Posted August 15, 2013 by Marg Herder
On Friday morning at the 2013 Wild Goose Festival, Krista Tippet of NPR’s On Being, interviewed Phyllis Tickle, Vincent Harding, and Speech (of Arrested Development) on the Wild Goose main stage. I found their talk to be compelling and wanted to share some of the main points.
Phyllis Tickle started the conversation by discussing the idea that Christianity undergoes a fundamental and important shift every 500 years, something Anglican Bishop Mark Dyer has called “a giant rummage sale.” Phyllis said, “Five hundred years ago, you got burned at the stake for saying most of the things I think about now!” She views this time we live in as the time of The Great Emergence (check out her book by that title if you’ve never read it), and said she considers it to be the most exciting time since the shift that occurred 2000 years ago. She added humorously, “It’s a great time to be alive… if you don’t think about it.”
Vincent Harding was the next to speak. Vincent’s voice has a naturally slow and musical cadence so I was able to type in much of what he said, word for word. Since I have no way of checking to make sure I got it exactly right, please don’t consider this a quote, even though it’s pretty close.
… what’s on my mind is very close to what sister Phyllis is talking about. I think that we are at a point where we may be ready, as people of the churches, to take seriously the calling that’s in the prologue to the Constitution. Which says our main job as “We the people…” is not to compete with China, not to give Russia another blast from our great horns, and certainly not to teach anyone else what democracy is. Our job is to create a “more perfect union.” …As Speech reminded us a long time ago, we are, in a sense, in a state of “arrested development” as a country. We began in a state of arrested development, because we began talking about establishing freedom and democracy, but at the same time we built into our constitution and our democracy the institution of slavery.
[Now we have] a wonderful opportunity to live out “the truth will set us free.” [Discovering] who we really are, and where we need to go. I see the church trying to speak, not a patriotic truth, but a compassionate truth. To become more fully a place that the Spirit of God would have us be.
One of the other things the people of God have to look at is the difference between the emerging church in America and the emerging population in America. Do they match? If they don’t match what does that mean?
Next, Krista directed a question to Speech, remembering how he had first described himself as an angry black man, then later became a minister. She asked him to describe that journey.
Speech described how, as a young person, he had noticed the difference between his race and other races. He started asking why. And as he began to understand the history— and the hypocrisy— of his country, the anger start to settle in.
But as he developed as a spiritual being, he started to channel his anger, his indignation, his passion into the energy of love. He started to look for ways to change things.
In the beginning of his musical career he was doing gangsta hip hop, because that was what everyone was doing, But he soon realized that he was called to do a different type of music. The music of his group, Arrested Development, was his way of living into that calling.
He spoke of the oral traditions handed down through gangsta rap, the distrust and distaste for the police, the realities of gang life. As an example, the band Public Enemy sang about how people living in the inner city couldn’t rely on 911 to actually bring help in an emergency. This is different than what is experienced in the suburbs. So many problems were rightly exposed through the music.
But Speech realized fairly early on that even though the problems were being illuminated, no solutions were being sought or presented. Speech wanted to try to do more, namely, to explore the solutions, not just expose the problems.
The Power of Music in Social Movements
Krista asked Speech if maybe he was entering into the musical tradition of the Civil Rights Movement.
Speech replied that hip hop started by weaving sounds that paid homage to music that came before, because sampling was such an integral part of the accompaniment. At first this was resisted, because sampling was seen as less musically relevant than actually playing instruments, but later on sampling was embraced and seen as not only paying homage to what came before, but as actually building upon and giving new life to music of the past.
Phylis added that music is always integral to the great religious shifts. She recalled that that during the Protestant Reformation people wrote new hymns. They took the printing press and printed the new hymns and distributed them. It’s always the music that comes first. She added humorously, “If I hear one more praise song I’m going to kill somebody.” Phylis believes that one of the failings in the church is getting mired in the instrumentation (pipe organ) and music of centuries ago.
This reminded me of the groundbreaking work being done by EEWC-CFT member Jann Aldredge-Clanton as she creates inclusive language hymns and hymns embracing the divine feminine!
Speech mentioned that Jesus said we must be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves [Matthew 10:16. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”]. Speech is hosting a conference in Atlanta in September called “Shrewd.” He thinks we need to be more shrewd managers of the gospel, especially when it comes to young people, in our efforts to bring the light to all people.
Embodying the Festival’s Theme
Krista asked the panelists to reflect on this year’s Wild Goose theme of “Remembering the Body” in this evolutionary moment.
Speech said he felt we are called to remember the power that each of us has through God and through Spirit to revolutionize the world. The apostles were able to turn the world upside down in one lifetime! In our bodies is the spirit of a revolutionary. He said, “With less fear and more faith, we can accomplish bringing light to the world.”
Vincent Harding responded, “I think that it is so important to remember that what the music of the [Civil Rights] movement did was to urge people not to sit and be entertained by musicians, but to create music themselves and to speak of their longing and their determination. We need to make that our response.”
Krista next made the suggestion that Western Protestantism is partially responsible for disconnecting us from our bodies, adding that all you do is “sit in a pew and listen to a monologue.” However, in history, the expression of religion was often a cathartic experience. Now people are having to go outside of the church to get that.
Phyllis responded first with her thought that one of the characteristics of religion is that it is both deeply incarnational and deeply liturgical. Every time she’s on a college campus people say, “I don’t want a faith that I can’t feel in my body.” And what people want is a feeling that we are one thing. For her, her body has to believe in Jesus Christ too! Spirituality is who you are, what you eat, and how you breathe.
The minute she heard “Remembering the Body” she remembered that there are many Christianities, and we have to begin to engage these many forms of Christianity. North American Christianity is just not where it’s at! There are many different cannons, and we’ve got to look at what they all have in common. The first step is looking at scripture. In North America we left some things out of scripture that, for instance, the Ethiopian church did not.
Vincent, in closing, spoke about the spirituals and mentioned that some of the poorest people, the enslaved people, created the most beautiful music. We have to remember that the most impoverished people can create the most beautiful things, contrary to what most people think.
He asked the audience to join him in singing the following lyrics to the tune of “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” (This was also the last song everyone sang together at the Closing Ceremony for the 2013 Wild Goose Festival.)
We are building up a new world,
We are building up a new world,
We are building up a new world,
Builders must be strong.