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Sound and Silence

when necessary, use words

Month

February 2007

Longing and Craving

In arabia it was ... by BidWiya, Dubai

My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning. – Psalm 130:6

Can’t get no, (da da daaa), Satisfaction … – Mick Jagger 

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what was promised – Hebrews 11:39

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope. – Reinhold Niebuhr

It’s a universal human feeling to experience lack. Need, hunger, fullfillment, emptiness, desire; these are the drivers which push life onwards. Whether it is a basic drive like hunger, the persistent emotional pull of needing affirmation, the gnawing of unrequited love, or a lifelong vision for a noble truth such as justice, our lives are shaped by what draws us onwards.

What is the “opposite” of life: is it lack? Most people seem to think so. The prevailing view, at lest that perpetrated by the media and the commercial interests it represents, is that in order to experience “life” you need more. More things, more money, more time, more choice. Craving is specifically created by the materialist establishment.

This is largely via sexual desire, as a world weary Joni Mitchell remarked “Sex sells everything, sex kills”. However to target sexuality as the problem will miss the fact that it is part of an overarching materialist “purpose”. This is the battle waged by the corporate powers for the hearts and minds of consumers. It offers a vision of power, independence and wealth, together with the illusion of sustainability and immortality. It is the battle for short term profit at any cost, the cost, not least, of the Planet, and also dignity, and ultimately our hearts, for “what does it profit to gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”.

I have been moving towards the view, however, that the real opposite of life might just be the lack of lack. Firstly, too much of anything does not give satisfaction, but satiation. Eating too much of a great meal, for example.

And secondly, if we never experience lack, we will not have the space in which to appreciate what we do have, and to understand our drives so as to make choices that will sustain us. The space created by longing is a very pregnant one.

One of the key things to grasp regarding any lack concerns the “time to fulfillment” of that lack. A rule of thumb here is that the shorter the time to fulfillment, the less appropriate, or worthy, that lack is, to life.

To get to the synonyms proposed at the start, short term lack, we can call craving. And long term lack, longing (or yearning). It is no semantic co-incidence that longing describes the long term.

Unititled by Charlotte Sterling

Examples of craving are drink, and food. Other examples include a variety of addictions: alcohol, sex, drugs, television. It is obvious that the cycle between need and fulfillment is short, only a number of hours in some cases.

A satiated society does not yearn, it craves. Over stimulation, over consumption drive out the space inhabited by Spirit.

In Maslow’s well known “Triangle of Needs”, he describes a continuum from the more basic Deficiency needs: Physiological (water, air, food), then Safety (security, health), then Love/Belonging (friendship, intimacy, family), then Esteem (respect and self respect); through to the Growth needs; Self-actualization (the instinctual need of humans to make the most of their unique abilities and to strive to be the best they can be) and Self-Transcendence (Spiritual).

What is clear from this analysis is that the “lower”, or deficiency needs, can be filled quickly, and will appear again just as quickly. The “higher” needs can go unnoticed for most of our lives, and can take our lives to fulfill.

What of longing? Without getting technical by setting up some sort of rule about where craving stops and longing begins, let us rather observe that the longest longing extends beyond death, bringing us into the realm of the eternal. Obviously other longings are intermediate, the dream to start a business, start a family, take on a big project. Maybe they concern becoming a certain type of person, generous, wise, loving, for example.

A long term drive does not however automatically sanctify that drive. Deep feelings of revenge can swallow up ones whole life, and even be passed down from generation to generation. Institutionalized customs are often tied in closely with religion and tribe. Ongoing enmity between Shias and Sunnis, Catholics and Protestants, Hutu and Tutsi, lead to very deep wounds which are near impossible to extricate. These toxic traditions are possibly harder to escape than any short term addiction.

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Universal Restoration

That even the wicked shall at last
Be fitted for the skies;
And, when their dreadful doom is past,
To life and light arise.

I ask not, how remote the day,
Nor what the sinners’ woe,
Before their dross is purged away;
Enough for me, to know

That when the cup of wrath is drained,
The metal purified,
They’ll cling to what they once disdained,
And live by Him that died.
–Anne Bronte, Extract from “A Word to The ‘Elect‘” (1843) 

I try to avoid doctrine. I have studied it, believed it, found it wanting, rejected it. It is the proverbial wineskin which becomes unworthy of new wine. I am interested in the essence of things, and doctrines, or more specifically, dogma, gets in the way of new truths. 

