‘Crap’ For Christ: The Medium is the Message

There has been a lot of discussion about the  fake Martin Luther King quote floating around the net. Sadly these quotes from the leaders of The Crossing Church in Elk River are not fake, I wish they were.

When asked about giving away free cars to those who attend their church Pastor Kelly Dykstra says,

‘I will happily draw someone into Church using a false God.’

When quizzed about his Church giving away free TV’s and electronic goods in order to encourage people to follow Christ, Pastor Eric Dykstra replied,

“I have no problem bribing people with crap in order to meet Christ,”

See the full story here

The team at The Crossing Church could learn a lot from Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan was both a believer and prophetic analyst of media, and coined the term  ‘the medium is the message’. McLuhan noticed that during the Nixon vs JFK Presidential debate, those who listened on the radio felt that Nixon had clearly won the debate hands down, his arguments and content was the strongest. Yet those who watched the debate on TV, felt that JFK had won.

When asked why, viewers felt that JFK was more youthful, tanned, good looking, and energetic. In contrast Nixon was seen as old, pasty, stressed and tired. What the watching audiences did not know was that JFK had a team of make up artists working on his image. Nixon made the crucial error of passing on the option of make up, believing that people would take him on the strength of his content. No politican makes that mistake anymore.

McLuhan noted that in the age of television, and imagery, that content cannot be separated from the carrier, that the medium is the message. Therefore it is impossible to give away cars, playstation and plasmas and then tell people to give up everything and to die to self in order to follow Christ.

In simple terms I discovered this the other day, when I told my three year old daughter that she could not have an easter egg, while I was munching on one myself. She did not buy it! My actions worked against my message. So it is the same with our outreach. We must constantly ask how our actions and communications can work against the content of the gospel.

This of course raises thousands of questions. Which I do not have time to address in a short post. I do however wholeheartedly encourage you, if you have the time, to check out Marva Dawn’s excellent book Reaching Out without Dumbing Down. Which explores this tension with incredible grace, lashings of challenge, Biblical reflection and great intelligence. The first few chapters alone are worth the price of the book. Ok…now where did my make up team go?

Killing an Arab

Around the midway point of the 2oth century Albert Camus’ existential novel L’Étranger (The Outsider), told the story of the killing of an Arab man, a story which forced Western culture to confront its own ethical viewpoint. At the beginning of the 21st century the killing of another Arab man, has forced us to do the same.

The Christian Left

As the death of Osama Bin Laden broke,with one eye I was watching the coverage on television, and with the other, the Facebook feed. Reading the status updates, my friends on the Christian left, were dismayed by the spontaneous scenes of people celebrating the killing of Bin Laden in New York and in Washington D.C. My friends who work tirelessly to see God’s peace break out in the world, reminded us that violence begats violence, that killing cannot bring about the kingdom of God. That the victims of 9/11 were not brought back to life by the death of civilians in bombing raids in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. They produced scriptures that commanded us not to celebrate the death of the wicked, and quotes from Martin Luther King, and Ghandi, lauding the attributes of the approach of love and peace.

The Christian Right

Simultaneously my friends on the Christian right, expressed relief that justice had been done. They updated their belief that a man who declared war explicitly on Christianity, who wished to finish what Hitler had started by killing the Jews, who wished to subjugate women, and who deemed Hindu’s, atheists, homosexuals, and Buddhist’s killable on the spot, who had made it his life’s mission to violently create a world wide Caliphate, who wished to kill you and I, was dead. My friends on the right, with heavy hearts, concluded that sometimes, when individuals choose the path of evil, who present a clear and present danger, that they regretably must be killed. My friends also produced scriptures that told us to celebrate the death of the wicked, as well as quotes lauding the quest for justice and the pursuit of freedom.

As the heat online grew, I noticed some of my younger Facebook friends were becoming dismayed or confused. Respected leaders, people they looked up to, seemed to disagree so strongly, both sides providing compelling arguments. On the TV and online the experts, politicians and opinion makers also presented their arguments forcefully. Each using the death of Bin Laden to expound their agenda, or worldview. His death quickly became symbolic, being used to advance various political, social and religious ideologies.

