Bouncy Ball Praise Songs, Etc.

Many churches still have fine pianists and organists, but the preponderance of recorded music to which the choir ululates has turned the whole experience into sort of a Christian karaoke.

Church was very important to me during my formative years. My parents insisted that we darken the doors of Morris Hill Baptist Church Sunday mornings and evenings as well as Wednesday evenings. Inexplicably, my teenage sister Frankie was all but excused from this regimen. She was forced to show up some Sunday mornings, but never on Sunday or Wednesday evenings.

Not that I minded that much. There was something comforting about my Saturday night routine which involved putting coins into my tithing envelope, studying my Sunday school lesson, and polishing my shoes. Sunday school itself was like public school for me: I got to see my friends, I enjoyed reading aloud, and I generally excelled at the whole interprise. The regular church service wasn't as interesting to me. Well, the music was. Morris Hill's choir sang four-part harmony with gusto (accompanied by longtime pianist Carol and organist Edna), and the alto section was my particular favorite. I don't know; they just seemed more committed to their performance, heads thrown back, eyes gently closed in total conviction, their precise, vibrato-less tones keeping the twittering sopranos from breaking completely free of the group and flying away.

We used the Baptist Hymnal, the absolute newest song in it being Bill and Gloria Gaither's "Because He Lives," and I drew familiarity and comfort from the old hymns. Invitational hymns -- songs selected for the end of the service and designed to help the unsaved respond to the pleas of the pastor -- were among those I loved best. They usually had lots of verses in order to prolong the experience, if necessary, and though the entire congregation sang along to most of the verses, there was always one verse the pastor admonished the choir to sing alone and softly ("Now just the choir on the next verse, with every head bowed and every eye closed!").

I invented the most ingeneous way in which to make the sermon time pass quickly. It involved the church bulletin (or program) and a ball point pen. If done correctly and with care, the time between when the pastor announced, "Open your Bibles to . . . " and, "Every head bowed and every eye closed . . . " folded like a Madeline L'Ingle tesseract, and the worship service was all but over. Here's how you do it: When the sermon actually begins, it is your task to neatly fill in all of the closed letter spaces (e.g. a, b, d, e, g, o, p, s, A, B, D, O, P, Q, R, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 0. Neatness is key. Not only do you stay awake, you look like you're taking prodigious notes.

I don't go to church nearly as much as I used to, but when I do, it is rare that the experience "takes me back" (thank you, Andre Crouch). Many churches still have fine pianists and organists, but the preponderance of recorded music to which the choir ululates has turned the whole experience into sort of a Christian karaoke. Many of the "old songs" have been jettisoned (ostensibly, it seems, to keep the young people from exiting the organization en masse), and in their place what I call "Bouncy Ball Praise Songs" have proliferated. Guitar-driven, these campfire-esque sing-a-longs are accompanied by projected PowerPoint lyrics to keep everyone on the same page.

I'm sorry. It's just not for me.

Maybe this is yet another sign that I'm getting older . . .

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