“It’s good to have a Protestant neighbour again”, the archdeacon smiled. Perhaps it’s not about being Protestant; perhaps it’s about being non-conformist, asserting a sense of individual liberty, not caving into convention.
Randomness was frowned upon at college. There was a prescribed way of leading worship. Those doing the prescribing had little experience of actual parishes. The wearing of the black cassock at church services was, we were told, to eliminate individuality. In Dublin, when I suggested that students training with me for ordination put expression into leading worship and maybe explain the odd thing, I was told by someone who claimed to know about about such things that I was “over-determining the liturgy”. What did that mean? Don’t ask me.
We have not gone much beyond the thinking that undergirded the Latin Mass, the defence for which was that it was the same everywhere. We do the predictable, and we do the dull. In a post-modern culture, where the random is the ordinary, we still think guitars and drums are being contemporary, and we think that we will survive by staying in the 1950s.
Thoughts about our dullness came to mind sitting in Langton’s in Kilkenny this evening to watch Duke Special in concert.
Duke Special’s music defies categorisation. Two sets were played: The Silent World of Hector Mann – twelve songs inspired by the twelve films made by the silent movie actor, and Mother Courage and Her Children, songs written to words by Bertolt Brecht, with an encore of a couple of familiar songs
Our daughter delights in things she describes as “random”; things out of the ordinary, things that maybe express individuality and creativity. Why does Duke Special do half the stuff he does? Why did he wind up a gramophone and come to sit in the auditorium to listen? Why did he run upstairs to lead the singing of a song during the encore?
Perhaps it’s about identity; about leaving a mark; about being unafraid of the imagination. He is unpredictable, undefinable, unashamedly fun.
In ecclesiastical terms, Duke Special would be a Protestant. He does not conform; he trusts his own instincts; he is unconstrained by convention.
The bland liberal conventionality that pervades much of church life is stifling; it is not engaging people and cannot cope with a world filled with randomness.
If there is a church version of Duke Special, he is needed. Continue as we are and we will become as forgotten as poor Hector Mann.