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.

Among others who may be driven to their knees by current events: Employees at the Tribune Co., the recycling industry and, of course, everyone else:

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.

Posted at 10:34 am in Current events, Detroit life |

69 responses to “Religi-tainment.”

  1. Dexter said on December 8, 2008 at 10:56 am

    имейте хороший день

    (Have a nice day.)

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  2. Gasman said on December 8, 2008 at 11:02 am

    As a church musician who plays at least a couple of the instruments that are commonly used in the church “bands,” I generally HATE that style of music in a worship service. I would never play guitar or bass in one of THOSE gigs. An organist friend of mine summed it up best. He said that our musical offerings should be our “first fruits.” Too often, these ensembles sound like cheesy garage bands that lack sufficient talent to get gigs anywhere else.

    As a composer, when I write church music, I feel an obligation to provide something of sufficient gravitas, something beyond more bad pop tunes. That notion of “first fruits” is always a consideration. Most of my works are in the choir and organ camp, but I’ve never been accused of composing old fashioned music. It is possible to be meaningful, relevant, and respectful all at once.

    Agreed, church can be stuffy and boring, but we needn’t try and replicate a Brittany Spears concert on Sunday morning in order to fill the pews. I won’t be caught dead in those types of churches.

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  3. Dexter said on December 8, 2008 at 11:09 am

    In 1994 I got involved with the Promise Keepers movement and attended 3 huge mega events in Michigan and Indiana domed stadii. I got to hear the most provocative preachers of that era, some whom I have not forgotten about, especially Wellington Boone and his “Worm Training” lectures—very powerful speaker.
    MSM represented Bill McCartney (founder of PK) and all those folks there in Colorado as “kooks” , but at least PK got a lot of men into those stadii to at least give a listen to something different…I mean…here I was, a longtime hateful atheist who started going to a local church and actually got to hear some important religious speakers addressing huge crowds…was that all that bad? I am not a kook , I am profane and I quit going to even the local church, and I will only listen to Bishop T.D. Jakes on the teevee, but was my mind expanded by listening to men such as Bill Hybels a couple times? Yes it was. And what the hell, anyway.

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  4. mark said on December 8, 2008 at 11:10 am


    It happens so rarely that i shouldn’t pass up this opportunity: i agree with you.

    “First fruits”- your organist friend has a good concept and a nice way with words.

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  5. moe99 said on December 8, 2008 at 11:18 am

    As a lapsed Catholic and a Presbyterian elder, I have to say these mega churches seem to take on a life of their own. People are drawn to success for success’ sake. But I like my little church, precisely because it is little. My kids grew up surrounded by all generations. We may not have lived near relatives, but they had aunts and uncles galore courtesy of the church. Just went to our Christmas pageant last night and it was so homely and tender and touching. As I age, I tend to value the quieter events in my life. They are touchstones for my soul.

    And for the holidays and dog lovers everywhere, “Bailey the unknown Reindeer:”

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  6. Julie Robinson said on December 8, 2008 at 11:24 am

    First fruits, indeed. When we sing praise to God in worship, we aren’t there to please ourselves. It is possible to be relevant and reverential. A prime example is the amazing worship services at the Chapel of the Resurrection at our daughter’s alma mater, Valparaiso University. Music runs the gamut but it is always top notch no matter what the style. The music is integrated with the lessons and the season of the church year. There may be dancing or a theatre troope performing but it all works together. The music has complex ideas in notes, harmony and theology, not just another tired chorus of “praise” music. We don’t need to dumb down our services, we need to educate our parishioners.

    Edit: thanks, moe! I laughed all the way through and hereby prescribe Bailey to anyone needing a pick-me-up.

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  7. Bruce Fields said on December 8, 2008 at 11:32 am

    “As a church musician who plays at least a couple of the instruments that are commonly used in the church “bands,” I generally HATE that style of music in a worship service.”

    So how would I recognize “that style” if I heard it? Not sure if I know it.

    I was thinking of Aretha Franklin’s church albums as I read this, e.g.:

    On the other hand, there used to be some christian student group with something like a small rock band that would meet evenings down the hall from my grad student office, and the music sounded pretty banal. They seemed to be having fun, though.

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  8. Peter said on December 8, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Boy, Nancy, talk about timely: Yesterday we had a visitng priest at our One True branch, and it was excruciatingly bad. Even with a short homily, this service clocked in at over 1:15. This priest seemed to equate solemn with slow, and everything was just over the top deliberate. I know that I open up myself when I complain about mass length, but seriously, you can take all day if you’ve got a good homily, but we’ve been doing this for almost 2000 years; you would think by now you’d get the routine down flat.

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  9. Danny said on December 8, 2008 at 11:51 am

    There is much middle-ground between the two extremes of dry-rote homily or barking-at-the-moon entertainment. Many churches do expository teaching through the entire Bible. This avoids the pitfalls of topical homilies where some things get overemphasized and others get under emphasized or ignored and it also allows the Scriptures to stand on their own merits with no need for a flashy flourishes from an entertainer at the pulpit.

