Friday, October 28, 2016

Strange Gratitude

I'm reading Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age", a massive analysis on the massive shifts in how humanity in the west has made sense of existence throughout the millennia. In what is surely no surprise to anyone, society largely does not think religiously, at least not in the way it used to. It's rough out there if you are both religious and want to carve a place for yourself and your tradition in a pluralistic society after that same society has branded that worldview as refuse from a superstitious era.

I certainly think that the representatives of different world views are in a crisis of communication. It's why I really admire the Richard John Neuhauses of the world who tried (and others who continue to try) to establish some sort of commonality in the public square that allows all of us to speak honestly, to challenge each other, but also to be civil with one another. We all advocate for our worldviews within our understanding of the common good. We're not always successful at doing that peacefully.

In reading Taylor's book (a book that is certainly critical and, sometimes, both prone to inaccuracy and editorial and yet demonstrates a level of reasearch and originality that I can only aspire to), I'm filled with gratitude.

I'm grateful for my own formation and how I was educated. I'm also grateful for what books came my way and the things I thought were interesting enough to learn about. His book is a tour de force of sociology, culture, philosophy, psychology, theology (albeit imperfectly) and a history of western thought from the Middle Ages until now and his analysis is original. It's like Foucault in that the analysis is at the service of introducing bigger ideas rather than an accurate representation of things, but it's great to be along for the ride.

I'm grateful for a couple classes I had on Medieval philosophy and religion that I stumbled into during my final semester of college. I'm grateful for staying up on philosophy because Taylor is using stuff that I only read after graduate school. I'm grateful for the "lay of the land" that college and graduate school gave me. If I didn't go through all of that, this book wouldn't make any sense at all.

I'm very grateful for humanity and I'm grateful for the desire to understand who we are, how we got here, and where we're going. It leaves me a little scared because we don't bring up the "big questions" that got us through the last few thousand years often enough and I think that we'll regret it as our use of technology keeps disengaging from ethical questions. I'm worried that our pragmatism isn't really critiqued or reflected upon but simply assumed (a dangerous sort of dogmatism). But I'm also grateful that I think that I get that and hopefully it'll make for some good conversations and practical advocacy.

I'm grateful for everyone who has helped humanity understand God and how even the strangest byroads became opportunities to clarify and purify. The only way to the present is through the past and the groundwork of everything we're grateful for was laid down by others. Sometimes I look at all the mistakes of my life and I get sad. But when I realize that all the good things and bad things helped me meet my wife and allowed us to have our children when we did, I make a bit more peace with my mistakes in life. It's the same with history. We might abbhor what humanity has done over the years, but hopefully we've learned from it as a warning sign or used some of it as a stepping stone for something positive. One thing we certainly can't do is undo it because to do so would mean undoing the complex web of circumstances that allowed for our own existence and experiences.

I'm most grateful to God because as time goes on I experience Him as Providence, the guiding light that wove my desires, experiences, needs and graces into an interlocking whole, where what was needed is usually met and what was lacking is usually provided for. It's hope that things will ultimately be okay and, eventually, reconciled. If not here, than certainly in there hereafter.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Supertzar: Black Sabbath as Both Comfort Food and Friend

Black Sabbath's Supertzar is an instrumental on their Sabotage album. I was probably 14 when I first heard it and it sounded like something on Lawrence Welk's show. It was really dark and weirdly triumphant.

Sabotage was one of the first Black Sabbath albums I bought. The image on the album cover was completely washed out but I got it because it was like $8 on CD compared with its $15 cleaner looking alternative.

I later found out the reason for that. Black Sabbath had signed one of the worst record contracts imaginable and that allowed their management to issue cheaper versions with a mixed up track order that sounded really bad. I was used to the album ending with Am I Going Insane (Radio) but, truthfully, The Writ was the last track. I later realized that if a Black Sabbath album was released under the "Dorchester Holding" that it was bogus and probably didn't help Tony Iommi pay the Tony Martins of the world who got Rockstar'd into singing for the world's best band remembered for their worst singles.

My best friend and neighbor at the time was really into bodybuilding and competed while we were still freshmen in high school. He needed music and the music we listened to together was really weird (The Iron Eagle soundtrack, Life of Agony, and Garth Brooks were interchangeable). I suggested he use Supertzar and, even though he didn't use it and most likely doesn't remember it, I still think Supertzar was the perfect choice for expressing Wagnerian grandeur.

When I get bummed out, I listen to Black Sabbath. In the last few years its been back and forth between Volume 4 and Master of Reality but, truthfully, any of those first eight albums are a comfort.

Whatever they stumbled into from 1970 to 1978, I'm grateful. They apparently didn't realize that they made some of the world's most special music over the course of eight long playing records (Live at Last doesn't count among their album releases but should). Over the years they've consistently avoided the best songs for live shows and some of the best stuff that they do play are played wrong, as though they were a bad metal band.

Black Sabbath is not a metal band. They were a mediocre jazz and blues band who had to turn up loud so the audiences couldn't ignore them and translated meandering jams into something total and absolute.

There are plenty of books that are meant to teach you how to be rich and successful but they don't always get it. There's some kinds of genius that are just stumbled into. Black Sabbath stumbled better than anyone.

Monday, October 3, 2016

I Hate Metallica's Black Album: It Sounds Like a Dusty Hillbilly

I don't hate many things in this life, but I hate Metallica's Black Album. It's not a festering hate. I don't even realize how much I hate it until it somehow comes up, and of course it's going to come up on the 25th anniversary of its release.

I hate it while knowing the album extremely well. I've listened to it countless times. At least once a year I listen to it for the ten millionth time just to make sure that I haven't missed something. My first copy of the album was the Japanese import that has "So What!" as the bonus track. As much as I hate the Black Album, I hate it ten times more for that stupid song. It cost $30 in mid-90's money and would be about $90 now if everything on it hadn't be made available for free on many different formats.

My friend Scott posted something about it online and I must've blacked out when I saw it. When I came to, this is what was on my screen. It's unusually cruel and dismissive of people who poured their hearts and souls into such a bad piece of art. They spent about a year on that album and I am so sorry they wasted their time. It contains some of the most recognizable songs in the history of radio, some of which almost fool me into thinking that they are good. That feeling usually dissipates soon after but not without me feeling guilty for falling for it all over again.

Any time I've put it on, I get a bad feeling in my stomach. Then I'm bored. Then I'm angry and a little embarrassed. I make a face like I just sipped milk that is in the process of turning bad, like I'm mulling it over when it was clearly a mistake, when the decision to ingest it was regretted far too long after my initial unease.

I feel most bad for the things I said about Bob Rock in the below. He's a person and he's probably very nice. He was just trying to make the band sound their best. He's very patient in the "Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica" home video (which was 2 videotapes long), trying to get Kirk Hammett to reach deep within to play the Unforgiven solo at a level he'd only hoped he could reach. He's so patient and professional and I reduced him to an assortment of bad hair and poor decisions. I hope that he never reads my theology/culture blog that has a readership of about 5 people.

Someone might say that people who write on theology and culture shouldn't write like this...but clearly they have never read anything by St. Jerome.

Thanks to Scott for the opportunity.