The Embodiment of Evil

Historian Diamaid MacCulloch, has noted it was the Greeks who developed the habit of turning people into symbols of things. Their gods represented ideas and concepts, so it was natural that this philosophy would spill over into the human realm. Follow this line of thinking and Hitler becomes the embodiment of evil, Ghandi of peace and so on. The problem though, is that life is never that clear cut, hence why almost all Biblical characters do not fit neatly into boxes, into camps of good and evil. The Jews with their monotheistic iconoclasm understood much better than the Greeks that it was difficult to turn people into symbols and perfect representations of abstract ideals.

The controversy over Bin Laden’s death reveals a great philosophical and theological question. A question which is concerned with the intersection between justice and love. It asks how can we be both just and loving? It is possible to have love without justice? Is it possible to have justice without love? Is God a God of Love or of Justice?

The gods of the Left and Right

In our society with its divisions of left and right, progressive/liberal and conservative. The left will almost always err on the side of love, it will always take into account circumstance, environment and upbringing. It will view God as primarily a God of Love. The right will always err on the side of justice, and will always look to personal choice, and the decisions one takes, despite their circumstance, environment and upbringing. The right will always view God as a God of Justice.

These are huge weighty issues, issues wrestled with throughout history. Issues held and pondered by our greatest minds, philosophers, jurists, leaders and theologians. We can see this dilemma struggled over during the dark days of World War Two by figures such C.S Lewis, Dorothy Day, Neville Chamberlain, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and George Orwell, great figures who chose to stand on the sides of either justice or love. 

Ideology and the Problem of Scripture

Christians when looking to scripture, can easily find proof texts, which taken in isolation can justify one side or the other. But both sides when faced with the totality of scripture, will find troubling passages and teachings, texts which seem to undermine our ability to firmly come down on the side of love minus justice, or justice minus love.

I remember sitting in a Californian prison with convicted murders who had been caught in the cycle of retaliatory gang killings, a constant spiral of death and violence, a misguided quest for justice which only resulted in more blood. As I sat there I was on the side of love.

I remember standing and listening to a holocaust survivor in Caulfield, Melbourne, who felt that European Christian culture’s desire for love and peace minus justice, had facilitated the rise of the Third Reich and almost seen the annihilation of his people, the Jews. A people who he believed only existed today because almost too late, supposedly Christian nations chose the path of justice. As I listened I found myself sitting on the side of justice.

The Voice of the Victims

Interestingly as I watched the TV coverage of Bin Laden’s death, there were several interviews with victims of Bin Laden’s violence, people from as diverse places such as Indonesia, Kenya, the United States and Australia. Almost every one expressed a confusion over their feelings, an initial relief and jubilation at the news of his demise, followed by a sense of loss, a fear that this death would only bring more. I think that it was the victims who spoke the most clearly, who unwittingly got to the heart of the issue.

Justice meets Love

And so I find myself shifting from one side to the other, as I read history, as I process our world today, I only feel more conflicted, more confused. I want love, I want justice. 

And then as I write, I look up and out of my office window across the buildings. In the autumnal sun, atop of the faux gothic church, a Cross sits. It is weather beaten and missable, yet it speaks of those expansive Golgothan minutes, where the perfect balance was struck. When on a wooden cross justice and love was held in divine symbiosis.

We as believers will continue to debate and argue over how to live that out that symbol. We will ponder and fight over the tension of holding to both justice and love, struggling to enflesh a seemingly paradoxical truth.

So I do not celebrate Bin Laden’s death, nor do I mourn his passing. I quietly sit and listen to my fellow believers on the right and left.

But most of all I wait. I wait for the return of him, who is both perfect love and justice.

Love Wins. A Cultural Reading. Part Three. The Hipness of Heresy

Is Love Wins Heretical?

