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Posted in: Christianity,General,Musical Performance by Tom Beaudoin on May 23, 2013
Last Sunday, I went to the gathering on “Creativity and Trust: A Performance and Conversation on the Art of Improvisation,” at Trinity Rivertowns Church in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, just north of New York City. It featured well-known and revered jazz musicians John Patitucci (bass), Jay Azzolina (guitar), Rogerio Boccato (percussion), and John Ellis (saxophone). It was hosted and moderated by the Rev. Jim Kirk.
Patitucci, Azzolina, Boccato and Ellis played through several different ways of improvising: they began by playing and riffing on John Coltrane, they improvised with the aid of the audience by putting into music an emotion that was written down by an audience member (“excitement”), they improvised on the sounds of the audience singing spontaneous tones together, and more. Here is the group in action (left to right: Ellis, Azzolina, Patitucci, Boccato):
John Patitucci made some comments between songs about improvisation, and hinted at its spiritual resonances and significance. After playing, the (more…)
On Saturday, Dion DiMucci — the famous early rock and roll musician forever identified with his hit song “The Wanderer” — was at Fordham’s 168th commencement ceremony, where he received an honorary doctorate. The crowd was reminded that the Bronx-born, now-Doctor Dion recently wrote a book, Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth (Servant Books, 2011), describing his return to Catholicism.
I took this picture of Dion as he listened to his accomplishments being recited:
… and I took this picture as Dion received the hood for his honorary degree from Fordham’s president, Fr. Joseph McShane, SJ.
I have not yet read Dion’s book but would be interested to learn more about the journey of his relationship to Catholicism. I think “The Wanderer” is a remarkable image for the searching quality of the spiritual seeker. In 2011, I wrote this “Dion and His Church” entry at R&T.
Tommy Beaudoin, Yonkers, New York
Posted in: Agnosticism,Christianity,General by Tom Beaudoin on May 12, 2013
After almost four and a half of years of the Rock and Theology blog, and more importantly, several decades of substantial research in popular culture and religion, we should no longer be surprised that much of popular music trafficks in symbols, images, feelings, references, and gestures that are taken to be religious or spiritual. This music, after all, emerged from a conflictual mid-twentieth century scene when rock and roll came into being, in which music and musicians firmly planted in church life were situated in the same emerging genre, and often in the same recording studio or on the same stage or radio station, as “profane” music and musicians who were on the margins of, or on their way out of, churches. The musical struggle with what divine things have to do with earthly things has been there all along for rock and roll and its many descendants.
I thought of this recently as I listened to the Sevendust song “Prayer” from their self-titled album released in 1997. Here is the song in studio version:
As I hear the song, I hear in it a conflict about prayer. The narrator recalls an earlier prayer experience, now seen more skeptically. “Who do you pray to?” he wonders – or indicts. Underneath the song, I hear the contemporary struggle to make sense of divine presence and action in the world, and whether prayer can be reconciled with the sensibilities of an age in which increasing numbers of people are reluctant to try to say much with confidence about God. This reticence can be cheap or hard-earned, of course, but then again a lack of reticence can be cheap or hard-earned as well –and at any rate I think the deep and widespread questioning of God and prayer are very important for theological work today, because they can press (more…)
Posted in: Christianity,General,Practices,Theological Production by Tom Beaudoin on May 11, 2013
For those in the New York City area: Next Sunday 19 May, Trinity Rivertowns Church (mentioned earlier at R&T here) is hosting a forum called “Creativity and Trust: A Performance and Conversation on the Art of Improvisation.” The event, in Hastings-on-Hudson, will be moderated by Rev. Jim Kirk and will feature extraordinary musicians, likely well-known to many R&T readers, including John Patitucci on bass, Jay Azzolina on guitar, John Ellis on saxophone, and Rogerio Boccato on percussion. Here is the flyer:
The intriguing quotation on the flyer from jazz legend Wayne Shorter, “You can’t rehearse the unknown,” put me in mind of some remarks I made in a 2009 paper presented at the Catholic Theological Society of America’s Annual Convention. In that paper, titled “Give It Up / for Jesus,” I was reaching for ways to talk about the confluence of rock and roll and theological work as practices that are spiritually significant. Taking a seemingly different tack from Shorter, I suggested that in fact “You can rehearse the unknown,” and that both theological work and musical experience can help you to do (more…)
In the USA, the love of money is all around us: in pictures of the good life, the fulfilled or successful person. Wealth is so identified with power that well-placed suggestions to the contrary can provoke anger, disbelief, or disdain. Many religions make a criticism of greed or the lure of wealth central to the liberation of the human individual and community. In the Christian scripture, it is said that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), and the gospel of Matthew in chapter 25 tells a story (as I would put it) about how one’s attitude toward the disposition of resources (food, clothing, time, “money,” etc) structures one’s ability to consent to ultimate reality. There may be no more urgent theological common ground today than the generation of alternative loves to the love of money, whether that be love of divinity, of self, of others, of nature, of creativity, or more. The rock and roll tradition offers many celebrations of the love of money, but just as many criticisms of it. Music and religion can both be tutors in handing over this perilous kind of love and learning other kinds. Here are the Bullet Boys and “For the Love of Money.”
