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Posted in: Christianity,General,Post-Catholicism,Theological Production by Tom Beaudoin on June 11, 2013
How have your own views shifted over time in how you relate music and theology/religion/spirituality/faith? I was reminded of a shift in my own understandings recently when a friend told me that he had just read my first book, Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X (Simon and Schuster/Jossey-Bass, 1998). “That was my 27-year old self,” I said, probably playing a little anticipatory defense.
As he pointed out to me, at the time I understood the relationship between music and theology to be a question of mission. I thought my work was to interpret music to the church in a way that would facilitate the church reaching out to young adults. So in that book I tried to show how an “emerging spiritual quest” evident through pop culture was important for the church to take seriously, but was also finally congruent with a Catholic understanding of sacramental experience. I also “challenged” Christians of my generation to take church community more seriously as a necessary part of their spiritual quest. Theologically, I thought that when I was talking about sacramental experience, I was talking about reality as such.
Through different experiences leading to changes of mind and heart in the following decade, one way to describe how I have changed is from seeing the substance of the interaction between music and theology no longer as mission but as dialogue. These are loaded terms in contemporary Christian theology, and a blog post can only handle them lightly. A difference between mission and dialogue, in emphasis if not essence, is that dialogue sees (more…)
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…)
Posted in: General,Post-Catholicism by Tom Beaudoin on January 19, 2013
When I was in college, in 1989, my roommate would often put Soundgarden on the turntable and an untamed horizon would dawn. (I remember in particular the song “Hands All Over.”) He was the guy who introduced me to SubPop, whose literature was strewn around our apartment. (He could hardly believe that I was “still listening to Rush.”) But from a second floor apartment on Warwick Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri, was where I learned to savor Soundgarden. I loved them right through their 1995 album SuperUnknown, which was a significant influence on my first book Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X (Jossey-Bass/Simon and Schuster, 1998). In that book, I included many references to their song “Black Hole Sun” (how I wish we had YouTube back then!) which I took to be symbolically important in revealing some key spiritual sensibilities of my generation.
On Tuesday night, I’m going to see the recently-reunited Soundgarden at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. I’ve been getting into their new album King Animal, which picks up where the band left off in the heavy rock/grunge world of the 1990s when they broke up.
So, given my own interests, I’m also thinking about Soundgarden and theology. Here is an interview from a few years ago with lead singer Chris Cornell about some religious matters. Apparently — surprise, surprise! — he went to a Catholic school as a boy. (Their lyrics feature many references to Catholic/Christian imagery, including — listen to that voice! –Jesus Christ Pose.)
Here is Cornell’s interview:
Like many people in the rock and roll world, Cornell wants to now remain a “free spirit” or a free agent. This will be criticized by many academic theologians who think that he has not adequately pictured his own relationship to traditions that constrain and specify his choices and even his language. There is some truth to that. But we don’t need to make Chris Cornell into a creature of academic theology in order to take seriously the journey he has taken into a spiritually aware habitation, one that lets him (more…)
Posted in: Agnosticism,Atheism,Buddhism,Christianity,Fandom,General,Hinduism,Islam,Judaism,Post-Catholicism by Tom Beaudoin on January 1, 2013
There was a fairly long moment (as pop culture moments go) in the mid-1990s that — across a good number of musical-cultural differences — Alanis Morissette was “cool.” I learned about her music through hearing her song “You Oughta Know” everywhere, seeing the video on MTV multiple times,
and purchasing her Jagged Little Pill CD at a CD store near The Tasty in Harvard Square (Cambridge, MA) and playing it constantly. I thought that every song on that record was a beautifully crafted work of pop revelation. As I listened to her interviews, I sometimes disagreed with the way that I thought she melted “new age” psychology into religion, but I also respected and was intrigued by the earnest and searching quality of her attempts to put the pieces of her life, faith, belief together… and to risk that searching in public.
By the late 1990s, the zeitgeist had moved on to other artists, but like hundreds of thousands of other fans, I continued to follow her music and, when I could, her life and interviews. I frequently found songs that invited me into reflective states occasioned by a reflective, regretful, celebratory, or uncertain lyric. Not all her music of the 2000s caught my attention; I wished she had kept the rock aesthetic and bombast that drove “You Oughta Know” and what I considered some of her other strong songs, like “21 Things I Want in a Lover,” “Uninvited,” or “Baba.”
