Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Going Deeper

Music can be an invitation out into the deep. It doesn't matter if it's played on a subway ramp or a concert hall, a whistled tune from beneath the hood of a car, or a lullaby whispered in the still of the night. Music has power.

I don't mean music from the generic pop stations that buzzes incessantly and fizzles out in a few weeks, though there can be sparks of light and insight there too. I mean hand-carved poetry. Heart-crafted words, polished smooth by poets sitting in their cabins or spilling words on napkins in small town diners, scribbling fast while the fire of inspiration is hottest. It's mostly music from the souls who are unplugged. I'll take their word over a snappy electrolized and endlessly repetitive refrain any day! Take a Karen Casey standing small in the midst of a smoky pub in Westport, Ireland, singing a capella the tune A Labouring Man's Daughter. Wow.

There are songs that can really slip below the radar and get me thinking. Usually anything from Greg Brown (Ella Mae or Hey Baby Hey.... oooh those are sweet), or Dave Wilcox; now there's a poet. Carrie Newcomer's words are so rich with imagery. The music of Van Morrison was key in my faith journey in my early twenties, especially the albums Avalon Sunset and Poetic Champions Compose. And every time I hear "Will Ye Go Lassie Go?" (sung by Judy Collins below) my Irish heart beats stronger and gazes towards Erin's western seas to Tir na Nog.

We need music with power; music that pines. Music that has that glimmer of eternity in it, that throbs with the sehnsucht, the longing in us that tells us that here is not all there is.... that "the best is yet to come." This heart music is not an escape from reality, but a return to it. It's not mindless distraction, but mindful attractions to things we must face every day. Choices to be made, turns taken, fears to overcome. Just as we should make an examination of conscience each night, looking over the day and what actions or omissions may have thrown shadows over His Light, so I think we should do an examination of our iPods, our iTunes, Zunes, and CD collections; whatever houses the music we live by.

How much of it moves you, as opposed to gets you moving? I know we love both. But are there at least a few melodies that take you to those places you need to go, deep into your soul? Would you mind sharing them? Here's a few of mine:

- How Did You Find Me Here, Dave Wilcox
- In the Garden, Van Morrison
- I Know You by Heart, Eva Cassidy
- Leaving Home, John Williams (Superman soundtrack)
- The Riddle, Five for Fighting
- Hold On, Carrie Newcomer
- One Love, Cheryl Wheeler
- Valentine's Day, Bruce Springsteen
- For All that We Let In, Indigo Girls
- Check it Out, John Cougar Mellencamp
- Hearts and Bones, Paul Simon
- Love Your Neighbor, Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I Wanna Know What Love Is!

I believe 80's music is one of the proofs for God's existence. I'm serious... Just check out these lyrics from the band Foreigner. Listen to the longing for love and communion in this one!!

"Now this mountain I must climb feels like a world upon my shoulders... through the clouds I see love shine. It keeps me warm as life grows colder. In my life there's been heartache and pain. I don't know if I can face it again. Can't stop now, I've traveled so far to change this lonely life... I wanna know what love is... I want you to show me... I wanna feel what love is... I know you can show me..."

Isn't this the quest of every human heart: to find love? Isn't this an echo of our original solitude pining for communion? It drives us on and up and out of ourselves (and sometimes it drives us crazy!) But still we press on, because we believe that even in the midst of that "heartache and pain" we all encounter, there is in fact a Love that truly satisfies. The sad fact is many remain in that pain because they seek this love in the human heart alone. But no person on earth can fully satisfy us; our hearts were made for an Everlasting Love.

The good news is that this Love has been seeking us all the while. This Love has found us! Within the lyrics of this song from Foreigner we can discover the truth that it is indeed God Himself Who has placed this passion within us. Like a little homing beacon, blinking red in the center of our chests, following this desire in sincerity and truth will lead to Him! "Through the clouds I see Love shine"!

But it must always be a desire to give ourselves to this love, to break free of the gravitational pull of lust and self-centeredness. Maybe this is the weight the singer of this song is trying to escape from? This is the mission of every human being; to give love rather than to grasp at it. Just listen to the words of Pope Benedict XVI:

Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great “yes” to the body... True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.

Through the songs we sing and in the deepest desires of our hearts, may God continue to shine His Light, leading us ever and onward to our true home.... His Heart.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lost and Found

Have you ever gotten lost in a melody or the pulsing beat of a song? Did it seem to take you away, free you for a time from the worries of the present moment?

