Synodical Handbook News Conference
Concordia Junior College - New Berlin
Professor G. P. Sault of the Pre-Textual Studies Department at Concordia Junior College - New Berlin (New Berlin, Illinois) announced a startling discovery at a hastily called press conference last Wednesday (October 25, 2006). At the sparsely attended conference, he presented evidence that suggests that the 2004 Handbook of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, presently used as a “covenant of love” to govern the diverse and stagnant church body, owes its origins to a night of drinking, music, and performance art at the Blue Note (New York City) in 1953.
To quote Professor Sault: “It is simply stunning to discover that an organization like the Missouri Synod has been using what is essentially beat poetry to try and govern itself for years. It is no wonder that they have had increasingly more difficulty in resolving disputes, achieving consensus in doctrine and practice, or even getting along with one another civilly, as they have used the Handbook - for it was never intended as anything other than a clever send-up of American corporate culture in the early 50's....”
Professor Sault began his research into the origins of the Handbook after the conclusion to the 2004 Synodical Convention of the Missouri Synod. He claims that two factors led to his curiosity. One factor was what he describes as the “absolutely opaque” verbiage used in section 1.10, "Dispute Resolution of the Synod." It is his claim that this “couldn't possibly be intended to ‘resolve’ anything, as its very structure creates a process that mitigates the effects of disputes and regularizes their existence, so that what is produced by following the letter of the Handbook is a state in which mutually exclusive positions are supposed to achieve peaceful co-existence.” So he claims to have asked himself “what kind of literature says one thing while meaning something that is completely different?”
The other factor that set his mind to inquiry was a pure accident. At the press conference he claimed that as he was listening to a vintage recording of Thelonius Monk and reading Article III of the Missouri Synod’s Constitution, "Objectives," he noticed a similarity in the rhythms of the spoken word and tempos Monk was using, “if” Professor Sault said, “you could provide missing words to make the scan work.”The words he eventually found to “make the scan work” were such stock Beat phrases and words as man, daddy-o, dig it, pow, righteous, heavy, copasetic, and a previously unknown Beat expression, weasel.When these words were supplied to the text of the Handbook at proper intervals, Professor Sault claims that what emerges from the page is not the constitution and by-laws of a corporate entity, but a “very clever” beat poem. He further asserts that by using formgeschite on the reconstructed text, one cannot escape the conclusion that one is in the presence of a poem rather than a set of guidelines for governing a voluntary organization of independent congregations.
However, at his press-conference, he was not content to simply report the initial conclusions of his research. Having recognized that discovering the actual “form” of the Handbook was only a first step in properly understanding it, Professor Sault then took the small audience through his inquiries into the Handbook’s original sitz in leben. Since listening to Thelonius Monk had been one of his first clues as to what the Handbook really was, he decided to look into the literary culture of New York in the early 50's (the period in which the Monk recording had been made). His discoveries shocked him to the core. He claims that among the beat poets, he found a culture dedicated to improvisation, “performance art,” and the clever lampooning of what they considered to be “self-important bureaucratic types.” Where else would a poem be composed that appeared to be a constitution and by-laws, but was really a recipe for self-delusion and self-destruction? Sault was convinced that he was on to something.
As he researched the various venues where the Beat poets met and regaled each other with their wit and bravado, he was led to the infamous cafe/bar/jazz club called the Blue Note. Furthermore, as he looked into the personal correspondence and memoirs of a group of Beat poets he refuses to identify, beyond calling them “the Five,” he claims to have been able to place them all at the Blue Note on the evening of April 23, 1953.While Sault promises that he will bring adequate documentation forward to substantiate his research, he currently refuses to name the central participants in this evening of genius and “tomfoolery.” Rather, Sault notes that in the personal writings of all the central figures, there are voluminous references to being “totally wasted, high, altered, ‘jazzin,’ ‘jizzin,’ screaming drunk, ‘groovin,’ ‘funkin,’and ‘tripping the light fantastic with a weasel’” on that specific night, and at that particular club. Why they were all there, and whether they intended from the beginning to create what Sault calls the “ur-Handbook,” is an issue that Sault claims is “beyond the scope of reasonable academic research.”
So, what did happen at the Blue Note on the night of April 23, 1953? Sault believes it began innocently enough with “the Five” listening to Monk and his combo as they laid down one “cool” breeze after another, pausing only long enough in their informal jam session to make sure that they maintained a good mix of “pharmaceuticals” in their systems. As they played, conversation among “the Five” apparently turned to their usual contempt for corporate America, and how the “buttoned-down mind set” would eventually take over every aspect of North American culture. One of them, unidentified by Sault, then giggled as she suggested that even Christian churches would succumb to this malady. All of “the Five” immediately fell into paroxysms of laughter at her bon mot. But it didn't end there.
In Sault’s hypothetical reconstruction of the evening, the trouble began to brew when Monk and his crew took their next break to do, “who knows what.” In that interval, one of “the Five” took the stage at the Blue Note, and began with these words:
Preamble - man
Reason for the Forming of a Synodical Union - pow, daddio
1. The example of the apostolic church. Acts 15:1-31 - cool, man, cool
2. Our Lord’s will - zee bop
that the diversities - dig it
of gifts - weasel boyo
should be - heavy righteous man
for the common - dig it, really
profit - for that is our god, man
1 Cor. 12: 4-31
Supposedly the room fell dead silent as those who heard the words tried to make sense of them. But then another one of “the Five” took the stage and continued in the same vein, and then another joined them, and so on. All of “the Five” were finally together, reciting clauses, by-laws, and creating sub-paragraphs in a frenzy akin to modern “poetry slams.” When Monk and his crew returned and saw “the Five” on the stage, he simply brought the musicians back up, let the drummer find a rhythm that complimented the poets, and began to play behind them. Apparently this went on for hours until all the principals were either too tired or too intoxicated to continue. Sault claims that in their personal papers, those who sobered up the next day, reported head-splitting hang-overs.
The question was asked of Sault, granting that his theory of the Handbook’s origin was true, “how did it become a governing document for the Missouri Synod?” Sault paused, mused for a moment, and then - in a tone that could only be described as puzzled - answered: “I don't really know - I mean - it must have been an accident - no one could have seriously thought that the ur-Handbook was a church constitution - in fact, I don't even know that there were any recordings or transcripts of the poem made that night - I haven't seen any references to that in the papers of ‘the Five’.....”
What one is left with as an explanation, according to Sault, are two possibilities. Either, by random chance, through triennial meetings and resolutions, the Missouri Synod “just happened” to organize itself so that it developed a structure that eventually mimicked the ur-Handbook perfectly; or, and Sault lowed his voice as he spoke these words, “someone who was there, who knew the poem, has been working, unseen, to guide the Missouri Synod to this juncture.”
Sault allowed one more question before ending the press conference. The question was: “so what should the Missouri Synod do?” Sault became quite grave at this point, and said, “Again, I just don't know....certainly there is more research to be done...but how on earth does an entity like the Missouri Synod wake up one day to discover it has been the subject of a rather cruel joke?”The administration at Concordia Junior College was contacted in order to find out how the press conference was received. Their only reply to our inquires was that they could find no evidence of anyone actually attending.
So the mystery deepens.
10/27/06 Staff writer - Religious News Today!