Your Neighbor’s Hymnal is a unique book ideally written for Christian academics–those who have a grad school education and understand big words– to get them to think about popular music made by what author Jeffrey F. Keuss calls “sonic mystics.” Published by Cascade Books, Your Neighbor’s Hymnal has nothing to do with church hymns as Christian Music Makers initially suspected. Instead, the author weaves together short essays on forty or so mostly secular recording artists’ songs as they relate to the concepts of faith, hope and love.
If you’re highly educated–book smart–you will appreciate this book. If you’re a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy or gal, who likes simple music and watching TV rather than reading a book, this one’s not for you.
Your Neighbor’s Hymnal includes thoughts on artists like The Grateful Dead, Johnny Cash, Sufjan Stevens, and Bruce Springsteen. The author asserts that rock concerts are communally amazing experiences that can lift people to another place, something the church often fails to do, sadly. Many people want to get church “over with” on a Sunday morning, while they act loose, uninhibited and joyful at rock concerts, where they fully express themselves. The idea is that a lot of secular artists express a full range of emotions in their concerts and take the audience along with ’em, whereas church music seems like it’s too narrowly focused and therefore not always as enthralling as what Bono or Leonard Cohen sings and/or sings about.
Your Neighbor’s Hymnal is not a light read– at times with all of its scriptural references, it gets too theological for a casual summer read. However, if you want to do a Bible Study relating to music and culture, this book would be a good reference. –Mark Weber