Wednesday, March 25, 2009

songs sound different now

In recent performances it's been a running joke, when I play the title track and other songs from the "My Money Talks" CD, that "little did we know, way back in 2005-2007 when we were working on this project, that it would so quickly become dated and irrelevant... that nobody would be thinking or talking about economics anymore..."

Ha ha. Not much of a joke, I know.

Quite a number of those songs sound different to me now. I realize, when I was researching and writing and working on the album, I was approaching the task largely from the point of view of "what do affluent North American Christians need to hear? What do we need to SING? What is God trying to tell us, if only we'd have ears to hear...?"

As I read and thought and prayed and researched and conversed and wrote, I felt in many ways like another voice from the "fringes," trying to call attention to the reality that our fossil-fuel addicted, uber-endebted, hyper-consumerist way of life is not healthy, not sustainable, not in tune with God's intentions for the world... and that it will not last.

And I was trying not only to call attention to that reality, but to articulate (and to find new settings for Scriptures that articulate) the possibility of another reality, another way of living that can be more in tune with the health of the environment, the health of our communities and families and bodies... more in tune with God's intentions for the world... more full of joy and community and meaning...

"I want to live a different kind of story
I want to find another way
A way to live without this constant worry
So you can year my say... My money talks..."

(you can listen to the song here)

Now it seems that what once seemed like "fringe" analysis from various sub-cultures and counter-cultures has become surprisingly mainstream. In my train travels over the past month I was amazed how often I heard - in conversation with people, and in overheard conversations between others - the terms "climate change" and "fossil fuels" and "sustainability" and so on. Mainstream newspapers and broadcasts talking regularly about "living beyond our means" and the hazards of "consumer debt" and the new acceptability (and even trendiness) of "old-fashioned" ideas like "thrift" and "local food" and "cooking at home." I saw wind farms in Montana, read an article on the Amtrak's "Arrive" magazine between Boston and New York all about Community Supported Agriculture and alternative energy sources...

This strikes me as good news. And yet I'm also struck by a fairly broadly held and barely suppressed (and sometimes expressed) sense of guilt and anxiety and near-despair. The two video-game designers from Seattle on their way to a ski weekend, talking about their sense of guilt as artists working on war games (one designs the "worlds" and the other is a "weapons and vehicles" specialist)... The trucker from Montana talking about pollution and climate change and "we really should learn to live with less" and "why the world hates us so much"... Myself, living the contradictions by touring all across the continent (by train - hopefully a somewhat "greener and more efficient choice) while professing concern about carbon emissions and sustainability...

There now seems to be an abundance of analysis and debate - even in mainstream media and society - about what is wrong and unsustainable about our current economic systems and structures and patterns. And there is more and more grassroots movement toward change in some significant ways (the dramatic growth of the "local food" movement being one example). And yet I'm finding it hard to get a "read" on whether we are in fact on the brink of transformative change in a more hopeful and sustainable direction, or whether the newly "mainstream" analysis and macro-initiatives are merely co-opting some of the language of that "alternative" thinking in a frantic effort to prop up a system that is not going to last.

Back to the songs. I'm finding that "My Money Talks" feels very different when I sing it now... "wondering how to make the payments on her home" in a context of so many foreclosures and layoffs and unemployment. The element of "trust" in "I Can Give With Joy" and "Speak To The Rock" speak with a different king of poignancy when we sing those songs together. "To Be Content," a song I hardly sang at all when the CD first came out because I was terrified it would be misunderstood and misused (by relatively affluent people telling others - "you should learn to be content with what you have"), is one that I seem to be singing more often again, as I find more and more people - in the midst of hard economic times - taking those words from Philippians - "I have learned to be content" - as important and meaningful for them. "Take Good Care," which still feels and sounds strident to me sometimes, but also seems to be heard and received - perhaps increasingly - not just as a critique and a challenge but as an invitation.

I find myself cringing at this line in another song from that collection... "may my choices declare... You are the Lord of each investment I make..."

And the "Prayer of Agur" continues to strike a chord...

What do you think? How have the current economic realities been changing the songs YOU sing, and the way you sing them?

What do we need to be singing now?

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At 12:04 PM, Blogger Jonathan Reuel said...

We're thinking about renting a smaller space, paying more attention to budgets and giving, and appreciating what we have more.

Also, dreaming about more creative, community based ways of using resources.


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