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Jeffrey Keuss: Your Neighbor’s Hymnal

Jeffrey F. Keuss, Your Neighbor’s Hymnal: What Popular Music Teaches Us about Faith, Hope, and Love (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011).

As a graduate of Berklee College of Music and a bi-vocational pastor who makes the bulk of his living as a professional musician, I was intrigued to read Jeffrey Keuss’s exploration of popular music and how it relates to the theological loci of faith, hope and love. Keuss is a professor and Associate Dean in the School of Theology at Seattle Pacific University. What initially strikes the reader is the author’s engaging prose, which draws the reader in with a sharp wit, perceptive insight and an unassuming intelligence. Keuss is clearly a sharp-minded theologian, yet he manages to produce a work that is indeed rich in theological insight, but also entirely accessible to the layman.

The basic premise of the book is that there is much that can be learned from the world of popular music as it pertains to our search for meaning and existence. The author argues that what many of us search for and yearn to experience through church, worship and community, others search for through popular music. Keuss writes, “our neighbor is not only listening to the music that many Christians listen to but also listening for the very things that animate the hearts and the minds of those sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning” (p5&6). Keuss describes these musical soul-searchers and songwriters as “sonic mystics”, an apt name that tips its hat to the medieval Christian mystics who sought divine encounters and communion with the living God.

How much of our music is white noise desperately trying to fill the emptiness and loneliness that many feel in this hyper-stimulated culture we live in?

The book is essentially divided into three sections based on the Christian virtues of faith, love and hope. However, some of real theological gems are found in the introduction, where the author explores how music speaks to us in ways few other things can. Keuss notes, “there is something in a basic pop song that directly touches a wide breadth of humanity in ways that the most astute and well-researched theological text never will”(p6). Indeed this observation resonates with Pascal’s assertion that the heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of. Music does touch us and speak to us on a level that is difficult to define. Perhaps this is why worship in the Christian community is so often associated with singing and making music together. Music is food for the soul in a world starving for the transcendent. While we are a “generation filled with sound(p9), one has to ask the question: how much of that sound is white noise desperately trying to fill the emptiness and loneliness that many feel in this hyper-stimulated culture we live in?

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Category: Living the Faith, Summer 2016

About the Author: Daniel P. Snape, D.Min (Boston University School of Theology), M.Div. (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), Senior Pastor of Community Congregational Church, Billerica, Massachusetts. He also works and ministers as a chaplain in the Boston area. Facebook.

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