"Gimme the beat boys and free
my soul. I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away..." - Dobie Gray

Many times we find that music has a power to sweep us up off our feet and into something seemingly larger than ourselves... into a great ocean of rhythm and melody, or down a river that rushes through us and carries us away. Music is a great force, a strong current, and so riding this river takes some skill. If we're not careful, the boom boom boom can lead to gloom. So sings the artist Robin S., in her classic dance hit "Show Me Love."

Robin knows what can happen in the midst of the great flood of sound and light at a club. But within her catchy melody comes a message that runs against the current way of thinking.

"I’m tired of getting caught up in those one night affairs. What I really need is somebody who will always be there... So if you’re looking for devotion, talk to me. Come with your heart in your hands, because my love is guaranteed."
- Robin S.

I wonder how many people in those dark, smoky clubs, where the bass drums on and the lights flash and fade, how many have heard that plea of the heart, these words of Robin S? And how many recognized that cry for real love as their own? Listen intently to the lyrics and you will often find the longing... the desire deep in all of us for a lasting love and communion. So sang St. Augustine centuries ago when he whispered, "You have made us for Yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Beyoncé, Don't Believe It!

Don't you love it when a catchy tune gets stuck in your head for the entire day and you CANNOT seem to shake it? Maybe it's the theme from the Andy Griffith Show, or Beverly Hills Cop, or that Empire Carpet commercial? And then you feel compelled to tell a friend and BAM! you've gone and spread the maddening melody and the beat goes on... Enter Beyoncé and her song Irreplaceable. It's a catchy tune, granted. But it's got issues. Let's lend an ear to the lyrics:

"You must not know about me, You must not know about me I could have another you in a minute, matter fact he'll be here in a minute... "

Ouch. As William Congreve once said, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!" (I thought it was Shakespeare too, but it actually comes from a play called the "The Mourning Bride" (1697). Thanks Mr. Google!)

"I can have another you by tomorrow, So don't you ever for a second get to thinking you're irreplaceable."

Beyoncé's song was all over the airwaves a year ago (It was #1 on iTunes for weeks). And the lyrics of this song have an angst that we can all recognize in our culture; it points to the ongoing war between men and women, the battle between love and lust, the dichotomy of seeing others as a gift or choosing rather to grasp at them as if they were objects just meant to sate our own selfish desires. Now in light of these battle scars, I would affirm Beyoncé's reaction in the song. If the woman has been abused or objectified in the relationship, she should jump ship and get out of the situation. The problem is, she jumped right past the lifeboat that carries us into the sea of seeing people as persons, and she turns around and treats men as objects herself!

"I won't lose a wink of sleep 'cause the truth of the matter is replacing you is so easy..."

What are we, vacuum cleaners? Washing machines? The truth is, we are not replaceable. We are not pleasure machines that can be exchanged when the pleasure dries up. The truth is, we are like snowflakes. Each of us is unrepeatable. Every one of us is, in fact, irreplaceable. And yes, even when we fall for the lies of our culture, becoming just a face in a crowd, selling out our virtue for the quick and easy, becoming a number instead of a New Creation, we are still, deep in our being, utterly and inviolably unique and irreplaceable. There will never be another you. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his inaugural homily "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary." And Pope John Paul II sang this truth as well when he wrote "The human person is a unique composite - a unity of spirit and matter, soul and body, fashioned in the image of God and destined to live forever. Every human life is sacred, because every human person is sacred." So don't you ever for a second get to thinkin' you're __replaceable.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Redemption of Rock Music

(originally published in Nov, 2007 for Christopher West's syndicated column "Body Language")

John Paul II warned that if chastity is lived in a repressive way, it’s only a matter of time before sexual desires explode (see Love and Responsibility, pp. 170-171). I think we find here a key for understanding the sexual revolution of the twentieth century. It was a ticking time bomb waiting to detonate in response to the prudery and repressiveness of the previous era.

If a culture’s music provides a window into the soul of that culture, I think the rise of rock music in the 1950's is very telling. Rock music seems to be an artistic expression of the explosion of all that pent-up desire. The very term "rock and roll" – coined by DJ Alan Freed in the early 50's – came, some say, from a slang term for sexual (mis)behavior.

