A cynic would say: well that’s just what happens when races clash. Dress it up in whatever language you like, but ultimately there will be winners and there will be losers. The guy with the big stick gets to call the tune.
In the light of this discussion I thought it relevant to post this piece which I wrote in response to an article Canterbury Cathedral Old Choristers Association journal by one of my closest boyhood friends (whom I've never met since), who had a successful career as a jazz drummer with some q celebrated English groups, but ultimately felt a vocation to the Anglican priesthood.
Some of my most abiding ethical roots are grounded in my childhood Psalm singing. I quote these verses from memory as they’ve always stayed with me:
Keep innocency, take heed to the thing that is right: for that shall bring a man peace at the last. –
Commit thy way unto the Lord, and put thy trust in him, and he shall bring it to pass. –
I have been young, and now am old; and yet saw I never the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread. [Whoever wrote that never freelanced for a media corporation!]
And finally Ps49, Man being in honour hath no understanding; but may be compared unto the beasts of the field which perish. [or as William Goldman succinctly put it: ‘In Hollywood noone knows anything.’]
Winter evensongs, where the choir often outnumbered the civilians (& thus under Equity rules would not have been obliged to perform!) remain an abiding definition of the purity of true worship. To this day I detest applause. Why, in the name of…?? I recently had a dream in which I saw the interior of Canterbury Cathedral without choir stalls, screen or any ornaments as a naked building: and that expresses my sense of what a mother church needs to be: Christianity stript of the accretions of time & tradition as these mask its rebirth as an ethical force by slowly turning into objects of veneration instead of vehicles for it.
As a former pupil of [cathedral organist] Allan Wicks, I regret that my life doesn’t often have space for organ playing, and thus this year I went to discuss the question of taking up the post of organist & choirmaster in my village, which has a good instrument & a choir which can call on a lot of enthusiastic singers locally – but after going to a Eucharist I really couldn’t stomach the pre-Darwinian faith statements: tho I have no difficulty whatever with the Bible as a kind of bardic poetry which, like Early Music, forms a numinous hotline to ‘palæo-emotional’ worlds foreign to 21stC consciousness. I say this having just taken 5 years to read the Bible cover-to-cover in the light of contemporary archaeology, prehistoriography and scholarship,
My difficulty with the so-called apostolic tradition is exemplified by my recent time in California, where I took the opportunity to study the Catholic church’s relationship with the ‘first nations’. I’ll spare you the details; suffice it to say that to many peoples around the world the name of Christ is more associated with cruelty & dislocation than with love or inclusion. Slavery, forced conversions and the centuries of religious persecution shaped the current world, and it seems to me that the mainstream churches need formally to acknowledge their own participation (as German Protestants did with Nazism) before they can be renew themselves as spiritual powerhouses.
There have of course been remarkable Christians who have understood these issues: Anglicans Trevor Huddlestone & Donald Reeves, both Rectors of St James’s Piccadilly, among them: but that does not appear to be the direction in which contemporary Anglicanism is heading. My own attempts to interest Wiltshire churches in coming to hear a visiting Sufi were met with a comically antediluvian set of responses.
Apart from dear naive Hewlett Johnson’s popular Sunday evening sermons about the marvels of Communist society,* or Canon Standon’s ‘cricket commentary sermons’ where runs would be scored according to his gestures, my one abiding memory of a Canterbury sermon was that of a visiting preacher in about 1958. I've no idea of his name, but remember as he processed between the choir stalls behind a verger how diffident & uncomfortable he appeared in a borrowed cassock & surplice amid the pomp of ecclesiastical ceremony. However, once in the pulpit this youngish man spoke eloquently & authoritatively without notes about the churches’ responsibility to the developing world. Most of the content went over my 12 yearold head, but I do remember the immense stir it created, and Canon Bickersteth’s aside to Precentor Lawson after the dismissal prayers: “I shouldn’t be surprised if that young man ends up as one of the church’s martyrs.“ Therefore I understand that churches can be vehicles for such ‘enthusiasm’ just as the most stolid orchestra can be galvanised by a charismatic conductor. It's just that, for me, other vehicles do it better.
My own life, which has included several profound spiritual experiences, most recently in front of an ikonostasis in Moscow, but I have found my most sustained source of transformation throu Quaker worship, which my wife & I practice every morning we're together. (She is often away for extended periods, currently 3 months, in her profession as a costume designer.) Tho if I have a regret, it is that as a result of being brought up in the Society of Friends our kids don’t know any hymns.
For 10 years I was coordinator of the Ethics/Spirituality/Philosophy Field of the Big Green Gathering (an alternative to Glastonbury’s assimilation into the mainstream) and had the privilege of hosting a number of remarkable speakers from the gamut of faiths. The thing that I observed with sadness was that, generally, representatives of the established Christian denominations were unable to get off the high horses of their traditional right to privilege, and thus utterly failed to communicate with festival-goers in the way that Buddhists, Krishna-folk and other even weirder sects did – as the growth and energy of their movements attest.
How does all of this relate to my work as a musician? Very intimately. A visionary percussionist few will have heard of named Frank Perry once said to me: “When I'm over there, I'll be able to hear the effect of everything I did here: so I'm extremely careful not to make any sounds I don’t want to spend eternity with.“ I used to get deprest that none of my ‘heart music’ seems likely to come out in my lifetime – as opposed to all the cheap & cheerful claptrap I wrote during my broadcasting career. But now actually I can cherish in its silence the beauty of those winter cathedral evensongs, an ageless mysticism exprest by the 15thC Urdu poet Kabir: ‘The unstruck drum of Eternity is sounded within me. The dance of God goes on without hands and feet. The harp of God is played without fingers, it is heard without ears: For the universal ear is hirself the hearer.’
What I have come to worship is the privilege of Life, flowing like a spring from an invisible source we can only wonder at. The bigger picture clicked into place for me when I saw that evolution and love are simply expressions of the same dynamic of re-growth which exists in all organic matter. And, yes, I see the persona of Christ as central to the unfolding manifestation of divine wisdom in human experience – but as a facilitator of the flow, not as a rock standing up in the river’s natural path.
The stained-glass sound of Anglican psalm chanting has a profoundly beautiful meditative quality, yet like all ritual it can also serve to mask the passionate urgency of the life & death issues which the psalmist faced, and which face any-and-every-one who engages personally with the Spirit in their lives.*The ‘Red Dean’ wore a pectoral cross given him by Stalin. I can vividly remember the outraged incredulity on my grandmother’s face as he held it up to her, in the reception after my Confirmation, as proof of Stalin’s commitment to the place of faith in his new society.
What I would add as a postscript to this, is that I think the real challenge in life is to retain the freshness of one’s impulse to spiritual self-actualisation with a groundedness & flexibility that shows one where /when things (have) become unreal, so that one doesn’t become what VF calls ‘one-sided’ - for instance locked into a formulaic belief system, or politically committed to an ethical perspective resulting in the ultimate moral enantiodromia where ‘mights’ become ‘shoulds’ and ‘shoulds’ become ‘musts’ so the synchronistic phenomena become an unwanted reminder of what has been sacrificed in order to achieve the expedient outcome.
Synchronistically, while I was writing this para my dauter Sefa’s track Public Spirited came up on my iTunes. I recommend it as a listen: http://itunes.apple.com/pt/album/public-spirited-ep/id287669201