I had an unnerving dream this morning about 5:00 AM. I can’t blame it on anything pharmacological, Ray, or anything I ate. I was in an airplane taking off from an airstrip someplace out in the country. Another plane came alongside. I was afraid there was going to be a collision, but the other plane veered off and ascended out of sight. Then the plane I was riding in flew under some electrical wires hanging from telephone poles. We got past the wires, but we didn’t ascend. It became apparent that there were more wires to fly under, so it was a good thing the pilot had not tried to climb. As soon as we passed under these wires, there were more poles and wires. We didn’t hit any wires, but as far as I could see there were more poles and wires. We continued to fly at low altitude. There seemed no end to this. The wires were a menace. I felt only dread that this was the trajectory for the foreseeable future. It was a dream world subjected to futility.
Some months ago I began posting these essays under the heading still visible above: Alienated in Church. At the time this blog was a monologue. The earliest comment is still there, accusing me of being a Luddite and an elitist snob.
Most of my life I’ve been a Christian and for nearly as many years I’ve been a church musician. I have tried to think of church as a place where it is just as important to contribute something as to benefit in the various ways people benefit from church attendance. I invested considerable time and money in a master’s degree in theology, thinking that since the church has my heart, I might find a place to work productively in some aspect of ministry. It has become more and more apparent that what I have to offer is not much in demand in the currently fashionable ministries of the church.
I earn a good living in technology. My wife doesn’t have to work to keep us financially solvent. It would seem that we have time and skills that could be put to good use on a volunteer basis in church. For the past ten years or so, in several different churches, we have encountered clergymen, and others guarding their turf, who don’t want us to do much. I joke about being able to sing in the Episcopal Church but not to speak. As long as I have been at my current church, even while I was a member of the vestry, the rector and I have never had a disagreement. This is because he does most of the talking. I don’t have many opportunities to contradict him.
I ended up in the Episcopal Church on the rebound from a conservative Presbyterian Church five blocks away in downtown Seattle where I was a section leader in the choir. They fired me on the basis of an essay I read in a Sunday School class. It’s posted here in the April archive under the title Reformation Sunday. In retrospect it doesn’t seem an inflammatory piece, but several people with influence were offended by it and by my interest in having a discussion about music that they wanted to get behind them.
I had ended up in the Presbyterian Church on the rebound from the Catholic Church where I was confirmed. There the priest, who admitted he hated musicians, decided I wouldn’t be a cantor anymore because I sang too loud. The church was a big as an airplane hanger, but my operatic sound was objectionable to some. The church also had a marvelous organ that Father G. said the people “hated”. Interestingly enough, Father G. was a traditionalist. If, occasionally, somebody who had been involved in charismatic worship somewhere else raised their hands in praise, Father G. had given the ushers instructions, and they were escorted out. We didn’t do worship that way at St. Alphonsus. The church had a pretty good choir with salaried section leaders. That’s, of course, how I had ended up there.
Church has been controversial in my family since before I was born. My father is Italian and my mother Norwegian. Maybe it’s fitting that I’ve been hanging out in Henry the Eighth’s compromised Episcopal Church where, if I choose, I can hear Native American drumming and, probably, soon Hindu chant. I’m singing again, occasionally, in the Catholic Church. I mean, it’s fine to be inclusive, but I’ve already been in a heterosexual minority in the opera world. I’ve heard it said that networking is fine if you’re in the network and not so fine when you’re not. The Episcopal Church seems intent on following Tony Kushner’s motif in making homosexuals moral exemplars for our time, angels, no less, in America. I saw the first of the Kushner’s plays, so I may have to opt out for the reprise in church.
That brings me back to square one and the first post in this blog back in March:
Feeling a little strange in church these days?
Like you better not say what you think?
Guitars drive you up the walls?
Tired of Bush bashing jokes?
Of being organized out of the picture?
Maybe you need an AA meeting
Is for people who think church could be great
If everybody who wanted to got to talk
And not just sit and listen
If you could sing a four part hymn
And not be drummed into oblivion
By amplified choruses
I won’t go deaf listening to amplified choruses in the Episcopal Church, but I am often organized out the picture, and I wish I had a dollar for every Bush bashing joke I’ve heard. For people who trumpet their tolerance, Episcopalians are also noticeably intolerant of Evangelicals. My dilemma has not changed much. Mainline churches tend to follow postmodernism in ethics while conservative churches follow the pop-culture equivalent in their styles of worship. Even the Catholic Church sings mostly a musical derivative of the 1960s era of our enlightenment.
There is some consolation in knowing that Jesus was a misfit among the religious majorities of his time. Maybe he didn’t sing. Sometimes I think I’ll continue to sing only in the shower.