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On Saturday night, I saw the Italian rock band Lacuna Coil perform at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Last week they released their new album “Dark Adrenaline,” and were the opening act on the Gigantour, a collection of metal bands headlined by Megadeath.) Do you know what it feels like to be way, way into a band? I am that way with this band. It has to do with their cocktail of rockish bombast, unabashed respect for melodic hooks, and restless and searching spirituality in the back-and-forth between Christina Scabbia’s arena-rock vocal soaring and Andrea Ferro’s spoken word chant-yell, dealing out lyrics about ruptures in relationship, about the taste for something more around the corner, about the “no” to everything small about the present, and occasionally about the grandeur of something calling out from existential rubble. References to saviors, angels, churches, sins, desolations and consolations, and more are distributed liberally throughout their tunes, in an almost baroque display of references from theological tradition admixed with a spirit of introspection. In other words, they are well within the atmosphere of metal, but a strong female lead singer puts them in a somewhat different relationship to the typically male-heavy genre.

Here is their new tune, “Trip the Darkness”:

Making use of her power all along the front of the stage, a dynamism erotic but not cheap, spiritually open but not banal, Scabbia is the difference between Lacuna Coil being just another metal band and something more compelling. And witnessing Scabbia trading grandiose strides, dramatic gestures, and the vocal pouring-out-of-self with Ferro all along the front of the stage on Saturday night, I was not so much taught any particular lesson as I was drawn into an atmosphere of at-stake-ness that I want to inform my everyday life.

In this kind of rock, things matter, which is why I have never been too interested in jokey/ironic rock. Even though

Lacuna Coil played only a short 20+ minute set, my experience there continues hundreds or thousands of hours in live rock venues and anticipates hundreds or thousands more, texturing the ordinary life spent outside those dark rockish liturgical spaces with a sense of at-stake-ness also valued by and confected in the theological tradition.

Here they are with their song “Our Truth” live a few years ago:

After Lacuna Coil, I headed to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where I met a friend to go to The Comic Strip, a venerable comedy club. We took our seats for the show, and (aided by the two-drink minimum) enjoyed the first two comedians, up-and-comers in the local scene. And then the emcee took the stage and said that before the headliner came on, we might want to sit tight because they had a special guest for us. Pause. “Please welcome Chris Rock!” he yelled, as if announcing the results of a major election. The famed comedian Chris Rock took the stage and, after enduring a long ovation/frenzy, performed a set of jokes about social networking, celebrity, and reality television that had the audience in nearly total attentiveness punctuated by mild to intense bouts of laughter.

The audience concentration, and Rock’s own, was palpably focused, and almost materially united. My friend and I could only look at each other in shock at this surprising and elevating moment, elevating because, as theologian Karl Rahner has argued, laughter shows that we want to be, and are, on “good terms with reality,” and that we are able to consent to what is uncontrollable in our lives.

I concluded the evening thinking about the significance of the once-in-a-while conduit to something more in our lives, the occasional high in which — with the ancient philosopher Lucretius — the “walls of the world fly apart.” Many churches and academic theologians today look down on those who only attend religious service once in a while, as if irregular attendance is only a concession to selfish individualism. But what if, like the choice to occasionally attend a concert or comedy club, the practice of occasional attendance at religious services is a way of searching out that occasional connection that — despite the official theologies — are enough to sustain what really works for people in everyday life? If churches are going to move beyond moralism about attendance and participation, they are going to have to learn models of occasional meaningful participation in contemporary society, outside the simplistically-deployed categories of consumption/relativism. I will be ready for more Lacuna Coil and live comedy — but not too soon.

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

2 Comments »

  1. tom, great stuff here!

    years ago i was once at an indigo girls concert at red rocks amphitheater in the foothills of the rocky mountains near denver. the seating faces the plains of eastern colorado. the amazing experience at this concert was the mixture of hearing and seeing the performance backdropped by an awesome lightning storm out on the plains. an occasional transcendent moment it surely was, one that still gives meaning to this day, some 20 years later.

    what i wonder for the church, if it is to become an occasional and not-so-occasional place of connection to something higher (god), is a very practical question: how do we support the ministry (financially) to ensure it is there for the “occasional”? will the church need to charge for attendance/participation (like concerts)? is that the model the church needs to learn? or is there another way?

    as a pastor i see plenty of occasional attenders/participants in the greater life of the parish. they are more likely to be the ones who will give feedback about how meaningful their participation at an event was. i am glad for their presence, and do not try to hit them with the “moralism of attendance and participation.”

    yet, local faith communities could die because the “occasional” usually does not translate into good financial support for the ministry. and if the faith community dies, who then provides the “occasional” ministry?

    or, is this a problem unique to traditional, historical churches (catholics, lutherans, methodists, etc.) that have structures to support and professional ministers/staff to pay? do we need to be more nimble?

    great things to ponder, thanks!

    (and btw…loved hearing lacuna coil, so just downloaded their latest album!)

    Comment by Mark Frickey — January 30, 2012 @ 8:02 am

  2. Mark, thank you for your thought-provoking reply. I appreciate how your questions go right to the material viability of an ‘occasional attender’ model for church involvement. I have a few thoughts about the future viability of churches (a great many, and in some regions of the USA, no doubt, a majority of churches) whose attendees are going increasingly toward the “occasional” model. I think that some churches will need to close down, and some will consolidate with other churches. This is of course already happening. This is an old story in the history of religion in general and Christianity in particular. More radically, however, churches today have the opportunity to start cooperating with other religious communities, like temples and mosques and synagogues, to share resources where they can. And most radically of all, I can imagine a cultural endowment, like the National Endowment for the Arts, where “arts” is broadened to include religious communities as “artistic” sites, who can benefit from tax revenue to sustain their work in a world of occasional attenders. This will take a reinterpretation of church-state relations for many, but that has of course happened throughout USA history. In the short term, publicizing these kinds of issues is important because we need to count the cultural cost of churches closing down due to decelerations in peoples’ practices of affiliation. That said, there are enormous complexities of this issue that are not pondered in this brief blog exchange…

    Comment by Tommy Beaudoin — January 31, 2012 @ 10:31 pm

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