Saturday, September 24, 2005

Music to Mourn To

In this post, author Mark Anthony Neal quotes a sermon by his friend Rev. Dr. Maurice Wallace. Here's an especially gripping excerpt. Emphasis and paragraph breaks mine:

"I am gravely worried, about what I perceive, as a conflict, a contradiction, if you may, between our increasing religiosity, on the one hand, and our decreasing relevance and vitality to change the world’s conditions, on the other hand. I am troubled, this morning, grievously troubled, by the popularity of a commercial Christianity that romanticizes our faith for the sake of capital campaigns, political favor and box office receipts, and misrepresents the journey as fast and furious, when the way is oft-times arduous and long-winded.

It is disturbing, beloved, that the measure of our faith today is so often in the spectacle-charm of charismatic display that charisma now trumps compassion as the essential element, the sine qua non, of Christian identity in the most popular churches in America today. Worship is so singularly worshipped, and bells-and-whistle praise so fashionable now, that the experience of church today is all celebration, and no sympathy at all. Which is not to say that celebration is incompatible with worship but any man who only ever celebrates, who treats life as an interminable party, has no time or inclination to contemplate the extreme weight of black urban life and loss incomprehensibly endured in Louisiana and Mississippi last week. His humanity, and the human prospect for godliness within him, is thus diminished by his indifference. The very thing that would realize his divine potential, the praise craze of this current age helps him, tragically, to avert. It is a reflex of the religious I believe I comprehend, but can’t quite understand. . .

. . .Somehow, we’ve lost sight of the importance of mourning. Of the redemptive value of sackcloth and ashes. Somehow, we’ve been mis-educated, theologically misinformed, led away from of our tradition, and have come to regard mourning only as a sign of hopeless resignation and sinking sadness But I want to suggest that mourning is more than resignation; in mourning is the potential for redress and resistance. It is not the white flag of surrender it appears to be to uninitiated eyes. But it is a passionate protest against the tyranny of death. Mourning is a sit-in against loss, a public petition that will not keep silent. Mourning is the spectacle refusal of indifference, apathy, chauvinism, and injustice. . . .

. . .So let us mourn with those who mourn. Weep with those who weep. Cry aloud with anguish at what has befallen us at the gulf coast. For it is only by God’s inscrutable grace that what has happened miles from here, did not happen precisely here. . . "

I've written about this before, but Wallace's sermon provides another opportunity to discuss this question: Does gospel music, in its present contemporary form, provide music for mourning? Prophetic music that serves as a much-needed jeremiad for the conditions in which we find ourselves, or as the timeless music that reminds us that we have tribulation in the world? Modern-day spirituals?

Although I have a pretty extensive collection of current gospel music, the best example I can think of right now is from Isaac Freeman's album Beautiful Stars: "Don't Drive Your Child Away." Another sort-of possibility is Natalie Wilson' & SOP's "Liquid Prayer" from The Good Life. The best I've heard recently is Phanatik's "Dirgy Dancing" from The Incredible Walk. Go. Get. It. I enjoy the work of the Cross Movement artists to begin with, but I think this song is pure genius.

Anyway: What songs do you think provide music to mourn to? What are some ways we can encourage the gospel-loving and gospel-making community to provide this music for us? I'm listening . . .

Happy 80th, Mr. B.B. King!

The great B.B. King celebrated his 80th birthday September 16. Here's a report from NPR's News and Notes, and an interview that ran on Fresh Air.

King's gospel albums include Songs of Praise, Favorite Gospel Hymns and B.B. King Sings Spirituals, which includes "Jesus Gave Me Water." My current B.B. King favorite? "I Like to Live the Love I Sing About," which you can see on B.B. King: Live in Africa.

Interview: Marty Stuart

Here’s an interview with Marty Stuart that aired on NPR this week. Marty talks to All Things Considered about gospel and southern gospel music, family harmony, the Staple Singers, grace and redemption and what it’s like to play Pop Staples’ guitar.

I'm really enjoying the warmth, earthiness and honesty of Stuart's latest album, Souls' Chapel. And the liner art is great, too. Enjoy.

This article from the Chicago Tribune tells more of Stuart's story and includes quotes from Mavis Staples. In my favorite section, Stuart shares part of his testimony:

"'I left home when I was 12 years old, and by the time I hit my early 40s, I had developed a fantastic appetite for a rock 'n' roll lifestyle,' Stuart says. 'It started out as fun, and somewhere along the way it became a problem. Well, I got arrested for it three years ago, went and got help, meant business about it. And somewhere along the way, I did what I knew I shouldn't do.'

