March 27, 2016

"What is wonderful about spending an hour in a church, even if you are not a believer, is..."

"...the sense that you are trying to deal with larger mysteries, for which there are no answers. But you’re also, on another level, just shutting yourself off from the world at large for an hour. I don’t have to deal with the transubstantiation of the spirit or God with a large G."

From "How the Novelist Douglas Kennedy Spends His Sundays."

He's talking about going to St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan for a Sunday service. There is "an absolutely sublime choir and a great organist and a bit of Anglican ritual thrown in." This is in the late afternoon. Earlier in the day, before 3 a.m., before sleeping, he was in a jazz club, and when he woke up, at 11 or 12, he put on "ecclesiastical music" — "a Bach cantata or one of William Byrd’s masses, some work by Thomas Tallis" — which is "very fitting for Sunday morning." He likes the "calm" of that music and the aesthetic beauty of St. Thomas's, and — as for the jazz — he doesn't give that a religious spin. He says "I'm a jazz junkie," so I guess the jazz is the sin, "junkie" being a drug metaphor.

There are those who say they believe, and what do they do? Consider those who say they do not believe but put elaborate time and attention into the practices of religion. I wonder how many in the first category really do not believe (whether or not they see and admit that to themselves) and how many in the second category really do believe (whether or not they see and admit that to themselves). And I wonder how much the love of music confuses and complicates these inquiries.

In the 1970s, I used to go to services at an Episcopal church in Manhattan. One Sunday, the organist spoke to the congregation. He was resigning, he said, because he needed money, and they weren't paying him or weren't paying him enough. He chided us: Not only did musicians deserve to get paid, but the Christian church would not have the place that it has in the world today if it were not for the music.

Here's a Sunday morning music program recommended by Douglas Kennedy: "For the God Who Sings."

62 comments:

Farmer said...

This sort of emotional masturbation is what happens when you think religion is about how you feel.

Ann Althouse said...

"This sort of emotional masturbation is what happens when you think religion is about how you feel."

Let him who is without emotional masturbation cast the first snark.

Grant said...

One of the most interesting and thought-provoking posts I've ever read on this blog--and I'm pretty sure I've read them all. I'd like to ponder it and offer a well-formed response, but I have to get ready to go to church. In Manhattan. But not Episcopal. I thought about going to that same St. Thomas on Friday, but passed in favor of visiting the Frick. Do I believe? You have me wondering. Thanks, as always, for this, the one personal blog I read every day.

AlbertAnonymous said...

And if you're only going for the music you're missing the point.

Do episcopals believe in transubstantiation?

Saint Croix said...

I've been working on my first religious screenplay. It's called Christians. I thought about calling it Sinners. Which is true too! But maybe a bit negative. Christians like to call themselves Christians because we want to follow Christ. But of course we fall short all the time.

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you. ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I've also thought of calling my movie The Miracle of Sex, because I think the creation of a baby is a miracle, an act of God. So those are the three titles I had floating around in my mind: Christians and Sinners and The Miracle of Sex. It's funny and kind of mind-boggling that nobody has used the title Christians for a movie. Fear, probably. It's so in your face! And yet my Episcopal church is called Christ Church. Anyway, I guess my title is a bit obnoxious and pugnacious. Like me! How dare I call my movie this title? Who do I think I am to use this word? I don't know. I got a nudge from God so that's the title.

I would love feedback from any of the hillbillies who love this blog. If you'd like to read the screenplay and give me your opinion. The best feedback I've gotten so far is from one of my priests. I think she hated it! Although she was too nice to say so. She must have used the word "testosterone" ten times in our conversation. I think maybe I have too much sex and violence in my movie! And she wanted me to work on the relationships more. Anyway, I think I've finished the final draft. But you know what Kurosawa says. "I never finish a movie, I just abandon them."

Write me if you'd like to take a peek at it. oystermanproductions@gmail.com. And happy Easter!

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

"[T]he sense that you are trying to deal with larger mysteries, for which there are no answers."

I see nothing wrong with enjoying a mellow mood with a dash of humble awe thrown into the mix, but I'd advise the guy to write novels less and to pay attention to science more, if he's sincerely looking for answers, which I suspect he's not.

Balfegor said...

tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell . . .


(I have always quoted this as "held unspoilt", but look, I am wrong.)

