19] so as we read into the text, the door is open for the redemption of musical styles according to the fruits of character associated with them.  It is here that Plato agrees that there is music where a man can be moved and where, “he is seeking to persuade God by prayer.” [20]  Plato is talking about creating a soundtrack for the life of a good man, the man who does what is right.  He wants music that inspires him to be better, and here Plato builds the foundation of musical place by giving music value in the ability to bring the soul into a new state, and I make the move that this new state is a new place, where the soul of the person is raised upwards.  This musical arena allows the guardian to be associated with a culture that will better him rather than the cultures of hedonism and self-indulgence, which is really what Plato was railing against.

At that time “new poets had appeared, ‘possessed by a frantic and unhallowed lust for pleasure’ (Laws III, 700D) and mixed up with the old forms.[21]  We see Plato using music as a weapon against those he disagrees with by banning the types of music they play.  If we banish their music, and music is essential to the human being to find meaning, and unless they are not human, they will eventually begin to listen to the music of those who are good, and join in on the character building of that part of society.  Music brings people together and separates them similar to the physical landscapes that separate our physical bodies.  Music to Plato can be seen as a functional tool to build good character, we can also pull from his writings that music has similar functions as that of our previous definitions of place, in that people can find meaning and their natures within the notes and melodies, and lastly that his writings are congruent with music being a space for meeting the divine in prayer.  It is in the next section on the early Christian church that we will see music become a powerful space for encountering the divine.

The Early Church: Music is Where We Meet God

Long after Plato, a man Jewish born man named Jesus gathered 12 disciples who built the foundations of the Christian church through relationships and remembrance of the death of himself, the Christ, on the Cross.  But the church services were not dark reminders of the death of their Savior, there was a joyous celebration because after his death, Christ rose again, and the people praised him for victory over sin and death.  But it wasn’t exactly like church services today.

Lionel L. Mitchell called the days of worship among early Christians gathered as “A First Century Celebration.”  Sundays would be the normal day of the Sabbath where there was, “hearing the Old Testament read and expounded, singing of songs, and reciting the benediction and prayers.”  The Christians inherited their use of music from the Jews at Synagogue who inherited their tradition from the times of Moses (Exodus 15:1-19)[22] and throughout the Prophets, to the present. Early Christians would keep the style of worship intended for congregational worship in the temple.  It was predominantly Antiphonal, “singing which goes back to the pre-exilic period of Jewish history.”  And according to Philo, hymnal-like worship had been “developed by a sect of the Theraputae.”  In this style someone would sing a new or old hymn that they had written, and soon after others would follow.[23]  It was those Jews who had heard and accepted the word of Christ, who on Fridays would have their own celebration in community.  They would have a meal together, talk on subjects such as charity and Christ’s resurrection, then they would sing Psalms, bring in the “cup of blessing” and the leader would sing “The Great Thanksgiving.”[24]  A more electrical account comes from Ralph P. Martin on the subject:

“The Christian church was born in song.”  “The Christian Gospel should bring with it on the scene of history an outburst of hymnody and praise to God.”  “That the Gospel of God should be attended by an upsurge in spiritual fervor and power is what we might anticipate from our understanding of the ways with God and men, and indeed from our knowledge of ourselves.  For the Gospel of the Apostolic age was not a theological Theorem, presented in a cold, detached and impersonal way, to be accepted with all the unfeeling and nonchalant reserve with which a student of mathematics learns his lessons!  Indeed, Archimedes with his enthusiastic cry of Eureka—‘I’ve found it!’—is the great exception.  The preaching of the Good News and its reception by the faith were both heart moving and rapturously joyous experiences; and we have only to read the early chapters of Acts to be persuaded of this fact.  (Acts 2,3,8).”[25]

Martin’s account shows the early church’s joy and the expression of its early story, its meaning, transformed into the form of musical praise. Music became the vehicle that carried their joy and praise to God.  In whatever room, whoever’s home they had gathered, there the place was transformed into a sonic space for encountering the divine and experiencing the incarnated Christ among them.  I imagine myself closing my eyes with them and entering the space of musical praise, where the believers praised the Christ.

And not just a dead Christ, but He was well alive and with them; “all the component parts of divine service were calculated to lead the worshippers to an awareness of His presence…His invisible presence knit together Christian hearts.”[26]  The early believers felt that as they praised God in song, He actually came and dwelled among them.  This demonstrates that music is not only for utility, as used by Plato (in the furtherance of an ideology or culture, i.e. Plato against hedonism), but it is also a place itself, with a transformational quality.  As early believers and people today worship, the music fills the room with sonic energy; it transforms what was once a normal living or working space into a sacred space of the encounter.

As we feel the music we are transported in our imaginations to another spiritual room that comes alive with newness and awareness that God is with us, we are encountering the God that lives and breaths life into the ordinary, the God who created the materials the room was made out of, and now it is something more, painted by the colors of the song and transformed by the meaning of the story in the words.  The music becomes a spiritual room of waiting for our Lord, and He meets us when we come to Him there.  It is in this that music is no longer the medium of the culture—it transcends the culture and allows our spirits a small ladder to see our God in the pleasures and rapture of our ears, the joy of our hearts, and the imaginations of our minds.  This is the place we name Sanctuary and answers the earlier question, how do we find Tillich’s ‘sanctuary of life”—it is by entering the song itself.  This is not just a spiritual experience however, as the ear is part of the body.  Here we move toward St. Augustine.

St. Augustine: Confessions of a Musical Soul

The very flesh that brings us into musical place is not something that is merely left behind when we enter the sonic room of worship.  Though we sometimes feel like we are at war as our mind’s imagination and intelligence wars with the base natures of the flesh, it is still the body that brings us to the place of worship until we are able to worship, as Jesus said, “in spirit and in truth.”[27]  We still worship vocally with our mouths, and hear the musical atmosphere into our ears, and until we are brought up to the heavens to see God, we are still in flesh.  St. Augustine fought this battle and spoke:

“No man hates his body, and what the Apostle says concerning this is true: ‘no man ever hated his own flesh.’  And that which some say, that they would rather be without a body, arises from a complete delusion: They hate not their bodies but the corruption and solidarity of their bodies.  They do not wish to have no bodies at all but rather incorruptible and most agile bodies.”[28]

This coincides with the dialogues in Romans 6-8 concerning the death of sin in our lives: mind, body, and spirit, and I see our sinful nature dead on the floor as Christ redeems and brings all that is good to Him.

St. Augustine may have fought the flesh, but in reading I have found that he was a lover of music, and thoroughly enjoyed basking in the presence of the savior in the space of the divine song:

“Thus I fluctuate between the danger of pleasure and the experience of the beneficent effect, and I am more led to put forward the opinion (not as an irrevocable view) that the custom of singing in church is to be approved, so that through the delights of the ear the weaker mind may rise up towards the devotion of worship.”[29]

He has this war within, but he loves the music, and Augustine sees how important the musical journey is to the spirits of men.

