In Brooklyn, ‘tradpunk’ Christianity meets millennial counterculture

An Anglo-Catholic service at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Montreal. Photo by Janet Best/Creative Commons

By Tara Isabella Burton, Religion News Service

EXCERPT: Within that paradigm, we are all too often encouraged to focus on our selves, to buy into a never-ending feedback loop of seeking consumption and self-actualization: a capitalist ouroboros masquerading as self-care. We are reminded to put on our own oxygen masks first — a phrase memorably popularized by capitalist-spiritualist guru Oprah Winfrey, to purge toxic people with bad energy from our orbit, to practice self-preservation with Darwinian brutality.

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Meghan Markle and Thomas Merton


The Duchess of Sussex, who was fiercely intellectual at school, fully engaged with the work of American Catholic theologian Thomas Merton. Mr Merton was a monk, ordained as Father Louis, who wrote more than 70 books on spirituality, social justice and pacifism. His most notable work is his autobiography “The Seven Storey Mountain” – originally published in 1948.

His philosophy embraces the idea that the world is not black and white, but an “endless shapeshifting vista of grey, of muted maybes and possibilities,” which appealed to Meghan.

According to the 2018 book ‘Meghan: A Hollywood Princess,’ it was Meghan’s heritage that meant the philosophy struck a chord with her.

Royal biographer Andrew Morton wrote: “Because of the racial duality of her own background, Meghan was attracted and inspired by the work of the American theologian.”

To read full article from Express, click HERE

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We never had any wizards in my neighbourhood.

The Stray Cats on stage at the Markthalle in Hamburg in 1981, with Brian Setzer singing and Slim Jim Phantom in the background. Photograph: Photo 12/Alamy

Brian Setzer, The Guardian:

“My dad had been in the Korean war with some guys from the deep south, and when I was a kid he told me: “This is the music they liked and I like it too.” He played me Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. I thought, “Wow.” I’d never heard anything like it. Rockabilly was dead in America by then, but we lived for the music and the whole lifestyle. I loved the old cars and motorcycles, the music, the fashion. Nobody was doing anything like that in 1979. I couldn’t relate to prog rock with its lyrics about dungeons and dragons. We never had any wizards in my neighbourhood. We had ’58 Chevys on my block and a couple of good-looking girls, so that’s what I wrote about.”

Read entire article from The Guardian HERE.

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Lord have mercy on Robert Johnson

“Robert Johnson wakes up the genius in everyone, and his music speaks to all of us – but with that genius also comes the devil,” observed blues singer Keb’ Mo’ in the new Netflix documentary “Devil at the Crossroads: A Robert Johnson Story.” Solid for music and blues aficionados.

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The fate of an ancient faith

6 O’Clock Prayer is held outside The Church of Mar Addai, with Father Thabet (left) leading the prayer, (Father Yousif (center) and Bishop Michael Najib (right). Photo: ALEXANDRA ROSE HOWLAND

Please take the time to read Emma Green’s article in The Atlantic: “The Impossible Future of Christians in the Middle East.” Through the story of Catrin and Evan Almako’s story, Green reports on the fate of pluralism in the region. She is simply a top-notch reporter.

  • “The graph of the religion’s decline in the Middle East has in recent years transformed from a steady downward slope into a cliff. The numbers in Iraq are especially stark: Before the American invasion, as many as 1.4 million Christians lived in the country. Today, fewer than 250,000 remain—an 80 percent drop in less than two decades.”
  • “The precarious state of Christianity in Iraq is tragic on its own terms. The world may soon witness the permanent displacement of an ancient religion, and an ancient people. Those indigenous to this area share more than faith: They call themselves Suraye and claim a connection to the ancient peoples who inhabited this land long before the birth of Christ.”
  • Continue reading
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Torchbearers for Eddie Cochran

The Stray Cats playing their hit “(She’s) Sexy & 17” at the Rockpalast Festival in Germany in 1983. From left: Setzer, a fan onstage and Rocker. (Manfred Becker)

“If you weren’t around, it may be hard to understand the rise of the Stray Cats,” writes Geoff Edgers for the Washington Post. “It’s as if they appeared from outer space, or at least a Pomade-speared time machine packed with hot rods, tattoos and Eddie Cochran licks. That a rockabilly trio could top the MTV stable in 1982, the same 1982 stuffed with leg warmers, Members Only jackets and synthesizers, would seem not merely unlikely, but impossible.”

