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Before coming to Fordham to teach graduate students full-time, I taught many undergraduate courses over seven years at Boston College and Santa Clara University. During that time, I collected a list of “student bloopers” gathered from their assignments. I did so inspired by the years of laughter provided by the memory of an article I read in the early 1990s by Richard Lederer, then at St. Paul’s School, titled “The World According to Student Bloopers.” (That pre-Web article can now be found everywhere on the Internet.) Early on in my trundle through thousands of undergraduate papers and exams, I realized that student bloopers were not only entertaining, and often wickedly so, but occasionally generative of a pleasantly orthogonal angle on theology that stayed with me long after.

By the way, my collection and presentation of student bloopers does not, of course, mean that I myself am not given to error. I am, and constantly—in both “style” and “substance.” But somehow those just aren’t as funny. (Or at least no one has yet collected mine.) So here, with the most minimal of editing, is what I have after my first seven years of teaching theology.

On Faith and Relationships

My girlfriend is my most coveted possession. Our love is similar to that shared by Adam and Eve during the reading of the creation story. I believe that God gave sex for humans to use in the pretext of marriage.

On God

The question of whether a higher being exists has plagued man since the beginning of civilized society. The question “Who is God?” is one that has been bounced continuously back and forth. Many ask why God acts the way He does, while others ask the question why doesn’t God act the way He does. The dessert ascetics believed in the ascendance of God. I think God’s ways are mysterious, and the meaning is not going to jump out and bite us in the ass. God is a different person to everybody, and to some he may not have a corpulent form at all. Theocratically, God is so far more advanced than mankind. And while there is nothing you can do to impress God enough to give you internal life, universal salvation is a huge turn on.

On Catholicism

Certain aspects of Catholic belief are founded on realty. The Catholic religion remains strict on their teachings in order to withhold tradition. However, through Vatican II, Christians are now not the only good people in the world. Doris Day started the Catholic Worker.

On Scripture

The closest written text to the period of the Big Bang is the Bible, which is the underlying scripture of the Christian tradition, and one of the earliest and most influential texts available for theologians. In the Bible, God is loving, forgiving, powerful, and a creationist. In the Book of Genius, God created all the living and nonliving, proclaiming his intention ‘good.’ For tempting Adam and Eve, God scalds the serpent. With regard to Adam and Eve, I am so tired of being told that because of two fictitious people I am not dancing around naked with Brittany Spheres. God promised never to erase mankind again but there is no mention that He won’t screw with us. God led the Israelites out of Egypt to the land of cannon, so they could make scarifeces in the woods. God wreaks havoc on the Egyptians in a fairy tale manor. I really like interrupting the scriptures in class.

Luke’s gospel tells of shepherds who come to worship a babe. In the Greek language of the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as the “haggis” or Word of God. Mary Magdalene was the first to see the woman Christ. Women were whitenesses of the death of Jesus. Jesus always tells people that he is the sun of God. Jesus amazed people, starting with his emasculate conception. The passion of Christ is a dramatic, griping story. The New Testament ends with the reformation, and allows the writers to see into heaven. The Bible should not be rewritten because it is apart of the Christian Tradition.

On Sin

Learning about the true capabilities of humans is heart retching. But by following the teachings of Jesus Christ, ultimately a person can lead a life of sinfulness. I believe that Christ died for our sins and even today we are atoning for that.

On Protestantism

Luther was famous for writing the 95 Indulgences. After reading Martin Luther, I am thinking of becoming protest. Protestant theology teaches “faith alone,” also known as “sola fillet” or “sola feta.” It also teaches “grace alone,” or “sola gracias.” Martin Luther challenged the ideas of the church, starting the Protestant movement, and inadvertently the ideas of Origen. The antibaptists did not believe in baptizing their babies.

On Theologians

After St. Augustus’ conversation at Milan, he wanted to seek a wife. He was a theological model and also a Hindu. St. Ignatius believes people are created to praise, reverse, and serve God. He taught that the three stages of the mystical journey are purgative, illuminative, and cognitive. The Spiritual Exercises were written for leaders to use on retreatants. There is also Bultmann’s demythologizing retaliation of the New Testament. Juan Luis Segundo writes theology for Latin America, where it will have the most levity. Segundo argues that we must find Jesus’ deeper, perjuring truth.

On Theological Anthropology

The true nature of the human is to be sociable. Human beings are God’s masterpiece which he wanted to survive. Like God and man, the relationship of parent and child expels a love that bears no restraints.

