Is God a DJ?

(After a too-extended summer holiday, several posts will appear quickly – I’ve been writing them, just not posting them. Sorry) Chatting to a journalist who was interviewing me a couple of weeks back, we got talking about Faithless’s set at T in the Park. (It’s a music festival. Like Glastonbury. Only better.) We agreed to disagree over rapper Maxi Jazz’s choice of clothes (kilt, sporran, T-shirt; she liked it; for me, kilts work fine with T-shirts, but a sporran is kind of like a bow tie – it can only be worn with full formal dress); I talked to her about their performance of ‘God is a DJ’. She wanted to interpret my words as critical or defensive. That wasn’t my intention at all. It got me thinking – there is a normal and instinctive reaction of (British) Christians (is it true elsewhere?) to the invocation of generically religious or specifically Christian themes in popular culture: it is inevitably defensive, critical, policing carefully the use of language and image to ensure that Christian orthodoxy is presented pure and undefiled. The implicit assumption is that the faith, and the truth it teaches, is fragile, precious, and in need of protection. I don’t think that. The Truth became incarnate, making a bed in an animal’s feeding trough. The Truth was a refugee, homeless, a convict. The Truth, the one time we saw Him face-to-face, did not seem especially fragile or in need of the protection of religious law or ritual. As Spurgeon once reportedly (I’ve heard the quotation many times, but never seen a reference) said, when asked to defend the Bible against higher criticism, ‘I would sooner try to defend an uncaged lion!’ So, let people reflect, recollect, and play with Christian words and symbols, in song and art and drama. Their intention may be to mock, but their intention is not the decisive factor here; God’s power can and does routinely subvert misplaced human intentions. If gospel language and symbols are out there, God will do good with them. We do not need to defend God – He is not that weak or powerless. But what of the specific example? The Faithless song is worthy of some reflection. The lyrics run: This is my church This is where I heal my hurt It’s a natural grace Of watching young life shape It’s in minor keys Solutions and remedies Enemies becoming friends When bitterness ends This is my church (3x) This is my church This is where I heal my hurt It’s in the world I become Content in the hum Between voice and drum It’s in change The poetic justice of cause and effect Respect, love, compassion This is my church This is where I heal my hurt For tonight God is a DJ Performed live, it is regularly anthemic. This has to be one of the great live performances of the decade: [youtube=] Before we get to the song, let me just note that there is a lot to like about Faithless. They are one of the best live bands on the scene today; Maxi Jazz writes raps that are powerfully delivered, and almost always worth thinking about; and Sister Bliss, even putting aside her talents as club DJ and remixer, remains welcome, and long overdue, proof that it is possible to write truly monumental keyboard riffs without being a geeky besuited German, or a chinless and pimply 80s teenager (just too many to choose from – but try: this, this, or even this). The song – for a first pass, consider the implied ecclesiology. The song assumes a shared account of ‘church’ as a therapeutic and reconciling community, where hurts are healed, enemies are reconciled, and justice is established. If there is implied criticism that clubs perform this function better than traditional congregations (‘This is my church!’ sung at a festival or in a club – and watch Jazz’s gestures as he delivers the line in the video above), then at least there is a recognition, rare enough in modern culture, that ‘church’ is not, in its essence, something irrelevant, pointless, and outworn, but is something healing and dynamic, however much many contemporary examples fail to live up to what they should be. Of course, an adequately theological account would want to say more – about sacrament and discipline and the speaking forth of the gospel – but ‘out there’, in popular C21st British culture, this is a very positive take on the church, and it is to be welcomed before being criticised. What of the theology? ‘God is a DJ’? It might appear simply blasphemous. Can we be more generous? For...

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