Check out Thomas Beaudoin's new blog, Rock and Theology. Tom is a creative practical theologian at Fordham University in New York. Liturgical Press is involved and will likely publish some books along these lines as well.
"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.
Great, Tom. Looking forward to more!
anon and peace,
Two recent posts have had very interesting and compelling takes on Obama's call for us to 'grow up' and focus on what is good for our common life and for the world, not just what's good for me. I think this emphasis was a large part of my excitement about Obama. He didn't seem, like so many politicians, willing to pander to my selfish gene, for example with the silly debate last Spring about if we should all get a bail out to help us buy gas over the summer. Obama had the only sensible voice in that crazy conversation. The first post is from one of the leading American sociologists, Robert Bellah, whose arguemtns about individualism and American have defined the debates for a generation. He writes:
His arguments about where Obama's center lies are very hopeful, and to hear Bellah being hopeful is no small thing--the man is a realist and very cynical about American life, even if his Christian faith leads him in the end to have hope despite our often deeply flawed leaders and public life.
The second post is from E. J. Dionne, Jr. who strikes a similar cord:
"What makes Obama a radical, albeit of the careful and deliberate variety, is his effort to reverse the two kinds of extreme individualism that have permeated the American political soul for perhaps four decades.
He sets his face against the expressive individualism of the 1960s that defined "do your own thing" as the highest form of freedom. On the contrary, Obama speaks of responsibilities, of doing things for others, even of that classic bourgeois obligation, "a parent's willingness to nurture a child."
But he also rejects the economic individualism that took root in the 1980s. He specifically listed "the greed and irresponsibility on the part of some" as a cause for our economic distress. He discounted "the pleasures of riches and fame." He spoke of Americans not as consumers but as citizens. His references to freedom were glowing, but he emphasized our "duties" to preserve it far more than the rights it conveys." [Read the rest here]
Anon, and peace,
I'm reading a couple books about hip-hop as I work on Broken Hallelujah including Michael Eric Dyson's Know What I Mean? Reflections on Hip-Hop and Raising Kanye by Donda West, the late mother of rapper Kanye West. Dyson makes the argument for hip-hop as a really important American art form worthy of serious intellectual attention and I agree. One facinating thing I had sort of noticed but realize is much more profound is the global spread. Today's NYT has a great article about hip-hop in China. Jimmy Wang writes:
"Over the last decade many students and working-class Chinese have been writing rap as a form of self-expression. Rougher and more rebellious than the well-scrubbed pop that floods the airwaves here, this kind of hip-hop is not sanctioned by broadcast media producers or state censors but has managed to attract a grass-roots fan base.
“Hip-hop is free, like rock ’n’ roll — we can talk about our lives, what we’re thinking about, what we feel,” said Wang Liang, 25, a popular hip-hop D.J. in China who is known as Wordy. “The Chinese education system doesn’t encourage you to express your own character. They feed you stale rules developed from books passed down over thousands of years. There’s not much opportunity for personal expression or thought; difference is discouraged.” [read the rest here]
Hip-hop is a way to tell the truth, a theme I want to put into relationship with faithfulness. If Christ is the word, if he is the truth that sets us free, then seeking to find ways like this to actually speak out of the frustration and difficulty of life, as well as the fun and joy, seems worth looking at for the sake of seeing what human life is now. If we really believe that "nothing came into being without him" then their is a creative grace already present without confession of faith, a pressing to be human one can claim as God-given.
anon and peace,
As I watched and read about President Obama signing executive orders to reverse what seemed to me some of the most egregious acts of the Bush administration's fight on terror, the things that, to steal an aphorism from Nietsche through Bono, turned us into a monster in order to fight a monster, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Not that we've been a goody two shoes throughout our recent past prior to Presdient Bush--not at all. I came of age during President Reagan's covert wars in Central America and I know the awful things we have done--and funded--in other lands as well as our own (remember Tuskegee?). Still, the actions of our nation, rather that covertly doing things that were illegal (clearly reprehensible) we began to believe under our leaderhship that such things could be done openly and as legal. Here from the NYT's article yesterday:
Mr. Obama signed executive orders closing the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year; ending the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prisons; and requiring all interrogations to follow the noncoercive methods of the Army Field Manual.
“We intend to win this fight,” he said. “We are going to win it on our own terms.” [read more]
The nearest parallel I could think of was in the early church rites of initiation, after the renunciation of the devil, his pomp and his works, the candidate would spit in the direction of the west before turning to the east to confess faith and then be baptized, dying to old ways, to an old self, and rising to walk in newness of life in Christ. Do I think George Bush and his assoicates were the devil? NO! I do see some of these actions of these men and women leading our nation as evil, however. EVIL. These last eight years were the worst of my life as a citizen. Our ideals will help us win, not our ability to use the same inhuman techniques and policies empoyed by those who seek to inflict harm upon us.
anon, and peace,
Jodi Kantor's wonderful article "Nation's Many Faces in Extended First Family" in the NYT talks about the image President Obama's family made sitting behind him on the stage at the inauguration this week. We have not only broken the color barrier on the presidency and the White House, but even more radically reshaped the image of diversity in the first family, a diversity that increasingly marks extended families in the USA, but has not been seen before in this most symbolic family. Kantor writes:
For well over two centuries, the United States has been vastly more diverse than its ruling families. Now the Obama family has flipped that around, with a Technicolor cast that looks almost nothing like their overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly Protestant predecessors in the role. The family that produced Barack and Michelle Obama is black and white and Asian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. They speak English; Indonesian; French; Cantonese; German; Hebrew; African languages including Swahili, Luo and Igbo; and even a few phrases of Gullah, the Creole dialect of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Very few are wealthy, and some — like Sarah Obama, the stepgrandmother who only recently got electricity and running water in her metal-roofed shack — are quite poor.
anon, and peace,
This time I've gone a completely different direction in casting a vision for the cover of my forthcoming book on faith and pop culture. I like this a lot better that my prior tries--too obvious, to representational. So where to go? The opposite end of the spectrum is abstract art, I suppose, and it occurred to me that my friend Mako Fujimura, an amazing artist featured in the arts and culture chapter of my book Faith as a Way of Life. I haven't asked Mako yet if he's open to the idea--I just had the idea this morning! But if I get good responses from you, dear readers, then I'll write Mako and see what we can do about it. His painting:
Azurite, malachite, Japanese vermillion, Italian gold leaf, silver leaf on Kumohada paper
80 x 60 inches
His work (and writing) is amazing. A picture below shows the original hanging in the Sara Tecchia Roma gallery in New York where Mako's work is often shown.
A couple reactions, first, before some more gathered thoughts (I'm preaching and presiding in chapel tomorrow at Luther so that will focus my thoughts, too).
First, the moment belongs so deeply to the civil rights leaders who helped our nation come to this moment--a moment they never thought they'd see. So many African Americans from all over the nation went to Washington because they needed to be there, to see if for themselves in order to really know that it had come to pass. On NPR a reporter said she'd talked with three associates of Dr. King, all there in Washington, and she said, despite themselves, they all cried. It was just so profoundly healing, reaching back into the depths of their memories of oppression, segregation, and struggle. As Wil-i-am says in his fabulous election night song and video, It's A New Day, "Well I went to sleep last night, tired from the fight, I've been fighting for tomorrow all my life, I woke up this mornin' feeling alright, cause the dreams I've been dreaming is finally come true."
Second, Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery both did a great job. They were, in a way, both so representative of the traditions they represent. However, it was not surprising or controversial to have a civil rights veteran such as Rev. Lowery play this prestigious role, especially from the perspective of the left. I cried as he began with the powerful words of the great hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing. I laughed as he ended with the corny 1970s rhyme about not keeping brown down, yellow being mellow and white doing right. Warren didn't make me laugh or cry, but the expansive vision of his prayer shocked me since he choice was so loudly condemned by many as a bigot. He did close with the Lord's prayer, and it would be unusual for an evangelical pastor not to name-check his Lord and Savior somehow. This would be a broadly ecumenical way to do it, and the prayer itself, even if taught by Jesus, focuses on God. So I liked it, and was surprised by it in a good way, as I hoped, because he reached out to consider care for the least of these, and of the earth, themes he's been working on the last decade. The guy is hugely important for the conservative block of Christianity and is a thought leader who is moving gradually. . I've blogged about his selection being a positive (here) and encourage you to read this amazing Washington Post article by Sally Quinn who makes the case very eloquently for Warren's development.
