Recording technology has changed music in a variety of ways.  One of the most intriguing innovations that has emerged from recorded music is the “fade out.”  We have all heard this technique used: the singer repeats the chorus for the final time and instead of stopping at a clear endpoint, the song gradually fades into silence.  This would not have been possible before the advent of recording technology.  The fade out saves the songwriter the trouble of having to come up with an ending and makes it much easier for songs to be strung together on the radio.  Some of the great popular musicians of the recorded music era have employed this technique; I’m always surprised when I listen to a Beatles album that includes a song with a distinct ending.  By precluding musical conclusions, the fade out permits songs to remain unfinished and theoretically to go on forever.

Every once and a while, however, singers sing live, which forces them to come up with endings to unfinished songs.  This is unfailingly unsettling.  When a singer concludes with an actual cadence a song that normally fades out, it is enormously distracting.  The song isn’t supposed to have an ending; we’re supposed to imagine that it could go on forever.  These songs that fade out are meant to be unfinished, they are not intended to have a hard and fast conclusion.

urlA few years ago, the United Church of Christ launched a marketing campaign called “God is still speaking.”  The idea behind the campaign is that we should be open to the continuing revelation of God; though God disclosed God’s self in the person of Jesus Christ, our understanding what that manifestation truly means continues to develop.  The campaign enjoined Christians not to put a period where God had put a comma.  Though some people have argued that the UCC’s motto is unscriptural, there is actually a warrant for it in the gospel of John.  When Jesus speaks to his disciples before his betrayal, he discusses what the coming of the Holy Spirit will mean for the Christian community:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13).

This is a perplexing passage, especially given the fact that in John’s gospel, Jesus constantly tells his disciples things that they can neither bear nor understand.  Nevertheless, this brief passage seems to indicate that Jesus understood that there is more for us to know as Christians, that we need to be attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit through the Church.  We see an example of this in the Acts of the Apostles, when the Church gathers together to determine whether the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Christian community is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

As a Christian community, we are faced with a variety of controversial questions.  Should gay and lesbian people be fully included in the life of the Church?  Should we make the Holy Eucharist available to those who have not been baptized?  What should the Church’s stance on gun control be? On all of these issues, we cannot allow ourselves to be entrenched in ideological fortresses.  We must be open to conversation and willing to see multiple perspectives.  Above all, we must be attentive to the Holy Spirit and receptive to the God whose work of revelation remains unfinished.

4 thoughts on “Unfinished

  1. I wonder, though, about the lenses used to examine the issues and the parameters for discernment. What concerns me is that those framing the discussions are doing so from politically entrenched positions that are tunnel-visioned and breathtakingly illogical and blind at times. The Holy Spirit moves in the ways they say She moves and, in reality, these folks have created their own niches and are feathering their own nests.

    I don’t believe that all church teachings, beliefs and traditions are up for grabs and I don’t believe it’s all unchangeable, either. The word “prophetic” has become trite and the stuff of cliche but gag me if one more stalwart is called “godly,” too.

    How do we get beyond the special interest politics, the entrenched warfare, the secular lobbying, and just plain silliness to a more authentic, honest and apolitical/culturally neutral place to discern?

    1. I think you’ve highlighted the biggest challenge to communal discernment. When we are focused entirely on our own way of looking at the world, we tend to look at everything, whether it’s Scripture or church tradition, within the context of our very narrow and inwardly oriented lens. I think the first step toward being receptive to the Holy Spirit is for all of us to think of the community first. When we turn the focus away from ourselves, we begin to hear and see things in new ways.

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