Welcome back, dear readers, to yet another installment of what is feeling like the travelogue of the Hearts & Minds book van. We just got back from several days at an old Catholic retreat center, the location for an annual retreat of Episcopalian clergy. These priests are good to us, and some have become real friends; we are grateful that they allow me to talk about books and the spiritual disciplines of reading widely, and we’re glad they found at least some stuff they thought useful from our huge book display. We’ve got about a ton of books (literally) to unpack and restock, so the gig isn’t over yet”Â¦and, of course, we are thrilled with our extended holiday shopping hours. Happy holiday shopping season!
The speaker for the Episopal event is a guy I’ve long admired, a fella I’ve been with before, Tex Sample. Tex is a southern boy, a country music scholar of sorts, a funny and deadly serious classic liberal Christian in the historic Protestant tradition. Yet, despite his fascination with that old boy Wittgenstein and his familiarity with populist, neo-Marxist critics and the aesthetics of, say, Susan Langer, he’s eager to learn about new ways of multi-sensory worship, ways to make the current fascination with all things media both more theologically grounded and more culturally relevant. I’d say he’s nearly a cross between a big ‘ol Mississippi gator and the suave style of his upscale, preacher pal Leonard Sweet. And I’d hope Tex would think that a compliment. “Shit, boy,”Â I can imagine him saying, “that ain’t nothin’ bad.”Â He’s a good and honest representative of his hard-livin’, blue collar (sometimes bootleggin’) relatives and loved ones who hail from a primarily oral culture that he has often written about. (Irony of ironies, eh? See his Ministry in an Oral Culture: Living With Will Rogers, Uncle Remus and Minnie Pearl.) A recent book illustrates this long-standing concern, and expands his earlier works on this topic; see his new Blue Collar Resistance and the Politics of Jesus: Doing Ministry with Working Class Whites (Abingdon; $16.95.) It is a substantial and important work.
Sample, though, has taught serious, social, missional theology and media studies stuff at northern seminaries and in church workshops all over the world, translating his pre-literate oral cultural practices into the ways of higher academia and mainline church life. He tells tales of his years in semi-pro baseball, illustrates his points with stories of industrial trades, tells ribald tales of down-home stuff that would make my mama blush (although apparently not his) and yet is utterly committed to probing the deeper philosophical nuances that shape our understanding of God’s concerns for the arts, light, movement, signs, signifiers, screens and worship. That he is interested in innovative and varied manifestations of full-bodied, multi-sensory worship is evident, and he has written two books about it. I cannot guess what our Philadelphia area priests thought about all this, but I was, as the other time I was with him, utterly intrigued and entertained and provoked by Dr. Tex. We appreciated his support of our work, and I am going to re-read his books, now, for sure. And pass a few on to friends who ought to be paying more attention to this deeper version of what some have blandly called contemporary worship.
Buy both for just $25, which makes one full price, but the other, just three bucks.
The Spectacle of Worship in a Wired World: Electronic Culture and the Gathered People of God regularly $18 This one covers some fascinating social history, great example of how experience is socially constructed (oh, his stuff on the rise of soul music and early Elvis) and how to be immersed in indigenous cultural practices and maintain a prophetic social critique. This is basic material for his project, told with a fascinating edge, material that it good to know and is sure to shake you up a bit. Highly recommended.
And, the more recent book, that he says is everything he’s learned since this first one came out a decade ago, Powerful Persuasion: Multi-Media Witness in Christian Worship regularly $22. These are provocative, rich, thoughtful chapters, and include fascinating bibliographic references and some practical ways to follow up in your own congregation. Powerful Persuasion includes stuff on lighting, dance, and other special concerns for those wishing to create liturgical experiences that are truly full-bodied, and not just rock music and words on screens.