Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop: Celebration or Lament?

If you have not seen the music video for Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop, you’ve at least heard of it. Or maybe you heard about her recent performance on MTV’s VMA Awards. Here’s the music video, but it’s definitely not safe for the little ears and eyes.

First off, it’s a fantastically directed video. Every image is meticulously curated, and there is a consistent form and content that hold it together. Well done.

But even with fine direction, this video should haunt us. Image after image shows us what nihilistic consumption looks like. Nothing in these images really matter. Not the people, not the objects, not even the genre of the music. All are artifice, all are up for grabs (I mean, c’mon, Miley Cyrus trying to pull of Rihanna?) Everyone in this video is objectified, but most especially the black women who are there only for our twerking amusement. Writhing over a pile of white bread (Health? Why care about that?), eating a cash sandwich (We literally eat our money here), we hear the celebration of the chorus:

This is our house
This is our rules
And we can’t stop

If everything and everyone is objectified, we can do whatever we want. Nothing matters so what’s holding us back? Then we wake up the next morning and ask, “Well, why do anything at all?”

Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop

Don’t laugh…this is our mirror.

If everything is objectified that means we are too. This is all the more apparent with Miley just being another object to look at. In objectifying her world, she, too, has become an object, nothing more than one of those big teddy bears.

This is not a new song. The Old Testament brings this problem up often. Some may celebrate it, some may lament. But does the world offer anything more than offended sentiment? I’ve found the general reactions to the offense as empty and vacuous as this music video.

We Can’t Stop is as much a celebration as it is a curse. We can’t stop. We want to, but we simply can’t. We’re content to skitter along the surface, dance in the pool, but dare not look into the deep end, let alone swim there. We need someone to stop us.

We find ourselves identifying with Miley (yes, I’m not too happy with that, either). We are her. We buy whatever and consume whatever and drink whatever and eat whatever and sleep with whatever and we become another whatever. Our smile turns to a grimace and we cry out, “We can’t stop!”

If we were created for something, if meaning really does exist in this word, then We Can’t Stop becomes a lament. If there isn’t meaning, We Can’t Stop is, and should be, a celebration. I believe there is meaning in our world. We are in need of someone out there to stop us. We need Flannery O’Connor’s bull. He looks at us and gores us, stopping us dead in our tracks. He does mean to kill us, but not merely to kill us.

Standards New and Familiar

Arts and TheologyIn the world of jazz, it is common to perform and record songs written by other jazz artists. Some songs are classics, or in jazz parlance, standards. These standards are (or should be) always different and new from one another, with each artist or band baking their individual flavors into it. At the same time, there is a sense of familiarity to them, because they are standards. How can something be new and familiar at the same time? Continue reading

Lennon and the Revelator (2 of 2)

Arts and TheologyThis was originally posted on orlandograce.org. This is the second of two posts examining similarities and differences between John Lennon’s Imagine and John the Apostle’s Revelation. Read the first one here.

Last week we looked at John Lennon’s Imagine and John the Apostle’s Revelation, examining the differences in these two works that image the end of history as we know it. This week we move on to where our two Johns overlap.

Similarities

Grotto of the Apocalypse at Patmos

The Grotto of the Apocalypse at Patmos, surrounding the entrance to the cave where John is believed to have received the visions of Revelation.

Before we just merely use Lennon as a foil for Scripture (which is really just the easy way out) we need to ask what kind of similarities exist between the two. Both are highly religious and theological: Imagine by not naming God, Revelation by naming Him. Though one is a secular utopia and the other is the new heavens and earth, both have in mind a perfect society and they both have a hope for humanity. Both are honest with the present world not fulfilling all our needs, affirming that the world as it is now is lacking something. Both have a teleological thrust: there is an end goal to this thing called life, some kind of movement forward.
Continue reading

Lennon and the Revelator (1 of 2)

Arts and TheologyThis was originally posted on orlandograce.org. This is the first of two posts examining similarities and differences between John Lennon’s Imagine and John the Apostle’s Revelation.