So let’s get to the answer you have all been waiting for. Is Love Wins heretical?

Pardon the pun, but hell yeah!

Does Love Wins advocate a heretical doctrine of universal salvation, condemned by the majority of the Church since the fourth century? Well if Bell was clearer I might be able to answer that. He certainly flirts with the notion. Love Wins however, is heretical in a different and perhaps more profound way than just theologically.

Bell claims that Love Wins is centered around our view of God, I think the great irony is that the book is really about our view of ourselves. The book is a telling expose of how we, view ourselves as believers today. What drives the sales, what the marketing of Love Wins connects with is a deep desire to live heretically amongst young adults raised in evangelicalism.

Formation of the Christian Heretical Nation

James K. A. Smith in his intriguing book on cultural and Christian formation, notes that we are formed not just intellectually, but through what he calls liturgies, which,

whether “sacred” or “secular” – shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world. In short liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love. They do this because we are the sorts of animals whose orientation to the worlds is shaped from the body up more than the head down. Liturgies aim our love to different ends precisely by training our hearts.

Love Wins plays the cultural heresy card. It is according to Smith’s definition a liturgy, powerfully tapping into our deeper desires. It is not just about the concepts and theologies contained in its words. It connects with a submerged, heart held desire amongst evangelical young and not so young adults, to hold onto faith, whilst maximising social status in a culture which values highly the horizontal self. To define against, rather than for. 

By purchasing a copy of Love Wins and rocking up to your Baptist young adults gathering in small town Ohio, you are not just ensuring heated discussion and worrying looks your way to see if you are backsliding, you are building up your personal feeling of worth through what Heath and Potter expose as a rebellious consumer purchase.

So yes Love Wins is heretical.

Heresy is punk rock. Heresy is hip, heresy is sexy, heresy sells. Heresy is the middle finger to the establishment. Heresy is currently Christendom’s hottest underground commodity. Heresy is today’s must have accoutrement for the Christian Horizontal Self.  By advocating heresy within a subculture of orthodoxy, you will instantly tap into a rich cultural vein which worships the countercultural, romantic individualist, who walks against the mainstream, whilst piling up social currency.

Jumping the Shark, Getting Drunk and Punching Fonzie

To use that much loved analogy from Happy Days, Love Wins and its accompanying media storm feels like the moment the emergent church/post-evangelicalism/whatever you wanna call it, jumps the shark. In fact I would say that it is more than Fonzie jumping the shark, it feels more like the final season of Happy Days, when everything went weird and it felt like the 80’s even though it was meant to be the early 60’s, Arnold’s had burned down, and Richie came back to the series and was all angsty with a moustache, said ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ a lot, got drunk and threw a punch at Fonzie.

So much of the movement of which Bell is a part of, and that probably I have been a part of more than a decade, was a reaction to what was seen as an evangelicalism that was too obsessed with dogma, which had no time for mystery, for questions, for doubt. An evangelicalism which at the time seemed as if were permanently wedded to the values of  the enlightenment. An evangelicalism which seemed distant and disconnected from what was happening on the ground with the 90’s, Generation X and what was described as postmodern culture.

So a natural questioning began, a re-evaluation. A great sorting out occurred. Everything seemed up for questioning. Mainstream evangelicalism had sold its soul to modernity and we wanted to walk away. Driving these initial questions was a missional impulse, a desire to connect those culturally disconnected from the Church with Christ. But overtime this agenda was at worst hijacked or at best forgotten. The heart desires to lessen the friction with mainstream culture, to find a place with both the camp of hipness and social acceptance, and the camp of faith took over the conversation. And alas, we got drunk, grew a moustache and threw a punch at fonzie.

