Rock and religion

by Marc and Julie Anderson
Special to The Leaven

TOPEKA — Mike Mangione and Vince Scheuerman, the lead singer and songwriter of Army of Me, are not exactly your typical rock musicians.

True, they may dress the part, often wearing jeans and T-shirts. And yes, they definitely know how to “rock out” on their guitars.

But these two musicians truly march to the beat of a different drummer.

Along with Mangione’s brother Tom, the two artists performed on Nov. 11 for some 300-plus people at southeast Topeka’s St. Matthew Parish as part of the parish’s efforts to spark interest in its upcoming theology of the body courses. The parish was one of only 13 venues in the United States toured by the two musicians this past November.

So, what exactly do two secular rock musicians, one of whom has shared stages with acts like Coldplay and the Dave Matthews Band, have in common with the late Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body? And more importantly, what is the theology of the body?

Theology of the body is the title of a series of 129 short talks delivered by Pope John Paul II during his general audiences between September 1979 and November 1984. The talks were designed to offer the world a comprehensive reflection on not only what it means to be fully human, but also how human sexuality can be a path to holiness, if understood properly in the light of the Gospel.

In “Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II,” author George Weigel said the late pontiff provided the world a radically different way of thinking about human existence, sexuality and marriage in what Weigel described as “one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries.”

Weigel also said that the theology of the body was “a bit of a theological time bomb, something that would explode within the church at some indeterminate point in the future with tremendous effect, reshaping the way Catholics think about our embodiedness as male and female, our sexuality, our relationships with each other, our relationship with God — even God himself.”

St. Matthew Parish is hoping to be part of that “theological time bomb.” Beginning in January, the parish will offer two courses on the theology of the body — one eight-week course for adults and one 12- week course for teenagers. As part of its efforts to generate interest in the courses, organizers hosted the kickoff concert with Mangione and Scheuerman, both of whose songs are permeated with lyrics inspired by themes contained in the theology of the body.

According to Jason Neff, a St. Matthew parishioner and the main person responsible for booking the two musicians, both Mangione and Scheuerman are part of “a new breed of rock musicians.” Both men, Neff said, grew up on rock music, and both, as the result of going through some difficult challenges in their lives, came to love their Catholic faith.

Now, Neff said, both men are trying to make a difference in the secular world with their music. Neff, who along with his wife Jamie, initially heard the artists play at theology of the body retreats in Pennsylvania, said the first time he heard the men perform, he was hooked on their music.

“I immediately signed up for their e-mail list. After hearing them perform for the first time, I wanted everyone in the church to hear them,” Neff said.

When he saw the two announce they were going to team up with well-known Theology of the Body Institute instructor/speaker and author Christopher West to promote the theology of the body throughout the United States, he saw just the right opportunity.

“I was probably one of the first people to send a reply to their e-mail about the tour,” Neff said. “I told them I didn’t care what it took, I wanted to be able to have them perform in Topeka.”

And perform they did.

During the concert in which both artists played two sets, Mangione performed songs from his recently released album “Tenebrae” (Latin for “shadows”), as well as songs from his album “There and Back” released in 2005.

Among others, Scheuerman performed “Lost At Sea” and “Going Through Changes.” In “Lost at Sea,” Scheuerman shared the story of the anger he felt when a good friend of his was diagnosed with cancer. The song was, according to the musician, a prayer, but not a traditional prayer in which he was offering praise to God, but rather an extremely angry response to God.

Knowing that changes are necessary in the world today, both Mangione and Scheuerman said they believe in the power of theology of the body to transform society.

“Theology of the body teaches people how to live love. Love, lived out rightly, is such a beautiful thing, a freeing thing, said Scheuerman. “I think that we need to realize what real love is, what true love is, and there’s real transformation possible when we live out that love.

“The power of that love will revolutionize our lives and our culture.”

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