Before you get the wrong impression, I’m actually writing as a fan of rock music – a big fan (of much of it, anyway). It’s in my blood. It’s "my" music. I can still remember my first "favorite song" from the radio. "Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes..." by David Bowie. It was 1972 and I wasn’t even three years old.

Not all rock music glorifies lust and indulgence. Much of it expresses an earnest search for meaning. Neil Young "keeps on searchin’ for a heart of gold..." and Bono has "climbed the highest mountains" lookin’ for that thing he’s lookin’ for. Rock music for me has always expressed an interior longing, a search. It’s been a way of "getting out" what’s going on "within" – the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly.

As a rock drummer, myself, I can’t tell you the number of times I have pounded those skins as a form of therapy. We’ve all got bottled up "stuff" that needs an outlet. Drumming has been a great one for me. A good, driving beat not only rattles the walls, it shakes-up the soul as well. "Gimme the beat boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock ‘n roll and drift away...."

If rock and roll can generally be understood as the musical expression of the sexual revolution, then I predict that as a new sexual revolution unfolds – and it is slowly unfolding with the spread of John Paul II’s theology of the body – so, too, will a new form of popular music. There are many signs, in fact, that a positive musical transformation is already quietly underway.

I want to point you to two of those signs: Mike Mangione and Vince Scheuerman. These two artists, whom I know personally, are part of a new breed of rock musician: both grew up on rock music; both, through hard times, came to love their Catholic faith; and both are working their tails off to make a difference in the secular world with their music.

Mike Mangione’s latest CD called Tenebrae (Latin for "shadows") has received great reviews from critics across the country and was selected as New York Magazine’s pick of the week this past September. Mangione’s rock-folk-acoustic-indie sound includes haunting cello and violin. His lyrics dig deep into the human experience, expressing an eros yearning for redemption in songs like "First Time: Please Forgive Me" and hope for a culture of life in the midst of a culture of death in songs like "The Killing Floor." You can learn more and order his CD at mikemangione.com. Also, search for his name on You Tube to see him perform "It’s Me, Not You."

Vince Scheuerman is the lead singer/songwriter for the band Army of Me. This past summer they toured with the Dave Matthews Band promoting their new album Citizen. Their video "Going Through Changes" has been a regular on MTV. While their sound is harder than Mangione’s, the lyrics come from that same place in the soul. They express a hunger for wholeness and communion in "Two into One" and the hope of rebirth in "Rise," a song inspired by the tsunami of December 2005. Learn more and order Citizen at Armyofmeonline.com and see their video for "Going Through Changes" on YouTube. Look closely and you’ll even see this MTV rock star wearing a scapular.

If rock music was born from the explosion of sexual repression, who knows – when John Paul II’s "theological time bomb" detonates, Madonna might really and truly sing "like a virgin."

- Christopher West

Monday, September 8, 2008

Into the Mystic

I'll always remember the moment when I first became a Van Morrison fan. I was maybe 19 years old, home from college and flipping through the channels when a movie called "Immediate Family" came on. I don't know anything about the film (I just looked it up a moment ago to be sure of the title). What struck me was the song playing during a powerful mother/daughter/healing scene. The song was Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic."

There was something magnetic and mystical in that song that made me stop my surfing in mid-click. Maybe it was the slow and steady ryhthm of the guitar, or the line "Hark, now hear the sailors cry, smell the sea and feel the sky." It could've even been the spaces between the words and the music that opened me up to sweet contemplation. Isn't it always the silence, the rest within the notes that moves us most? Whatever it was, it sent me on a journey to the music store, to pick up the Moondance album and a host of Van's other works since then.

"And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home. And when the fog horn blows, I want to hear it. I don't have to fear it."

Into the Mystic led me into the Mystery! The sense of wonder that song stirred up in me was an invitation to ask the deeper questions. It's the sense of wonder and mystery that the modern heart, I believe, longs for more than any material possession or position of power. We want always that open door, that path before us that leads to the More that we are made for. The one who no longer thirsts for answers drowns in his own Narcissian pool.

Getting answers is great, don't get me wrong; it sets us on the path to begin the walk. But those unanswered questions, those mysteries, are what keep us moving, searching, and seeking. Boy did it take me forever to learn that lesson; that life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.

In last Sunday's gospel, John the Baptist drew people out into the desert. They brought their questions, their ponderings and wonderings. They wanted answers to life's deepest questions. And John gave them solid answers. "What should we do?" He said to them in reply, "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He answered them, "Stop collecting more than what is prescribed." Soldiers also asked him, "And what is it that we should do?" He told them, "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages."

John was short and to the point when it came to those nitty gritty questions. But he openly admitted that he was only paving the way for Something Deeper; his water would yield to fire, his mediation would turn over to the mystical. Enter Jesus.

Jesus doesn't always give us the straight answer. In fact, He rarely does this. In contrast to John, when questions come, Jesus simply invites us into them. "Consider this parable..." He says to the questioner. "Follow me..." He invites the inquisitive.

When two disciples of John's followed Jesus, he turned and said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi, where are you staying?" He said to them,"Come, and you will see."

"Hark, now hear the sailors cry, smell the sea and feel the sky.... Let your soul and spirit fly into the Mystic."

* originally posted on The Heart of Things

Howard Jones and the Meaning of Life *

Howard Jones. This name, depending on how "old" you are, may have stirred up images unbidden to your mind, images from a faraway past; images of parachute pants, breakdancing, big hair (exhibit A), scenes from random movies involving, perhaps, John Cusack or Sean Astin from Goonies. Ah yes, the 80's...

I grew up in the 80's and was shaped by the soundtracks of John Williams, the movies of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and yes, the lyrics from songs like Pink Houses, Cherry Bomb, and artists like Bruce Springsteen, Journey, and Mr. Howard Jones.

The 80's culture wasn't all squealing guitars and bad hair you know (except maybe Flock of Seagulls... Now that was some bad hair).
As in every time and place, there were human beings with the same longings and desires of the heart for love and beauty and freedom that there are today. As I re-listen to the songs I used to love, I realize that there were some profound truths whispering through the big honkin' headphones of my big clunky Walkman. So let he without Reboks cast the first stone...

Ponder these lines from the song Everlasting Love by Howard J.

He wasn't looking for a pretty face
She wasn't searching for the latest style

He didn't want someone who walked straight off the TV
She needed someone with an interior smile

This is what Pope John Paul II would allude to in his teaching on human sexuality as the "interior gaze" that men and women should have for one another... To see the person and not just the parts... the soul and personality shining through the human body.

She wasn't looking for a cuddle in the back seat

He wasn't looking for a five minute thrill

She wasn't thinking of tomorrow or of next week

This vacancy he meant to permanently fill

YES! Love is meant to be exclusive, faithful, more than a flash in the pan. Howard, you are the man.
And then he cries out with a longing that I know echoes in my heart, and must in every heart... a longing that betrays the lies of our wounded culture that sees sex as the be all and end all of life here below. No, human love is pointing towards a Love Divine, and "Everlasting Love!" That's why we are so caught up in it in our movies and our music.

I need an everlasting love
I need a friend and a lover divine

An everlasting precious love
Wait for it, wait for it, give it some time

Wow... so today, in the office or in the car, listen in to those "soft rock" stations, try and discern in the lyrics of these lovers this longing for More. We can't deny it... we are made for it.

Let's end with another icon of the 80's.... John Cougar Mellencamp:

A million young poets
Screamin' out their words
Maybe someday
Those words will be heard
By future generations
Ridin' on the highways that we built
Maybe they'll have a better understanding
Maybe they'll have a better understanding....

* originally posted on The Heart of Things

Monday, June 16, 2008

What's This All About?

In the midst of a talk this morning on the cry of the human heart for love, acclaimed author and speaker Christopher West alluded to his deep affection for Rock and Roll. He said this music was a direct result of the so-called sexual revolution of the 60's. In its passionate cry, it is seeking to unite the deep desires of our hearts with an "everlasting love." Too often, rather than lift up the human heart and direct Eros to its proper end (God, the source of Love), the music falls short and stumbles into a misdirected and often fatalistic lust. Can any one person ever fully satisfy a heart made for the infinite?

Even when we fall short, the echo of love is still there. In the immortal words of the band Extreme "There's a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you!" Deep within us, the desire for a love that truly satisfies lingers, and more, cries out for a "forever love" ... So the Mick Jaggers, the Springsteens, the Bonos of the world are like "Twisted Mystics" (in the words of Christopher West). They can teach us so much, if we simply unravel their songs, or "tweek" them just a bit.

This blog is dedicated to that music, to the songs that reach for the stars! The Theology of the Body is that helper, reaching out to us, to lift up our heads.... and in these desires for truth and love, already we can see "our redemption is near at hand."