Friday, September 7, 2012

Song #4--Theology & Popular Music

Here's my #4 song for my Theology and Popular Music project. One of the most interesting things about popular music is its ability to convey the deepest questions of the human spirit for purpose and meaning. These are the questions we all feel but don't know how to articulate them in a way that will be heard by others. Music has this ability because it is conveyed by more than the emotions that are evinced from the melody, rhythm, sound and vocal passion.

Some Nights
by: fun.
album: Some Nights
genre: alternative
video: Some Nights official video

Subjective: The rhythmic percussion instrument base in this song along with the layered harmonies is addicting. I find myself involuntarily turning the volume control to maximum when this comes on the radio or my playlist. Perhaps it’s the resonant tribal rhythms that speak to primal human emotions.

Objective: The song speaks of a questioning of life’s choices and wanting to make something of life that is worth the struggle. But confusion reigns and the artist is not even sure of what he wants and who he is, in life and in relationships. The battle, which the music and words convey, is not necessarily with external forces, but is with oneself. Old beliefs are not sufficient for answering the questions of why things happen and the regret that sometimes follows one’s choices. And, no answers are forthcoming. The song lingers with the question, “What do I stand for?”

Theological: All of humanity experiences existential questioning and the anguish of uncertainty. This song, as much of art does, asks the questions that are often kept hidden in the depths of our psyches. What is our purpose when there seems to be only disillusionment and disenchantment? Is there something more than this life? Perhaps this song distains an answer and only wants us to think and question, What are my convictions? What gives me strength, life and joy? Sometimes, only by living through the questions with patient perseverance can we find peace and purpose. God is in the questions. Are we willing to ask them?

Monday, September 3, 2012

My #3 Song--theology and popular music

Anyone who knows me will realize I cannot have a top ten song list W/O including the Master of Pop, MJ. What can I say? His music has been around all my life. I had a hard time picking just one song, because I love them all. So, here it is.

Black or White
By: Michael Jackson
Album: Dangerous
Video: Black or White - Michael Jackson

Subjective: I have lived with Michael Jackson’s music all my life and confess that I am a fan. From the days of the Jackson 5 to Michael’s debut of his moonwalk singing Billy Jean on the Motown 25 TV special to his This Is It planned tour, I followed his career. Because of my exposure at a young age to R&B, soul and funk, his music rooted deep within me, setting my spirit free and remained with me for decades. All of his songs, but this one especially, with its mixture of pop, Hip Hop, rock and soul, makes me want to get up and dance.

Objective: Michael’s concern with racial equality and world peace are clearly expressed in this song. He wanted everyone to get along and eliminate the, “turf war on a global scale.” His earth-shattering dance moves changed the world of pop music like no other artist because of the opportunity to turn his songs into visual stories through the advent of MTV. Even though he decried violence, his extended video for this song ends with his acting out the violent and sensual instinct of a black panther. Michael was a contradiction in so many ways, yet a brilliant artist whose creativity consumed him.

Theological: This song questions how we see other people who are different than ourselves. How prejudice are we? What keeps us back from accepting people for who they are as unrepeatable children of God and rejoicing in and appreciating their uniqueness, customs, language, race? Kindness is a gift freely given. As human beings, we crave for acceptance and are moved by someone’s kind action toward us, especially in this maddeningly violent world. Love goes a long way. Love heals. Love changes. Love redeems.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Next top ten song

Here's my #2 song for my project on Theology of Popular Music. Everybody needs a little SOUL:

by: Aretha Franklin
Album: 30 Greatest Hits

Subjective: Aretha’s soul speaks to mine. Her gut-wrenching vocals express profound emotion and a desire for change. I listen to her when I feel intense emotion about a situation and need to give it expression.
Objective: This song, written by the Queen of Soul in 1968, was her feminist anthem and empowers women to stand up, refuse to be taken advantage of and claim respect for who they are.  Even though our society has changed tremendously since the 60s, there are still situations, which I have personally experienced, where prejudice toward women is tangible. This was an important song when it was released and can presently challenge the many ways injustice infiltrates our society.
Theological: Each human being is a unique and unrepeatable gift from the Creator. And freedom is one of the greatest of our individual rights. Oppression, which limits others’ freedom and independence, is an injustice that cannot be tolerated. Freedom is not just the ability to choose independently between alternate options, but true freedom is the choice of a personal path toward and for another. Freedom is love—true, authentic, self-giving love.

