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Stories, Transcendence, and My Morning Jacket

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on December 22, 2013

VH1’s “Storytellers” is one of my television favorite shows. It features musicians who perform in front of a small live audience and tell personal stories about their music.

Recently I watched My Morning Jacket’s performance on the show. The episode actually aired in 2011 but this was the first time I’d seen it. At one point, Jim Jones, the band’s lead singer/guitarist/songwriter, told a very poignant story about a late friend. As many childhood buddies do, the two of them shared dreams together. Dreams of performing in a band, of being successful musicians. Unfortunately Jones’ friend died young but he has not been forgotten. Jones wrote a song called “Dondante” in honor of his friend. Here is the video clip from “Storytellers.” Listen to the very end of the video because there is more to the story.

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What I love most about this video is the rawness, the emotional vulnerability Jones shares with his audience. It epitomizes the intersection of rock music and theology; an intersection that can be described as a crossroads where we go to experience transcendence—a kind of “release” from our “selves,” our egos, and our physical limitations. Transcendence takes us on a special journey, an “expedition of the soul,” that can lead to redemption, to shared suffering, to joy, to healing, to mourning, to meaning. To so many places where mere ordinary words simply cannot take us; where only melodies, lyrics, chants, prayers, rituals, and stories can lead us. Places we need to go because we are embodied souls searching for the Mystery that is God.

Mary McDonough


See Melena Ryzik’s interview with Jim James, of the band My Morning Jacket, here.

Here is James’ new song “A New Life” from his new solo album “Regions of Light and Sound of God.”

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In the interview, James says that “I don’t really believe in a God, like a white man with a beard in the sky.” I would hasten to add that lots of people who profess belief in God don’t believe in that kind of God, either.

Indeed, according to theologian James Fowler’s famous study, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning (Harper and Row, 1981), the more mature stages of faith in human life progressively de-anthropomorphize God. Many who avow theism from different religious traditions show that one can dispense with a “grandfather God” and still retain belief in divinity.

However, this should not lull thinking people into intellectual/spiritual complacence or an unearned sense of superiority. As psychoanalyst Ana-Maria Rizzuto found in her research on God-images, published as Birth of the Living God: A Psychoanalytic Study (University of Chicago, 1979), images of God are typically constructed out of early relationships to primary caregivers. Even a “nonanthropomorphic” image of God might still have a relationship to, and emotional embeddedness in, an early significant other as part of its genealogy. This is not to reduce “God” to parent(s), but to acknowledge that James’ tired invocation of (and denial of) the “white man with a beard in the sky” is not so easily dispensed-with.

There is also, importantly, the racial dimension, the “white man.” As a substantial raft of literature has shown in recent decades, images of God are saturated with racial over/undertones in the U.S. context. God is as racialized as American society is. To disbelieve in a “white man” as God does not mean necessarily to have graduated from a racialized God. That may be one of the most difficult things of all to do.

With reference to Jim James’ taste for gospel music from the 1970s-early 80s, he says that “most of the music I do enjoy, they do it (more…)