religion

Music Monday: Faith, God and rock and roll

Music speaks to a wide range of human passions and human experiences – whether it’s rock and roll, country twang, rap music or a symphony. And people who are passionate about faith and about God have used music to express that passion.

Let’s be honest, though: the genre known as “Christian rock” has produced some profoundly awful music – particularly back in the 80s and 90s, when the attempt to merge those two ideas was executed quite poorly by some major record labels.

But there’s been some really great, thoughtful music in the last five to ten years from artists that we’d consider ‘mainstream rock artists, and that music has come forth in a very organic way. They explore their faith and their God in their songs. I think by avoiding that “Christian Music” label  (which is, as all sales of music are, 98% about PR and where the music fits in a sales environment), it allows people to just hear the songs and experience them.

A few of the mainstream artists that have mentioned faith in their music:

Sufjan Stevens is one of my favorite artists. He’s got some inventive takes on rock and folk and I love his arrangements. His faith was a subject in a lot of the initial interviews he gave, and he was reluctant to speak about it. His attitude was that his music said it all. “Casimir Pulaski Day” is one of the more heartfelt songs where Stevens tackles a religious theme.

The Innocence Mission has been around for over twenty years, and their music has always referred to their faith, in ways both subtle and obvious. Without directly mentioning God, lead singer Keren Paris draws from religious imagery in the song “Now In This Hush.”

Prefab Sprout has been around for even longer – about 30 years – and band leader and lead singer Paddy McAloon is critically acclaimed for being the Irving Berlin/Cole Porter of contemporary pop music. But McAloon has always worn his faith on his sleeve. The band’s most famous album, Jordan: The Comeback is about God. Or Jesus. Or Elvis. Possibly all three. McAloon’s output has been diminished significantly in recent years as he’s lost a significant amount of vision and hearing from health ailments (including severe tinnitus), but a few years ago the band released Let’s Change The World With Music, which has several songs with vivid religious imagery.

I can think of no pop song as deeply vested with Biblical imagery than Prefab Sprout’s song “One Of The Broken,” one of my favorite songs of all time.

And perhaps the most controversial person I’ll mention here: Sinead O’Connor.

I know people remember her ripping the photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live – a topic I addressed in an earlier post – but this is a person who is still actively exploring and  questioning her faith and the meaning of it in her life. Which I think makes for some very compelling music. And no one in contemporary pop music is exploring faith in their music as often and as thoroughly as O’Connor.

“I Don’t Know How to Love Him” may be a number from a Broadway song, but it takes on many more layers when O’Connor, who’s herself been a clergywoman, sings it.

Her latest album ends with the stunning “VIP,” which questions crass commercialism and celebrity culture and designates God as her VIP.

Sinead’s songs always make me really think about matters of faith and about how she examines those ideas. She’s a controversial figure and has a very messy public narrative, with her comments on religion and sexuality and her open struggles with mental health issues. It’s interesting that she’s often judged so harshly for her imperfections. What, I wonder, would Jesus say?

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Gay fatigue and the road to reconciliation

NOTE: This post is, in part, inspired by a recent post on The Cynical Girl blog, written by Laurie Ruettimann, who’s funny and blunt and just a great writer. Check out the post, and the blog. 

It’s been a very gay summer, so to speak, and a very gay year, overall.

How so? A number of public figures have come out publicly as gay – from astronauts to Anderson Cooper. We’ve had a Secretary of State and our President make unprecedented statements about LGBT rights here and around the world. Gay marriage has been a part of the presidential campaigns, and even institutions like The Muppets and the Boy Scouts of America have been part of the conversations and debates.

A little sandwich – fuel for a huge controversy.

There’s been little in the news in recent weeks as controversial and divisive as the debate over fast food restaurant Chick-Fil-A.

The company’s CEO made statements about gay marriage that offended some people, and CFA’s charity foundation has made donations to some organizations with questionable intentions toward LGBT people.

And you know what? I’m sick of hearing about it all. I’m sick of gay people in the news. I’m having gay fatigue. And I AM gay.

Part of my frustration? We are living in a highly politicized world right now, and a very polarized one, too. I can’t see from the middle of this battle whether people are just taking to one extreme or the other – or whether all the more subtle, nuanced points of view just aren’t being talked about.

It just seems like a lot of bread and circuses to me – and a whole lot of people being asked to weigh in with the last word on the matter.

