Sunday, September 27, 2009

Guilty Pleasure

I confess that one of my guilty pleasures occurs every Sunday morning on the way to Glide: I listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on KOIT. I do feel guilty about listening in to what is being sung in Temple Square, particularly after the Mormon Church's contribution to the passage of Proposition 8 in California. And it feels like a lot of cognitive dissonance, listening to the MTC on the way to listen to the Glide Ensemble, hearing a message from the Church of Latter Day Saints as I am preparing to offer a message at Glide.  Could the two churches be any further apart, theologically and sociologically?

One of the reasons why I enjoy listening to the MTC so much is that I know many of their anthems.  I grew up in the Babylon United Methodist Church (NY) which had an amazing music program. I grew up marking my age with the corresponding choir I was in.  I didn't so much read the bible as a child and teen, I sang it through all the music we covered over the years.

So it makes me wonder: how is it that the same songs that the MTC and the Babylon choirs sang resulted in such different faith expressions? These songs became the bedrock of my faith, which calls me to participate in the liberating work of God's love. The music communicated to me a commitment to be in community with all of God's people, to seek release from all forms of oppression which place God's people in bondage, and to love and protect the earth in all its glory.  How does God speak through music in ways that lead us to such radically different actions in the world? 


  1. Karen you ask some questions I cannot answer. I am so grateful to have been a part of the music program in Babylon all those years ago with Ken White as our leader. He of course had something to do with it all but I believe even he was in awe of the amazing collection of talent we had there at that time. Sadly the choir I heard there a couple of years ago was not great (hope you don't have followers from there to read that) but they are miles ahead of our little ragtag group in White Plains. Ken White was here too, he worked here in the 80's. My life is very strangely placing me where I am supposed to be. Our youth have really no foundation in the "bedrock" music and traditions that defined my faith. I don't know if this is widespread or just peculiar of my church now but it bothers me. I pull out a hymnal to have a good old hymn sing (something I can do for hours without getting bored) and they are lost and have no interest. Sad. So what's your favorite? I have trouble singling out one, I at different times say they all are my faves but i really love Blessed Assurance and How Great Thou Art!

  2. Greg, we did have a remarkable experience of church as children and teens. Certainly, Ken White was largely responsible for it. His love of God, and how he expressed it through music, was contagious. I am so terribly grateful for this foundation.

    Tom Carney once said to me that one of the reasons it is so hard for many of us to find a church home when we left Babylon was because Babylon did so much of church "right", and did it consistently so. We had excellent music, fine preaching, a fantastic youth program...the list goes on and on.

    I require my class at Pacific School of Religion to start each class session with a hymn. I want to impart a piece of the joy (as well as knowledge!) to them that I received so long ago.

    I love hymn sings as well! Road trips always include a hymn sing. One of my favorite road trip hymn sings was when Cathy Centabar and I were returning to LI for a holiday from Drew University (she attended there as well). We didn't have a hymn book, but because we had grown up with the hymn book, we started at hymn #1 (O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing), and sang our way through it until Cathy dropped me off at home. We knew it that well (of course, we were both altos, so we had to alternate taking the melody line, which both of us resisted).

    My favorite, that is tough. I can sing "Angels We Have Heard on High" any time of year. "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" it also a favorite ("What language can I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend?"). And when I sing "Are Ye Able?" I am back in our choir room, singing the hymn lustily, just as John Wesley requires.

  3. Oh wow, Are Ye Able! We never sing those good old ones at all. I am not sure why, though our music director is/was Catholic and I believe is unaware of our old standards. Joe and I and a few others had an informal hymn sing not long ago, just going through the hymnal and picking out ones we remember loving. Some of those don't work so well for me now, Onward Christian Soldiers comes to mind. Tom had it right on. Our church at that time did nurture us the way church is supposed to. And it really was a rare mingling of talent from top to bottom that came together in a place and time. One of the haunting things on that record I referred to earlier is spoken passages read by Jack Savage. What a voice and cadence he had! And his standard benediction is on it, that I loved so much and know by heart:
    And now the God of love, who is the source of our love and affection for each other, take our friendships into his own keeping, that they may continue and increase, throughout life...and beyond it. Amen.

  4. I grew up Catholic - by religion, schooling, and a staunchly devout father who insisted that we attend weekly Mass - and though I reject the entire doctrine, I love the smell of candles and the sound of an organ playing, when I walk into a majestic, ornate cathedral as Mass begins.

    I haven't been inside a cathedral, Catholic chapel, etc. in a long time ... one of the last being when I walked out because a priest had the entire congregation read a prayer aloud, as written and strategically strewn across every pew seat, praying for the souls of (ostensibly blasphemous) women who have had abortions. And I dislike (but am not surprised) that the Catholic Church endorsed Proposition 8, and will certainly endorse all of its progeny.

    Disgust aside, I am always happy to enter a Catholic sanctuary and experience the calming effect of going back to my roots. I take what it provides and treat the rest as a bad car accident, looking on with horror. Or, if asked to read something aloud with which I disagree, I walk out.

    In other words, I am not against remembering what I love about my childhood institution (and how telling is it that this is reduced to candles and organs?!), even though I disapprove of its disapproval of much of humanity. And I love the song "Ave Maria."

    So I say, get your MTC on every week as you head for the TL ... and steep yourself in gratitude that you've embraced something much more open than the teachings of your past.

  5. There is something very comforting in the "smells and bells" of ritual and the sacred space of sanctuary.

    I am so grateful (and I think Greg might echo this) to have been raised in a church where the number one message was "you are loved unconditionally". And it wasn't just an empty phrase. I think one reason why so many young people flocked to this church (we would think nothing of a youth retreat with 200 teens!)was that this message really did sink in: we WERE worth something, God really DID love us, and the elders in the church made room for us to live this truth out in our lives.

    When I listen to MTC, I remember these important truths, communicated to me via the music of my youth, and I am comforted. Yet I marvel at how the music can speak, in this proposition 8 world, different things to different communities.

  6. Ah - you are one of the fortunate (relative) few, then. I was accepted in my church, but only because, while Catholic, I was white, straight, upper middle class, and too young to be thinking about premarital sex. Had any of my mutable aspects changed in that time frame, I would have been in big trouble!