I am a Christian theist. It’s not a personal choice for me, but the result of direct, life-changing experiences of Christ and the living God. It would be false for me to try to be anything else. But I am also aware that Christian history and tradition carry baggage that has been harmful for many. Meanwhile, as I have listened for divine intuitions and studied the Bible over the years, I find a rich interplay between masculine and feminine images and energies of God. I have also come to terms with my own experiences and biblical expressions of God’s absence.
The songs in this collection have come to me over the years, out of my own personal experience, study, and dialogue with others whose experience is different from mine. God-Goddess-Godless is a living dialectic that keeps faith alive, at least for me. To settle into one position against the others would become static, dualistic. One definition of irony is “undecidability.” The ironic bent in my songwriting attempts to keep all terms in play.
We begin with “Oh, Shekinah, Baby!” (2020, from the Musical Personality Disorder CD on this site). Shekinah in the Hebrew Bible is the feminine word/name for God’s Presence or Light. My own Quaker tradition doesn’t use that term, but has much to say about following the Light’s leadings. The song’s title is clearly playful, but the song itself is a serious, if ellipitical expression of my experience.
Masculine gendered words, names, and images of God predominate in the Bible and in Christian tradition. This is much bemoaned today, but masculine images and energies are vital, in a living interplay with feminine ones. “Hi-Yo Yahweh” (December 2016, from Man of Irony) started very early in my song-writing, in 1978. But it finally came together nearly 40 years later. Again, the title is playful: the God of ancient, patriarchal Israel meets the Lone Ranger. But the song is a serious meditation on God holding a plumbline among the nations, assessing their truth and justice. This song was written in the weeks following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.
“Paloma” (2016, from Man of Irony) or “dove,” is a biblical image for the Holy Spirit, another way of speaking of divine presence. Both Ruah in the Hebrew Bible and Pneuma in Christian Scripture are the feminine-gendered words/names for Spirit. But again, “I’m a witness”: I sing from experience. In the bridge, is that scat or singing in tongues??
“Sophia, Sophia” (2017, from Man of Irony) plays with one more feminine image/energy. Hochma in the Hebrew Bible and Sophia in Christian Scripture are the feminine-gendered words/names for divine Wisdom. In Proverbs 8, she is there with the Lord creating the universe. In Luke 7, she is verified by all her children, not just some. Musically, this song started out from the blues standard, “Corinna, Corinna,” and took off from there as a playful expression of my experience. She’s still “a mystery to me.”
The title of “Goddess Wants Me for a Moonbeam” (1991, from Every Doug Agrees) takes off from a song I remember singing in Sunday School, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.” This is a rather strange song. Ostensibly, it’s about the breakup of the Trinity, when the Holy Spirit gets fed up with the patriarchal Father and the captivity of the Son on Christian TV. She goes out on her own as a “godless goddess, for goodness sake.” I’m a “codependent son,” torn by these developments, still believing that “God is One.” Actually, the song was occasioned by the breakup of my first marriage that year, so the theological reflection is driven by an acute, existential pain.
“My God” (1988, from The Best pf Chronicles of Babylon) takes off from the Temptations’ “My Girl” (1965) and predates the “My God” sung by Whoopi Goldberg and the nuns in Sister Act (1992). It lampoons the tendency in religious seeking in those times to merge with consumer culture. That is, mixing and matching what religious ideas and practices one likes, to create a God that “fits me like a glove.” The song suggests a comfortable, middle-class setting: “Why should I kneel and pray? I’ve got money, I can pay.” The “personal God” was the last stop for some on the way to no God at all.
“I Don’t Really Exist” (2003, from The Best of Chronicles of Babylon) came to me while I was teaching at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, England. I encountered more nontheist Friends there than I had met in the US. I found much to admire in many of them, especially ethically. So I kept listening and learning. In this song, I extend as far as I can in that direction. Later, I discovered Kierkegaard’s pithy remark, “God does not exist; God is eternal.”
“Nietzsche in Heaven” (2007, from Terms and Conditions) imagines the surprise poor Friedrich might experience finding himself in heaven and meeting the God he had declared dead. The Lord greets him warmly (“Now it’s you that’s dead, can I call you Fred?”) and invites him to settle wherever he wants. Heaven is for everyone. But that’s just the problem for Friedrich, who had disdained Judaism and Christianity as resentful “slave religion.” He favored of the subtle insights of the ancient noble Greek and Roman philosophers. This song was inspired in part by a dream I had in my late teens, with me much like Nietzsche.
“The Good Is a Merciless God” (2021, from Every Doug Agrees) reflects on the way we tend to judge God according to our ideas of the good — and often find God wanting. But our ideas are not the measure of all things, least of all divine mysteries. Everyone thinks they’re doing gppd, by some reasoning. Some will even kill in defense of the good. Good versus good is a bloody history.