Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sing Unto the Lord A New Song

My bluegrass sacred music group had a big gig tonight, starting with a worship service and moving into a straight-up concert.

Here's the memorable thing: it was in a bar!! A very gay-friendly bar/bowling alley, as a matter of fact.
But it was a huge, clean, super-funky, romantically-lit with red walls and loads of color, absolutely fabulous joint all decorated with Halloween goodies. People brought babies and children and it was just really cool. It was like a Den Of Iniquity for All Ages!

I joined this group a year ago at the request of its founder, and when he invited me to be part of it I told him that I'm a show tunes girl, not a bluegrass gospel girl. I said the whole idea of trying to sing in a new genre was intimidating but I would like to try it.
I took a tape recorder to our first rehearsals and practiced my harmonies in the car. I was nervous.

The music has become more and more a part of me. I even listen to it for FUN. A few gigs ago, I learned two numbers in the bathroom right before we went on (we don't have that many rehearsals to begin with, and I often have to miss the few we do have).
Tonight, though, I hit a new low (or high!): I learned two numbers while we were on stage performing them.

By this point, all I have to do is hear the first phrases and it's like, okay, I got it. Liz fed me the lyrics line by line and it was totally chill. I can sing soprano, I can sing alto, I can hear the harmonies so much more easily.

It's a little analogous to learning a new way to pray, or a new language for speaking about my religion. A few years ago, I spoke an entirely different language of faith. Or it would be more accurate to say that I didn't have one of my own. That was mighty frustrating. More than that: it hurt. Now, after some quality time steeped in Scripture, traditional Christian prayer and worship, phrases are in my mind, body and soul that may never leave. Images, stories and prayers from many traditions stay in my memory more easily than they used to and I find them far more readily available for worship preparation than they used to be. There was a time when in order to compose a prayer, I had to sift through a dozen books feverishly looking not for inspiration, but for confirmation that my own words could minister to my people.
Now, prayers just come. Opening words and invocations come so much more readily. The words to say at someone's bedside come more easily.

I even talk differently to myself.

I am aware of what's happening. I am very glad that I waited until I was a fully consenting, aware adult before I chose to hand myself over in this intimate way to the influence of the Christian faith. I am grateful that I had so many years' training in hearing and using religious language critically and from a "hermeneutic of suspicion."
I prepared myself for this indoctrination into Christian life and thought, and I even use the word "indoctrination" in its purest form, "to instruct in a body of doctrine."

It's fascinating to watch this relatively old dog learn all these new tricks.


Blogger Magdalene6127 said...

PB, I'm curious. And I realize my curiosity may have come a little too late (and you may choose to banjo rather than respond). But I am wondering how your Christian faith works with your congregation. Do you bring in Christian language, and is your UU crowd good with that? The best comparison I have is my own sprituality, which makes use of feminine imagery for the divine, but which would not, for the most part, fly in a PC(USA) congregation.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Hi Mag. Thanks for a great question.
I don't bring in much Christian language per se, but I find that ancient phrases from Scripture and traditional phrases from more recent prayer books get easily integrated into my own speech and writing in a way that (I hope!)make them deeper and more resonant. Or, if nothing else, just more poetic. It's like I'm weaving with contemporary strands of language and image but there's this strand of solid gold running through the fabric that just holds it all together. At least that's how it feels to me. It makes me feel so much more connected to tradition, so much less alone and scared in the pulpit, and so much more confident in extemporaneous prayer -- all of which has the result of allowing me to actually be worshipping while I'm leading worship.
This deep integration of Scripture and tradition also supports me in difficult pastoral moments. I hope and pray it all makes me a better pastor.

My Christian faith "works" with my non-Christian congregation fine. I don't talk about it a whole lot. I would rather preach my faith with my life than with my lips. Since my Christian faith is not exclusivist, my deepest pastoral concern is that my people have a rich and challenging spiritual path of some kind; it doesn't have to be the one I have chosen.

And also this: from what I have seen of the mainstream Christian church in the past decade, I am not frequently tempted to leave UUism, for all its faults. Christians seem not to know their Bible any better than do Unitarian Universalists, who are often deeply studied in *some* subject of religious interest(religion and science, environmentalism,the historical Jesus, history of religion, global politics, ethics, etc.), and whose intellectual curiosity and rigor I cannot live without.
Mainstream Christians have the same questions and struggles as do UUs on how to pray, why to worship, what to worship, how to be a healthy congregation,what to do about toxic personalities in the laity or in the leadership, how to live out faith in the public arena, etc.

Which is all to say, I would a whole lot rather be a Christian pastor to wonderful, loving, creative, inspiring non-Christian UUs than be a Christian pastor to a lesser congregation of Christians.


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