Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking at George Fox’s Chapel on my talk which was titled Tradition, Quakers and the Resurrection Community. I’ll post it here within the next day or so. In the talk I tell a little of my own story, discuss the idea of remix, and suggest that George Fox was a “DJ” in his own right, and that Quakers today might engage in a little resurrection remix of their own.
I am drawn to the idea of remix because I think it is a ready example of what it looks like to take something old and find new significance in it. Jay-Z’s remix of “It’s a Hard Knock Life” is my favorite example of this. Many people on the Evangelical side are worried about tradition being “traditionalism” or what Jaroslav says is the “dead faith of the living.” This is a concern to not be too wedded to the past, which is a legitimate concern. But I am not interested in antiquarianism or encouraging people to do this. My guess is that the more liberal branches would have a concern that tradition is equal to authoritarianism. Here tradition is read in light of something more like apostolic authority. But neither of these things, both being two-sides to the same coin, are what I am advocating for in remix. I am advocating for a healthy sense of tradition, a deep respect for the “original artwork,” even a deep love for it. The way you become a “DJ” in a tradition is by becoming its students, its apprentices and work in its laboratories, learning the language, being formed by the practices and convictions that have shaped that community for hundreds of years. If we don’t know the original artwork then how can we expect to create a remix off of it.
Remix is a metaphor for the bringing together of threads of tradition into a new setting and being faithful to that piece of art by still using it, by still drawing on it in ways that bring new or continued significance to it. It is the Jewish idea of Midrash. It is what the Apostle Paul does throughout the New Testament in passages like Acts 13:13. It is what George Fox and many other reformers have done.
Discernment and the Turntable
But for Quakers today one of the clearest ways that we practice remix is through discernment. Discernment is in fact the DJ turntable of the Quaker community, it is the space where the various tracks, or threads come together, and are mixed together by the Holy Spirit and by the discerning community. This is the table where the original artwork, the traditions we draw on, are mixed with the convictions and concerns of the discerning community under the Holy Spirit who is the great DJ.
What is so brilliant about the Quaker practice of discernment is that it has change built into it. It is a practice, thus rooted in an old tradition, and draws on the history of the community practicing discernment, it draws also on the present experiences of the community, while referring to the larger story of Scripture and seeking to listen to the guidance and promptings of the Spirit. Discernment is the way Quakers are faithful to their tradition as they continue to leave opportunities for new openings. To practice discernment is in fact to continue to give new significance to the Quaker tradition. To find unity as a community practicing discernment is in essence to have agreed upon the arrangement of beats and mixes in this new remix we’re being led to make. And that new song will have the recognizable parts, will draw on the many layers of meaning of the original, but will be equally new and fresh in some exhilarating ways. This is what good remixes do.