 

 

Tom Beaudoin

New York City

 

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Green Rock, Nuns, and the Little River Band

Posted in: General,News Items,Politics by Tom Beaudoin on June 29, 2009

Check out this story by Ben Sisario in today’s New York Times about Brooklyn Bowl, the new rock club with bowling alley (or bowling alley with rock club) that will soon open in New York City. Sisario’s story contains some interesting examples of the move toward green rock shows, and mentions the non-profit Reverb, which helps plan more sustainable music events. Their website opens up a whole world of ideas about marrying a rock imagination with an environmental imagination. (Check out their partners list, including artists Kelly Clarkson, Beastie Boys, Aimee Mann and more – along with an impressive list of businesses and non-profits; some videos; and their current projects, which include some rock shows that would otherwise leave a substantial negative footprint.) Different kinds of rock have worked out different kinds of political commitments (such as gender quality, racial justice, sexual diversity, human rights, spiritual freedom) at different points in the developments of subgenres (such as punk, glam, progressive, funk), but it is fair to say that a lot of the “rock scene” has a long way to go on green issues. These kinds of themes provide natural links to theological awareness, and move us a step closer both to a realization of a more thoroughly rockish existence, and to the invention and valorization of a new definition and way of life for rock itself. The more this happens, the more we will see how as in so many other ways, Catholic women religious were prophetically anticipating the future in their turn to earth ministries (see Sarah McFarland Taylor’s excellent book Green Sisters) which we may find will overlap substantially with the theological functions of green rock cultures. That’s research yet to be undertaken.

Some readers of this blog will hate me for it, but I’m going to paste in below a link to Little River Band’s environmentally positive, and lavishly constructed and performed, tune “Cool Change.” Back in the 1970s and early 80s, LRB was all over rock radio. And it seems to me they captured a rockish and theological mood in their cry: “Now that my life is so prearranged / I think that it’s time for a cool change” …

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Why not remember this rare example of a rock ballad that is not about an anxious romance? “The albatross and the whale, they are my brother.”

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

I was happy to see Tom grab the bull by the horns with his post on “free” theology and music and the need for theologians to imagine new economies of knowledge production and dissemination. This is an area I’ve been thinking about, especially since I have been trying to bring together punk rock ethics and theology or, in another key, anarchist cultural production and theological production. It’s certainly one more area in which it is clear that rock music and theology can be brought together in creative ways, not only for theologizing on rock music but by letting the knowledge (and the dreaming) generated in our music activity inform our work as theologians — how we think, how we produce, and how we share.

It has been said that one of the great powers of music is its ability to prefigure the “not yet existent.” This can be true of the music itself, but it can also be true in the way music is made and shared. Movements within rock music — and specifically punk rock music and culture — can be a helpful source in reflecting on imagining other theo-economic possibilities because we can identify specific, successful examples of the creation of whole other economies within the notoriously capitalistic rock world. The examples are countless. Some have become more visible than others (I’m thinking here of the enduring witness of Fugazi and Dischord Records as well as the more high-profile [and thus, more ambivalent] example of Radiohead’s In Rainbows album). Other punk rock economies remain more solidly under the radar, intentionally isolated from any channels of capitalist exchange. What might it mean to apply punk rock’s anti-/non-capitalist (to the extent possible) mode of production to what we do as ((punk?) rock) theologians?

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Michael Jackson, Rest in Peace

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on June 25, 2009

Here at Rock and Theology, we obviously use a lot of YouTube clips, occasional audio clips, and make passing references to the works of scholars, some of which are downloadable on the Web. But I have never been comfortable with such unremunerated easy “citation” of others’ works. Creative work, in rock or theology, usually takes substantial investment of resources; good musical or academic performances are typically the result of the ability, freedom, and technology to create, all of which, to put it simply, must be paid for somehow.

The most common “free” use of others’ work on this blog is the use of YouTube videos, and it seems that the more generalized this presumption of “free access” to music becomes, the less will artists (or their patrons) actually be able to make such videos. Apart from artists who choose to freely distribute their work, I cannot see any rationale for presuming that music ought to be free simply because the Internet can deliver such a thing.

A parallel development is taking place in academic life, where it is increasingly expected that one’s scholarly works should be made available on the web, for free. For example, I have noticed how in the last several years, colleges or religious organizations will assume that a lecture or conference paper given “in the flesh” on campus (or at a conference site) should then be available on the web, in print or via video, as a natural extension of the event. Scholars are in effect being asked to provide “free content” for the Web, when instead this ought to be subject to a separate negotiation, not only because it then becomes a different kind of academic performance for a new set of audiences than the original work, but because academics can have trouble getting “credit” (which translates to capital, symbolic and real) at their universities for works that are “published” (or simply “made available”) on the Web. Whether in rock or in theology, the pressures seem to be for ever more free content.

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Somatica Divina 19: The Entrance Band, Live

Posted in: General,Somatica Divina by Tom Beaudoin on June 23, 2009

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The Death of Neda Agha-Soltan (Updated)

Posted in: General,News Items by Tom Beaudoin on June 23, 2009

Nazila Fathi and Neil Macfarquhar are reporting today in the New York Times about Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death — recorded by camera-phone and now on YouTube (and which I cannot bring myself to watch) –  is becoming a global rallying point for all who support the Iranian protestors. Apparently she was traveling with her voice teacher when she was killed. This young musician “was so full of life,” a relative said. “She sang pop music.” Much more no doubt to come on this. Neda Agha-Soltan, rest in peace.