Some thoughts on Popular Music and Theology...

I finished a class on the Theology of Popular Music and completed my final project last night: pick 10 songs from your play list and give, 1. why you like it, 2. what the song is about, 3. theological/spiritual assessment of the song. I'm going to be posting my 10 songs one at a time in various posts. I would appreciate comments and thoughts about what song would be on your list.

As in an introduction, though, for theology to engage the culture it's about inquiry. We ask questions. Music is very subjective. What a listener may understand from a song may be very different than what the artist intended. Both are making meaning. Yet, the music, the sound itself gives a meaning. The lyrics give another layer of meaning. In theological reflection, we try to listen deeply at the issues, emotions, feelings being expressed so as to engage in the dialogue. Music can sometimes give voice to the emotions and desires that lie hidden--What is the meaning of life? How do I deal with disillusionment? Who am I? In an Incarnational theology, we reflect on who God is by looking at who the human person is. So, here we go....

My first song:
by: Alanis Morissette
Album: Havoc and Bright Lights
Guardian-Alanis Morissette official video

Subjective: This song’s hard-hitting guitar intro and subsequent soft ballad strike deep in my soul. But, being an Alanis Morissette song, the lyrics play a significant, yet often confusing role considering her unique use of language and grammar, or the lack thereof. Reflecting on my own experience, I connect with this song about being a guardian for those we love, yet at the same time leaving them free to be themselves.
Objective: Considering that the album, Havoc and Bright Lights, of which this is the opening song, is released shortly after Alanis became a wife and mother, I sense that she addresses these life-altering choices. This song is different than the angst-ridden-music she is known for. She speaks of being a, “warrior of care, your first warden” and an “angel on call” yet does not see it as a burden, but a privilege. Authentic love naturally protects, shields from danger and wishes the best for the loved one.
Theological: Our concern for those we love is an admirable and god-like quality. We naturally want to protect them, guard them and defend them from harm.  But it cannot be a smothering concern that stifles the other. When we love others, we want to see them happy, but we cannot live their life for them. We must let them be free as God leaves human beings free. Our love, when genuinely selfless, is a God-like love which always allows the other to be the best of who they are and to grow to their full potential.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sparkle--A Tribute to Whitney

I really enjoy the big blockbuster movies, all the Super Heroes, the Bonds and the Borns. But, what I choose to write about are the music movies. These are the ones that thrill me, touch me deeply and make me want to shout out. Sparkle did that for me. Ok, I really wanted to see this because of my girl, Whitney Houston. Her voice has touched me like no other, probably because I feel the heart, the soul, the gospel soul in everything she sings, and that's an essential part of my music canon. 

But, Wow! I have to say, Jordin Sparks surprised me. She's the American Idol winner of season six and was only 17 then. But now, not only can she sing, she can act. She was so believable as the innocent daughter of a mother (Whitney) who was trying to raise her three daughters away from the music industry which nearly destroyed her. Set in the 1960s in Motown, the three sisters began a singing group without their mother knowing. Sparkle's talent for writing songs and her ability to perform gave her the impetus to try being a star. The drama of beginning a group with her two older sisters and the unfolding spiral into an abusive relationship by her eldest sister, Tammy, brought the family to its knees. But, the talent and the soul was in Sparkle all the while, she was just too shy to let it out. Stix (Derek Luke), the manager of the sister-singers, gave Sparkle the love, the encouragement, and the assistance she needed to be recognized as a star. 

Besides the wonderful visuals in a movie, I always pay attention to the music in a film. And, honestly, nothing touched me deeper than Whitney singing, His Eye is on the Sparrow and Jordin singing a song for her eldest sister called One Wing. But don't leave the theater before hearing the final duet of Whitney and Jordin, Celebrate. R. Kelly produced those last two songs, and they are sure to be R&B hits. Any film that has music at it's core catches my attention. And I must not be the only one otherwise why would Hollywood be pouring out music and dance films faster than a speeding bullet. Music films are on an upsurge. Yeah! for those of us who love music.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pick A Song that is You

