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11 June, 2009

Embracing the Shadow

This was not the post I was expecting to write next for the Pagan Values Month blogging thing, but the post I will be linking to is just too beautiful to let slip away.

Both of the religions that I follow have, in places, an aesthetic of duality. There are repeated myths of the siblings or pairs, exact opposites, exact equals; their conflicts, their parallelisms, the fundamental creative tension between the self and the shadow, however one defines the self, however one defines the shadow. The thing that comes closest to expressing this in common consciousness is the yin-yang symbol: the two shapes curling around each other, each having a spot of the other at its core, the essentiality of both of them.

What does it mean to be in a world in which one's opposite is one's beloved brother, in which love and conflict build the glorious?

Hold that thought.

I will now take a turn into the ridiculous and talk about this past season of American Idol. And in the end, when this thought embraces its shadow, it will achieve the sublime.

I'm not much of a reality TV person - I'm not much of a TV person at all, let alone specific manifestations thereof - but my family wound up watching much of the end of this season of American Idol. There is a whole cultural thing tangled up around this, but our household attachment to the drama orbited around the three figures who were the final three contestants left standing. We talked about musical skill, we talked about impressions, we talked about what we liked and did not like about the voices of the performers, and we talked about the nature of the contest, the way the judges attempted to skew results to get particular performers to pass to the next week or off the show.

And we were cheered every week one Kris Allen managed to beat expectations, beat the harsh criticisms of the judges, stay on the show despite having someone we felt had an inferior voice and a far inferior attitude consistently pimped as a superior singer. Adam Lambert's progress was almost a given, so his continued victories were simply a sign that the world was functioning as it ought, but Kris Allen's progress was another story, one with actual dramatic tension, pitting him primarily against Danny Gokey, the other 'Christian contestant' and obvious judge favorite.

And the narrative in some circles was not the music, it was the package the music came in. Here's the big story: the flamboyant, theatrical gothling who was, in a phrase I saw recently, born fabulous, but whose unmistakable vocal brilliance and skills overcame whatever reticence some might have about his outrageousness; the down-to-earth Christian performer with a traditional relationship background. But which one of the latter?

In the end, it was Kris Allen.

And now I direct you to An Unapproved Road and a post titled We Get To Carry Each Other, from which I will quote (found via The Moderate Voice):

I know next to nothing about Kris Allen’s non-musical life, except that he’s married, he calls himself Christian and he’s done missionary work across the world. I heard about the exchanges among the other contestants that made reference to what is supposedly “godly” and right in relationships, but Kris’s name wasn’t part of that. I don’t know what kind of Christianity he practises, or how he envisions his God. I do know this: he declares himself Christian to the television audience – i.e. to the world; and he freely, publicly, verbally, and especially non-verbally, loves Adam Lambert like a brother.


In an interview the day after the finale, Adam departed from the usual breezy soundbytes required of him to emphasize what he felt was most important about the competition -- that the friendship and respect between himself and Kris might be an example for others in transcending difference, for the reward of becoming enriched by it.

Now do you see why I started out talking theology and then started babbling about American Idol?

(Go read that post, by the way. I mean it. It's gorgeous. Read at least some of the comments, too. Like this one.)

Look at the glorious nature of the duality. Look at the one young man, pianist and guitarist and singer-songwriter sort of voice, skilled musician, dedicated Christian; look at the other young man, whose coming out as gay in Rolling Stone isn't so much a revelation as an incidental footnote that he throws out on his way to 'Let me talk about my music.' Look at some of the narratives about the heartland vs. the coasts, culture and counterculture, down home vs. the clubbing scene, modest and self-effacing vs. charisma that can smack ya like a club, all the ways these two young men were supposed to be at each other's throats. One could imagine introducing them, telling each, "This is your Shadow. This is the Other. This is Not Like You."

And we are so readily taught that when there is that division between the two, that they are enemies, that there is hostility: this is the story of heaven and hell. This is not that; that is not this; they are locked in an eternal combat, jaws locked on each other's throats. This is everywhere, in politics (an us-and-them display if ever there was one, these days), in social things, all over the place, this antagonism between Self and Shadow.

But Self and Shadow are reflections off the same divide; that which is other to me is my negative space, the shape of the world that embraces. It can conflict, yes, but it can also twine and reveal the most amazing things, things like the friendship of two young musicians who recognised across that line that their exact differences made them, in the end, exactly alike.

In the tension between Self and Shadow, the world sings.


Erin C. said...

That very obvious friendship between Adam and Kris was so lovely and so touching to see, for all the reasons you state.

Hope said...

Lovely Post, and that link is amazing. It's always nice to find insight in unlikely places.

I was essentially raised Pagan, and I've been (still am) looking forward to what you've got to say in these Pagan Values posts.