The Sectarian Review Podcast

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http://sectarianreviewpodcast.weebly.com/

Well this may be it.

I’ve found myself less and less interested in writing for this medium lately. And a quick perusal of this blog will demonstrate that.

It should also reveal that I’ve been aiming my non-teaching efforts toward podcasting instead. There is something truly rewarding about having live conversations with people about the broad range of topics I’ve tried to cover in the blog. If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to check it out. Here’s the link to our Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/SectarianReview/

Also, I’ve created a dedicated website to the podcast where you can learn more about it and link to all the episodes.

If you do, please let me know what you’re thinking. What makes that thing so much fun is the dialogue with our listeners. Here’s the link to the site:

http://sectarianreviewpodcast.weebly.com/

If you’ve been reading this blog, thanks so much. I hope you’ll listen to Sectarian Review and talk back!

Be well.

The Football-Industrial Complex

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Hello dear reader. I wonder if you might allow me to call you “dear listener,” tonight.

As you may have seen from previous posts, I’ve gradually transitioned my blogging energies into podcasting. My podcast, Sectarian Review, offers me the chance to actually speak to other people about ideas and culture, and that has been a lot of fun and really gratifying. If you listen to podcasts, I hope you’ll check us out as well. We’re on iTunes and Stitcher and you can find a link here:

http://www.christianhumanist.org/2016/01/sectarian-review-5-the-football-industrial-complex/

There is no real reason these platforms can’t co-exist for a while, though. Below, find the introduction to our latest episode, a hostile inquiry into America’s (and Christendom’s) obsession with football. Drew Van’tland and Todd Pedlar joined me for a pretty lively discussion.

And I’m always looking for new collaborators. If you’d like to join us from time to time, please do let me know. This week, I had a philosopher and a physicist on the show. I’d love to include historians, economists, seminarians…anyone. Now for the intro:

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Hello everyone. Thanks for downloading another episode of the show. Danny Anderson here. Assistant Professor of English at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA.

I want to give fair warning that this episode might be contentious, uncomfortable, and even unfair. This is my hope at least. Football occupies a gigantic space in our cultural consciousness and I think we should at least notice that. In doing so, we’re kind of going to be picking at scabs, an icky image, I know.

I should confess upfront that I have some personal issues with this subject, so I’ll have to work to avoid making this all about me and my psychology. I’m from Cleveland, a huge town for sports fandom, and spent almost all my youth utterly obsessed with the local teams, primarily the Browns. Now maybe it’s because the Browns’ terribleness makes it easy, but as I’ve gotten old and decrepit, I’ve come to a point where I don’t care much at all about it anymore.

Except that I do. I care that we as a society Recklessly engage in what I’ve come to know as the idolatry of my youth. I’ve watched, largely from a distance now, as Cleveland neglects almost every other part of its civic life for its obsession with trying to overcome the heartbreak of “The Drive” and “The Fumble.” I’m also disturbed as a person of Faith at Christendom’s dangerous conflation of the values of sport with the values of Christianity.

So these are my reasons for recording this episode. I know that as you listen, you might say to yourself “he’s ignoring all the positive things about football…teamwork, discipline, whatnot.” If this is the case, know that I’m not ignoring them, I’ve spent much of my life uttering those defenses myself. I’m simply rejecting them for the purposes of this discussion. As always, I want to encourage your angry or supportive responses, either at the Facebook page or our email sectarianreview@gmail.com. I even booted up a Twitter account, hopeless as I am in that medium.

Question 1: Idolatry – I just mentioned the term Idolatry in my prologue. I stand by it, but I’m open to debate. What is idolatry and how might it be related to American Football?

Question 2: Economic – I already threw Cleveland under the bus for what I think is a misappropriation of economic resources. Let’s talk with some specifics about the economics of the sport in America. What are some positive arguments one might make for our investment in this game. Why are those arguments silly?

Question 3: Cultural – Everyone knows that Marx called religion the opiate of the masses – something to keep the proletariat content in an oppressive system. Certainly he would replace that with football today, no? What cultural impact does the Football Industrial Complex impose on us?

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So that’s it. Have a listen and get in touch!

Danny

Music Monday: (Gulp) Worship Music? Me?

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I know, I know. I’m the guy who hates worship music. Let’s just put that out there. I’ve even posted about this anti-passion before. See my ode to the great Rodney Crowell.

However, I do like church (generally).

My family and I recently purchased a house near Athens, Georgia and so we’ve been snooping around churches there. Who knows what’s going to happen, but we’ve found one we really like so far, and the music is no small part of that.

The church is called Classic City Community Church and their band is called “The Classic City Collective.” I’ve been so moved by them that I even bought their CD today (also apparently available on iTunes and Amazon).

The group undermines all my comfortable cynicism about Christian music. They seem to have a commitment to artistry that eludes most contributers to the decline of Christian Culture (aka “praise bands”).

They have taste. They have musical talent. And most of all, they can claim that most unique trait, subtlety. The music is emotional, but not boorish. These folks clearly are passionate about God, but they also have dignity and brains.

In other words there are no lyrics like “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”

Contemporary physicists like to point out that given the vastness of the universe, the appearance of life here indicates that it all but certainly exists elsewhere. Likewise, this group’s existence has given me hope that there are musicians out there who are fighting against my bitter cynicism about Christian music and culture.

If good taste and dedicated artistry exists in Athens, surely it exists elsewhere. This is no small leap into optimism for me, and I’m grateful for the correction.

Here’s a clip they produced about the band and its mission. Do yourself a favor and give ’em a shot.

Two highlights I’d like to point out. At about 1:15 in, there is sample of an utterly beautiful song called “A Mind at Perfect Peace.” I wish I could find a clip of the whole thing because it is truly lovely.

