Saturday, December 08, 2007

My Connection to the Indie Scene

Indie music is not something I pay that close of attention to. I like the music, generally, but just don't make time to keep up with who's who and what's good. Laziness on my part, really. But, I do have a connection.

My childhood friend, Justin Vernon, has been an indie musician in Deyarmond Edison until they broke up. They were a big deal in my hometown, and then replanted in Raleigh, NC and quickly gained a reputation. Then, through a variety of events, they split up (check out Megafaun if you liked DE's sound). Justin headed off to the NW Wisconsin woods to his dad's hunting cabin to figure some things out. He discovers some music in the pit of his soul, cuts a very rustic and different sounding album, releases it on the web, and there is this meteoric rise. Check out to listen. He eventually signs with a pretty major Indie label, is touring with some fairly big names, getting great reviews from Patchwork, NY Times, and the Boston Globe, and basically gaining a pretty decent following. It seems like it happened all of sudden, which it kind of did.

I'm not blogging to let the rest of the world in on his music (though check it out if you haven't). Enough of the Indie blogging world has done that. I'm writing to brag about my friend. I remember him always wanting to be a musician, about wanting to live in that world and be noticed for it, and not in some rock-star-I-want-to-be-famous kind of way. He loves his music, and wanted to always invite others into it, as many as possible. He dreamed about it from like 5th grade on. When I stumbled across all the press a few nights ago, I literally teared up for him. It was like watching a dream come true. We don't stay in touch, something I regret. I'll probably give him a call. But I wanted to post about him, just in case he stumbles across it to let him know how happy I am for him, and how proud I am to always call him friend. Well done, JD.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Inter-religious Dialogue

Today I had the opportunity to participate in an inter-religious dialogue (though there wasn't much dialogue, more like different monologues) at Minnesota State University - Mankato in one of their classes. I was invited as the "evangelical" voice, which I didn't realize until I got there. I tried to clarify what was meant and gathered they wanted a theologically conservative voice in the mix, to which I happily obliged. We were asked to reflect on how we as different religions could harmoniously live together in our pluralized world.

First a Catholic lady spoke. Not much to write home about. She basically said we need to learn about each other and then just get along. Not terribly constructive. She had to leave, which was unfortunate because there were many questions I wanted to ask her. Next a Jewish gentlemen spoke, and he was quite good. He basically shared about the hardship of living as one of 12 Jews in Mankato, and the covertly prejudicial ideas he confronts daily. This was helpful for me to challenge the class, who predominantly described themselves as Christian, to self-critically reflect on the way in which they interact with people in general. Then I spoke. More about that later. Then a Muslim student spoke.

The basic tenor was that we need to respect and accept one another, what could be called the least common denominator approach to inter-religious relationships. I took a different tact. I challenged us to genuinely meet each other in our difference, to enter a truly I-Thou relationship with each other. I argued that respect needs to be embodied in difference, and mitigating difference in the name of respect is not dialogue, but acquiessence to a specific ideaology, which unfortunately permeates way too many of these discussions. This seemed to challenge some of the assumptions of the classroom, and provoke some interest.

I also had the opportunity to talk about distinguishing between evangelism and conversion. The Muslim gentlemen heard me saying that in actually addressing difference we are trying to convert one another. I argued this is out of bounds for any Christian, and entered into a brief theology of evangelism and conversion (mission, if you will). I explained that I understand the calling of Christ for the Christian to mean that we are called to proclaim the good news of God's Kingdom come near in the person of Jesus Christ, and that this is good news for the world. This is that point of distinction from which real dialogue can grow. However, I argued that in this act the Christian is not trying to convert another person for that is the work of God alone. The conflation of these two categories leads to Christians intent on making everyone believe just like them, thereby eliminating any real hope for dialogue and friendship with a religious other. A truly robust theology of the Incarnation, on the other hand, recognizes that in this relationship with a religious other, where the Christian actually talks about the good news, Christ is present, and God may, in God's freedom, convert another. But, this is not my calling nor my task.

This led me to discuss why, for instance, when the Muslim or Jew talks about Jesus as prophet we are not actually on common ground. True, I believe Christ was a prophet, but he was also priest and king, God in the flesh. For me to lay aside this central conviction is to embrace a different Jesus, and let go of the real me, thereby obliterating any hope for true dialogue, indeed relationship with the religious other. I may be heartened by their admiration of Jesus, and we may agree on Christ's social teaching, but the Christian cannot stop at that, not even in the name of inter-religious dialogue and harmony, because it is disingenuous to who they truly are, and therefore is dishonest, which undermines a centrally important feature of any inter-religious conversation, honesty.

In sum: it was a fantastic experience, but once again affirmed one of my central concerns about inter-religious relationships, which is that they are easy. Living in a pluralistic world in peace, with respect and understanding of other religious peoples takes considerable effort and care. It is not, as it were, as easy as saying we are all worshiping the same God with different names.