    As for worship styles, as long as it is sincere, just about anything is fine. We’ve had the pleasure of worship with everything from folk with Richie Furay (founding member of Buffalo Springfield and Poco now a pastor of a Calvary Chapel in Colorado) to hip-hop “thug worship” with Priesthood to contemporary/traditional with Fernando Ortega and Marty Goetz to African choir with the Watoto Children’s Choir. It’s all good.

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  10. Catherine said on December 8, 2008 at 11:56 am

    1:15? I’d love 1:15. My Episcopal church service is closing in on 1:45 pretty consistently. Not just because of that, I’m in early stages of trying to understand the emerging church movement. There’s got to be a better way to worship.

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  11. Colleen said on December 8, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Which branch of the One True didja go to in the Fort? Geography would think it would be where I am going, but you must have been there before the current priest….cuz I have NEVER heard him say the things you heard which turned you off so. (and would me, as well) Current Priest spends a lot of time making his homilies based on scripture, yet, get this, RELEVANT to those of us in the pews. Blew my mind. And it’s probably why I became a full fledged, rosary carrying member.

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  12. Jeff Borden said on December 8, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Though a non-practicing Catholic –no, that’s wrong, I’ve completely fallen away from the One True– I don’t begrudge anyone the strength and comfort they draw from religious service.

    But the politicalization of faith fills me with despair. Not just the petty stuff in the U.S. –though if I were gay I might not find the recent efforts by the Mormon Church on Prop 8 petty– but the gruesome bloodletting in the name of God that has so much of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa in constant, violent turmoil.

    No faith seems to speak to me these days and the old rules I was taught in Catechism no longer seem relevant. My father was a lapsed Methodist who never attended church, but he was one of the finest men I’ve ever known, more honest and ethical than many a church regular, yet the One True would have me believe he is denied a heavenly reward because he did not actively practice his religion.

    The one religious group that I truly admire are the Amish. These people keep to themselves and maintain their traditions, but their faith is so strong and pure that they immediately forgave the lunatic who invaded one of their schools in Pennsylvania and murdered several students. I stand in awe of that kind of univeral love.

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  13. Julie Robinson said on December 8, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    Jeff B, the politization of faith also fills me with despair. The faith I practice holds every idea up against the gospel of God’s love for us and our response of loving our neighbor as ourself. If it conflicts then it is not of God. Pretty simple, really. Unfortunately those of us who feel this way are also loathe to push our ideas on others, because we believe in respecting their beliefs. It’s a fine line between the Jimmy Swaggarts and the Shakers.

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  14. John c said on December 8, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    I was pleasantly reminded of an experience about 10 years ago, at Old St. Pat’s in Chicago. It was Mother’s Day. As I recall it, there was either a professional opera singer in town and visiting the church, or she was a memner of the congregation, home briefly from a tour. Either way, doesn’t matter. She sang an Ave Maria that was beyond standing ovation beautiful – it was awed, reverential silence beautiful. When she was done, Fr. Pat sat there for a moment, opened his eyes and said: “I’ve never done this before. But I’m going to take advantage of my authority as the priest and ask her to sing that again.” She did, just as beautifully. Even for those of us who struggle with our faith – and against our cynicism, and the petty tyranny of church authority – it was as if God was singing to us.
    First fruit indeed.

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  15. crinoidgirl said on December 8, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Moe, thank you for Bailey. I needed that. Just got turned down for another job.

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  16. Danny said on December 8, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Nancy or JC, help, I’m in moderation purgatory.

    Gasman, do you know Rodrigo Rodriguez? We’ve chatted a bit over the years and I got a chance to play his Contrares. Very nice instrument. Nice, funny guy too.

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  17. coozledad said on December 8, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    I like seeing the small 19th Century churches that are still standing around here. Some of them aren’t much larger than tobacco barns. Perhaps it was the spirit that kept people from freezing their asses off during the winter, but you have to wonder. This church was founded in the 1750’s, but Cornwallis torched it toward the end of the war. This was the rebuild. Looks Bunyanesque.
    It burned again in 1909. Probably because someone was too aggressively trying to get warm.
    The church was rebuilt in 1918, a small neoclassical shell with an Elizabethan interior.

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  18. Danny said on December 8, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Wait a sec, Cuomo is outraged at Merrill CEO John Thain’s 10 mil compensation. I wonder if he had any problems with former Merrill CEO Stan O’Neal walking away with a 160 mil payout.

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  19. Jolene said on December 8, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    I could have written Nancy’s comments re Alan’s church. I’d have been talking about the Methodist church my parents attended until they got too old to get there under their own power. Even on Christmas, with the pageantry and the familiar carols, the service was one of the most joyless events I’ve ever experienced. Too many Norwegians, too many old people, too little imagination. Really sad.

    I grew up, of course, in a Methodist church and could say the standard parts of the liturgy in my sleep, even though it’s decades since I’ve been a regular churchgoer. I find the ritual and the familiar hymns comforting and, less often, stirring, but not enough to overcome my unbelief.

    Yesterday, I happened to catch a few minutes of an interview with the new president of Howard University on local TV. The interviewer, Jim Vance (NBC), seemed to be a graduate. He was inquiring about what, if anything, the new president was going to do about expanding the chapel there. Apparently, Vance had been unable to get into recent services because they are so crowded. I gathered that great preachers from all over come to speak there. Perhaps I’ll try to figure out what might be a low-traffic day and pay a visit. Can you imagine how excited people there will be on January 18th?

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  20. Rana said on December 8, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    The only church I ever formally joined (complete with tithe) was a small UU congregation in Southern California, and I liked it because it was small, and the minister and congregation understood the balance between friendly informality and formal ritual. It was as much about the community and its “joys and concerns” as it was about sitting in the risers listening to the minister and the choir. The closest analogy I can think of is that it was somewhat like a tribe or small village – you had a sense of all of the personalities even if you didn’t know them personally, and everyone worked together for the good of the larger group and for individuals who needed support. The holiday service was partly led by the minister, and partly lay led, which meant you could be audience or participant as your spirit moved you, and that was the general mode of operation overall. It was a church that still had the touch of human hands visible on it, both in its rituals and exchanges, and in the buildings, vestments, chalice, and so on.

    I do rather miss it.

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  21. crinoidgirl said on December 8, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    OK, I think I’m going to cry now.

    My company that laid me off was contesting my unemployment.

    Which just came through.

    So we WILL have a Hanukkah & Christmas after all!

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  22. baldheadeddork said on December 8, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Down Goes Tribune Corp.

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  23. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 8, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Julie, i grew up in Valpo, and it was like a modern version of growing up in a cathedral town — everyone knew the Chapel as their “other church” including the Catholics, since it was home for baccalaureate services before HS graduation, awesome concerts from Brahms’ Requiem (auf Deutsch, naturlich) to string quartets, and all the big weddings. You felt both at home there and a little awed, all at the same time.

    I’m tied to shuttle duty between bedroom and bathroom with a son who’s been vomiting every 60 minutes since 5 am, so i’m not on the keyboard much (hands washed raw with antibacterial soap, though, even if i think it’s a light salmonella from a not-quite-cooked-thru quiche at an event yesterday noon). But to recap —

    Give us worship with hightoned, not to say highbrow music, possibly trending classical, and sermons that are solemn but not serious, meaningful but not boring, short but not too flip, meaty but don’t take too long.

    Oh, and we want a churchly looking sanctuary with, ideally, an Eolian-Skinner pipe organ, and we’ll show up as often as our schedule allows and contribute what we can . . . but someone ought to be able to provide a genial, bright, educated yet warm-spirited woman or man in the pulpit, a skilled MFA organist/music director, and maintain the slate roof and leaded stained glass windows made in 1896, with an HVAC unit that keeps everyone at their own comfort level (oh, do clergy tell jokes about those cars with driver/passenger switches for temperature, and what that would look like pew by pew).

    This church should maintain recognizable teaching from our youth, but be socially progressive and engaged in their community, with intergenerational and culturally diverse members. The announcements shouldn’t be too long, but should be open to all interests, and the political component should be absent . . . except for the stances which i believe aren’t political, but are simply obviously what right-thinking people should believe, or at least learn to embrace more fully.

    Do i have that about right? Whoops, i hear that harsh noise upstairs again . . . i’ll try to be back later.

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  24. brian stouder said on December 8, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Amen, crinoidgirl

    (PS – still chuckling over Alex’s colorful metaphor for Santa’s slashing whip on friday’s thread!)

    (PPS – this line – “You felt both at home there and a little awed, all at the same time.” brought to mind the Allen County courthouse, which got a very nice couple of features by friend-of-nn.c Emma and another reporter, this past weekend. It has ambience, more than a little granduer, and yet always feels like “ours” when you’re in there)

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  25. Deborah said on December 8, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I was raised Lutheran, severely Lutheran (LCMS). Went to a Lutheran grade school, Lutheran college. The only reason I didn’t go to a Lutheran high school is because they didn’t have one in my city. My former in-laws and ex were all employed by the church as ministers or teachers. I don’t go to church anymore. My fall came when I started traveling internationally for business. I finally realized there were so many different ways to think about things than the narrow way I had been taught. Actually I do attend services once in a blue moon. I find that I am only drawn to the kind of churches that practice “high” services, with classical music, beautiful vestments, stained glass windows etc. I can’t stand the folksy “low” styles of worship, I find them very depressing.

