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C.S. Morrissey – Global Theatre

Pope dispels confusion with emphasis on joy

Voices April 9, 2018

The video for the new Lake Street Dive song I Can Change serves to contrast superficial outward change with profound inner change, writes C.S. Morrissey. (Image credit: Lake Street Dive/YouTube)

“Hate casts a long shadow: I know that I lie in it, and let it rule my mind from time to time,” sings Lake Street Dive vocalist Rachael Price on the single previewing their new album, Free Yourself Up.

The song is called I Can Change, and because it expresses a firm resolve not to be affected by the negative forces around us, I immediately thought of its uplifting tone as I read the new Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”).

Price has such a wonderful voice, and she uses it to convey a wide range of emotion. In this song, for example, she effectively communicates her joyous anticipation of how she will change her life for the better.

But in addition to this fervent hope, there is also an air of sadness to the song. Her newfound hope occurs in the midst of the challenging situations in which she finds herself.

This tension, between a present sadness and a hopeful anticipation, is symbolized in the video for the song, which shows Price undergoing a series of wardrobe changes at the hands of a team of stylists.

While this is obviously a clever visual pun on the song’s title and chorus (“I can change”), it is also an expression of a deeper irony. It serves to contrast superficial outward change (which is all that a video can show us) with profound inner change (which is what the lyrics address in detail).

Pope Francis also contrasts true joy with its superficial alternatives

In his new document, Pope Francis also contrasts true joy with its superficial alternatives. He says Christian joy springs from having experienced true love: “This is not the joy held out by today’s individualistic and consumerist culture,” he notes.

“Consumerism only bloats the heart,” writes the Pope. “It can offer occasional and passing pleasures, but not joy. Here I am speaking of a joy lived in communion, which shares and is shared.”

The Pope also observes: “Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humour,” and sometimes “sadness can be a sign of ingratitude.” Thus, it is somehow fitting that the thick air of wistfulness in the song I Can Change is pierced by the sharp humour of the video’s visual pun.

In other words, the good humour fits because it naturally accompanies the gratitude appropriate to any newfound joy. Yet some people may find the message of the song to be confusing when combined with the video.

Not only that, the song itself enacts a subtle feeling of dissatisfaction, because while it has pensive verses and a stirring chorus, it lacks a bridge. Nonetheless, this could also be a deliberate and ironic contrast, signifying that the listener must author his or her own bridge, as appropriate to their life situation.

In other words, although the song and video combination may be confusing, because it doesn’t offer a tidy package, it attends to a deeper craft, one that uses techniques like wit and irony, to stimulate deeper reflection and engagement.

Many people today like to complain about Pope Francis being confusing

Similarly, many people today like to complain about Pope Francis being confusing. And yet he addresses many of their concerns in his new document:

“A dangerous confusion can arise. We can think that because we know something, or are able to explain it in certain terms, we are already saints, perfect and better than the ‘ignorant masses,’” he writes.

“In point of fact, what we think we know should always motivate us to respond more fully to God’s love,” advises the Pope.

Francis laments those who “insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts, the worship of the human will and their own abilities. The result is a self-centred and elitist complacency, bereft of true love.”

The Pope gives many examples of this, and then comments: “Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs, or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure, and savour.”

He asks us to open ourselves up to Christian joy, despite the fact we are reluctant to change: “Complacency is seductive; it tells us that there is no point in trying to change things, that there is nothing we can do, because this is the way things have always been and yet we always manage to survive.”

So, will we choose spiritual complacency, or the joyful path of self-transformation? Perhaps, along with Rachael Price, we will find ourselves singing out as we cross our own bridge forward: “I can change.”