Monday, March 24, 2008

From the rising of the sun (the son)

I love praise and worship music. So ever since I got DSL I’ve been going wild downloading sermons and inspirational music of all genres and types. Plus, because I can watch youtube now, my youtube list includes Christian songs from all tribes, ethnic groups etc.

I’ve always liked music. I like to think of myself as the Top Forty music lover. I love the top forty rap songs, the top forty country songs, the top forty blues songs, the top forty classical music, the top forty.... well, you have the idea. I’m eclectic and if a song lingers near my ear long enough, I’m going to end up liking it.

Having had a long and flaky history of church attendance, I’ve grown to love all kinds of music.

The episcopal church taught me the old hymns. Those hymns are holy, reverent, wonderful. They bring tears to my eyes and make me bow my knee in wonder to the Lord of the whole universe. But they are from the English tradition of worship and English worship services – let’s face it-- are pretty restrained and upper-lipped. So there was all my Jamaican capacity for wild joy being squelched.

I’ve also been to charismatic churches. Charismatic services of all denominations. I’ve attended regularly the monastery at Graymoor where guitar-playing fat old monks played some of the worship songs which are common to all charismatic groups. But even here, things were just a little too controlled. And I’m not talking about the fact that everyone else in the group was Irish, Italian, or Polish. I’m talking about the music. I could praise God and even though those worship songs brought tears of devotion to my eyes, I couldn’t quite go wild with joy about Jesus as I could, say, when I was in my own house.

The black Baptist/Pentecostal worship music was always good. It touched my soul. Deeply. Because the history of African-Americans is one which --like Jesus the man of sorrows– is acquainted with grief, these songs are often imbued with grief, storytelling. They are full of glory, trial, and triumph. Edged with world weariness and existentialism, they are often like something out of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Again...those worship songs brought tears of joy to my eyes.

But who knew there was a part of me that wanted to dance? God, I suspect.

One night out of the blue I had a dream of walking into this church. In the dream, the entire congregation turned to kiss me. When I woke up I was terrified. I hadn’t even thought about this dream and now I was being told to join it. I figured God had ordered me to join this church. When He tells you to do something, well you gotta obey. Despite the racial tension in town, I plucked up courage and attended the church to get a look-see at what God was getting me into. Everyone, EVERYONE, was friendly but distant. I mean...what was this overweight extremely tall black woman who spoke no Spanish doing in their church? When the minister asked me why I was visiting, I said, “I dreamt God wants me here.”

He nodded, totally understanding it. (I was to find out that folks in this church have no qualms about standing in front of the rest of the congregation telling their dreams if they consider the dream prophetic. Yep, a place after my own Jamaican heart!) I took note that the church was made up of Spanish-speaking short non-black Hispanics who were all in shape. I towered over everyone. But then the music began. And I’ve been attending Iglesia Mar de Galilea –Sea of Galilee church-- ever since. Four years now.

The church is 90% Ecuadorean and I am the only black person and the only English speaker, but I’ve gotten into Hispanic worship.

The interesting thing about Hispanic Evangelical music is that it’s so “allegre.” Even though many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches have folks dancing in the aisle, the typical American church song is just not danceable. I honestly can’t think of a Maranatha song that was made specifically for folks to dance to.

Whether inside the church service or during our fiestas (of which we have way too many) these evangelical Hispanic worship songs can fit anywhere. Which is a good thing because we are always dancing. We dance around and inside the sanctuary when someone gets her “papel” (immigration papers.) We have dances in the church dining hall to celebrate folks’ compleanos. The Latin-American evangelical church culture has infused God into everything and everything into it’s nothing peculiar for me now to think of a church song as both a great praise song and also a really wonderful dance song. Hey, I learned how to dance my first paso doble to a Danilo Montero song.

I know all the names of the famous Evangelical Hispanic singers: Marcos Witt, Marco Barientos, Danilo Montero, Giovanni Rios, to name a few. I can tell a meringue from a salsa from a mariachi from an evangelical reggaeton. I know the difference between Guatemalan worship music, Sephardic ladino Latino praise, and Ecuadorean Andes worship. I am telling you: I have become a font of Hispanic evangelical musical knowledge.

When I stand in church and listen to Danilo Montero’s “Tengo Un Nuevo Amor” I imagine every tribe, every tongue, every nation praising God. So, yes, I still listen to other Christian songs. I’ve fallen in love with a Korean hymn called Lamb of God and several Christian Arabic tunes. I can pretty much understand some of the contemporary French worship songs. There is no place in the earth where the Lord’s glory is not sung about. In languages I understand, languages I don’t understand, and in languages I just muddle through.

Which reminds me. I have to commit to actually learning Spanish.

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