When Augustine was at his mother’s church during the fight between Ambrose, the mythical bishop of Milan, and Justina, the leader of the Arian Christians[30] who wanted to seize Augustine’s mother’s cathedral for their own worship, St. Augustine noticed that Ambrose held his church with determination and a congregation “ready to die with their bishop.”  St. Augustine was so moved by what happened that he wrote in his confessions,

“We were still cold, untouched by the warmth of your Spirit, but were excited by the tension and disturbed by the atmosphere of the city.  That was the time when the decision was taken to introduce hymns and psalms sung after the custom of the Eastern Churches, to prevent the people from succumbing to depression and exhaustion.  From that time to this day, the practice has been retained, and many, indeed almost all your flocks, in other parts of the world have imitated it.”[31]

This scene reminds me of the stories of the sit-ins and demonstrations of the 60’s and 70’s with people singing songs to inspire one another as they fought against whatever group was infringing against their rights.  The cathedral was already a place of story and meaning, but with the introduction of music, a transformation took place and lifted up the hearts of the weary.  St. Augustine’s mother was one of the women who prayed in the church during this event, and I imagine how exciting and how fearful, but how exhilarating it must have been to be a Christian in the earlier times of formation.  The times change, but people are still the same; a song of praise and joy lifts the spirit, it takes us from the cold dark times in the besieged cathedral, and we become placed in a clean room with our Creator, the one who loves us.

St. Augustine, Plato, and the Jewish Christians of the early church all looked at music and saw how moving it could be.  They wrestled with the idea of how music could be of use, and also the idea music as a place where God could meet his people.  All came out with differing dimensions and layers of practice and thought on the subject, but it is a strong case for music being both.  Music is both the tool of atmosphere and it is the atmosphere itself, in a union that reaches out to the soul and pushes her heavenward.  In music we kneel in the cubical of humility, fear, and laughter, in rapture of the encounter with the divine.  With new technologies in a mobile society, and music is becoming a portable tool of transformation no matter where the body can go.  This was only possible in ancient times with the formation of parades; it is much easier now, with kids bringing cd players on trips to get away from their brothers and sisters, adults buying ipods and arranging thousands of songs, and all of this is making our world a place of music, but the ultimate place is when we experience the divine through music, actively seeking Him out, and experience God in “music as an atmosphere or a ‘soundtrack for living,’[32] which is what Plato could have foretold had he only known of modern electronics.

So we have Plato, and the use of music for building character by the moving of the spirit, we have the early church, which actualized music as the matrix for meeting the incarnation of Jesus among them, and St. Augustine, who saw the brilliance of the use of the ear as a heavenly eye of the soul in meeting with the warmth of God.  In all these we have moved beyond space as a stationary place, or even mobile place, and have seen how music is a dynamic metaphysical meeting place of the divine.  On top of all these things, we must explore the warning that we must not remain stagnant in our forms of worship, especially as new generations are born and the city grows, which in turn grows our modern landscapes, in other words, our culture.  As there are more and more people, there is more communication, more meanings, and more landscapes.  As we seem to get lost in the shuffle of modern life and its mobility (seeming lack of home/place), we can step back and see that new places are developing within the space of music, and one such space that has emerged is Rock ‘n’ Roll.

III. Rock ‘N’ Roll and the Mobile Culture

The City

In the global community most of the 7 billion people are underneath the shadow of skyscrapers, these are the men and women who are collectively working and living for the city and are the very blood of the giant steel organism we have constructed.  What this means is that there is a lot of space where people build lots of place, and as history progresses, and as people continue to experience the presence of God, there is more divine place.  In the cities, the landscapes of people are interwoven as their stories come and go, but there is a problem.  Everyone seems too busy and too fast to sit down and think on the meaning of the places in which they live.

According to Sheldrake, since WWII: “Mobility is now understood to be a freedom…” We have deified reach and derided the home.[33]  This seems true as we grow into an age where we can do our office work on our laptop while sipping coffee and talking to our relatives in our BMW’s while driving to the football game.  But does this really sound so bad when we look at some new ways in which a mobile culture can define itself?  If we define ourselves in the understanding of our landscapes, even when it seems like the old places are fading away, people, who inevitably interact, begin to create new places with new meanings.  It is conceivable that there is a new Urban Landscape that needs to be explored which includes recent additions to the family of “sacred spaces,” being both the traditional stationary ground, then moving to mobile spaces of the modern age—primarily music.

The traditional type of space recognized is the stationary, which has constituted the beginnings of my paper, and is the foundation of the study of space in general.  It is what Sheldrake means when he says, “landscape…is the first partner in the dialectical nature of place.”[34]  Landscape is defined as the actual physical land that people work and shape and then build their cityscapes on top of.  But there is a second type of space, and that is musical space. The ground itself, which seems stationary to us, is really moving at incredible speeds as the earth rotates on an axis and orbits the sun in a perpetual rhythm.  We are so used to this and are so held by gravity that we do not even notice that we are moving.  This same principle of unnoticed movement can be applied to a culture that is always on the move.  Driving the car is so automatic that many people experience space within the car in very dynamic ways.  People listen to the radio, talk on the cell, watch videos and read books (passengers hopefully), they post scriptures on the dash, and even pray while driving.  When someone has become accustomed to it, the spaces of a mobile culture can be just as valid for the divine meeting with God, just as a small room of prayer can be.  Airplanes too have this possibility, because any space that people occupy and become part of eventually becomes consumed by the meanings and stories that people create while occupying that space.  Belden C. Lane exhibits this movement of space into new worlds:

“Sacred place is not at all necessarily pastoral and rural in character—something to be sharply distinguished from fabricated spaces of an urban landscape.  It is, after all, a function of the religious imagination, not a quality inherent in the locale as such.  That is why Americans fascinated by the power of new machines in the late nineteenth century could speak with religious fervor of standing in the presence of a huge electrical generator…The sacred space, in short, takes root in that which may form the substance of our daily lives, but is transformed by the imagination to that which is awe-inspiring.”[35]

What is more ordinary to us than the freedom of the American car, where we are free to take our awe and wonder to any part of the world with passable terrain?  This illustrates how we can create the new spaces by building something, and this is essential because soon much of the inhabitable earth will be covered with the shaping and molding of mankind.  It is only healthy for us to shake off the limitations of what we thought had meaning and allow us to move forward towards more different and diverse types of space as even nature comes under the thumb of the landscaper and is more commonly only seen within the boundaries of the endless city.  Our mobility has caused the imagination to move space to a whole new world, and there are so many new spaces to be explored and given meaning.

