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In part 1 and part 2, I wrote about the changing character of my theology of scripture, specifically scripture as comprehended in reading. It remains to ask what the parallels might be between listening to music and reading scripture.

Reading scripture is usually for the purpose of trying to receive something from or through it. It is impossible to finally adjudicate what counts as a religious or spiritual or theological intention toward the text “going in,” and the same is true with what is taken away “going out.” There are too many possible readings and readers, too many angles on what counts as the theological material of the context, the intention, the experience, or the reception. This is not the same as saying that every possible act of dealing with scripture is the same as any other, or that theology contributes nothing to the figuring and the comprehension of such acts.

What reading scripture and hearing music have in common is that they are situated experiences: ancient, yes, in their pedigree, but also shaped by style — such as musical genre or religious tradition, racial-ethnic identification, sexual self-cosmology. What they further have in common — theologically — is the multivectored forms of sense-making that can be attributed to them: (more…)

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What is the relationship between reading and hearing? How about the relationship between reading theologically ‘overcharged’ texts, like scripture, and hearing theologically ‘undercharged’ music, like popular music? In other words, how is theological material extracted from reading and hearing, by readers and hearers?

I was thinking about this recently as I reflected on some shifts in my own thinking about reading scripture. For my book Consuming Faith: Integrating Who We Are With What We Buy (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), I had written an appendix for the first printing about reading scripture, because by the time I had written the book, I realized how much I was relying on interpretations of scripture to carry the argument, and that was already becoming a place of puzzlement for me. By the time of the paperback, I had written a new preface revising my take not only on the appendix but what was in the book, as well. In one sense, these were my ongoing reconsiderations about reading scripture. I wonder what lessons they give, if any, about hearing music.

It may take me a few posts to being to open this up. Here is the “Appendix: On Reading Scripture” from Consuming Faith:

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Appendix: On Reading Scripture

The one precondition for reading the Bible fruitfully is knowing how to read it.

I long ago gave up the idea that the Bible has one answer for anything. I confess to nausea at any mention of “a biblical worldview,” which has for many years now seemed to me like something between intellectual dishonesty and spiritual manipulation.

The Bible is a motley assortment of stories, poems, myths, hymns, letters, histories, and aphorisms that submit to no single controlling principle. Despite all attempts to smooth over the tensions, discrepancies, and contradictions in it, the heterogeneity of the Bible defies all attempts to reduce it to one program, theology, perspective, or worldview. Even calling it “the Bible” (literally, “the book”) can be the beginning of idolatry. (I much prefer (more…)

Last night in my class at Fordham on “Pastoral Planning,” a class about planning and evaluation practices for religious communities, we read and discussed Mark Lau Branson’s book Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change (Alban, 2004).

Branson, borrowing from business world planning theory called “appreciative inquiry,” argues that churches should not orient their planning around solving problems but around reaching for a new future emboldened by grateful remembering about what has given life in this community. The planning energy then gets centered around what people have received from the community, and how they might continue to do so in new ways, rather than what is going wrong. In part this is just a shift of emphasis from fixing the negative to deepening the positive, but in part this is a really different cast of mind about how to take the temperature of a religious community. Branson finds in the Psalms and in the Christian scriptural letters of Paul the warrants for the priority of gratitude and thanksgiving before lament and criticism.

(Branson does something interesting with Paul’s letter to the Philippians, where early on a series of “if” questions is posed or implied: “If there is any encouragement… consolation… sharing…” etc. Branson suggests that with the “if” explicit or implied, Paul means to ask his readers to search their memories for whether and how these experience might be true for them. I appreciated the attention of the rhetorical character of Paul’s letter-writing and Branson’s creative relating of it to communal decision-making, allowing contemporary communities to ask: Have we been this way? Have we (more…)

Evanescence and the Tourniquet Psalm

Posted in: Bible,Christianity,General,Guest Entries by Tom Beaudoin on March 21, 2013

I am pleased to share this guest post from John Gonzalez, a Doctor of Ministry student in Fordham University’s Latino Studies program. He is an associate to a religious community, the Passionists, whose spirituality is based on redemptive suffering and the mission to be with those who are in the midst of suffering in our world. He works for Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Rockville Centre (Long Island) as the Parish Social Ministry (PSM) developer on public policy and social justice issues.

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Contemporary spirituality or prayer life does not seem to offer much space for the idea of complaining to God or demanding some form of divine accountability for injustices that we witness or suffer ourselves. We may reverently ask God for our petitions and of course offer prayers of thanksgiving. I certainly encounter the phrase “God is good” sometimes followed by the response “all of the time.” But the human condition is not all about experiencing the good. Everyone experiences suffering; we all know that injustice is part of our social and personal experience, yet somehow it is considered taboo to or spiritually audacious to bring this to the attention of God. I will admit that there has been times when I have been tempted to respond to the “God is good” phrase with my own scandalous response, “not today.”