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  26. Julie Robinson said on December 8, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Deborah, come on over to the ELCA. You’ll find lots of recovering LCMS-ers as well as former Catholics and Methodists. My parents always encouraged us to think for ourselves, though that didn’t make me popular in LCMS confirmation class, or in high school, either, come to think of it.

    At our church you will find most of Jeff’s ideals. Slate roof, check. Stained glass, check. No Eolian Skinner, but a Casavant-Freres pipe organ along with a superb organist. People involved in their community, check. Individual HVAC comfort–can’t give you that, our boiler eats dollar bills.

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  27. CrazyCatLady said on December 8, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    LCMS is a nightmare. At our church the hymns has 7-8 stanzas and we had to sing them all. When hymns take 15-20 minutes to sing while being forced to stand, interest fades fast. Then, my church got a new associate pastor who started preaching ‘New Earth’ sermons about how people and dinosaurs lived together, how gay people choose to be sex perverts and how liberals would have aborted Jesus. This guy even suggested that Steve Irwin deserved to die because he believed in the evolution of life, and even suggested he must have been an Atheist. I ran and never went back.

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  28. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 8, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    And the LCMS is getting SBCers who crave liturgy — it’s an interesting musical chairs story, with our bete noir Rod Dreher an interesting exemplar of a certain type: Methodist to Agnostic Hipster to Evangelical quasi-Pente to more Catholic than the pope to uberOrthodox.

    While most pole barn and praise team evangelical and pentecostal church starts i know have more than their fair share of born and raised Catholics in them, who never want to see a liturgy again if they can help it, and actively look for a congregationally governed, low church, thumping bass line worship experience.

    But the mainline denominations are really squeezed by the same factors that . . . well, Google “symphony orchestra classical subscriptions tickets” and read a few of your hits — this tracks very well with what mainline Protestant churches find when trying to maintain a culturally “high” approach.

    Julie, i grew up with those things, but i struggle with the fact that they may not be sustainable, culturally or economically, and few of them are theologically necessary. I like ’em, myself, but if the general numbers are trending in an auto-industry-ish direction, then . . .

    Love that “A Hybrid Faith.” That’ll preach.

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  29. Colleen said on December 8, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    “Severely Lutheran”. yeah, that was my experience with it via my husband’s family. They have a section in the hymnal called “The Church Militant”, which my husband calls “We’re Lutherans, and we’ll kick your asses”. I’ve never experienced a more dour and joyless buncha people as a severe lutheran congregation in downtown The Fort. And not particularly friendly, either. Which I would think would be Bad if your congregation is aging and you’re not really in “a neighborhood” like you once were, to draw in new families…

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  30. Dexter said on December 8, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Since we are “on” churches, I submit a short gallery of my friend Lee Carmichael’s work, “The Texas Church Project”.

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  31. del said on December 8, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Moe, thanks for the Connick bit. Here’s some modern worship music.
    Johnc, I know what you mean about the opera singer in church. I’ll look for an Isabelle Beyrakderian (sp?) video.
    And JTMMO, amen to the symphony lists. This weekend will see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s take on Carmina Burana, which, I understand is based upon medieval poems found in a German monastery.

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  32. Bill said on December 8, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Colleen’s mention of a not-particularly-friendly LCMS congregation reminded me of an opposite extreme my wife and I once found. We were shopping for a her-church (Christian Church/Church of Christ) to go with the my-church (local One True). The Yellow Pages yielded a place on the north side of town and off we went. We arrived halfway through (they’d changed their times) to find a dull and dusty little group of older folks, but one thing they had learned well: you gotta WELCOME the VISITORS! They were on us like vampires. We politely ran, shuddering, and never went back.

    Even with the her-church we settled on, we had to run the Sunday morning grip-n-grin gauntlet.

    One awfully nice thing about large branches of the One True – you can pop in and sit in the back and be completely anonymous.

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  33. Gasman said on December 8, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    No, I don’t know Rodriguez. As a matter of fact, I had not heard of him. After checking out his concert schedule, I will watch for his appearances in the Southwest. There are surprisingly few classical guitarists playing decent sacred music. Thanks for turning me on to what appears to be an addition to that list. I too, was smitten by Contrares guitars and was all prepared to take a trip to Madrid and buy one directly from the shop. Instead I found a luthier in Michigan who made my concert instrument.

    For whomever made the observation regarding Aretha Franklin playing in a church band, if I had an opportunity to play with her, I’d gladly strap on my electric bass in church. It’s not the choice of instrument that I object to so much as the seriousness (or lack thereof) of the people with those instruments. I’ve never heard a praise ensemble that I thought was worth a damn. Granted, as someone that makes his living as a pro musician, my standards may be different than those of most of y’all in the pews. I don’t want to go to church to hear a bad garage band.