Stuart, after all, says he had been clean and sober for two years, but after the 2003 death of his hero and mentor Johnny Cash, he briefly fell off the wagon. 'Both of the arrests were very public,' he says. 'I was embarrassed; I was in shock. Especially the second time it was like, how did this happen? We were in the middle of bringing ["Souls' Chapel"] to life. I just felt totally unqualified; I felt totally powerless, totally worthless. And I felt like a pure hypocrite that would stand up there and sing about Jesus, at the same time coming out of a jail cell. . . .' At the same time, it was just a great reminder of how serious the problem is, how you can never take your eye off the problem. But once again, God had a chance to do some work in my life. He sent a couple of angels.'

After Stuart was released from jail, he played a gig at FitzGerald's in Berwyn, and Mavis and Yvonne Staples drove to the roots-music club to surprise him. The two presented him with a gift: Pops Staples' oldest guitar. 'When they gave me that guitar, the worthlessness went away,' Stuart says. 'Being handed Roebuck Staples' guitar was a mighty gesture. I took it as a divine gesture.' 'We all cried that night,' recalls Mavis Staples. 'It was like the Lord sent us over there to lift up our baby brother.'"

What a moment! I love stories like this. To me, they serve as reminders that God uses imperfect people, and that he never gives up on us. He allows us to share in his work on earth, and he never, never thinks of us as worthless. And occasionally, he allows us to give that same gift of encouragement to others. May we be his hands and feet. Amen.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

It's A Celebration!

Well, who knew? Tomorrow marks one year of blogging on I don't know how you plan to observe the day, but I'm going to spend the day doing some research for an assignment about one of my favorite songs of all time, "Oh Happy Day."

The appropriate gift for a first-year anniversary is paper or a clock. I decided to go with a wireless card, the better to keep on bloggin'.

Thanks to my readers and lurkers. Let's go for another year, shall we?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Love and Inspiration

" . . .[D]on't ever give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong."
--Ella Fitzgerald

Friday, September 02, 2005

Memoirs of a Music Man

In this article from The Washington Post, former music critic David Segal writes about the great Live Concert Moment. I'd like to offer a disclaimer--Segal's article doesn't come from a Christian worldview, and there's some language here--but I thought it was really interesting and offers a lot of food for thought.

A few questions: What's the best Live Concert Moment you've ever experienced at a gospel concert? How can gospel artists balance the need for a well-planned show with the need to be open to the spontaneous and unpredictable move of God's Spirit? (Whoo . . .ministry and industry. . .Here we go . . .) What does good showmanship look like in a gospel context? For example, how do you put on a good show, but avoid making a show of the gifts of the Spirit?

I've been in concert environments where the shouting and speaking in tongues seemed very choreographed. It's difficult to know what to think in these situations, especially because they don't take place in the sort of ministry environment that can be interpreted by a church or pastor, or within a denominational context. It's not quite the same thing as being in someone's church, or in a service that is being guided by a trusted spiritual leader who has a set of identifiable beliefs that guide a particular church ("Well, they are (fill-in-the-name-of-Denomination), so that expression tends to guide their worship style."). So what does discernment look like in situations like this? Where's the line that is or isn't to be crossed?

Comment away!

The Spirituals Project Featured on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

If you missed the recent airing of the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly program featuring Dr. Arthur Jones and The Spirituals Project, check it out here. It's great to see this worthy project getting some attention.

Dr. Arthur Jones image credit:

Gospel Memories--and Hurricane Relief

This weekend, Bob Marovich's "Gospel Memories" Broadcast on Chicago's 88.7 WLUW (2:00-6:30 a.m. CST, live webcast) will feature Gulf Coast Gospel--vintage gospel music from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Marovich's intention is to honor those affected by the hurricane. Bob's blog also features some info regarding fundraisers the gospel community will hold to help affected GMWA members, including Bishop Paul Morton, whose church and home were affected. These fundraisers are currently in the planning stages, but I will provide updates as I receive them.

Bob will also include a musical tribute to Cora Martin-Moore, the daughter of Sallie Martin.

Cracking Me Up

"Excuse Me (If I Sound Like Marvin Winans)" by comedian Broderick Rice, available on Gospel Skate Jams, Vol. 1 (Malaco). Absolutely hilarious--and a featuring an affectionate, spot-on imitation of Winans by Rice. I've played this track over and over, and it cracks me up, every time.

Broderick Rice image credit: