New Tattoo Explained

This past week, I added another tattoo to my growing collection of body art.  [All of my ink is provided by Carter’s Tattoo Company, specifically Wes Carter.]  This tattoo was one of my smallest with a completion time of approximately thirty minutes. 

The tattoo quotes The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.  Told from five female perspectives, this book is broadly about colonialism, power dynamics, and patriarchal dominance.  But, the plot also details the intersection of two faith traditions.  A missionary family maintains dogmatic faith beliefs which hinders their cultural assimilation and their willingness to embrace their very caring and giving neighbors.
Slowly, as the plot develops and the missionary family is eventually separated, one of the teenagers wakes up one morning without her mother, father, or siblings.  In this separation, a final epiphany occurs regarding her culture, her religious tradition, and what she eventually embraces as her own society.  She simply states:

“Finally, I sat up to see the sun still rose in the east, but everything else had changed.”

This quote encapsulates many existential thoughts that many people formulate (including myself). For instance, it is interesting to think that there will be continued existence upon death.  Thus, understanding that the universe persists might lead one to question the value of individual life. And maybe, like in The Poisonwood Bible, the continuation of the sun rising, might lead one to correctly conclude that human activity might not be the center of the universe.  Who are we then? What is our individual and collective purpose? How do we even begin to construct answers?  Enter religion.

Pearl Jam & American Religiosity: Why Pearl Jam?

From “Release” on the Ten Album:

I am myself
Like you somehow
I’ll ride the wave
Where it takes me
I’ll hold the pain
Release me

To investigate religiosity in the United States, it might seem odd to start with the lyrics from a mainstream rock band.  Yet, I’m arguing that Pearl Jam’s newest album, Lightning Bolt, offers insight into current religious trends.  Thus the question could be posed, why Pearl Jam?To answer that question, I would like to propose three reasons.

First, Pearl Jam rocketed into prominence by giving voice to an iconoclastic generation frustrated with their available options and resources.  Reacting to glam rock bands like Poison and Def Leopard which relied on exaggerated guitar riffs, amplified hair styles, and unauthentic lyrical compositions, the angst and authenticity revealed by Pearl Jam’s lyrics, especially in their initial albums, resonated with a generation of no labels and philosophical deconstruction.

Second, and closely related to the first, the voice that Pearl Jam gave the generation emerging in the 1990s has continued as the band has proven its marketable longevity.  As other bands of the 1990s like Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, and Stone Temple Pilots dissolved and others like Nirvana and Alice in Chains ceased to exist for obvious reasons, Pearl Jam has retained most of its original members (with the exception of the drummer), produced multiple albums, and continues to tour around the globe.  Moreover, the lead singer of Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder, persists as a political voice expressing his opinions on American wars, gun control, and environmental issues.

Additionally, Pearl Jam arises from the Seattle, Washington area.  The Northwest of the United States has been labeled the “None Zone” by scholars.  The label of Religious None describes a person who refuses to affiliate religiously.  Thus, the None Zone denotes a high concentration of Religious Nones.

Thus, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam continue to be relevant especially for thirty and forty-somethings who are still seeking meaning and purpose, constructing values, and attempting to reclaim, repurpose, and refashion the “world” which they inherited.

Pearl Jam & American Religiosity

ImagePearl Jam successfully released their tenth album in October of last year.  The album, Lightning Bolt, reached the top of the charts in the United States and Canada.  Additionally, the album was well-received in Europe and Australia. 

At the end of October, I was fortunate enough to attend a Pearl Jam concert in Charlotte, North Carolina with my brother.  The seven hour drive was completely worth watching Eddie Vedder and the rest of the band perform for almost three hours.  The setlist included new tracks, but also incorporated songs from their previous albums. 

Because much of my recent research has focused on the changing religiosity in the United States, I cannot help but notice the lyrical composition regarding religiosity within the Lightning Bolt album.  For the next few posts, I want to examine Lightning Bolt vis-a-vis current research of the Religious Nones. 

Some of the forthcoming themes will be distrust of organized religion, non-systematic theological formations, and engagement with existential questions.  

The Warmth Returns…Yet Again

The cold dissipates,
The warmth can’t be late
To assume its place.

The birds return with playful glee,
Simultaneously working deliberately.
All the while, implicitly announcing nature’s decree.

The sky yields a richer blue,
The grasses a greener hue,
Rebirth proclaims a successful coup.

The soul is restored.
Energy reborn.
Vitality implored.