“The shortest definition of religion: interruption.” –Johann Baptist Metz
Strange as it may sound, one of the foremost topics that I explored during this first just-recently-completed semester of doctoral study was the topic of “interruption.” Especially since, for those of you who know me, interruption is something I already do pretty well on my own. (Just ask Amy.)
As a theological/philosophical category, though, “interruption,” or “irruption,” is about our assumptions being challenged—it is the moment where we are confronted with something or some insight that forces us to reassess the way things are. (And I think It’s one of the most interesting categories about which postmodern thought and the Christian faith can be in dialogue.)
And so since many of the church communities that I have been a part of have struggled to contend with cultures of complacency and comfort, it’s really not that strange that “interruption” would be a category of interest for me.
According to theologian J.B. Metz (quote above), interruption is the very purpose of Christian faith—and yet so often faith and religion and religious practices are associated with everything but interruption—i.e., challenge, confrontation, awe, exposure, humility, spirituality.
While I’ve been studying this phenomenon the past few months on an academic level, earlier this week I was reminded of an example from my own life—a song that I first heard about seven years ago.
(Click below to find out, and to get a link to, the song.)
The song is called the “Dalit Hymn” by Caedmon’s Call. To this day it is the only song I know that consistently makes me cry—not just most of the time, but EVERY time.
Thing is, I don’t like crying. It makes my eyes sting. So I avoid listening to the song in general, unless I am in a mood where I can handle it. As it turns out, I haven’t listened to the song at least a few years—until, strangely, on January 1st, on the plane coming back from Hawaii, after Amy and I parted ways in Atlanta (so she could attend her two weeks of intensive courses at Western Seminary in Michigan.) I almost didn’t believe that still after so long, after having heard the song as many times as I have, and after a long hiatus from it, it would still get to me. But it did. I was glad the adjacent seat next to me was empty on the plane, so I was able to cry without being noticed.
The song is not the best song of all time. It’s not even Caedmon’s Call’s best song. You’ll find more intricate and developed lyrics in the average Lady Gaga hit.
But every time I hear it, this song grabs me and “interrupts” my life—in spite of, and perhaps BECAUSE of, its simplicity. Rarely do we hear music that is such a raw, straightforward, plea of advocacy on behalf of the poor—in this case, the Dalit (the so-called “untouchable” caste in India)—in either secular or so-called “Christian music.” Free the Dalit, free the Dalit, Prime Minister, free the Dalit.
I have thought of a number of things from this example that teach me about interruption, and how we so desperately need to be interrupted in the church, if we are going to BE the church.
* Art and narrative have tremendous power to interrupt—but they need not be complicated, intricate, or even all that creative to do it. When art—and/or God—draws our attention to “the real,” “the true,” and HOLD it there, it is successful.
* Art can even be repetitive and still grab us, if we truly acknowledge its “interruptivity.” If we sterilize our art—our music, our sacraments, our sermons, etc.—they lose their interruptive power and become tools of indoctrination or pacification. It’s not the repetition of the Lord’s Prayer and communion, the routinization of sermons and scriptures—that makes them boring. It’s the removal of all scandal and challenge from them.
* One of the primary ways art “interrupts” our lives—and our community—is prophetic declaration. Testimony to God’s Kingdom. It’s always the end of the song where I usually lose it: Caste is a lie, caste is a lie, Prime Minister, caste is a lie. The integrity of the Gospel isn’t demonstrated in how well we can recite doctrinal cliches or articulate the Romans Road, but in how well we call a spade a spade— in our own lives, as well as in the world, with humility and self-awareness. God stands against power, pride, isolationism, division, violence, and hatred. God made everyone forward and free…Politically, socially, everybody free.
* And “taking a stand” cannot just be done with words.
* Paul Ricoeur talks about how the impossible can be imagined as possible through narrative (and art). The key refrain of the song, Sub kooch ho sak-ee dey (All things are possible with God) reminds me why stories of God are necessary to begin to approximate an understanding of the Ineffable…. and it also reminds me that in the Christian faith, it’s not enough to be content with imagining a new reality. That new reality— a world of love and hope—must be LIVED, and made demonstrative within and beyond the community of faith.
(BTW the song references B.R. Ambedkar, who you may not know much about (I didn’t, prior to this song). He worked very hard for Dalit rights and was contemporaries with Gandhi. More info here. Also for more info check out the Dalit Freedom Network. )