For my class in Theology of Popular Music the other day, we all had to pick one song that means something to us and bring it to class to play it during our Listening Party (cool class, eh?). How can you pick one song that represents you? I like so many genres of music--pop, rock, soul, R&B, country rock, gospel--and so many eras of songs--40s on up--how is it possible to pick one song? Well, let me tell you it was hard. I had 5 songs spanning 4 decades that were on my iPhone and I didn't know which one I would play until I got up in front of the class. What did I pick, you say? Yes, I love soul, blues, R&B but I couldn't nail down one artist. Also, I didn't want to come out as the "older person" in the class. I grew up with great rock groups of the 70s--Journey, Van Halen, Styx, Survivor, Queen--and enjoy listening to the hard edge of rock with its powerful rhythms and beats. So, here it is.... in the end, I picked.... a new Alanis Morissette song, called Guardian. I like Alanis because of her angst and searching and well as her rock rhythms. The music speaks for itself and touches deep. I felt this song spoke to me about the idea that we want to protect and guard our loved ones, but we, in the end, must leave them free to find their way in life. But, its rock sound and rhythm speaks deep to me as well. I many times don't need lyrics to give shape to my emotions and feelings. Music speaks for itself and draws out these emotions within us in a way words cannot. Take a listen to the song. Let me know what song you would have chosen.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

We Bought A Zoo

I didn't see this movie right away when it was released because the reviews and other people were telling me that it was a sad story. And, quite frankly, when I wanted to go to the movies or watch a DVD I wasn't in the mood to be too sad. So, tonight, after a great, enlightening day, I felt I had the emotional stamina to endure a really sad movie. I brought out the tissues and was ready.

But.....that's not what this was at all! I mean, there are emotional moments and the reality of people dealing with deep grief, but it's a story of new beginnings, of new hope, of laughing at ourselves and with others, and of finding joy in the present moment.

This is a true story based on the memoir by Benjamin Mee (played by Matt Damon), who really did buy a fully-functioning zoo with like, all the animals. I thought only municipalities and governments have zoos. I never heard of privately-owned zoos. So, this was enlightening.

In the movie, Benjamin's wife had died and in order to deal with the grief, for him and his children, he wanted to move away from all that reminded him of her. They found a perfect house with lots of acres of beautiful countryside. But, there was one was a working zoo with staff and all. Wanting a new beginning, Benjamin gives it a go. This is where the wonderful drama of human interaction takes place--between him and the zookeeper and staff, him and his daughter, him and his son, him and the zoo inspector, him and the animals. With all the love we can have for animals, the human element in relationships cannot be replaced. We need people. We need love. We need community. This is played out in the scene of the "re-opening" day of the zoo. Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), the zookeeper, is with her niece, Lily, watching Benjamin and his children taking pictures and laughing. Lily, who really likes Benjamin's son, Dylan, says to Kelly, "If you had to choose between people and animals, who would you pick?" When Kelly doesn't respond because she is staring at Benjamin who she is developing a crush on, Lily says, "Me, too. People!"

There a many great lines in this film and a lot of humor. I was laughing out loud at everything Thomas Hayden Church, who played Benjamin's brother, Duncan, said! Brilliant script-writing. And, you can't but help find Benjamin's seven-year-old daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) just simply irresistibly endearing and charming. The emotional connection with the audience is established right from the beginning of the film because of Rosie. The film also shows how people at all different ages and stages of life cope with grief. The child often enables the adult to find life, joy and hope after a time of great suffering.

There are many values to be discussed in this film and is a great movie to share about. Definitely a family drama that can be viewed and reflected on together. The thought that recurs over and over in the film is words of Benjamin to his son, "Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it." Sometimes we need to risk it in life and shoot for the moon. We never know what we would have missed if we don't try. Pope Pius XII said, "To live without risk is to risk not living." Maybe we don't have to go and buy a zoo, but we can step out toward another person to offer a hand and maybe our heart in friendship and love.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

This is a delightful movie about faith, persistence and humility. Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), Britain's fisheries expert, is drafted into pulling off a most extraordinarily improbable feat. A sheikh (Amr Waked) loves fishing and wants the sport of fly-fishing to be brought to a man-made river in the Yemen desert so people can experience the peace and serenity of salmon fishing. He has a consultant of his investment firm, Harriet Chetwoode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), make it a reality by contacting Dr Jones. 

