Some version of this story was on Page One of all three of our household’s daily newspapers this morning, and why not? The photo is irresistible — a sharply dressed gospel choir belting it out while arrayed around three heavenly white SUVs. (And yes, the opening number was a no-brainer: “I’m Looking for a Miracle.”) The name of the sermon at Greater Grace Temple? “A Hybrid Hope.” This is what Detroit’s been reduced to, America: Praying for money.
Although, honestly, who can blame anyone? You see what happens when you put your faith in representative democracy.
This recession, which officially began in December 2007, now appears virtually certain to be the longest downturn — and possibly most severe — since the end of World War II, as evidenced last week by a demoralizing rat-a-tat of grim reports on jobs, sales and public confidence.
The reports signaled that even after 11 months, more than the entire length of the last two downturns, this recession has only now entered its fiercest phase, and economists say the pain will not end soon.
“For the average American it’s going to be devastating for the next 6 to 12 months,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group, a research and forecasting firm. He added, “I have not seen anything particularly hopeful right now, which tells me we have a ways to go.”
Well, thanks for that cheerful news, folks. Nothing like awakening on a dreary Monday to find that as bad as it was last week, this week it’s worse.
Actually, the church story interested me. One of the saddest things about the funerals we went to this year was seeing what remains of Alan’s family’s church, which we’re told is in a perilous state. It’s your standard Methodist congregation, as spicy as Wonder Bread, and I gather that’s part of the problem — Alan’s sister reports a large segment of the flock was lured away by “a holy-roller church” a few years back. I can scarcely believe Methodists would go holy-roller justlikethat, but on further questioning it seems the new joint was simply cast in the new mold of churches. That is, it had a band instead of an organist, video screens in lieu of felt banners, and a preacher who behaved as though he had an audience to please, rather than preach to. Not a megachurch per se, but leaning that way.
On the one hand, I don’t really have a problem with this. One of the things that most disappointed me during my brief attempt at reconciliation with the church of my birth — that would be the One True — was how lifeless it was, how rote, how dusty and oxygen-deprived. When the priest stepped away from the script in homilies, it was to complain that people wouldn’t put grocery carts in the cart corrals in the parking lot, or that birth control was like taking a drug to stop your heart. I would have welcomed an SUV rolling past the altar at that point, if only to maybe run him down and shut him up.
On the other hand, there’s just something wrong about going to church and expecting to be entertained. Sinners in the hand of a joke-telling God, etc.
But is there any doubt why these churches are in their ascendancy? If you want people to come back week after week, give them something to come to. Being prodded there at the point of an imaginary pitchfork isn’t a strategy for ongoing success.
I’d go to Greater Grace, but it would require a lot of new clothes and prayer with my hands in the air, a practice so divorced from my own tradition it would make me break out in hives. Plus, it would be totally obvious I was only there for the choir. I covered the funeral of a black civil-rights leader in Fort Wayne. By the end of the opening hymns, I was ready to make an altar call myself. That’s the power of a great gospel choir.
Running a little late this morning, and I still have Russian verb conjugations to drill myself on. Besides, I know this thread will belong to Jeff TMMO, so let’s let him take it away, and we’ll try for more later, eh? Eh.