One space that has taken advantage of the mobile culture is the music known as Rock ‘n’ Roll, which has been aided by modern technology to become an amazing metaphysical and mobile landscape for finding meaning and even at times, encountering the divine (i.e. woman worshipping God while listening to a portable cd player taking a jog down the street).  There have even been theologies developed around the special creative world that the music of Rock creates.  A popular Punk Rock Musician in Australia, Nick Cave, found the freedom to live and worship through this music:

“Christ came as liberator.  Christ understood that we as humans were forever held to the ground by the pull of gravity—our ordinariness, our mediocrity—and it was through his example that He gave our imaginations the freedom to rise and to fly.  In short, to be Christ like.”[36]

Nick pushes us to be aware of what is around us in a new light, and the context of this awareness and meaning to him is to be in Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Our growing pop culture is an indication of the power of music.  Groups such as MTV and VH1, all of whom use music as the vehicle for their messages, cultivate the different rooms of music.  It is clear that music is a powerful force as it is part of the rhythms of everyday life.  We hear it on TV, it adds depth to movies, and we carry it in our pockets while we enjoy the morning run.  Rock ‘n’ Roll is a cultural phenomenon that has moved into the common square, transformed it, and then become its own place as people look to music for escape from city life.  It is in this move that Rock has become the language of the newest of generations, but before I go forward, I would like to draw a picture of Rock’s origins. 

Early Rock History: A New Musical Form

According to Trent Hill, a hardcore musician and Duke graduate student, wrote in his article, The Enemy Within, Rock ‘n’ roll began as a hybrid of 1950’s Blues, R&B (the sophisticated, dance-oriented rhythm & blues that was popular among urban blacks); and country music (then known as ‘folk’ or ‘hillbilly’ music)…”[37]  It was a music that spread from the South through black channels until it reached the northern cities, “where blacks had migrated for better economic opportunities,”  before WWII.  You had to be “lucky” to listen to these new types of music however, because the dancing music was rare.[38]

It was the era of McCarthyism, which meant protection and fear, and as the music spread to youth in white suburban neighborhoods parents revolted against this racial music calling it Fascist, mind control, and as Herbert von Karajan of the Berlin Philharmonic put it: “strange things happen in the blood stream when a musical resonance coincides with the beat of the human pulse.”[39]  A new form of music was moving the kids, but the parents never seem to jump on board.

Because of all the effort against Rock ‘n’ Roll, youth naturally were drawn to it and it became the music where “they defined spaces in which teenagers could exercise the body and, to a limited sense, indulge its sexuality.”[40]  Rock ‘n’ Roll, defined by Elvis Presley (the son of hardworking blue-collar Pentecostals[41]) and his image of the sexually suggestive messenger of poor black America[42] dancing to a beat, from the styles of music mentioned earlier, and a new youth culture of rebellion.  These rockers wore blue jeans and leather jackets.  They saw Rebel Without a Cause, which provided the “iconography” of rebellion; and with the styles, the press started associating rock and violence,[43] because there was real violence as blacks and whites were coming together to listen to music.  People blamed Rock ‘n’ Roll, but the country was desegregating and the contact was not always wrapped in a box of chocolates.  Violence arose more from the social context but Rock soon became known as the music of violence.

David R. Shumay writes in the same collection of articles as Hill’s that rock was never tamed.  It was “not just youth music, but [was and is] a way of life that youth lived, and more important, were represented as living.”[44]  This seems trivial but it is important, and that is the distinction of Rock ‘n’ Roll as the music of action.  Rock becomes the music of the “real person”[45] as the performer and audience begin to interact in a place of music like never before.  Any space could now become a concert venue, and the lyrics tied to nothing but the beat could communicate and create a space of dancing, unity, and freedom.  Rock was more than just a contested musical form, it had a way of living ascribed to it with followers and prophets and kings and queens.   The music itself was a space that people entered into together as the community (of youth in this case), and which they did not leave without being transformed by the meanings they had gathered from the experience/journey of the music, its words, and its body moving energy,

It is here that we begin to see how Rock music becomes the most modern of spaces.  Those who have attended a rock show can imagine themselves back in the concert closing their eyes to experience the particular place that music brings them.  Rock, especially among the music forms, is the electric age’s form of music, where people can hear, metaphorically walk into it, and like the early worshipping Christian church, find meaning in the space of music.  Be it a café or a barn house, it does not matter, because rock is mobile, and it can transform any space into a musical space.  Here there is energy, here there is community, and here is where many have encountered spiritual uplifting and as the times have changed, more and more people are realizing this.

The Spirit of Rock

Palmer, in his article The Church of the Sonic Guitar, implies that the guitar has the range of spirituality within its strings.  “Sustained by the amplification until a representation in sound of the wonder of Creation itself—The ‘Big Ring.’”[46]  This ring was heard all around the world and Christians were some of the first to scoff, but there was a new generation of rockers coming who would run to the doors of rock and understand that it was more than music and it was more than culture; rock, like any other music was becoming its own place because of the stories, and the meaning and living were all being infused into the performance of the rock star.  The band would write a song of experience, bring it to the stage, and the audience would experience the emotion and words of the musicians, and together they would make a fusion of meaning.  For some, rock was the new church for the outcasts, a space where the youth could express themselves freely and seek their own way for life.  Sometimes that way of life led down a road of sexual promiscuity and risk taking.

One such story was in the life of Jimi Hendrix, who was undoubtedly a master of the electric guitar and Rock in general.  Sometime before his body gave out to the drugs and alcohol that saturated his life, he performed his rendition of the American Anthem at Woodstock in a time of uncertainty during Vietnam.  The sound of the distorted guitar still shakes the very soul to the core in anxiety, while still leaving room for hope in a new sort of patriotism.  The religion of the “sonic guitar” takes people by surprise, shaking their world, and placing them in a space that is at once all alone, and at the same time, placed in a room with all of those who have heard and journeyed on the currents of worship. Hendrix may not have been a Christian, but there was something in his music that rang with sincerity and which still brings people into a place of awe and wonder that is so analogous to the Christian religious experience of praise.  Not all youth who loved the music went down the path of hedonistic living that Plato steered clear of.

