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In part 1 and part 2, I wrote about the changing character of my theology of scripture, specifically scripture as comprehended in reading. It remains to ask what the parallels might be between listening to music and reading scripture.

Reading scripture is usually for the purpose of trying to receive something from or through it. It is impossible to finally adjudicate what counts as a religious or spiritual or theological intention toward the text “going in,” and the same is true with what is taken away “going out.” There are too many possible readings and readers, too many angles on what counts as the theological material of the context, the intention, the experience, or the reception. This is not the same as saying that every possible act of dealing with scripture is the same as any other, or that theology contributes nothing to the figuring and the comprehension of such acts.

What reading scripture and hearing music have in common is that they are situated experiences: ancient, yes, in their pedigree, but also shaped by style — such as musical genre or religious tradition, racial-ethnic identification, sexual self-cosmology. What they further have in common — theologically — is the multivectored forms of sense-making that can be attributed to them: (more…)

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From the Vault: Punk Rock and Jewish Identity

Posted in: From the Vault,General by Tom Beaudoin on October 29, 2013

From my June 2009 post

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Part 1 is here, introducing the idea of relating reading scripture to hearing music, searching for what is spiritually significant in both. My last post pasted in my appendix on reading scripture from my 2003 book, Consuming Faith. My writing of that appendix already signaled my realization that I needed to account theologically for my use of the Bible in that book. But I was not done thinking about what kind of reading produced what kind of theological knowledge, especially in this case of consumerism/branding and spirituality. So when it came time to write an updated preface for the paperback edition of that book (2006), I wrote this:

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Preface to the Paperback Edition

The need for a paperback edition of Consuming Faith is a reminder that unbridled global American capitalism remains devastating news for much of the world’s poor, and that Christians and all people of good will have yet to feel this stranglehold for the violence that it is, not to mention voicing sufficient protest against it and imagining different worlds in the face of it. The occasion of this edition is but one tiny index of the absence of economic apocalypse toward which Christians, anyway, should be leading the United States.

This book was my attempt to show that corporate branding, a major feature of the young adult cultural landscape, should be a profound offense to those who hope to be worthy of the name Christian. Branding provides a structure for living similar to that of spiritual disciplines, and branding does so through an attempted and continually renewed psychological violence toward us, the “consumers.” And though the most ironic and media-literate among us may in some measure avoid this corporate address, no one can contest that branding depends to a monstrous degree on physical and other (more…)

What is the relationship between reading and hearing? How about the relationship between reading theologically ‘overcharged’ texts, like scripture, and hearing theologically ‘undercharged’ music, like popular music? In other words, how is theological material extracted from reading and hearing, by readers and hearers?

I was thinking about this recently as I reflected on some shifts in my own thinking about reading scripture. For my book Consuming Faith: Integrating Who We Are With What We Buy (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), I had written an appendix for the first printing about reading scripture, because by the time I had written the book, I realized how much I was relying on interpretations of scripture to carry the argument, and that was already becoming a place of puzzlement for me. By the time of the paperback, I had written a new preface revising my take not only on the appendix but what was in the book, as well. In one sense, these were my ongoing reconsiderations about reading scripture. I wonder what lessons they give, if any, about hearing music.

It may take me a few posts to being to open this up. Here is the “Appendix: On Reading Scripture” from Consuming Faith:

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Appendix: On Reading Scripture

The one precondition for reading the Bible fruitfully is knowing how to read it.

I long ago gave up the idea that the Bible has one answer for anything. I confess to nausea at any mention of “a biblical worldview,” which has for many years now seemed to me like something between intellectual dishonesty and spiritual manipulation.

The Bible is a motley assortment of stories, poems, myths, hymns, letters, histories, and aphorisms that submit to no single controlling principle. Despite all attempts to smooth over the tensions, discrepancies, and contradictions in it, the heterogeneity of the Bible defies all attempts to reduce it to one program, theology, perspective, or worldview. Even calling it “the Bible” (literally, “the book”) can be the beginning of idolatry. (I much prefer (more…)

The Black Crowes and Postures of Liftoff

Posted in: General,Voicework by Tom Beaudoin on October 25, 2013

Last night at Terminal 5 in Manhattan, I saw the Black Crowes.