Unjust Economies of Cool

Yale professor of French history John Merriman, has wisely noted that most revolutions seemingly are sparked by ideas and new concepts,  they really are kicked off by what are perceived as unjust economies. We all know that the French revolution symbolic stared in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille, but there was also the storming of the tax offices. The American revolution was sparked by the Boston tea party, a reaction to what was seen as an unjust economy. And so it is with the so called current revolution of what it is to be Christian today proclaimed by Rob Bell in Time Magazine, in the New Christianity of Brian McLaren, and the great emergence revolution named by Phillis Tickle,

The Bell’s, McLaren’s and Tickle’s are probably pushing intellectual and theological agenda’s designed to move the centre of faith to a less conservative positioning. But the sales, the response, the movement is fuelled by a reaction to what is seen as an unjust social economy. That is the fact that it is totally uncool and socially isolating to follow Jesus in a 21st century culture driven by an existential hedonism. We sort of know this deep down, we know that despite all of the dressing up, all of the slick make overs, that faith cannot be truly cool in our culture of unbelief. So we engage in a new posture, we choose to be the hip fish in a small, square sea. This explains the rise of what Brett McCraken calls the Christian hipster.

Heresy Feels Cool

This is where Heresy comes in.

Why? Because cultural Christian heresy feels awesome.

It feels good to be sitting up the back of the young adults gathering thinking that you are only person in the room hip enough to be pondering if Jamie XX’s solo work as a remixer is superior to his work with the XX.

It feels good to put up a facebook status update which carries with it a whiff of heresy, knowing that the Mark Driscoll fans in your intro to New Testament class will soon fill your profile with angry comments, making you appear like a modern day cyber martyr minus the pain, torture and imprisonment.

You were probably completely morally and biblical right to confront your denominational leader with the fact that there was no fair trade coffee on offer at the national gathering. But admit it, you loved watching him squirm, you enjoyed the fact that for a second, you felt spiritually superior to him.

In the past when someone within the evangelical world, moved into theological liberalism, the natural progression was to move to a more liberal church, college or denominational. Now we stick around for the street cred.

Heresy and the Unbounded Self

Historian Peter Gay who more than anyone has communicated the social power of ideas, notes in his expansive study of modernism, that the movement is defined by two attributes, a fascination with heresy and the self. If I was Rob Bell I would make the point like this,

Heresy

plus

Self

So telling…

At first heresy or new post-orthodox expressions of Christian faith seem progressive and appealing, they seem to be the perfect antidote to a faith with a P.R. problem. But the lure of heresy has more to do with our desire to be free as individuals rather than the need for  a new theological agenda. Alistair McGrath in his exploration of Heresy notes that our culture has bought the belief that any boundaries, limits or orthodoxy has been in set in place by the powerful and must be challenged. Yet Peter Berger reminds us that we are living in a culture in which demands of us heresy. A culture in which every individual is free to pick their own path, their own truth, Berger defines this as the essence of heresy. The Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth Sir Jonathan Sacks goes as far in his commentary on Genesis as to label the the desire to break boundaries, limits and orthodoxies as profoundly pagan, carrying with it the spirit of the builders of Babel.

The contemporary self is drawn to  heresy because ultimately it offers us absolute freedom as individuals. I wholeheartedly believe that underlying the discussion on the after life and Hell driven by Bell’s book, is also driven by our desire to live in what Smith and Denton have called a morally insignificant universe, in which the individual is ultimately freed from eternal consequences to their choices. Heresy permits the promethean individual to be completely unbound, free to wreck their destruction upon creation.

The Sin of Forgetting Sin

The great irony is, whilst jumping into every tradition bar those of our own pasts, we ignored the reformational heritage under our feet. The doctrine of original sin, lay a forgotten and unused resource. A reminder that humans need boundaries and limits. Our evangelical forebears, understood that orthodoxy is the canvas upon which creativity can be painted. G.K Chesterton and the

magnificently named Dorothy L Sayers both reminded us of the mystery and magic of orthodoxy. They could both fly as high as kites, explain faith to a disbelieving world in such creative words and forms, because they were tethered to the solid ground of dogma.

