Tuesday, December 16, 2008

simulacra-kklesia (part 4): watch more messy messianic music

"..every Christian worship ad that comes out on Fox Soccer Channel is even more embarrassing than the last"
(Ryan Townsend,

"Our understanding of God's transcendence will be worldly."
(Gregor T. Goethals, "The Golden Calf: Images, Religion and The Making of Meaning ," p. 208

My simulacratic series on simulacra, so far:

To follow up to part three, my working summaries are:

  • Simulacra, at its best , its most "real"," its most prophetic, should be embodied musically and metaphorically (see "Music as Metaphor for Emotion.', and the amazing prayer by Paul McCartney: "Music is what we do, and we give our music to Your service, Lord. On this day, use us.' )
  • Somehow the issue of television/video is central to simulacra at its worst, and must be tackled on its own turf and terms.
  • It may be inevitable that to subvert and convert simulacra's insanity, one must risk losing our (supposed) sanity by entering its world; even coming close to "letting it squeeze you into its mold. " No redemption without incarnation, which calls for "holy fools."

U2, of course, did all three in the 1990s.
The medium was the message/massage.
Yes, they read McLuhan and the Bible to prepare for their tour.
They could only tell us to not watch more TV by going on TV to tell us to watch more TV.

The ironic is not often irenic.
It is risky business indeed.

"But you haven't come all the way out here to watch TV now, have you?,"
Bono asked audiences, as he tossed the channel surfer and introduced the band's ode to simulacra (below)..
Yet he knew that many in the crowd obviously had,
while many wise ones have grasped the rabbinic "fourth level" and actually got the prophetic point that they should watch less TV, but only fully grasped and grappled with the point by watching it.

Iconclasm by/on TV.

but madness which saves from madness by its being musical simulacra.
"What music appeals to in us it is difficult to know; what we do know is that music reaches a zone so deep that madness itself cannot penetrate there." (Cioran)

ZOO TV was essentially a religious and prophetic message,
but they had to take it to the most (obviously!)receptive venue to true religious and prophetic messages: "secular stadiums".

It wouldn't have played in church...

For a few reasons (it would be seduction, a "preacher stealing hearts..for love of money," etc.)
Neal Postman, in his seminal "Amusing Ourselves To Death," which apparently U2 also read
(as did Roger Waters, see this) is quoted at length below. Did he even give U2...with reservation, his blessing on the medium and message of ZOO TV?:

"Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television. No matter what is depicted or what point of view ..the overarching assumption is that it is there for yor entertainment..I do not say categorically that it is impossible to use television as a carrier of coherent langauge or thought in process....After all, it is not unheard of that a format will occassionally go against teh bias ofa medium (91)

Most Americans, including preachers, have difficulty accepting the truth… that not all forms of discourse can be converted from one medium to another... without changing its meaning or value.”...

"Though it may be un-American to say it, not everything is televisible. Or to put it more precisely, what is televised is transformed from what it was to something else, which may or may not preserve its former essence..."

"To come to the point, there are several characteristics of television and its surround that converge to make authentic religious experience impossible. The first has to do with the fact that there is no way to consecrate the space in which a television show is experienced. It is an essential condition of any traditional religious service that the space in which it is conducted must be invested with some measure of sacrality."

"Moreover, the television screen itself has a strong bias toward a psychology of secularism. The screen is so saturated with our memories of profane events, so deeply associated with the commercial and entertainment worlds that it is difficult for it to be recreated as a frame for sacred events. Among other things, the viewer is at all times aware that a flick of the switch will produce a different and secular event on the screen - a hockey game, a commercial, a cartoon."

"..I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether."

"..The spectacle we find in true religions has as its purpose enchantment, not entertainment. The distinction is critical. By endowing things with magic, enchantment is the means through which we may gain access to sacredness. Entertainment is the means through which we distance ourselves from it."

"..Television is, after all, a form of graven imagery far more alluring than a golden calf. I suspect (though I have no external evidence of it) that Catholic objections to Bishop Fulton Sheen’s theatrical performances on television (of several years back) sprang from the impression that viewers were misdirecting their devotions, away from God and toward Bishop Sheen, whose piercing eyes, awesome cape and stately tones were as close a resemblance to a deity as charisma allows."