But I now need to make an exception to my post-modern, neo-bohemian ideals. I want to take a good look at a doctrine which I have come to understand as a sort of Mother of all Doctrines. Ladies, Gentlemen, and all created things, this concerns you; I speak of the Doctrine of Universal Restoration. It goes by many other names too, like Universal Salvation, the Doctrine of Inclusion, Radical Grace, or Apokatastasis. 

If you have had a look at my blog entry “A Worthy Worship 6 : In work, play, church, world, in all”,  which concerns dualism, you will remember I suggest that dualism the root of all that separates us from G-d; you might if you wanted to camp it up, call it the Cardinal Sin. And Eternal Damnation is the ultimate dualism. You can’t get more separated from G-d than by being in never ending torment for all eternity. 

In a nutshell, UR is the belief that all things, that is all people and all of creation, will one day be restored by, and reunited with G-d through Christ. A flagship scripture (amongst many) suggesting UR is from 1 Tim 4:10: “we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe”.  

This implies, then, that no-one will suffer eternal punishment. All of the writers I have read espousing UR are adamant that there will be judgment, however. It’s just that the judgment has the purpose of restoration not punishment. The doctrine was generally accepted by the early Church via the likes of Origen. But after the Roman Coup whereby the church was taken over by Empire, by the Roman Empire, it was declared a heresy in the 6th Century. 

The notion of “hell” – the threat of Eternal Damnation – took over as the official Church’s position on the destination for all who didn’t tow “God’s” (That is, the Church’s) line. The doctrine of Eternal Damnation ensured that the people remained loyal and kept the Church in its place of power. The underlying tool? Fear. The sale of indulgences was perhaps the height of this manipulation. Hell could be avoided, for the right price. And by consigning your loved ones to purgatory, the market could be milked even further – not even death was not the final word. 

For example, John Calvin describes hell as: “Forever harassed with a dreadful tempest, they shall feel themselves torn asunder by an angry God, and transfixed and penetrated by mortal stings, terrified by the thunderbolts of God, and broken by the weight of his hand …”  And the Reverend C. H. Spurgeon: “When thou diest, thy soul will be tormented alone; that will be a hell for it, but at the day of judgment they body will join they soul, and then thou wilt have twin hells, thy soul sweating drops of blood, and thy body suffused with agony.” (Both quotes taken from Tentmaker article The Inventors and Perpetrators of Hell)

Amazingly, the idea and threat of Hellfire remains very strong today in the “Christian” and even “Post-Christian” world. It is in fact a fundamental feature of our psychology, even if it exists as residue, it is woven into the fabric of Christianised society. It lurks deep in the recesses of our makeup, a fundamental Archetype. According to an msnbc online poll of 17684 responses (as of the time of writing) the question “Do you believe in Hell?” received  60% yes, 31% no vote. 

To start to get a grip on the subject, we need to take a close look at the Biblical usage of the English words/concepts, “Hell”, and “Eternal” (As is Everlasting punishment/damnation). As translated in the King James Version, the New International Version, and others, “Hell” is an amalgamation of several quite separate words, Hades, Tartarus (Greek), Sheol and Gehenna (from Hebrew). “Hell” itself is from the Anglo Saxon “Helan” and simply means “concealed”, as in helmet, hull, hold, cell, or cellar. See the pithy handbook “Martin Zender goes to Hell”. And the word translated “Eternal” (“Ainos”), meaning timeless, was originally a word meaning the opposite, that is, an Age, or A time. 

This look at Scriptural origins is of course is a small scratch on the surface of a very large and very perilous affair. But I have done enough scratching to be convinced that there is something to the doctrine of Universal Restoration. A good deal of information on the belief, scripture, people past and present, is to be found on Tentmaker  minstries website . A good summary is to be found on wikipedia , which lists around 10 of the most representative scriptures from each camp.  

