Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Monday, December 15, 2014
Just as there are still uninformed atheists out there who put forth the scientifically disproven argument that human beings are born with no concept of God or religion, there are still sad music know-it-alls who insist The Monkees had no talent. Well, all it takes is one listen to the boy’s rendition of “Riu Chiu” to embarrass such skeptics. In an interview with Parade magazine, Peter Tork himself named “Riu Chiu” as his favorite Monkees music overall, and it’s pretty easy to hear why.
To tell the truth, though, I had actually forgotten about this buried track which first appeared on the 1967 Christmas episode of The Monkees television show. Fortunately, after Fr. Steve Grunow wrote an article discussing the meaning of “Riu Chiu,” Amy Wellborn recalled The Monkees’ version and posted a link. And now we’re adding to The Jukebox Hero Hymnal for Advent.
“Riu Chiu” is a fine example of the Spanish musical genre known as villancico which came to prominence during the Renaissance. Like other poetic forms, villancico has a distinct rhythmic structure which I won’t bore you with here, but which is detailed over at PoetryBase for those who are interested. For our purposes, all that’s important is to know that the musical form eventually moved away from folk songs to become associated primarily with Christmas carols sung during the liturgy.
”Riu Chiu” is particularly suited for Advent as its lyrics expound on the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as well as the redemptive nature of the birth of Christ…
River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.
River, roaring river...
He who's now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.
River, roaring river...
Pretty heavy stuff for The Monkees to cover, huh? The interesting thing about this 16th century villancico is how it makes clear that the Immaculate Conception was a commonly accepted doctrine of the Church long before its formal definition as an article of faith by Pope Pius IX in 1854. In fact, the dogma which proclaims that Mary was spared from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception has its first inklings all the way back in the Gospel of Luke.
“And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin' s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:26-33, DRB)
If we can get technical for just a moment, the Greek word kecharitomene, translated here as “full of grace,” is the perfect passive participle of charitoo, which means "to fill or endow with grace." The use of the perfect tense indicates that grace imparted to Mary in the past continues to have effects in the present. Basically, it means Mary was in a state of grace her entire life.
Neat, right? But the most important takeaway from all that theology is that all that grace came from God, not Mary herself. Which means, in theory, we can have the same thing. Oh sure, not from the very first second like she did, but at any point afterwards when we make ourselves ready for it. Which is part of what Advent is supposed to be about, right?
Friday, December 12, 2014
It’s been a rough week out there. The nice folks over at Aleteia asked me to review both “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “The Red Tent” and just let me say, the psychological scars are just healing. Would it kill people these days to make an adaptation of a Bible story and, oh, I don’t know, actually show what’s in the Bible?
Anyway, along with those less than stellar viewing experiences, this also turned into the week I got on people’s nerves. As you may remember from last week, I left a comment on famed author John C. Wright’s blog and was eagerly awaiting his sure-to-be-negative reaction. Well, not only did he respond in his combox, but became so flabbergasted (his word) that he put up a whole post denouncing my comments. Don’t worry, though, after a little more back and forth in the combox of that post, we reached a congenial middle ground and he dropped his estimation of my opinion from absurd to reasonable. Hey, anytime you can walk away from a scuffle with John C. Wright bloodied but alive, that’s a victory.
Alas, there was no such diplomatic meeting of minds with one of the nice ladies who took offense at my review of “The Red Tent.” So taken aback was she by my negative comments that she felt compelled to start an entire blog just to refute them. Am I wrong to feel flattered by that? Anyway, check out Mia Knows for a dissenting opinion on “The Red Tent” and then stick around to see what she might post next.
In other news that doesn’t involve me (who knew there was any), it appears I’m not the only one who has had a rough go with religious themed movies lately. Noted apologist Jimmy Akin was asked to take a look at the documentary “The Principle” and not only did he find it a bit lacking as a documentary, but also pretty much full of bunk when it comes to its central thesis of geocentrism.
As for poor Matthew Archbold over at Creative Minority Report, he had the dubious pleasure of running across the proof of concept trailer for “Iron Sky: The Coming Race.” This is the proposed sequel to 2012’s low budget sci-fi comedy “Iron Sky” which, as you might recall, detailed the efforts of Nazis from the moon attempting to conquer the Earth. This time around, it looks like Jesus is getting involved and he’s surprisingly good with machine guns. I’m sure you’ll want to help crowd fund this film rather than give to the poor this Christmas.
You know, sometimes it’s just better to stick to the old stuff. That’s why, back over at Aleteia, Philip Jenkins suggests you check out the lost classics of Christian cinema from the silent era. With titles like “Metropolis” on the list, it’s hard to argue his choices.
If you prefer newer stuff, though, don’t worry, there’s still a few enjoyable things being produced. For instance, The Oxford University Press blog has an interview with screenwriters Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes (“The Conjuring”) about their recent spate of successful religious-themed horror movies. During their conversation the writers discuss what they have termed “the Catholic Supernatural” and the enduring appeal of Catholic culture to moviegoers.
And on that positive note, we’ll leave you till next time. Enjoy reading.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
We haven’t had any big band swing music added to the Jukebox Hero Hymnal yet, and our old pal Virginia, aka Rocket Scientist, believes it’s high time that situation was remedied. So, at her request, here’s Harry James & His Orchestra with “The Devil Sat Down And Cried” written by Walter Bishop, Sr.
Although it was Walter Bishop, Jr. who would gain the most notoriety as a bebop pianist playing with the likes of Charlie Parker, Oscar Pettiford and Miles Davis, his father Walter Bishop, Sr. was no slouch. Along with being a drummer in various swing bands, Bishop, Sr. was also an avid composer, churning out such numbers as “Boogie Woogie Comes to Town,” “Jack, You're Dead!” and his most recorded tune, “Swing, Brother Swing.”
The Bishop family lived in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance, the cultural and artistic movement that centered around the predominantly black sub-section of Manhattan between the end of World War I and the middle of the 1930s. And as noted in the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, “the religious scene in Harlem experienced the same kind of dynamism that was propelling achievement in the arts, so the Harlem Renaissance was not only a period of artistic and literary vitality but of religious vitality as well.”
In fact, some people thought religion was showing a bit too much vitality in the neighborhood. As the Encyclopedia goes on to explain, “by the 1930s, it was arguable that there were more churches per square mile in Harlem than anywhere else in the country, so many that Harlemites complained there were too many churches with too many preachers.” Be that as it may, it does illustrate that there was a sizable audience for religious based tunes, and Walter Bishop, Sr. was happy to oblige with “The Devil Sat Down And Cried.”
Now, I don’t know if the devil can actually cry or not (John Milton thought he could), but I’m pretty sure he feels anger and frustration whenever someone repents of their sins. In his book, “Catholic Christianity,” Dr. Peter Kreeft explains that “the devil hates and fears the confessional more than any place on earth outside the Eucharist itself.” And why wouldn’t he? A penitent heart pretty much undoes the old goat’s life’s work. Oh well, his pain, our gain.
“Blessed is the one whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no deceit… Many are the sorrows of the wicked one, but mercy surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; exult, all you upright of heart.” (Psalms 32:1-2, 10-11, NABRE)
I could probably go on for a few thousand words about my love for the movie “Once” and how I strongly suspect that the few people who truly hate it (not just the ones trying to be cool contrarians) were probably, much like the baby in “The Seventh Sign,” born without a soul.
But we’re talking music here, and man, do the songs in “Once” go straight for the gut. The movie opens with an Irish busker played by former altar boy turned Hare Krishna, Glen Hansard, as he stands alone on a street belting out a tune fueled by the misery of a failed relationship. It’s a straight up cry to God for understanding if ever there was one.
In an interview with The Phantom Tollbooth, Hansard explains, "When I was young, I loved to read The Bible… I was greatly taken with the poetry of it, the blood and fire, the passionate existence of it… I love the preacher role, the idea of giving a sermon. You're having fun, but you are also saying, 'Be aware of this.' You have to tell people to push Satan down and to praise the Lord."
But, Hansard admits, “At some point you have to put your hands up and say that you are lost.” He goes on to joke that he enjoys feeling lost and not having all the answers because it’s good for his music, but listening to him sing, that argument isn’t so convincing. The lyrics of “Say It To Me Now” show a person in pain, someone who just desperately wants God to tell them the reason why everything is such a mess…
Scratching at the surface now
And I'm trying hard to work it out
And so much has gone misunderstood
And this mystery only leads to doubt
And I didn't understand
When you reached down to take my hand
And if you have something to say
You better say it now
Hansard’s lament here is basically the same as Job’s when he claimed that his own lyre had tuned to mourning and his reed pipe to sounds of weeping.
