Saturday, December 20, 2008

simulacra-kklesia (part 8): sex in elevators (in church)

I am sure these two news videos from the Fresno Beehive below (article here)
will get lots of plays and attention.

Naked women as commercials usually do.

I go through that intersection above nearly every day;
somehow I missed these women.
But you know I couldn't have if I had seen them.

That's the point.

(Editors note: I am sure some people think I am obsexxed and talk about sex too much on this blog. You need to know that the sexuality/spirituality connection is one..and only one...of six stated categories for this blog...and the one I likely post on least.
So sorry if I offend you for the wrong reason, but one of the reasons we are in the mess we are in in church and culture is "You can't talk about sex in church."

Well, as Rob Bell has asked:
" where do you WANT to talk about it?"

Ok, back to the "sex post" at hand).

It is no secret and surprise that sex sells.

(There are two reasons Vance Packard and Bryan Wilson Keys found subliminal sex messages..sometimes even the word s-e-x itself spelled out... in ads:

We tend to see sex everywhere.

Sometimes it's there!)

It should be a shame that

sex sells in church!

..or maybe we have to start where people are...(: know, whatever it takes to get them in the
door (:

Actually, whatever it takes to get them in the elevator (more on that in a bit).

Not only do we shepherds sexualize the sheep,
we sex-up mission trips
(see " Pepsi, Sex, Elevation...& Mission Trips That Are Actually Missional")

...and Jesus:

One church even had a "My Lame Sex Life" series:

It might be best if the church could at least "use" sex evangelistically in a healthy way!
Can't we lean to appreciate and appropriate a creative, non-salacious approach...
without unnecessary titillation
(We all know why people go to the beach anyway!)?
Maybe in doing so, by confessing and naming our starting point, we can subvert and convert our obsexxion with selling and seduction..
...all with a holy sense of humor and honor:

Why let Adbusters have all the fun (their 'ad' below speaks volumes, and far more truth in one image than a thousand words by most of us preachers), and the corner on smacking satanic simulacra where it starts?

Our church has held up plenty of "free carwash" signs....the catch is they were actually free! (no money accepted).

We have yet to try a
sign that reads "topless carwash"..
even if its one with a catch like this:

How about truth in advertising
(or is that phrase always oxy the moronic?)

What to do with all this simulacra-erotica??

Elevate it.

We can only start where people are.

(Editor's note: Now of course we move into one of my six stated topics which has merited far more posts than sex ever has: U2. Just take a look at the wordcloud on the right: U2 is mentioned more than Jesus...uh, oh. Well, at least it wasn't sex that rated that high!!(:.....)

I have posted quite a bit on U2's song "Elevation" as a study in the classic rabbinic technique of prayer called elevation.

I have recently found other rabbis who make the connection:

"Prayer never asks for anything for oneself; strictly speaking, it makes no demands at all, but is an elevation of the soul. This describes true prayer."

-Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kuk: Prayer as the Elevation of Desire

He's not a rabbi (?), but anyone writing a book called "BUYOLOGY: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy What We Buy" deserves to speak to the church, helping us "get" why we are in the shape we're in:

Lindstrom, a marketing guru who advises everyone from fast-food companies to drugmakers, partnered with Oxford scientists to conduct a three-year, $7 million study scanning the brains of 2,000 people while they were shown various marketing strategies. What they found surprised them. In one of the most startling examples, the researchers scanned brains while the subjects were exposed to images of popular brands and religious icons.

Lindstrom wrote: "The room went dark and the images began to flicker past: A bottle of Coca-Cola. The Pope. An iPod. A can of Red Bull. Rosary beads. A Ferrari sports car. The eBay logo. Mother Teresa. An American Express card. The BP sign. A photograph of children playing. The Microsoft logo."

When Lindstrom and the researchers analyzed the results, they noted that strong brands fired up activity in parts of the brain controlling memory, emotion and decision-making.

That was expected.

But then they compared those results with what happened when the subjects looked at religious images. To their surprise, "their brains registered the exact same patterns of activity," Lindstrom wrote. "Bottom line, there was no discernible difference between the way the subjects' brains reacted to powerful brands and the way they reacted to religious icons and figures."

