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A Remixed Church: Adaptation, Legos and Renewal (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:16–19 NRSV)

E. is going to do Lego demonstration for us. Prior to Sunday I have asked him if he would be willing to:

a) show the congregation at the beginning of the message a pre-assembled lego creation, b) disassemble that during the message, c) reassemble something recognizably different using only the pieces from the previous creation within and d) show the congregation what he has made.

This week I want to look for a moment about how transformation has taken place within this community. I believe that one of the things that makes Camas Friends strong and unique in the Quaker world is that it is a community that embraces change and the willingness to adapt and be flexible as central to who you are.

Two Ways of Approaching Adaptation

Consider in the world of music for a moment.

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Working Class Hero

In 2007, there was an exhibit created by the young South African artist “Candice Breitz” in London called “Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon).” Working Class Hero was made up of 25 plasma screen TVs each projecting a man or a woman singing every song, without pause, from the album “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” (1970). Each with his or her own style, each with their own moving emotion, these fans recreated the experience of the album while adding their own take on it. Each screen looped their respective artist all day, every day of the week for most of the summer – that was the art being created (Lessing 5-6).

Before this there were similar installments of Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and Madonna. These were all well received (Lessig 9). But not so much “Working Class Hero.” Yoko was ticked. The artist sought permission from Ono and her lawyers and the response back was that if she paid $45,000 for the month she wanted to use it, she could have permission. Ono said to the artist, “Permission was vital, legally” (Lessig 10).

Radiohead

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A contrasting story about copyright is the band Radiohead, who in the same year, 2007, released an album called “In Rainbows” and shortly thereafter, they set-up the website, radioheadremix.com in which they invited their fans to do something very similar to what Lennon’s fans did, remix one of their songs. But the difference between the two situations couldn’t have been more stark. Radiohead put the tracks of one of their songs, “Nude” on iTunes to be downloaded into your music editor, cut up however you’d like, and then when it was done you could upload it to the website, and share with the millions of fans who would visit the site.

In the first example, adaptation is a bad thing, Yoko doesn’t want someone remixing and while legally she may have some right to do, why? Why would you not allow the work to be adapted?

Maybe you’re worried that a derivative of the work won’t be as good? That could be, but what happens then when a George Fox comes along finally and takes it in a successfully new direction, or when you have someone like a Bob Dylan who takes a song and makes it his own.

In my option, it is Radiohead that has the right idea here. Here is our best work, take it and see what you can do with it. See what you can make with this. Make it better. Make it different. Make it your own.

That’s the kind of adaptation or remix I like to see.

Remix

A number of years ago (2011) Jason, Sean H. and I traveled down to Berkeley California where I was the presenter for the Quaker Heritage Day weekend at Berkeley Friends Church. It was there that I first presented some of the ideas that became my book later and it really helpful because I noticed what those who came to listen connected with the most and one of the ideas that people really were drawn to was this idea of remix.

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Remix comes from Hip-Hop culture and puts language to how we talk about the kind of adaptation that takes an original piece of art and changes it in some way that you can both recognize the original art as well as see how it is something new. One of the key beliefs in Hip-Hop around this is that you actually honor your past mentors by updating them, adapting them, and changing what they made in some way with your own style. Remix is a way to pay homage to the past while adapting.

To me, this is a powerful metaphor for what God, who is like a great DeeJay, has been doing with Camas Friends for a long time. And instead of acting like Yoko and trying to do whatever you can to shut that down, cling to the “former ways,” you have allowed yourselves and your church to be remixed.

And you all know that Remix is not some new concept. From the Hunger Games and Star Wars, to the Folk Revivalists, to the idea of evolution, to the Early Quakers (this week at Fresh Bread), to Jesus’ teachings and the book of Revelation, to the very first poem about creation in Genesis 1, “everything is a remix.”

Remix and Bob Dylan's Self-Portrait
Remix and Bob Dylan’s Self-Portrait

[Image – Dylan’s Self-Portrait is a recognition of the fact that we are ourselves composites of other’s work. Not only is it a remix of Picasso’s “Self-Portrait” but a majority of the songs on the albums are simply covers of other people’s songs.]

