03 July 2011


Sunday again. An appropriate time to write about a church service. But you're not expecting the kind I'm going to write about.

In my early teens I discovered a recording of what was called a mass, and which had some of the features of the Roman rite I was learning about. But other parts of it were very different. There was a rock band, a jazz band, and at one point the priest threw the bread and wine to the ground. It shocked me, even though I wasn't Catholic.

But it also fascinated me, because it talked about faith in very blunt ways I never heard at my own church. Soft bluesy riffs with lyrics like "I believe in one god, but then I believe in three. I'll believe in twenty gods, if they'll believe in me. That's a pact, shake on that, no going back." Imagine something like that alongside a very neo-classical and exuberant Gloria Patri, Gloria Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, sung by the celebrant and a children's choir. The mix of medieval, classical, modern, jazz, rock all jumbled together was like nothing I'd ever heard.

And the early teenage boy in me loved the catchy and edgy song about the creation of the earth and how humanity had gradually become more and more corrupt: "God said let there be light, and there was day to follow the night, and it was good brother, and it was good brother, and it was good brother, and it was goddamn good." Youtube vids of the Mass are surprisingly few, but here's a video of that particularly delightful part, done admirably by a Lithuanian orchestra and chorus of all things! And the lyrics are worth reading since you may not understand everything from the chorus. Some delightfully cynical stuff (e.g. "God said it's good to be poor. Good men must not be secure. So if we steal from you, it's just to help you stay pure.")

It's no secret to anybody who reads this blog that I have had growing differences of opinion with the Mormon tradition in which I grew up. How could I not, having come out of the closet a few years ago. Most gay Mormons end up leaving the church entirely because they realize if they go along with the church's demands for personal belief and behavior, it becomes impossible for them to live happy fulfilled lives. I've seen many friends, gay and straight, decide the LDS church isn't for them, and they end up agnostic or even atheist. This is logical; if you leave one strict, authoritarian, demanding religious tradition and don't trust it anymore, why would you want to find and affiliate with another? How could you trust any of them after you'd decided one was not credible?

So it's been interesting for me to explain to friends like this why I retain my Christian faith. It's not the same as it used to be, certainly. But those basics still make more sense to me than any other explanation for life and the eternities, and I still try to live by them. Like so many other paradoxes in life, I find my faith becoming simpler and more complex at the same time. Simpler in that I feel myself gradually focusing on a smaller list of fundamentals; faith, hope and charity. And more complex in my increasing comfort with ambiguity, incompleteness, different levels of meanings, different sources of truth. With not knowing, after being raised in a church that relentlessly stresses knowing and certainty and shames any confessions of doubt. Today I said out loud "Is it possible to be a Christian Buddhist?" It was a serious question. Yeah, like I said, simpler and more complex at the same time.

And after all these years I've realized that's what I liked about Leonard Bernstein's Mass. It throws everything into the pot, everything in life. The high church classical, the street musicians, the formally robed celebrant, the scruffy busker and sultry lounge singer. All are children of God. All at different stages of life and faith. They're not all in white shirts and suits and floral print dresses. And in the Mass, even the celebrant experiences a loss of faith. But then starts to find it again. Maybe that's the message that resonated with me back in my teens, when I couldn't quite articulate why. Life is so much more complex than I was being told at church, but it's possible to keep your faith even in the rough and tumble that is the real world.

So here is one of my favorites from Bernstein's Mass, it's called A Simple Song. I loved it the first time I heard it, and have sung it a lot myself ever since. Still do. BTW, "lauda laude" means "praise, highest praise."

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