Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Flying under Wires

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

Alienated Anonymous
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.

17 comments:

Ray said...

OK Mike, feel better now. Try a little peyote with that Native American music.

Jason Silver said...

Hey Mike,

Take courage and be strong. Hang in there. We are building a little community here at your site, and we're all very different people apparently!

God is a big God, as you well know. :) I'm sure he's not offended by a bit of rock and roll, or a little loud opera.

~Jason

Ray said...

Seems that life is full of tradeoffs. I guess bottom line is, in my opinion, the first criteria for choosing a church would be its theological position. Of course choice of music could be an indicator of their theology. The church I belong to takes a strong theological stand and is conservative musically, even though the music may not be on the level I would prefer.

Anonymous said...

Mike--

You're in the wrong church. The Epicopalians have had "culture" for years, but Christianity is secondary to them, and is now a thing to trade off for party politics. It has always been PC for some agenda--it began, after all, as a result of an adulterous affair (Henry VIII)!

It is a waste of time to stay there. Their political positions are more important to them than any Christian theological ones. Because they are shutting you out, you will not be able to make them see the errors of their ways. They will only drag you down, make you compromise in little ways until you've compromised in big ways. Flee temptation. They've chosen their path. You don't have to ride it down with them.

There truly is better worship music elsewhere and true worship. To have that music, it's not necessary to put up with so much un-Christian and anti-Christian nonsense.

Ray said...

Scribe, I assume that is you that posted above. Pretty strong statement and people say us Fundamentalists (I actually avoid that term normally) are intolerant of other faiths. But, I have to agree with everything you said.

scribe said...

Yep, I made that post. I don't know how to insert my name in the comments as you all do. Let me try it here a minute...

I don't know why Christians should be expected to be tolerant of lies, disinformation and distortions. In that case, intolerance is necessary or else there is no stance for the truth and eventually no faith that can be recognized as the true faith.

scribe said...

Mike--

I think your dream is interesting. I think many of us who desire truth, right worship and right belief all have been forced to fly under the wires for decades, in just about every aspect of intellectual, political and religious life today.

Something about our communication system (which the telephone wires represent) today keeps us from ascending, like the other plane in your dream. We feel we have to keep flying under the wires, saying the right thing or avoiding certain conversations, which might cause a nasty entanglement where you might crash and burn. But flying under the wires, as we all have been doing, was the wrong thing to do in the first place.

For the moment, it seems like the pilot has made the right decision in not ascending, but all that has done is to make the practice of flying under the wires an endless things, the very endlessness of it making it a growing menace. If you feel dread about this futile state of affairs, so have I. But it's not a dream world, it's the increasingly menacing illusions that have been gradually inserting themselves into the real world for us to deal with. Now we feel trapped.

Perhaps the pilot (us) should land (start over) and taxi to a clear field and try flying again. This time we shouldn't get swerved into flying too low to begin with, but keep an eye on the heavens where the prize is. I see that happening now in many places, this starting over,this reviving of what's truly necessary, discovering again what's true.

We all are part of a turning point in history, whether we shall continue on in the futility or whether we shall start again at the beginnings to find the right way. The question is whether we have the courage to make the right turn.

Ray said...

Scribe, not that I disagree with you, but I think we must be careful when deciding to take a different course that goes against the grain. Many cults started that way.

Mike, start your own church... the First Church of Mozart. OK, I'll admit, Scribe is poet among us so that leaves the wiseguy role to me. That goes with being a bass trombonist.

BTW Scribe, I have read many of your posts on the Image Forum over the past several months. I was a lurker and posted a couple times last summer.

scribe said...

Ray-- I agree we must avoid the cult route or separation from a church just because there's a disagreement. Many church disagreements are over silly things, that if it was handled with maturity, a church split could have been avoided. However, there are times when one must cut loose from a spiritual babylon and find the church that is still true. You don't need to form a new one to do that.

