the hunger for collective joy and
the calling of a cruise ship vocalist
I was given the rhyming stage name of Gina Rendina at birth and love putting it to use to sing for my supper.
Somewhere Beyond the Sea
a theological appreciation of Gina Rendina and
the Sweet Chin Band. Their music is a ministry, after all.
As I write this Gina Rendina is somewhere on the sea, on a cruise ship, singing from within a place in her heart that comes from beyond the sea. If we wish, we can speak of this place as "God," At least so I suggest. I offer a theological interpretation of her music ministry.
So let me back up. Wherever we are in our lives, we are “always already” taking a next step in life -- moving into an open future that is influenced, but not predetermined, by the past. We are in process. We are always sailing in this sense, sometimes through rough waters and sometimes with ease. And within this process of becoming ourselves, we carry within our hearts and minds a sense of vocation, of calling. Deep down it is a calling to add whatever beauty we can to the world, given the talent we have, and, along the way, to experience some joy ourselves. The novelist Frederich Buechner puts it this way: “Our calling to is find that place where the gladness of our hearts meets the hungers to the world.”
The Hunger for Collective Joy
And what does the world hunger for? Of course we hunger for so much: sheer survival, social security, peace, freedom, prosperity, novelty, intimacy. We also hunger for moments of collective joy, of collective abandon, in community with one another. Moments of what the anthropogist Victor Turner calls communitas.
Communitas is an important dimension of what the Jewish tradition calls shalom and what the Christian tradition calls "the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven." When Jesus made new wine for the party at Canaan, he was facilitating communitas, a good in itself. Communitas is felt in any festive setting where people experience what Rabbi Bradley Artson calls "joy for its own sake." Here is how Rabbi Artson puts it:
Joy for its own sake, laughter and conviviality without pretext, meeting time's advance with unapologetic delight, raucous noise, good friends — these are nothing less than the eruption of the hidden light cracking the conventional crust of our mature good sense, our dehumanizing obsession with control, our idolatrous reliance on possession as salvation. In this most secular of celebrations lies hidden the most vital of religious purposes. The light is there to be found. (The Hidden Holiness of the Secular New Year)
The Hidden Holiness of Collective Joy
Recently my wife Kathy and I went on a cruise. Our ship sailed from New Orleans into the Gulf of Mexico for six days and then returned. We had three “days at sea” and three days when we disembarked at tourist sites in Mexico, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands. I was a little nervous about this, because there is something in my mind that does not want to be elitist at all, and the whole idea of going on a cruise seemed like a self-indulgent luxury for the middle-class. Which it is! But I also had a great time, and was very happy to discover that our fellow cruisers were by all means of mixed classes and races. We were blue-color, African American, rural, urban, young, and old. The staff was international, too. Many were from Indonesia.
One thing I enjoyed the most on the ship was the music, both the live shows and the forty-five minute sets in various venues. Among the musicians I enjoyed was Gina Rendina, whom you hear above, and the band she sang with: The Sweet Chin Band. Her enthusiasm was contagious. She brought about so many occasions of communitas on the ship by singing cover songs. Yes, there was a hidden holiness in it.
The Three Callings of a Musician
What is the calling of a musician? Of course it all depends on the musician. I know that some musicians so love the music that there calling is simply to play music, whether or not there is an audience. We might speak of this as Calling #1. And I know that some musicians believe their special calling is to “express themselves” to the world by writing their own music, such that they become known in some way. We might speak of this as Calling #2. But my impression of Gina Rendina was that, for her, the calling included something more. It was a calling to sing cover songs, already familiar to listeners, with such vitality and verve that they could experience communitas (collective joy) through listening, singing along, and dancing. We might speak of this as Calling #3.
I speak of this third calling as “something more” because, in point of fact, it has a social side, and a loving side, that transcends the mere need to enjoy music for its own sake or express yourself and be known in your individuality. I am sure that she and other musicians in the Sweet Chin band knew all three callings, They were marvelous. But I want to, in a word, "give it up" for the third calling. "Give it up" was Gina Rendina's phrase for a "shout out" to members of the band and staff as she introduced them. Yes, "give it up" for the third calling -- the calling to facilitate collective joy -- on the Carnival Dream cruise ship. And "give it up" for Gina Rendina, for responding to that calling so compellingly, so wholeheartedly, so contagiously.
Somewhere Beyond the Sea
I cannot help but think that the unfettered love at the heart of the universe – God – smiles deeply at this third calling. (See God Almighty? No Way!) From the perspective of Open Horizons (Process) Philosophy, this calling is one way that the love is indeed within us. God is not a king on a throne or a bully in the sky; God is a spirit of life within us yet beyond us, luring us to add beauty (harmony and intensity) to life itself. God needs us for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven. And some of us respond by singing Beyond the Sea, and a tremendous range of other cover songs, including Rolling in the Deep, with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.
I know that the musicians must become bored singing the same songs over and over again to crowds, some whom are half-drunk and some of whom may be rude. Especially Mustang Sally! But those who follow the third calling make the best of all of this, singing and smiling no matter what, night after night, for the love of the music, yes, and also for the love of life and the world. Now if that's not a ministry, I don't know what is.
- Jay McDaniel (editor, Open Horizons)