(Here they are from the early 1990s:)

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Last night, this well-oiled blues-rock machine of a band seemed relatively loose but also a little workmanlike at times. The most compelling figure for me, as for many Black Crowes fans, is lead singer Chris Robinson. (Below are a few pictures I took.)

Many fans sympathetically mimicked Robinson’s gestures, making his center stage their own, or their body his own. I wondered if this sympathetic gesturing from fans is particularly compelling to do because Mr. Robinson has developed numerous bodily wherewithals suggesting (more…)

Last night in my class at Fordham on “Pastoral Planning,” a class about planning and evaluation practices for religious communities, we read and discussed Mark Lau Branson’s book Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change (Alban, 2004).

Branson, borrowing from business world planning theory called “appreciative inquiry,” argues that churches should not orient their planning around solving problems but around reaching for a new future emboldened by grateful remembering about what has given life in this community. The planning energy then gets centered around what people have received from the community, and how they might continue to do so in new ways, rather than what is going wrong. In part this is just a shift of emphasis from fixing the negative to deepening the positive, but in part this is a really different cast of mind about how to take the temperature of a religious community. Branson finds in the Psalms and in the Christian scriptural letters of Paul the warrants for the priority of gratitude and thanksgiving before lament and criticism.

(Branson does something interesting with Paul’s letter to the Philippians, where early on a series of “if” questions is posed or implied: “If there is any encouragement… consolation… sharing…” etc. Branson suggests that with the “if” explicit or implied, Paul means to ask his readers to search their memories for whether and how these experience might be true for them. I appreciated the attention of the rhetorical character of Paul’s letter-writing and Branson’s creative relating of it to communal decision-making, allowing contemporary communities to ask: Have we been this way? Have we (more…)

Review of Secular Music and Sacred Theology

Posted in: General,Reviews by Tom Beaudoin on October 23, 2013

A review of Secular Music and Sacred Theology, written with contributions from many R&T authors, is online at “Catholic Books Review” here. (The reviewer slightly misstates my name, but better a good review with a little mistake than…) You can find our book SMST at the publisher’s website here or on amazon here

Calling all starship troopers! From this May 2009 post here at R&T.

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Ruminatio: Was Rock and Theology Inspired by 1970s Catholicism?

Posted in: Ruminatio by Tom Beaudoin on October 20, 2013

My earliest memories from my Catholic boyhood date to the mid-1970s, when I would have been about 6 years old. Dave Nantais’ recent post about Sr. Janet Mead and her rock and roll version of the “Our Father” prayer immediately sent me back to that era. I have vague but sure recollections of hearing and singing that arrangement of the song at mass in the ’70s.

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We also sang pop/rock-inflected hymns at “CCD” (religion classes during the week), and during retreats or other youth programs. There seemed to be a fair amount of theater/drama in our religious education, too. We could act out Bible-inspired skits or use primitive video cameras to record our own “commercials” (I did one for “Jesus Adds Life” as a riff on the commercial jingle “Coke Adds Life,” and I pray that it never finds its way to YouTube).

My friends and I were both pious and irreverent at once. We prayed the prayers, received our sacraments, and respected our authorities, and I never once — not once — bothered to wonder whether there was any other or better route to God for me or anyone else than the Catholic road. I joined many friends in being a good altar boy for several years, and taking pride in excelling at it. But we were also at the same time being drawn into a world whose contours we could not fathom at the time: rock and roll — and its related allures, real and imagined: sex, the occult, “other” religions, hedonism, the musical life, and general untetheredness. As far as I can remember, we rarely saw any substantial conflict between being Catholic and loving popular (more…)

R&T readers may have already watched it, but I recently found out about this (2008?) conversation on religion and art with two revered artists: United States musician and author Patti Smith, and German director, actor, and author Christoph Schlingensief (who died in 2010). While there are several parts in this German- and English-language dialogue that are particularly evocative, I especially enjoyed Ms. Smith’s remarks at minute 41 and following, on the experience and the concept of God. Among other things, she says that “Being magnified by the idea of God means that we are living imagination.”

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Here is Ms. Smith in 1976, riffing on the idea that in the quest for true liberation, “a million doors are not enough.”

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One need not agree with every statement in these videos to ask: How is it that artists can sometimes (not always!) explore religion in more fruitful ways than those (like myself) who are thought to specialize in the practice and theory of religion?

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

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