Christians began to celebrate the second exodus of Calvary/empty tomb, just as the Israelites had celebrated the first exodus from Egypt/Red Sea.
First, there’s Loren. At forty, he’s been milking cows long enough to know it’s his calling. He’s not rich, but his debts aren’t wrestling him off his tractor either. Mornings, he’s up at an hour most of us never see on the face of a clock. Middays, there’s always something to do on the dairy. Late afternoons, he and the bossies go at it for another round. That’s the way his days have gone for twenty years.
When Sundays come, he wants things served up in church the way they’ve always been. He doesn’t want to be scrambling around for his liturgy sheet just to see when the collection is being taken. Sunday is a day of rest, he figures, even in church.
Loren thinks of his three–year hitch on Good Shepherd’s worship committee in the same way he remembers his two years in the army—except, only one tour had real combat. That was the worship committee. For three years he and I argued over any slight change. Tall and slim, he saw himself on the committee as a long–handled emergency brake, the kind that had to be jerked up between the seats of old Volkswagens. To him, playing with worship was like fiddling with good old meat–and–potatoes.
Then there’s Jennifer. When Jennifer was nine, her piano teacher, Miss Antonette, told her she had real talent. She did. What she had, in addition to a love of music, was the power–packed wrists of a boy. She could bang ivories like some Dixieland king.
At thirteen, she could play every hymn in the New Christian Hymnal, so she started playing piano in her church. Deeply in love with a guy who laid bricks, she gave up college to get married when she was eighteen, and the two of them came to Good Shepherd just a few years ago. Whatever she learned of music history, she learned from John W. Schaum.
I’m the third party. I’m educated. You can tell, I suppose. I’m the chair of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd.
Jennifer played piano last week for our Spring Prayer Service, forgoing the organ’s limited range for some real breathtaking power on the keyboard. The pieces she played were familiar enough—one of them was "How Great Thou Art"—but under her supercharged wrists, both pieces turned completely inside out. If they had been automobiles, they would have been gloriously finned, ’59 Cadillacs, complete with fender skirts and a chrome continental tire above the lowered rear fender. If they had been hairdos, they would have been those ratted monstrosities of the early sixties, puffed up like cotton candy.
Jennifer’s hands tore the pieces into frills, Bev Shea’s favorite coming out half baroque and half honky–tonk, all of it blown to inhuman decibel levels. In a word, it was garish. Later, when her tantrum on the keys turned the postlude into sheer spectacle, I decided the Lord meant me to be an Anglican. Each trill leaped up my spine.
The service itself was fine, but listening to Jennifer’s performance was like being forced to chew up large sheets of aluminum foil.
When I turned out of my pew and searched for an exit, there was Loren looking right at me, the man whose rock–hard conservatism I’d fought for three long years.
I tried to smile. I tried my very best to be sweet; after all, we were just coming out of church.
"Don’t you just love the way Jennifer plays?" he said, eyes rolling in ecstasy. "I could sit and listen to her all night."
Now, I’m an educated person. I’m the chair of the worship committee. But what could I say? I just cranked that smile up and kept it there as if I were running for office.
Recently I read somewhere that the committee putting together the new Methodist hymnal got a threatening letter from a woman who claimed that if they didn’t stop fiddling with the words of her favorite songs, she’d put a curse on them.
Such a story doesn’t surprise me. Jennifer and Loren and I have tastes so widely varied that (–aici nu se intelege– som ies) it seems as if we can hardly sit in the same nave.
And it isn’t hard to understand why we tangle. Second only to the Bible, our worship language—the liturgy and the music—is the most meaningful language we use. The three of us hold our tastes almost sacred. Yet, in worship, we have to settle on a lyric and some melody in order to produce the harmony that God’s ears hear as praise.
That sure isn’t easy. Ask any of us.