“I cry to you, but you do not answer me. I stand, but you take no notice.” (Job 30:20, NABRE)
“Oh, that I had one to hear my case: here is my signature: let the Almighty answer me! Let my accuser write out his indictment!” (Job 31:35, NABRE)
Say something to me now, Job pleads, but as often happens in real life, the answer doesn’t come immediately. It’s one of the big themes of the book of Job, that suffering often happens for reasons that we don’t understand until God chooses to reveal them to us. And if we occasionally feel overwhelmed during those times and can’t help asking if right now wouldn’t be a good time for a little bit of that understanding, well, after Jesus’ own moment of feeling abandoned on the cross, I’m pretty sure God recognizes the feeling and will cut us some slack as long as we hold onto our faith and trust in Him. He’s pretty good in that way.
For this week’s entry into the Jukebox Hero Hymnal, we have another request, this time from Cari Donaldson, author of "Pope Awesome and Other Stories (go buy it, it’s a lot of fun)." Her suggestion is “World Falls” by the Indigo Girls, a song she finds “to be an amazingly sacramental view of the world and humanity's role as the crown of creation.”
Now for those who may not know much about the Indigo Girls beyond their few radio hits and their vocal activism for homosexual causes, it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that the duo both have religious backgrounds. Emily Saliers is the daughter of a Methodist minister, while Amy Ray is a former religion major who once considered entering the seminary. That goes a long way towards explaining why religious themes often pop up in the pair’s music, particularly in those songs written by Amy Ray, who admits to still enjoying attending church services.
In an interview with On Being, Ray spoke of her religious tunes. “I'll write gospel songs, you know, that are more like Appalachian mountain gospel songs,” she explains, “and that's a sacred song to me and spiritual in a different way than maybe an unrequited love song might be or a story song about my family or something. It's coming through me and I don't try to edit it too much… I mean, not to say that all the music's not spiritual, but there is definitely for me a place that I go into if I write a little gospel song.”
Such an emotional response, pretty common in Appalachian mountain gospel, is an appropriate vehicle for singing about a sacramental view of the world. As a sacrament is a tangible sign of the invisible grace of God, to view the world sacramentally is to see it as such. So it’s easy to see how Mrs. Donaldson discovered such a sentiment in “World Falls” when you hear lyrics like, “This world falls on me with hopes of immortality, everywhere I turn all the beauty just keeps shaking me.” It echoes the poets of old when they gazed upon the Earth and saw the hand of its creator in His work.
“The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof: the world, and all they that dwell therein.” (Psalms 24:1, DRB)
It’s about time we added a jazz influenced tune to The Jukebox Hero Hymnal, don’t you think? Now a lot of folks feel the improvisational nature of jazz makes it an uneasy fit for spiritual music because, in theory, it puts much more focus on the human achievement rather than on God.
But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. As acclaimed jazz guitarist Fr. John Moulder explains, “That’s one of the things that is really special about the experience of being an improviser––many times you do experience moments of transcendence. I guess we could call it a little bit of self-forgetfulness… you become immersed in a way that has parallels with spiritual practice and meditation, like being in the moment and letting go of our egos for a moment. It’s a unitive experience.”
Case in point, OmU’s track, “Lost and Found.” What’s that? You’ve never heard of OmU? Don’t worry, most people haven’t. In fact, I only stumbled upon them by accident on my local college radio station a few years back. OmU was pretty much a one-off, it’s main contributors quickly moving on to form Blue Paradox. What’s that? You’ve never heard of Blue Paradox either? Don’t worry, most people haven’t. They’re sort of the house band for the Sacred Fire Community, a relatively small affiliation of folks whose beliefs are a jumble of various new-age style wisdom traditions.
Now, most wisdom tradition types aren’t usually big on Christianity, it being a tad bit too organized for their tastes. They also don’t seem to appreciate anyone suggesting their individually chosen spiritual paths might not actually be leading anywhere good. Bummer. And yet, despite the wisdom traditions movement’s antipathy towards dogma, the members of OmU can’t help but give a musical nod in “Lost and Found” to the awesome concept of grace as taught by the Church. “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.”
Hmm, sounds like there might actually be some good stuff that comes along with all those doctrines, doesn’t it?