One of the most high profile cases of “UR conversion” in recent times is that of Bishop Carlton Pearson, a conservative 4th generation Pentecostal preacher based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Read and watch his story . His is a testimony to what I call “Costly Universalism”, a man who had the world at his feet, discovered UR, was actually branded a heretic, lost 90% of his congregation, his church building, and his ministry, but not his soul. But his real importance, it seems, is only now emerging. He will deliver a keynote address at the upcoming Conference entitled  Sacred Activism and the Power of Inclusion” in May 2007. I have a feeling in my bones about this movement. Take a look at this slideshow  on to get a taste of prophetic sociology. But I digress… 

As an Evangelical by tradition, the implications of UR fascinate me. If the Kingdom of God is to include everybody and everything, there can be no end to the celebration. Worship, in fact all of life, becomes all encompassing. Most of the categories that preoccupy us so drop away; religion, race, nationality. We are freed at a deep level from a defensive to an inclusive, generous approach to life.

Is the ultimate reason for Gods love the escape from hell? It seems ridiculous that a Creator, who is and gives Life, would define themselves in such negative terms. Is this my logic taking me for a ride? Is it wishful optimism? Or is it an intuitive, gut feeling about the nature of things? 

How is it possible to aspire towards unconditional love while even the merest threat of eternal damnation hangs over our, mine or anyone else’s head (for we are all connected), or simply lurks in the recesses of our minds? So long as that threat is there, we cannot truly and freely love, our quest is in vain, for it is not a love which conquers all.

no

what will i do if your answer is no;
if you don’t want me where shall i go?
the sting of your retort will hurt
but what will remain lurks deep beneath the surface
conspiring there with all the gathered history
of like experience,
coagulating, subsumed into the tissue of my being
with a half life well beyond my remaining years.

yet i would rather you saw me off,
clinically severed,
than accepted me under duress
for whatever reason
endured me because i persuaded you
of my worth.
if you don’t see it
tell me now.
 
just say no,
and i will move on.
this sojourn of belonging
will move on.

You told me your name.

By Chris kutscheraYou told me your name; if I could just remember it then maybe I could frame the life you laid at my feet. No meat, no bread, nothing to eat, your system is no longer accepting nourishment. I gave you water. I gave you clothes that you could sell to earn your ticket home. Or maybe, just the memory of home.

You said, “Maybe you are lucky to help me.” At first I read arrogance but upon reflection, you were so right. Fortune was finding a way to my heart, finding me via the way of your abject misfortune.

Your clothes were clean and ironed; i saw your pride in life in the face of its demise. And you are as thin as a sword and just as upright. Yes, righteousness itself flashes from the shook foil of your emptiness. Your story overflows, but there is no self pity, just the welling waters of the acceptance of your mortality.

No self pity, perhaps, but there was panic. The panic of a soldier about to mount a final charge over into no mans land. Metallic, hard, the flavor of machinery. I tasted it too, but the lingering tang was simple Rightness, and thanks to you, I tasted my own true place in things.

You show me the doctor’s letters, your anti-retrovirals. A small purse, a small collection of artifacts. It may be all you own. But this predicament, is not yours alone, we all return to dust and we all face our Creator. And at this moment in time, here on a sidewalk, this is hallowed ground. Our feet are unshod, my brother, we both see the consuming fire. I feel your panic, but I also feel the birthpangs of your freedom. You are unfettered by illusion, sojourning as you are through leafy, vacant suburbia, you have no attachments.

You’ve gone, but you won’t go away…

You have already gone through the loss of your very self. No friends in this city, no more work, no more strength to work, your father, mother and grandparents, no more. And you, man in what may have been your prime, have not had the privilege nor earthly honor to have a family of your own. Ah to hold my babies, to hold my loved ones; but you, life has torn through you
like a devouring scourge.

And yet you believe, you look at me a stranger and honor me with the title “Brother, my brother.” Will I ever have the purity of your knowledge, the depth of your worship? There was an ocean of words someplace, just waiting in the wings, ready to issue forth, but all I could muster was muteness.

The closest you could come to locating yourself in a history was your uncle. Not that he could support you in your hour of need, having no work himself, nor even a room for you. But he is your connection with a time spend on Earth, he is Blood. You needed an insurmountable sum for transport. It’s yours, take it.

It was 10 minutes cutting into my day but I was staring into a great fissure in time and space, I was staring into Eternity. All I can say is, go well my unnamed brother, go well, and think of me when you reach paradise.

You’ve gone, but you won’t go away…

A Worthy Worship 8 – Doing it.