LINK: Amusing Ourselves to Death, Part 8: The Impact on Religious Discourse

When Postman declares flat out,

"The translation makes it into something it's not," (p, 117)

"translation" is television;
"it" is religion;
and we are potentially in trouble:

Our only task is translation
(and my only (day) job is to be a subversive televangelist.)

As usual, Eugene Peterson can help:

a)"Translation is messianic"

b)"Translation is betrayal"

Which is it?


Eugene Peterson, in "Eat This Book," is behind both quotes; and I am behind him suggesting they are both right.

"A" is actually a quote Peterson includes from Franz Rosenzweig: "Every translation is a messianic act, which brings redemption nearer." (p.119) ..The quote in context here...

"B," in context:
"An old canard that sooner or later gets introduced into discussions of translation is 'You, a translator? Traitor!' Translation is betrayal. All translation is inherently mistranslation. Each language is unique."

Viola! All translation is both messianic and betrayal.

Kind of like life.

In fact, life is translation. LINK

We risk much (betraying Messiah!) in even attempting translation,
yet we risk much more (!?) in refusing to be messianic..even when it's messy.

Even when it means wearing devil horns to chase off the devil,
and having to defend your faith while dancing with squeakers.

As we preach, teach and heal,
as we seek to represent and re-present images of The Image,

1)"For all this, imagination..."(rest of quote here). Simply use image-ination in your images.
Why let the prophet Sponge Bob have all the fun?
2)Consider that our culture's current preference for image over word may be (in addition to a satanic distraction), a sovereign move of God (read and wrestle with "Inspiration of Scripture: Images over words").

3)Weigh the words of Gregor T. Goethals below, who like U2, is often ten years ahead of her time (1990):

"Those who take part in this revolution will be called upon to play dual roles as symbol makers and users, as well as symbol destroyers
--iconifiers and inconclasts."

To effectively don "dual roles" without becoming dualistic is the need of the times.

" Those who take part in this revolution... will live both within and without Christian faith. As iconifiers, they will understand their power to give visible form o invisible faith. Some may venure into an unhated sea in search of more aduqte symbols for our time. Alongside iconifers are beliveers that no single myth encompasses all...Sensitive to the potential of myth to distort, they must at times become daring iconclasts."
"The Golden Calf: Images, Religion and The Making of Meaning"

I recently had to submit a self-assesment paper of my teaching in the Degree Completion Program of Fresno Pacific University. Until now, I hadn't connected my task as teacher with simulacra, iconifier and iconclast..but as Postman has a whole book on
Teaching As a Subversive Activity...

how can it not relate (apologies for repetition of the Peterson quote above):

"Wow, you are obviously a genius and a great teacher...

....the material was way above my head!”

I am sure they meant it as a compliment!

But no one is a genius or great teacher who leaves the supposed learnees learning nothing…except the lie that the teacher is a great teacher because the content was over the students’ heads!

That encounter, several years ago, came after my teaching an advanced course for Christian leaders. Since then, I have wrestled and worked with my approach to teaching; seeking to creatively and consistently make difficult material accessible.

I am not sure I want to…or need to…hear either clause of that sentence again.
I have been honored, though, to hear from my FPU students remarks like:

“Thank you for explaining and presenting that so well; it was engaging and made me feel like I could learn anything!”

Now, that is a compliment. THEY feel like the genius!

Since I am not…

Central to my philosophy of teaching is that I always have much to learn from the students, and from the almost tangible “third party” relationship that emerges at unpredictable moments in the mix. One may call it “trialogue” or dialectic. I simply call myself blessed to be in the room—let alone at the lectern--as the atmosphere becomes charged and kairotic; and “aha!” moments arise. It becomes a community hermeneutic; better yet all that Turner had in mind by ‘communitas.’ Such almost feels like open source wiki-teaching, and akin to what Jacob Loewen coined “Listening with The Third Ear.”

