Mashup Religion – John McClure [ Feature Review ]

February 13, 2012 — 1 Comment


Page 2 – Mashup Religion

Chapter One features the songwriter and how he/she creates a song. McClure’s experience with the musical community of Nashville, TN provides plentiful case studies, as he presents the argument that the best songwriters start from inside a specific tradition (playing covers) and then move into other traditions. This is done in order to first view different stories, ideas, and stylistic tropes from a variety of external perspectives, then empathize with the “other,” and then persist in furthering their art. The chapter can best be summarized with this thought: “The popular songwriter knows what many theological writers do not – that applied theology is not nearly powerful or connective as lived theology.” (p. 37-38; italics by the author)

With Chapter Two, McClure enters quickly into the meat of his argument by setting up an allegorical relationship between how a preacher creates a sermon and a record producer arranges a hit single. We are introduced to his “Theological Loop Browser” (80) which seeks to correspond the following: 1) Scripture = Melody; 2) Tradition = Rhythm; 3) Reason = Backing Tracks; and 4) Experience = Instrumental Fills. He then sets up 4 primary sub-mixes and their resultant means of exploration and tracking: Theology, Message, Culture, and Scripture.

When tracking “Scripture and the invention of religious memory,” theologians can employ dynamic equivalence, historical continuity, literary transposition, theological transformation, or contextual discovery. In the tracking of “Culture and the invention of religious experience,” you decide between one of four styles: identification, dialectical, dualist, or separatist. Moving to the tracking of “theology and in the invention of theological world and theological worldview,” sermon writers seek to utilize either the tensive, oppositional, equilibrist, permutational, or iconoclastic methods. Finally, when “tracking the “Message and invention of theological truth,” you decide between the connotative style (which has the artistic and conversational substyles) and the denotative style (which has the assertive and defensive substyles).

Upon first gaze, this mashup of theological and philosophical three-dollar words makes the metaphor appear impenetrable and untenable. However, by viewing McClure’s concepts through the eyes of the sample-loving DJ, the remixing producer, or the laptop guru mashing up sounds in his home studio, the multiple layers inherent to this line of reasoning start to peel back like so many onion skins. Chapter Three directly addresses the emergent church conversation with positive mentions and critiques of that movement’s brand of theological invention. He further extends his driving metaphor by comparing crate-digging (the DJ practice of seeking out rarer, less-traveled, more interesting samples) to inter-textuality and the mashup (as previously defined) to post-semiotic conversation.

I mentally link Chapters Four and Five together because they collectively speak to how the listener experiences the sermon that has been created throughout Chapters One through Three. First, preachers must be aware of the grain and texture of their voice. No matter how “true” or right” your content might be, you run the risk of alienating your listener simply by the pitch, timbre, and tone of your voice. Second, once you have determined how voice will be heard, you must be aware of how your voice will perceived in the greater cultural context into which you decide to preach. McClure states specifically that theologians must become an “ethnomusicologist” in order to connect with culture, since so many music fans enter into a tribal relationship with their favorite bands and genres, and do so in a way that directly mimics religious affiliation.

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