Thursday, November 18, 2010

moth's powder (11.anotherthursday.04)


dear moth's powder,

to continue, i suppose, that last letter was not to say that people cannot possibly sing a song incorrectly. i suppose. if you've ever been in church with me - and of course, you haven't so you will simply have to trust me, at least right now - you'd know that when directing a choir or playing the organ or just sitting the the back of the church as a kid, listening (would it make me immature if i said, even last week?) i would laugh at the things i'd hear, things that didn't make sense, songs that were sung, i suppose, incorrectly. i suppose. this showed up most of the time when we had visitors to our church or when we went to visit other churches for afternoon services at churches with whom we fellowshipped. my brother and i would notice how people would sing the same songs we knew but with subtle differences. of course, you'd have to be part of the pentecostal world to really appreciate it. but we loved to sing, for example, one song as

i believe god, i believe god / i believe god will do what he said

no matter what problems may bring / i believe, i believe god

but then we'd be somewhere else, some other such pentecostal church but they'd say

i believe god, i believe god / i believe god can do anything

no matter what problems may bring / i believe, i believe god

of course. the slight difference between "will do what he said" and "can do anything" is illusory to most. the rhythm was ostensibly the same. the repetition and the sentiment, pretty much consistent. but my brother and i'd hear this and we'd look at each other and smirk just a bit. not only smirk, i suppose, but we would want our correcting voices to be heard, so over the incorrectness, we'd say as loudly as possible - even if only to each other - will do what he said! - forcefully. well. it was a moment to articulate difference as inherently part of the pentecostal world in which we were part. it was cool because we'd notice the difference without being able to account for it or name what it meant. all we knew to do was keep singing what we knew the words to be a bit louder. it became an occasion for us to laugh with each other at them. it wasn't disparaging or anything like that. they would take our well-worn testimony service songs (this, well before the advent of powerpoint and screens, at least in our churches) and enunciate them with different lyrics. they "messed up" our song. of course, the songs never belonged to us in the first place. and i guess that was the power of the point.

we weren't right but we weren't wrong either. the powerpoint in churches today seems to give everyone the correct words, seeking to eliminate the difference that only my brother and i could hear, which is cool, i suppose. i don't like when Tina - and it is always Tina - gets words wrong when we are singing. and she always gets them wrong unless she has the words to whatever song right in front of her. but what can we laugh at now? i guess the problem for me is that there seems to be all this attention being given to regulating and removing as much of the uncontrollable and unplanned possibility, to reduce spirit to modes of acceptability and calculation.

and, i don't know, it just seems wrong and we never tried to sing those songs perfectly, we just tried to sing them so others would sing and we'd all be a part and dance together. and i know that lyrics and correction are all about doing things together but what about people who don't read as quickly or don't care about the "right" words or whatever. and no one really cared if you sang the wrong words or wrong notes and no one was concerned that you bent a note a bit or were a bit flat during your repetition. it was all about enjoyment and empowerment and boldness and bonding, about the desire to move others as you were so moved. well. the bishop who started our little church was always known to say that he disliked choirs and hymnals, not because they couldn't usher in the spirit, but because he felt they left most of the congregation out of the sonorous world of music and that the congregation would become an audience who had to be entertained but not engaged. maybe he was right.

there seems to be all of this attention to who owns what sound and who wrote what song and to making sure that we sing their song the "right" way. that's why public domain songs that we sang during testimony service can be so powerful to me, that they lend themselves to being reworked and performed differently based on location. what we sing up here is different than how they sang in oakland or new orleans or brooklyn or boston or detroit. each location seems to have its own style. though my brother and i smirked, we didn't get mad. it actually made us very happy to notice the differences, it let us know that there were other ways to sing the same song.

my father would always tell me about this one bishop who "preached his best messages when he was drunk." well. that statement - and he said it just enough times for me to know that he was speaking the truth - was such an odd statement to make for someone who thought about holiness as a lifestyle and not just a sunday thing. but i think i finally get what he meant then. or, even if i don't, i've made something from it. i mean, what does it mean for one to produce failure against that which they espouse? or, not really failure necessarily, but the otherside, the underside, the underground, the underneath of perfection? what does it mean to try to create imperfection perfectly? everyone who knew this bishop existed - in relation to him - by having this kinda-sorta knowledge of a man they kinda-sorta knew could not and would not live the very thing he preached and it was in that space of what we typically call contradiction that he was able to move himself and others by and into the spirit most fully. and who wants to bear the weight of being perfect anyway? it's a standard created that he - really, anyone - could never inhabit and it's sorta boring and lonely there anyway.

of course, i'm thinking of the sermon someone preached at our church recently. i disagreed so much that when he "tuned up," i didn't play anything. just kinda-sorta sat there staring at him, bewildered because i couldn't figure out how he'd gotten the story so wrong. he preached about how the church is too accomodationist these days, how we should, rather, "gird up our loins" and "forge ahead" and how "we need to still preach holiness or hell." hell, alright. what bothered me most, though, was his long-ass rant about how "the church has turned into a social club," as if that's such a bad thing. makes me wonder: do preachers actually ever pay attention to what the Jesus they say they believe in actually ever did? like, really? if anything, Jesus created what we might call a social...a new social, a new way to be with others in the world that we all inhabit. and hell, the people he intentionally created this new social with were the people you'd find in clubs anyway. all the outcasts, the sick folks, the drunks, the gamblers, people who danced (really, his first miracle was turning water into wine to get everyone at the party to get it in).

the problem with dude's sermon - now, true, he is only fourteen years old and was merely parroting what he heard many others say without really thinking about its truth or efficacy; him trying to be deep as hell in the shallow end of the pool - but the problem with dude's sermon was not the characterization of the church as a social club. no. the problem was that he thinks this an ongoing failure, an ongoing imperfection in need of change, in need of intentional correction and regulation. he pretty much wants to remove all of the difference that makes the social in the first place and Jesus would likely be thrown out too...i suppose.

but i'm sure you're all confused now about choirs and drunk preachers and social clubs. well. but isn't the point of all that music i'm sure you like and you know i love that in its liveness, in the church when its performed and you're there laughing at the misses and problems and different words atop the same structure, isn't the point of all that that a new social is created constantly by folks who recognize the beauty of imperfection and the ruse of its desired antithesis? us singing at our church the same song differently - and with style - than they do in brooklyn complicates and holds up to scrutiny the notion of perfection itself. thankfully.

ever been in church and experience someone - not forget the words while singing - but sing until overwhelmed and overcome with sentiment and emotion that they lose words but in that very loss, just buried beneath the word's surface, emerges meaning given through a new social. kids smirk at each other, teenagers wail and make their voices heard from the pew to fill in the empty sonic space, Sister Joseph quickens, Deacon Jones shouts yessss and Missionary Davis dances. through the singer's overwhelment and overcoming - in the break when words are lost - spirit washes over and through and under the congregants and everyone rejoices. some such one outside this community might say that a scene like that would be illustrative of the failure of the singer to sing. this such one, of course, would be seeking perfection rather than the social. and that choir wanted to shut us out. and that fourteen year old preacher wanted to shut us out. but that drunk bishop? he knew something about the beauty of imperfection.

are you well? i pray...


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