Tommy Beaudoin, Yonkers, New York
Posted in: Buddhism,Christianity,General,Theological Production by Tom Beaudoin on April 20, 2013
When I wrote Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X in 1998, one of the reviews (thankfully not this classic two-word review) pointed out that I had given theological commentary on the music of the band Nirvana but had never attempted to explore the meaning of the band’s name itself. That was quite right, and that observation, among many other experiences, eventually gave me the impetus to try to enter into “different” and “other” religious experiences, texts, traditions, such that I would describe my theological work on popular culture and on other topics as increasingly a philosophy of religious/spiritual practice that is interreligiously and intersecularly informed.
But the journey out of reliance on a “single” religious tradition, learning to see the world multilingually/multireligiously, can be a complicated one. That is why I was interested to read recently about the “Esplanade of Religions” in France. What might it be like if religious/spiritual/theological sense-making of music were to be incubated in such an esplanade — whatever form that might take in different cultural contexts? I think that is the direction that further research in music and religion will — and must — go.
Back to Nirvana. I confess that I wasn’t thinking too much of Buddhism when I studied Nirvana in the 1990s, especially because of videos like this:
Tommy Beaudoin, New York City
Posted in: Agnosticism,Christianity,Eschatology,General,Lyrics by Tom Beaudoin on April 2, 2013
This post is part 2 to the part 1 recently posted on Lacuna Coil’s “My Spirit.”
This song is striking in being written from the vantage of the dead person. It is a bold move. In religious traditions, it is rare to take the vantage of the deceased when rendering an account of beyond-death. Lacuna Coil’s “My Spirit” communicates something significant about death: a sense of encompassing indifference, and of a profound relativization of life (“the fate, the hate, it’s all the same”) and of whatever comes next (“the gates of hell are waiting, let them wait a little more”). There is a certain insouciance, the song seems to say, in death.
What I like about this song theologically is its delicately agnostic/majestic and perhaps even mystical refrain, which can create a space for a wonder about the difference between life and death, but does not alight on any single interpretation about what lies beyond death. This is effected through the remarkable phraseology that both indicates a direction and outlines a suspension: “Where, where I go….” These seem to me to be the key words in this song’s theology of post-death.
The compelling melody of the verse is, in a way, the whole message: “Where, where I go / My spirit is free, I’m coming home”. The home is not specified, neither is the endpoint of this freedom. “Where, where I go…” This event language is barely even that. But it is also a way of saying, as Cristina Scabbia essentially said in her introductory remarks: it is not as if nothing survives. “My spirit” is the incomprehensible language fitting to this experience of post-death.
And then, after these words, the lyrics shift to address those not yet dead, giving the admonition: “Remember me, but let me go.” In other words, do not think that you comprehend what happens next!
“Let me go” means not only “release me,” but surrender what you think “me” means. Dispossess yourself of “me” — into …. “go.”