At first glance one wouldn’t think John Lennon and John the Apostle would have very much in common. One, a self-proclaimed atheist and pop star, the other, one of the twelve disciples and author of more than a few New Testament documents. Though there are obvious differences, there exist some similarities. We’re going to quickly look at John Lennon’s Imagine and the John the Apostle’s Revelation and see what there is to be gained from both.

John Lennon Wall, Prague, Czech Republic

John Lennon Wall, Prague, Czech Republic

Differences
Okay, it’s obvious, but let’s state it. There are wild differences between these people and their work. This is the easy part to see and understand and doesn’t require much from us. Imagine puts forth the possibility of a utopia on earth through erasing the things that so often divide us as humans: religion, nations, class differences, etc.:
Continue reading

The Empty Spaces of Our Lives

Arts and TheologyThis was originally posted on orlandograce.org.

Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God…”

We believe that empty spaces are wastes of spaces. Like all good Americans we place a high value on efficiency, and how can a vacant moment be accomplishing anything? This is why we have such a hard time with waiting. And this is also why we create all sorts of diversions to make sure we never feel the weight of an ounce of boredom. But things do happen when nothing happens. In fact, the silence of a moment is often when we are confronted with ourselves and with God. And that’s why we want to run away from it. Continue reading

Old & New album covers

Ampersand from Old & New, Vol. I

Ampersand from Old & New, Vol. I

Ampersands. I love them. When I was thinking of doing a new music project based on old texts and new music, I immediately thought of an ampersand (You know, this thing: &). So what’s the deal with the cover? I’m glad you asked, let me explain myself.

It all started with the idea: I’ve had lots of songs that I’ve crafted from old hymn texts, metrical psalms or older poems…how could I develop them further and get them out? How’s bouts three EP length releases? Sounds good to me. So it began.
Continue reading

The Trinity through Tallis and Tavener

Arts and TheologyLast week in my Sunday School class I’m teaching, we took a look at the Trinity. We spent some time on how the Bible teaches that there is one God, and that there are three Persons. How can God be one and three at the same time? At first glance, it seems to be a paradox. This has been an age-old debate (and definitely not one we’re going to find a sufficient “answer” to) that is not limited to the realm of religion or theology, but is an area of interest for philosophy as well: the one and many. Is the essence of being, or the essence of the world singular or multiple?

First off, we should not expect to be able to define and understand and categorize everything about God. If he is God, then there will be aspects of him that are above us. If we could completely understand him, he would not be God, he would be something lesser. There is a grace in ignorance. But just because parts of God are unsearchable doesn’t mean we throw our hands up in the air and give up: though He is transcendent, He is knowable. There are parts of Himself that God has given us the grace of knowledge, the faculty of knowing. Too easily we fall into one side or the other: God is knowable but not completely knowable.

With that said we attempt to look at the Trinity. Because our own experience does not come close to the truths that are found within the Godhead, we resort to analogies. And though analogies always break down, some are more helpful than others. The analogies we most often use are physical or sight based: the Trinity is like 3 states of matter: water, ice, vapor or the Trinity is like an egg: yolk, shell, the white stuff (whatever that’s called). There are many more out there, I’m sure. The problem with physical analogies is that only one thing can occupy one space at one point in time. If a pen is on the table, 2 more pens cannot be in the same exact place at the same exact time. Yet thinking about the Trinity requires more than one thing to occupy the space.

This is where using our ears can be more helpful than using our eyes. For a sound environment, multiple sounds can occupy the same space simultaneously. If 3 violins are playing, one can hear all three violins at the same time, and they take up the same space of sound. Going further, one can focus on the overall sound and understand the one-ness, or one can listen for the individual parts and understand the three-ness. And this happens in the same space and the same time. The apparent paradox presented in the physical world makes more sense when looked at in the aural world.
By the way, this was a corporate collaboration on the Sunday of a capella hymns.

Two great examples of the one and many come from John Tavener and Thomas Tallis. These are both choral works. Tavener, who is still alive and composing, is influenced highly by his Eastern Orthodox faith, and puts a high priority (at least musically) on the purity of one-ness. Here’s one of his most famous pieces, The Lamb.

Tallis, on the other hand, was a medieval composer, and embraced polyphony: he liked the idea of the many. Here’s one of his more famous pieces, Spem in Alium.

