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January 2012
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When Secular Music is Like a Ministry

Posted in: General,Practices by Tom Beaudoin on January 12, 2012

I am getting ready to teach in the spring semester at Fordham, and one of my courses is a graduate class called Theology of Ministry. Every year I feel the impossibility of saying something with solidity about a topic that is deeply elusive. So many ministries are worthy of study in their explicit and implicit theologies (that is, their ways of construing God and God-related materials). I do not find it easier to create theological maps as I get older. In my eleventh year of teaching college, I find myself more implicated in the complexity than ever before, and helping students to sit within how complex it is to know what construals of God-related materials are, and where they may be found in ministerial practice, is a cavern toward which I am endlessly digging. I revise my courses, sometimes dramatically, every time I teach them.

One constant is that I try to work from a basic assertion in each course that we revisit multiple times to test its adequacy. For my Theology of Ministry course, I will open the course by suggesting, and eventually arguing, that theologies of ministry have typically been ways of constituting a “public” rationale for ministry, prioritizing pastoral action, and specifying the formation of pastoral workers. As such, theologies of ministry show by what appeals Christian churches seek to articulate their labor.

The danger of working from such assertions-definitions-theses is that we can think that clarifying them will help us identify what “true” ministry is. But ministerial material is as much discovered as invented, as much intuited as deduced. Which puts me in mind of music’s ministerial role, so much of which is “found” inductively in people’s everyday lives, apart from any theological deduction. So while we will be testing my thesis (and their own theses) and thinking deductively throughout the semester, we will also be noticing our own inductive notions about ministry — where we have found ourselves grateful for a ministerial action in an unexpected time or place and surprised by the redefinition it brings.

Has music ever helped you work through the loss of someone close to you? This clip from the rock musical “Passing Strange” has spoken to many people, including me. I particularly identify with the way that the main character, “The Pilgrim,” has rock music close to the center of his life and has to live with what rock culture can and cannot do for his losses (“I’ll live in vans crammed with guitars / I’ll sleep on floors and play in bars / I’ll dance to my own metronome, ’till chaos feels like home / […] up and down from town to town, tour van wheels go round and round / every night play rock and roll, get fucked up after the show / in the morning lock and load and then leave”).

Here is the clip:


Everyone has a sense of what “good news” is for them, what helps them take the next step in their spiritual life alone and with others, and a lot of people are taking “good news” inductively through their favorite music. That is music performing a ministerial function. Making that more explicit with respect to the question of God or God-related materials “makes” it theological.

Does any music minister to you?

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York