Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Institutions and Tradition

The Kingdom Choir

"Bishop Michael Curry’s star turn at the royal wedding Saturday introduced (or reintroduced) the world to the power of preaching."

So claimed Randall Balmer in the first line of his NY Times story last week. That may or may not be true. There are, as Trump's people are so happy to say, more versions of the truth than yours--or in this case, the writer's. Me?--I don't agree, only because I never really doubted "the power of preaching."

What I know is that Bishop Curry's sermon was incredible and memorable in part because it seemed so "out of place." It was powerfully moving but startling because royal weddings don't normally include the soaring traditional rhetoric of African-American sermons. Bishop Michael Curry--if you didn't see him--is, after all, African-American (not a Brit). The sheer emotional amplitude of Curry's sermon, its towering musical delivery, simply isn't tight-upper-lip "British."

Tevye would shake his head and say it this way: it wasn't "traditional."

Nor was the (gasp!) gospel choir. I didn't watch the royal wedding as it happened. I tuned in at the point where the royal couple were leaving the church. Behind them, shockingly, what I heard was "Stand by Me" and "This Little Light of Mine," a pair of unconventional choices (to say the least), sung by the Kingdom Choir (yes, black). I mean, it just isn't done (and, yes, you can say that with a bit of a Brit sneer).

No matter--it was awesome, as was Bishop Curry's preachment on love. Simply unheard of.

I don't remember his name, but a Brit commentator was so taken by the magnificence of it all--the beautiful couple, that simple, gorgeous dress, the glory of the cathedral, the joy of the music, the hundreds--thousands!--outside waiting to greet them, the entire show, the sheer spectacle, all of it, right then and there--that he was nearly robbed of words. Finally, gasping, he said, "This is what we Brits do well." He was right. A royal wedding is the kind of party jolly old England long ago learned very well how to stage.

So when others made the point that Bishop Curry's sermon and the soul music of the Kingdom Choir was like nothing ever seen or heard in Windsor Chapel, they pointed out that the institution of the monarchy and the strength of British tradition could handle even really significant change. Even though that wedding--Meghan Markle is a divorcee, of mixed race heritage--was, on paper at least, an anomaly, the sheer strength of tradition (there's Tevye again) could and would handle it--as it would a black preacher from South Carolina and a rambunctious gospel choir to boot.

Strong institutions grow by adapting change. They're able to incorporate what's new, give that newness context, locate a place for what's not only coming but already there. They're forceful and accommodating, nor fearful about themselves.

Millions of American voted for Donald Trump as an agent of change, as someone who would, like Jesus, go to Washington and tip over the tables of besotted money- and power-changers. They bought the idea that Trump would know how to deal with big-money interests because he was one. 

Donald Trump has been anything but traditional. At times, he seems intent on dismantling everything his predecessor(s) ever did. We've never before had a President who demanded an investigation of the FBI he himself put in. And that's only part of today's agenda.

We've learned, I think, that the English monarchy can absorb significant and radical change. What is yet to be determined is whether American democracy can grow from a bully who seems duty-bound to take down most of its institutions.

The jury is out on all of that, and I am not hopeful. 

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