Monday, August 23, 2010

Religion, politics and Satchmo

St. Joseph Cemetery, Central City. 

I was trying to find the "Vieux Point" column from last week's Thursday Times-Picayne but their website is being uncooperative.  Allow me to summarize.

It was about the Jazz Mass at St. Augustine Church in Treme during the Satchmo Summerfest.  I was there.  It was a great and uplifting ceremony with local musicians, the church's regular choir, the priest who delivered a relevant and thoughtful sermon, an august ceremony, and a moving celebration of communion.  After that was done the priest ceded the floor to politicians and the Summerfest coordinator.  That killed the celebration and the spirit why we were all gathered that Sunday morning.

The main speaker was a council member, a woman in her fifties.  I took it that she was the head of the City Council but I may be wrong.  She spoke at length about Summerfest and how she had attended all the jazz masses from the beginning and how important the event was to the city.  Then she introduced the newly elected council member representing the district, a younger woman of the same mold who had sat with her young daughter in the VIP pew.  The VIPs were the council members, a rector, and the priest when he squeezed into an available seat while the politicians were speaking.  The younger council member read a proclamation from the City Council and recognized the organizer of this year's Summerfest as well as a former organizer.  They posed at the pulpit for pictures.  I may have some details wrong.  I tried to erase it from my memory so as not to spoil the otherwise positive impression of celebration and piety.

The whole display was very inappropriate for a time of worship.  It would have been better performed on one of the stages.  It should have been.  Instead of being a mass in the key of Armstrong and Jesus, it was co-opted by grandstanding hacks.  No way to end a religious service.  

Politics have their place but so does life.  Life encompasses more than politics and politics and backslapping don't belong in church no matter what the occasion.  Maybe this happens every year, a tradition.  It should stop.  Hymns praising the eternal have no truck with the transient fortunes of politicians or demagogues or advancing careers built on promises that are often left unfulfilled.  The tail end speakers must have been pleased to find themselves in front of their captive audience.  I found the whole thing distasteful.  

It's a shame.  The priest handled the ceremony well and brought dignity to the proceedings, keeping enthusiasm in check and respect in place for the important aspects of the service.  He commanded attention and reverence for the miracles and mysteries implicit and evident in the mass.  While he elicited charm and warmth, he never abandoned gravitas.  Too bad he gave up control at the end.  I'm not one to judge anyone's motives, which are always more complex than they seem, but the place for secular concerns belongs in the secular world.  If you want to congratulate a successful festival, do it at the festival grounds, not in a church after communion.

If you've still got last Thursday's Times-Picayune, fish it out.  I'm not the only one with this opinion. 

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