Many youth, like the soon to be pioneer of Christian music Keith Green, experimented with American variations of eastern religions, used various drugs for spiritual “highs,” as well as giving and receiving free love (multiple sexual partners), and other experimentation.  But soon the chemicals didn’t work like they were supposed to, free love wasn’t deep enough, and Keith began to dedicate himself to a new spiritual life grounded in the spiritual space of music.  Posthumously, Keith Green’s wife Melody, published a book called No Compromise with journal entries like this one: “Always a rational reason why I can cloud up my clear sky and pretend that I’m getting ‘high.’  What a screw up, never believing in my will—a snort, a joint, a pill will screw up my head until I let the angel(s) lead me away.”[47]  61 pages later Keith writes a song that summed up a whole generation of youth who become part of a movement for a more real life.  It was called The Prodigal Son Suite, an emotional symphonic ballad of hope for a whole generation that had gone into the cities, only to realize that God was waiting for them whenever they chose to turn around and see His face, and for many they did this within the context of rock ‘n’ roll.  Interesting enough, Keith Green came from the world into the church, and as a Rock outsider, completely revolutionized and energized portions of the church and because of his efforts thousands have become missionaries and more people were set on fire for a more radical movement within the church.  He did it all through the power of the musical space.  Music was his language and his home, and more people live there in this generation than during his.  Similarly, others are already in the world making spaces for the divine.  Rockers today, like P.O.D. and U2, and others refuse to leave Rock ‘N’ Roll like so many Christians have, and these pioneers have embraced the earthly language of rock in an attempt to communicate with their Creator, and bring the audience in dialogue alongside them.  It is a powerful dynamic that continues today even as the electric guitar rings toward the heavens.

Because of the popularity, today there are more rock bands with more labels and styles than can be counted (that is a lot of spaces to enter).  It is too bad that the predominate attitude toward rock by the church was to “burn that devil music.”  In the 1970’s churchgoers in Evangelical circles considered rock music blasphemy.  Once again, “let us rid ourselves of the hedonist poets,” there was uproar among the moral community.  It was “worse when we brought out the electric guitar,” says Todd Hunter, a pastor, “but positively the devil when we brought in drums…White, middle-class evangelicals clapped on counts one and three, as in classical music.  Only heathens from the dark jungles of the world accented and clapped on counts of two and four.”[48]

But the church to today must begin, and in some cases has begun, to walk beyond its mentally constructed walls and see that there is a new reality thanks to new technologies.  Music is now a space that can transform any warehouse into a temple.  All that is needed is the human being who seeks God.  Music is just one of many landscapes where we can find His footsteps.  Shock rocker Alice Cooper, a man who has given his life to rock and Christ mentioned, “When Christ came back, he hung out with the whores, the drunks and the miscreants because they were the ones that needed him.”  If there are people seeking out there in a language that the church does not use, or living in a space that the church does not like, should the church learn that language or enter that space?  I believe so, and in the freedom of the American church, I can envision more churches sprouting up in YMCA’s, storefronts, and fields of grass as people begin to recognize that the place of worship is irrelevant when the body of Christ comes together and welcomes the “other,” which in this case is the children of Rock ‘n’ Roll, who have been stigmatized with rebellion by the religion that itself was constituted as the ultimate rebellion.  To the church, not welcoming the strangers of Rock music is scriptural madness and will eventually lead only to a drought of newness and energy within the different spaces of church.  The church is more than its walls, and more than even the music, because none of these things would exist if it were not for the people that mold them.  It is us that needs to move into the new spaces in order for real ministry to begin.


We began this paper with the construction of what a place, or landscape, is.  Place is space that humans have entered into, molded, and made a home where stories can be told and life can find meaning to the individual and the community.  There are all different types of spaces such as the office cubical, the field, the church, and the city, and as we have seen, there is also the world of music.  When we close our eyes, there is a powerful physically experienced set of waves that enter not through our eyes, but through our ears.  This world, which to the blind is the only world that can be experienced, is also a rich landscape that when we become aware of its presence, as Plato, the early church, and St. Augustine were, we can enter into it.  Unfortunately most of our metaphors are made from vision, but it would be a joke on ourselves if we made “land” into the only type of “scape” or space, where we can meet God in prayer or experience something that is so far beyond our finite self.

And as music is opened as a new space for our living, we can become aware of so many new places to meet God.  In some spaces we will meet Him, and in some spaces we won’t, but it is clear that when we meet God in music, it is just as profound as when He comes to us and we perceive that meeting point with the other senses.  The encounter itself is spiritual in nature and very rarely is the divine made manifest visually; so all the senses are mainly what senses the world around us where God happens to touch our spirit.    It does not matter whether God comes to us in a hymn, or in a pew, or in a dance, or in Rock ‘n’ Roll and its culture.  The point is that God will meet us when we become aware of His presence and experience the world that He has given us in new and countless ways.  In the city, it is imperative that we remain this creative with our space, because we are no longer a world of stationary villages with lots of habitable land.  It is a smaller world, and as it gets smaller, and smaller, the artificial spaces are going to be all we have.  Even the forests will be planted, and the fields will be planned.  But at least we have the space of Rock music.

Rock is beyond Plato’s utility—it is a place where the modern man can pull down the shawl and experience the Creator.  It should be in the center of the city like any other music or landscape where place is created.  Thomas Merton, a completive monk, said that the center of the city should be called Celebration, and all roads should lead to Celebration, “when we let joy make itself out of our love…It is the creation of a common identity, a common consciousness.”  But it is not a consciousness of people who look alike and think alike and act alike.  “Celebration is crazy: the craziness of not submitting even though ‘they,’ the ‘others’ The ones who make life impossible, seem to have all the power…we laugh at them, when we celebrate, when we make our lives beautiful,”[49]  and we should take our Rock ‘n’ Roll worship to the streets like Ignatius of Antioch[50] in the days when music was a weapon carved with scripture against heresy.  We will parade down the streets with electric guitars in our hands, and drums at our feet, and we will praise the Lord who gave us the beat and shed light on the darkness so the world could be made new.  It is time for the church to become aware like it has never been, to be fully alive, at the heel of YHWH.  “There’s just a fire here,”[51] they will say, and we will meet the source of the flame within this new space—which is the music—which is Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Works Cited

Detweiler, Craig and Taylor, Barry.  A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture.

(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Acedemic, 2003).

Elias, Julius A.  Plato’s Defence of Poetry.  (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1984).

Green, Melody and Hazard, David.  No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green.  (Eugene, OR: Harvest House  Publishers, 2000).

Hill, Trent.  “The Enemy Within.” In Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed.  (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992).

Hunter, Todd. “Entering the Conversation.”  In Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic.  Mike Yaconelli, ed.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003).

Lane, Belden, C.  Landscapes of the Sacred.  (New York: Paulist Press, 1988).

Martin, Ralph P.  Worship in the Early Church.  (Grand Rapids, MI: William B.  Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995).

McCommon, Paul.  Music in the Bible.  (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1956).

Merton, Thomas.  Love and Living. (New York: A Harvest HBJ Book, 1979).

Mitchell, Leonel L.  The Meaning of Ritual.  (New York: Paulist Press, 1977).

Nouwen, Henri J.M.  Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.  (New York: Doubleday, 1986).

Ninde, Edward S., D.D. Nineteen Centuries of Christian Song.  (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1938).

Palmer, Robert.  “The Church of the Sonic Guitar.” In Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed.  (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992).

Plato.  The Republic.  (New York: Vintage Books, 1991).

Prothero, Stephen.  American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon.  (New York: Farrar, Staus, and Giroux, 2003).