    As for opera singers in church, I’ve become rather used to them. The opera star Patricia Racette was a student at the University of North Texas while I was there. She also sang in our church choir and sat next to my wife in the soprano section for about 2 years. Many other singers that went on to be opera pros sang in St. Andrew Presbyterian’s choir including Emily Pulley. Last time I checked, Emily was still at the Metropolitan Opera.

    Here at First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe, each summer while our choir is on hiatus, our music is provided by apprentice singers from the Santa Fe Opera. If you vacation in Santa Fe during the summer months, come join us and you too can hear some truly heavenly music.

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  34. A Riley said on December 8, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Well-reviewed Chicago jazz guitarist John Moulder has a weekend job — he’s a Catholic priest. Does a fine job at both gigs.

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  35. Danny said on December 8, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Cool. I knew from your posts that we shared some musical interests.

    I’m not professional level, but I’ve played since I was young and was more or less coffee-shop level expertise in finger-style acoustic at one time. I’m somewhat more adherrant to proper classical technique than most steel-string players. I mean, I have Scott Tennant’s book, Pumping Nylon, and I used to drill with it.

    I own four guitars and a very old mandolin that used to belong to my grandfather. My two best instruments are a 1953 Martin 00-18 and a Breedlove 12-string. But I own a cheapo nylon-string for when I want that feel under my fingers. Which reminds me of when I was playing Rodrigo’s guitar.

    We’re siting around after church chatting and I’m playing Mood for a Day (Steve Howe’s tune) on his Contreras. Rodrigo magnanimously compliments me (even though it probably sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard to his ears) and then asks me what type of guitar I own. I tell him I have a couple of steel-strings and …an Aria nylon-string (which I had picked up for $125 a few years before). He says: “Hmmm, I no hear of that kind of guitar,” and I relate how it is a hundred-dollar guitar and he pauses briefly and asks, “Please, to have my guitar back?”

    The next time he visited, we sat around at coffee and I reminded him of that story and we both got a chuckle. He assured me he didn’t mean it the way it seemed, but I told him not to worry. It’s perfectly understandable for him to not want to have some drooling, dumbass finger-picker smudging up his pride and joy with which he earns a living.

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  36. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 8, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Hope Danny was not in a position to duck any falling equipment of the US Navy this afternoon — and to carry coals to Newcastle, here’s a serious shout out to the Detroit Free Press, which did a story package Thanksgiving weekend that i’ve been aggressively e-mailing around our central Ohio youth services leadership:

    Three cheers for Michigan Children’s Services allowing this kind of access and interpretation of what’s going on to the public. It isn’t helping the paper business that public officials are so hard to get useable quotes and access from to do long form journalism that reminds people why three year assignments and extended coverage is the ONLY way to tell some stories, and gets people to plunk down a buck to carry your product home.

    Good writing, good photography (given the major limits they had to work under), and great presentation on an awful subject — both Ohio and Michigan have 500+ kids each year just “age out” of foster care without any stable placement before they hit 17/18. Awful, awful problem. Good story.

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  37. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 8, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Dexter, i know why that first church is empty in your friend’s gallery (which i’ve bookmarked) — they’re all in Vegas, baby! Funny seeing the name Cranfill’s Gap again this week when i’d never heard of the place before . . . there’s a name for that.

    [Update — It’s called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon]

    The Lad is up to three hours between hurls — i’m thinking it’s a bit of food pis’ning after all. Temp is down to normal, but anything beyond mouthwash and water is of no interest, and this to the human vacuum cleaner (well, doesn’t pick up broccoli or carrots, but neither does my vacuum).

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  38. Danny said on December 8, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    I did not have to duck, but it was rather close. I am home sick today, so at least I won’t have to deal with any traffic disruptions caused by the crash.

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  39. moe99 said on December 8, 2008 at 7:15 pm


    As a singer for some years (I was lucky to be under the tutelage of Dale Warland at Macalester College in the early ’70s), I think the Carmina Burana is the closest thing you can get to orgasm while singing, it’s that much fun. And I was introduced to it, maybe 14 years ago, so I am late to the party.


    Have you heard of Carlos Nakai? His “Winter Dreams” CD is one I play at this time every year. Turns out a classmate at Macalester, James DeMars, has written some songs that he has performed. Small world.

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  40. Rana said on December 8, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Carlos Nakai is great. I will admit that large doses of his music makes for a great lullaby unless you have work to do (my dad buys his music for “meditation” aka naps) but the man himself is a wonderful performer if you get a chance to see/hear him in person. Very no nonsense, manages that nice balance of taking his work seriously, but not taking himself unduly so. I would imagine that he delights in discomfiting those wafty-headed New Agers who are full to the brim with vapid stereotypes of what Indians were and are.

