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February 2011
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I am writing to recommend an engaging little book, a kind of rockish spiritual manual really, written by David Nantais and titled Rock-a My Soul. This brisk and stimulating read will provide occasion for readers to think for themselves about how their music sits in their spiritual life.

Let me fully disclose my biases here: I have known and admired David Nantais as a friend for over a decade, and played in two bands with him in Boston, and the publisher of his book, Liturgical Press, also sponsors the Rock and Theology Project. Oh, and I also read the manuscript earlier and happily provided an endorsement for it. In short, I have every reason to want to support his book. Now that that’s clear, let me give some reasons why despite my biases, this book is well worth checking out.

Nantais, who is presently director of campus ministry at the University of Detroit, Mercy, is also an experienced rock drummer, aficionado of rock culture, and concert devotee (and, importantly for this book, a former Jesuit — seven years ago, we used to pick him up at his Jesuit residence for band practice).

This book is like a travelogue of how Nantais has been able to make spiritual sense of his deep pleasure in rock music and culture. The main thread throughout is the question of how to make of rock experience a spiritual exercise. Toward this end, he calls on many practices from Ignatian spirituality and describes the ways in which one can pay attention to experience in secular music as a way of referring our lives to God. The book is quite practical and those who are comfortable with, or even curious about, Catholic spirituality in contemporary terms will find Nantais an engagingly amiable and practical interlocutor.

Despite Nantais’ deep involvement in both rock and Catholic cultures, the book adopts a helpfully critical stance toward some features of rock culture,

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Announcement: Johnny Cash Vespers in Portland, Oregon

Posted in: Christianity,General by Tom Beaudoin on February 27, 2011

I recently received this announcement and am happy to post it. And if any of our readers go and want to post a note about it, please do.

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Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Northwest Portland (147 NW 19th Ave, Portland, Oregon) will continue its ongoing Alt.Liturgies program on March 12 at 6 p.m. with “PEACE IN THE VALLEY: JOHNNY CASH VESPERS,” a Lenten service of readings, prayers and music by the man in black.

Vespers is an evening prayer service with roots reaching back centuries. Rather than the traditional chanting and choral music, however,“PEACE IN THE VALLEY” will feature a selection of Cash’s songs reflecting on Love and God, life and death, sin and redemption in the cathedral. The free-will offering benefit’s Trinity’s Hunger Ministries, which fed more than 20,000 of Portland’s poor, unemployed and homeless in 2010.

The songs during “PEACE IN THE VALLEY,” performed live by Trinity’s multi-instrumental Alt.Liturgy Band, will touch on several periods of Cash’s career — from the classic “Walk the Line” to the traditional gospel of “Wayfaring Stranger” to songs that appeared on his final albums, including “Hurt” and “The Man Comes Around.” The service will also feature a LUCERNARIUM WALK with candles and an EVENSONG portion that will use five Johnny Cash songs to

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Check Out Our Back Catalogue

Posted in: General,Rock and Theology Project by Tom Beaudoin on February 26, 2011

Over the past few months, many R&T readers have pointed out to me how surprised they are at the “back catalogue” here, the number of posts over the past 2+ years that they can wade through. Truth be told, it’s only about 500 posts or so, which some blogs generate in a matter of a few weeks or months. But while you’re reading R&T, feel free to browse the recent past and see what you fancy. You can browse using the “Categories” on the left of the page, the “Search” on the upper right, or the “Archives” on the lower right. From Augustine of Hippo to Lauryn Hill, we know that “looking back” is not necessarily evasion, but can be a way of trying to live with equanimity in the present.

If you don’t see a topic on the front page that interests you, dig around a bit, or feel free to recommend a topic in theology or music to us, or contribute a comment of your own.

Tom Beaudoin

Brookline, Massachusetts

Broadway’s “American Idiot” — A Punk Religious Tale?

Posted in: General,Reviews by Tom Beaudoin on February 24, 2011

Last night at the St. James Theater, I saw the relatively new Broadway musical “American Idiot,” developed from the 2004 album of the same name by the punk band Green Day. (Just recently it won a Grammy award for “Best Musical Show Album.”) The lead singer of Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, who wrote the book for the show, played “St. Jimmy,” and there seemed to be a strong showing of Green Day fans in the audience. This was one of the most youthful Broadway audiences I’ve ever seen, and this was the first Broadway musical I’ve attended where some audience members were singing along with several of the songs (although a bit quietly), which I found both sweet and distracting. One of the few punk gestures of noncomformity to be found.

Here is a short introduction to the musical, with the opening number and some commentary from the director Michael Mayer and from Armstrong.

I don’t want to give away too much of the details of the plot for those who might yet see it (although if you want a barebones overview, check out the show’s Wiki page here). But this show confirmed for me that the overlay of rock and theology is far from dead in popular culture; this rock musical was replete with religious imagery, gesture, and

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Ears Still Ringing…

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on February 24, 2011

Last night, I saw American Idiot, the new Broadway musical inspired by punk-pop band Green Day. Review coming soon.