Amen to that. Nothing but deep gratitude and respect for these guys. First saw them at the Hollywood Palladium on August 21, 1982 — a night tattooed in my greaser soul. It flipped my world upside down.

“One way to start explaining the Stray Cats is with a photo. It was snapped as they played their hit “(She’s) Sexy & 17” at the huge Rockpalast Festival in Germany in 1983,” writes Edgers. “The image, black-and-white and blurry in spots, features Setzer, the singer and leader, swinging his Gretsch, eyes closed, air between his white shoes and the ground below. Rocker isn’t wearing a shirt and has his back to camera, suspended in the air as he balances one boot on a stand-up bass adorned with the word ‘Dangerous.’ Phantom is out of the frame but we know what he’s up to. He’s standing — the drummer always stood — pounding his snare like Joe Frazier on the heavy bag.”

Slim Jim Phantom (James McDonnell) loved music, “whether the Beatles or the Stones. But as he got older, he started noticing the song credits. That Aerosmith adapted ’50s rocker Johnny Burnette’s ‘Train Kept a-Rollin’ ‘ and that the Beatles played a killer version of Carl Perkins’s ‘Honey, Don’t.’ Humble Pie did Cochran’s ‘C’mon Everybody.’

“Lee and I had always played,” Phantom says. “We had some older guys that we played with, and we knew all the blues and Jimmy Reed and those kinds of songs. But at the same time, we were trying to find something that was a little bit different.”

“Enter Brian Setzer. He was two years older and had been taking guitar lessons since he was 8. By his 16th birthday, Setzer already had the look. He could play the guitar better than anybody they knew. He could also write music. … Sometime in the mid-’70s, Setzer heard Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-a-Lula” playing on a jukebox at CBGB, a punk rock club in New York. That got him hooked on the music that had emerged in the 1950s by loosely combining R&B and the raw energy of hillbilly music.”

After their meteoric success, the Stray Cats broke up. “Put it in this order,” Setzer told Edgers. “Youth, success, separation, alcohol. All of that. I don’t really need to get into it.”

“I think the bigger picture really has come into focus,” says Phantom. “If we scrutinize it, the why will become we love this music. We’re still the torchbearers for Eddie Cochran.”


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Bob Marley wrote that. I can’t change that.

One of my favorite Johnny Cash stories revolves around his duet of Bob Marley’s anthem “Redemption Song” with Joe Strummer of The Clash. That is some wild chemistry. Cash was recording at Rick Rubin’s house in LA and they were sifting through songs for “American IV: The Man Comes Around.” Strummer was on vacation and came by Rubin’s every day so he could watch Cash sing. Strummer extended his vacation and had been hanging out at the house for a week and a half. Because Cash had a home in Jamaica, they decided to do a reggae song. (“If you’re going to do a song from Jamaica, it has to be a Bob Marley song,” said Cash.) Rubin talked Cash and Strummer into singing “Redemption Song” as a duet while Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) played guitar.

According to Rubin, “There was one line I was wary about because it was not good English and I said, ‘Johnny do you want to change this word to say it the way you’d say it?’” Cash looked at Rubin and said, “Bob Marley wrote that. I can’t change that!” That is top-shelf respect – and one more reason why I love The Man in Black.

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Prostitutes and Preachers: The Spiritual Childhood of James Brown

By James Brown (1933-2006)

Excerpt from James Brown: The Godfather of Soul(Macmillen 1986)

In Augusta, Georgia, Aunt Minnie and I lived with another aunt of mine in a house at 944 Twiggs Street. That’s one place I will never forget. Outside, Highway 1 ran right by the door. You could go all the way to New York on that highway. Inside, there was gambling, moonshine liquor, and prostitution. I wasn’t quite six years old.

My aunt who had the house on Twiggs Street was named Handsome Washington, but everybody called her Honey. She was very intelligent, and she supported a lot of people. We had about twelve to fifteen men staying there, in and out, and the woman ran the house because she was the most intelligent. A lot of the men were ex-farm workers who couldn’t get jobs, and Honey just fed ’em all. She fed a lot of the people who lived in Helmuth Alley behind the house, too – young mothers who needed things. She brought them meat and sugar, and she gave them money for groceries. And she loved the children.

Honey just didn’t want to see anybody hungry.