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7, NABRE)
“Sunday morning people, better listen to me (you better take heed). You go to church on Sunday, hate your neighbor all week. You can pray as loud as you can, now. Turn your back on your fellow man, now. You swear you're on the level, then you shake hands with the devil. You got to help your brothers seven days a week if peace and happiness is what you seek.”
“Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called ‘the friend of God.’ See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route? For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20-26, NABRE)
Yeah, yeah, I’m well aware that’s it’s nowhere near cool to like U2 right now, what with their beyond megastar status and that whole iTunes debacle. But you know, if I cared one iota about being cool, I wouldn’t really be writing this blog, would I?
“Though I am afflicted and poor, my Lord keeps me in mind. You are my help and deliverer; my God, do not delay! (Psalm 40:18, NABRE)”
As defined by AllMusic, the musical sub-genre of Slowcore “is indeed famed for the snail's pace of the skeletal music -- melodies linger forever and rhythms lurch forward, all shrouded in thick, dank atmospherics. While closely intertwined with Sadcore, which favors a similar sound, Slowcore's concerns are far more musical than lyrical -- in fact, many Slowcore bands are instrumental outfits, while those with vocalists typically employ much more opaque lyrics than their soul-baring Sadcore counterparts.
Well, you don’t get much slower than Low, the Minnesota based trio who helped define Slowcore beginning way back in 1994. And as for opaque lyrics, yeah, Low has pretty much mastered those as well. But every now and then, they deliver a song whose meaning is pretty straight forward, songs like “Holy Ghost” from their latest album “The Invisible Way.”
Guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk and drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker are devout Mormons, you see, and they’re not adverse to exploring their faith in their music. Plus, it also helps that they have something of a unique recording space. In an interview with Relevant Magazine, “Sparhawk acknowledges that some of the spirit of this new album was provided by the place where it was recorded: a decommissioned Catholic church in Duluth where Low has built a studio (they recorded their 2002 album Trust there). ‘It's a unique space which imposes a character on everything we do there,’ he says. ‘I remember sitting in the pews while we were fiddling with stuff and letting myself feel the weight of that space, and acknowledge what had been there. The history of good intentions and hope and all that happened in that space. It made me stand a little quieter.”
That interior quietness permeates “Holy Ghost’” a song that recognizes the despair and unease which can settle on the soul, but also the comforting presence of the spirit of God which can free a person from it.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NABRE)
War, Famine, Plague. Yep, it’s been one of those weeks on the news channels. So, in keeping with the mood of the times, what say we get a little apocalyptic for the Jukebox this week? And what better way to do that than to dig deep into early Prog Rock where we find the little heard of Greek outfit, Aphrodite’s Child.
Aphrodite’s Child’s first two albums did fairly well in European countries, especially amongst fans of moody orchestral pop like Procol Harum (listen to “It’s Five O’Clock” and you’ll see what I mean). But for their third album, lead songwriter and keyboardist Vangelis Papathanassiou (yes, that Vangelis) wanted to try something a little less commercial, something a bit more… out there. To that effect, Vangelis teamed up with filmmaker Costas Ferris and together they composed “666: Apocalypse of St John,” a four-sided “rock oratorio” inspired by the final book in the Bible.
The general storyline of the album follows a circus troupe as they mount a big production based on The Book of Revelation (eat your heart out Cirque du Soleil), only to discover that the real Apocalypse has begun outside. The audience believes it’s all a big show, but the increasingly frantic ringmaster knows better. Finally, the tent disappears and the climatic battle between Good and Evil commences.
Yep, weird stuff, but take away the circus setting and it actually stays pretty close to the source material. The lyrics to “The Four Horsemen,” for example, are almost a direct lift from scripture. Needless to say, between the overtly religious subject matter and the dense musical explorations, “666: Apocalypse of St John” wasn’t as well received as its predecessors, at least not at the time it was released. That didn’t bother Vangelis, though. “I was tired of trying to be in the charts.” he is quoted as saying, “There’s nothing wrong with the charts, but it’s wrong to try and do the things that you think will get you in them.”
Hmm, sounds like Vangelis was familiar with more of the Bible than just the Book of Revelation…
“Better to be poor and walk in integrity than rich and crooked in one’s ways.” (Proverbs 19:1, NABRE)
Sadly, Aphrodite’s Child broke up soon after recording “666: Apocalypse of St John.” I suppose there’s just nowhere to go after the end of the world. Oh wait, there is, isn’t there? In 1975, Vangelis recorded “Heaven and Hell.”