Third, the moment. I loved the stumble between Chief justice Roberts and President Obama as they started with the oath. A stumble that fits his own admission that the work ahead will include mistakes. But the oath went on, and then his speech. Reactions are mixed including this interesting observation from prominent Bush speech writer David Gergen:
"It was not as lofty as I would have anticipated," said Gergen, noting that Obama had visited sites such as the Lincoln Memorial for inspiration. He said that while previous presidents had given inaugural speeches "speaking to the ages," Obama's speech "was speaking to this generation. It was very rooted in the here and now."
I love that, actually, because the great challenge is not 'for the ages' but as President Obama said, "with this generation of Americans." His speech didn't seem his best, on first hearing, and yet he hit notes were powerful, even unprecedented. He in a sense called us to grow up and give ourselves away for the good of others. He quoted part (set aside childish things) of this verse from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:11
"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."
Lots of amazing lines, including
--calls to remember those who 'endured the lash of the whip'
--the sobering challenge to corrupt leaders around the world whose people 'will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy,'
--the acknowledgment of our diversity as a strength, including religious diversity that includes 'Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus--and non-believers'
--to the people of poor nations with whom he pledged to work side-by-side "to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow,'
--the powerful evoking of those in the military whose service is a model for us all.
Here, he got me, as I was thinking this was the usual 'props to the troops' moment but then, saying these soldiers 'embody the spirit of service,' turned to say it is 'this spirit that must inhabit us all'. That commitment to the spirit of service is 'the price and the promise of citizenship.'
Finally, he said the source of our confidence is 'the knowledge that God calls on us.'
I say in response: President Obama, to answer that call we need to get on our boots and, as Martin Luther put it, 'feel . . . all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing. [We] must fight, work, pray, and --if [we] cannot do more--have heartfelt sympathy.'
Sure enough, as I look around at reviews and comments on U2's new single, people are pretty mixed in their response. Lots of people don't know what to think. Some U2 haters predictably think it is crap. Others who want another "Beautiful Day" react badly. My view is when they go in a different direction, when they've hit an innovative stream in their art, then it will be worth sitting up and paying attention. I'll share a few thoughts, but first some of the more interesting takes I've seen out there. Each is an excerpt so click the link to read the whole review.
"U2's new single: Is 'Get on Your Boots' any good?" by Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly.Com
"So it was with somewhat low expectations that I sat down to check out their newest single, "Get on Your Boots," the first track from the upcoming album No Line on the Horizon. (You can hear the song here.) Sure enough, things start unpromisingly: a generic heavy metal guitar riff quickly gives way to a shameless rip-off of "Subterranean Homesick Blues," with Bono chanting about "love and community" and "candy floss ice cream." But just as I was about to shut down the computer, a funny thing happened: the bridge kicked in, and "Boots" suddenly took off. A wash of vocal harmony sets things up nicely, and then Bono comes soaring in, insisting (to whom? who knows?) that "you don't know/you don't get it do you/you don't know how beautiful you are." It's one of those great U2 moments, the kind of thing that has kept fans on board for more than 30 years now."
U2 ‘Boots’ up: Irish megaband broadens its ‘Horizon’ By Jed Gottlieb, Boston Herald
Unlike the band’s play-it-safe singles “Beautiful Day” and “Vertigo,” “Boots” is U2 at its most eccentric. Bono’s vocals swing wildly between the detachment of his old alter egos the Fly and Mephisto and the big, passionate bombast of “Rattle & Hum.” The Edge’s guitar is full-frontal once again with riffs as jagged and distorted as “Zoo Station” and snatches of layered, echo-y leads recalling “The Unforgettable Fire’s” “Wire.” The rhythm section follows Edge’s lead by blending “Wire” thump with the fuzz and jerk of “Zoo Station’s” rock electronica.
"U2's New Boots Made for Rockin'" By Darryl Sterdan, Sun Media, Winnipeg Sun
As I expected, "Get on Your Boots" is definitely upbeat. But it's not one of their serious, soaring anthems. Rather, it's a cheeky electro-rocker that shucks and jives along the line between retro and futuristic. Larry Mullen lays down a hipswivelling go-go groove flecked with percussion and handclaps. Adam Clayton holds down the bottom end with a funky bassline. The Edge supplies some glam-metal riffs along with his usual scritchy licks. Daniel Lanois and Eno layer on plenty of colourfully swirly production. And Bono delivers a talky, rhythmic vocal that owes a tip of the hat to Elvis Costello's "Pump it Up," except with lyrics about Satan and war and bomb scares. There's an instantly addictive chorus, a slightly psychedelic Beatle-pop bridge, a twitchy breakdown and a ringing one-finger guitar solo. In short, it's big, bold, brash and pretty freaking cool. Needless to say, it's also a far cry from the stripped-down arena-rock they've been dishing out lately. And a lot more fun than some of their more annoyingly self-indulgent outings. Of course, it's just the first single. Now we have to wait and see if the rest of the album is worth losing sleep over.