And yet our scripture offers a number of prayers to God that offer complaints and at times demanding divine accountability. We find many of these in the psalms and lamentations. The book of Job is a complaint to God by one who has experienced a horrible injustice. Jesus himself takes part of this tradition when in the midst of being crucified he cries out the beginning of Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 22 is a  cry of deep anguish and desolation, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;” (psalm 22: 14). While towards the end of this psalm there is a recognition that God will vindicate the suffering servant, others like Psalm 88 are not so optimistic. The psalmist here cries out his anguish to God and wonders if God is indeed present. Daniel Harrington, SJ writes:

Psalm 88 is often called a dialogue with an absent God. The psalmist calls out to a God who appears to have abandoned him and to be hiding from him. Yet the absent God is still somehow present – present enough to be addressed in prayer, to be criticized, and to be angry at.

Whereas our contemporary spirituality may not offer us a place to offer today’s lamentations nevertheless this continues to be part of the human condition and we can see this being expressed in areas of popular culture. The Gothic genre of punk music seems to be a place where one can find (more…)

R&T readers have been patient while I send various reports from and about the South By Southwest music festival. Recap-wise, the New York Times report by Jon Pareles is here.

It’s never clear what images count as “religious,” whether inside or outside self-designated religious spaces. However, these are some photos I took at SXSW as I tried to pay attention to “religious” images that were set in the midst of a more or less “secular” music festival. (Readers beware: those terms are very mobile! They have no fixed meaning.) These images show that “secular” music is not done with its relationship to “religion,” that’s for sure.

[1] Here is the first one: “Is God Really Dead?” These posters were all over downtown Austin in full sight of festivalgoers. I had trouble deciphering it. The symbolism might be a touch too arcane for me. At any rate, it certainly put a theological question right into the everyday wanderings of festival attendees. I assume that by raising the question, the answer is, somehow, “no,” but maybe being stumped about the provocation is the artistic point of the image. (At least one of these posters had a “YES” scrawled on it by the last evening of the festival.)

 

[2] The posters below were up all over downtown Austin on the morning of Friday 15 March. A variation on it had the same image but “PAPA” at the bottom. Small type at the bottom read papaemeritus.com. The site was down when I tried it a few days ago(probably too many hits at once), but  I just discovered that it is a link to a band and their new album. (more…)

Almost 40 years ago, in 1974, theologian Harvey Cox, who was teaching at Harvard Divinity School (I attended his retirement in 2009 and wrote about it at R&T), made his way to the Playboy Mansion and had a conversation with Hugh Hefner that was moderated by eminent arts curator Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel.

This wasn’t the first theological conversation about changing sexual mores in general, and Playboy in particular, on the popular level. Dr. Cox (disclosure: I have known him for almost twenty years, and he wrote the Foreword to my first book) had written thoughtfully and critically in the 1960s about Playboy, in popular articles and in his famous book The Secular City. Among other things, he had criticized Playboy for propagating a consumerist eroticism that was not meaningfully sexual because it was impersonal, in fact inhuman in its fear and “othering” of women, and thus failed to honor the sacred and mysterious power of sexuality that, in Dr. Cox’s view, the biblical tradition upholds. These and other criticisms led to a (remarkable by today’s standards) published conversation in Playboy (June 1967) about “Religion and the New Morality” among several theologians and leading clergy, including Dr. Cox, Dr. James Luther Adams, Father Herbert Rogers, Rabbi Richard L. Rubenstein, Right Rev. James A. Pike, Dr. Robert Wood Lynn, Rev. Howard Moody, and Dr. Allen J. Moore. (That’s right — no women.) Dr. Cox also wrote for Playboy. Those were, as they say, different times — about which I want to say more in a moment.

But back to the conversation that Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel moderated between Dr. Cox and Mr. Hefner. You can watch it here:

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The first thing I notice is that the roaming menagerie of creatures are not the only exotic animals in this interview; what zoo of gender is it that lets loose two men as featured discussants about a topic focused almost entirely on the representation of women? (I know, I know; in religion and its study, we are still too often locked in that zoo.) At least Dr. Cox has the wherewithal to state in the interview that he is not qualified to pronounce on some aspects of the question before them.

Their only significant agreement is on what, since philosopher Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, we have learned to call the “repressive hypothesis,” that is the idea that sex has been, since the Victorian age, essentially stifled in its natural, healthy (more…)

For one of my upcoming classes at Fordham, we are reading selections from Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice, by theologian Ched Myers and pastor Matthew Colwell (Orbis, 2012). Myers and Colwell argue that a close reading of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures, in the context of the pressing controversies about immigration in the West, and particularly in the USA, show that care for the immigrant is fundamental to the continual “care for the stranger” theme in these biblical traditions.