You may or may not have heard of Big Star before, but rest assured, if you’ve ever listened to a college radio station over the past 30 years, then you’ve heard their influence. Pick any alt-rock band at random, and chances are pretty good they’ve got at least one Big Star record in their collection. Big Star is one those groups that other more successful acts listen and aspire to. And you know, some folks might say that’s actually better than being the top name on the marquee.
Most of Big Star’s Tunes were written and sung by two guys; Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. Chilton is probably the more recognizable name as he was the lead singer of The Box Tops during the 60s and would eventually become a darling of the indie rock scene in the 80s. But it was the lesser known Bell’s voice which seemed to hold sway over Big Star, with most of the material on their albums dwelling on Bell’s favorite subject’s: wistful loneliness and God.
If you know a little bit about Bell, that dichotomy kind of makes sense. By most accounts, Bell was something of a mess, desperately wanting to follow the tenants of Christianity as he understood it, but riddled with guilt over his heroin addiction and homosexuality. Sadly, Bell never got the time to properly work his issues out, dying in a non-drug related car accident at the age of 27. Eternal rest, grant unto Chris Bell O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him.
Still, we have his music. “Try Again” is one of Bell’s simpler compositions, consisting of a whole two verses, and yet it touches upon an emotional experience that is all too universal. We just keep screwing up, don’t we? We want to do good, but then we don’t, especially when things get hard. But by the grace of God, only by his grace, we get up and try again. I think even St. Paul would recognize those feelings…
“It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ [Jesus]. Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14; NABRE)
That Johnny Cash would end up being included in The Jukebox Hero Hymnal was pretty much inevitable. The only question was, which of his songs would be first. Well, our pal, Mr. Will Cubbedge, has settled that debate by requesting the addition of “The Man Comes Around.”
Like many of us, Cash didn’t start out as a model Christian. He spent most of the 50s and 60s drunk and addicted to drugs, and most of the 70s and 80s trying to clean up. But even during his dark times, the “man in black” seemed to have an instinctive grasp on The Corporal Works of Mercy, things like feeding the hungry, tending the sick and, most notably, visiting the imprisoned. In fact, according to Cash, his wardrobe was actually a statement on behalf of the poor, the hungry and "the prisoner who has long paid for his crime."
But while Cash’s charitable actions may have reflected The Corporal Works of Mercy, the lyrics of his religious themed albums often leaned more towards The Spiritual Works of Mercy, stuff like instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful and, more often than not, admonishing the sinner.
Oh yeah, admonishing the sinner. That’s becoming something of a lost art in these non-judgmental days, isn’t it? Not for Johnny Cash, though. Maybe it was all that time he spent around convicts, but Cash never forgot that our actions have consequences and you always have to answer to someone.
“Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it. The earth and the sky fled from his presence and there was no place for them. I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire. (This pool of fire is the second death.) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the pool of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15, NABRE)
When he’s not acting in movies or getting arrested, Earl Simmons, aka DMX, is busy being one of the best selling musical artists of all time. From 1998 to 2003, DMX released five consecutive albums which debuted at number one. That’s a pretty impressive achievement, especially considering DMX’s chosen genre is hardcore rap. Wikipedia explains the content of hardcore rap this way:
“Hardcore hip hop reflective lyrical themes include partying, braggadocio, crime, violence, sex, nudity, wrath, poverty, menacing, omen, rebellion, profanity, racism, drugs, weapons, resentment, ghettos, gangs, social issues, consciousness, struggling, nihilism, distrusting, life, death, police brutality, and the harsh experiences of the rapper's urban surroundings.”
Yow. I’m fairly certain the contents of that list break more than ten commandments. But as comprehensive as it is, there’s one subject not shown that DMX often covers in his songs; God. As AllMusic’s Steve Huey says about DMX’s lyrics, “He could move from spiritual anguish one minute to a narrative about the sins of the streets the next, yet keep it all part of the same complex character, sort of like a hip-hop Johnny Cash.”
You see, during one of his many times as a guest in one of our government’s fine correctional institutes, DMX started to read the Bible and envision his future in a different light. In an interview with Christian Today, the rapper stated that his time in jail “has gotten me closer… to realizing, to actualizing my true calling in life, which is to be a pastor.”