I have noticed that Morissette describes herself Holy mother of God!! Have you seen her perform “Baba” live? Check out this performance from a decade ago that opens with scenes of her backstage with her band:
Morissette has described herself as “post-Catholic.” She has talked about her transformative travels to India. She speaks openly about the Dalai Lama, and acknowledges her interest in Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions, as well as the debt she owes to her Catholic upbringing for how she is moved by the excellences of ritual. She speaks frequently about therapy and healing (more…)
Posted in: Christianity,General,Post-Catholicism by Tom Beaudoin on July 25, 2012
Here is a familiar prayer for Roman Catholics:
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
Jack White and The Dead Weather revised that prayer, which takes up the entire lyrical content of their song, “Old Mary” (from the 2010 album Sea of Cowards). Here is the Weather performing it live:
The revised “prayer,” as best I can hear it, is:
“Old Mary, full of grace (grease?), your heart stops within you. Scary are the fruits of your tomb and harsh are the terms of your sentence. Old Mary, sister of mine, mother to the world, carry this burden now until the moment of your last breath.” The mantra becomes “Now until the moment of your last breath.”
White’s Catholic upbringing is somewhat well-known, especially through his “Catholic Throwdown” with Stephen Colbert a while back. From White’s recent interview with comedian Marc Maron on the WTF podcast, it seems that White is now more or less post-Catholic.
I had all this in mind as I listened to this song and tried to do that simple but impossible rockish exercise: figure out “what the lyrics mean.” There seems to be a reworking of Catholicism going on. I thought of many things as I listened to it: A (veiled)
Posted in: Christianity,General,Interviews,Post-Catholicism by Tom Beaudoin on June 6, 2012
I am not really familiar with the rock band The Hold Steady, although I have read theological analyses of their work (like Sean Dempsey’s “Hipster Orthodoxy”), and R&T’s own Dave Nantais cites them as an example of the Catholic imagination at work in his eminently readable and thoughtful Rock-A My Soul (Liturgical Press, 2011). I did, however, enjoy listening to the interview with The Hold Steady’s singer and guitarist Craig Finn on a recent episode of WTF, the podcast hosted by comedian Marc Maron. (Earlier at R&T, I wrote about the WTF podcast here.) In this interview, Finn talks with Maron about his musical influences, Catholicism, divorce, rock and roll “for adults,” and more. You can get the podcast through iTunes (and/or through the WTF app).
Here is an excerpt from Finn talking with Maron in the podcast:
And here is Finn with The Hold Steady, “Stuck Between Stations”:
I especially appreciated their (too brief!) discussion about the challenges (and satisfactions) of making rock and roll speak to adulthood. Finn commends The National as another example of a band that is trying to write intelligent rock and roll that speaks to grown-up concerns. (I resist writing it like that, but can’t think of a less boring-sounding, more true way to say it.)
Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York
Posted in: Christianity,General,Interviews,Post-Catholicism by Tom Beaudoin on May 15, 2012
We will no doubt return to weightier topics shortly, but for the moment, there is this: I recently ran across this clip from a 1994 interview in Australia with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Does anyone know why Page is wearing a “Recovering Catholic” shirt?
(“Recovering Catholic” is a term in the Catholic world for someone who had a negative experience being Catholic and describes themselves as trying to recover from it, used most often (if the vernacular I’ve heard over the years is any indication) by people who have moved on from Catholicism.)
Perhaps it’s a meaningless gesture; more committed Zeppelin fans may know.
By the way, this interview has pride of place in Zeppelin arcana because toward the end of the interview (just past the eleven-minute mark), someone from the crowd yells out to ask what the “symbols” mean. This is presumably a question about the meaning of the famous and famously cryptic “ZOSO” symbols on the Led Zeppelin IV album. (In fact, the fellow who barked the query wrote about it here.)
In the interview, some confusion about the question ensues, as Page displays his “Recovering Catholic”
Posted in: Christianity,General,Post-Catholicism,Reviews,Theological Production by Jeffrey Keuss on January 20, 2012
Springsteen fans were greeted this week with something akin to Gabriel speaking to Zechariah announcing the birth of John the Baptist: a new album will be released on March 6th entitled “Wrecking Ball”, a new tour is set with dates in Europe and the US coming out soon, and to add icing to the cake, a new single available for streaming to wet our appetite entitled “We Take Care Of Our Own” (more on that in a bit).
