Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quakers and Remix Culture, Part II

In my experience, remix happens when I’m willing to let ministry work on me over time. Sometimes a message comes to me in worship half-formed, and I discern that it needs more seasoning, so I carry it with me for a week or more between meetings to see what I have to learn from it, before it rises (or doesn’t) to the level of spoken ministry. Many times, I’m worked on by a lesson that keeps presenting itself in multiple forms: messages in meeting, conversations, and ideas I hear or read. God often gets my attention through a convergence of coincidences.

Here is a personal example of experiencing, creating and sharing a remix.

Early in 2008, I heard Laura Magnani speak at an adult education session on Quaker testimonies, sharing some of what she learned while serving on the Discipline Committee that produced Pacific Yearly Meeting’s 2001 Faith and Practice. What I understood from her was that written testimonies have traditionally been statements of what Friends were already practicing in their lives. Thus, the process of arriving at a written testimony required us to first to live into it.

Soon after her talk, the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror” got stuck in my head, and wouldn’t go away for months. The chorus says:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer:
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and make that change

I felt a strong leading to sing this for Family Night at Yearly Meeting, which required a group who could hold their parts on dissonant harmonies. The chorus spoke to me strongly, but the verses didn’t address what moved me to share the song with PYM: our ongoing discussions about a testimony on unity with nature. I thought about trying to write new verses, but nothing came.

A week or so before Yearly Meeting, I heard Holly Near’s song “I Am Willing” for the first time. The lyrics spoke very much to my condition and to the idea of living the testimonies, but I found its hymn-like melody too repetitive. Soon the idea arose of combining Holly’s song with the chorus of “Man in the Mirror.” I went to the library for sheet music to “Man in the Mirror” and typed the lyrics to “I Am Willing” to bring to Yearly Meeting. A few Friends worked out the harmonies and sang this medley/mash-up together for Family Night.

There was a lot of energy in moving from Holly’s last line into Michael’s first: her “lift me up… to the light of change” would have held out “change” like a prayer, but instead it became the first beat of a driving rhythmic line describing a first step to bring that prayer into action. Others told me they experienced what we sang as ministry.

There’s no video or recording I know of from the PYM 2008 Family Night, but here are the pieces:

Video of Holly Near and Emma’s Revolution singing “I Am Willing” at the School of the Americas Watch (2007)

Video of Michael Jackson and choir singing “Man in the Mirror” at the Grammys (1998)

Lots of sparks of inspiration can feed into a remix. Many thanks to Laura for her talk; to Michael and Holly for their songs; to Carl, Kristina, Callid, Hannah and anyone else whose ear I bent while the remix was seasoning; to Faith, Gail, Mark and Stephen for collaborating on the arrangement and singing with me at Family Night; to Kathy for taking this picture; and to Wess for inspiring me to think through this example.

Does remix work on any of you in similar ways? How do you let messages season over time? How do lessons present themselves? When is it important to create and share something to express what moves you?


At February 15, 2011 at 2:45 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

This is really awesome. What a great example of making meaning out of various pieces of culture! Fantastic!

At February 15, 2011 at 8:52 PM, Blogger Chris M. said...

I remember that performance at PacYM! It was moving. And I'm no MJ fan, that's for sure.

It's interesting how Wess's talk brought this very concrete example of remixing up for you. I was seeing it at a more formal or perhaps liturgical level. But yes, sometimes it means literally singing two songs together in a new way.

Or turning a passage from Ephesians 3:16-17 into a song! :)

At February 16, 2011 at 8:39 AM, Blogger Lisa H said...

Thanks, Wess and Chris!

Chris, I'd be curious to hear what kinds of examples came to mind for you. I also thought of cutting and pasting quotes as handouts for workshops, or church services that combine scripture and song with a sermon. What else?


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