And somewhere in the midst of that, I want to say, quietly but forcefully: Hey, that’s my life you’re talking about. 

I wish the need to have this debate was past all of us. I wish that my partner and I could just quietly live our lives, loving each other. Caring for each other emotionally, spiritually, financially – and legally, through legal recognition.

It’s amusing to me to be thought of as a radical when the most ‘radical’ thing we ponder most days is what’s for dinner, or what bills we’ll pay this week. I’m as tired of people discussing this as others are of hearing about it.

Trying to strike a balance between American citizens with different, conflicting ideas and beliefs is an enormous challenge. And I actually think that the Chick-Fil-A (CFA) controversy is a great illustration of just how complicated and complex it can be.

CFA serves all customers and to my knowledge, has never declined to serve an LGBT person. Their board and CEO are certainly entitled to run their company as they see fit. And people who disagree – as I do – are clearly entitled to boycott the chain or not give them their dollars – and I have chosen not to spend my money there for some time now.

The more complicated questions arise in terms of employment law. There may be legal complications if local or state laws listed sexual orientation in their non-discrimination clauses for employment and the company was denying LGBT people employment. (Sadly, there are no national laws to protect LGBT employees.)

Was it right for lawmakers in Chicago and New York to state their intent to deny CFA permission to open a restaurant? I have mixed feelings about that. As much as I appreciate the message those lawmakers were sending on behalf of the LGBT community, I think it overstepped legal boundaries. (EDITED TO ADD: If we ask people not to let their religious rights encroach on the legal rights of LGBT people, then the reserve should also be true, too.)

And somehow, we need to strike a balance between respecting deeply held religious beliefs and ensuring fair legal protections for the LGBT community. I have to admit, it’s complicated. I have no solutions and no ideas, just an admission that it’s way more complex and involves a great deal more than the “us vs. them” media blare would have you believe.

And I also want to protect myself, my partner and my community, because these things aren’t just concepts or news stories to me.

  • I HAVE been fired from a job for being gay – twice.
  • I HAVE been evicted from an apartment for being gay.
  • I HAVE experienced abusive treatment from a police officer when I was reporting a crime (a minor theft) and was told that I deserved to have everything taken from me.
  • I HAVE experienced issues at school, too – I almost didn’t graduate high school because one of my instructors told everyone he could how much he wanted to “flunk that faggot.”

These aren’t just perceptions that I dreamt from whole cloth. There was no subtlety in these events – the reasons were made crystal clear to me. And it’s devastating to know that you can have even the basics in life taken from you. Most of those things happened   years ago, but there are still places in this country – and the world – where they still happen.

Faith in the LGBT community.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out how to break down walls and broker peace, if not acceptance, among others. And yes, I am really, really tired of doing that.

As others are. That’s undoubtedly added fuel to the fire and the debate. We’re tired and we’re fighting. It is a war, no doubt about it, and it’s become Us vs. Them.

So, where do we go from here? I still don’t have any answers.

I think of someone who inspires me. His name is Patrick Farabaugh and several years ago, he created a magazine called Our Lives.

And that’s exactly what the stories in the magazine do – tell the stories of LGBT people, in a way that I think has opened the eyes of many. We ARE gay men and lesbians and trans people. And farmers, and bankers, and hockey players and writers and….

….and people of faith. I wrote much of the content in the cover story (seen above) about LGBT people of faith in the community, and it was wonderful to reconcile those two parts of my life.

Reconcilation. Bringing things into balance. It’s challenging and it’s complicated. But it can be done. At the very least, it’s a process that we can begin – if we want to. It means sitting down together, dropping our masks and the predetermined scripts from political parties and cable news channels, and just talking, face to face, to one another about who we really are. Sharing who we are – sharing our lives. That’s all I have in terms of ideas as to where we can start, folks.

Me? I’m a writer. The youngest child (and, my siblings would say, a spoiled brat). Wary of people but warm and loyal once the ice is broken. I have a wicked sense of humor and a soft spot for dogs and cats. I love the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, which I’ll always think of as home. I’ve been researching my family tree and hoping to build and strengthen ties with newly-found relatives. Religion and faith is a personal and, in some ways, private matter for me, but let me be clear: I know God and have felt His presence in my life. I love my partner with a depth and pureness I didn’t think was possible, and would do anything to protect him, sustain him, and be a source of light and joy in his life. I can’t cook worth a damn and I kill plants just by looking at them, but hey, let’s not focus on the negatives……