The sheikh convinces Dr Jones ("Fred") to embark on this project for which money is no object. He tells Fred that he needs to have faith. Faith and fish have a lot in common he says. Salmon spend years wandering the deep oceans only to return to spawn in the freshwater rivers where they were born. They swim upstream, often jumping up small waterfalls to reach their destination in the great salmon run. It seems to be almost an impossible feat of nature. Yet, like faith, these salmon go against the odds and follow what is most deeply ingrained in them. There is a wonderful shot in the film where we see Fred on a crowded city sidewalk going the opposite direction of the stream of people. It's like he's going against what is most reasonable and scientific and stepping out in faith, and sometimes that means going against the crowd. But, "why fishing?" Fred asks the sheikh. And he says because, "fishermen have the virtues of patience, persistence and humility."

Prior to the completion of the project of getting 10,000 salmon into a dam-created river, the sheikh tells Fred, "Sometimes we do something to glorify God. Instead I wonder if we did something to glorify man. That's a very fine line." And this is where humility comes in. We can do great things but always recognize that we are still finite creatures. We can try to manipulate nature but we can't control it. The three together achieve their goal only for disaster to strike.  But, somehow, this whole experiment for Fred and for Harriet was not about fishing at all. They both, through persistence and patience, found life, new life...and love.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Media Literacy Education

Familiar with Media Literacy? If not, here is a link to the core principles of media literacy education. This is becoming a necessity in education of children but also in religious education. The document from the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, Dawn of A New Era, says that media literacy is no longer an option in faith formation, but is a necessity. This program is a quick overview. Enjoy!

Core Principles of Media Literacy education

Monday, July 16, 2012

Billboard Charts

Canadian Carly Rae Jepsen's song, Call Me Maybe, has been on the top charts for 20 weeks now, hitting the number 1 spot for the summer. So what is it about this cute, pop, catchy ballad that has everyone singing it? It's a combination of the strings and synth-sounds, the catchy lyrics and the pop rhythms that make it irresistible. Carly says that she and a friend wanted to make a song similar to Walking on Broken Glass from decades ago that just gets everyone up and dancing while at the beach or on vacation. 

What song does this for you? For me, I enjoy many genres of music--pop, rock, R&B, soul, country. Music speaks to the soul and the emotions, so depending what mood I'm in is what style I listen to. For anyone who really knows me, if you want to see me move, just put an MJ song on.....I'm done for.

Seriously, music has a power all it's own. It's touches us deeply in the core of our being--that place where we meet God. Music, like the Psalms which were written to be sung, touch on the gamut of emotions. It helps us cope with the challenges of life. Music touches us in the place where no one but God can reach us. What song has touched you at your depths and left a resounding chord?

Alberione Film

Trailer for the Blessed James Alberione film-in-the-making, the founder of the Pauline Family.

Red Dog

The last movie of the Windrider Bay Area Film Forum was Red Dog, a movie about a small miners town in the Northwest of Australia and a dog who brought together an unlikely group of people. The movie takes place in the 1970s in the small mining town of Dampier. A Red Kelpie dog wanders into the town and into the hearts of all the people. He becomes the "common dog," which means he has no owner but belongs to everyone. Through this touching and humorous film, we see how Red Dog becomes the catalyst for each person to share their story, their pains, their struggles and their hopes.

At one point, John Grant (Josh Lucas), an American, comes to Dampier. For reasons unbeknown to him, Red Dog takes to him and follows him everywhere. They soon become best friends and everyone recognizes Red Dog as belonging to John. John falls for a young woman named Nancy (Rachael Taylor) and Red Dog takes to her as well. After a large party at which John proposes to Nancy, they take off on his motorcycle. John tells Red Dog to stay and wait for him in the morning. After dropping off Nancy, John is killed in an accident. Red Dog stays outside John's home waiting for him to return. He waits for three weeks. After that he takes off and travels all over the Northwest of Australia--traveling for years searching for John. He finally makes his way back to Dampier and finds Nancy.

This depressive, mining town brings together people from all nationalities and races. Everyone gathers around Red Dog who brings a sense of purpose and meaning to this motley crew. New life springs out of sadness and loneliness. People talk to one another, share their stories and find new meaning in life. As the screenwriter, Daniel Taplitz says, "Red Dog is a mirror of ourselves." We deal with grief and pain which is all a part of the cycle of life. Communion comes out of a shared experience and these people shared a sense of hope in life because of Red Dog.