Friday, November 16, 2007

The Pulse with Charlie Peacock: Worship and Music as communal

Kate and I attended what I think is the third Pulse, a gathering for Christian artists in Chicago, this past Tuesday. It has yet to have a web presence, so no link and if you google "Pulse Chicago" you get some thing very different (And I guess now you will get this post). It has been in the past at the Chopin theater in Wicker Park, but this time it was at the Mercury theater, it's a nicer but less versatile venue. Charlie Peacock came to play some music and talk about being a Christian and musician and song writer.

Charlie Peacock is a Christian musician from back in the day, and has remained something of a mainstay in in Christian Contemporary Music(CCM). I saw him several times at Christian Rock shows in the 80's. I think the last time I saw him in concert was about 1990, shortly after I stopped listening to CCM. And eventually didn't go to any Christian rock concerts, I have recounted this story before on this blog. So it had been a long time since I last saw Charlie Peacock.

He played for us some of his music and it ranged from old songs to works in progress. It wasn't a concert, more a sampling of his work as an artist. His set was designed both to give us an insight into him as a musician and song writer, and to outline his own ideas of what it means to be a Christian and an artist in terms of music. After his set Charlie was interviewed followed by a Q and A time. Charlie was quite humble and open with us, admitting even that he had gotten caught up in the music business for many years and has been recently been coming back to the art of the music. He has some interesting critiques of CCM though it is clear that he still has much love for it. His critique is also compelling since it is also a self critique.

He spoke, both while sharing with us his songs and in the interview, about worship and worship music. At one point he noted that Scripture is full of accounts of people in response to something that has happened in their lives setting up an altar where ever they are and worshiping God there. He went on to emphasize how much worship was in the midst of peoples lives away from the sanctuary of temple or tabernacle. He concludes from this that our worship should come more out of our own experiences. Latter in the interview he clarified this by critiquing current CCM worship music trends as one persons or communities experience (or a small group of people)being imposed or taken on by everyone else. He encouraged us to write worship music out of our experience and that of our communities. I find myself agreeing with two aspects of this: First that worship should not be seen as confined to our churches or merely happen when we gather as congregations. Second that one individual or local experience should not be taken on by everyone or be expected to be appropriated by all. However, Charlie seemed to think of worship as primarily this worshiping out of ones individual or local experience, and I have trouble seeing how this sort of conception fits with any sense of the catholic Church, the universal Body of Christ through time and space.

Charlie's ideas about worship seem to emphasize the discontinuous and particular and de-emphasizes (though he doesn't deny a certain importance of it) the continuous and universal. I think he takes this position because he has seen and is seeing how a very idiosyncratic expression of worship is in-authentically appropriated and imposed upon a larger group with differing experiences and possible expressions. He also seems to speak this way because of a perception that some Christians have come to believe that worship is only this sort of thing that happens in a church building. Yet, it also seems to come from an inability to accept that our individual and local experiences to be truly worshipful need to be informed by the larger narrative of what God has done and what is accomplished cosmically. There is a failure to see Christian worship as centered on the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth thus meaning that his life death and resurrection are why we worship at all. For our experiences to be given Christian meaning and for us to worship as Christians out of them, we need to have a worship that is about what God has done universally and is the catholic expression of that worship. Only if we have this catholic worship can there be authentic worship out of our experiences. I think this may be the fundamental flaw of Protestant conceptions of worship (at least in their current articulation) that it gives priority to the individual and local experiences and down plays or ignores, what should have priority, the catholic worship that lifts up the deeds God has done and has promised to accomplish and bringing us out of our everyday giving our experiences eschatological meaning and orientation. This directs us to see God's universal work of bring all things to completion and wholeness in the end in our individual and local experiences. The mata-narrative (ya, I know I am a horrible post-modernist) shapes my understanding of my experience and gives shape to the experience of the local, allowing me to worship in the every day because I know where to look for God's saving acts in my every day life. And thus nothing needs to be brought to the liturgy of the church, but I should recognize that I am sent out from that liturgy to worship in the world.

The other thing that struck me was a point of nostalgia: both Charlie and his interviewer Lou were nostalgic about a time when people would sing popular songs together. It was even noted by Lou that before records popular music was heard and received by people gathering around a piano at someones house and someone playing from sheet music with everyone singing along. Charlie recalled how he with his friends use to sing along with recordings while now we simply share tracks from our i-pods. Their nostalgia was a complaint of the loss of the communal around music. Except their nostalgia is hiding the way in which music is still communal, it is perhaps less universal and more fragmented but it is found in the various scenes or subcultures, whether Goth, Punk, Hip-hop, Emo, etc. Music is very communal for me as a Goth, its just that I don't get together with other Goths to sing along with Sisters of Mercy or David Bowie (can one imagine anything more the antithesis of Goth than that, well you probably can but...) yet, we will gather together and dance the night away, and I can not describe the feeling of community that comes when a nearly empty dance floor fills as people rush to the dance floor because the song that the DJ has just begun to play moves all in the club to dance. So I would say the dance club and various rock scenes may be our piano's. We may not sing along but we will dance the night away brushing up against strange bodies and it is glorious.

So, it was a thoughtful and, I felt, inspiring Pulse, and it was very cool to meet Charlie Peacock and here some of his thoughts on art music and worship.