Rabey, Steve.  In Search of Authentic Faith.  (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2001).

Saint Augustine.  Confessions.  (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1992).

On Christian Doctrine.  (New York:  The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1958).

Schaeffer, Franky.  Addicted to Mediocrity.  (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1981).

Sheldrake, Phillip.  Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity.  (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001).

Shumway, David R.  “Rock N Roll as Cultural Practice.” In Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed.  (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992).

Stockman, Steve.  Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2. (Lake Mary, FL: Relevant Media Group, 2001).

Tillich, Paul.  The Dynamics of Faith.  (New York: Perennial Classics, 2001).

Van Pelt, Doug.  Rock Stars on God.  (Lake Mary, FL: Relevant Books, 2004).

[1] Phillip Sheldrake.  Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity.  (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001) 3.

[2] Ralph P. Martin. Worship in the Early Church.  (Grand Rapids, MI: William B.  Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995) 18-19.

[3] When I use the term metaphysical, I mean that it is a place beyond physical space.

[4] Paul Tillich.  The Dynamics of Faith.  (New York: Perennial Classics, 2001) 14.

[5] Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 7.

[6] Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 4-5. On metaphors, and semiotics (signs and meanings).

[7] Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 10.  Paraphrased from the text.

[8] Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 11.  This is a striking story of “the other,” the stranger, and how old European relationships rarely left their home parishes and it is probably similar today.

[9]  Paul Tillich.  Dynamics of Faith. 15.

[10] Belden C. Lane.  Landscapes of the Sacred.  (New York: Paulist Press, 1988) 21.

[11] Lane, Landscapes for the Sacred, 11.

[12] Mark 1:15.  All scripture  will be from the New International Version of the Bible (NIV).

[13] Luke 2:7b.

[14] Genesis 12:7-9.

[15] Plato.  The Republic.  (New York: Vintage Books, 1991) 118.

[16] Julius A. Elias.  Plato’s Defence of Poetry.  (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1984) 21.

[17] Plato, The Republic, 102.

[18] Elias, Defence of Poetry, 21.

[19] Plato, The Republic, 104.

[20] Plato, The Republic, 101-102.

[21] Elias, Defence of Poetry, 20.

[22] Paul McCommon.  Music in the Bible.  (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1956) 25.  I received this scripture while reading Paul’s book, which is an instructional booklet made by the Georgia Baptist Convention for their developing worship ministries in the 1950’s.

[23] Martin. Worship in the Early Church, 40-41.

[24] Leonel L. Mitchell.  The Meaning of Ritual.  (New York: Paulist Press, 1977)  67.

[25] Martin, Worship in the Early Church, 39.

[26] Martin, Worship in the Early Church, 130-131.

[27] John 4:1-42.

[28] Saint Augustine.  On Christian Doctrine.  (New York:  The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1958) 20-21.

[29] Saint Augustine.  Confessions.  (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1992) 208.

[30] Edward S. Ninde, D.D. Nineteen Centuries of Christian Song.  (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1938) 35.  Arianism was a form of Gnosticism that denied the deity of Jesus Christ.  They won early acclaim by announcing their views and ideologies through popular music of the time, i.e. the hymns.

[31]Ninde, Nineteen Centuries of Christian Song, 165.

[32] Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor.  A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Acedemic, 2003)139.

[33] Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 8.

[34] Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 14.

[35] Lane, Landscapes for the Sacred, 25.

[36] Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor.  A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Acedemic, 2003) 134.

[37] Trent Hill.  “The Enemy Within.” Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed.  (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992) 43.

[38] Hill, The Enemy Within, 44.  You had to get it at a radio station or from African-Americans who owned the music.

[39] Hill, The Enemy Within, 47.

[40] Hill, The Enemy Within, 44.

[41] Detweiler, A Matrix of Meanings, 126.

[42] Hill, The Enemy Within, 56.

[43] Hill, The Enemy Within, 52-53.

[44] David R. Shumway.  “Rock N Roll as Cultural Practice.” Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed.  (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992) 119.

[45] Shumway, Rock N Roll as Cultural Practice, 132.

[46] Robert Palmer.  “The Church of the Sonic Guitar.” Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed.  (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992) 16.

[47] Melody Green and David Hazard.  No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green.  (Eugene, OR: Harvest House  Publishers, 2000) 104.

[48] Todd Hunter. “Entering the Conversation.”  Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic.  Mike Yaconelli, ed.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) 42-43.

[49] Thomas Merton.  Love and Living. (New York: A Harvest HBJ Book, 1979) 53.

[50] Ninde, Nineteen Centuries of Christian Song, 21.

[51] From an article on Deliverance Bible Church in Hurst Texas, which I visited two summers ago. It is a punk church where the worship is punk rock loud and sincere, “like a fire.”

The Book of Eli: Practicing Faith Rather Than Using Religion

God can be trusted even during hard times

Published Monday, December 12, 2011
‘Book of Eli” is a gritty film, set in a post-apocalyptic world full of brutal scavengers, cannibals and ruthless leaders. The main character, played by Denzel Washington, is named Eli. He’s a rare literate person and appears at the very beginning to be carrying a precious book.

I hope this won’t spoil the movie for you, but the book turns out to be the King James Bible. The book is at the center of the film’s tension because the villain, Carnegie, who manages a tough town, wants that book so he can use the words to control people. In his mind, the religious texts are practical tools to bend people’s wills to his own. In an imperialistic vein, he wants to establish other towns, and he needs to use religion to his advantage.

This practical use of “religion,” rather than the actual practice of faith, riles me to the bone. Carnegie doesn’t care if the faith contained in the religious words is actually true. He just knows that when people are inspired, they do great things. His goal is to harness that power for his own gain. Eli is a powerful hero because he protects the word from this illegitimate use, and tries to bring it to a place where people will protect it and find wisdom from it and share with others for God’s will in their lives.

From the book of Corinthians, Paul tells ministers that Scripture is greater than a tool of manipulation; it is to be plainly spoken and received by rational people:

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).

I believe that practical religion, the religion of Carnegie, is a common thing. I have done it, when I have prayed for something I really wanted. I remember praying for a video game system when I was younger. These days I would probably pray that things go well at work. We all have things we would like to see made real for us.

The problem with practical religion is that it places God in a box. It says, if God isn’t working for me, then what good is God? It is the same mentality one might have in a court case if the judge does not act on behalf of a plaintiff or a defendant. One person in a case will lose, even though both of them may have asked for a win. If the judge acted fairly and honestly dealt with the facts, one can still trust the legal system. It is even more so with the creator of the universe. God can be trusted even when we don’t get our own way; even when the world seems to be falling apart.

There are people with absolutely nothing but the faith they have and the joy it brings them. They bring peace and joy to everyone they meet. I hope this Christmas, you will rediscover your trust in God, and that your happiness will be dependent on God’s goodness, despite how much we have under the tree this year.

Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.

Read more: http://www.islandpacket.com/2011/12/12/1894067/god-can-be-trusted-even-during.html#ixzz1giAm3mbQ

With hearts open to God, all the world becomes holy

With hearts open to God, all the world becomes holy

Published Monday, March 21, 2011

Our church, when seen as a building, is beautiful. It matches the palmetto, pine and live oak forests of the area well. Great brown beams hold a beautiful light-filled glass and tan stucco structure together. Within, the pews are well maintained, the altar is highlighted by a beautifully done stained glass cross with Scripture and depictions of Christ adorning it. A few hundred people come each Sunday to experience the presence of God surrounded by a space that is holy to many. Certainly it was built with holy ground in mind, so for the worshipper who meets God there, the architect succeeds in his or her vision.

We all have moments of the sacred, and it happens to different people in different ways. God is always prodding our hearts wherever we are, so for some, the architect is God himself, as by a stream in the woods, one might see a deer and be reminded that God takes care of the world — those conscious of their existence like us, and those not like the deer. When we feel God, in that realization, whatever space it is, becomes sacred ground.

Many of us hold the burning bush of Moses to be a strong image of this kind of space. It is dramatic and is the kind of story that lasts over the generations. The bush was supernaturally on fire. God’s presence was obvious from a voice that spoke, commanding Moses to take off his sandals. It was there that Moses received God’s nod to lead, regardless of his ability to do so. God would be his strength as he led his people out of slavery. It would be hard, but God would be with him. God always had been with him, as God is with all of us. But the bush, burning on a mountaintop, woke him up from the dream that had become his life. Moses was awakened to who God had made him to be. Not just a shepherd in the desert, but a leader of men and women. Great things happened because of that sacred space.

All great relationships with God start with a realization that God is really working all around us. I remember a day when I committed to praying “unceasingly” as the Scripture calls us to. I literally remained in a state of prayer all day. It was hard and I can’t say I did it well. But that day I saw God at work all around me. I saw people moving and doing God’s will sometimes without even realizing it. My eyes were opened, and all the spaces I occupied that day in the little town of Derry, N.H., became sacred to me.

We all have a need for sacred moments. God built each of us to worship and glorify him with all of our being. We all have gifts that only reach our full potential with the spirit of God awakens them. How are you awakening? And will you accept God’s prodding when it comes?

Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.

The Complete Hunger Games Series Review (Author Suzanne Collins)

I just finished reading the three books in the Hunger Games series.  I have to admit that I was blown away by the first book and it compelled me to read this whole Young Adult book series.

Here are my summaries on the three books. Note: I may reveal things you don’t want to know if you want to read the books yourself.  I will conclude with my thoughts on the series and if you’re going to read the boos yourself, feel free to skip to the conclusion and make your own summaries later.

(1) The Hunger Games – The main character Katniss situates us in a world called Panem, in a world with 12 districts each providing the Capital city with a certain resource.  12 produced coal in mines.  It is clear that the districts are given only what they need to survive.  Each year, the districts have to send two youth to The Hunger Games.  A gladiatorial combat game where there can be only one survivor.  The Capital glories in the violence and it reminds the districts, who had been subdued by the capital in a past war, where they stand.  Under the Capital’s thumb.  Katniss and her friend Peeta end up in the games and it is action packed, bloody, and the end is a mind blower.  The theme is survival in the face of all odds.  The story is primarily about Katniss but also about how she doesn’t want to have to kill anyone.  The genetic mutations and the excesses of the Capital stand in a terrible contrast to life in the districts.  The large amount of time spent in District 12 felt good for this book.  You felt the culture, the lives, the ability to hold on despite terrible circumstance.  The depression and hardship was evident.  Haymitch, a drunken character, who had seen the contrast between wealth and poverty, emblemized the sadness in this book. But it is a book ultimately about victory against all odds by the underdogs. Because of a fake (or is it) relationship, the two (Katniss and Peeta) survive rather than the One in the Hunger games.  This book is a page turner all the way through.  The way the rules change to allow two to win, however, shows the sympathies of the people in the Capital for the relationship, and the Capital loses their iron propaganda grip on the people.  The end of this book leaves uncertainty in the air.  They won, but what will the Capital do to them next?

(2) Catching Fire – Katniss and Peeta are sent from District to district to be shown off as victors.  They see the conditions of each place and recognize the types of people who they had to kill from the different districts in the arena.  The Girl on Fire, as Katniss is called (because of her amazing costume designer Cinna), lights a flame of rebellion as she is seen by certain districts.  They are sent back to District 12, but things have gotten worse there.  Katniss, a hunter, can no longer get around the electric fence to the woods, the old peace keepers have been replaced by tougher more army like people, and a new head peacekeeper takes violent vengeance on everyone who breaks rules.  The black market is burned, Katniss’ love interest from 12 is whipped to near death, but it doesn’t matter because the year ends up being a Quarter Quell.  Victors from past Hunger Games are to reenter the Hunger Games, and fight to the death.  Peeta and Katniss are rounded up and placed again in the ring.  The President of the Capital shows his power and scares Katniss.  There is a lot of build up, but the Hunger games have  more personality this time around.  The victors are very unique and have reasons they had won the Hunger Games before.  It would be very intense.  Though the games never finish.  The rebellion is behind the scenes.  This book is about Rebellion – and stands up to the times we are in with Revolutions around the world.  It takes a long time to build the action, but the action is very creative.  Well written, and the end of the book again blows your mind.  The discovery of the hidden and forgotten district 13, with nuclear arms, promises hope for the rebellion. People die to fight the capital, then get bombed.  District 12 is wiped clean at the end of this book.

(3) Mockingjay – This book begins in District 13.  Katniss is disoriented and spends a lot of time building up the nerve to be the “Mockingjay” of the people.  Basically a symbol of the rebellion – the Girl on fire.  Much of the book is about details of spreading rebel propaganda to the Capital which has closely secured television networks.  She visits the battlefield, you see her get to know her sister more.  They find a comfort from the family cat, though Katniss has a hate relationship with it.  District 13 is underground and has nuclear armaments.  The President of 13 is just as conniving and brilliant as the President of the Capital.  Coin is her name.  Snow is the name of the Capital’s president.  They are both power brokers with ruthless plans for their rule.  Katniss cares nothing for power, but eventually agrees to be the Mockingjay and goes into battle.  Much of this book is about medications, order in the community, fighting the Capital, but the end builds to a Real Life Hunger Games as the rebels move into the Capital after capturing all the districts and their resources.  Katniss promises to take the life of President Snow and so she pushes her military unit into the heat of battle and they end up in some tough spots.  They lose most of their team but in the end there is a shocker.  The rebels take the city, but it seems that Coin had it staged that many children would be bombed to make people hate President Snow.  Katniss can’t stand Coin or Snow in the end.  She gets knocked so bad by the end bombs that she has to be patched up, but the series really takes some interesting turns here.  I  won’t reveal the very end but I will say that I expected it to end as it did.

