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 . . .

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