And then there Scabbia’s beckoning background vocal, “You will become who you are.” Is it a gloss on the post-death testimony? Is it the blessing of (more…)
Posted in: Christianity,General,Is This The New Face of Religion? by Tom Beaudoin on March 31, 2013
I want to bring to the attention of R&T readers a timely and creative program being hosted by St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas. I learned about it from the presentation by Rev. Merrill Wade, of St. Matthew’s, at the South By Southwest music festival a few weeks ago, on the panel on which we both spoke (along with three other colleagues). (A brief report on the panel is here; the session info is here.)
I am pasting in below a press release for St. Matthew’s “Soul of a Musician Series”. If you are interested in the overlap between religion/faith/spirituality/etc and music/pop/rock/hip hop/secular tunes/etc, please give it a read.
What I appreciate about this innovative program are two basic elements: first, that it recalls the medieval role of the Christian church in actively welcoming artists, of varying religious affections or affiliations, to enhance the beauty of church life; and second, that this program also makes a point of not trying to “convert” anyone to anything — at least in conventional religious terms. The program trusts in the process of musical/spiritual cohabitation.
It would be interesting to see what sorts of changes of mind/heart/practice actually do occur as a result of these events, and to theologize further based on such investigation. Perhaps we might ask Rev. Wade or someone else from St. Matthew’s for a brief report afterward?
I hope the series is off to a strong start, and that other religious organizations might consider something similar, or send us their reports of their own attempts at bringing these two worlds into mutually enlivening interaction. The press release is below:
For Immediate Release: March 7, 2013
Posted in: Agnosticism,Christianity,General,Politics by Michael Iafrate on March 30, 2013
“I can’t help but notice that some of those people handing out free food to the hungry down the road there are not necessarily motivated by socialism. They’re motivated by their faith and I have to respect that. I have to respect that. And I don’t think it’s good for people to tell them that they’re stupid and ignorant because they do that. I’m afraid I think that kind of fundamentalism has no place in the modern debate.” (Billy Bragg)
The quote comes from onstage remarks before his performance of “Do Unto Others” at SXSW on March 14, 2013:
And here is the studio version of “Do Unto Others” from Bragg’s new record Tooth & Nail:
Posted in: Christianity,General,Post-Catholicism,Practices,Theological Production by Tom Beaudoin on March 26, 2013
A new book on “ordinary theology” has just been published, for which I co-authored a chapter with my Fordham colleague Dr. Patrick Hornbeck. The book is titled Exploring Ordinary Theology and is edited by Jeff Astley and Leslie J. Francis (Ashgate, 2013). “Ordinary theology” is a term that Rev. Dr. Astley popularized several years ago in a thoughtful and wide-ranging argument, in his book Ordinary Theology, for the existence of a theology operative in ordinary life that is both different from, and startlingly analogous to, the theology done in the academy. “Ordinary theology” is the faith that becomes evident through how people actually live, how they deal with their lives, what they take as most important, influential or personally significant.
I think this concept is very important, and is part of a family of concepts that look to “ordinary” lived experience to find the place that theological material matters in people’s lives… concepts like “lo cotidiano” and “popular religion” in Hispanic/Latino/a theologies, like “lived religion” in practical and historical theologies and sociology of religion. In theology from the UK, the study of “implicit religion” has been going on for decades, as well, and in the Philippines, Indonesia, Africa and other two-thirds world theological scenes, sometimes the theological literature on “inculturation” affords a deep appreciation of the theological significance of lived experience and everyday life. (In my reading, one ambiguity in the concept is how much of an explicit relationship to a founding theological figure, like Jesus (Astley’s work falls mainly within Christian theology), must be evident in order for one to have an ordinary theology, as distinct from, say, an ordinary spirituality, ethics, religion, etc — whatever those terms might mean.)
In Exploring Ordinary Theology, there are a variety of chapters that deal with different dimensions of theology seen in and through and from ordinary life. There are qualitative-theological case studies, explorations of theological themes from ordinary life, and more theoretical analyses of ordinariness in theology. The chapter that Dr. Hornbeck and I wrote is titled “Deconversion and Ordinary Theology: A Catholic Study,” and states our (more…)Next Page »