I listen to a lot of Christian music -- Christmas carols, plainchant, Bach's masses, Bruckner's masses, requiem masses, Passions, the Pilgrim's Progress, etc. -- but I am not a Christian, and do not believe in or worship the god of the Christians. I don't credo in unum deum, patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae etc.

Enjoying Christian music is really just my own little "cultural appropriation," as it were, like an American yuppie doing yoga. I hum "Jerusalem" to myself in the shower.

And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?


There are boundaries I won't cross. It would seem to me deeply disrespectful to accept Christian communion as an heathen and unbeliever. But I don't particularly think there is anything wrong enjoying the richness of the Christian musical heritage of the West.

mcp said...

As long as the evil vicar isn't leading the service:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRujuE-GIY4

iowan2 said...

What ever you do is free will. Practice it.
Just a note, do not confuse Church, with Faith. While often they intersect, just as often they do not.
Hang around the tables AA and you will find a large percentage actively practicing faith, absent contact with church.
While many express their faith, never attend church, find God in 'nature all around us', my experience tells me the have no faith at all. No desire, much less ability to trust in a higher power.
The simple fact is, people who have worked, and taken action, to find their higher power, lead a more productive, serene, life.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

As a Christian, I want to see unbelievers attending church, whatever the reason. It means they are searching for something and we can reach out to them. An associate pastor at our church once mentioned that a problem with the church is that we want people to be already nice and saved before we welcome them.

As for not paying the organist, I can't even imagine that. The church I attend is not that large, but does have an organ, and we pay the organist, who is also the musical director. She is part time, but paid.

john said...

It's not that they come to church and celebrate the mass with us, that's all well and good, it's that they take the all the CEO parking spaces.

(Christmas, Easter Only.)

Michael McClain said...

Pity he didn't grasp the true purpose of church participation.

Harsh Pencil said...

There are lots who believe (and maybe even me) that music is how God talks to us -- that maybe Bach and Mozart had some help, that maybe what they did couldn't possibly have come from them alone.

Michael said...

I always Worship at St Thomas when in NY. The boy's choir transports and the high Anglican service is the same as when I was a boy., a profound ritual.

There are tourists but they are there for the same reasons the

Episcopalians and Anglicans explicitly do not believe in transubstantion.

Michael said...

Happy Easter

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Cultural appropriation is cool.

Ann Althouse said...

"And if you're only going for the music you're missing the point."

Maybe you are missing the point of music. Have you considered that?

And what is your basis for the word "only"? He didn't say he was only going for the music.

madAsHell said...

I would love feedback from any of the hillbillies who love this blog.

Really?

Ann Althouse said...

Ezekiel 26:13-14: "And I will stop the music of your songs, and the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more. I will make you a bare rock; you shall be a place for the spreading of nets; you shall never be rebuilt; for I the Lord have spoken, says the Lord God."

TerriW said...

Re: the organist.

Getting people to pay for church has always been an issue, but I wonder if it has gotten worse in the post-Napster/YouTube era.

Ann Althouse said...

"As for not paying the organist, I can't even imagine that. The church I attend is not that large, but does have an organ, and we pay the organist, who is also the musical director. She is part time, but paid."

I'm trying to remember and don't know if he was expected to donate his services or just not paid enough. I guess it was the latter, if the general rule is that organists get paid.

The church had a small congregation and didn't have enough money to pay him what he thought he needed. He predicted the congregation would get even smaller without quality music, that there would be a downward spiral.

Ann Althouse said...

"Pity he didn't grasp the true purpose of church participation."

I think he was pushed to grasp the true purpose and was critical of that pushing.

When you ask for a raise and the boss tells you you have the wrong attitude, that you should be working out of love and a sense of real dedication and where are your values... what's that like?

Milwaukee said...

Having a belief in the transcendent, of a creator of the universe, is very important. While orchestral/symphonic music is still being composed, most live performances are from more than a century ago. That music was written by composers who believed in God. You can be sure Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart believed in God.

Anglicans once believed in transubstantiation, that during the Mass, at the moment of consecration, the Holy Spirit comes down like the dew and the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Heck, if He can make the lame walk, the blind see, raise the dead, rise from the dead Himself, he sure can change bread and wine into His Body and Blood. But with the separation of the Church of England from the Church at Rome, they felt the need to keep tweaking the edges to show why "we aren't them". But hey, before the 1930 Lambeth Conference the Anglican Communion believed that life began at conception and that the procreational and recreational purposes of sex could not be separated. (We should really blame Luther and Calvin for that result, as they are the ones who dumped the idea of the Sacraments, of which Marriage is a Sacrament, which means the marriage act is part of marriage.)

