Is Cultural Appropriation Always Wrong?

A powerful essay on the “co-opting” of minority cultures by Parul Sehgal. This is something I am deeply interested in understanding and observing within “participatory culture,” which often takes part in remixing texts of many kinds. Sehgal’s points are a clear and necessary check on the “fast and loose” nature of those borrowing culture to create culture.

Calling out the co-opting of minority cultures to seem cool has become a public ritual. But where is the line between borrowing and theft?

…Questions about the right to your creation and labor, the right to your identity, emerge out of old wounds in America, and they provoke familiar battle stances. The same arguments are trotted out (It’s just hair! Stop being so sensitive! It’s not always about race!) to be met by the same quotes from Bell Hooks [sic], whose essays from the early ’90s on pop culture, and specifically on Madonna, have been a template for discussions of how white people ‘‘colonize’’ black identity to feel transgressive: ‘‘Ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.’’ It’s a seasonal contro­versy that attends awards shows, music festivals, Halloween: In a country whose beginnings are so bound up in theft, conversations about appropriation are like a ceremonial staging of the nation’s original sins.

…In an essay in the magazine Guernica, the Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie called for more, not less, imaginative engagement with her country: ‘‘The moment you say a male American writer can’t write about a female Pakistani, you are saying, Don’t tell those stories. Worse, you’re saying: As an American male you can’t understand a Pakistani woman. She is enigmatic, inscrutable, unknowable. She’s other. Leave her and her nation to its Otherness. Write them out of your history.’’

Source: Is Cultural Appropriation Always Wrong?

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

What Makes for a Good Remix?

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What makes for a good remix? This is a question that comes up a lot when I present on themes related to my book, “A Convergent Model of Renewal: Remixing the Quaker Tradition in a Participatory Culture.” When we talk about how tradition can be revitalized and “remixed” within new cultures people ask how do we know that it is still a part of the same tradition?

Here are some basic thoughts on it.

  1. The original piece of art, sample, text, etc. is recognizable. The connection or reference to what the remix is drawing on is accessible those within that particular community.

  2. There is genuinely something new about the remix. It is clear that it is original in some way. And this originality often leverages the past, while shedding new light or a new perspective on the old in a truly innovative way.

  3. It works. Everything fits together in a new seamless production. There is a big difference between Lee Major in the “Six Million Dollar Man” and Frankenstein. The keys match, the beats line up. Whatever contradictions may have previously existed they are resolved within the new piece of art.

  4. It is participatory: it moves people on the dance floor. Another way to say this is that it is affirmed, as well as created, through a consensus process within the community that is directly affected by the remix. The community is invested in the outcome of what is created.

  5. It remains open to more remixes and modifications. It would be both tragic and ironic if a remix became proprietary, dogmatic and restricted under copyright. What is created through an open-ended process must seek to affirm further developments, remixes and new ways of sampling.

Download this sketchnote as a .pdf

 

The Plush Silence of Heaven (Psalm 82)

This is the message I gave this past Sunday based on Psalm 82.

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”

Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!

(Psalms 82:1–8 NRSV)

When God Woke Up This Morning

(a fictional retelling of a day in the life of God)

It’s morning already? God rolls over and hits the alarm. Another few minutes to snooze when you are the Almighty is certainly justifiable. But finally, God cannot ignore the day’s work and so with a woolen bathrobe from Pendleton – not that God’s all about brands but this is fantastic – and a favorite pair of fuzzy slippers hand-knitted by the Holy Spirit, God strolls downstairs to fix coffee and to take in the morning news.

Events this morning are as bleak as ever. Continue reading The Plush Silence of Heaven (Psalm 82)

The Possibilities and Challenges of Building a Participatory Church

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I love the word participation. It’s stem means “taking part” or to “partner.” The Quaker meeting of which I am the ‘released minister,’ Camas Friends, strives to be a participatory church. A partnering church. A church that welcomes the contributions, leadership, insights, resources, personalities and concerns of those who are in the meeting.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we live in a participatory culture. And the church would do well to learn from it. What was once reflective of the one-directional movement of consumer culture, there is much more interplay between producer and consumer today. Continue reading The Possibilities and Challenges of Building a Participatory Church

Remixing the Bible

I bumped into this little cover image for the bible a few days ago and it got me thinking what people find acceptable when it comes to redesigning or “remixing” the bible through art. This has been happening for centuries. Sacred text depicted in art-form is nothing new.* This particular image is not ground-breaking in anyway that I can tell, but I appreciate the fact that it is a cover that tries to depict something a little different about scripture. The idea was motivated by someone wanting to create a cover for “non-card-carrying Christians” is weird because the old handy-dandy black cover seems nondescript enough to not draw attention if that’s the goal, whereas a cover with hot-pink and other bright colors will do the opposite. Continue reading Remixing the Bible

Quakers, Tradition and the Resurrection Community (Acts 13:13-33)

This is the message I gave a few weeks back at George Fox Chapel. I’ve been meaning to post the manuscript but haven’t had a chance.

_Tradition is Dead, Tradition is Alive

I think I am an unlikely candidate for Quaker week. I am like the majority of you; I did not grow up a Quaker, I didn’t grow up in a Quaker-mecca like Newberg and didn’t become a “Friend” until my 20s. I had no idea who George Fox was, wasn’t he that guy in the recent Wes Anderson film (fantastic mr. fox)? I didn’t know anything about the awesome Quaker history of being involved in Native American rights, the underground railroad and movements like women’s suffrage.

I grew up a nominal Catholic. I went to parochial schools (or as I usually say, I did my time there…) and visited mass only irregularly. Growing up I wasn’t even really sure I knew what it meant to Catholic. Then through a complicated set mostly tragic events my family began attending a small, fairly conservative and charismatic, non-denominational church. This is where I began to learn to read the bible, and took part in more church-based activities. If at the Catholic church I was an observer, this new church is where I became more of an active participant. But the church was also one of those non-denominational churches that are fairly anti-denominational, but they do it in a kind of “denominational” way if you know what I mean? In other words, I had a major suspicions about words like “denomination” and “tradition” by the time I left home for college.

And isn’t it the case that in an America influenced by creatives such as Steve Jobs we prize above everything innovation, newness, and individual expression? The thought that one of us might be seen with a Myspace page, let alone an first generation iPhone would be almost to much to bear (professors?!). In this ideology, old equals obsolete and tradition equals a liability. Continue reading Quakers, Tradition and the Resurrection Community (Acts 13:13-33)