What happens at those revival meetings? —Catholic in Karns
Boy, did you catch me at the right time! I spent last weekend at the Franklin Graham Festival.
Ever since moving to Knoxville I’d been hearing about McCarthy-esque comings-to-Jesus under the Jackson Avenue bridge, about MySpace-page renunciations at teen prayer camp in Seymour, about tent meetings on the lawn of the Original Freez-O.
At the last Metro Pulse Christmas party, a friend told me he’d been to a Mechanicsville tabernacle where the singing was so fiery (“He’s marvelous!”), it made him swear aloud in his pew.
That pierced me. As a post-Vatican II North American Catholic, perhaps like you, I was born into a musical trough between the chant and responses sung in Latin, and the folk Mass.
By the time of my Confirmation—junior high—the trough had become a crater, a shallow depression harboring no other musical forms, the capo’ed strumming of the St. Louis Jesuits—that’s a band—bouncing off its walls. In a parish-hall closet after Easter Vigil, I confessed my love for Peter Frampton to a pile of coats. Red wine was a factor; the similarity of “Running Streams,” by John Foley, CSJ, to “Baby, I Love Your Way,” a greater factor still.
Crater became abyss. Imagine falling for 30 years. Now imagine falling for 30 years and making the same sound the whole time: a breathy, Dopplering “aaah,” the backing vocal to “We Are Many Parts,” by Marty Haugen.
Here’s the mystery: Just because modern Catholic church music—they call it “liturgical”; I always think “regurgitated”—was and is bad does not mean it doesn’t work on me. On the contrary: I have to fight back tears ramping up to the chorus of “Here I Am, Lord” by Dan Schutte. Even when I see them coming. Especially then. The sere beauty of a Byrd motet does not have this effect on me. Cat Stevens does. Are you like that?
So it was with a secret desire in my heart that I went to Thompson-Boling Arena last weekend. I envied the Protestants of Knoxville their congregational singing, their wide-ranging canon, their spontaneity as they segued between spoken word and song, like people in Cats.
What I really wanted was to solve the mystery of my tears. I’d seen the late Tammy Faye Bakker spout mascara many a time. Maybe it was OK to cry at a prayer meeting, where everybody else was blubbering away. And if it was okay to cry, maybe I wouldn’t.
Overall, Ricky Skaggs did some strong picking, an interesting complement to Franklin Graham’s message, which revolved around lepers. But when he dug into “The Old Crossroad,” it triggered a wild, bell-like explosion in my heart, and set my lip to quivering.
Michael W. Smith, who, like Marty Haugen, is many parts—Bono, Lance Armstrong, John Tesh come to mind—in one body, was mistakenly introduced as Michael Jackson, recovered with a few bars of “Billie Jean,” and proceeded to run the hall like Pat Summit. Ever laugh at the title of that song, “My God Is an Awesome God?” Over and over again, Smith’s right hand would leave the piano to dally the thousands of us in, and not once could I finish the line without choking up. “My God is an awesome Goch—”; “awesome Gol—”; “awesome Glk—.”
It’s like this: the simpler the melody, the more naive the lyric, and the more intimidating the environment, the greater the depths from which my tears bubble up. Israel Houghton led us in his Christian chart topper, “I Am a Friend of God.” I could get through that OK—this was only Friday, mind you. But not the last line of the chorus, “He calls me friend.”
Scripture aside, is there a more vapid lyric on children’s public television? I bawled like an infant.
I know: I’m supposed to be giving the answers here. But why, Lord? m
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