What I was referring to (metaphorically by way of the dream) is that the churches and many people of good will have pushed into a corner by the politically correct atmosphere that has descended upon like a dense fog for the last 40 years. It has affected everything, not just religion, and has made us give up too much to the more aggressive and largely unChristian viewpoints. Too many of our young people for several decades have been educated to think that Western civilization is the cause of all evil, when in fact its Judeo-Christian ethic has brought much good to many peoples. Only now are we awakening to the fact that we are in the fight for our very survival. But two-three generations have grown up in this fog, myself among them, and much of the fight for clarity must begin with ourselves.

So I'm against staying in a church that is so obviously straying from the right path as the Episcopaliam church is. That church is about to split, or it should split off from those elements that have consistently and with premeditation disregarded God's law. The African Anglicans are rightly upset about who the European and American Episcopalians have arrogantly and sinfully ordained as priests and bishops. The Africans are the ones who will have to pay the price for this sinfulness, because the muslims are pointing to this ordaination of unworthy priests as an indication that Christianity itself is unworthy and deserves to be eradicated. This was in a November issue of Atlantic Monthly article two years ago.

An Egyptian muslim I know also protested the homosexual ordination saying to me "How can I raise my children in this evil society!". I told him that practice had occurred in the Episcopalian church, but the most of the rest of the Christian churches were opposed to it. He immediately brushed my reply aside and said:" I don't care whether it's this church or that. You are all Christians. This should not be allowed."

What could I say to that? So isn't about time we all stop flying under the wires and fight against the outright lies and delusions that have been spun to paralyze the Christian resolve for all these years?

Ray said...

A little off topic, but still in the ballpark. I went to a Christmas concert put on by a local Christian Day School - several students are from my church. I was both encouraged and discouraged. Encouraged that in a small school they are able to have such a program to include an elementary band, HS bands and choirs. I taught music at this school for 2 years back in the dark ages and was able to get nothing more than a small wind ensemble along with the choirs.

I was discouraged with the selection of music. Being a Christian school, I would expect our future leaders to come out of it. When the HS students had their turn, the stage band was first. They started off with a Christmas carol that was only lacking a pole dancer - music right out of a night club or worse. It actually had that beat and we won't talk about the blonde drummer. BTW, I've never darkened the doors to that kind of establishment, just observation flipping through the channels on the TV. Next was the full band. The director being trained primarily in jazz had them playing (drum roll)... mostly jazz. I should add, the concert was held in a Baptist church. The closest piece they played that could be called decent music was Leroy Anderson's, "Bugler's Holiday".

Then we wonder why the kids don't appreciate Bach and Handel and Mozart or even solid hymnody. It's like their musical literature never rises much above "Dick and Jane... see Spot run...".

scribe said...

Ray--

Why don't you write an essay about what you observe in your church and post it here? You're a good writer.

Michael Dodaro said...

Interesting quip I found this morning. Jason, you might appreciate this one: The difference between a church music director and a terrorist is that one might negotiate with a terrorist.

Jason Silver said...

Thanks Mike,

I saw these guys deliver a seminar in Hamilton a few months ago. It was horrible.

I'm all for order and planning in worship, but the tendancy I see in worship services is to focus so much on the service, that it becomes some sort of weird infomercial performance, and hardly feels like worship at all.

Anyway, thanks for the link.

I think it's more 'modern' in style than it is 'post-modern.'

~Jason

Ray said...

I just read about 80% of that article about organizing worship. I have to agree with Jason, it seemed more like a formula for producing a variety show on TV.

scribe said...

That article about worship "teams" you posted here in the comment is really strange. Church worship shouldn't be put together like a corporate marketing strategy with the team members picked as if they were hired for the job. Whatever happened to a Calling?

What next? Will they start have traveling exhibits in customized trailer trucks where a visitor could walk in an exhibit pitching a church "experience". I can picture it now--the visitor can push a button and stand under various cones and hear Christian music in different styles, or see a wide screen DVD of a flashy preacher strutting his motivational stuff across the stage.

Sounds like Christianity has become just another "product" to be marketed. Yikes

Ray said...

Scribe, you're cracking me up. "...stand under various cones..." reminds me of the cones of silence from that highly intellectual 60s sitcom, Get Smart.

scribe said...

"Get Smart" was my favorite show in 1964.

But there are really cones like that in museums nowadays.