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Massingale’s Racial Justice and the Catholic Church

Posted in: General,Reviews by Michael Iafrate on September 30, 2010

Following on the heels of Mary McDonough’s fantastic series on rock, the black church, and the civil rights movement, Rock and Theology readers might be interested in my review of outgoing CTSA president Bryan Massingale’s recent book Racial Justice and the Catholic Church which has been published (PDF) at the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion.

Somatica Divina 64: Joy Division, “She’s Lost Control”

Posted in: General,Somatica Divina by Michael Iafrate on September 28, 2010

Brian May as an Example of the “Rock and” Dynamic

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on September 27, 2010

Recently, Brian May, Queen’s famous lead guitarist, gave an interview on the U.S. radio show “Fresh Air,” in which he discusses some techniques of Queen soundscapes, his recent book of nineteenth century stereoscopic photographs, and his recently-completed doctorate in astrophysics.

As I listened to May’s delightful ruminating on all three topics, I was put in mind of the considered and considerable complexities of his mutual inhabiting of science and music, of astrophysics and rock. Here is a man who has both rock and physics at hand, and has each informing the other (listen to his discussion of the “stomp, stomp, clap” of “We Will Rock You”), while allowing both a relative autonomy in his practice (he writes books! he invents solos!).

The learned rock artist, or the rockish theologian, often shares a similar panoply of possibilities for their work: experienced in both domains, productively pollinating across these domains, one allows each to come forward from its respective tradition in a relative autonomy.

In these ways, Brian May helps us figure what can happen when cohabiting rock and theology. Who are other rock artists that inspire you who hold down a second (or third) specialization in religion or art? What do they tell us about the rockish or theological life itself?

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States

Somatica Divina 63: Yeasayer, “No Need to Worry”

Posted in: Somatica Divina by Mary McDonough on September 25, 2010

This is the final part of a series on the contribution rock music and the Black Church made to the civil rights movement. You can find part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.

While black recording artists climbed the Billboard charts, black churches continued to step up their mobilization efforts. In 1956, a group of black students, mostly from Xavier University, were jailed for defying segregation laws on a city bus in New Orleans. This particular movement was organized by the Rev. A.L. Davis head of the New Orleans Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. Around this same time 3 ministers from Alabama, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of Montgomery, the Rev. Joseph Lowery of Mobile and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham met to discuss the possibility working together on a state level. Other southern ministers were contacted. Discussions ensued about starting an organization to coordinate local protest movements. Eventually, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was created.

The SCLC expressly emphasized their church roots early on. Statement 5 of their working paper #1 stated: “The campaign is based on the most stable social institution in Negro culture—the church.” (emphasis in original, “The Black Church in the Civil Rights Movement,” by Aldon Morris from Disruptive Religion: The Force of Faith in Social Movement Activism, ed. by Christian Smith, 36). The ministers who had led various local protest groups became leaders in the SCLC with King chosen as president, the Rev. C.K. Steele as vice-president, and the Rev. A.L. Davis as first vice-president. In total, the SCLC had 36 leadership positions of which all but 4 were filled by ministers. For the remainder of the 1950s the SCLC met throughout the South mostly in churches and at church-related organizations allowing them to mobilize thousands of people. SCLC leaders referred to these organizations as the “invisible hand of God.” (Morris, 40). The creation of the SCLC not only strengthened bonds between protesters across the South but also fortified their internal organizations. More importantly, it carried a distinctive religious message: There is no justice without social justice. King put it this way:

But a religion true to its nature also must be concerned about man’s social conditions…. Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn, the economic conditions that strangle, and the social conditions that cripple them, is a dry-as-dust religion. (Stride Toward Freedom by Martin Luther King, Jr., 36)

The view of religion as a vehicle for social change was part of the “social gospel” movement that many of the civil rights movement’s ministers had studied. Using typical liberation theology images of Moses leading his people to freedom and Jesus as an advocate for the poor and oppressed, the social gospel movement argued for nonviolent resistance. Attorney C.B. King once said of the Rev. Dr. King, “King served up religion in a rather unique fashion as a militant force for the first time. King was using religion as a key to inspire a perception which moved the masses in what would be conservatively considered the direction of a revolution.” (Morris, 44)

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Ruminatio: “In Your Eyes” – And a Theological Reverie

Posted in: General,Ruminatio by Tom Beaudoin on September 18, 2010

Decompressing on Thursday afternoon at the Blend coffee shop near Fordham’s Rose Hill campus, I was surprised to hear come over the speakers a gentle but soulful and fresh version of a tune I remembered from years ago, “In Your Eyes,” originally by Peter Gabriel. I could not place this new version, but later found it online as the cover played by Jeffrey Gaines.

