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Jeffrey Keuss: Your Neighbor’s Hymnal

Following the stimulating and thought-provoking introduction, three chapters titled Faith, Hope and Love, provide the meat of this short work. At just 126 pages, the book is easily digestible over a short period but there is something about how the book is laid out that entices readers to take their time and let the author’s musical and theological musings marinate in the readers’ minds. Keuss’s layout and plan are simple; pick an artist, choose a song and examine its power and meaning to relate to the human condition. For example, Keuss’s first pick is Joni Michell’s “God Must be a Boogie Man(p22). The track is from Mitchell’s tribute album to jazz musician Charles Mingus and this song is collaboration between the two. From the music and the lyrics, Keuss draws rich theological insights and parallels, “To listen to Joni Mitchell sing in tension with Mingus’ musical signature is to feel the tension of the Trinity in our lives. Part of faith is learning to live in the tension of being known by a God whose mysterious qualities far outstrip our ability to understand them.”

Do you feel the tension of the Trinity in your life?

The author continues this pattern of analyzing songs and artists, which actually makes the book very easy to digest in small or large doses. The reader will find himself or herself reading a few nuggets at a time and often searching for the song so that they can experience the music for themselves. The musical and artistic selections cover a broad musical spectrum ranging from The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, and Nirvana to Marvin Gaye, Jackson Five, Radiohead and Coldplay. Essentially, there is something for everyone who finds music as an inspiring avenue for a connection to God.

Does the author stretch the theological implications of some songs and over spiritualize some of the lyrics? Probably. But the author is trying to show the reader the connections between popular music and our faith and on that level he succeeds. This book offers a Christian perspective on popular music, but is refreshingly devoid of Christian lingo that would turn many a secular reader off. And herein lies one of the strengths of this work. This is the kind of book you could give to your neighbor without them necessarily feeling an ulterior motive.  What it will do though, is cause your neighbor to think a little more deeply about faith, love and hope and how we are all seeking on some level to connect with love and to be loved by the eternal and living God.

A final thought that deserves quoting in full (p16), beautifully sums up the author’s sentiments, “There is something lacking in evangelical Christians lives today – an energy, a playfulness, a willingness to weep when it is time to weep and laugh when it is time to laugh – that is still alive and well in the hearts, minds, and songs of the sonic mystics. It is their music that we need to listen to and their passion and commitment that need to be taken seriously. For what is the worth of salvation if the life that is lived is so dead and our eyes so vacant that the so-called Good News that is seen as people drive by a church parking lot on a Sunday morning seems to be ‘Thank goodness that is over’?”

Reviewed by Daniel P. Snape


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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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