Tuesday, December 15, 2009
A Friend in Jesus (I)
Now I went to a Methodist boarding school and I've done my share of pew-sitting and hymn-book bothering, but the Jesus I was peddled was a jolly good sport. He excelled on the rugby field, but was never a sore loser. He abhorred cheating, bullying and drinking to excess. And in order to give JC a hand with that last one, the vicar ran the sixth form bar, making sure us sixteen year olds never went over our two-can limit. Those, as I recall, were the Scrumpy Jack years.
The Jesus we were praisin' at the Brooklyn Tabernacle seemed like a different fellow altogether, someone charming and charismatic, with an exacting taste in music and spectacle. In school we prayed apologetically, with heads bowed and eyes closed; here palms were raised to the ornate, opera-house ceiling, as if to catch the Glory raining down, and no-one mumbled over their Aay-mens and Hallelujahs. Now I love a hymn as much as the next girl, but back at school the choir's major attraction had been the A-House boys who sung in it. Here the music was praise, both tithe to and manifest evidence of the Almighty. And we got to clap along.
It was the Tabernacle's Christmas show, and we showed up an hour early, like the website said, to find all the best seats already taken by canny folk saving seats for their people. The crowd was a mix of black, white, Hispanic and Asian; out-of-towners and locals; people, like us, soon sweating in their Sunday best and others (the tourists? the real Christians?) in jeans and soggy sneakers.
We'd all come for the music. After telling a friend from Alabama about our expedition to Harlem to hunt out Gospel, he'd pointed out we had one of the most famous choirs in the world a block and a half from our apartment. In fact we'd walked past the Sunday service queue before, without ever really stopping to wonder why all those women in powder blue suits and pillbox hats would bother to line up there every week when there were more churches than bodegas in this part of town.
But now we were joining them, politely scrimmaging for the last few decent seats, then flapping leaflets about, trying in vain to cut a breeze through the fug.
Just as we were getting restless, the light dimmed. Everyone sat up a little straighter and shushed their grandkids. Showtime.