Ever since its appearance in the 1980s, this song has had a way of demurely slipping in to texture countless intimate moments, private or shared, and many will claim it as the soundtrack to an era, a relationship, or a moment. I, too, have memories of this song helping hold together loves gone by.

Each phrase of the lyrics is sculpted, but not too much, a rare delicacy in pop music. But it took Peter Gabriel’s scratchy yearning to clinch the feeling, and now Jeffrey Gaines beautifully swashbuckles the original introspection of the tune into a soulful kind of gratitude.

Hearing it at Blend, I remembered the theological reverie so suddenly spilled out in the bridge: “In your eyes … I see the doorways to a thousand churches / the resolution of all my fruitless searches”. And I wondered, what would it mean for that to be true? I took it as the vault into an extraordinary hope. Those doorways. Why doorways? Why those otherwise unremarkable ante-antechambers?

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This is the third part of a series on the contribution rock music and the Black Church made to the civil rights movement. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

While the Brown case made segregated schools illegal, the decision was largely ignored in the south. Mississippi Senator James Eastland stated that the region would simply refuse to obey it. Several state legislatures passed bills to fund “private” schools with public monies to avoid desegregation. By the end of 1956, 6 southern states had not desegregated one single school. Even worse, the Ku Klux Klan increased its activities committing hundreds of acts of violence against African-Americans between 1955-59.

So civil rights leaders went back to their churches to organize their parishioners. One of the first major mobilization efforts came in Montgomery, Alabama when, in December of 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to vacate her seat on a city bus for a white passenger. Recognizing the need for a coordinated response to her arrest and to the racial segregation policies on Montgomery’s city buses, several local ministers and other civil rights activists organized the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pastor of the local Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, became its leader. The MIA led a year-long boycott against the Montgomery bus system eventually ending when the Montgomery Federal Court declared the city and state bus segregation laws unconstitutional.

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Update on the Biker Pilgrimage Story

Posted in: General,News Items by Tom Beaudoin on September 14, 2010

Over at the America magazine blog, I’ve just posted a revised version of my post below on “Madonna of the Bikers,” and have included a short story about the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner involving a motorcycle. Make that two.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States

This is the second part of a series on the contribution rock music and the Black Church made to the civil rights movement. You can find part 1 here.

The 1950s were pivotal years for both race relations and music. The emergence of the civil rights movement, aimed at outlawing racial discrimination and bringing freedom, dignity and social and economic justice to African Americans, started a chain of events that transformed American society. It had been a long time coming. After the Civil War ended, the states ratified the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution and the U.S. Congress passed two Civil Rights Acts (1866 and 1875). All of this legislation was aimed at guaranteeing freedom, the right to vote and equal access to public accommodations for freed slaves.

For a short time, freed slaves participated in local, state and national elections electing 20 black congressmen and the two black senators to Congress. However, after the contentious presidential election of 1876, Congress formed the “Electoral Commission” to resolve disputed Democratic electoral votes from the South. In the end, the Commission negotiated the “Compromise of 1877” agreeing to recognize the election of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes if certain demands were met. One of these demands required the removal of all federal troops from the South. The troops were originally sent to the former Confederate States to oversee the reconstructed governments and help protect the civil rights of the freed slaves. Upon their removal, the Ku Klux Klan was given a free reign resulting in racial violence and the suppression of freed slaves’ recently acquired rights. Various methods to prevent blacks from voting, such as poll taxes, were initiated completely disenfranchising black voters in the South. Jim Crow laws were passed and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1896 case, Plessy v Ferguson. The Plessy case established the doctrine that segregated public facilities were constitutional as long as they were “separate but equal.” This was the law for the next 58 years.

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