So it’s back to writing about religion today. I’ve spent most of my blogs the past few months on music and other media; back when I started this blog, I was incessantly commenting on Religion, Philosophy, and Politics. Over the past year or so, those articles have reduced in quantity drastically, probably because I spend so much of my time writing on those subjects in my life as a grad student, as well as in preliminary work for my later doctoral work. This blog allows me to shift gears and focus on my 0ther passions, but sometimes it’s still the best forum for me to roughly etch out what I’m thinking or wishing to express spiritually or theologically.

As is the case here, with the age-old concept of Trinity. I recently worked on a  mini-lecture concerning the Holy Spirit for a teaching class I’m in; the assignment was to use certain methods of teaching to teach a theological doctrine. I wanted to do Spirit because I find it so universally appealing–as a concept, it’s something most Christians can approach from different angles and have something to exchange with each other. In an interfaith sense, it’s something that many faith traditions can grasp because of many similar concepts to it are in the religious world–I veered away from mentioning the Trinity in any way. In another recent class, we’ve begun studying the the Nicene creed and council, as part of a look at Christian world history. It’s always startled me that these intensive theological debates about substance, essence, trinity, three-in-one, etc are so removed from the original Christian context. There is no mention of the word “Trinity” in scripture, nor “three in one.” There are verses and lines that can be stitched together to formulate an idea of what was later termed “the Trinity,” but there are just as many verses an ideas that contradict that concept. Christians spent so much time arguing and formulating creeds, declaring differing opinions as heretical, blanketing thousands as “anathemas,” and struggling to verbalize to the world just how it is that Jesus was God, that Holy Spirit is God, that there are these 3  that are really just 1 essence–much to the befuddlement of the rest of the religious world who are monotheist or polytheist without the need to find a middle ground.  So all of this time to define how to properly verbalize Jesus as being the same as the Creator and thus how to worship him properly–with salvation on the line, the eternal soul in peril–while all the while, Jesus had never really said “worship me,” he had actually said, “follow me.”

The Trinity bothers me. When I returned to the Church as an adult, entering in as an Episcopal where I had once been Baptist, I got my first serious connection and confirmation at a church named after the Trinity. Now, in my current church, as in the vast majority of Episcopal churches, I recite the Nicene Creed each week. I have heard of the Trinity all my life, and I recognize the importance of it on many levels– as a tie to history, a communal bond, a faith tradition. But in personal belief and in real practice, I see no need to hold to the traditional view of the Trinity. Jesus as we can know him in scripture and historical Jesus studies seemed to have been much more concerned with us doing as he taught, walking as he walked, living , loving, and giving as he gave than with us worshiping him. Paul Tillich and modern fans of his have written about us becoming Christian idolaters when we raise up those things that point us to God as more important than God– the Bible, our view of Jesus, etc. All of those years of bickering over creeds could have been spent addressing the physical needs and current life situations of the surrounding community. That would have pleased Jesus  more, I believe, and it would have pleased the Holy One he prayed to as well.

I mean no disrespect to Jesus. I have no problem in calling Jesus “Lord.” As I understand the phrasing, Jesus is Lord because Caesar is not–those that followed Jesus and his Way could not pledge allegiance to their empire and the “natural” rule of things–can we say the same? Is Jesus “God?” Well, as I understand what has been termed the “Trinity” before me, I see the Creator and the Spirit as inseparable and unified—the One that sparked all creation and the Spirit that runs through and can be made manifest in all, both the same God urging us to do justice, love mercy, walk in kindness. Jesus lived 2000 + years ago and exemplified to those of us that find an entry-point to God in him the way we are to live if we are fully consumed with the Spirit of God, and  the Spirit shone through every part of him and in every action he did. If someone is that Holy, they and God are inseparable.

All of this talk about “essence” and “substance” seems rooted in fear. Critiques of early views that differed voiced concern that we couldn’t truly be “saved” if Jesus isn’t fully God–so though they never met Jesus in the flesh, he had to be God or they weren’t safe; it couldn’t be as simple as Jesus being the Way they came to know the One unifying presence. If hell is your primary concern, it’s easy to see why these matters take on the utmost concern. I won’t rehash what I’ve written in the past, but if you scroll to the bottom of my blog site and click “religion,” you can read all sorts of attempts of mine at reformulating thoughts on “hell” and “salvation.”