I too grimaced as a minority of the New Reformed tribe openly displayed theological schadenfreude on social media as Love Wins was released. But one New Reformed voice I believe nailed it, Tim Challies noted that Love Wins, exposes a new kind of Evangelical hipness, defined not by faith, assuredness and confidence, but rather the new space that Bell was opening up was characterised by doubt, opaqueness and questions. Challies writes,

Doubt has become a virtue while boldness and assuredness have become marks of arrogance. The only thing we should be sure of is that we cannot be sure of much of anything. Doubt has become synonymous with humility. And so it was with the people who used to be known by that term emerging. This was a faith devoid of boldness, a faith that emphasized the unknowability of God at the expense of what we can know with confidence.

Doubt becomes disingenuous, a cover for not wanting to commit, for wanting it both ways. Heresy becomes an excuse for the individual to do what the hell (boom boom) they want.

The Garden of Doubt

On Good Friday just past, I stood with my Church community in the cold at Box Hill Gardens as we read and remembered the story of  a young adult, in his early thirties, who had his moment of darkness, of questioning, of doubt. A young adult disconnected, socially isolated from his peers because of his belief.

As we walked up the hill away from the gardens, I felt my stomach tighten as I thought of this young man, despite his doubt, despite his profound loneliness, despite his social disorientation, who made a choice, a step of faith, a move marked by a gutsy determination. In his actions there was no wanting it both ways.

The site chosen for the reading of the crucifixion was behind the mall, in the loading bay filled with dumpsters and garbage, symbolising the way Jesus was thrown out of the city, onto the dumping ground of Golgotha. As the passage was read, as wafts of the stench of garbage moved across us, the thought of a God, the Creator of the Universe, dying in such a mundane, offensive, filthy environment filled my mind. Giving his life so that I do not have to die, so that the poor may be lifted up, that the unjust and the evil brought to justice, that the universe will be made anew. My heart was filled with thanks that two thousand years ago – that young man who was God in Human form, walked out of the garden of doubt and towards the cross of faith.

A Cultural Reading of Love Wins: Part One: A Pseudo Book

Well I was not going to read Rob Bell’s book Love Wins or blog about it, but a number of people have contacted me asking about my view on the book, and my perspective on the whole phenomenon. So here goes.

The book has been theologically dissected by far sharper minds than I, so in keeping with the theme of this blog I thought that I would offer an alternative review from a cultural perspective. My question as I read the book, and followed the media buzz, was ‘what does this book tell us about our current christian culture?’. In short the answer is lots.

The ‘Hero or Heretic?’ marketing strategy 

Love Wins was number one on amazon before its release. The internet flamethrowers on both sides of the theological divide were shooting off before 99% of people had even read the book. So what does this tell us? Well the obvious answer is that we should not judge a book before we read it, but the more intriguing and less obvious answer is, that the furore around Love Wins has little to do with the actual book Love Wins. It is about the story that we are being sold. It’s kind of like Angelina Jolie’s career, no one cares about her movies, or her wooden performances (as Ricky Gervais recently reminded us). Rather it is the story and the media buzz around Jolie that gets her A list status.

There is the story of the dark and mysterious seductress who stole Brad from Jen, the woman who likes to play with knives, who has quotes from Nietzsche tattooed onto her skin.  Then there is the counter story of the altruistic working mum, adopting kids from the two thirds world, estranged from her father, raising her children in the Kingdom of Cambodia, her and Brad rebuilding homes in post -Katrina New Orleans, the UN advocate on the plight of refugees.

These two stories or personas are sold to us by the marketing and publicity machine that surrounds Jolie. They force us to take sides. Is she the epitome of every wives nightmare? The temptress with otherworldly beauty just waiting to steal you husband from you? Or is she the underdog, suffering from bi-polar, estranged from her husband, trying to escape the fame machine? Are you part of Team Jolie or Team Anniston?

