One hundred points if you can name the artist. It’s a song that I will not be sad to never hear again, but it was the theme song to Kevin Costner’s version of Robin Hood that released a few (gulp!) decades ago. I have been reminded of the key line to this Bryan Adams song every time that I hear a Christian say that it’s “all for Jesus.”
I was reminded again last night when I attended a Volbeat concert. The opening band was a group called Spoken, who I vaguely remembered as being Christian from when I followed the Christian music scene. The name should have been a giveaway. They put on a very good performance (better than the next opener’s performance), and right before the last song, the lead singer said at the end of his monologue (lead singers get very good at monologuing), “…and we do it all for Jesus Christ.” Crunching guitar…click click click “RAHHHHHHHHH!” (He was quite a screamer.)
So here’s my question. What does it mean to make a statement like this, either in the context of a love relationship or a spiritual one? Is it significant or self-deceptive? At first glance, it seems like a deep and honorable level of commitment to someone, being willing to go any distance and do anything to preserve or gain relationship. It’s a common theme of romantic movies, the same ones that appropriately end in a wedding ceremony, which is our cultural conclusion for a dedicated pursuit in a relationship. However, it gives little guidance for maintaining a relationship after the pursuit portion has, for all practical purposes, ended. The other as an “end” for meaning-making is, in the long term, a recipe for disaster, or at best disappointment by both parties. The pursuer is disappointed that the pursued fails to appreciate the significance and depth of the pursuit, and the pursued is unnerved by being the sole subject of such intense scrutiny and wants the pursued to broaden his or her interests.
That is the most charitable case, in which we take the “doing all for” or “giving all for” at face value. More often however, at some point a strongly felt level of commitment lessens while maintaining the original rhetoric. In other words, I do whatever it is I want to do, say whatever it is I want to say, and then dedicate that to the original object. To take an extreme example, a husband might justify his affair as letting out sexual frustration in order to preserve the relationship. It is unlikely, though, that his partner would see his actions as dedicated to preserving his marital relationship.
What, then, does this mean on a religious level? Because Western Christian religion is presented first and foremost as a matter of the heart or spirit as opposed to ritual action (due both to Protestant history and our separation of church and state), the believer expresses his or her affiliation through language, a language that must be received by the hearer, at least at first, on faith. Further, outside of a religious context, there are few if any acceptable, universally recognized religious actions. There was nothing to identify the black-wearing, tattooed, sweating, screaming, head-banging rock band as inherently Christian without the lead singer making an explicit statement of the band’s affiliation. There are other indicators, to be certain: a kinder manner, less profane language, etc. But these aren’t exclusive to Christianity. So then, does or should a statement of that exclusivity make a difference to the hearer?
This band is much more talented than I ever was as a musical performer, but I understand well the aim to “draw people in” through music that is culturally compatible in order to have opportunities to convert others, as I’ve mentioned. I see the advantage as a rhetorical tool, but am disillusioned as to its signifying potential as a life-changing paradigm, either to create or maintain a relationship. There are theologians (such as Agamben, who I’ve discussed before) who see a revolutionary potential in the concept of messianic time, living “as if not.” One lives as if there were no distinctions of class, race, gender, etc., while knowing full well that significant work, good and bad, is done with such categories. I value the sentiment, and see some potential for it, but only as it is enacted by individuals beyond repetition of the language. Depending on one’s life situation, remaining where one is might be beneficial, and it might be terrible. My contention is that such rhetoric substitutes for a inadequacy of action, and in fact encourages it because it delegates the heavy lifting to the divine.
What do you think? Does a paradigmatic shift begin with a change in rhetoric, or does language simply mask or compensate for an absence or un-present-ability of action?
Apologies for the excess of music posts.