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  41. joodyb said on December 8, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    in re Sacred Lite FM, i should disclose that i saw the Transiberian Orchestra last night at Xcel. Mmmm, cheesy holiday goodness. i unknew of the cultish following; very RiverDance-y. check that experience off my list. the ushers (multiple, we were accosted by; is that what they’re called now?) tell you before you enter the arena the show is two and a half hours long and there’s no intermission. does that mean you’re not allowed to leave? we did!

    Colleen, i’m thrilled to know the Church Militant’s alternate title!

    Jeff TMMO, if you’re ever in Cincinnati on a Sunday, check out Hyde Park (if you haven’t already). it pretty much tracks with with your description above. and the Casavant Freres is just getting broken in.

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  42. Deborah said on December 8, 2008 at 8:49 pm


    Loved your comment about your Santa Fe church, we will definitely check it out when we’re there during the opera season.

    In St. Louis where I lived for many years they have a pretty good opera. The director later moved on to the Santa Fe Opera, Richard Gaddes (I think I read that he moved on from there since). Anyway during opera season in St. Louis many of the performers stayed in my neighborhood, the Central West End and often hung out at one of our regular places, Bar Italia. One June 1st a few years back, my husband’s birthday, we went to this favorite neighborhood establishment for dinner and good wine as we often did. Since we knew the owners and servers really well after going there so often for so many years, when our dessert was served the entire joint broke out in the happy birthday song. Since it was one of the nights the opera folks were hanging out they chimed in. Oh my God, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The most fabulous music I’ve ever heard, A Cappella. It was amazing.

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  43. LA Mary said on December 8, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Catherine, do you go to All Saints? There’s an interesting church. I had some severely yuppie neighbors, the types who restore a Craftsman house to museum standard so you can’t touch anything, and when they had a child they decided the kid needed religion. They decided on All Saints because it was “archietecturally significant.”

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  44. alex said on December 8, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    moe — Manchester in the early ’70s? You probably know a lezzie I used to live with. And some of her loopy lefty cohorts who browbeat the hell out of me when I was fresh out of high school and didn’t know jack about shit. It left me so traumatized that my conversion to liberalism took years longer than it would have otherwise.

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  45. moe99 said on December 8, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    Alex, Macalester College, which is in St. Paul MN. Not the same as Manchester.

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  46. Catherine said on December 8, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    LAMary, I’ve been to All Saints but I attend Church of Our Saviour in San Gabriel, the second-oldest Christian church in the San Gabriel Valley (after the mission), where there is a prominent statue of General George S. Patton. It is a really lovely old church in a parklike setting, with all the features described above by Jeff. Sometime I daydream about my daughters getting married there (Marcia Cross is our most recent celebrity wedding). With all the wonderful aspects of that church, I still find myself not that comfortable with the institutional aspects of any church, specifically: 1) Seems like there’s always, eventually, some sort of nasty internecine war on the vestry/elders/what-have-you; 2) Why the pressure to get dressed up? 3) Petty conflicts blah blah blah.

    All Saints is a terrific church, very pro-marriage equality, very progressive. It’s the church that the IRS investigated recently for the rector emeritus’ sermon on what Jesus might have said about the Kerry-Bush contest. He didn’t endorse, and after a full-blown shitstorm in which many other cases of right-wing churches actually endorsing from the pulpit were brought up, the IRS backed down. But it’s that kind of church. My issue is its size — quite big — and in the past its children’s programs were not a focus. Re the architectural significance, yes, but in my book the real gem in Pasadena is St. Andrew’s, the Romanesque style Catholic church.

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  47. alex said on December 8, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Ah, Macalester. That’s what I get for reading my iBook without bifocals.

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  48. basset said on December 8, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Never been a churchgoer myself, my family wasn’t into it and I have never been in one, for work or on my own, where I felt like I belonged.

    (which is usually the cue for any evangelistic Christian within earshot to leap up and tell me the error of my ways and how THEIR church is not like all the others. Don’t bother, heard it too many times already.)

    Might get to hear “Mood for a Day” later this week, the latest iteration of Yes will be in town with Rick Wakeman’s son on keyboards, a replacement singer from a Yes tribute band and Chris Squire looking like an elementary school lunch lady.

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  49. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 8, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Basset, i won’t say going to a “Yes” concert is the same as going to worship, but if you do that, are thankful in whatever manner strikes you as appropriate for the grace and blessing of reunion touring acts, give the gospel of Luke a read and marvel at how most churches of whatever sort manage to make a hash of what the Boss is clearly teaching there, and then do something for someone who can’t do anything for you that week, i promise not to worry about you. (Can’t promise not to pray for you, but that won’t hurt, might help.)

    Truly, church is overrated.

    I’m part of a church that does what so many say can’t be done — we have semi-liturgical worship with a chancel choir and pipe organ and robed clergy, and in the same Sunday sequence we have a (i hate this word, but not the content) contemporary service with a truly gifted praise team, where the organist is one of the three rotating keyboard players, they’ve got two or three regular drummers, and a raft of guitarists and vocalists, ranging from bluesy altos and mandolin pickers to swinging sopranos and stolid (not to say Entwhistleish) bass players.