So for me, if we are Christians and it is the tradition in which we have come to know God, Trinity best works like this: We worship the Creator to be filled with the Spirit so that we can live like Jesus.

I’m not usually successful at that; but I do recognize it to be the goal if I truly take this stuff seriously.

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It’s easy to make fun of anything  related to cheese rocker Meat Loaf, but he had a lyric in his “comeback” hit of the nineties, “I would do anything for love,” in which he sang, “some days I pray for silence, and some days I pray for soul. Some days I just pray to the God of sex, and drums, and rock and roll” (of course, I always thought he said “drugs,” but every lyric printed that I find says “drums”–go figure). Ah, Meat Loaf.

I’m segueing from that into reviewing the excellent new album by Free Energy, “Stuck on Nothing,” which sounds absolutely nothing like Meat Loaf. But what Meat Loaf bluntly and adequately termed in the above-mentioned lyric is encapsulated in sound throughout “Stuck on Nothing.” Free Energy channels Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy, and Tom Petty the way that Gaslight Anthem channeled Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements with “The ’59 Sound.” That is to say, they nod to their glorious and unbridled rock and roll past with obvious homages to and inspirations from it in crafting unique, original and wholly their own great rock music. I was playing the album in my car last night, and friends of mine thought it was Weezer–so I guess sonically, there are some similarities there as well,though I didn’t hear it myself at first. The riff on “Bang Pop” is very Weezer-like upon  further reflections, but where Weezer seemed like some  amalgamation of ’50s mainstream and  ’80s alternative, Free Energy is undeniably ’70s with their lyrics, chords, and choruses. Free Energy, like a lot of the most fun, great rock and roll, seem to invoke an eternal Friday night where we’re all 18, cruising around with friends, in search of a great party. Like a reviewer for Rolling Stone mentioned, the guys in the band have probably watched “Dazed and Confused” more than a few times.

So, it’s been a really great year for music already and IT’S ONLY MARCH. We got excellent new work from Vampire Weekend, Spoon, The Watson Twins, The Ravenna Colt (the new band by ex-My Morning Jacket guitarist, and on par with MMJ), Joanna Newsom, a great mixtape from soon-to-be-superstar J Cole (the warm up, officially posted the last day of ’09), a new single from Lupe, a mixtape from Talib Kweli and DJ Hi Tek, a single from Lil Wayne that contained Eminem’s best verse in 8 years or so, the return of blues-jazz–hip hop prototype Gil Scott Heron, and the last “American Recordings” installment from Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin. Looking at the releases slated to appear March through June astounded me, it’s as if 90 percent of all great working pop musicians are throwing new stuff out over the next couple of months: Erykah Badu and Ghost,Meth,and Rae release work this month as do the Drive By Truckers (The Big to Do!). In April, Talib Kweli and DJ Hi Tek drop “Revolutions Per Minute.” In May, there are new albums by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Hold Steady, Courtyard Hounds (The Dixie Chicks w/o Natalie Maines), The New Pornographers, and The National. In June, The Gaslight Anthem (who claimed to have used The Clash and a slew of other classic Brit rock as the road map this time around) and Against Me! release new work. Lupe Fiasco’s “Lazers” is finally due out this summer as well…and the list will grow, I’m sure.

Awhile back, on a discussion board aimed at saving a local indie record shop (which seems to have worked in some fashion), someone posted that “record companies need to focus on releasing material worth buying, that’s the main problem.” Often there are folks like that, envisioning a golden past in which all new releases were glorious in contrast with a vast emptiness in the current market. It’s true that in the ’60s there were more mainstream classical works, albums that appealed to both the music press and the casual fan, and that appeared on the radio to boot. A decade in which The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Nina Simone, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and so on, all produced lasting, classic, artistic music is hard to beat. Yet every decade has had it’s fair share of garbage and diamonds as well, and today is no different. There are more quality albums of rock, hip hop, jazz, blues, electronic, country and R&B than most of us could hope to afford being released each year–you just have to look for it. The radio won’t force feed it to you, and sometimes it’s certainly not mainstream. This year there’s more than enough opportunity to tune in to great music, so do so–because music matters.

