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April 2013
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I am very happy to announce that the new book Secular Music and Sacred Theology has just been published by Liturgical Press. We will have a lot to say about this book in the coming months, and we think it is a book that Rock and Theology readers — and all who are interested in creative thinking about the relationship between theology/religion/spirituality and popular/secular music — will enjoy.

Secular Music and Sacred Theology is available in paperback or e-book format, and features many authors that R&T readers will recognize, each of whom write about how to relate theology/religion/spirituality to rock and roll/hip hop/secular/popular music. The authors include: David Dault, Maeve Heaney, Daniel White Hodge, Michael Iafrate, Jeff Keuss, Mary McDonough, Gina Messina-Dysert, Christian Scharen, and Myles Werntz. I edited the book and wrote the opening, introductory chapter.

This book will challenge readers to further clarify our thinking and to examine more deeply our own experience. It continually gets to the question: Why is music spiritually significant?

Please celebrate with us as we send this book out into the world, hoping it will connect!


Relationships Between and Beyond Logical Tellings

Posted in: Eschatology,General by Tom Beaudoin on April 29, 2013

Tonight I was listening to the song “Chemistry” by Rush, and thinking about its appeal to many different kinds of fans, and thinking too about its significance in my life across many iterations of my religious/spiritual identities.

I remember being moved as a high school student by this song, in its surrender — through science, not despite it — to the mystery of interpersonal connection, and finding therein a mystical significance for my life that was not opposed to rational thought. I remembered, too, an interaction with a psychology professor in college about the lyric in this song, “emotion transmitted, emotion received,” which he found significant, and which it took me twenty more years to appreciate — just how hard it is for an emotion to be transmitted and for that emotion to be received.

And this evening, after a few hours out with a friend of twenty years’ chemistry, and upon hearing this song in my playlist, I was thrown back on its heady understatement.

Which tunes conduct us into the relationships that are between and beyond logical tellings? I mean those that are most essential for our sense of ourselves, beyond logical telling, beyond storytelling, beyond and outside, amen. This is where “secular music” overlaps the most “spiritual theology” and admits that, in the end, there is nothing firm to be known other than surrender to more life.

Here is Rush with “Chemistry.”

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Tommy Beaudoin, Yonkers, New York

From the Vault: I Still Dig Creed!

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on April 28, 2013

That was my confession here at R&T in April 2009, and it remains true today.

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From the musical “Passing Strange” (about which I have written at R&T here, here, and in a three-part meditation, here, here, and here) comes the beautiful tune “Come Down Now.” The song includes the lyrics: “Come down now / remove your mask, you see / all you have to do is ask me / I’ll give you all the love life allows”…

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This scene and this song often put me in mind of basic spiritual tasks in which “religions” can engage: ceasing to mistake yourself for divinity (“come down now”); shedding personae that inhibit a deeper yes to the depth of existence (“remove your mask”); consenting more openly to ultimate reality (“ask me”); taking as gift the fullness therein for more life (“I’ll give you all the love”). It is too much to say that these elements are “essential” to “religion,” but they are often enough found by those who end up being categorized as “religious” or “spiritual.” This song offers a space to hold important spiritual experience. Spiritual traditions offer ways of making further sense of this song.

Tommy Beaudoin, Yonkers, New York

“For the Love of Money”

Posted in: Christianity,General by Tom Beaudoin on April 26, 2013

In the USA, the love of money is all around us: in pictures of the good life, the fulfilled or successful person. Wealth is so identified with power that well-placed suggestions to the contrary can provoke anger, disbelief, or disdain. Many religions make a criticism of greed or the lure of wealth central to the liberation of the human individual and community. In the Christian scripture, it is said that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), and the gospel of Matthew in chapter 25 tells a story (as I would put it) about how one’s attitude toward the disposition of resources (food, clothing, time, “money,” etc) structures one’s ability to consent to ultimate reality. There may be no more urgent theological common ground today than the generation of alternative loves to the love of money, whether that be love of divinity, of self, of others, of nature, of creativity, or more. The rock and roll tradition offers many celebrations of the love of money, but just as many criticisms of it. Music and religion can both be tutors in handing over this perilous kind of love and learning other kinds. Here are the Bullet Boys and “For the Love of Money.”

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Tommy Beaudoin, Yonkers, New York

Recently, there has been much controversy over songs from Christian rap artists Shai Linne and Sho Baraka. I would say, its about f***ing A time that a Christian rap artist begins a much needed discourse beyond the milk-salvation-in-a-can messages that so much of the genre has been composed of for so long. What they are essentially doing is etching out a new era of critique, and doing what artists such as N.W.A., Tupac, Jasiri X, and countless more have been doing for decades: calling out and challenging status quo structures that often oppress communities.