The term "Roman Catholic" is a slur, invented by the English. The English were like "Well, we're English Catholic and you're Roman Catholic." The name stuck and I like it. I am Roman Catholic.

Forgive me, I digress. What is really important is that He who died for our sins has risen. Christ has risen indeed.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Professor, I always think of this when some kill joy prig tries to make Christianity the religion of somberness.


And so it was, that when the bearers of the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. 15So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouting and the sound of the trumpet.


They are eating that sacrifice, its a combination parade and BBQ.

And after Saul is anointed King of Israel Samuel tells him:

"After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying.

Notice it is prophets coming down from a high place. They are coming from a religious service.

I just don't get Baptists.

As for the organist, 1 Timothy 5:18

Ron Winkleheimer said...

After all, I'm pretty sure the minister was being paid.

traditionalguy said...

A great Organist and Choir is the best part of the "Worship" happening in traditional Churches. The old Reformation Hymns and the Anglican celebration of Monarchy are a glorious thing. And I believe God enjoys hearing that music and that faith Proclaimed out loud, whether the curious atheists understand what believer are proclaiming or not.

Ths Coptic services say the liturgy three times: in English, original Egyptian and Farsi. But the chants are great.

Bay Area Guy said...

Many people attend church for reasons other than belief in transubstantiation. Sometimes, it's to connect with a kind and caring community, sometimes it's for the music, sometimes it's for the coffee and donuts afterwards.

Happy Easter, Althouse, Meade and the Commentariat!

Ann Althouse said...

"After all, I'm pretty sure the minister was being paid."

Maybe the idea was that the minister has a full time job, running the place, counseling people, writing sermons, but the organist just shows up and sits down and plays music he knows how to play. It's a 1 or 2 hour job. He wasn't getting credit for the time spent practicing.

Reminds me of the way people think teachers are working only the hours they spend in the classroom.

traditionalguy said...

The modern musical blending of a Gospel message into a church service can also be done well.

Casting Crowns is one musical group lead by a local Youth Pastor named Mark Hall that is an excellent example of contemporary music complementing a Christian service.

Michael K said...

"people think teachers are working only the hours they spend in the classroom."

Pretty much the case since unions. Many teachers spend considerable time developing lesson plans their first few years teaching but then cruise along after that. Especially since unions.

My wife and I were in Paris about 30 years ago and we went to Notre Dame for Mass one Sunday morning. She was so moved, she talked seriously about becoming Catholic for a while. I was raised Catholic and drifted away.

Paddy O said...

We should have an organ playing just like Peter played during the first Easter!

Lest I only have snark for Easter, here's a thought from Jurgen Moltmann.

"Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one. In the Spirit, resurrection is not merely expected. It is already experienced. Resurrection happens every day. In love we experience many deaths and many resurrections. We experience resurrection through the rebirth to living hope. We experience resurrection through the love which already brings us to life here and now; and we experience resurrection through liberation: ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ (II Cor. 3:17)"

Or even better, Paul. No mention of organs.

Fernandinande said...

Eric the Fruit Bat said...
but I'd advise the guy to write novels less and to pay attention to science more, if he's sincerely looking for answers, which I suspect he's not.


I googled [larger mysteries, for which there are no answers]; the first hit was "The world’s biggest mysteries scientists still can’t solve" and the first unsolved mystery was:

The Moai statues of Easter Island

Put that in you smipe and poke it.

Michael said...

Milwaukee

See Article 29 of the Anglican 39 Articles of Faith in re: transubstantiation.

Michael said...

You should check out the music of the Boy's Choir of St. Thomas. . The boys attend the St. Thomas Choir School.

Roughcoat said...

Science can point the way to and illuminate the mysteries but it cannot explain them. Not the mysteries I'm referring to, at any rate.

The only mysteries that count.

Michael said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90GonV40di8

Jane the Actuary said...

Maybe there are people who perceive the beauty of a well-done liturgy in purely secular terms. But that's fine by me, because there are others for whom it helps them feel closer to God, and that's a good thing. Even if they don't believe what we'd want them to believe, it's still a good thing, and I think people who say, "we don't have to pay attention to how good a job we do in preparing the liturgy because people should come to church for the better reason of praising God" are missing the point.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/janetheactuary/2016/03/happy-easter.html

Also, yes, I read Ann's story of the organist as a matter of pay negotiations broken down, not that he was unpaid. Though, in some smaller churches, everyone, including pastors, are unpaid, or at best paid a small enough salary that they work a full-time job in addition.