And the best review I've seen, one that I think nails the song, is:
Snap Judgement: U2's New Single 'Get On Your Boots'" By Ann Powers, LA Times
"GOYB" is sharper-edged than "Mysterious Ways," faster than "Elevation" and more non-linear than "Vertigo." It's dance-rock with a few small, tricky changes: a very Eno-esque bridge to nowhere, based on the phrase "you don't know how beautiful you are" that drags out the beat like Silly Putty, and a break near the end that has Bono rapping "let me in the sound" over a muscular Larry Mullen Jr. drumbeat that yells "I love rock and roll!" As usual, modern rock's beloved grand uncles have been absorbing the lessons taught by their progeny. "Get on Your Boots" is quick and multi-layered, more like the dance rock preferred by kids who grew up on electronic music than a baby-boomer boogie fest."
"So what is sexy about donning boots, in a song whose cheerful tone and other lyrics about forming community and growing up hardly suggest a pair of stilettos? To turn a phrase that once belonged to the increasingly irrelevant Paris Hilton, it's hot right now to ponder cleaning up a mess. And that's what "Get on Your Boots" means to inspire us to do. This is U2's celebratory announcement of a new historical moment, one in which America and the world confront the catastrophes of the recent past and bust out some elbow grease to make things better."
My take? Well, here's some initial thoughts:
I thought all along that the song, talked about for at least six months on fan sites and music magazines as a possible first single, would be about putting on marching boots. Bono loves that image. Just google "Bono marching boots" and you'll see that it is a stand-in for him in talking about social activisim. For instance, when asked if the Product RED campaign could replace activism, he said in an editorial for The Independent(UK): "For anyone who thinks this means I'm going to retire to the boardroom and stop banging my fist on the door of No. 10, I'm sorry to disappoint you. We have to keep our marching boots on and hold our leaders to account for the promises they have made to Africa - and get them to promise more." Lots more examples here.
And musically I think they are on this interesting continuum between 'heart on your sleeve' earnestness and ironic playfulness. Both are serious spiritually and socially, but the means of musical and lyrical delivery is delightfully different. The obviousness example here is the transition from The Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby. So what does Get On Your Boots portend? Where are the echoes in their work? Sure, The Fly might be a musical point of connection, but so is Love and Peace or Else, both musically and and lyrically, but GOYB is a more playful, less intuitive lyric. So, to quote my favorite review thus far, this is "U2's celebratory announcement of a new historical moment, one in which America and the world confront the catastrophes of the recent past and bust out some elbow grease to make things better." GOYB!
anon and peace,
Two things that struck me as I listened to Eric H. Holder's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee (Holder is President-Elect Obama's nominee for the US Atorney General). One, in response to direct questions of whether waterboarding, the near-drowning technique used on prisoners, was torture, Holder say a direct "yes". He went on to say that waterboarding had been used to torment prisoners during the Inquisition, by the Japanese in World War II and in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.“We prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam,” Mr. Holder said. “Waterboarding is torture.” Such a view is widespread and his view, shared by Obama, will make it hard for the new administration to avoid seeking prosecution of members of the prior administration on that basis. To hear Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush say that one mark of their success these last eight years is that we have not been attacked by terrortists again could only be heard in light of the means by which they achived this admirable goal. One might quote the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche here, in Beyond Good and Evil, where he said "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster" (Aphorism 146). here and say we "became a monster to fight a monster."
Second, it was remakable to listen to retired senator John Warner (R-VA) introduce Holder as I begin to think more deeply about my work on on learning in professional practice. Warner spoke of the slow apprenticeship to career lawyers in the court system and the government who by their mentoring taught far more than any law professor could. This slow labor of learning in professional practice, Warner thought, would give Holder wisdom but also respect for the so-called "careerists" in the US judiciary so dispised in the Bush years (as the case of Bradley Schlozman, who served as head of the Civil Rights division under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales).
anon, and peace,