Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where I belong

Comments I made at my farewell service, College Church, 7 October 2012:

Somewhere in a burst of glory, sound becomes a song.
I’m bound to tell the story; that’s where I belong.

So wrote Paul Simon, and while it’s a song about something else, the first time I heard it, I thought of the privilege I have of telling the story through song.

Some of you know that the sound-track of my life is driven by the music of Paul Simon. Whether it’s “feelin’ groovy” or “I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore,” or more recently:
Hey, hey, off to school we go;
You might learn something,
Yeah, you never know
My poor kids have had to hear this their whole lives. Some of you have had to decipher the arcane quotation. And I should probably apologize to the choir for all too often enjoying my own private little pop music jokes.

But when you understand that I consider Paul Simon the best popular songwriter of my generation (and therefore, of course, of any successive generation :~); and if you understand why, you’ll get a glimpse into what I value about words and music.

When I see you smiling                                             
When I hear you singing                                           
Lavender and roses                                                   
Every ending a beginning                                          
The way you turn                                                      
And catch me with your eye -                                  
That's where I belong

It’s that sound of singing, the look in the eyes of worshipers, that has given me such joy on this platform. Whether my face is turned to the choir, that little church of ardent and joyful worshipers, or to the congregation, less prepared perhaps but no less engaged in praise, that’s where I belong.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m quoting pop songs tonight. Maybe to surprise you, maybe to disarm you, maybe to guard my emotions. If nothing else, it ought to tell you that for me music in the church has never been about “what I like.”

But probably, finally, it’s just because a hymn [“Bless be the tie that binds” anyone?] or a Bible verse [“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you”] could be heard as just a cliché. And there’s nothing clichéd about my gratitude: to have served in this place, with you, rehearsing the story of God in song. That’s where I belong, and I am thankful that for so long, belonging there has allowed me to be here.  

I’ve heard that there is some more surprising music in the reception across the street. Enjoy it with me, will you? 
(It was a jazz trio - and, man, were they good!)

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