YoungHegelian said...

@Balfegor,

But I don't particularly think there is anything wrong enjoying the richness of the Christian musical heritage of the West.

One of buds is a practicing Jew who, flying into London during Holy Week, the first thing he did after he got off a plane at Heathrow was to hop a cab downtown to make a performance of the St. Matthew Passion.

I don't credo in unum deum, patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae etc.

Unlike you, I do believe in all that nonsense. Or, to work within the framework that our blog mistress framed, like a Christian version of the Little Engine That Could, "I think I think I believe...."

You know, when I remember the words of the Credo, I do so by singing the Credo from the Machaut Mass to myself.

@Michael, Milwaukee,

Anglicans don't believe in transubstantiation, which makes sense considering that much of Anglican history has been the internal struggle between the Puritan & "Romanish" wings of the faith. But, do they believe in consubstantiation? It sure seems, from the 39 articles referenced above, that they don't. The articles on the nature of the Real Presence are quite fuzzy. I'm sure that was deliberate as a compromise between the Puritans & Romanish on a very contentious issue.

Saint Croix said...

Really?

And truly!

n.n said...

There are no answers to either large or small mysteries. We accept everything as an axiomatic truth or faith-based belief, and make sense of them within limited frames of reference (i.e. scientific).

Otto said...

Ann, were your boys bar mitzvahed and did you convert to Judaism?
Happy Easter to all.

Michael said...

Young Hegelian

I would say that at St. Thomas in NY the priests would indeed be believers in consubstantiation. At All Saints Episcopal in Atlanta not so much.

The tensions between the Romish and Puritan still pertain.

YoungHegelian said...

@Michael,

The tensions between the Romish and Puritan still pertain.

Oh, yes, very much so. But, now overlain with the struggle between traditionalists of both stripes & post-modernists. And those weirdo post-modernists don't always end up on the side where you think they would.

Are W said...

I find the sunrise in the Sonoran that my dog and I experience while walking every morning to be very uplifting.

Michael said...

YoungHegelian

Ha! And then add in a bit of confusion occasioned by the Africans actually taking to heart the teachings of their English betters all those years ago. And now here we have the jungle bunnies having the nerve to throw back all these antiquated ideas from that old book right in the face of Canterbury. Confusion abounds.

Mary Beth said...

I was at an Episcopal church this morning. Easter hymns are the best hymns.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

"It was the 1970s in New York City, and the Episcopalians couldn't even afford to pay the organist. Across town, a young Donald Trump listen raptly to hypnotic 90 minute sermons of Norman Vincent Peale, and dreamed of doing great things ..."

Joe said...

Even when I went to church, I found it hideous.

Marc Puckett said...

Happy Easter! Although I stay away from AA's posts where she attempts to rationalize 'belief' &c it is shameful how little we Catholics pay our liturgical musicians-- I had always thought that the Episcopalians were much better on that score. And we get a return commensurate with what we pay for, too-- without at all wanting to question the good intentions of those I heard this morning and so on and so forth.

Having abstained from non-liturgical music during Lent, no Machaut today: am indulging myself, am luxuriating, in Cavalieri and Handel today; Cecilia Bartoli singing the first aria of H's La Resurrezione.

Will Cate said...

We are very fortunate in that our parish is large enough to pay three priests (of which my wife is one) and a full-time music director. That's certainly not the case with many Episcopal churches, especially in the Northeastern U.S., where many parishes have closed or have reverted to mission status.

I think one reason our parish does well is that we preach faith rather than belief. The difference is subtle but important. Also, we are focused on doing good works in the here-and-now, as opposed to focusing on the hereafter. Paddy O's quote above from 2nd Corinthians is spot-on.

Roughcoat said...

There are no answers to either large or small mysteries. We accept everything as an axiomatic truth or faith-based belief, and make sense of them within limited frames of reference (i.e. scientific).

Does that apply to Mickey Spillane mysteries?

Lydia said...

I like Tolkien on the promise of the Resurrecction -- from The Return of the King:

“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?"

"A great Shadow has departed," said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”

Lydia said...

