Tag Archives: music

The Musical Jesus: From James Hal Cone to Jesus Walks

James Cone’s work The Spirituals and the Blues is a unique expression of African American political theology. In this text he seeks to examine the unique cultural foundation that has shaped both Spiritual and the genre of Blues as a form of musical expression. For Cone music can represent a cross section between political ideology and theological frameworks. Through this piece it is apparent that the distinctive experiences of African American has radically shape their view of politics and religion and that the connection between Spirituals and Blues makes sheds some light on this point. For him both are deeply connected to the point that you cannot one from the other. Furthermore, he believes that the use of Spirituals and the Blues have both been utilized by African American to subvert the oppressive forces of Western white supremacist culture. He writes: “Black music is also social and political. It is social because it is black and thus articulates the separateness of the black community. It is an artistic rebellion against the humiliating deadness of western culture.” (p5-6). Ultimately for Cone the use of Spirituality and the Blues serves as a way for African American to seek liberation from political and theological institution that is both destructive and oppressive.

Cone does great work in explicating the differences between traditional notions of Spirituals and how he believes African Americans have actually used Spirituals. This begins with his rejection of a Marxian view of Spirituals. Marx believes that the Spirituals sung by the Africans slaves’ sole purpose was to act as an opiate for them in relation to their slave masters. Marx’s ideology is marred by his concept of class consciousness. From this he believed that Spirituals allowed the slaves to passively conform to the desires of their slave masters. Cone however, vehemently disagrees with this assessment. He believes that African slaves were keenly aware of the power of musical interpretation and inherently new the dangers it posed to the authority of the slave masters. Thus, the slaves had to be subtle in the ways that they used Spirituals as theme for liberation without alarming their white slave masters. The Exodus story and Moses served as one way that the slaves could elude to liberation that did not alert their masters to their intentions.

The Exodus narrative as a slave spiritual had a profound implication on the way the slaves envisioned their lives both politically as well as theologically. Moses’ message of liberation called for divine liberation in heaven as well as earthly liberation from the slave masters. Cone points to slaves like Nat Turner who courageously learned to interpret the bible for himself. It is from his version of scripture that he saw the Christian imperative for not only a spiritual liberation heaven but its Earthly manifestation in the mist of slavery. This ultimately led to his rebellion and subsequent death. Similarly to Cone’s configuration of the Spirituals he believes that the Blues had a similar message. The Blues represent a secularized version of the socio-political message that was expunged from Spirituals. They too could equally be used as tools of liberation against dominant oppressive groups. Much like spiritual the Blues could be used to articulate a powerful socio-political message with profound theological implications. They affirmed the personhood of African Americans in the face of institutions that were created to take this very thing away from them.

While reading Cone’s work I began to think about some of the other connections that can be made with between African American experiences and how that has translated into music to have implications for theology, politics, and society in general. I preface this by stating that James Cone wrote this particular work in the 1970’s so what he wrote was indeed insightful for the context to which it was written. However, I believe that the religious insights from spiritual are reflected within the work of African American’s in other genres of music as well. In today’s context I do not see theo-political issues reflected in any particular artist or genre rather I see it in various songs by various African American artists. For example, Kanye West in his song “Gorgeous” poses a very interesting question.

West is questioning the function of hip hop music in the 21st century. Much like the Blues did for African Americans in the 20th century hip hop resonates with ideal and experience of many African American youth today. This is complicated by the secular nature of hip hop music. Hip hop music in itself could be seen as the religion of the youth today. The thought, ideas, cultural values, and even its counter cultural elements are appealing to youths. Ultimately, West is posing the question has hip- hop music replaced the socio- political elements that were once held onto by the Blues and Spirituals. Hip hop is to the soul of modern youth as what spirituals were to slaves. While admittedly this is not the case for all of hip hop music, West may be on to something, certainly there are hip hop songs that articulate a political theology the likeness of spirituals and the blues. Kanye West’s own work is an example of this. His song “Jesus Walks,” although not a gospel song has some inherently spiritual dimensions to it. From the introduction to the hook the song is laced with theo-political implications. He begins with the verse:

“We at war ” “We at war with terrorism, racism” “But most of all we at war with ourselves”(Jesus walk)” “God show me the way because the Devil tryna break me down” (Jesus walk with me)”

These lines hint at how West views some of our current socio-political struggles. Threats such as terrorism, racism, and even our inner struggles can leave us helpless. He sees they only way out is through his belief in Jesus. Jesus serves as liberation in this context in much the same way that Christian theology function as a form of liberation for the slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. West in this particular song is making use of theology and politics to articulate freedom from systems of oppression that dominate society today. Although West’s song gives insight to current use of African American political theology, I wonder what other songs and genres have similar themes.

