Saturday, September 27, 2008
Leonard Cohen and The Perils of Being a Preacher's Progeny
I tried to find a soundfile to embed, but alas, I couldn't. So I posted this video, which I really only want you to listen to. The sound is grainy, clearly an old LP, but I actually kind of like that.
I am a preacher's kid. Before I get into the meat of this post, please allow me to address your first set of questions: No, my home life was not like that of the chick in Footloose! Nor was I a rebellious, booz-swilling, drug-addled, leg-spreading hellian. Nor was I (or am I) a white-gloved, goody two-shoes. I was just a kid who lived in a home with a dog and parents who loved her and her brother. I was brought us up in a religious household and my parents encouraged introspection and inquiry, and mercy toward others, so I've always been personally baffled by the constrictive Footloose model. (Though that more closely mirrors the preacher-kid [PK] upbringing my mom had.)
Peril #1: Having to swat off stereotypes superglued to you and to your family. (Do doctors', cops' or military members' kids get the same "knowing" wink and tongue-click that PKs get? Ugh. Letting it go.) Peril #2: If you're female, you are concerned that you might end up marrying a preacher. Why? Because your mom was a PK, or your grandmother, or someone close in the family line. It seems to be genetic. I had several PK friends in high school and college, and they all had that fear. Nothing against ministers - most of us were very comfortable in church, loved other ministers and repected our minister parents (some were mothers, of course) - but the tendency for preachers' daughters to marry back into the ministry unnerved us. Not only is it an itinerant lifestyle - a few years in Texas, a few in Oregon, etc - like a military family, but we know first hand the social pressure of expectations on ministers' families and the wives, specifically. They're mini-First Ladies, whether they like it or not or are good at it or not; especially in small communities. My peers and I were children of feminism. We didn't want to be shoe-horned.
There are more, I'm sure. Like people suppose you to be able to quote and accept the Bible front to back or conversely that you totally reject religion (the adult version of the PK stereotypes). But the peril that I stumbled upon recently was actually rather benign. And yes, it tarries back to the simple video embedded above.
Most preachers I know draw heavily upon pop-culture for their sermon references. Our last minister loved to reference Ann Lamott, who Darla recommended I read to help me better my writing. The minister of the church where Honey and I met and married frequently referenced Emily Dickinson, upon whose works he wrote his doctoral dissertation. One of Honey's favorite religion professors - also a retired minister - would open his semester with a class screening of Star Wars. My dad is partial to dropping Bob Dylan references. In fact, he has a sermon in his repetoire, "I Was So Much Older Then, I'm Younger Than That Now," though I can't recall what the theological tie-in theme is.
When you grow up hearing movie scenes, song or poetry lyrics and literary themes framed in terms of biblical or theological analogies, or in terms of modern parable, it's easy to kind of find them everywhere. And sometimes, there are moments that just coalesce and I think, "Dang, this is a sermon analogy begging to happen." This is the benign peril of which I write.
A few months ago, in advance of the release of the lastest Indiana Jones movie, Honey and I rewatched the first three. Toward the end of the movie, Indy and his father are escaping the crumbling temple where the grail has been kept for eons. The hot blond Nazi has just fallen into a widening crevasse, and now Indy is in the same danger. His father, who refuses to call him Indiana, now clings to Indy, trying to lift him out of the crevasse. "Henry, let it go!" he pleads. Indy ignores him, blinded by sudden greed, trying to reach for the grail just beyond his grasp. Then his father calmly calls, "Indiana." The trance is broken. Indy relents and is pulled to safety. Immediately, the voice of Leonard Cohen sprung into my head singing, "love calls you by your name." Then two seconds later, I thought, "Man, there has to be a sermon in here."
Now, I can't think of that scene, nor listen to that song without thinking that they are begging to be weaved into a sermon. Perilous!
I rarely fixate on song lyrics (it can take me years of hearing a song over and over before it really strikes me what the artist is conveying), but what I love about "Love Calls You By Your Name" is that it seems to bring quiet mercy to moments of vulnerability in spaces narrow and vast: "between the windmill and the grain/ between the traitor and her pain." At least that's what I hear. And I've always been touched that Dr. Jones the elder humbled himself to the name that his son recognized. I can't think of an exact scripture reference that this could tie in to; the bible is full of naming and calling issues (Sarai became Sarah; Gabriel pretty much tells Mary what she's gonna call her baby; God calls Samuel out in the night; the still small voice). I think ceremonial re-naming is still something done in Judaism, on occasion. But frankly, it seems like this could be used in several sermons. Love calls you by your name. God is love. God calls you when and where you are vulnerable and most in need of mercy ... I don't know.
But that's my peril. Benign; but it itches. The upshot of this is that I've since introduced my dad to Leonard Cohen. As my dad is the one who trained my musical palate to favor yarn-spinning and story-tellers, I'm a little surprised that he wasn't more familiar with him, beyond the ubiquitous "Hallelujiah." Especially since they're both baby boomers! But he likes him and I have a feeling is going to seek him out more. Maybe I'll get him some CDs for Christmas.
Since this is my 200th post, and since you've been so nice to read this far, I figure I'll give a little more media. Enjoy the mixtape I made for Dad ... who just got electricity back TODAY, two weeks after Ike blew through (WOOHOO!), and who will be facing open heart surgery in another 3 weeks. Yipes. Here's love calling out to him!