I am convinced this is the way we grow and change. And that this is one of the ways that God the Creator works in the world, bringing found materials and creating something new.

Former Things and New Things Springing Up

Isaiah 43, which takes place as the people of Israel are in Babylonian Exile, Speaks to this God who continues to remix us:

Have others Read : Isaiah 43:1–2 and Isaiah 43:16–19

Both of the passages are powerful not just for the sense of comfort God tries to relay to the people in the midst of a lot of turmoil, uncertainty and change, but also because there is this very real sense of adaptation or “remix” going on.

Don’t be hangers-on to the old ways, don’t cling so drastically to the former categories, what you think you know, and what you’ve been told all you life, that you are unable to see the new thing sprinting up.

Or to update it a little bit, don’t be so much like Yoko that you can’t see just how incredibly amazing to have people do something new with your work.

But when we open ourselves up to the remix we know that there is also a lot of disequilibrium in the midst of the new thing being made. This disequilibrium is what Isaiah is speaking to. In the midst of change it is God who sustains you. In the midst of uncertainty, Camas Friends Church, it is not Wess the pastor, or the elders, or your stubbornness – though that can help, or anything other than God who is the one sustaining you.

  • It is God who is with you, walking alongside you when you pass through the waters.
  • It is God who sustains you in the midst of darkness.
  • And when you walk through the fire, It is God who keeps you from being burned.
  • It is God who makes a path in the mighty waters.

This is central. Every time there is fear, every time we start to grip down a little harder onto those old ways of reacting, those old patterns or old beliefs, just remember that it is God who sustains you. And know that we pass through on grace. It is God who is the one inviting you to see this new work of grace coming up before you.

The Remix that is Camas Friends Church

Camas Friends has been a community sustained by God and remixed by God for a very long time. The strength I see is that you been more like a community set up in Llegos than one in cinder blocks.

But one flip-side of this is to not be surprised if you hang around here long enough that you too will be invited to be “remixed.”

Here are a few of the ways I’ve see you all be adaptable to change:

[pictures] 75 Yrs Celebration – we used outreach money that was donated during a Billy Graham Crusade in the 1990s. And you all figured out a way to be “faithful” to the designation of that money as outreach, while throwing a 75th anniversary party with it.

“I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth…”

I think about how we worship together and the ways it has been adapted over the years, with a lot of participation from the whole congregation. And even the arrangement of the pews into this formation was something that hasn’t always been this way. This is what it means to be a Quaker meeting – that everyone has the opportunity to faithfully participate.

“I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth…”

I think of other ways you’ve remixed over the years, from a fireworks stand that helped send kids to camp to eventually laying that down and taking up other ministries, to something like peace playhouse which is a remix on VBS and the Quaker testimony of peacemaking, and the ways in which you created or supported the creation of things Godly Play, Laundry Love, Fresh Bread, Living Room Storytelling and the Summer Lunch Program.

“I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth…”

And the way you have wrestled with difficult questions and allowed God to move you in new directions when it comes to people of other faiths, poverty, convergent Friends, and human sexuality.

“I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth…”

You know of course that there will be more. More opportunities to build on your high capacity for adaptation, for remix, which means you’ll also have the opportunity to learn to trust God again and again, and to continue to look for the path through the mighty waters.

Legos, Remix and a Faithful Betrayal

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[Eddie and his big brother Spencer worked together to make this happen. They talked to us after the message about what they did and how the process was.]

A Faithful Betrayal is when you love something so much that sometimes you have to let it go, or let it die, in order to save it. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it bears no fruit.” That’s a faithful betrayal.

Had Eddie been too enamored with the first creation, he could never have made this second one. And yet, this second one is made out of the same materials as that previous one, it’s just reset, reassembled in new ways. This is what a remix or a “faithful betrayal” looks like.

This is what God wants to do with each of you. And this is what you have allowed God to do to you and this church for a very long time. Are you willing to continue on this path, to let your hearts and minds continue to be “remixed” just like Eddie’s creation here?

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.