Practices, tools, technologies and roles

From Flying Lessons by Rob Mills“Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel … its arrangement, its exits and entrances — its whole design and all its regulations and laws … This is the law of the temple: All the surrounding area on top of the mountain will be most holy”.  Ezekiel 43:10-12 (NIV)

What I have attempted to do thus far is to present a re-envisioning of the concept of Worship. This has been an exercise in faith-imagination, and up to now, it remains theoretical. We have specifically tried to pull back from specifics, so that we can get away from habit, cliché, or tradition, into a space of imagination, in order to re-envision who G-d is or may be. This means forgetting worship as an activity or a form, for a while, so that we can attempt to get to its essence. Then charged by faith-imagination we can come to it anew.

I feel a little nervous, it must be said, coming down from this tower of Ivory, into the real world. I feel like the pure and philosophical is going to be tarnished with the prosaic and the practical. But then I think of the magnificence of the Incarnation, where G-d who is all-poetry, all-truth, chose to be born man and enter history, where Love could be put to the real test of living, to be tempted by all things, boredom, change, suffering, rejection. So with a deep breath, here goes…

Liturgy

A good word to introduce here is Liturgy. This means “work of the people”, and might be the perfect way to describe the creative, the sacred and the communal all in one. Of course, to most people it smacks of religiosity, so we must note that we are trying to reclaim its meaning anew.

Communion at The Cosmic MassI’d bet that most people would consider Liturgy to be the work of the Clergy. As such their view of how to do worship will be pretty religious, and most lightly pretty boring. So, firstly we need to affirm that liturgy is what people, the laity, the proletariat, you and me, do. It does not need to be a formula, but can mean how we apply our imaginations to life.

Liturgy then is about the whole of life. (Repeat this three times, light the candle, then hit the gong to move on…). What follows however, pertains mostly to meetings, and in fact to church meetings, although these give only one model of how to express worship creatively. Activities of organisations like The Cosmic Mass are examples of liturgy re-interpreted. What characterises a meeting of this nature is community and people who are willing worshipers.

The Space
To honor space, it might be best to clear an area of chairs and pews. However, for hospitalities sake, seating should be available (I do like a good retro pouf) … There will always be a mix of participators and spectators.

Consider removing the pulpit in order to devolve the sense of structure and authority into the community. Musicians should also be free to roam, and placed if possible in such a way as to integrate with the non-musicians. Worshipers need to be free to face any direction. Directional exercises such as speaking to the four winds will help people to visualize a G-d who is omnipresent. Dance and movement are core to this worship, and the space should be determined accordingly. Dancers should be given preference to non-dancers. Water should be made available for rehydration, preferably served with ice and lemon or lime slices in fine crystal flutes.

The beauty of a building or its décor is important, and attempts to maximize a creative atmosphere in a space (normally drab and functional if rented) should be made. Flowers, plants and greenery, together with interesting objects, sculpture and artwork, will enhance the atmosphere immeasurably.

Sound and its arrangement are vital to the spatial planning – see the section on technologies later on.

Activities
All modes of expression should be considered.

  • Dance and movement are primary. The separation of dance from music in Western Tradition is one of the more damaging dualisms to have occurred. In African worldviews, there is conceptually no difference between a song and a dance. One sings a dance and dances a song. It is perfectly valid to move without explicitly singing. The scriptures instruct us to “Love the Lord your God with all your strength …”. This means potentially, every muscle in our bodies.
  • Rhythm and groove are key tools to celebration. Groove is rhythm which finds “Joy in repetition” (to quote Prince), and like a river current carries the participant forwards. Music which emphasizes rhythm over harmony is appropriate.
  • Activities of Silence are vital. The honoring of space, stillness and quietude are as important as the making of creative sound. See the blog posting on “Silence”.
  • Song is always central. Song forms which allow ease of participation, such as simple chants which work well with Groove based music, are appropriate. The complexity of hymnody with many dense verses and complex melodies and harmonies is far less appropriate to a spirit of freedom than rhythmic chanting.
  • Instrumental music, not as a tolerated interlude, but as a core means of expression, is apt: People can encounter and experience much that lies beyond manipulative wordage. The DJ can play a pivotal role here – see “Roles” below.
  • Speech is the most obvious activity in most meetings. It is generally used to organize, admonish, teach and preach. These things are all good, but their over use as opposed to other expressions mean that they need to find a balanced place in the scheme of things. Above al things, speakers should consider their words carefully. Speaking is an art form. Rappers note: you are very cool, so don’t be over-anxious. Just chill a little, and experiment with the power of less is more. (Atually that goes for every art form – verbosity kills!)
  • Poetry should be used. The tools employed by poets reveal to us ways of seeing that can be highly illuminating. See the blog posting on “A Poetic God”.
  • Drama and enactment are further powerful ways of a community expressing itself. See the blog posting “A Dramatic God”.
  • Ritual needs to be embraced, as a creative expression rather than a habit. Small gestures of devotion – the lighting of candles, breaking of bread, go a long way to firing the imagination in G-d.
  • Traditional Liturgies can be used to great effect, if we can overcome the prejudice we hold regarding their misuse in history. There are events driven by the Calendar such as Easter or Advent. It should be noted that these are usually Roman, but can be Celtic or Hebraic festivals like Beltane or Passover too. There are seasonal liturgies and festivals such as Harvest, and historical remembrances.
  • The Charismatic movement in the Church has brought a great deal of creativity into worship, in as far as it has practiced a faith in the so-called Gifts of the Spirit . Many of these express themselves as spontaneous activities; prophesy, speaking in tongues, “words of knowledge”, as well as prayers for healing and wholeness. They are often inclusive and communal, but can obviously be misused.

