Monday, December 22, 2014

By invitation only

Our previous selections were already skirting the boundaries of good liturgical decorum, but today's are definitely of the full festive variety. And so the question: is this sort of thing really appropriate for church?

Of course not. Definitely not. This is music of the countryside, and the type of folks who work in it. What would make you think it belongs in a church?

I'm not answering the "should" question, or offering a personal answer. I'm answering on behalf of the Church Historic, which has a long tradition of drawing lines between what is couth and what is not couth. Shepherds are definitely of the un variety.

Let's face it. They smell. Maybe if they cleaned themselves up a bit and adopted a romanticized mien, we could let them in to the edge of our crèche, so long as they promised not to say anything and make a scene.

Bit of irony: We have a gate between the congregation and the altar space at our church, just like most Methodist churches. A former pastor told me how this works. It was first put in so that animals who managed to get into little country churches wouldn't gain admittance to the altar area. It is known as a "sheep gate." What seems to have happened here is that a couple of animals and their ignorant shepherd have wandered across the sheep gate and right on to our altar. Even if they are made of plastic, that shows pretty poor manners. We don't want to make a scene, though. We won't say anything about it as long as he stays where he belongs.

We can't expect the same for our organist, though, who is planning to play these licentious works on the Sundays of Christmastide. Seems the shepherds are making their presence known after all.

One more thing that I find interesting about this little party on the altar. The kings, promoted by legend, and seated by status, near to the couple, have had to work hard to get where they are. They doubtless feel, having used their knowledge and persistence to figure out where to go and to traverse "afar," that they have earned the right to be there. The freeloading shepherds, on the other hand, didn't need to use their mad navigation skills to chart the skies, their extensive knowledge of a foreign country's prophetic tradition to interpret what they saw. Presumably without any marketable skills besides trying to keep sheep from getting killed, they were just going about their business, ignoring that supernova in the sky, and counting the days till Friday, when the weekend shepherds took over. Just kidding! They probably didn't have any relief. And yet, they too are to be found manger-side in Bethlehem. The whole lot of them, in fact, regardless of what our crèches have to say about it. And why? Because they got a celestial invite from a horde of angels, that's why. And I guess that's worth celebrating. Because maybe nobody else bothered to include them in something so obviously important. But here they are. Because somebody invited them. Now who would send a gilded, singing telegram, ridiculously expensive(?) invitation to a bunch of yokels like that?

God did. That's who.

Not that that's ever stopped anybody from complaining about it. You can be shocked, or horrified, or certain that this organist has gone off the deep end, along with the composer of these little pastorales. We know very little about him; much like the shepherds, he doesn't seem to have gotten a lot of press. But here is a little of what he left behind, from 300 years ago in Croatia. Two more pastorales (I played the others in the previous installment). A genre associated with shepherds, and bagpipes. That's right. Bagpipes. And you know how popular those things are in church (or anywhere else). Well, Mr. Pintaric let in the bagpipes. And, apparently, all heaven broke loose.

Pintaric: Pastorale no. 1 in C
Pintaric: Pastorale no. 4 in F

congratulations! You made it to the end of our ten-part series. Unless you joined us somewhere in the middle and would like to start over to see what you missed. That can be accomplished here. Or you can look for the "shepherd series" in the lists on the right hand side of the blog.

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