Lin Brehmer, longtime morning host at rock station WXRT, a New York native, raised in Congregational church, now “sort of a creative agnostic,” can “get as blissed-out walking through the Louvre as I can imagine somebody kneeling in prayer in a church pew would be.”
Brehmer, 63, grew up in Queens, where his “upbringing was, during the spring, summer and fall: cornflakes, milk, sugar, orange juice and then baseball, stickball, punchball, softball — ball and a bat in any form for the next 12 hours.”
“It was largely Irish Catholic . . . I was brought up in the Congregational Church, Protestant, used to go to Sunday school. I was a soprano in the children’s choir. Every Sunday, the family would go to church. I remember candlelight services at the Church-in-the-Gardens” on Christmas Eve.
“We used to sell Christmas trees . . . as a fund-raiser, and I loved being a Christmas-tree salesman, I just loved it. I was probably 12, 13: ‘No, this is the tree you want . . .’
“In retrospect, I don’t think the church groups got the best pick of the tree litter, that a lot of the trees we sold were substandard.”
Was part of his church’s youth group and for years attended a United Church of Christ summer camp.
“It was called a creative arts workshop . . . They had a record player . . . a big barn filled with materials for making sculpture . . . People wrote poetry and sat around by candlelight . . . There were no rules, there was no curfew . . . and there were beautiful girls my age there. It was this idyllic splendor.”
“Going to church on Sunday was a big part of the deal, and, you know, I think it had a great deal of influence on my courses of study” at Colgate University.
“I did an independent study in college . . . read the Bible cover to cover” and kept a journal.
“I remember how much my faculty independent study adviser hated my journal because I focused on so much that was out of context, horrifying in the Old Testament, like . . . ‘Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.’ That’s pretty heavy right there.
“I believe that there have been moments in history of great individual wisdom and insight, and I can appreciate and believe all of these different inspirations for different faiths. For myself, I’m sort of a creative agnostic. I find inspiration — spiritual and otherwise — in the beauties of the world, in music and in poetry and art. I can get as blissed-out walking through the Louvre as I can imagine somebody kneeling in prayer in a church pew would be.”
What do you mean by agnostic?
“Open to the idea that there is a God and not feeling the tragedy of there not being a God, at least in sort of the traditional Judeo-Christian idea of a God. But there’s so much that is wondrous, that is beyond comprehension, that all flows within us and without us in terms of the way we see the world and the way we see ourselves . . . treating other people.”
Does the murder spree at the Las Vegas concert — with the possibility the gunman was also staking out Lollapalooza — shake your belief system?
“It shakes my belief in humanity, especially shakes my belief in our inability to deal with these tragedies in any kind of substantive way.”
What’s changed in your beliefs, your philosophy, over the last decade?
“I think I take less for granted. I think I value moments more.”
What song is closest to divine?
“It’s a song I played after 9/11 . . . ‘Sunflower River Blues.’
“And it pairs up nicely with what I would say was my second inspirational perfect song” — the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.
Both songs “take you to sort of a darker place” and then “have a resolution at the end of the musical phrasing . . . You’re trying, you’re trying, you’re trying, ah, I’ve gotten there, and then it falls back into ‘OK, I’m trying’ . . . Those are two, for me, very spiritual songs.”
The Bible is “an amazing piece of work, and because I’m a little bit of a language nerd, I never get tired of the King James version . . . It’s beautifully written.
“The writings of the Bible are inspirational to many people. But I also feel they’re largely poetic, largely metaphorical, that these are passages . . . meant to instruct people and inspire people.”
In the New Testament, there’s a “powerful message” that “you actually can change the world by making people aware of their own conscience.”
Brehmer was nicknamed “the Reverend” at his first DJ gig in Albany, N.Y., because he worked Sunday mornings — and was prone to recite poetry over song introductions: “I would slip into Dylan Thomas or William Wordsworth.”
Did he ever think about becoming a real preacher?
“Not for a second.”
If there’s a heaven, who would he want to meet?
“Here’s the thing, most of my musical heroes may not be in heaven, they may be in the third ring of the Inferno.”
“So much of the music that I listen to . . . play on the air, has a spiritual aspect,” including U2.
How do you hope things look after we die?
“I think more in terms of how I hope things will look on the Earth I just left behind, rather than where I’ll be. I think all of my hopes and dreams are concerned with how we, as a species, deal with our humanity at this time.”
Listen to previous “Face to Faith” podcasts:
- Prominent Presbyterian pastor Shannon Johnson Kershner: ‘God’s not a Christian . . . we are,’ Oct. 8, 2017
- Former pro star Andrea Jaeger’s faith ‘way better than my tennis,’ Oct. 1, 2017
- Miranda Rae Mayo of ‘Chicago Fire‘: ‘My thoughts create my reality,’ Sept. 24, 2017
- Bears outside linebacker Sam Acho: ‘I want to be a light to my teammates,’ Sept. 17, 2017
- Top Lutheran bishop Elizabeth Eaton: If hell exists, ‘I think it’s empty,’ Sept. 10, 2017
- Author Scott Turow: Feels ‘a deep faith’ in ‘the power of good,’ Sept. 3, 2017
- Cardinal Blase Cupich: Some of ‘greatest Christians I know’ have no ‘faith system,’ Aug. 27, 2017
- Gov hopeful Daniel Biss: Faith that fuels divisiveness is ‘dead wrong,’ Aug. 20, 2017
- Lutheran scholar Martin Marty on faith, Luther, the state of religion: Aug. 13, 2017
- Chicago Sky’s Amber Stocks: Message matters more than the denomination, Aug. 6, 2017
- ‘Hood’ and ‘holy’ minister Marilyn Pagan-Banks: Not alone ‘even when you make bad choices,’ July 30, 2017
- Author Patrick T. Reardon: ‘Embrace the pain of life as well as joys,’ July 23, 2017
- Paylocity founder Steve Sarowitz: Baha’i ‘made sense to me right away,’ July 16, 2017
- Candidate Chris Kennedy: ‘I’ve seen the Holy Spirit at work,’ July 9, 2017
- Jail warden Nneka Jones Tapia: ‘I think God is all around us,’ July 2, 2017
- Sox outfielder Melky Cabrera: ‘Let it be God’s will if we lose or win,’ June 25, 2017
- The Mekons’ Sally Timms: ‘Not the kind of atheist who’s down on religion,’ June 18, 2017
- J.B. Pritzker: At times, ‘your faith has to overcome maybe logic,’ June 11, 2017
- Daoud Casewit, American Islamic College president: ‘We’re as American as we are Islamic,’ June 4, 2017
- Public Defender Amy Campanelli: My clients ‘are not evil people,’ May 28, 2017
- James Lovell: ‘We go to heaven when we’re born,’ May 21, 2017
- Michael Magnafichi, one-time ‘rising star’ in Chicago mob: ‘I do say prayers,’ May 14, 2017
- Ald. Ameya Pawar: ‘There’s always the opportunity for redemption,’ May 7, 2017
- Sir the Baptist: ‘I want to be the first hip-hop chaplain,’ April 30, 2017
- Singer Shemekia Copeland: ‘Hell, yeah’ God loves the blues, April 23, 2017