Volume 3 Book 4 Part 8 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(The Big Voice Chronicles)
[ Book 3-3 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] -- [ Book 3-5 ]
April 14-15, 2003.
Singin' in Church!
The First Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston is a singer's dream come true. The auditorium is tall and somewhat narrow. The walls are brick and baffled. Over the years, I've learned about my voice. Although I can project, it's at its best when I can fully relax and use the softest parts of it. Give me a little reverb and I'm in heaven.
Steve, Sue Null, Rev. Bruce Bode.
I met with the Interim Pastor Bruce Bode earlier in the week because Sue Null, who has the patience of a freight train (and I mean that in the best possible sense) simply and utterly badgered and cajoled him endlessly until he finally relented and allowed that I could sing for their Sunday morning service.
A side note: I'm still at the point in my career where a few people know who I am but the vast, vast, VAST majority of people do NOT. Also, my profession is not "gospel singer." I'm a theatre composer, if anything. So, I don't come in with a bunch of fliers and CDs of gospel music. If and when I appear anywhere, it's because some fan (like Sue) won't take no for an answer.
I met with Bruce earlier this week and the plan had been for me to sing maybe one song. But by the time we finished our meeting I was set to sing three songs (which surprised even Sue, who said, "How did you do that?" My answer: I sang for him, of course!). The first thing Bruce asked me was if I had something that might fit into the "children's moment" in the service. Put on the spot, I said, "Well, there's a song called Connected that might work because it's a storytelling song about my first trip into a hospital."
His sermon that morning was entitled, "The Religious Aspects of Courtesy," citing the biblical verse from Hebrews about treating strangers with respect because, "some people have entertained angels unawares" and how the fabric of our society begins at the elemental level on how we treat each other. I suggested I could follow that with When You Care.
He then said there was a moment for the postlude, also so I suggested A Simple Faith, (the Bonus Round Sessions version).
The only other time I've actually been in a UU church was in Maine. I remember the moment because it was preceding a rally protesting the removal of the law providing for equal rights for sexual orientation from the state laws. Congregations from all around the area had convened that evening for a prayer service before the rally (which was more like a concert). I remember it vividly because on the podium, alongside the more "conventional" religions was a woman dressed in sparkles and stars from one of the goddess religions -- first time my southern eyes had seen that in person. (She was lovely, by the way).
Sunday morning I arrived at the church bright and early. The bulletin board was filled with chances for community involvement, food programs, peace rallies, etc. The choir was rehearsing in the auditorium so I made myself some tea and crossed my fingers that my voice was in good shape after the raucously lively show the night before. (The audiences here have been explosively responsive).
I took my place on the podium and read the statement of faith on the program of events. In essence, it affirmed the humanity of others, the need to take care of others and the need to approach others with open arms, kindness, humility and love. In other words, no dogma! I thought, "That's me!"
I also loved the songs. They were life-affirming and full of hope and the need to interact with others. I loved this. It just felt so intellectual but with tons of love and compassion, totally focused on humanitarianism. The responsive reading was a quote from Albert Schweitzer about how sometimes you have to break society conventions in order to do compassionate work for others. Then it was time for me to speak to the kids.
Photos by Jim Null
All the children were gathered together in the front pews on the right so I made my way over to them and said, "I'm going to tell you a story about a time when I was really sick. So sick that I had to be taken to a hospital. But I was afraid. I was afraid of the doctors and the nurses. They gave me medicines that helped but there was something even more that helped me. What was it? The answer is in this song..."
Then I sat down and sang "Connected." What made this different from, for instance, doing it in the show, was that it got huge laughs from the adults in the audience. I love this! I've ALWAYS thought of "Connected" as being full of humor but because it's in such a tender moment in TLS, the mood doesn't support laughter. But in this context, where I'm singing for kids, the song came off as hilarious! Isn't it funny how context changes things. I loved it!
Rev. Bode's sermon was warm, witty and enjoyable and "When You Care" was the perfect follow-up. That we treat others with love and respect because it's not just the right thing to do, but it provides the glue that holds our society together.
Finally, it was time for the postlude. Here's what I remember saying, althought I know it's not word for word:
"I want to dedicate this next song to all of you. I think Unitarian Universalists are among the most misunderstood because you're not a dogma based religion. You aren't afraid to ask questions and to live with doubts. Myself, I'm recovering Baptist." That got a big laugh of recognition.
I told them about The Big Voice, about how it's the story of two gay men who began in devout conservative religions and how we had to find our own way once we knew our religions rejected us. I told them how much anger I harbored toward churches, how I'd cross the street to keep from even walking on the grass of a church.
Then I told them about how I began to re-embrace faith itself, not always knowing what it was I was having faith in, but just embracing faith itself. I told them how I had begun describing this journey in my online diary but that, rather than getting encouragement, I would get emails vilifying me! Telling me that it wasn't enough, that I had to believe THIS dogma or THAT dogma, that for many people it never seemed enough to take baby steps.
I then said, "So, I dedicate this song to you. I think, of all the congregations on earth, you will get it. In fact, I think I've been a Unitarian Universalist my whole life but never knew it." I began singing "A Simple Faith." I don't think I've ever experienced a more powerful moment in a church.
"Cuz there's be always somebody judging you
There will be always somebody testing you
"But there'll be always somebody needing you
Always somebody watching you
I always knew this song would eventually find its perfect and proper context. As I looked out over the congregation while singing it, I could see eyes filling with tears. It was like singing the song for the very first time.
"I think a simple faith isn't very simple at all."
A hush fell over the expansive room. Then suddenly, all at once, the entire congregation jumped to the feet and began applauding. A loud, long, sustained applause. It embarrassed me. I wasn't even sure how to act. There was a catch in my throat. I think I just took a tiny bow with my head and headed down the aisle to the back of the room to shake hands with everyone filing out.
© 1996-2003 by Steve Schalchlin.You have permission to print from this diary and distribute for use in support groups, schools, or to just give to a friend. You do not have permission to sell it.