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September 2017
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Thanks to Dave Nantais for the invitation to think about the way rock culture confects friendship in general and male friendship in particular. Friendship, that intimate concern of ancient philosophy and occasionally of Christian theology (especially the monastic tradition), is always a worthy topic for the overlap of theology and music.

I want to raise a few questions in response to Nantais’ post.

First, in the movie clip where the “I Love You, Man!” guys are going nuts at the Rush concert, where “the girlfriend” stands aghast at the sea of slightly geeky male abandon, I was watching that and remembering how much such scenes are a part of my own and so many people’s history, and how much the stories of live concerts are a part of the story many modern/Western/secular people tell about themselves, and about high points or memorable points in their lives. And I wondered, when we tell the stories of our lives in quick exchanges or more leisurely conversations, how have we learned to disaggregate these “secular” concert experiences from our “spiritual” lives, or from being potentially “theological” material? Have any studies been done on the operative discourses or practices that encourage either their aggregation or disaggregation? My rock-culture-trained gut tells me that something about the “secular” markings of the concert scene make it permissible to express and indulge the kinds of passions we see in that clip. But if this is the case, is this part of the instantiation of secularity that Talal Asad and other scholars have outlined, where real formation is happening through ideological cultural practices that are “spiritually” significant but that separate the practitioner from social-political influence — that is, we learn to restrict that “performance” we underwent, and its origins and its implications, to that space, and to call it “merely secular”? “It was just a rock show.”

And on the Plant video: that is one well-crafted salute to his friend and bandmate Jimmy Page, with many phrases to ponder afterward. When I teach the field of practical theology to my students, I often give them my pithy definition of religious practices, which are what finally fascinates practical theologians: religious practices, or — stated differently — practices of theological significance, are, in my estimation, well understood as “orchestrations of identity with respect to claiming power.” They have to do with how persons get put together individually and communally with reference to the grounding power(s) they claim and that claim them. From this vantage, listen to how Plant describes the power that claims Page and Page’s music, and presumably Plant as well: “…towards the one light of invention and excitement.” “You created music from beyond music.”

The “one light of invention and excitement,” the “from beyond music” — these are rich imaginaries for “claiming power.” For theologians, that “claiming power” will be tangled up with the notion of God at some point in the inquiry — whether as a starting point, as a reference point, or as the conclusion.

One implication of this theological vantage is that we take seriously the following questions: Can we

speak of God as “the one light of invention and excitement”? Can we speak of God as that “from beyond music”? And equally importantly, can we speak of “the one light of invention and excitement” as “God”? Can we speak of that “from beyond music” as “God”?

I think these are the sorts of questions that must be thought through if theology is to realize its own potential for social-cultural care of souls — its traditional task — today. But these questions are best not only “thought” through, but also “played” through. I (and many others) get a critical and meditative purchase on them through both academic learning as well as playing/enjoying music. I would like to have these questions in mind at my desk, and in hand in the rehearsal studio.

And why not conclude this post with Plant singing “Silver Rider” with Patty Griffin and the Band of Joy? Here is more meditation on “claiming power” and what it can do to us.

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Tommy Beaudoin, New York City

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