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September 2017
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My friend J. sent me a link to an interesting website called Sacred Spaces in Profane Buildings. Check out the pictures there and see what thoughts they occasion in you. The website was apparently begun as part of a 2011 exhibit at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City. During the exhibit, this call for submissions appeared:

Do you know of a secret-sacred building in your neighborhood?
Do you know of a shop that has become a Mosque?
Or an apartment that has become an Iglesia Evangelica?
Is there a prayer space in your block?

And, perhaps like our readers, I immediately thought of connections to Rock and Theology. Here, we ask things like:

How have you been saved/healed/freed/helped by rock and roll/hip hop/trance/pop/secular music/pop music/electronica/your playlist?

Are there rituals/practices/gestures/actions/performances in music/music cultures that seem to have a religious/spiritual/faith significance for you or for others?

Are there elements of faith/religion/spirituality/etc that seem to be musically/secularly significant?

What does the overlap/intersection/paradox/correlation/convergence of musical experience/culture and faith/religion/spirituality/etc mean to you or to your community?

Like the  Sacred Spaces in Profane Buildings project, we are attempting to catalogue the varieties of spiritual experience in contemporary culture — in space/place, like the Sacred Spaces project, but also in feeling, memory, imagination, and action.

What are the “sacred spaces” amidst “profane places” for you?

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

The “Rock and Theology” project got its start in the spring of 2007, when a theologian friend sent me a link from “Whispers in the Loggia,” to a story about Notker Wolf, then the head of the Benedictines, a Catholic religious order. There was Wolf, strumming an electric guitar with right hand, left hand a-swashing the neck forth and back, face full of focus and a drum kit off his right shoulder. Oh, yes, that’s definitely an atypically liturgical shade of concert orange sidelight shining onto him and the kit, as well. And that cowl—so exceedingly metal! As a cohabitor of Catholicism, rock music, and theology, as a devotee of loud sounds shaken out of guitars under auburn lights, I could hardly breathe. What face of rock was this? I felt in this picture a strange, uncontrollable, entrancing, and consoling beckoning.

I soon learned that Notker Wolf lives not only in the spiritual atmosphere of Sant’Anselmo in Rome, but of his own rock band, Feedback. This was all too much for me and seemed to spell out an opportunity for integrating much that I cared about. I had been playing bass guitar in rock bands since 1985 (starting in Christian bands, and then off to secular bands by the late 1980s), had been raised Catholic, and had finished a PhD in religion and education at Boston College in 2001. Since then, I’d taught theology at BC, and then at Santa Clara University (and am now at Fordham University). I knew that I was called to an academic theological vocation, but had stayed connected to the rock scene wherever I lived, and played in bands where I could, all the while living the life of a rock fan: going to shows, listening to music, keeping up with music news and online fan discussions.

Immediately after the defense of my doctoral dissertation, I went to get my ear re-pierced and found a rock show that night, as a way of reminding myself what I thought my life should be about. And as I have gotten deeper into academic life, staying in the rock world and playing in rock bands has only become more important for me. I’ve been in more bands since I started teaching college than I was in all my years before. It became impossible to tell whether I was, at my core, more rabid for theology or for rock, and this mutual imbrication began to show up more and more in my theological publications—and in my rock playing and songwriting. More and more of my academic and musical production was beginning to center on the cultural register of theological experience: appreciating what it means to think theology as a cultural (and secular, and musical) practice, and how cultural (secular, musical) practices come to be experienced as theological.

Hello, Livermore! With Speedwalker, 2007

Hello, Livermore! With Speedwalker, 2007

So that Notker Wolf picture activated something in me. I knew other theologians who were also practicing rock musicians, and I wondered how they held it all together. How did they live in both “secular music” and “sacred theology”? I thought it would be worth trying to see what a deeper integration of rock and theology might feel like.