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Here is part three of my short series on the spiritual benefits of following a band for a long time. Part one is here, and part two here.

About ten years ago, the band was interviewed answering fan questions that were facilitated (if memory serves) by RushCon, an annual Rush fan convention. At the time, I was teaching at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. I submitted a question that, fortunately, was selected to be asked. The question, as you can hear in the video (I don’t know who conducted the actual interview) was: “Can you please comment on the relationship between your music and your spirituality? How does your spiritual life make its way into Rush’s music, and is playing in any way spiritual for you?” Vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee answered it in an interesting way. You can see it here:

 

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Why was I interested in knowing this from the band, and what did I think of Geddy Lee’s reply? Somewhere during my theological studies in the 1990s, I realized that rock and roll experience could be thought of as containing or rendering its own spiritual significance, and that this music was not strictly “separate” from religion/spirituality/faith/etc, nor was it only a “preparation” for something more genuine or deep. I have understood that spiritual significance in different ways over the years. And I was interested in how the band thought about this—if they thought about it at all. It turns out that Mr. Lee took some time with the question and gave a thoughtful response.

His response makes a lot of sense to me: It sounds like he distanced himself from religion, or what religion had been in his life, as a way of finding a more persuasive account of – or experience of – how reality works. This journey, more or less on these terms, is very common in contemporary society, and has an integrity of its own, which bears emphasizing because some religious leaders and other religious persons/religion scholars argue that those who leave religion or maintain a loose relationship to it are spiritual slackers, “relativists,” or self-centered individualists.

I notice other aspects of his remarks that make his approach one that comes from and speaks to what philosopher Charles Taylor calls our “secular age.” He separates religion from spirituality (“I am a spiritual person … the spirit of positive energy”), and he takes a humble stance toward what if anything can be said of things beyond this world. What is “tangible” is the arena with which we should be concerned. I also notice Mr. Lee’s mention, too, of “karma,” which has made its way into popular parlance as a useful concept in the everyday meanings it has taken on. It seems to suggest what scholars might call a “mystical” element to his thinking, when he talks about the basic interrelatedness of the experience of the world, wherein good acts contribute to the world’s forward motion. “Promot[ing] positive energy” is, I think, an excellent short summary of what spirituality can mean in a secular age. There is a sense of “more” to/than life, too: “somehow,” he says, your “positive energy contributes and builds momentum.”

Some will criticize Geddy Lee’s kind of thinking for its religious nonconformity, for its agnosticism, for defining Judaism as a religion so narrowly, and for cavalierly using the notion of karma as he does. Many religion and theology scholars specialize in this kind of criticism, and I have indulged such intellectual moralizing as well. But Mr. Lee and the millions of others who think and live this way are not putting forth a scholarly argument or making an academic assertion that is meant to intervene in the academic debates as they have been fashioned to take place today. Mr. Lee and millions of others are finding language – here, in this interview, on the fly – for how to make sense of their life, for how they hold life together, in light of what they have endured and in relation to the powers that they claim and the powers that claim them. This is significant for all of us who are concerned about religion/spirituality/faith/etc as part of our professions.

As theologically-minded people, let’s hear what he says (and what so many others say) as a creative statement about naming his place in the cosmos with respect to forces that operate in depth. That is theologically significant material, to be sure. What we don’t know, of course, is how that language that he found/invented is situated in relation to his living. However, there is plenty of evidence that his life as a musician has often been characterized by generosity and a commitment to social justice. He has been active in Grapes for Humanity, and the band recently announced that part of the proceeds from upcoming shows will be donated to the Unison Benevolent Fund. Such practices — only hinted at here — are not insignificant when trying to make sense of someone’s account of ultimate reality.

(A side note: I wonder if this is a band of three “deconverts” – we have Lee distancing from Judaism, but I don’t know about drummer Neil Peart’s religious background (he has written negatively about religion, and just recently hoped for its expiration) or guitarist Alex Lifeson’s religious heritage (although he comes from a Serbian immigrant family). It would certainly not be unusual among musicians.)

Part of the spiritual benefit of following a band for a long time is settling into this kind of depth of curiosity about how the band produces the magic that is their music, how the band members make sense of ultimate reality, and what it means for fans.

Sitting with this curiosity over time sweetens the experience and makes it even more important for fans because the musicians’ philosophy/theology of life that informs the music is present in every listening, potentially or actually, and it can help fans with their own philosophy/theology of life.

I’ll have more to say in a final post in this short series. Thanks for reading along so far.

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

5 Comments »

  1. I, too, am 44, a Christ-follower, and have been a Rush fan since Moving Pictures gained popularity in 1981. Rush’s music inspired me to learn guitar and bass and now I am involved in my church’s music ministry and have been a worship leader in several churches. My wife and I going to see Clockwork Angels in Grand Rapids TONIGHT! Our family was listening to Clockwork Angels at lunch today and my son, age 7, observed, “I don’t think this singer loves God.” This led to a long discussion about faith and doubt, about the possibility of being hurt/judged by the church, about fundamentalism, and about common grace showing up in unusual places (Wish Them Well). My dear little son piped up that he would pray for Rush and that they somehow have a positive faith experience in their lives. This also led to a websearch and here I am. I’ve read this blog series with great interest and have had many of the same observations and appreciations about the band. Great to find a kindred spirit. I look forward to your 4th post on this topic and I’ll share on that post my experiences of the concert tonight.

    Comment by Steve Fridsma — June 30, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

  2. I too am Christian and I’m 44 years old too and have loved this band’s music since maybe 1978! I do not believe this band is into the occult. No. I just want to say that I will pray for Rush on their behalf not only for their safety but also that the Holy Spirit will reveal Himself to them. I have a feeling Rush will see that God really exists. Afterall they really do have open minds, regardless of their beliefs. I do pray particularly for Neil Peart as he has lost so much in his life. By the way I saw Rush yesterday July 4th Summerfest Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Thanks Rush for showing the world how Rock music should sound like.

    Comment by Efrem — July 5, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

  3. efrem… where was your ‘god’ when neil suffered tragically as he did, first losing his only (at that time) daughter of 19, and then having his wife succumb to cancer not a yr later?

    Comment by canali — July 19, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

  4. Rush is a deeply mystical band. This has been common knowledge on the web for years. See the writings posted here: http://egodeath.com/#mysticstaterockallusions

    Their lyrics vividly portray experiences encountered in the mystic altered state of consciousness, especially that of egodeath and transcendent rebirth, when one’s personal locus of self-control power is seized and then reconfigured to take into account the dependency of local control power on a hidden, ultimate source of control.

    Acid-influenced Rock music is the authentic mystery religion of our time. Rock lyrics allude to altered state phenomena and Rock music provides a sonically adventurous backdrop for exploring such phenomena. The study of Rock music interspersed with altered state sessions is an efficient and ergonomic means of being initiated into the highest levels of religious experiencing and enlightenment.

    Comment by cyberdisciple — August 6, 2013 @ 11:15 am

  5. I am Polish, every day I pray for the conversion of Geddy Lee. It breaks my heart that he does not believe in Jesus. Let us pray for the conversion and baptism for Geddy.

    Comment by Aga — September 28, 2013 @ 11:41 am

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