This essentially means that when people line up outside Apple stores for the latest iPhone, they are not just hankering to get the latest gadget -- they are pretty much having a religious experience, too....
LINK: How Marketing Tricks You, and How to Beat It

Maybe we can't avoid some semblance of selling Jesus.
At least we are called to re-imagine how we image, icon, and (gulp), "brand" him...
lensing and testing all our (horrors) church commercials and (semi-graven and projected) images through Scripture and Spirit.

We might even be able to bless actually talking about sex in church (he sarcastically said);
if not hiring those two gals at the top of the page to promote a VBS or two (joke!)

How about "church ads" that admit and poke fun at our obsexxion with obsexxion,
and then having named it..
we can start dealing with it
elevating it
bringing it to Jesus , like everything else.

The catch is this could look really cheap and chessy.

That's the risk we take embracing simulacra to break the back of simulacra-olatry.

As usual, and as we have established in this series, it's best to do all this with song.

A much lesser known,
and highly misunderstood when known ("It's glorifying the watching of sexy images"),
U2 song, "Baby Face"
tackles all this head on.

Another U2 song
"Even Better Than the Real Thing,"
does this well, as Wathrall has well discussed.
Here the band entered simulacra to elevate it.

I appreciate Brian McLaren's attempt to offer the church some worship songs that subvert cmmercialism and indivdulalism, but we just can't sing 'em in our church.
Maybe he should start writing about sex.

Next thing you know Switchfoot, a band of Christians, will be letting Victoria's Secret use one of their songs as an ad!!

Does that sell sex, our does that say that Christians are just real,
and that the lyric just might subtly elevate their lust and convert their simulacra and soul?

I tend to think it's taking the elevator to the world, instead of waiting for them to come to us.

In this scene from the classic film "sex lies and videotape," the line arises,
"Why do these tapes all have women's names on them?":

The truth is:
Every 'tape' (as in 'tapes' we play in our mind)
that nearly every man brings to church with him,
has women's names on them....even if he's never seen a pornographic image.

Pornography always drives technology
and everything we do is technology,

When we make images, we often sexualize them
When we watch images, we often worship them.

When we make images, we often worship them.
When we worship iamges, we often sexualize them.

We worship golden calves/calfs.

Who will deliver us fom this body of death/sex?
(on the death/sex connection)

Jesus, of course.

If only we'd get in the elevator instead of denying the elevator exists

We have to let people in on the ground floor; that is, where they are.

It's true of any building: Anyone who enters elsewhere is likely entering illegally.


Our church used to meet on the 6th floor of the tallest skyscraper between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But everyone entered the building on the ground floor..

...and got in the elevator.

People come to "church" with sex on the brain, brainswashed by a week of ads.
Let them come: sexed up, simulcara-ed up, icons and all:

An icon isn’t just a symbolic representation of the real; it’s a simulation. The sacred image is a “visible theology,” incarnating a portion of the spiritual reality residing behind or beyond the image. Eventually the icon, instead of pointing beyond itself to the fullness of the real, itself became the focus of attention as the repository of holiness. So the statue replaces the saint, the cathedral replaces heaven, the priest replaces Christ, the church-state alliance replaces the Kingdom of God. Eventually all of life takes place within a reality made up entirely of simulacra, a reality in which the images permanently take the place of the originals. The presence of God can be withdrawn entirely without affecting the real power of the simulacra to fascinate and to dominate. Even the imagination becomes dominated by the simulacra: the saint is like the statues, the kingdom is like the church, Jesus is like the priest. The order is reversed between the original reality and its simulation. The simulacra become hyperreal, serving as the model for the real.