Oh sure, given his recent troubles, he’s not quite preacher material yet, but we’re all works in progress, aren’t we? Let’s be charitable and say that DMX, like so many others, is still trying to find his way. “Lord Give Me A Sign” may start with a defiant quote from Isaiah 54:17, but by the end, it’s the cry of a man who just wants to know what God wants from him. We’ve all been there.
“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and truth. Turn to me, be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the son of your handmaid. Give me a sign of your favor: make my enemies see, to their confusion, that you, Lord, help and comfort me. (Psalms 86: 15-17, NABRE)”
“Praise the Lord, my soul; I will praise the Lord all my life, sing praise to my God while I live. Put no trust in princes, in children of Adam powerless to save. Who breathing his last, returns to the earth; that day all his planning comes to nothing. Blessed the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord, his God.” (Psalms 146:2-5, NABRE)
For a few brief years in the mid-80s, Howard Jones was one of THE poster boys for synth-pop. You might remember he scored big hits with upbeat, positive tunes like "Life In One Day" and “Like To Get To Know You Well,” and if you cut on the radio at all, then you know the Phil Collins remix of “No One Is To Blame” was pretty much inescapable.
But if all you heard of Howard Jones is his radio hits, then you probably missed some of the more interesting cuts tucked away in the corners of his albums. Jones is a committed follower of the teachings of the 13th century Japanese Buddhist monk, Nichiren Daishonin, and his spiritual beliefs often find their way into the lyrics of his songs.
“Hunger For The Flesh” addresses one of the four noble truths of Buddhism, mainly that all human suffering results from an inordinate attachment to desires. On his website, Jones writes, “Fame, wealth, social standing can not be carried through to our next existence and so Buddhism is teaching me to develop a life state that is truly happy whatever my circumstances may be.” Hmm, where have I heard something like that before?.
“But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they told you, ‘In [the] last time there will be scoffers who will live according to their own godless desires.’ These are the ones who cause divisions; they live on the natural plane, devoid of the Spirit.” But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 1:17-21, NABRE)
You see, the Catholic Church considers all goodness and truth found in other religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life." So the Church has no problem with the idea that separating oneself from inordinate desires is a big part of personal holiness, and consequently contentment and true happiness.
Of course, as Pope John Paul II was quick to point out in “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” not all of Buddhism is compatible with Christianity. Reincarnation, which Jones hints at in this sing, is a no-go. Still, we Christians have our own ideas of a “new birth,” so that lyric really isn’t a problem either.
The dancer in the video, though, that’s another story. That guy and his skin puppets is pure nightmare fuel. Am I the only one who was getting a Texas Chainsaw/Silence of the Lambs vibe off of that? I gotta lay off the horror movies.
In an interview with One Chord Progression, Matthew Sweet was asked who his favorite carpenter was? I’m not sure if the interviewer meant one of The Carpenters or just carpenters in general, but Sweet replied, “I don’t know any carpenters but Jesus so I guess it would be Jesus. He is just all right. I’m not religious, but I sometime feel like I follow Jesus’s teachings more than religious people. I am open and inclusive with everyone. I think religions are bad but Jesus is just all right.”
That kind of sentiment always cracks me up because Jesus pretty much taught that you needed to be religious. I suppose it’s possible that someone (not me) could try to make the argument that when Jesus told Peter “upon this rock I will build my church,” his intention was to start the world’s first non-religious religious institution. Still, if that had been the case, you would think that the early Christians might have mentioned that instead of wasting their time starting an organized religion.
Oh well, despite such silly statements, Matthew Sweet has turned out a heck of a lot of good power pop over the last few decades. One of my favorites of his is “Divine Intervention” from the album “Girlfriend.” It’s one of the many songs on the album that explores Sweet’s emotional turmoil over the breakup of his marriage to his first wife. “It was the most terrible experience of my life.” he told Rolling Stone magazine.
You can feel the palpable sense of complete abandonment in “Divine Intervention.” When Sweet belts out, “Does he love us, does he love us?” it’s a lament worthy of a Psalm.
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief.” (Psalms 22:3, NABRE)
Most of us have experienced that feeling at some point or other, haven’t we? Even Jesus himself had a moment on the cross in which he felt God wasn’t there for him. But seasons change, and things eventually come back around. God was there all along. Even Sweet’s desperate cry of a song can’t help but end on a hopeful note. When he comes, the sun shines. Here it comes.
Could there be a better example of what The Jukebox hero Hymnal is all about than “Oh Happy Day” as performed by Spirtualized?