    They’d rightly affirm that they offer first fruits of their talents, and the rehearsal that it takes to work out the harmonies and the segues is much more lengthy than what the choir practice time requires. There is a strong age component to the difference between the worshiping communities at 9:20 and 11 am, but there’s older folks who stay with the contemporary service, and younger families who are very committed to the later, higher church program (8 am is almost exclusively older, but is liturgy lite and one less hymn).

    To do both types in the same congregation means lots of communication and coordination, but that’s something any three service congregation should do anyhow, even if all three services were “the same” — so it might be more of a strength than a challenge, which i keep saying.

    And the contrast is the new church start my wife is one of the key leaders for, in another corner of the county, where for three years they’ve been setting up and tearing down each Sunday, worshiping in a middle school auditorium, and they are also required to rehearse more than any church choir or organist i’ve ever known, and they do the practices in a warehouse, so they actually do much of the set/strike TWICE a week.

    They are reaching mostly people who are entirely unchurched, or have been scarred by the “suit and tie and if you aren’t related to a member why are you here” way of being a congregation. The pastor preaches sermons that are relevant to life issues in ways that more well established churches do not appreciate, as i’ve learned to my sorrow — to preach there as if there might be addicts in the pews, or secret sorrows in every row, or a need for major change in many hearts that goes beyond losing five pounds, that’s not welcome in most churches with all the bells and whistles i grew up with, even if i still appreciate ’em, Aeolian-Skinner and all.

    At my wife’s church, they lean in and listen when the pastor talks as if people right there (not “over in the mission field”) need a sign of hope in their life, or a word of counsel that will get them through a three am moment. That can end up sounding a bit canned and cheesy at times, but so can reading Rumi (the big rage these days among Methodists and Presbyterians of my acquaintance), and the willingness to serve a little cheese whiz with the rumaki is refreshing. It’s a trite critique, but no less true that i’m around lots of mainline churches that are more concerned with the right brie to put with the rumaki, and would be more horrified by cheese whiz on ritz than by the idea that Baby Jesus cries when they sniff as they walk by the Salvation Army bell ringer.

    As the Episcopal not-quite-a-joke goes, “O Lord, i will do anything for you, as long as it isn’t tacky.” More churches would benefit from a little willingness to get tacky for God. If God isn’t willing to be tacky, why did She make [insert your favorite punchline here]?

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  50. basset said on December 8, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    see, there ya go… more polite and better said than most, I’ll give him that, but more of the same, i.e. “MY church is special, we do it exactly right and not like the rest of ’em and in my kindness I will pray for you, you poor benighted heathen.” appreciate the offer but I am not worthy.

    no, don’t worry about me at a Yes concert. or a Compton & Long concert. or in the woods. or on the water. because, unlike church, I am comfortable there and feel that I am welcome and belong. I will occasionally sing Christian gospel songs at bluegrass jams but I don’t feel quite right about it.

    dunno about rumaki, but I did catch some food-snobbery over the weekend for not recognizing baked Brie at a work-related Christmas party. hell, I just thought it was some kind of pastry with cheese in the middle…

    “Whatever this is, it’s really good!”

    “That… is a baked BRIE.”

    well, excuuuuse me.

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  51. basset said on December 8, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    just Googled rumaki.

    been eating that for years, didn’t know that’s what it was called. or maybe I’m confusing it with bacon and chicken livers. or something.

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  52. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 8, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    I had to do it, or you woulda been disappointed!

    Onc’t, i took a slice of cheesecake at an office party that turned out to be a baked brie — fortunately, i didn’t take my preferred size slice of cheesecake, since that would have been a whole lotta brie goin’ on.

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  53. Danny said on December 8, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Basset, I envy you getting to see them again. Wish they were coming out west. We may never see the likes of them again…

    EDIT: Bassett, forget about Jeff’s church. Mine’s better and I can prove it. You see, I’m not the pastor at my church, which I think most here would recognize as a real plus. Jeff, on the other hand… well, nevermind.

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  54. basset said on December 9, 2008 at 12:19 am

    >I had to do it, or you woulda been disappointed!

    you can lead a horse to water, and if you can’t make him drink just hold his head under till he sees reason. it’s your duty and obligation.

    this Yes tour (or, as it says on the tickets, “Squire, Howe, and White of Yes”) is a lot smaller-scale than they’ve had in awhile; the tour schedule on Yesworld is showing a lot of 2000-seat theaters, several Houses of Blues, a couple of casinos, and even a ballroom.

    and I just saw some online video of Steve Howe’s solo spot, he touches on “Mood for a Day.” would like to see Oliver Wakeman in a gold cape surrounded by mellotrons and Minimoogs but I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

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  55. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 9, 2008 at 12:22 am

    Danny, i’m an assistant lay leader! (It’s a long story.) But i’m not the pastor . . .