Conclusion – This series is perfect to be read in conjunction with what is happening in our world today.  The rebellions, the survival of people across the world, the huge amount of accumulated wealth in contrast to abject poverty in most of the nations of the earth and the feeling of being under the thumb of those who hold onto power in the midst of walls and money.  The people who live in the midst of the wealth have no clue how bad the world is as a whole, or if they feel it, it is more of a ghost of a feeling rather than an actual knowledge.  There are many who choose not to know that the world outside the walls are not as nice as within.  But the strength of this book really shows how those who are refined on the outside, without realizing it, are much stronger, and their wills eventually win out.  Those who live in complacency and within the walls of corruption and greed – eventually fall.  Why?  People build good nations on bonds of loyalty and trust.  Any nation ruled on the back of pure power and fear will eventually be superseded. Whether God intends this, or it is just a basic principle, I highly recommend all to read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  A very worthy read and right up there (in the realm of ideas and worlds) as the Dune Series by the Hebert (though much smaller in scope as a universe). The movies will be coming out soon as well.  That will be interesting.  Read the books first!

The Adjustment Bureau and How to View the World: Free Will vs. Predestination

**warning – possible spoilers**

Amanda and I recently saw The Adjustment Bureau and it really got me thinking about some big theological concepts.  First of all, however, it is a spectacular movie to watch.  The world David Norris (Matt Damon) and Elise Sellars (Emily Blunt) occupy is a stark one.  It is the city, made of concrete, rigid pillars, highly structured politics, and plenty of police and authority figures.  Norris is a rising young politician who is being groomed for the Presidency but is currently running for Senate.  Elise is a dancer.  They meet in a bathroom after Norris is defeated, but the chaos of Elise Sellars and their mutual attraction, inspires him to give a candid rather than scripted speech.  Slowly, however, you find that even that random encounter is not random.  There are agents assigned to great people (the movie hints that they are a sort of angelic force who watches over humanity). When Norris’s watcher slips up and misses an opportunity to make him spill coffee and miss a bus – Norris meets Elise a second time, they flirt, and Damon begins to reorient his life.  The watchers look in their book of plans and see their characters off course.  That wasn’t supposed to happen. (The Predestined begin to make their own lives).

Next – a whole new world is opened.  Agents take Norris to a different dimensional warehouse for interrogation.  From this point on Norris is aware that he has to live rigidly according to plan, that his life and Elise’s will not reach their full potential unless he stays away from her, and that if he purposely defies or reveals the existence of the Agency, his mind will be erased and he will fall into obscurity and insanity.

This is where the movie gets into the kind of mind warping that the movie Inception brought about.  Doors are revealed that if opened using a certain hat, they warp the agents from spot to spot.  They are not omnipresent and they can’t control everything, however they have different degrees of skill in bringing about “The Plan”.  They are extremely hierarchical and they employ “riot police”.  They are also afraid of upsetting the top tier of The Agency, including the Top Dog who appears to be God himself.

To be honest, this is a scary version of the world. It presents the very basics of the concept of Predestination in theology.  That God has complete control and brings about His plans regardless of what we perceive to be choices.  In this case, the agency is the wall that keeps us in our tracks.

Then, the concept of Free Will is broached with Damon’s character begins to break the tracks.  God somehow loses control at times or gives up control to see if humanity can handle free will and make good happen.  The breakout of the two world wars were told to be a Time with God allowed humanity a chance to live freely.  We failed, and God took control back with the agency with this Gestapo like Angelic Super Squad with fashions stuck in the 50s.

In the end, Norris and Elise take the case all the way to the highest court – God Himself.  Though God isn’t actually present, he has been watching the whole thing and when the two main characters break through everything in their path to stay together, God gives a report to the agents and allows their Plans to be removed, or changed.  They win and God is pleased.  You will have to see the movie to see how this whole thing plays out.  I enjoyed it.

But it did make me uncomfortable in a lot of ways.  One, God continues the Hollywood streak of being a hands off kind of being.  The one who created everything allows an Agency to run the Created.  The allowance of a Holy Spirit interacting in human affairs and moving the hearts of people isn’t directly part of the script.

Also – the negative view of humanity is devoid of the great good that people do every day.  It just shows that we automatically assume that we are all sinful creatures with little hope of redemption.  Very Calvinist.  But theologically, Christ came to redeem creation and make it new and whole again.  Being an optimist, I don’t see the world like this film portrays it.  The world is full of hope because Christ came.  The World Wars happened, but great forces of good stood up and Pushed against Evil, and the Axis fell and fell hard.  The good folks who fought to bring freedom to the persecuted peoples of the world learned from the reconstruction mistakes in World War I and did things differently.  The world has lived in the shadow of our greatest darkness and the greatest light since then.  You can’t present the darkness of people’s hearts without recognizing that God originally created us for Good and His goodness in Christ transforms people from the inside out.  We still mess up, but we are getting better!

I would love to hear how the film struck you.  Do you feel the world is rigid like this?  Do you feel that the world is merely being maintained? Or is the will of humanity being transformed and moving towards a better Kingdom – The Kingdom of God?  I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Feel free to comment below.


Being Human: Foolishness and Rahoboam, Solomon’s Son

This morning I was invited by the Associate Pastor of our church to speak to a men’s small group out in Bluffton, SC.  He asked me to talk about the youth ministry and provide some sort of devotion for the men and that the format would be an hour long breakfast.  Thinking that an hour would be a long time, I did my usual over-preparation for speaking and had several points of conversation.

What I actually got to:

(A)  Where our Youth Ministry has come from. 

(B) Where our youth ministry is now. 

(C) The scriptural foundation for Incarnational (Jesus Centered) ministry among youth.

(D) How others can help out – get to know one of our families and show them that you care about their wellbeing.

We had some great question and answers and I am so thankful for the support of so many from our church.  It was so affirming to have so many concerned men from our conversation surround me.

But there was one thing I didn’t get to that was really going to be a Meat and Potatoes kind of message.  It is something that I’ve ruminated over ever since the first time I read through the entirety of scripture because I hardly ever hear anyone talk about it.  I noticed it simply because I have studied the sociological histories of the different American Generations since we developed as a nation, and I saw a similar pattern of generations in the forming of, maintenance, and then later deterioration of the nation of Israel.

The point I didn’t have time for was the story of Rahoboam, the son of Solomon. 

