Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division, passed away by his own hand thirty-three years ago, today. There was a time when that anniversary was not as important in the popular culture as it is now. Now, in the hands of two aging generations, Joy Division flourishes. Joy Division street art abounds around the world. The band’s aesthetic is as iconic as it is subversive. New Order continues to tour and produce new material, ending its shows in homage. The music, that music! It continues to take hold. It grabs your wrist and won’t let go.
Yes, Joy Division represented and represents disillusionment, but it also represents disenchantment. The irony is that their music has the power to enchant. For example, “Atmosphere” has a magical quality to it. It trembles and shimmers. It shivers and quakes.
To be at a New Order concert and hear almost every audience member sing along the lyrics when New Order plays “Atmosphere” is to be a part of something memorial. The song is a dirge and a salve. If there ever was a Joy Division hymn, “Atmosphere” is it. The song is a plea, an admonition, an indictment, an observation, and a return to the first plea. “Don’t walk away.”
Joy Division asks us not to leave. And we don’t. We sing the dirge and we ask that our beloveds not leave us. But they may.
Bleak theology takes up that plea. Don’t walk away. All institutions have crashed and burned. Will the institution of love crash and burn, too. Love will, indeed, tear us apart, again. Church fails. We are told that the Church does not fail, that it cannot fail. But the paradox of the Church is that it is fully human, and thus not only does it fail, but that it has forever failed. This is why it is the Church. Preaching the Church Triumphant is propaganda. The Church Triumphant is Empire. Bleak theology resists the idol of the Church. It begs the Church to not walk away in silence.
Pentecost is tomorrow. It is the remembrance of the beginning of the Church and the church. Cathedrals will burn almost as hot as the flames over the apostles’ heads. The Church will burn. What of it?