Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Jack Mormon and Secular Shi’ite Go To Church.

I wish I had a good punchline to that, or even a good descriptive adjective about kind of church we went to, besides the repeated "progessive protestant." It should merit a good joke, but what follows is pretty damned earnest. Sorry


My honey, whom I’ve decided to refer online by what would be his jihad name, Mohammed al-Tehrani, had spoken a number of times about how inspiring he’d found this one sermon he’d heard by senior minister at the church next to where I live. I’d vaguely indicated my curiosity for months, even though attending church instinctively has always signified for me Going Back To Church. Rationally, however, I know that not all churches are the same, that this church is exceptionally open, and so, when the subject came up again, we held hands and jumped.

I had been terribly worried that people would either stare—who are you?—or try to bring me into the fold with cloying hospitality. So the first moment, when we broke through a gaggle of teenagers in the entry-way to the information-desk, was perfect: I asked the be-hatted woman behind the desk, “We’re looking to go to the service?” and she broke into a beautiful smile and replied exactly, “Up the stairs to the right.” And that characterized my experience at that Church.

Read on for religion-based identity crises.
Mohammed has far fewer hang-ups about the rituals of religion than I do. Mohammed can pick up any old hymnal and sing the music with full gusto. Liberal-ish Christian churches of one denomination or another are pretty much all he’s ever known, and always as an outsider—usually as the hired accompanist, sometimes as the choir director.

I envy him this neutrality: I kept feeling proud of myself for following the tune-lines of unfamiliar hymns, scrutinizing the program for denominational signifiers, cringing when prayers actually mentioned political causes with which I absolutely agree, marvelling at the truly multicultural congregation. I’m still trying to understand my almost tearful joy that a female reverend read from the pulpit and helped consecrate the offering.

Mohammed, taking the ceremony of consecration at the words offered by the reverends—words of peace, community, sharing—ate the bread and grape juice. I couldn’t.

Not taking the sacrament, in my branch at least, was a mechanism of discipline: you didn’t take it if, for some very private reason, you felt that you hadn’t deserved it. If I noticed who didn’t take the sacrament, I learned to respect their privacy; their reasons could be minute.

Almost as soon as I saw the cups and platters unveiled, I knew I wouldn’t eat and drink. Guilt? certainly, but also a fear of feeling like a fraud. And there’s still this wild, uncontrollable pride in me that revolts at feeling comfortable within a church that reflects my adult beliefs and preferences. A voice that worries, in my living grandmother’s voice, “Well, I’m sure that’s very convenient for you, Jackmormon, and I hope you’re happy, but your great-grandfather didn’t think about such things...”

Postscript: A few days later, Mohammed and I were banging out some hymns on the piano. (I had brought my LDS hymnal over to his place, so that I’d have a chance of finding some easy music to play on his piano.) Suddenly he lunged forward, flipped through the book, and started back: “There’s something deeply fucked up about your religion, Jackmormon.”

What?, I asked.

“None of your hymns are in the minor key. None of them!”

Well, that actually fits with some Christian theological criticisms of Mormon theology, I replied.

“There’s a giant hole! No minors! What are you going to do without the minor!.”

Later, still worried about the lack of the minor in Mormon music, he said, "Of course, music isn't allowed in my religion, I guess."

That's complicated to respond to, since he's taught me (to try to play) the hottt, Classical Iranian 6/4 on the Classical Iranian tombek.

So it's "That's not what you told me about Hafez," and so, to bed.

But the better it goes between us, the sooner he'll have to confront real Mormons, not just my intellectual shadows of them. His family is snobbish but secular; mine is religious, yet snobbish. Endless room for either comedy or tragedy; should I be grateful we're not there yet?

10 Comments:

Anonymous I don't pay:

I can identify with him. United Church of Canada, then United Presbyterian Church, USA, now Reform Judaism, music has been the great road for all of them.
My wife is grateful for the embrace of her faith, but is taken aback by the extent my feelings there and elsewhere are evoked and stimulated by music. The University Chorus I belong to has acquainted me with Masses and their liturgies, I literally cried at the American Experience about the Carter family last year, and on and on.

"Religion has put its faith in the fact, the supposed fact, and now the fact is failing it. But for poetry, the idea is everything" And for music too.

6/08/2006 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I can identify with him, too, but my theological impulse demands, demands, demands. He's pretty much convinced that Bach is the way to God, if God were interesting, if God existed. It's a lot, but not enough for me. Not yet.

6/08/2006 10:07:00 PM  
Anonymous mrh:

I think one could argue that Reform Judaism, as a movement, is in the key of A minor.

6/09/2006 07:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Becks:

Really great post, JM.

6/09/2006 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Katherine:

1. if you want to be authentic about his jihad name, you have to make sure to spell it slightly differently every time you write it.

2. music definitely matters, and it helps for it to be old, in another language, and sometimes in the minor key.

3. what do you mean, mrh, about Reform Judaism being in A minor? I think I agree, but could you elaborate?

6/10/2006 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I asked Mohammad Tehrani (thanks for the tip, Katherine!) to play me an A minor chord, and it's indeed a pretty rocking chord, but I'd also like to hear more about its deep connection to Reform Judaism.

Mormon hymns, it seems, are almost all in either C or G major. We found one that was a C major generic Protestant hymn with a music-hall Spanish song trying to break out in the middle of it; it was the saddest thing I've sung for years.

6/10/2006 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger Katherine:

What I interpreted it as meaning was that Reform Judaism does not gloss over the hard questions or the dark side--horrors, at times-- of this world, or purport to know much about the next one, or the difficulty in reconciling this with an all powerful, all knowing God. As a result of which, it's not comforting as some other religions would be if you actually believed in them. But it's something, and you can actually believe it. And you can go to services and get something out of them even if you're agnostic-leaning-atheist (so my husband says.)

6/10/2006 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger The Modesto Kid:

He's pretty much convinced that Bach is the way to God, if God were interesting, if God existed. It's a lot, but not enough for me.

And clearly not for him either, right? ("if God were interesting, if God existed.")

6/12/2006 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

Hmm. I don't really know the answer to that, and I'm suddenly very shy about speaking for him, Anacreon, but I'd guess that it would depend a great deal on what "God" meant.

6/12/2006 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger The Modesto Kid:

Sure -- I don't mean to put you on the spot, JM -- that was not at all my intention. Just that for someone to say approximately (as I have in my time approximately said), "If I were religious it would be because of the music", amounts to saying that the music is not enough to inspire belief.

6/13/2006 10:17:00 AM  

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