Before you read any further, you should know I am a one of the founding members of the Interfaith Council at Quinnipiac University. I try not mix faith and politics, but this article merits such strange bedfellows. This is not my soapbox, but this is my opinion. You have been warned.
This past week I read an excerpt from a book The Gospel According to Tony Soprano. Author Chris Seay compares Soprano to King Solomon. “Tony, like his biblical counterpart, is overwhelmed with a sense of meaningless. He has accumulated great wealth and power, yet feels poor and weak…he denies himself nothing yet continues to live in emptiness and despair.”
On some level, I can relate to Tony Soprano, not the bit about owning a strip club and having a Russian mistress but going through the motions of a meaningless life. If you take away the business of school and if you strip away the chemical induced stupors and get alone for while, the inside of your chest can feel awfully hallow.
This week marks the third annual Faith Week at Quinnipiac University. To kick it off last Friday, Waterdeep, a band from Kansas City, headlined one of the greatest concerts I have ever been to. Don Chaffer is the front man for Waterdeep and could be one of the finest musicians of our generation. He talked a lot about despair and emptiness at the show.
Last year his mom passed away. A few months later, his dad was diagnosed with cancer. He talked about how hard it was to come to grips with his faith and understand the pain. In the process of what was going on with his family he wrote and recorded the CD “Whole ‘Nother Deal.” It is by far the best independent release of the last five years if not more. There is more raw honest emotion and raw musical energy then you could ever hope for in any artistic venture.
Don Chaffer and Waterdeep closed out the night by playing Woodie Guthrie’s “Worried Man Blues,” which they cover on “Whole ‘Nother Deal.” It goes, “It takes a worried man, to sing a worried song. It takes a worried man, to sing a worried song. Well I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long.” In the midst of his crisis, Chaffer says he was able to find solace in his hope for the future. What he based his hope on may surprise you.
Chris Seay suggests in The Gospel According to Tony Soprano, “Peace and contentment are found only in the spiritual realm. To find it, man must be willing to stare into the abyss, ask the hard questions, and seek something outside of himself.”
Chaffer said at Friday’s show that he was “a big Jesus guy.” He built his hope on his faith in Jesus and his faith was able to carry him through the most difficult of tests. Chaffer made no secret his struggle with grief and his personal battle with God. But he kept looking.
What he found was a genuine, personal, and authentic faith outside of himself.
Earlier this semester I was interviewed about faith on campus here at Quinnipiac University. I said to most students it seems religion is irrelevant. According to Campus Ministry, less than two percent of campus claims to have no religious background. Sixty percent of students identified themselves as Catholic, thirty percent Protestant, eight percent Jewish and the remaining two percent as other or nothing. But If attendance at Mass in Alumni Hall, Christian Fellowship, or Hillel is any indication of the student body’s interest in religion, there is little.
For the most part, I think many of us equate religion with stale hymns and stained glass windows. It is the archaic institution of our lame parents. What Seay and Chaffer are suggesting is their variety of religion is less about sitting in a pew and more about actively seeking the truth. For the past three years, Faith Week has not been about notching some conversion stick. It has been about presenting faith in a relevant everyday context. It has been about sharing personal struggles and examining if faith has stood the fires of reality.
I am not a big religion guy either, however like Chaffer I am “a big Jesus guy.” Hearing someone honestly articulate life’s agony and saying it was their faith alone that pulled them through, has caused me to examine my own faith more carefully. Religion is a crutch for the weak as Marx used say. For the strong, or those who acknowledge they are weak, faith is a firm foundation, a stable ground in the midst of life’s earthquakes. I can relate to Tony Soprano on some level, but I want to relate Don Chaffer’s hope. Stare into the abyss this week and see what you find. Well I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long.