Between listening to both of these pieces, we get an idea of how the Trinity can be one and many at the same time.

Reflections From My Root Canal

Earlier this week I had what is called “root canal therapy.” Basically, they drill/file/demolish all the bad parts of a tooth, then drill/file some more, then fill the formerly-bad-but-now-open space with some kind of filling material. It sounds a little nutty because it is. It’s a process that took 2 hours for me (and is still not done yet). So while the dentist was removing pieces of my tooth and the assistant was using that air-sucker thing, I had a good amount of time to think.

There’s a crazy sensation when a doctor takes a drill to a piece of bone in your body. For me, it was fascinating. My whole head responded in reverberations to the swirling drill, and, because the resonation was coming from the bones in my head, it felt like my brain was creating the sound- though I knew the doctor and the assistant both heard the sound, though it might have been slightly different.

So my thinking kept going to how our bodies are created for resonation. It would have been impossible for the dentist to drill into a tooth and not get sound. And I wasn’t even using my vocal cords, it was just a part of how I am made- how we are all made. We are all finely tuned instruments, all with different depths of sounds and timbres. Our Creator has crafted us like a fine handmade guitar, each piece of wood and binding and glue made to exact specifications for creating a rich and unique sound.

So much time has been taken with our instruments, our bodies, and we often overlook it. Especially for myself (being a musician!) it took a visit to the dentist for me to appreciate the depth of how I am created.

So is it weird that I’m thinking of a theology of music and creation while a dentist cranks away at pieces of my tooth? Yeah, probably. But I hope the next time you get root canal therapy or hit yourself on the head or sing or play drums on your chest, you’ll realize that The Maker has created you into a work of art, one that is made to resonate beautiful sounds back to Him.

Everybody Hates Twitter.

Since I heard about Twitter around 2 years ago, it has been steadily gaining popularity.  These past few weeks there have been a few posts going around, mostly defending Twitter and its challenge to make something out of 140 characters. Twitter is a real easy thing to harass and hate on.  Sure there can be downsides (I mean, who cares about when I’m standing in line or buying groceries?), but there’s a downside to nearly everything.  When radio first came out (or any other new type of communication), I’m sure there were people having these same conversations.  The trick is to recognize the medium and use it to its advantage.  We don’t want to pretend that the medium doesn’t affect the message, and therefore, I don’t think we can say that Twitter is “just like having a conversation” because it’s not.  But there are advantages that Twitter has that our conversations won’t, such as searchability, or hyperlinks, or the strange interconnectedness the web offers.

Let’s skip over all those boring conversations where we try and convince ourselves that using Twitter is like any other type of conversation and see where it’s different.  That’s where the advantages are.

So how am I using Twitter’s medium to its advantage? Every day I come across music, articles, blogs, etc., that I think are important to this whole arts and theology thing, and that I enjoy partking of. Here are a couple recent examples:

1. Storied – site by Corbis that gives the stories behind interesting and important photographs.
2. Re:Sound – The Resurgence’s music stuff is underway, download the MP3 Sampler and chord charts.
3. Cucumber Riot – Download Gasoline Heart’s new album for free, via Paste Magazine.
4. Images of Faith CD – 100 images from many different artists used for illumination’s sake (not illustration) for corporate worship.  Also includes essays on the works and biographies of the artists.
5. Here’s an article from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship on the difference between illumination and illustration; and illumination’s importance in our lives and our worship.
6. Small’s Jazz Club Audio Archive – lots and lots of full sets from their impressive list of musicians, all free.

Now I don’t have the time or the will power to write a post for each of these things, but I enjoy sharing them.  So most of my Twitter use will be in the same vein as this site: the arts, theology, the arts and theology, with a little of my personal life thrown in every now and again.  This is pretty close to making a linkblog, something I’ve thought about doing since this site’s revision.

So how can you take advantage of this awesomeness? Glad you asked:

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me.

If you’re not on Twitter, but use a feed reader, here’s the feed and now there’s a subscription button up on the sidebar.

If you’re not on Twitter and don’t use a feed reader, that’s OK too, you can always just go to my Twitter page.  Plus, I plan on putting out a weekly post on what I’ve found over the past week.