Recently at R&T I wrote about Robert Plant’s show in New York City, and made brief mention of what it was like (for me) to hear him sing so frequently of Jesus and various theological topics, which not only invite the audience to theological curiosity but take rock back to its “origins” in Christian concerns — and I write this without in any way suggesting that rock is limited to those concerns or that somehow Christianity is of the essence of rock music or culture. All that may be the case and yet we still have the provocative material before us: Plant singing of redemption, Satan, and Jesus. And what can it all mean? Only those rare persons who think neither music nor religion is of consequence will think these to be trivial questions.

Here is what I wrote about Plant on this topic: “What does one make of Plant singing so many songs that reference Jesus? There are quite a few in the set. To me, it felt like being witness to an ‘interreligious theology,’ like the mashup of Buddhism and Christianity, for example, of theologian Paul Knitter’s recent work. There was a new kind of religious possibility coming through… Only here, one had Plant’s rock culture crossing the Christian culture represented in the country-gospel tunes he reinterpreted.”

And I was recently brought back to such thoughts when I gratefully rediscovered Katell Keineg‘s song “There You Go.” (I made her 2006 performance of it a Somatica Divina here some time ago.)

Let me indulge an old form of rock capital by telling you that I saw Keineg at a small club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, almost ten years ago (thank you, E.), and ever after have tried

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Ruminatio: Music, Reverie, Theology — In the Supermarket

Posted in: General,Ruminatio by Tom Beaudoin on February 18, 2011

R&T readers, I know you will forgive this trifling truffle of a post, but come on, we can’t be haggling out the hard theological issues every single post. As you will have already guessed, this opening feint is my attempt to de-stage the important place I secretly think this topic deserves, as so many disowned parts of everyday life and our everyday selves testify in their drowned clamor.

Here is my topic: what can happen in the supermarket. Occasioned by a few minutes of a recent afternoon with my five year-old daughter at a local chain, while we were looking at breakfast cereal, that’s when I heard it: that familiar English permanently middle-aged earnest and so Britishly pleasurable strain, the kind of voice that first partakes of tea and cakes and then overturns the cart in pique and passion before apologizing for doing so and then cleaning up the mess, concluding with “Fuck, yeah!” I’m talking, of course, about Phil Collins. All it took was the familiar invocation, played at a gentle volume from just beyond the paper towels, of three words: “Tonight, tonight, tonight.”

On hearing them, I was immediately placed somewhere around 1988, and will it make any sense if I tell you that between the single step that took me from the Honey Nut Cheerios to the Froot Loops, I had already traveled forth and back 23 years and felt what was in common and what was different in hearing those three words, now and then, now as then, then as now? So I sang the song to my daughter as we walked, and while she mischievously pulled things from the shelves to throw into our cart, I implored her, assisted by Phil Collins, “We’re gonna make it right!”

And because life is so overly connected at these deep levels, I then remembered, singing it to her, the place of this song in a time in my life when with other music it helped stitch together a way of keeping life together. And here I must be necessarily discreet, but have you ever had the experience of songs or fragments of songs that come to stand in for a time, either in the moment or in hindsight? A passage of lyrics from this tune once did that for me, and so here I was

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Interview on Rock and Theology

Posted in: General,Interviews by Tom Beaudoin on February 16, 2011

I recently did an (email) interview for the new Millennial Catholic blog that they have now posted. The topic? Rock and theology. If you’re interested, you can find it here.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

Videos from Fordham Conference on 20somethings are up…

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on February 14, 2011

Recently, I posted about our conference at Fordham University about 20somethings and the Catholic Church. The videos from that conference are now available online here.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

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Festival of Faith and Music 2011

Posted in: General,Recommended by Tom Beaudoin on February 14, 2011

As readers of the blog (from the States, at least) are making springtime plans that involve your tastes in rock and theology, here is something in which you might well be interested: the Festival of Faith and Music. This biennial gathering at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which will be held this year from 7-9 April, features explorations in the relationship between popular music and religion/spirituality/faith, with a robust lineup of musicians, journalists, pastoral workers, scholars, and more.

Among the musical acts already announced are My Brightest Diamond, Matisyahu, Jon Foreman (of Switchfoot) and The Civil Wars. The keynote speakers and workshop presenters come from a fairly diverse set of musical and religious identifications. You can see a list here. I’ll be giving a workshop at FFM, and look forward to taking it all in.

Through this impressive series of conferences (check out the last four FFMs here), it seems to me Calvin College has become a leading site in the United States for programming focused on the theological exploration of popular music and musical exploration of theology. As I have tried to argue, facility in making theological sense of popular culture is as important for theology today as skill in making theological sense of scripture or tradition.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

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