In Baudrillard’s perhaps most important writing, “The Precession of Simulacra[71] he discusses “the simulacrum of divinity” asking, “What becomes of divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra?” When divinity reveals itself in images, multiple images, an alteration of some kind takes place. “Does it remain the supreme authority, simply incarnated in images as a visible theology?” Or does something else happen, something more dislodging and drastic? When divinity is revealed in icons, “is it volatized into simulacra which alone deploy their pomp and power of fascination—the visible machinery of icons being substituted for the pure and intelligible Idea of God?” Is God, as Idea, lost in his own iconography? Baudrillard says this is the very issue that frightened the Iconoclasts in the debate of their day.


“This is precisely what was feared by the Iconoclasts, whose millennial quarrel is still with us today. This is precisely because they predicted this omnipotence of simulacra, the faculty simulacra have of effacing God from the conscience of man, and the destructive, annihilating truth that they allow to appear – that deep down God never existed, that only the simulacrum ever existed, even that God himself was never anything but his own simulacrum – from this came the urge to destroy the images. If they had believed that these images only obfuscated or masked the Platonic Idea of God, there would have been no reason to destroy them. One can live with the idea of distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the image didn’t conceal anything at all.”
Link: The Divine Irreference of Images
Posted by ktismatic

Here's a secret about simulacra which subverts simulacra by acknowledging it,
and thus allowing it to flow into elevation:
Once elevation starts happening,
a fluidity happens in lyrics which can be healing
(recall Gaye's "Sexual Healing," a snippet of which U2 often looped into concert versions of "Mysterious Ways," which itself is another song of elevation: "She moves in mysterious ways" becomes "Spirit moves in mysterious ways," as the temptress belly-dancer disappears).

In a delightful article about the song "Yahweh," Karen Lindell offers:

"But the lines I listen to over and over again are the following plea/prayer, which in my mind I'm singing to U2 as well as to Yahweh/God."

It's no wonder she calls such a transaction "Elevate and uplift."

Who is talking to who in some "spiritual songs"?

God to us?
Us to God?
The singer to us?
Us to the singer?

Maybe the pronouns in truly elevating sings are flexible enough to address all the above.

Who is the "you/You" in "With or Without You"?
Who is calling who 'gorgeous' in the Violet Burning song of that name?

Recall Wathrall's chapter, excerpted in part 3 of this series:

It's very tempting to understand U2's exemplary postmodern song (on which, in good postmodern fashion, I shall isolate and focus on here), "Even Better Than the Real Thing," as a celebration of the very postmodern condition Baudillard characterizes as the triumph of the simulacra. How else are we to understand the song's oft-repeated eponymous chorus--but as an embrace (whether ironic or not) of a world were we come to prefer surfaces to depths, images to reality, sex to love,the fake to the genuine... There is no way around it. That is precisely the uncircumventable risk U2 took.. ...If one insists on hearing the song as addressed to a specific lover,then it seems to celebrate sex above love. However, when these same lyrics are heard as addressed to an audience, specifically a live audience, the meaning of these words is radically realigned: Now the implication is U2's relation to the audience is "even better than the real thing," not in the simulcratriumphalizing sense.......but in a profound sense of communal love which is "even better" than genine personal love..-meralizing from thein the Symoosium, by ents ense.... Heard in this communal register, the erotic meaning of the lyric, "I'm gonna make you sing" has when...adressed to a partucular lover becomes transformed, elevated into a celebration of communal singing as an ecstatic experience that transcends even the feeling of real love between individuals

We close with more from Karen Lindell on "Yahweh":

U2's "Yahweh" is a prayer unlike any I grew up with as a Catholic. I've hailed Mary and talked to that hallowed father named "Art" in heaven endless times. Usually, I was just reciting words I'd memorized but didn't understand.


Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul and make it sing.

I take these lines literally. For the past 20 years, I have suffered from anorexia. I've recovered and relapsed countless times, including six long stays in eating-disorder treatment centers, so I truly have been stranded in skin and bones, without much of a soul, flesh or anything that was a sign of life.

Anorexia, like alcoholism, drug abuse, overeating or any addiction, is a way to numb out and not feel anything, whether it's pain, joy or something in between.

But you can't listen to U2's music and not feel.
I fear that one can listen to much church music and not feel.

If so, we miss the elevator completely;
and stay in the simulacra that we came to a worship gathering to shed.

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