August 18th, 2005


Theological Notebook: The Name of God for the Merkabah mystic

“… the name of God, as implied in Hekhalot Zutarti, is the decisive revelation of a transcendent God to the Merkabah mystic.” (Jey J. Kanagaraj, 'Mysticism' in the Gospel of John: An Inquiry into Its Background, p. 84)

The Gospel of John, framed as it is with the revelation that Jesus is God “tabernacled” among us, with us as a human being, is also characterized by a repeated identification of Jesus with the name of God, “I AM.” The Gospel, which to my amazement was offhandedly dismissed by such a brilliant rabbinic scholar as Jacob Neusner in his important A Rabbi Talks With Jesus as being a Gentile, anti-Jewish document (he apparently had just accepted the older 20th century scholarship of liberal Protestantism like that of Bultmann), is anything but. The Gospel in this is seen to be an “in-house” Jewish text, debating with other Jews of similar spiritual background in the Merkabah mode (which focuses on visions of God on his Merkabah/throne after the mode of the prophet Ezekiel in the Jewish scriptures). As a Jewish text, written to both Jews and non-Jews, the Gospel in this way is arguing that the sheer presence of Jesus had been a Merkabah vision of a most unusual kind: that God in being one of us was revealed to everyone, and not to just the “select” group of mystics, if only we have wit to recognize it.

Theological Notebook: Keeping an eye on World Youth Day in Cologne

This is Benedict's first World Youth Day as Pope, and it is being seen as a particularly key moment for him to articulate the vision of his papacy, especially as regards his desire to re-awaken Europe regarding its Christian heritage, which has been so suppressed and forgotten over the last two centuries. Like I did with everything surrounding the funeral of John Paul II and the conclave that elected Benedict XVI, I'll be dropping news clippings into my journal, to keep an eye on how this event is being recorded and reported.

I am particularly interested, for young people, to see their reaction to a new pope, or perhaps more clearly, a different pope: as the story noted, most young people don't even remember there being another pope other than John Paul II. I think just the fact of diversity in the leadership of the church will be a lesson for some young Catholics in understanding that part of their faith. Even if, as many predict, Benedict lacks the particular charisma that John Paul had, I'm rather hoping in a best-case scenario that people understand Benedict better. John Paul's teaching could be so philosophically complicated at times, informed as it was by his professorial work in phenomenology, that I think people frequently connected with him more than they understood him. On the flipside, Benedict's language might be much more classically Christian, enflamed by the passionate language of the love of God that has its roots in Augustinian spirituality, and might directly connect, challenge and educate with the gathered youth in a way that John Paul could not. Particularly in reviving a too-often post-Christian European mind that has been deadened to Christian language and thought, those gifts might be ones Benedict has to offer. So let's see what happens.

Here, for example, are the AP and the New York Times stories on Benedict's arrival, the latter being much more politically-focused:Collapse )

Theological Notebook: Keeping an eye on World Youth Day in Cologne (pt.2)

I also include two fabulously jaded article from the European press, from The Independent and a long and interesting treatment from Der Spiegel, which has the usual secularist equations of "religion" with conservatism and so forth (except, perhaps, for eastern religions which don't bother to challenge Western secular truth-claims). The mix between intelligence of writing and depth of treatment in Der Spiegel (would that American writers were given such space!) contrasted with the strange shallowness of its understanding of Christianity, or perhaps of any possibilities beyond secular, consumerist culture. Still, nothing I read matched the sheer, deep insight into the human condition than the girl at the end of the Independent article:
For many young Germans, the Pope remains the prime advocate of deeply unfashionable Catholic orthodoxy. "I go to church when I feel the need to," said a 20-year-old woman who will be attending the celebrations in Cologne. "I don't go there to get lectured at for an hour by somebody who is far too old."
Read 'em and weep: Collapse )