Honey was a good woman and Iloved her to death, but she was a madam with other things on her mind. It was Aunt Minnie who acted more like a mother to me. I shared a room upstairs with Aunt Minnie, away from what was going on downstairs. She read to me, talked to me, held me close. I’d lie there and daydream and tryto envision something better. I felt terrible about what went on in that house. I knew people could live a lot cleaner, because I saw some who did, and I wanted to be like them. Continue reading

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Bruce Springsteen and Martin Scorsese discuss faith, O’Connor

Readers may find these tidbits fascinating from Chris Willman’s full reporting in Variety:

In their conversation Sunday night at a privateNetflix event honoring “Springsteen on Broadway,” Bruce Springsteen and Martin Scorsese spent close to a third of the 45-minute chat discussing their mutual roots in east coast Catholicism and how they’ve both come to terms with a kind of faith. “I think as you get older, what you grow comfortable with is that faith is faith,” Springsteen said. “It’s about all of the mysteries and the answers that you’re never gonna come up with. And I think trying to build it around these concrete answers is vain and humanistic. But if you let it be, that’s where you find a little bit of peace in it. That’s what I’ve found, anyway.”


They bonded over their share love for Catholic literary great Flannery O’Connor, with Springsteen saying that his 1982 album “Nebraska” “was very influenced by Flannery O’Connor stories, and her stories were always filled with the unknowability of God.” Scorsese seemed surprised that Springsteen had not read her collected letters, and urged Springsteen, “Oh, just a few pages a night, every few nights. … I have a quote here from [a letter]…  She said, ‘You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It’s trust, not certainty.’”

“If you’re an artist,” responded Springsteen, “that darkness is always more interesting than the light. It’s nice when you let the light in at the end of something. But I was always interested in, what were the things that didn’t go right? I had a habit: I would drive back through my hometown, and I would do this over and over and over again. And I used to ask myself, why am I coming back here? And I still do. Seventy years old, I still do it. I don’t know if you’re going back to fix things, but there’s so much there that informed your work and your life that it still remains just a rich location. But I always wanted to base the heart of my work in the dark side of things and then find my way. Then you had to earn the light.”

Springsteen wasn’t kidding when he said he still drives back through his hometown. That’s evident in his closing monolog in “Springsteen on Broadway,” when he come back late at night and laments the cutting down of his favorite tree, then comes to spiritual terms with it. He reinforced the truth of those homecomings with an anecdote in Sunday’s discussion.

“The faith you had as a child was very fear-based,” he said. “My initial recollection of my experience in the church was: it was dark. Now, if I go back to my hometown church, it’s been painted entirely white. And it’s bright and it’s supposed to be happy, I guess.”

“Oh, no, no, that’s not good!” protested Scorsese.

“Occasionally I get drawn back to my church,” Springsteen continued. “I was at my church — I attended some stranger’s funeral about a month ago.” The audience laughed. “I was driving by and I saw the door was open, and I said, ‘I’ve got to go in. I’ve got to go back.’ And I went in and there was some nice man’s funeral going on, and I sat in the back. And,” he admitted, “it was completely bizarre.”

Readers are encouraged to read the entire report HERE

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The fevered love of June and Johnny

By Steve Beard

Today marks the anniversary of the death of June Carter Cash (1929-2003). She died of complications from heart surgery. She was 73. Johnny Cash died four months later.

It is strangely fitting that the last time the public saw the face of June Carter Cash was on the enormously popular music video for her husband’s rendition of Trent Reznor’s song “Hurt.” She is seen looking down upon her beloved husband, Johnny Cash, as he sings about pain and loss. The well-worn lines upon her face express love, betray concern, and proclaim pride. Johnny was her man through thick and thin.

“I hurt myself today/ To see if I still feel/ I focus on the pain/ The only thing that’s real,” Cash sings. “The needle tears a hole/ The old familiar sting/ Try to kill it all away/ But I remember everything” – a poignant reminder of his dark years in the 1960s.

June remembers those days of thunder and lightning. She stood by Johnny’s side – doing everything she could to break his voracious dependence on pills and save his soul. “She’d take my drugs and throw them away, and we’d have a big fight over it. I’d get some more, and she’d do it again,” Cash recalls. “I’d make her promise not to, but she would do it anyway. She’d lie to me. She’d hide my money. She’d do anything. She fought me with everything she had.”

She waged this war because she loved Cash too much to watch him die. Through the power of prayer and June’s tough love, Johnny was able to break the power of addiction and find peace in his heart. Their love and dependency upon one another become a spectacular love story. Continue reading

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