*Resurrection*

Mark said...

we get a return commensurate with what we pay for, too

That goes both ways of course. If playing at the worship service is just a job, then you got your money, quid pro quo, and that's the end of it. But if it is ministerial service, if it is a gift of self, an expression of communion and love for and with God, then you receive a great deal more than cold hard cash in return.

If you are on-staff, and have duties throughout the week aside from the liturgy, then it is appropriate to be paid. But if it is the worship itself, at least in the case of regularly-scheduled services (special events like weddings and funerals might be an exception), it should be a gratiutious act for the most part. I serve and have served in many various capacities at my parish and would never think of getting paid. None of the extraordinary ministers, catechists or ushers are. Nor are the choir members.

In fact, from the Christian perspective, every follower of Jesus is supposed to be an evangelizer, each one is supposed to go out and proclaim the Gospel, especially the Good News of this Easter day -- Rejoice. You are loved. You are loved by a God who does exist and who, by taking suffering and death upon himself has conquered both and transformed them to new life. A Christian does not get paid money for proclaiming this. He gets something better -- he gets a heart that is opened up to the love, mercy and grace of God. The same love, mercy and grace that created the universe and raises the dead to eternal life.

Birches said...

Agree with Grant. Love this post. I have some thinking to do.

Marc Puckett said...

Mark at 3:33pm, I understand that many parishes will take the route of employing volunteers only, God bless their hearts, in the musical service of the Liturgy, and that perfection is the enemy of the good, often enough, and so on and so forth; on the other hand, if parish music directors are going to be employed, and money spent on musicians, they ought to be professionally qualified to support the celebration of the authentic liturgical rites of (in my case and yours, if I've read your Blogger profile rightly) the Catholic Church, giving the official liturgical books pride of place in their work, ahem.

Saint Croix said...

Even when I went to church, I found it hideous.

After the resurrection, Jesus did not go to the temple. And most of his titanic battles were with people who were striving to be religious. You might get a kick out of this book.

Before you give up on the search for God, you might try a Bible study, which is not at all like a church. Find one where they are studying the gospels.

Original Mike said...

This atheist attend Easter mass in a 175 year old church (St Patrick's) in Sydney. It was sublime.

Nancy Reyes said...

I agree with Farmer: the article snark about those in the pews who really don't "believe" assumed belief is a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
Actually, faith is an intellectual commitment to the reality there is a god, or a meaning to life.

Char Char Binks said...

Ann Althouse said...
"Maybe the idea was that the minister has a full time job, running the place, counseling people, writing sermons, but the organist just shows up and sits down and plays music he knows how to play. It's a 1 or 2 hour job. He wasn't getting credit for the time spent practicing.

Reminds me of the way people think teachers are working only the hours they spend in the classroom."

Reminds me of The Ant and the Grasshopper, and how the grasshopper made a joyous noise while the ants were busy garnering winter provisions.

Anyway, I would probably go to a church or cathedral in Europe, for the art/music/history, but in America it seems too much like actually believing in all that god horse shit.

Milwaukee said...

St. Thomas More opposed Henry the 8th, as did Saint John Fisher. Both were executed for their trouble. Both have been canonized. Thus the Bishops and Cardinals in England all consented to Henry's actions. Consequently, we find this paragraph from a reputable source:
"No matter what the doctrine, however, Christ's real presence depends on the existence of a valid priesthood. Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) named a commission to study the question of Anglican orders and finally declared them invalid with the bull Apostolicae Curae in 1896. The complex doctrinal and historical reasons for the papal decision are beyond the scope of this article but were considered definitive."
Regardless of what Episcopalians believe, without Apostolic Succession, Anglican communion priests can not consecrate the Eucharist. Which is why Satanist steal consecrated Hosts from Catholics, and not from Episcopalians or anybody else. Satanist believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the consecrated Host. ( I mean, hey, if you don't believe me, why not believe the Satanist?)

I read of a interview with an exorcist. He had recently worked with a Satanist who had returned to the Church. The exorcist had asked the Satanist why they preferred Catholic consecrated Hosts. He told the exorcist that if 10 hosts were on the table, and only one was consecrated, he could tell which one it was because of the hate he would feel when his hand was over the consecrated Host.

carrie said...

Faith is a journey. Many believers doubt from time to time, but are committed to the journey which includes going to church even when doubting. Church is critical to my journey--contemplation, beauty, community, diversity, lessons, etc.