But these “mystical” moments happen more naturally and often as I intentionally internalize my material beforehand, so the teaching event appears effortless (which it occasionally even is!) and noteless (even when it is not); as I prayerfully and carefully arrange the flow, and craft inductive analogies to bring the content into focus …and refuse to let it float helplessly over their heads.

As a singer said of concerts where familiar material is being presented,

“The hard part is making it look spontaneous.”

I have found that is also the fun part; and the parcel that allows the students to feel like, learn like, and believe in their abilities (not just mine) like…well, the geniuses they just might be.

That is why, in addition to more “obvious” classics (like “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”), my ever-developing pedagogy is fed and formed by books like “Orbiting the Giant Hairball,” and “Freakonomics,” which stretch me into thinking parabolically:

“The greatest thing by far is to be master of analogy....it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.”
(Poetics, 1459 a 5-8, "The Basic Works of Aristotle")

If Jesus "never opened his mouth once without speaking an analogy-metaphor-parable," (Matt 13:34-35)...perhaps our task is nothing less, as well. Especially as a teacher called to represent and re-present Kingdom teachings.

I am learning to not judge too prematurely apparent lack of attention in class; specifically when it is related to students on the computer. Sure, they may well be surfing their MySpace….but more than likely they are learning as natives to the new culture do: through multitasking. They are likely calling up complementary information, a concordance to clarify the Scripture at hand, or an article, author, or image online that I have mentioned. Earl Creps (“Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders”) has even concluded that when he speaks at college conferences, “if they are not texting, they are not listening.”
That line was worth the price of the book; though it almost lost/cost me.
"As a result, when speaking to millenial audiences, I now request that they text at least one time during my presentation, asking only that the message pertain to our subject in some way." (48)
No, I haven’t adopted that method (:

Other weaknesses would revolve around my speaking too rapidly, and unintentionally leaving gaps in logic or history; sometimes forgetting how many gaps I need to full in, when some students arrive with little biblical knowledge.

As far as assessment/grading, I realize I can "err" on the side of grace; if I recognize hard work and intrinsic intent. I seek to cultivate self-awareness and fairness in grading by comparing notes with other teachers.

The issues that arise out of the students grasping of the Green/Baker response paper on models of the atonement, for example, come to mind. Some students are even in tears thinking about the paper it is all new and overwhelming territory. Early on, one of my co-teachers lamented that inevitably some don’t even turn in the paper. So, it has been affirming to realize that all my students so far have been turning in not only attempts, but exceptional ones. I attribute this to the extended lecture time devoted to the material, which can empower and cheerlead the students on….if I take wholly/holy advantage of that crucial and creative time.

I was honored when a veteran teacher who I was co-teaching with, said to me at the break, “You probably know you’re good….but you are really good.”

Thank God my prayers are sometimes answered; that meant far more than hearing that I came off as some genius who couldn’t connect.

In conclusion, as affirming to my call, and the abilities and gifts of the students, my adjunct instruction at FPU has been to date, I am in awe that any of us even tackles the thrilling and terrifying task of teaching (especially theological teaching, in light of the sobering gulp of James 3:1) at all. But to paraphrase Neo (from “The Matrix”),

“Of course it’s impossible; of course no one has ever done this before….

…that’s why it’s going to work.”

Teaching can indeed wonderfully work.

Even at the risk of accidentally betraying the Messiah.


Two quotes about teaching…well, about translation, which may well be the same thing:

a)"Translation is messianic"

b)"Translation is betrayal"

Which is it?


Eugene Peterson, in "Eat This Book," is behind both quotes; and I am behind him suggesting they are both right.

"A" is actually a quote Peterson includes from Franz Rosenzweig: "Every translation is a messianic act, which brings redemption nearer." (p.119)

"B," in context:
"An old canard that sooner or later gets introduced into discussions of translation is 'You, a translator? Traitor!' Translation is betrayal. All translation is inherently mistranslation. Each language is unique."

Viola! All translation is both messianic and betrayal.

Kind of like life.

In fact, life is translation.

Life, then is teaching.

I realize, of course, that these are reductionistic jumps, and betraying “translations.”

But I believe enough in the Messiah; and his genius, to humbly and confidently continue in the task.

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