    Basset, i should have started a new comment with the point about “my” church — i was meaning to shift over to talk about the “first fruits” thing and classical/traditional versus contemporary [koff] style worship, which in ChurchWorld ™ it’s widely assumed that you can’t have co-exist, like dogs and cats.

    And i really do mean it when i say “church” is overrated. Worship’s the thing, and on the water is fine . . . if you do it. The problem with most guys who say “i can worship God on a golf course as well as in church” is that they don’t, really. They swear at their putter, and maybe look up at a bird or two. If you get a sense of awe, wonder, and reflect on your thankfulness with a fishing rod in your hand, and that energizes you to help someone further on, i absolutely believe God blesses that.

    Folks who think because they sit in the right pew means God blesses their efforts need to read some Mark Twain, the later stuff. Owww. Anyhow, these days i’m a supply preacher, but when i’m home, i’m not “the pastor,” which allows me even there to preach like i think i oughta, so i got that going for me, which is nice.

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  56. Gasman said on December 9, 2008 at 12:26 am

    You made me laugh hard at your story about Rodriguez’s horror at your playing his Contrares. Scott Tennant’s “Pumping Nylon” is one of the best all around guitar technique/instruction/repertoire books around. I did happen to meet Tennant about 25 years ago when he competed in the old Guitar Toronto competition – he got second. I again met him 7 years ago when he played here in Los Alamos with the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. He is a really gifted player. I’ve played for 40 years and he impresses me. If you want to hone your right hand chops, do the Giuliani (Mauro not Rudy) studies in Tennant’s book. They are killers.

    Richard Gaddes became General Director of the SFO in the fall of 2000. I had the opportunity to play in the SFO orchestra in Gaddes’ very first production, a rare SFO fall production of “The Beggar’s Opera.” I got to know Richard reasonably well, as I worked for the SFO in one part time capacity or another continuously since 2000. This past season was his last. I thought that the company improved greatly during his tenure. He will be a hard act to follow.

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  57. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 9, 2008 at 12:40 am

    Craig Ferguson is in the middle of an amazing show tonight, speaking about his mother who died last week — depending on where you are re: CBS and the Late Late Show.

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  58. basset said on December 9, 2008 at 12:54 am

    >>most guys who say “i can worship God on a golf course as well as in church” is that they don’t, really.

    which is why I didn’t say it. I just mentioned that in some situations I am uneasy and don’t feel I belong, and in others I am just fine. nothing about worship in there.

    and I don’t play golf, anyway. tried it for several years, realized I wasn’t enjoying it, quit.

    >>If you get a sense of awe, wonder, and reflect on your thankfulness with a fishing rod in your hand, and that energizes you to help someone further on

    c’mon now, you made that up.

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  59. joodyb said on December 9, 2008 at 12:56 am

    i thought i was the only craig fan. hope i can scoop that up on the Nets somewhere later. i’m in that boat too.

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  60. basset said on December 9, 2008 at 12:57 am

    saw on Yesworld tonight that the substitute singer’s day job is repairing car and boat upholstery.

    well, it’s honest work…

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  61. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 9, 2008 at 1:12 am

    Self-indulgently — Christmas in Hogsmeade

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  62. basset said on December 9, 2008 at 1:17 am

    no offense but I could not complete that walk without opening a vein or something. that is truly depressing.

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  63. Catherine said on December 9, 2008 at 1:19 am

    There it is in a nutshell: “‘Church’ is overrated. Worship’s the thing…” Thanks, Jeff. So, why do so many churches “make a hash of it?”

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  64. alex said on December 9, 2008 at 5:27 am

    Worship is a concept that is utterly lost on me, likewise church. Neither of my parents were raised as churchgoers and this hallowed tradition continues with my generation. Yet I never fail to feel immense awe and wonder while sitting in my cushy front-row pew before the altar of CBS Sunday Morning.

    I find particular wonderment at the inclusion of Ben Stein on the program, although he does come on at the perfect interval for a toilet break before Face the Nation.

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  65. MichaelG said on December 9, 2008 at 9:19 am

    From a recovering Catholic and fellow abstainer: Great shot, Basset.

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  66. Jolene said on December 9, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Love it, Alex. I’ve been worshipping Sunday Morning for years too. The fanfare is just the thing to start the service, and all the suns are wonderful.

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  67. alex said on December 9, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Amen, Jolene. Praise be to Osgood.

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  68. Danny said on December 9, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    I always liked Charles Kuralt too. But the posthumous revelation of the “second shadow family” he had was so odd. Incongruous with his on-air persona.

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  69. joodyb said on December 9, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    ya gotta love the Midwest. Kuralt become one of his own stories.

    ah, Granville. I got married there, once. it is a lovely little town.

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