They argue that the practice most fitting these biblical disclosures is, in the language of organizer and activist Alexia Salvatierra, “prophetic hospitality,” in which care for the vulnerable transcends concern for contingent political borders. Myers and C0lwell emphasize that the theological ground of care for the “undocumented” is the “statelessness” of God, expressed also in the injunction to ancient Israel to care for the stranger, because they were strangers in Egypt. Along the way, Myers and Colwell remind us that the Christian scriptures picture Jesus’ family as political refugees, and Jesus’ stateless itinerancy comes up again and again (nowhere to rest — Luke 9:58; needing hospitality — Luke 19:5; knocking on the door and asking for a meal — Revelation 3:20). The city for all time, the “New Jerusalem” in the book of Revelation, is pictured as a city whose gates are permanently open (21:25).

As I reviewed their work over the last few days, I thought that what Myers and Colwell are suggesting is that readers come to greater terms with the “immigrant within” each of us, that we perhaps deny or repress, as a way of rendering “secure” and “documented” persons more available to acting in the interest of the undocumented, the immigrant. (See here for information on the New Sanctuary Movement.) As they put it, “Individual, family, and social health all depend on our willingness and ability to transact our past. It is thus a pastoral challenge to our churches to facilitate the process of ‘excavating’ our buried immigrant identities.” (p. 66)

I wondered, what musical experiences or songs have aided, or might aid, this state of awareness?

For me, Radiohead’s song “The Tourist” has been one aid to such an exercise. The song’s languorous and elegiac tone allows a kind of reflection on the ways that I have made journeys from one place to another, internally and externally, in my life, and brings me into, I hope, further sympathy for the ways in which everyone around me is in process of negotiating borders in their (more…)

There used to be a longer version of this video up on YouTube, in which the Doors discuss the religious significance of their music, but I can no longer find it. I did find this shorter one, which gives a taste of the conversation.

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It looks like it was initiated by a Protestant minister (a Rev. Fred L. Stagmeyer, described as a “minister-at-large”), backstage at a Doors concert, and you hear some back and forth between him and Jim Morrison. I posted in December 2010 about the longer form of this video at R&T here.

I have been thinking about this concept of a “minister-at-large” as I prepare to speak tomorrow at a ministry conference at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey. I am intrigued by the idea, and wonder whatever became of Reverend Fred and his concept.

The more I have thought about it over the last few days, however, the more I have wondered whether The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison might also be considered a “minister-at-large.” Certainly Morrison’s presence and the Doors’ music has proven spiritually compelling for many from that era and beyond. There is no need to force Morrison into some ministerial identity, but at the same time, if Rev. Fred is even a little bit correct in this video, that there is a convergence between the experience of revelation described in “Acts” in the Christian scriptures, and the revelatory experience of a Doors concert, then it is true that theology has something to learn from “secular” music and its leaders, just as musicians and fans might open to find their experience helpfully complexified by theologizing about it further.

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

 

A talk available on YouTube about “homosexuality and the Bible” by a Harvard undergraduate, Matthew Vines, has become something of an Internet sensation. I learned about it through a story in the New York Times here.

You can watch the talk here:

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I think Vines is being courageous and I hope that many more people will listen to his presentation. I venture that most people in the USA, anyway, do not know that a good deal of recent scholarship on same-sex erotic relationships in the world of the Bible has come to the conclusion that the Bible (Torah/Hebrew Bible/Old Testament as well as New Testament/Christian Scriptures) is not really talking about “homosexuality” at all in the way that that term is understood today. “Homosexuality” is simply not dealt with. The passages of the Bible that are typically invoked are all embedded in other “cultural”/”religious” concerns of the time. For Christians, it is especially important to note that just because Paul seems to discuss same-sex relationships in some passages, it does not mean he is talking about being “gay” or “lesbian.”

Rock and roll, perhaps due to its bound-up-ness in church backgrounds (which makes it both run to and run from matters of faith, sexual identity, and sexual activity, however those might be defined), has generally shied away from addressing homophobia (fear of non-straight-identified persons) or heterosexism (the privileging of straight-identified ways of life). This is especially true of “mainstream” white-guy hard rock, the kind of stuff on which I grew up in the Midwest, and, in the midst of other musics, to which I often still return. Virtually none of that music dealt explicitly with gay-bashing or directly challenged spiritual denunciations of LGBT persons.

I feel like, compared to the world in which my undergraduate students live, my own Midwestern high school and undergraduate/college world of the 1980s was markedly different in this regard. Of over 350 people in my high school class, I

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Continuing on my recent post on a scene from the film “O Brother Where Art Thou” with its famous song, “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow”….

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What I also notice in this resurrection scene, in which the “convicts” — Jesus/Soggy Bottom Boys — are coming out into the light, the footlights, public attention, is the hint of surprise of the resurrected at their new stage. They are a little bewildered, but they also know what to do; the singing they used to do under night’s cover now happens in a way connected more deeply with all beings across status — symbolized here by “crossing” race and bringing the community together (“these boys is integrated!”). It is entry into a new level of connectedness to all life, betokened here in the small ways that movies can afford.

In the Christian tradition, there are no canonical accounts of any detail about Jesus’ own feelings after being raised from the dead. Whatever your spiritual orientation, if you can place yourself in that story, what might that feel like? Wouldn’t it be

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