"“Oh Happy Day” has a long and convoluted history stretching back to the mid-18th century. Penned by United Methodist pastor and poet Philip Doddridge, the hymn that would eventually become “Oh Happy Day” was originally entitled “Rejoicing in Our Covenant Engagement to God,” with lyrics based on 2 Chronicles 15:15 and a melody lifted from an earlier 1704 hymn composed by J. A. Freylinghausen. In 1854, a new refrain was added to the hymn by London organist Edward F. Rimbault with the title “Happy Land! Happy Land!” Finally, in 1969, the Edwin Hawkins Singers gave the song a soul-gospel makeover and "Oh Happy Day" as we know it hit the airwaves, becoming a top-five Billboard pop hit in the process.
Obviously, the song “Oh Happy Day” itself is religious. But Jason Pierce, lead singer and songwriter of Spirtualized, isn’t.
“I get asked quite often about why I have references to the lord in my music.” Pierce said in an interview with Pitchfork. “I've never been and will never be religious, but as soon as you have a conversation about Jesus, you know what you're talking to him about: how it is to be fallible and question yourself and your morals. Like on my new album, with the line, ‘help me, Jesus’-- you know I'm not asking for help fixing the ******* car. You know there's a certain place you'll get to before you'll ask for that kind of help. It's like an immediate shorthand to the nature of the song.”
So, when Pierce is singing “Oh Happy Day,” what he’s going on about is his deliverance from a 22 year drug habit that almost killed him. He’s using the religious experience expressed in the song as a cultural touchstone to communicate the depths of his own joy and relief at still being alive. He doesn’t intend for it to be taken as a literal religious experience.
But, of course, it is. Who else but God is the addict calling out to when they hit rock bottom?
“Save me, God, for the waters have reached my neck. I have sunk into the mire of the deep, where there is no foothold. I have gone down to the watery depths; the flood overwhelms me. I am weary with crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, from looking for my God.” (Psalms 69: 2-4, NABRE)
And who else are they thanking when that deliverance comes? The head may come up with a lot of different answers, but the heart knows the truth.
FROM THE MANAGEMENT: A few months back I fell under the delusion that I had the time to start up a second blog. Unfortunately, I can’t change reality, and the reality right now is I’m working three jobs and looking for a fourth. That doesn’t leave a heck of a lot of time to promote a second blog. So bear with me today as I move the contents of that blog over here, following which we’ll add a new tune to…
THE JUKEBOX HERO HYMNAL
Contemporary Christian music isn’t bad. Well, not all of it anyway. In fact, over the last seven or eight years of blogging, I’ve had the honor of making the acquaintance of a number of fine Christian musicians, folks like Dan Lord, Mike Furtaw, and Nick Alexander.
But there is no escaping the fact that I’m a lifelong rock and roll kind of guy. Secular or not, the art form has provided me hours of joy and helped get me through some pretty rough times. I may not thank God for all the popular music out there (I’m pretty sure Pharrell’s “Happy” is playing on a loop in hell right now), but I definitely do for some of it.
Now, that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to hear it during mass. Pope Benedict XVI infamously condemned rock music as being opposed to the essence of sacred liturgy when he wrote…
“In not a few forms of religion, music is ordered to intoxication and to ecstasy, music supposedly of holy madness, through the delirium of the rhythm and the instruments. Music becomes ecstasy. We experience the profane return of this type today in rock and pop music… Because rock music seeks redemption by way of liberation from the personality and its responsibility, it takes, in one respect, a very precise position in the anarchical ideas of freedom, which predominates today in a more unconcealed way in the West than in the East. But precisely for that reason, it is thoroughly opposed to the Christian notion of redemption and of freedom as its exact contradiction. Not for aesthetic reasons, not from reactionary obstinacy, not from historical immobility, but because if its very nature, music of this type must be excluded from the Church.”
Fair enough. I’m not convinced his assessment of rock music applies to every single song out there, but I absolutely agree that particular forms of music are better suited for liturgy than others.
But, you know, just because it’s not really suitable for the holy mass, I still believe you can find God in some popular music if you look for him. If you’ve been reading blog, The B-Movie Catechism, you know how this works. You just have to take a cue from Acts 17 of the Christian New Testament in which St. Paul ran across an altar in Athens dedicated to some “Unknown God”. Paul used the altar as a springboard for conversation with the locals about his new religion and its own "Unknown God," Jesus. He took something non-Christian and showed how to recognize Christian ideas in it.