Recommendations:

James Cone’s The Spirituals and The Blues

Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson. The Hip Hop Church: Connecting With The Movement Shaping Our Culture

Anthony Pinn, et. al.: Noise and Spirit: The Religion and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music

(A THROW BACK!): Calvinism And Holy Hip Hop

White Saviorism Cultural Appropriation in Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”

The Cross, Predestination, and Emmit Till

MTV is for Minstrel Television: Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus, & Race

Spiritual Warfare & Demonic Strongholds: Unclean Spirits/Mental Demons Pt. 2

Content note: brief mention of suicide

So in the last post I tackled mental/emotional issues, most specifically depression, as demonic strongholds that are often symptomatic of our fallen world that is external to us and bound to produce such a heavy , demonic burden on the mind. In today’s post, I want to take it a bit further to the manifestations of mental demons –> i.e. spiritual warfare, and it’s more all-encompassing than just depression.

8Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. ”

1 Peter 5:8

 

As I stated in my introductory post for this series, I wanted to explore/use media and pop-culture to illustrate some of these ideas. There are two souls that I wish that more folks knew when it came to film/animation: Satoshi Kon & Darren Aronofsky.

Satoshi Kon.jpg(Satoshi Kon)

The late Satoshi Kon ( died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer) was a prominent  film director and animator and had a penchant for making some of the most surreal animted cartoons (anime) ever to hit TV and silver screens. His emphasis on human consciousness, the blurred lines between reality and dreams, and the ability of the invidual to relate to the outside world are some of his most recurring themes. Some of his most influential work includes the likes of Tokyo Godfathers, Millenial Actress, Paprika and Paranoia Agent. For today’s post, I will focus on Paranoia Agent.

Without spoiling too much, Paranoia Agent is a 13-episode show in which a pair of detectives are charged with uncovering  and finding the identity of “little slugger”, serial attacker/ killer. As the name of the show might suggest, however, the detectives, throughout the show begin to realize something rather perplexing about the nature of the serial tormentor- he may not actually exist, at least not in physical reality. Soon enough, after several episodes in and victims revealed, you begin to realize the unifying theme of all of the “lil slugger’ attacks: he seems to attack those in situations of immense emotional vulnerability – in times where reality seems to be so burdensome,  that the victim, rather than dealing with the situation, the lil slugger comes roller-blading right along with his golden baseball bat to strike the victim and place them out of their misery. The victims typically don’t die but they are unconscious and afterwards, they are more sober-minded. It is suggested throughout the show that the lil-slugger is actually not real but nothing more than a neurotic defense mechanism to protect the victim’s ego from being overwhelmed from outside attack.

Now, this may seem like a random selection at this point, but what I adore about the way Satoshi Kon wrote and conceived of this show is that the Lil Slugger simply is not physically real, rather he prowls around, seeking someone to devour. Preying on the emotionally vulnerable is lil-slugger’s technique and seems awfully similar to how scripture warns of the devil’s behavior.

This of course gets increasingly interesting when we think of the lives of those who are oppressed, systematically. Who else is more emotionally vulnerable than the meek and the poor in spirit? Perhaps this explains the rampant drug abuse/addiction., sex abuse/addiction, etc. we see in oppressed communities of color, especially , something to put them out of their misery. This of course has clear echoes to my last post , as some will sadly seek to do this through suicide. One thing I’ve always loved about Jesus, especially growing up in the pentecostal tradition, is that He is not some nifty narcotic and shot to our vains , He forces us to DEAL with our issues through the power of forgiveness and the refining fire of the holy spirit (Holy Ghost Fire, us pentecostals like to say) , he deals with the unclean spirit and fights and overcomes.

Next time.. I will dive into Darren Aronofsky’s portrayal of a demonic stronghold many are far too familair with – drugs. Til’s next time 😉

 

October Series: Demons & Spiritual Warfare

Fall is here and October is starting in a week! The season of pumpkin-flavors, changing leaves and Halloween is here to stay for a while. With the season of witches and goblins stead approaching, I find no time better than now to dive deep into a topic that has always been of interest to me and that I’ve wanted to explore here at PJ! And that’s.. demons/spiritual warfare..

Having been raised in the pentecostal tradition (and still very much a part of it) ,  demonic strongholds and spiritual was always been stressed in the life of a Christian. I would like to take the next 4 weeks or so to explore different aspects. I will do so using the various forms of spiritual captivity we see represented in pop culture- film, shows, comics, etc. It will also include an examination of the “pop-culture” demonology of our time and comparing how that really holds against what is taught in Scipture and the experienes of the oppressed/margins. It will be a fun and informative series for sure! Feel free to give your input and suggestions on the matter!