Tools/Technologies
We might define technology as that which amplifies the natural human experience. It means that we can project sound and vision so that many people can access what is happening. The use of technology is taken for granted but needs to be used with caution. Marshall McLuhan pointed out that new technology whilst extending or amplifying our abilities also amputates other abilities.

  • Sound
    Sound Tools include a PA system including microphones mixers and speakers. Sound engineers should be included in the “Signal Chain” as integral parts of the creative expression. Output formats such as surround sound can be very instrumental in creating an enveloping experience, although this risks a complexity which might not pay off; stereo is a very good basis for a spread sound. Digital Audio Workstations such as Ableton Live bring unprecedented expressive control to the electronic musician/DJ. A variety of instruments should be used as a means of expressing the vast array of sonic colours available. Whether they are familiar ones such as organs and guitars, or new, exotic or unusual, they need to be played with skill and imagination. It is better to have silence and to use other means of expression than to be unmusical or insensitive in ones playing.
  • Projected Visuals
    Through the use of Projectors and large screens, visuals can be very effective in worship. These through software such as VJamm or Resolume can involve Live Mixing (A VJ – Video Jockey – should be a creative who can bring together sound and appropriate visual elements). The content for this can be widespread: Words (Lyrics, quotes or scriptures), Stills (photos, clippings, and web pages, community-particular content such as artist works or community activities), abstract computer generated washes, moving content (movies and clips from various sources), and Live camera feeds to the audience.
  • Sentient objects
    It is important to keep a balance with real things. This includes objects of beauty or ritual, sculptures, crafts, and found or natural objects. A classic component of Christian meetings would be the bread and wine of the Eucharist. The chalice and the platter are objects with tremendous sacred and artistic potential. Other elements can be useful in order to involve the senses – Fire, Smoke and incense.
    I always feel that food has a potentially sacred quality, and eating together is a high point of community. I felt I should mention this although how to integrate eating and relaxing with the more intense and focused activities above will probably be a creative challenge.

New Roles
There are a number of roles I would like to highlight as being key to Doing Worship. These are the DJ, the VJ, MC (Master/Matron of Ceremonies) and Installation Curator.

  • The DJ role opens up the musical expressions to ALL music not just “worship” music or self-composed music. It’s very inclusive. There is a universe of music to share with people, the DJ can do this. Of course, if the DJ is a musician, this is a great way to mix “imported” and original music.
  • The VJ takes responsibility for Projected Visuals, and live visual mixing. They should have a rich library of visual resources – stills, movies, text, available to be brought on line in response to a move of the Spirit or the general creative flow. A record of the activities or portraits of members of the community present great potential for meditations or prayer.
  • The MC is essentially a focus for Hosting and hospitality. They give a group confidence and help tie together the whole liturgy, assisting with the flow of events.
  • The Installation Curator is a role borrowed from the art world. A curator is associated with overseeing an exhibition of normally visual art. The installation is a term used to include many types of creative output, not only visual art. Installations are often constructed outside of galleries, in public places for example. They often include a heterodox, multimedia approach utilizing sound and the tactile experiences of sculpture and other constructions, and may be very hi tech in their use of digital and wireless technologies.

My reflections above are just the start. I ask you the reader to add ideas and comments to this list. What do you do or would you like to do, to appropriately and worthily worship a Living God?

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