Okay. I recant an ignorant, off the cuff remark I made awhile back in my Grammys 2010 review. I soon learned my error and made a comment on that article, but upon further reflection I really felt the need to make a full, albeit short, article explaining just how wrong I was.

I was on a roll, throwing disparaging remarks at all of the mistakes that were made, all of the wins that should’ve been but didn’t quite. Near the end, when reviewing who won “Best Americana Album,” I listed the nominees, all of whom made great albums last year, remarked that Dylan lost for “Together Through Life” and wrote “that’s like Jordan losing a basketball award.” The one name on the list I didn’t recognize and whose album I hadn’t heard was Levon Helm with “Electric Dirt.” It won the award, and I wryly mentioned it had in a “whose heard of that guy anyway” sort of tone.

Ah. Flash forward a month or so, I’m listening to “Music From Big Pink” by The Band on vinyl with my wife. The Band was one of the great groups I waited forever to get into, finally catching “The Last Waltz” a few years ago, which caused me to get their  first few albums, which I enjoyed. My wife is a much bigger fan, so I recently purchased the remastered vinyl for her, and while listening to it I recoiled at the error of my ways. “Whose the main singer for The Band?” I asked, knowing only Robbie Robertson post-The Band. “Well, there’s Danko and there’s Levon Helm.” “Helm?” I asked. Instantly I went online and began listening to his solo work. I got “Electric Dirt,” and loved it. I mentally kicked myself for being too ignorant to have known the names of the members of The Band, and even moreso for writing off an album before even confirming who it was from and what it was all about. I had good basis for all of the other criticisms I threw at the Grammys, but not for this one.

So pick up “Electric Dirt.” It’s beautiful music; great folk, rock-tinged and gospel-drenched music. Levon in his older years is beginning to sound a bit like George Jones, but he’s wholly himself even when he’s doing a cover song as he does in album opener “Tennesee Jed” originally by The Grateful Dead.  Listen to “Move Along Train” and “The Growing Trade” and you’ll soon find out that like Johnny Cash in his later years, and like Bob Dylan has been doing on a string of great late-career work as well, Levon Helm is not slacking after a long career–no, it sounds like he’s geared up with a second wind to make music just as good, just as relevant, as he did 40 years ago.

As for that Grammy…is “Electric Dirt” better than “Together Through Life?” Well, I’m not sure. But it certainly is close enough to deserve the win it got, and as much as I loved the Wilco record and the other Americana nominees, it’s much truer to form and deserving than they are.

Joe Hill is quickly shaping up to be one of the best modern fiction writers of any genre. “20th Century Ghosts” and “Heart Shaped Box” proved him a lock for the best new voice in horror and dark fantasy, and although “Horns” is undeniably another horror rooted work, it’s just one more piece of evidence that Hill is a top-notch writer surpassing any genre limitation.

“Horns” is suspenseful, intriguing, heart-breaking, comedic, scary, thought-provoking, disturbing, vibrant…it’s a breath-taking thrill ride from start to finish, with an ever-layering yet plausible mystery at its core. The characters really drive the story. Ig Parrish and his lost love Merrin Williams are a relatable, realistic, captivating couple. Their romance, its gruesome demise and its nostalgic highlights jump off of the page.

Give “Horns” a read. It’s bound to startle you, pull you in and keep you wondering how it will all turn out until the very end. The ending might cause you to feel angry that certain things don’t work out as you had hoped. But after wrapping it up, think back to the part where Merrin says “I’m away from it and into the treehouse” and think about that “wedding.” I’m being vague, because I don’t want to ruin it, but I think that the Rolling Stones song that’s referenced in the book, “You can’t always get what you want” works out very thematically in the ending. I hate to use a cliche, but I think the ending truly is bitter-sweet upon reflection. Something about it makes sense and is satisfying in its own way, and the more I mentally fill in the blanks, the more I think Ig might have worked out things as best as he possibly could.

After you read “Horns,” if you haven’t checked out “20th Century Ghosts” or “Heart Shaped Box,” do so. “Pop Art” in 20th Century Ghosts is one of the most oddly profound short stories I’ve read in years. If you’re a comic fan, check out “Lock and Key,” the montly series Hill writes for IDW.

Peace.