Sunday, February 20, 2011

Day 3 in Washington DC: Jaws and the National Cathedral

Howdy from our nation’s capital. Day 3 comes to an end, and we accomplished many good things today. It began with a three-hour rehearsal in preparation for tomorrow’s concert. All singers suffered from tired bodies and voices, but most were able to muster the heart to create a worthwhile, productive practice. A few of our singers were struggling with lost voices for one reason or another, and spending the majority of the day in song could not have been good for their voice. Ah, but we will gladly suffer for our art, that is for sure. Following rehearsal, we enjoyed a quick tour to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the North Lawn of the White House. They were nice places to visit, but I could only bring my mind to focus on today’s concert at the National Cathedral. It was our penultimate concert, and I would argue our most important performance. It’s the last concert that we will give in which we are the only performers, and we were performing in a national landmark. Furthermore, the Washington DC Rhodes Alum Chapter hosted a post-concert reception for us, so I had the honor to see some old friends from college. Overall, I thought it was a good concert with some of our best singing, but I will say that nothing compares to the acoustics we enjoyed yesterday at St. Patrick’s Church.

We stayed for a lovely Choral Evensong service after our concert, and it was a true high-liturgy Anglican event. An all men and boys choir provided the music, C. V. Stanford’s Service in C serving as the music for all the canticles. The music was most enjoyable, and it brought back memories of singing evensong services in England with the Rhodes Singers and at West Market Street UMC in Greensboro. The homily was also most pertinent; the Reverend Gina Campbell gave a word regarding today’s appointed readings from Leviticus 19 and Matthew 5. In these texts, the people of God are called to be perfect, to be holy as Jesus is holy, and in the Leviticus reading, there is also an injunction to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus would quote this verse later in his ministry (Luke 10:27), and Rev. Campbell linked these two themes together in one poignant message. Two lines stand out to me from her teaching.

“We as a nation excel at hate, intolerance, and violence...”

“This kind of perfect love cannot come from ourselves. We must drink from a perfect source.”

Rev. Campbell noted that we all have enemies, and she argued that the most dangerous enemy was the enemy of our thoughts (i.e., our beliefs and opinions). Jesus calls us to love even our enemies, the people who force us to walk one mile or who strike us across the face. Jesus calls His people to love the employer who downsizes an entire division in the name of corporate profit. Given our concert tomorrow that will feature Rene Clausen’s Memorial, a work that calls for peace and love of enemy (“Lord, we condemn them to your mercy”), it was a most appropriate sermon to hear. In my own life, knowing that there are people against whom I carry significant grudges, it was a healthy reminder to love even the people who have committed sins against me. I call to mind Matthew 18. Jesus forgave me a 10,000 talent debt, so surely I can find a fraction of that grace to release my neighbor from a 100 denarii debt that he owes me.

And Rev. Campbell clearly stated that this love does not com from within us; it cannot. We are not capable of this perfect love, and in fact Jesus does not expect his people to be perfect on their own merit. The Greek word that we translate as “perfect” in Matthew 5:28 is the word telios, which literally means complete, or whole. “Be complete, as your Father in heaven is complete.” This comes only from Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is calling us to a life of faith and discipleship, not legalistic trappings and slavish obedience. My own readings from Galatians come to mind, where Paul reminds that young church to not submit to the curse of the law but to stand firm in the freedom of Christ. Because of Jesus, we are free, we are complete to love perfectly.

Who would have thought that this tour would have been such a spiritual experience? Ah, but that is the nature of music.

I think I mentioned it yesterday, but the students have come to call me (Prof.) Jaws. Tonight, that name morphed into Jawsus, the Mesharka born of the Sturgeon Mary, but after running with that gag for awhile, I decided that it would be best to lay it aside. Jaws, however, is still alive and well.

We have one final performance and it’s the reason we came to DC: The President’s Day Choral Festival at the Kennedy Center. Should be fun! The choir sounds great, and we’re all excited to perform some wonderful music.

Until next time,
-Prof. Jaws

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