03 August 2023

"No longer will I be hungry...

Headline: "Vulnerable, powerful and
pure." Irish Daily Mail, July 27.
... for the bread of life is mine."

— Shuhada' Sadaqat (Sinéad O'Connor), 1966-2023, from the song "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got."

"Vulnerable, powerful"—these words from the Irish Daily Mail headline following Shuhada' Sadaqat's death seem right to me. I wonder whether she herself might dispute the word "pure," but if you interpret it as "transparent," this word, too, seems right. As consistent as she was in some ways, and impulsive and self-contradictory in others, I never got the idea that she was withholding something from us.

It's hard to explain exactly why I found her work so engaging over these last three decades. Maybe it was her modesty, her ability not to be overawed by her own celebrity status, and even to risk that status altogether in service to her convictions.

Her anger (particularly in the notorious photo-ripping episode) also seemed right to me, given my own first-hand and second-hand exposure to abuse. For all these reasons, I loved listening to her voice, which seemed to ring out strong and pure at some moments, and trembled hesitantly at others, but was always believable.

I couldn't help wondering whether there was a tiny thread of Quaker influence in O'Connor's life, along with her love-hate relationship with the Catholic church, its institutions and its rebels, and along with her eventual decision to identify with Islam. She went to Newtown School in Waterford, Ireland ("Educating for life in the Quaker tradition since 1798," says their Web site) for part of her teenage years. However, with one major exception, her few passages about the school in her autobiography are not very positive. After trying more than once to get expelled, she finally left on her own without graduating.

That one major exception was her music teacher, Joe Falvey of Waterford Friends, "a glorious black-bearded music loving man" who had a friend with a recording studio. Apparently the appreciation was mutual—see his comments about his former student.

Most of the music I love is in two categories, blues and classical, and neither category exactly fits O'Connor's music. It simply made a space for itself in my brain. And I made a space for it in our classes in Russia. 

Those classes, especially my high school supplementary classes, often ended with a gap-fill exercise like this one. Often the choice of song was mine, but students were welcome to suggest songs, too, as long as the words could be heard clearly and wouldn't scandalize parents. For most of the years we were there, I included two songs by Sinéad O'Connor in the rotation. In both songs (but especially the first), I appreciated the severe clarity of her words. The contents of both songs also invited thoughtful discussion, in class and afterwards. Here they are embedded in posts published for our students:

"I Don't Want What I Haven't Got"

"Reason With Me"

As different as my life has been from hers, both of these songs evoke many of my own growing-up memories. And in my head I have a running fantasy dialogue with her about the reality of God and the unreality of so much of the religion industry. To sum up, I'm grateful to her for her amazing voice, her rough edges, her costly honesty, and her fertile provocations. I echo the words of actor Russell Crowe: "Peace be with your courageous heart Sinéad."

Given O'Connor's complicated relationship with Catholicism, here's a wonderful review of her autobiography Rememberings in the Catholic magazine America.

Two interesting recent items from the University of Chicago's Martin E. Marty Center: "Redefining Redlining on Chicago's South Side"; and "Sightings and Sorrows of Religion: While religion should motivate efforts to alleviate hatred and dehumanization, it often finds itself wrapped up in these social evils."

Lessons from Jonathan Watts and Eliane Brum and their "tiny reforestation scheme in the Amazon."

Julika Luisa Enbergs interviews Greg Yudin on how Russians perceive the war.

With these [generational and income] disparities in mind, how fragile is the Russian Empire?

It's certainly a dying empire. You can see that because it basically offers nothing to the areas it wants to control. The only thing that is offers is the idea of bringing back the Soviet Union, which is basically a fantasy. There are no civilizational projects. That's what makes it totally unattractive for Ukrainians, and for other countries. And that's what makes it believe solely in force.

Micah Bales:  We seek an earth restored.

Another of my favorite songs as performed by Sinéad O'Connor:

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