In 2 Chronicles 10 in the Old Testament of scripture, Solomon – Israel’s wisest and most powerful King is now out of the picture.  It is time for a son of Solomon to become King and there is a tricky political situation that occurs as the young leadership tries to take hold.  The elders of the nation gather from the different tribes and there is a conversation between the one to be annointed, Rahoboam, who is Solomon’s son, and the people.  It is obvious that the nation has had some momentum for quite some time.  As their identity has unfolded as a people, they have gone from wandering Semitic people in the desert to slaves, to wanderers, to a military caravan of tribes, to land owners and Justice dealers, to Magistrates of towns and cities and ultimately to being a people over a land with Kings and a history.  God brought them to this point because he promised it to Abraham way back in the generations.  God said, “I will bless the nations through you.”  Kings Saul, then David, and then the greatest – Solomon, had gone through terrible times and great wars to provide security for the people.  It wasn’t until the reign of Solomon that they had such respect and security that they could build God’s temple to God’s specifications and the people could see the results of generations of hardship and determination.

But there was an issue in Rahoboam’s generation that would play itself out with massive consequences.  The children of Solomon’s generation had never wandered, they hadn’t fought the terrible wars, they didn’t build the buildings or the towns they inhabited, and the systems of food distribution, diplomacy and general well being were not of their experience.  They were inheriting a blessed nation with no realization or appreciation for how they had gotten there.  They expected greatness. They expected power.  They were entitled to everything they had always had.

Does this sound familiar?  In America there was a time of pioneering and wandering across the land.  We fought revolution, civil war, and world wars – all which set our place in this world as determined people respected and revered for what we can do.  We fixed problems, built cities, dreamed big and got results.  We produced more and consumed more and more all within the boundaries of the safety we built on our North American continent.  The blessings have flowed from generation to generation.  But something has happened as our hand became dominant.  Since World War II, something has changed.

In the book “Me, Myspace, and I” by Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D, the generations are spread out and their main characteristics laid bare.  The Greatest Generation of World War II are a largely silent generation who worked hard and did what they had to to make our nation safe and to make it work.  Then the Baby Boomer Generation, characterized by their ability to work hard and almost worship their ability to provide for their families, made our nation prosper and brought wealth and new ideas that changed the whole world.  Next came Generation X, which was a generation that worked to have fun.  They love recreation and the ability to experience life and all it has to offer by doing more and pushing harder.  And now, we have developed the Internet Generation – a generation that wants to play and work at the same time.  The world is a playground where we can create and mold our visions to our will.

This video that was just released by celebrity Will Smith’s daughter Willow demonstrates the Ethos of Generation Y/Internet Generation:

If you watched the whole film you will see that the exuberance of the youth today is like an electric ball of energy.  “21st Century Girl. I do what I want.” They will create new orders and penetrate institutions like no institutions because they want to be in control.  When they grow older, everything is set to change even faster than it has.

But there is a problem with this.  They don’t have the experience that has anchored previous generations.  We live in an America with no surviving World War I veterans still living.  The last died recently at age 110.  The youth culture has so quickly progressed that many adults who have been charged with raising this generation have been more like buddies than parents molding the character and formation of children.  In a world where kids have access to anything they want and have no understanding of ultimate sacrifice other than a few words on a paper – it is hard for this generation to understand true pain and what it feels like to live in material, relational, or situational poverty.   Even when out on missions trips in youth groups or on service projects, the experiences take some time to take hold.  It is hard for them to realize that the problems of the world are big.  That there is still more to work on and that we as Americans have not arrived.

Okay, so editorial aside, what does this have to do with Rahoboam, the son of Solomon?  His generation had everything at his finger tips like this upcoming generation today does.  He had the wisdom of the remaining elders, he had the vigor of youth, and the wealth and security of a military and a trained populace.  His situation looks a lot like ours does today or very soon from today.  What happened when he was to become King over the land?

He consulted the elders and they asked for a period of rest for the people after the great projects of Solomon.  He consulted his youthful advisors and they told him to tell the people that they will feel his whip and they will do greater things than in the days of his father.  He chose the youthful mode of power, and announced he would be a scourge to them.  He chose the mantle of power and misunderstood where his power came from.  Even an Israelite king governed by the consent of the people under the anointing of God.  When the northern tribes heard there would be no rest they replied, the House of Judah can do its own work (Judah was the tribe of King David, Solomon, and now Rahoboam).  Their nation split into two, and the decline of Israel followed.  The north would later be conquered by the Assyrians, and the south would later be conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and the people of Babylon.  Dire consequences for youthful pride.

Since I am part of this generation I feel like I have a voice to speak about these things.  God loves to bless his people, but when a generation assumes that they are inherently powerful and dominant, they also begin to rely less on God.  They become Imperialistic and Lord their power over others in the name of God, but the only God they recognize is themselves.

Why was I going to speak about this to the men’s breakfast in Bluffton?  It is a heavy message after all.  I believe that the older generation needs to hear that the young people who are slowly coming up into the ranks are in dire need of the Wisdom of previous generations.  I believe that our idealists need the temperment of your experience and the stories that you hold within your hearts and mind.  I believe that your faith and your courage and your ideas are still necessary as a temporary rudder for my own Generation as we begin to take over the course.  We need to respect and revere the people who have done so much, but even if our generation comes off as arrogant and does not provide that respect – we still need all of you.

I know I didn’t get to that part of the message, but it will be a theme that runs through everything I do in our ministry.  All Generations need to come together to show the Body of Christ as full an whole.  We cannot afford to take our gifts and talents and retire to our corners of culture.  Youth culture may seem interesting and dominant but it lacks vision beyond its raw energy.  I know God is in control, but I sometimes worry about the times to come.  We have a few different paths we can take – but all good paths include a strong foundation and staying in relationship with America’s and the World’s youth.

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs Presents A Short Film “Scenes From the Suburbs” by Spike Jonze

Since seeing Arcade Fire perform “Wake Up” with David Bowie a few years back, they have continued to be my favorite band.  Their EP “Funeral” is one of the best composed albums I have ever heard for many reasons.  They recently released “The Suburbs” which won a Grammy this year – so I picked it up at Best Buy (old school, I know).  Actually have been listening to it in my car for the last week and a half now.

(1) Listening through once it was a beautiful album with a lot of energy in explosive points.  Track 15 blew me away.

(2) I listened to track 15 and 1 over and over again.

(3) I realized I was going to kill 15 (The Sprawl 2, Mountains Beyond Mountains) so I relistened to whole album.  Amazing.

(4) Tracks 1-4 Rehaunt me. Absolutely poetic and the second round of listening through is better now that I’ve started looking through the lyrics.

This video from youtube is actually a Preview for a 30 minute short film based on the album “The Suburbs”.  I just watched it and found myself realizing how real the images feel.  The suburbs they show look just like my neighborhood in South Carolina (though the shots are from California probably).  The crisis at the end with the police, sirens, and disturbed tranquility happened right in my neighborhood recently and I remember kids on their bikes just watching.

There is a reason this album won a Grammy.  Make sure to read the lyrics.  I will be watching this short film when I can.  Blew me away.

“Scenes from the Suburbs” Info: