Among the many gifts of St Augustine to theology is the idea that cultural signs have the power to facilitate our enjoyment of God. These pages are an attempt to unwrap that gift one more time. The signs that come under consideration here are scattered around in the detritus of popular culture - movies, novels, recorded music, prime-time dramas, wall art, the World Wide Web, theme parks, and advertising. But from Augustine I've also received a sober respect for sin. In the analysis undertaken here I've tried to keep both of these bequests in view and offer a measured assessment of select artifacts from among the onslaught of mass-produced images, sounds, and storytelling with which we, for the most part gladly, sometimes begrudgingly, fill our lives. So, my first word of gratitude goes to St Augustine.
But writing a book incurs many debts. I've had help along the way from the Louisville Institute, the Wabash Center, the North American Paul Tillich Society, the New Haven Theological Discussion Group, and a well-timed sabbatical from Hartford Seminary. I've benefited immensely from the insights and enthusiasm of students in my courses at Hartford Seminary and Wesleyan University who have been willing to lay their ears to the ground and listen for religious rumblings in popular culture. And I've received bountiful moral support from members of my family: Alverna, Lori, Henry and Elfriede.
I'm also mindful of what I have learned from my teachers and colleagues William Schweiker, David Klemm, Arthur Roberts, Doug Frank, Sam Alvord, Max Stackhouse, Langdon Gilkey, and Maria Antonoccio, each of them in league with Augustine's guarded endorsement of all things finite. My colleagues at Hartford Seminary, Clifford Green, Worth Loomis, and, particularly, Ian Markham, not only hounded me to write this book but also lightened my load to permit me to do so. My primary guides in determining what sounds, stories and images are worth paying attention to are my friends - Gary Erickson, Gayle Beebe, Scott Webb,
John Arndt, Steve Vaughan, Shann Cobb, Ned Edwards, Ed Horstmann, Graham Reside, Heng Wong, Lois Lorentzen and George McKinley -each attuned in different ways to the mysterious nuances of popular culture. They deserve both credit and blame for what materials come under scrutiny in this book.
Images and song lyrics have been reproduced in the book with permission of copyright holders. The difficulties involved in obtaining permissions are legion, but in a few cases permission was granted with exemplary graciousness - by the family of Joe Strummer, David McGinnis on behalf of Nick Cave, Dr Edison Amos on behalf of Tori Amos, and Vitaly Komar (who is equal parts iconoclast and iconographer). And both I and readers of this book owe thanks to Jennifer L. Geddes for her knowledge of the subject and gifts with language, and to Rebecca Harkin and Karen Wilson, my editors, who were encouraging throughout in allowing the book to become what it is.
To write this book, I've had to live among digitized, cathode ray, and newsprint artifacts more than I am ordinarily inclined to do. To my patient and long-suffering wife, Heidi Gehman, who wrote her own dissertation as I was writing this book, her desk beside mine, and to our puzzled though rarely neglected young sons, Henry and William, I can't begin to express the depth of my love and gratitude.
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