The marketing machine gives us a choice to choose between two polarities. Both which play on our hidden fears and desires. Notice in the Vanity Fair cover picture on the left that a question mark is attached to her name. She becomes a mystery that we constantly want to know more about. These twin messages, these two personas ensure that Jolie stays in the media. To use a marketing cliche, she becomes something that you discuss at the water cooler.

Its the same marketing technique that has been used by Harper One to promote Love Wins.I find it interesting that Harper One sent only  parts rather than whole manuscript to bloggers who they knew would lash out at Bell’s books. The troops would be mobilised, heading for their keyboards, beginning the flame war, and thus ensuring maximum media buzz for the book well before its publication. There were two media stories sold to us, one was of the heretical hipster pastor, pushing the wheelbarrow of orthodoxy off of the cliff, the emergent seducer, lurking ready to lead thousands of young believers into heresy.

The other story was of the open, progressive, creative poet/pastor/communicator, humbly asking questions. The (in the words of Harper One) rockstar of the Evangelical publishing world. The indie kid with glasses being beaten up online by the nasty, brutish, MMA loving, New Reformed guys.

Thus we are forced to ask the question which corner do we stand in? Is Bell a heretic or a hero? Whose side are we on? Pepsi or Coke? PC or Apple? Taylor Swift or Kanye West? Charlie Sheen or CBS?

Thus Rob Bell is now Rob Bell? Like Angelina, a question mark is now permanently attached to his name, ensuring constant internet chatter and maximum sales.

The marketing line we were being fed was that the people who were criticizing the book, were doing so unfairly because ‘they had not bought the book’ (again the question must be asked why only samples of such a short book were sent around, when the normal protocol as I understand it is to send the manuscript around months before release). As the speculation flew across the twitterverse as to whether Bell was leaving behind orthodox faith, this short audio clip appeared on youtube and spread across the web like the common cold, what I found interesting was not Bell’s statement of faith but his final line.

The marketing talking point that we were sold was, that we HAVE to buy the book to find out what Bell really says. The implicit message was, ‘don’t let the raucous theological gatekeepers decided if Love Wins is heretical. Only you the consumer can truly decide!’ 

Pseudo Events – Pseudo Books

Daniel Boorstin in his book The Image, noted that our current age was marked by a manufactured buzz around things rather than the worth of the actual things themselves. Boorstin called such manipulations Pseudo-Events, in which hype was created around an event in order to create a faux sense of importance. This is why Richard Branson is always creating Pseudo Events to launch his services or products.

Who cares if Virgin is opening a new service from Manchester to Mumbai? Well, we do if Branson stages a media launch in which he jumps a speedboat through a burning hoop, returning to the shore for the photo op, in which he beams at the camera, sprouting flirty double entendres with a bevy of beautiful flight attendants on his arms.

The reason that Love Wins has sold so many copies, the reason that it has set twitter and the net alight, the reason that I am even talking about it here, it not because of its importance, its theological insight, its high quality writing or its radical new viewpoint. Rather we are discussing the book because of successful marketing. 

Hidden Persuaders

Clark Pinnock was airing similar viewpoints to Bell’s in his books in the 90’s, but his books did not go gang busters. Perhaps because his books had really bad covers, with crayonesque pictures of doves on them, plus Pinnock was an old bloke, who looked totally uncool in his suit and non ironic eyewear. 

Love Wins reminds us that in the tough publishing environment of now, that mad man style broadcast advertising, has lost out to the subtle yet powerful media manipulations of public relations.  In the end the book and its content becomes secondary to the overall media scaffolding that surrounds the actual work. According to Boorstin’s definitions, Love Wins is a Pseudo – book. It aint about the book and its contents. It’s all about the stories attached to the book.

So if you found yourself tweeting in defence of Bell, or banging out face book status updates warning others over Bell’s book, or buying the book in order to find out if Love Wins advocates universalism, inadvertently you just joined the Harper One marketing team on a volunteer basis (And yes I realise the irony that I am doing the same thing.)