Like Zechariah, there are many fans who are probably having doubts about this next outing from the Boss given that the last two offerings of new material – 2009′s Working on a Dream and 2007′s Magic – were lackluster at best. Perhaps in an attempt at penance, Springsteen released 2010′s The Promise which offered B-sides, rarities and outtakes from his masterful 1978 Darkness at the Edge of Town to remind people (and perhaps himself) of his genius and (to riff on one of his Born in the USA barn-burners) “glory days.”
Now that Springsteen has throw out this new single, fanboys will be drumming their fingers and wringing their collective hands in anticipation of the full CD to drop in March in order to assess where the patron saint of the true Jersey Shore will take us. Like other baby boomer rockers in their 60′s the question remains: what does Springsteen have to offer the 21st century? Is there anything left in the old war horse of the prophetic imagination or is only trading in on the past and becoming a travelling parody act?
Part of what animates my anticipation is the simple fact that this is Bruce Springsteen we are talking about. What makes Springsteen such an interesting figure in American popular music is his ability to draw on the Everyman experience and make it an anthem for the masses—a rock and roll version of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Bono gave the induction speech and put it this way regarding Springsteen’s appeal:
Posted in: Christianity,General,Post-Catholicism by Tom Beaudoin on September 29, 2011
For interested readers, I have a new chapter in a book published last week. The book is Religion, Media and Culture: A Reader, edited by Gordon Lynch, Jolyon Mitchell, and Anna Strhan (Routledge, 2011), a collection of research drawn from a series of seminars at Oxford University on the state of the questions and the edges of new research for those who work at the intersection of religion/theology/spirituality and media/popular culture.
The book is divided into studies of “Religion, Spirituality and Consumer Culture,” “Media and the Transformation of Religion,” “The Sacred Senses,” and “Religion and the Ethics of Media and Culture.”
My chapter contributes to that concluding section, and builds on my earlier attempts to think through the theology and the ethics of the practice of religion research, to test critically how research might be rendered a spiritual exercise, such as a chapter on the theological study of teenagers in my book Witness to Dispossession: The Vocation of a Postmodern Theologian (Orbis, 2008), and a chapter on the ethics of theological interpretation of popular culture in Between Sacred and Profane: Researching Religion and Popular Culture (ed. Gordon Lynch, IB Tauris, 2007).
My chapter in the new book, Religion, Media and Culture is titled “Everyday Faith in and Beyond Scandalized Religion.” I argue that when theologians account for their relationship to the histories of violence in their communities and traditions, such as (for me) the history of abuse of children and teenagers in the Roman Catholic tradition in which I was raised and theologically trained, then the question of how one integrates a responsiveness to that violence into one’s work is essential if theology is not to become a decadent exercise.
This ethic specifies a particular register for theologizing: I argue that “theologians can highlight Christianity’s inventive power for both making and domesticating persons out of cultural materials. The theologian may focus on how Christianity orchestrates identities in an historical way, in its capacities for both courage and decadence opening space for our awareness of new habitations.” This entails, I suggest, “treating Christianity not as pure discourse directly representing untainted revelation, but an ever-new site for historically mongrel, but always contested, forms of experience, an assemblage of cultural materials out of which come innumerable pathways offering to be taken up as ‘traditions’ of Christianity, depending on the needs of the present of the rhetors for whom the appeal to a tradition is necessitated.”
I am grateful to the R&T community for helping me keep the significance and complexity of these questions in the forefront of my thinking for the last several years.
Tommy Beaudoin, New York City
Posted in: Christianity,General,Musical Performance,Post-Catholicism by Tom Beaudoin on July 5, 2011
It is good for recognized religious insiders to perform material from their own religious tradition; this is what happens at most places of worship around the world every day. It is also good for those not recognizably associated with a religious identity to perform material from a religious tradition; this too happens, often with greater anonymity, but with increasingly regularity, in the (post)modern age of the global religious bazaar.
Here is something closer to the latter: Natalie Merchant, formerly of the band 10,000 Maniacs and for the last twenty years her own successful solo act, setting to music and voice a poem from Gerard Manley Hopkins, titled “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child.” Go to 16 minutes 23 seconds into the video below to find it. This elegant arrangement is from her latest album, “Leave Your Sleep.”
Although I cannot tell clearly from interviews that she has given, like this, in which she discusses growing up Catholic, it seems that Natalie Merchant has apparently left Catholicism behind, while retaining a deep religious sense, including an expressed interest in composing liturgical music.
Might this uncannily gifted post-Catholic (or however — and I would be interested to know — she might identify herself) please consider writing a Mass?
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