Saturday, February 27, 2010

What Would Jesus Listen To?

Whether you're Jewish, Christian or Muslim, when there are knotty problems in your life that have no easy answers you may turn to a spiritual advisor. While your rabbi, priest or imam may not have the direct worldly experience that you do, hopefully their familiarity with a higher plane of thought enables them to guide your thinking through difficult situations. Be it a martial issue, the declining health of a loved one or some other personal crisis, their calm and reasoned approach can help you face down troubling times and pursue a path that works out for the better.

But it also doesn't have to be about something so laden with consequence. Religious leaders of all stripes issue guidance for their flocks on everyday matters, from dating to clothing to entertainment. True, not all members of the congregation will follow every edict to the letter. But the many homilies and fatwas out there help guide the faithful as they go about their day to day activities.

Take the Catholic Church. Over the years the Vatican has published encyclicals and papal letters to guide believers, who are a sizeable flock indeed. In a recent ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI was presented with the 2010 edition of the Pontifical Yearbook. While it doesn't contain pictures of the Vatican Glee Club and Monsignor Duncan's Third Period Theology Class, it does include a compendium of facts and figures about the Church. And key is the finding that Catholics now number about 1.166 billion, or about 17.4% of the world's population.

No matter how you slice it, that's a big base of people. They look to the Church for guidance on matters both big and small, from the spiritual to the personal. Perhaps that is why the Vatican has decided that in addition to direction on issues from birth control to pre-marital sex, it is now adding musical guidance to its plate.

It started when classical music enthusiast Benedict gave his blessing to the creation of a CD called "Alma Mater." It features the Pontiff singing passages and prayers in 5 languages mixed with original contemporary orchestral scores. Backup singers were brought in from The Choir of the Philharmonic Academy of Rome, while the house band was The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. And in a nod to the fact that papal infallibility can carry you just so far, the whole thing was mixed together at London's Abbey Road Studios.

While it proved to be a hit with the faithful, the producers wanted more. So they took the next logical step: they created a MySpace Music page with "The Vatican's Playlist." Featuring selections from the aforementioned CD, it also includes "Uprising" from "The Resistance," the fifth studio album by English alternative rock band Muse, as well as "He Doesn't Know" by the Fleet Foxes. And proving that the church is indeed a big tent, it also includes 2Pac's "Changes," a song which encourages listeners to "change the way we treat each other."

Sensing perhaps that it had found a way to reach a tough demographic, the Vatican's daily newspaper "L'Osservatore Romano" continued the outreach by publishing a list of the best rock albums of all time. They include Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon," Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly" and Carlos Santana's "Supernatural." The Beatles also made the cut with "Revolver," in spite of John Lennon once saying that "The Beatles are bigger than Jesus."

In a nod to fact that musical genius knows no faith-based bounds, the list includes "Graceland" from Paul Simon, who is Jewish. The late Michael Jackson was a Jehovah's Witness, but he made the cut for "Thriller." Interestingly, many well known Catholic stars aren't on it, including Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Frank Zappa, both Eddie and Alex Van Halen, and Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. And while it might not be as well know, for obvious reasons I'm somewhat surprised they didn't include Kinky Friedman's masterpiece "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore."

It's an interesting list, to be sure. It will be fascinating to see if other major religions get in on the act, if there will be a fatwa honoring Yusuf in his pre-Islam Cat Stevens days, or if the high rabbis will acknowledge Billy Joel's earlier work before he became interested in Christianity. And if you find yourself lying awake at night and wondering "Why are we here?" and "What happens when we die?" you can now add legitimately add another question to your nocturnal musings: "What does the Pope have on his iPod?"


Marc Wollin of Bedford finds himself mostly in agreement with the Church on this one. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and the Scarsdale Inquirer.

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