One of the real issues that has been lost in the controversy behind Love Wins, is around communication. Essentially marketing and advertising are forms of communication at their most basic. I have no problem with advertising or marketing in their purest forms, I have no problem with Christian books or publishing, I am an author and my books are marketed.

We need good Christian books out there to build up the people of God. What I am concerned however about, is the cynical tone and tactics that seem to be at play here. The real question for Christian publishers or in Bell’s case Christian authors being published by secular publishing houses, is how do we reflect the values of the kingdom in our communications? How do we not fall into the trap of simply mimicking the questionable tactics of those whom Vance Packard called the Hidden Persuaders?

Next time we will examine what the  structure, tone and style of the book itself tells us about our current culture.

The Vanishing Middle Revisited

One of the problems of a blog is that you can put up really important stuff, which after a week disappears and is often missed by new readers. About a year or so ago, I put up the following presentation. The more I think about it the more I realise how crucial the concepts held within are. I have had  number of discussions in recent times with people about this so I thought it would be good to put it up again for those who did not see it the first time. Check it out.

 

Here is a little talk (11min) complete with power point, on the whole idea of the Vanishing Middle. As you will learn from the presentation, the vanishing middle refers to the fact that it is not just the church which struggles in the West, but any organization or group which occupies the ‘middle’ that is the communal or covenantal space in which volunteerism, duty and service are essential. Hope it stimulates some thought on mission and ministry in a Western context for you. Just press the green play button.

I am too Uncool or too Old to be a Young Adult’s pastor?

Two questions I often get asked are “Can I work with young adults If am middle aged or older?” and “Can I have a ministry with Young Adults if I am not cool?”

Well let me answer those questions by introducing you to one David Rodigan. Rodigan is English, bald, white and middle aged. He looks like cross between George Costanza and your high school geography teacher. He is bascially one of the dorkiest looking men you could encounter. Of course there is nothing wrong with that…but there could be when you take into account what Rodigan loves to do.

Soundclashes are competitions that began in the ghettos of Jamaica between rival DJ’s, and their respective sound-systems. The DJ’s play their best tunes, and the crowd declares a winner. It is not a competition for the faint hearted. In the brutally competive world of Jamaican Dancehall reggae soundclashes David Rodigan is a legend, due to the fact that he is almost unbeatable. Rodigan regularily defeats DJ’s and selecta’s half his age.

Here Mr Rodigan anihilates rival DJ Poison Dart on his own turf. Skip to the 5:30min mark for the real madness to begin.

Here is Rodigan in action in Jamaica

To the uninitiated Rodigan’s antics look like the dancing drunk uncle that you wish had never shown up to your wedding. Yet in the whole Jamaican soundclash scene despite being an outsider he garners massive respect. So how on earth does someone who is so obviously not cool gain such respect in a world where coolness is essential?

  1. LONGEVITY: Rodigan has been travelling to Jamaica for years to hone his craft. His respect has been built on years of being on the ground and testing his skills and building up support. I remember someone telling me that ministry is spelt T.I.M.E . Rapport cannot be built with young adults overnight. Instead respect it built over time. Stick around long enough and people will start listening to you.
  2. KNOWLEDGE: Rodigan know his stuff. His encyclopaedic  knowledge of dancehall and reggae is what gets props from the people in the know. Ministry is the same, people will listen to you if you have something to say, something interesting, relevant and important to their lives.
  3. PASSION: At the end of the day Rodigan jumps around like an embarrassing nut, but after watching him for a while his sheer passion, lostness in the music that he loves is what is infectious. If you have passion for God, passion for ministry and a passion for young adults, it will cut through what is cool, hip and ephemeral.
  4. RELATIONSHIP: Rodigan was friends with Bob Marley and just about every reggae luminary you can name. At the end of the day young adults like all people are desperate for genuine relationship. In ministry like in life relationship trumps age.

And besides somehow Rodigan’s total uncoolness ironically makes him so much cooler, authentic and engaging than the sight of pastors trying to fit into skinny jeans.

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