Theology is an attempt to create a place of peace in a time of war... I observe a lot of violence done in the name of theologies of various religions, but when you study the actual texts of those religions you find that they don't ... justify war or violence or anything really which is unloving of people. Sinéad O'Connor
Theology is an unlikely name for a rock music album, particularly when the artist is Sinéad O'Connor, the skin-headed Irish rocker who famously shredded a photo of Pope John Paul II on her 1992 Saturday Night Live gig. But O'Connor, a cultural Catholic whose grievances against "hierarchy" and "theocracy" have pretty well soured her on the church, nevertheless thinks of herself as a child of God.
"I don't go to church regularly, but I don't think you have to in order to conduct a relationship with God. ... I believe you can find God all over the place," she said in a recent interview with Christianity Today. A lot of people fed up with "religion" would agree with her.
Theology is Sinéad O'Connor's musical portrait of the God she worships, the God she believes she has discovered in her search of the Old Testament, particularly in those books where God speaks for himself the prophets.
A lot of people interpret what they think God says. But the only time God actually speaks for himself is in the books of the prophets. That's what kind of interests me. I'm interested in the idea of separating God from religion. Jesus is 'Like an energy', Christianity Today, July 9, 2007
Taking a cue from the Jesus Seminar, O'Connor reads the Bible like a restaurant menu, passing over anything that doesn't tickle her palate. She's looking for the God she believes is hidden behind centuries of Christian misinterpretation. Predictably, her God loves everybody, accepts everybody, and makes himself known in every religion.
I think God saves everybody whether they want to be saved or not... I don't think God judges anybody. He loves everybody equally. I think there's a slight difference when it comes to very evil people, but there are not too many of those in the world. Ibid
Did you notice the wee small crack in God's seamless non-judgmentalism? God may disapprove of the actions of a few, "very evil people," but the rest of us can relax. That's a theology, alright. Sinéad O'Connor's "church-of-the-God-who-accepts-me-unconditionally" is surely one of the fastest-growing churches in the western world.
Sinéad O'Connor was born and raised in Dublin during a time when Catholics and Protestants were tearing the country apart. Her mother and father divorced when she was eight. Her mother was given custody of the children and, according to O'Connor, was physically abusive. O'Connor got into trouble with the law and was shuttled off to reform school. By the age of 20 she was pregnant and unmarried. She's been divorced twice and was excommunicated from the Catholic church when she allowed herself to be ordained by a renegade priest. She's had an interesting life.
O'Connor is undeniably talented and has managed to build a tremendous musical career, despite the challenges of her personal life and the controversies she has brought on herself. She has a classic Irish folksinger's voice, not beautiful but honest. She reminds me of the folk singer Joan Baez in the way her voice commands your attention. O'Connor's music is always deeply personal and strikes an emotional chord with her audience.
If you had a vineyard on a fruitful hill,
and you fenced it and cleared it of all stones until,
you planted it with the choicest of vines,
and you even built a tower and a press to make wine,
and you hoped that it would bring forth sweet grapes
but it gave only wild grapes,
what would you say?
"If you had a vineyard," from Theology, Sinéad O'Connor (text from Isaiah 5)
You can hear samples of Theology at Sinéad O'Connor's Myspace page, and also at her website where she has posted a video of a recent performance of Theology mixed with her explanation of how the album came to be.
Theology is an interesting piece of musical art and a huge risk for O'Connor's career. Christians may not embrace the album because of her anti-religious tirades. Her fans may not embrace it because the lyrics are soaked in the language of Scripture. Her publisher may be betting that the timely anti-war themes in the album soften its heavy spirituality.
Whether it becomes commercially successful or not, Theology is interesting for the way it illuminates one woman's search for the meaning of life and how that search has driven her towards the God of Israel. Disagree with her do-it-yourself theology, her politics, her permissive lifestyle or her weird hair Sinéad O'Connor is at least searching for the heart of God by combing the pages of the Old Testament. It's a good start.
Photo credit: Kevin Abosch at SineadOConnor.com