In the last year, I have become a member of Middle Collegiate Church. I have done this despite the fact that I identify as a Jewish person, albeit one who was not bat mitzvahed, never learned Hebrew, has a gentile mother who only half-converted, and admires Jesus and both Marys as profound practitioners of radical receptivity.
Being Jewish feels as intrinsic to my being as eyes that change color and intellectual impatience, but I feel no more comfortable in synagogue, where I’m generally tolerated rather than accepted, as I do in the Catholic and Unitarian churches and Quaker meeting houses and Buddhist temples and ashrams that I’ve frequented in my un-abiding metaphysical thirst. My whole life, I have longed for a spiritual collective that has not felt like a cult and in Middle Church I finally have found that space. It gives me strength when nothing else does, features beautiful words and beautiful music, and preserves everything uplifting about religion while eschewing its exclusionary toxicity. The minster is brilliant and transparent, and the congregation is comprised of every possible gender and sexual identification, ethnicity, class, occupation; our only commonality is a wholly and holy positive intent. This is a church in the purest, most unifying sense of that term, and I attend Sunday services whenever I am not working. Sadly, that’s not very often, but I was able to go yesterday for the first time since returning from Cape Cod. The timing was not coincidental. If there’s ever been a moment in which I need extra doses of divine and human compassion it is now. We all do. Continue Reading →
Once when I was 12, I saved up my babysitting money and bought a ticket to hear Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” performed on George’s Island, a waterfront historical park located right off the coast of Boston.
I’d always been in love with that group of concerti, and my love had been as private as it had been absolute. My father was a resolute R&B worshipper and my mother bopped along to whatever he put on the turntable, slipping on Broadway musicals like “Gigi” when he wasn’t around. But I’d been a violinist since I was six; the Suzuki Method was huge in that era and both my factory-worker grandfathers had played ardently if unprofessionally. Playing classical instruments isn’t so common anymore but back then ordinary people of all classes and backgrounds did it all the time. I’ve been thinking about this, about how we used to make our own art and culture, didn’t just consume it like fast food.
By the time I realized I preferred the richer registers of the viola, my parents had already bought a grownup-sized violin–I was a tall kid–and my compromise was to practice just enough to justify their purchase. I played second violin in orchestra, and used my sight-reading skills more joyfully in chamber choir, where I sang first tenor. The result was a passion for the rigors of classical music that I rarely revealed at home or in my working-class neighborhood. Even now I rarely discuss this prediliction, though, left to my own devices, I listen to those busybody Baroque composers nearly as often as I listen to Aretha. Bach, Vivaldi, Dvořák; Telemann, too. Continue Reading →