Well, that’s what I’m going to try and do here. Each week I’m going to add a song or two to the Jukebox Hero Hymnal, my breviary with a backbeat, and take a look at the possible spiritual content found within them. Some of the tunes will be obvious. Others, not so much. Some of the artists will have purposely alluded to God in their work, others would probably deny it. Either way, I’m going to find it.
Feel free to argue my selections. Suggestions are also more than welcome. Let’s listen to some music and have some fun.
Saturday, December 06, 2014
Well, the movies everybody wants to see a review of right now like “Exodus” and “The Hobbit” are still under embargo in my market, so for Aleteia this week I decided to check out another piece of Oscar bait instead. The Stephen Hawking biopic, “The Theory of Everything,” is a pretty decent melodrama as long as you don’t care about delving too deeply into the man’s theories and philosophies.
If you do want all that sciencey talk, though, you’d be better off going to see “Interstellar” which is loaded to the gills with the stuff. Yes, I found “Interstellar” disappointing, but it’s still worth a watch. In fact, noted author John C. Wright’s has declared "Interstellar" the greatest science fiction film ever made. I disagree (always a dangerous thing to do with Wright), but he makes some good points. As always, be sure to read the arguments which ensue in Wright’s combox as they’re always worth the time. I even worked up the nerve to leave one of my own…
“For what it's worth, I'm in a bit of agreement with both sides here. Of course, Mr. Wright is correct that the future Them in the movie, even though they are human (which I thought the movie made quite clear), can be seen as an allegory of Christ. If we couldn't find such messages even in the most secular of movies, I'd pretty much be out of my job as a faith-based movie reviewer. But I do agree with Falcon that the movie does its best to insist we not make that interpretation. Can we? Yes. Does Nolan want us to? Not from the dialog I heard. That's one of the reasons why I was extremely disappointed in the movie.”
I eagerly await Mr. Wright unleashing his inner lawyer and eviscerating me for my meager contribution to the discussion. Until that happens, let’s take the time to see what else is out there in the blogosphere. Back over at Aleteia, Joseph Bottum asks the pertinent question, “Why Write Christmas Carols in the Zombie Era?” Interestingly, part of his answer…
“The problem with art in our time is, quite simply, the problem of disenchantment. We need what we lack, here in late modernity — a living connection with the past, a density of reference, a thickness of vocabulary, and an external world that glows with cosmic meaning.”
…is a criticism I believe could be applied to the ending of “Interstellar.” Just saying.
Okay, I’ll quit picking on Nolan’s movie. After all, it’s not like it’s easy finding “enchantment” in most modern movies. So, kudos to the esteemed Fr. Dwight Longenecker, whom we don’t often have the opportunity to link to on this blog, for recently discovering some supernatural signs in “I Am Legend.” Who knew?
Speaking of surprises, K. V. Turley from Crisis Magazine believes he’s found one in Alfred Hitchcock’s final macguffin. Apparently the great director was laughing at us all up until the very end.
If you’d like some laughs of your own, then you might want to drop on by Acts of the Apostasy where LarryD wonders what it would be like if characters from Star Wars went to confession. Inspired by Larry’s efforts, The Curt Jester has a couple of additions of his own. Of course, I can’t just let it go at that. What about some of those minor characters from the movies who might need a trip to the confessional?
Gold Leader: “Forgive me father, I have sinned. I just can’t seem to stay on target.”
Random Storm Trooper: “Forgive me father, I have sinned. I have played hooky from my basic marksmanship classes for the fifth week in a row.”
Lobot” “Forgive me father, I have sinned. I pretended to be listening to my boss, Lando, but was in fact tuned into the football game on that big-*** transistor radio attached to the side of my skull.”
And though he’s not a minor character, how could they forget…
Chewbaca: “Aguhwwgggghhh uughghhhgh huurh wrrhw raaaaaahhgh huuguughghg uuh huuguughghg aaaaahnr huurh uggguh huuguughghg raaaaaahhgh huurh huuguughghg uughguughhhghghghhhgh huurh aarrragghuuhw aaaaahnr.”
Translation: “Forgive me father, I have sinned. I got angry and ripped the arm off a droid after loosing a game of Dejarik.”
Okay, that’s enough of that. Before we go, though, how about a little something seasonal? The Crescat brings you The Cthulhu Nativity.