UPDATE: LA Times story here.

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I found Joshua Cohen’s recent essay on John Zorn edifying. It was published in the May 2009 issue of Harper’s Magazine (pp. 73-78), and is titled “Last Man Standing: The Acquisitive Music of John Zorn.” I have heard Zorn’s music only rarely during my life, a quantity of listening woefully out of proportion to Zorn’s wicked creativity and outsize importance for contemporary musicians and composers.

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As a theologian (who is also a musician), I would argue that it is important to read such essays as Cohen’s, and hear such music as Zorn’s, not as an invitation to assimilate their insights to what we already think we know theologically, but as a potential event for learning about the gods of others, to see what divinities are drawn down, and drawn up, by others’ musico-spiritual cultures, psyches, biographies. Out of this theological attitude can come friendship, patient sharing, curiosity, insight, and affirmation/reformulation/dispossession of theological truths — as a “second act,” that is, almost always conceptually after these dispossessions have been let through nonconceptually.

Cohen vividly presents Zorn’s inventive exploration of multiple forms of modern music, of New York City as vibrant acoustic hothouse, and of Jewishness as a through-line in the coming together of these adventures. Of Zorn’s band Naked City, Cohen writes that they “audaciously defined the popular as a certain intensity or energy, and proceeded to gather under that heated, insatiable rubric of Zorn’s private invention a host of related (more…)

Rock and the Protests in Iran

Posted in: General,News Items,Politics by Tom Beaudoin on June 21, 2009

Watching rough video of the breathtaking protests in Iran, I saw a protester wearing an AC/DC shirt, and several more (men) wearing identifiably rock-related clothing, and immediately thought of the research published by Dr. Mark LeVine, historian at UC Irvine and author of Heavy Metal Islam. He has recently written that “rock music has become one of the most vibrant forces for critiquing the various ills of Iranian society, and the basic ideology of the Islamic Republic as well.” See his post on rock’s relation to resistance in Iran at the Huffington Post here. (Also check out the chapter from HMI on Iran that he generously makes available.)

It is increasingly evident that no full accounting of rock and theology can be satisfactory unless it can register the importance of rock cultures among Muslims / in Islamic cultures.

UPDATE: New interview with LeVine here.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

The CTSA Papers, Unplugged

Posted in: Dialectic,General,Rock and Theology Project by Tom Beaudoin on June 19, 2009

There has been a request to translate the three conference papers on rock and theology from the Catholic Theological Society of America convention (summarized below) into more everyday language.

(I agree with many critics who charge that contemporary academic theology is notorious for its precious and overspecialized language, and for the ways in which it can effectively snowblind its practitioners to everyday spirituality. That said, I also confess that I have something of a fatal love for arcane theological language. That is probably why half of my publications are accessible (or “popular” writing), and half are academic (or “unreadable” writing).)

And so here is my sketch, unplugged, of what the papers were trying to say:

Robinette’s paper, “Can Rock n Roll Save the World?” makes the case that rock music shows us a way to be deeply embodied, worldly beings without being reduced to our materiality. When rock music provides experiences of escape from everyday life that question the constraints of our overly organized, disembodied modern existence, it provides momentary glimpses of ways to be whole, and more importantly, of the desire to lead a full life, beyond all the things that keep us unhappy, disconnected, and alienated. Rock gives us meaningful clues that we are created for more than the narrow possibilities for working, living, and loving that our modern culture gives us.

Ruddy’s paper, “Highway to Hell, Stairway to Heaven” sees the Christian engagement with rock music as one in which we must make a careful spiritual sifting, and finally a decision, about whether rock music gives us something that leads us to God or puts itself in place of God. Rock music seems to often keep its fans in an emotional immaturity that does not help people grow into an adult spiritual life. But there are certain rock musics that also can be a way into a more authentic life that leads to a deeper acknowledgment or worship of God and a more restful, peaceful existence that is not frenetic or anxious, but leisurely. Rock does not bring us what is ultimately important in life, but can be a way that people travel toward what is most important.

Beaudoin’s (my) paper, “Give it Up / For Jesus” acknowledges that popular music is an important soundtrack for people’s lives, and theology, too, should aspire to be such a “soundtrack” since it tries to give people direction about how to live. But both rock music and theology have been compromised by being involved in manipulative and even destructive effects (such as how both rock and Christianity have dealt with women and sexuality). Still, both rock and theology are powerful forces for learning about and taking pleasure in life, so both rock and theology have to be aware of the way they use their power. Those who try to have both “spiritual” and “secular” lives today thus are obliged to live with music and religion in ways that keep them open for life, curious about others, and ready to become more generous persons.

I hope these brief “translations” open the work of the Project even more to a wide readership …

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

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