Taylor Swift, Ryan Adams and 3 Lessons in Connectionalism

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Six weeks ago, alternative-country super legend, Ryan Adams, briefly announced (via Instagram) he was working on some covers of Taylor Swift’s now legendary 1989. It took the internet by storm. Ms. Swift even responded with the level of excitement many of Adam’s fans did.

In fact, her social media support contributed significantly to the buzz surrounding this now full-length cover project. Adams let people know he was now “covering” the entire record, with a full band and full production.

Since then, he has released snippets of the music, usually from short video clips from behind the mixing board.

This past Sunday, the entire record became available on iTunes and other streaming services. Physical copies (CD and Vinyl) will be available at a later date.

It doesn’t take more than a cursory glance at her twitter feed to see how excited she was about Ryan Adams, a songwriter’s songwriter, covering her latest record.

Taylor Swift is a fan and wanted this to happen.

When I told people about this, and how excited I was (full disclosure…Swift’s 1989 record put me on the band wagon. It is and was fantastic), the usual reply was..”So why is she letting him do this”? There was conversation of confusion over rights, who will get the money and how Taylor Swift was in this just for the money. They didn’t have the framework to understand how truly extraordinary this project is.

In the United Methodist church, one of our greatest examples of the strength of a denomination network is our connection. The word is an official term to describe the cooperative network of churches, clergy, conferences and jurisdictions. We claim to not be territorial and to be collegial among pastors. We even situate our clergy into orders: elders, deacons, and local pastors and take on the language of a monastic family to describe our relationships. We find covenants as part of these, holy promises made to one another.

In theory, it is nearly the perfect experience of ministry.

Sadly, in my experience, this is sometimes just lip service. We still get nervous around one another, jealous of ministry and church success, and accuse one another of not being “Methodist” enough (or too Methodist). In short, we can act like the snobby scene kids who claim to have never heard Taylor Swift’s 1989, while in secret we all have it on our favorite playlists.

But this isn’t a rant. Just as the cooperation between Taylor Swift and Ryan Adams allowed for some beautiful new music, when we understand the importance and uniqueness of the connection, we make beautiful things as well.

Here are just a few questions I have asked myself over the last couple of days.

What if we became open to contextual interpretation in ministry style and design?

When Adams announced his attempt to cover the entire record, the best reaction was from Ms. Swift herself.

Taylor jumped on a talk show interview the day after the release to talk about the project. She stated “What struck me immediately when I listened to it is how they’re not cover songs,” Swift said. “They’re reimaginings of my songs, and you can tell that he was in a very different place emotionally when he put his spin on them than I was when I wrote them. There’s this beautiful aching sadness and longing in this album that doesn’t exist in the original.” (TIME article)

She is fine with him messing with what is arguably one of the best pop records of the decade. This is only possible when we realize people are going to contextualize and interpret many parts of our faith and tradition depending on their ministry situation.

What if we became open to “covers”?

Say you stumble into a great ministry practice that is revolutionizing your context. Many of us share practices, but what if we sat down and helped colleagues apply them? This would be even more interesting if we fostered relationships of cooperation in the same ministry contexts. How many churches are within a stones throw of one another, in theory, ministering to the same population?

Instead of becoming upset with certain clergy who might have a knack for ministry skills, imagine what our conferencing would look like if we routinely have insider training. You don’t have to pay an outside coach or consultant when you have someone from a similar context offer to “open up the hood” in front of colleagues.

What if we cheered on the folks interpreting our own ministry or even our replacements or previous in-parish colleagues?

Taylor Swift openly publicized for this record. It opened at #2 in the Billboard charts. Could it have done it without her help? Who knows; it might not have even been released. Adams is famous for plenty of private recordings, including whole album covers, and never releasing them to the public.

Instead of our own awkward hush relationship with previous and future appointments, what if we actually saw ourselves on the same team? What would it look like to not only verbally support, but openly practice a relationship of ministry among those we served with?

I am a fan of both Taylor Swift’s and Ryan Adams’ 1989 recording. They are wonderful in totally different ways. The original actually made me pay attention to Taylor Swift. I was quite the curmudgeon regarding modern pop music until then. My mind changed. Ryan Adams has been a favorite for years…and his interpretation made me feel right at home. Both are remarkably different, but interestingly the same

This past week at the New Room Conference we prayed, dreamed, worshiped and made covenant together to be radically Wesleyan. The heart of this movement is a cooperation in ministry and a shared yoke of obedience. If two songwriters, 15 years and many genres apart can do something so groundbreaking, imagine the power of people in shared ministry together exemplifying the same spirit. Connectionalism is hard, as is any part of holy work. But it is worth it. We need to strive for the level of cooperation 1989 is an example of.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks Chad. I appreciate very much your thoughts. As a long time baptist (formerly) and newly minted provisional elder, I am frequently amazed at the riches of our connection. I see and engage more clegy colleagues in a month than I did in a year in my former context. Thanks for putting words to my experience. Grateful for you and your good work!

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