Theological Notebook: John Allen's coverage of World Youth Day

John Allen is producing the best on-the-ground reporting that I'm seeing from World Youth Day. Here I have his large feature story, followed by his Notebook which has smaller tid-bits of interest, sometimes significant interest. I was unsurprised to see that a few dozen bombs had to be removed from the sites of the festivities, and that the bombs were unexploded ordinance from WWII. A lot of people are shocked to find out that they're still cleaning up from that conflict. In fact, it will be over three decades before the planned cleaning up from WWI will be finished. Back on topic, it was interesting to see in the Notebook how many of the U.S. cardinals were going to be leading catechetical sessions for the youth.
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Thursday is LiveJournal Tag Day: Music That Changed Music For Me

Tagged by bassmike

List the five albums that have been most influential to you. Not your *favorite* five albums necessarily, but the ones that changed the way you play or think about music, or even the way you look at the world around you.

Wow. This is quite a bit more difficult than naming "favourites!"

John Williams, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) I bought this album as a double-LP set and was mercilessly denounced by every cool kid in my school for listening to "classical music." This is where I learned that good music was good music no matter what anyone said.

Billy Joel, An Innocent Man (1983) I went to a high school with an extra-ordinary vocal music program. This was the album of choice my freshman year while we were performing Brigadoon as the spring musical. Meanwhile, backstage, up in the boys dressing room, "The Longest Time" was being sung over and over again by guys who couldn't get enough of the sound. I was still a boy soprano at the time, so I sang the very highest line. Now I sing the bassline. This is where I learned to sing in four-part doo-wop; in a way, where I really began to sing, period.

Paul Simon, Graceland (1986) 1986 saw the release of two unforgetable masterpieces, Graceland on our side of the pond, and the Smiths' The Queen Is Dead on their side. But it was Graceland that ultimately affected me more, long-term. I suppose that the lesser lesson was thinking outside of the box: when you first heard that album, and it opened with an accordian, while you were starting to say, "WTF?" your jaw that had begun dropping in shock continued falling all the way to the floor as the brilliantly-restrained drum fills began and Baghiti Khumalo's incomparable basswork left you reeling in ecstasy. And deciding accordians are pretty choice, after all. More than that, though, the gift of this album for me was to make me notice and keep coming back to the utter craftsmanship of the lyrics. Simon's writing continues to improve with age. This album was such a hit, it took me years to realize that Simon actually did his best work on his next, The Rhythm of the Saints.

The Cure, Disintegration (1989) Because my only real musical training was in vocal music, everything else in a song was more-or-less just "accompaniment" to me, and I had a tremendous amount of work ahead of me in learning to really hear everything that was going on in a song. It was in Disintegration that I began to hear in this way, because of the simple and effective way that the Cure has of building a song in "layers," as I thought of it. You can listen to "Lullaby," in particular, to witness this effect. I always thought of this as their best work, and couldn't listen much after that.

George and the Freeks, Join Us On the Ride (1995) Okay, laugh at me if you want, but it was the release of this album by some friends at Notre Dame that fills out my list. It was their first work, and rough compared to their later individual efforts, but it was the music that dominated the life of the band and even some of the circle around them. It was in being around these guys that I learned to write songs in a serious way, and their acoustic-based folk-rock was very influential for later writing of my own. Even today, it is musicians from this circle who still have a huge effect on my writing and production, often as participants, always as critics.

I'm going to cheat a bit here, or at least raise a question. Or a point of procedure. As I came to the end of determinine my five, I suddenly realized that if I was going to be completely honest, I'd have to say:

The Renaissance Men, Life and Other Impossibilities (2004) Making my first album taught me more than I was aware I could learn. The process of seeing production through from writing to mastering, with everything that happens in the studio, in re-recording, in editing and mixing: it changed everything for me. We were all laughing in the big SUV we had with all our equipment, after we finished the major recording session in Nashville, how we couldn't listen to the radio now without hearing all the songs as separated into their original component tracks: you could tell what tracks had been laid down first, what came later, the process was in the music. I learned enough making the CD that, could I do it again, I wouldn't come out with the same CD at all. That was as transformative a musical experience as I'm ever likely to have. I recommend that everyone make a CD on your own, just with a program on your computer. Whether or not anyone but you even likes it, it'll be a grand and even profound time for you.


Now I really gotta get back to work!