Gloomy Easter morn, but a fine weekend. Got my dose of Vitamin Church on Good Friday; Gnat sang in a choir large enough to handle Mahler’s Eighth. Very charming, if somewhat disconcerting; since the pastor told the entire story of the life of Jesus, the choir began with “Away in a Manger,” which has childhood Christmas-time parka & galoshes connotations. The rest of the hymns were standard fare, and again – as usual – I wondered why we sang these hymns, why we had this style of music. The meters never vary; the language is from the Honest Abe era, and the general tune-vibe brings to mind images of dust-bowl tent revivals, where some old lady in a faded dress clutches a Bible to her bony bosom as the pianist pounds out “Old Rugged Cross” and other slabs of piety-glazed boilerplate for the seven-hundredth time. I’ve just never liked hymns, that’s all. Spiritual yearning parcelled out in small squares, like Hershey bars. And they’re always pitched six steps above my range, so I can either belt them out and alarm the pewmates or whine them through my nose and give myself a headache.
The imagery never quite clicked, either: the old "Rugged" Cross makes it sound like it’s Built Ford Tough. Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, let me hide myself in thee? As a kid you imagine yourself wedged into an elderly stone. (Which has a hairlip.) Of course there’s the transportation of the Sheaves, which are brought in amid much rejoicing. None of this stuff makes much of an impression on a child. And when the lyrics say “O come Emmanuel” and you actually have an uncle whose last name is Emmanuel, it’s more confusing. You expect everyone to start singing about Bringing in the Johnsons and hiding them in the rugged old rock-gash.
Not all churches rely on the 19th century Hot 100, of course – I’ve visited a megachurch where the music was so brassy and modern and upbeat you would not have been surprised if Johnny Olsen read the Gospel lesson and Pastor Bob Barker came through gigantic sliding doors. I have too much cradle-infused Lutheranism in me to cotton to Gospel; in my church, when people started shouting and clapping like that you’d wrestle them to the ground and put tongue depressors in their mouths. We did have a “with-it” phase in which guitars were introduced, but this meant 47-verse somnambulantly strummed renditions of “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.” I figure that would have occurred to Michael eventually, and he probably didn’t enjoy being ordered around like that. There was another song we sang at Church Camp, set to the tune of “What do you do with a drunken sailor.” It may actually have been the drunken sailor lyrics, now that I think of it. No one seemed alarmed at the immediate conclusion of the inebriate’s shipmates: Oh Lord We’ve Got To Drown Him, Oh Lord We’ve Got to Drown Him. Seems a harsh penalty for a rather common condition, particularly among the sailing community. And when must we drown him? Why, “earl-eye in the morning.” So do we all wait for sunrise, or do we get a few hours of bunk-time in, then wake up and drown him? Help me out here.
Since the songs weren’t doing anything for me, I engaged in the other idle church pasttime: judging my neighbor's clothing. The idea of dressing up for church seems lost. Not entirely – some of the moms wore their pre-Easter best, and one a few rows in front was not only 25 or so and attired in comely pastels, but had her hair done in a Marlo Thomas flip. I hadn’t seen that in a while. Behind her was a young mom whose shirt had no intention of getting within six inches of her belt. All around, young men slouching in slouchwear, slouchily, with sneakers and T-shirts. It’s Casual Good Friday! The entire Itchy Church Pants Imperative seems gone. Let him who is without decent shoes cast the first stone-washed jeans, or whatever. If I live long enough I’ll probably see the Supreme Court pose for a group photo wearing Hawaiian shirts and Speedos.
And there were women without hosiery! Okay, I’ll shut up now.
No, really: if you can’t be bothered to wear a collar to church or jury duty, then you have a different conception of “Grown Up” than I do. You might possibly resent the term in the first place. Tonight at the park I saw a little boy, couldn’t have been more than two, toddling around wearing a clip-on tie. Looked right for an Easter evening. He'll probably refuse to wear it in 10, 12 years, regard it as some phoney yoke imposed by the Council for Arbitrary Gender Signifiers of 1066 AD. But pity the fellow who never wears a tie, and finds himself standing before the mirror on the day of his father's funeral, unable to make the simplest knot, and wondering what else he never learned.
What’s all this hair doing in my ears? And it’s grey!
No, it was good to go. Got to see Pastor Bud, who baptized me in Fargo and baptized Gnat here in Mpls four decades later. Walked out hand in hand with daughter into the glorious April noon, bells pealing, birds singing, sun blaring like a Berloiz Requiem, with the sure knowledge of what laid ahead: tearing Stroggs a new one in “Quake 4.” But that’s another entry.
The next two weeks will see diminished entries; I have too many accumulated responsibilities that can’t be ignored. The email box is ridiculous, the bin of packages overflowing, and I owe about three years of thank-you notes. And I think I have to get a different book proposal out. Plus write all the columns. So: this page will be up and running M-F, as usual, but it might be smallish until May. There will be the usual updates. (Did the Wednesday movie on Saturday night, based on something I shot the previous weekend. In this game, you have to think ahead.) Anyway – new Match & Quirk. Thanks for your patience in the next few weeks, and I’ll see you tomorrow.