Linne & Baraka are a welcomee breath of fresh air and needed in this time of bombings, mass shootings, and an exponential wealth gap that does not seem to be showing any signs of decreasing.

As Christina Zanfagna—an ethnomusicologist who studies rap and religious discourses— reminds us, “Hip-hop wrestles with the ways in which the hedonistic body and the seeking soul can be fed and elevated in dynamic tension.”[i] So rappers like Sho Baraka and Shai Linne are beginning to wrestle with these dynamic tensions and offer powerful critiques of Christian theology in their music. And as I have remained a strong critic of the rap genre “Christian rap,” I am finally delighted to see some artists stepping away from what I describe as “milk gospel messages” into a more Hip Hop critique of prevailing forms of oppression with Black and urban theological discourses. It is about time.

Isn’t there a line that should be drawn though? Linne’s critique is claiming “false teachers,” isn’t that heretical in and of itself? Linne isn’t creating unity but division and hate. And Baraka’s “choice of words” destroy any “Christian witness.” These are all fair questions and counter criticism. And, while I do not necessarily feel all of the names on Linne’s list are “false teachers,” the critique is still needed. Moreover, who gets to define what a (more…)


The Harlem Shake: Its Spiritual Significance?

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on April 23, 2013

I have been thinking about the “Harlem Shake” — a dance craze set to a relatively short but infectious bit of house music that has swept so many corners of the nation that no doubt its most delighted enjoyers are now well on to other things. But I’m just now catching up to it. All sorts of different groups of people have filmed themselves doing it — just enter “Harlem Shake” in YouTube and watch what you find (though beware that some are more explicit than others).

I don’t find the various degrees or styles of sexual explicitness (usually in the form of simulated sexual acts, many absurd or irreverent) worthy of too much theological comment, aside from exploring the reinforcement or reworking of standard societal images of sexuality. I think the many sexual references in the videos are significant for what they suggest about the need to rehearse and break free from sexual norms as as a way of getting to something more real, different, or “other” outside of those norms.

I am also interested in the basic movement of the videos as theologically significant: the movement from individual “oddness” amidst “normal” everyday life into the sudden explosion of heterophany, Walpurgis Night, heterotopia, like some medieval painting of hell in which each person is doomed to repeat some basic gesture that landed them in this eternal state. Except it is not hell in these videos; it is a party in which all manner of figures of life — now enacted in repetition — are posed as ecstatic personae. But the very repetition presents a tension within the party atmosphere, as if to ask (more…)

From a post by Michael Iafrate in April 2009.


When I wrote Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X in 1998, one of the reviews (thankfully not this classic two-word review) pointed out that I had given theological commentary on the music of the band Nirvana but had never attempted to explore the meaning of the band’s name itself. That was quite right, and that observation, among many other experiences, eventually gave me the impetus to try to enter into “different” and “other” religious experiences, texts, traditions, such that I would describe my theological work on popular culture and on other topics as increasingly a philosophy of religious/spiritual practice that is interreligiously and intersecularly informed.

But the journey out of reliance on a “single” religious tradition, learning to see the world multilingually/multireligiously, can be a complicated one. That is why I was interested to read recently about the “Esplanade of Religions” in France. What might it be like if religious/spiritual/theological sense-making of music were to be incubated in such an esplanade — whatever form that might take in different cultural contexts? I think that is the direction that further research in music and religion will — and must — go.

Back to Nirvana. I confess that I wasn’t thinking too much of Buddhism when I studied Nirvana in the 1990s, especially because of videos like this:

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Tommy Beaudoin, New York City



“Tweet me a photo of your altar/sacred spot”

Posted in: Fandom,General by Tom Beaudoin on April 18, 2013

That is the note that Alanis Morissette posted to Twitter yesterday. Here is the picture she attached to it (presumably of her own altar). Thus far, she has received several dozen responses on Instagram and Twitter alone, and probably many more on the wider Internet.

It is interesting to me that a pop musician would solicit something like examples of an “altar/sacred spot.” Many religious institutions would benefit from asking such a question of their own people or of the larger public that they would like to engage.

Morissette, who has described herself as post-Catholic, played a show for the Vatican a dozen or so years ago, and performed a song that is ‘about’ religious skepticism: “Baba.”

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…But that does not mean she has foreclosed a spiritual search. In fact, hers has been a relatively public search, exemplified by that tweet yesterday. I have written several times about Ms. Morissette and spirituality at R&T, including most recently here in January, and some time ago, here on ‘eucharist’ (more…)

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