Also during that clip, the group’s leader, Paul Reeves, reflects on his reluctance to write worship music in the first place. He basically claims that the purpose of this music is a great responsibility and that he “didn’t want to do that flippantly.”

This betrays a commendable artistic maturity, let alone a fine spiritual one. Well done, sir. You’ve sold a tough (yet newly hopeful) customer.

Rodney Crowell and My Salvation from Christian Music

The Houston Kid

The Houston Kid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one needs another polemic about the banality of contemporary worship music. This is a topic that’s been theorized and explored by people who care about it a lot more than I do. Here’s one fairly recent example I found lingering in my Pocket account.

Basically, the problem is that I have a rare medical condition, and if I hear a song that uses the words “amazing,” or “awesome” more than 37 times, my pancreas will explode and I will die.

OK, that’s not true, but I think you see my point. Contemporary worship is a genre that primarily rewards the emotional and scolds the intellectual. For instance, only this shameless genre could offer the world the phrase “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss,” with an un-ironic, straight face.

Of course I paint with a broad brush, but largely the genre fetishizes the …ahem… “awesomeness” of God, while ignoring the particulars of how that awesomeness is created. The problem with ignoring those details is that anything complicated about the Christian faith is left out of the experience. And if there is anything that Christianity has to offer contemporary society, it is the complications the religion carries within itself. This makes it real and relevant. Jacob, as a chosen scoundrel, undermines all notions of fairness and justice. This creates a beautiful confusion within the individual pondering the patriarchal story. It is a confusion that challenges the listener in a way that worship music refuses to, leaving my pancreas to suffer. Imagine Michael Phelps splashing in a kiddie pool. This is an image of what worship music too often does to Christianity.

Beautiful Despair in Rodney Crowell

This brings me to the subject of this post. Growing up listening to the Country Music of my parents, I first became aware of Crowell (dare I refer to him as Rodney here?) because of the great popularity of his hit album Diamonds and Dirt. The wit and depth of his lyrics, along with his stubbornly traditional approach to pop-country, made me a lifelong admirer.

As I grew older however, the Clash came calling for me and I neglected to follow Rodney’s career for many years. This was an insightfully blind mistake on my part. As luck would have it. I caught up with him around the time I was approaching 40, just in time for Rodney to guide me through that time in a way that Christian music would never have been able to.

What makes his music resonate with my own Christian Imagination is that, far from avoiding the beautiful confusion of life, he hones in on it as the very subject that makes life worth living. His song “Beautiful Despair” from 2005’s The Outsider, perfectly captures this attitude.

Beautiful despair is slouching forward

Toward a past you might regret

All to suck the marrow out

Of every magic moment that you get

The “awesomeness” that this lyric captures is not rooted in happy sentimentalism. Instead it captures the delicate dance that joy and pain share in the human experience. What is beautiful is not that we may avoid pain, but that the pain we will feel makes the joy worth feeling. This is the sweetness and light that Matthew Arnold wrote about, and to hear a wise, aging poet capture it in musical art provides more solace and inspiration than any endless repetition of shallow superlatives.

I was fortunate enough to see Rodney perform in a small venue in Athens, GA a few months ago and I noticed that his set consisted strictly of early and recent material. I didn’t feel that he was regretting the popular material of the late 80’s, but an artistic symmetry between the work of the brash young troubadour and older sage is clearly apparent. His classic early material, highlighted by songs like “‘Til I can Gain Control Again,” and “Song for the Life,” show an intimacy with the wisdom of recent songs like “Beautiful Despair,” “Earthbound,” and “My Father’s Advice.”

I feel a large measure of discomfort being mushy and personal so publicly, but given the nature of this post, I think I have an obligation to explain the depths of my appreciation for this great artist’s music. I have recently moved my family 11 hours from home for a job that I am most grateful for. I love teaching, and I particularly love teaching this group of students. I see great meaning in what I’m doing and I’m blessed with an institution and colleagues that encourage me in my work. As a person of faith, I see God’s hand in the events that ultimately led to this job.

Yet I am also feeling a sometimes overwhelming sense of loss and isolation.

Though I’ve met almost nobody I don’t like very much, I still search for the intimacy I left in Cleveland, Ohio. I sit through worship music that seems to uplift everyone around me, but leaves me unmoved. The music simply cannot withstand the contradiction of my situation. The abandonment of comfort. Finding my loss. Loving what sometimes makes me sad. Rejoicing for the opportunity to struggle. In short, the Beautiful Despair.

I am so fortunate to have abandoned Rodney Crowell’s inspiring music for so long, as now, with fresh ears, I can not only hear and enjoy it, but I can feel it.

The vision in both his lyrics and vocal performances captures the complexity of life as I currently lead it. I do not regret the pain and loss. Without them, the joy and passion would be incomplete.

Please watch this performance.

I Know Love is All I Need–from The Outsider

Though my parents are still with me (though still not with me), the speaker in this song captures the grateful isolation, the feeling of having arrived at lostness, that I feel. This is a feat that, sadly, Christian music does not attempt, yet it seems to me that it is an integral part of the Christian experience. To know and be confused. To trust and still fear. To carry doubt with sureness. To know that the experience of fear gives one the exhilarating chance to escape it. And knowing that the escape will still bring doubt along with it.

These contradictions are not to be avoided, as worship music often does. They are to be embraced as the very gift God has given us. Life is beautiful because it is inconceivable. Seeking the answer is a big part of answer. Rodney Crowell, thank God, understands that. With the help of his art, I can joyfully suck the marrow from this wonderful, terrifying life I’m lucky enough to still be living.

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