Air Guitar, Air Preaching, figures of speech, Fred Craddock, learning to preach, preaching and performance, preaching gestures, rhetoric and preaching, teaching preaching, tropes
From time to time, I’ll be posting items on this blog taken from the blog for my new book, Mashup Religion: Pop Music and Theological Invention. In the book, I suggest that those who compose theology at the interface between the academy and popular culture, whether creating blogs, engaged in religious education, advocacy, preaching, etc., could learn a great deal from those who make popular music. One element from popular music making that could easily migrate over into performance-based modes of popular theologizing, especially preaching, is the art of “covering” other artists work (riffs, hits, beats, rhythms, etc.), and then “styling” on those tropes until they become one’s own. There are many aspects of the larger process of “covering” the work of others, but one useful aspect is found in what is known as “air guitar.” Air guitar playing is the act of imitating the rhythms, notes, accents, movements, riffs, cadences, and overall style of another guitarist. For the actual guitarist, this is the beginning of the process of “living into” another artists unique style, absorbing much of it, and making it one’s own. Here’s a great short clip of Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page almost unconsciously engaging in air guitar to a classic riff by guitarist Link Wray.
JIMMY PAGE from “IT MIGHT GET LOUD”
This practice could easily migrate over into the way one learns to preach or compose theology in general. For instance, now that so many sermons are available in recorded form online, it is simple to listen to or watch preachers who are seasoned and have lots of great “riffs,” and then “air preach” their work, embodying gestures, attitudes, or facial expressions (if video is used), but more importantly, learning any number of stylistic “tropes” or figures of speech that could be used in sermons. Here is one I sometimes use in class by the renowned preacher Fred Craddock. Like Link Wray in the video clip above, Craddock’s style represents a now classic genre of preaching sometimes called “inductive preaching,” in which the preacher begins with the particulars of experience and moves slowly toward a large idea. One of Craddock’s favorite tropes for getting listeners on board experientially is to have them imagine a word or category of thought with him. It’s a simple trope, and I sometimes have students listen to him several times, then “air preach” with him, and finally “style on” his work by choosing another word or category (fear, hope, peace, etc.) and developing it in a similar way. Try it out. Here’s the sermon clip containing the trope used by Fred Craddock.
FRED CRADDOCK: SERMON CLIP
Maggi Hill said:
Love this analogy continuum. I think it could be applied to many other important life methods of communication and education, no? I also happen to be a wannabe air guitar player! Thanks for sharing your combined talents and wisdom here.
John McClure said:
Thanks Maggi. I think you’re right. We all have lots to learn from musicians. Across disciplines and lines of daily work. As you, a musician, know!
Matthew L. Kelley said:
I recently caught myself using a sermon illustration that I’ve used a few others times, realizing that the method of telling it was very influenced by another preacher I admire. It made me think of music geeks I know who always talk about any current band by saying, “they’re just imitating Chet Atkins/Page/Hendrix/whoever”. I think you’re right that preaching and songwriting aren’t all that different!
I recently watched a documentary on composer Phillip Glass. His purpose was to be original in his music. He did not care so much if people liked it or not, and in his early days his music was trashed by the critics, and he took it as a badge of honor. I found his desire to be original refreshing. Is it possible to be original when it comes to preaching or is such a desire more ego driven?
John McClure said:
Thanks for the great question. In my book Mashup Religion I talk about the Romantic and Bohemian traditions of music and art which pushed the idea of “originality” to extremes – even to the point of establishing an original/fake dichotomy. I think that this is troublesome and can be egotistical, refusing to acknowledge one’s own indebtedness to genres, traditions, and voices that have come before, and that surround us. As I see it, originality never arrives ‘out of the blue’ but is always a novel and opportune (kairotic) configuration of materials that are already available. What Jimmy Page did with Link Wray’s “riffs” was original – but he is humble enough to pay homage, and to acknowledge what he learned from his “master.” My concern in this post is that preachers often seal themselves off from consciously imitating and “styling on” those who could effectively influence us for the better – a practice that could promote better “original” preaching.
Interesting that you mention Link Wray and Preaching. Link was an extremely devout Christian, never Drank, Smoked or partook in any of what he called “the Devil’s Candy” or even ate meat out and said when he was on Stage playing he was Praising God. He also has the honor of having the only instrumental to be banned in America as being subversive and he was labeled a “Bad Influence” at a time when people who really were a Bad Influence were promoted. But he hung in and continued on and though he had his flaws and faults but in examining his life starting from the poor son of a Street Preacher to his death he never sold out or gave up on his faith. God truly blessed him and us through him. God works in many ways. So in his own way, Link Wray was a Preacher.
John McClure said:
Great to know this. Thanks for posting.