Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Preacher’s Corner
By Rev. Dr. Milton Winter

Life is hard when you’re your own worst critic

Recently I had the pleasure of touring one of England’s stately cathedrals. It was not one of the biggest ones, but very old and completely impressive. As it happened our party arrived early in the day and, since the summer vacation season had not yet gotten under way, we were the only visitors to the cathedral at the time we went through. It was a perfect way to enjoy the beautiful sight.

Adding to our pleasure, the organist began to play. He launched into an extremely loud, difficult composition — one of those by a modern composer, full of difficult rhythms and dissonant sounds. We could not see the organist playing, but you could imagine his hands and feet flying across the keyboards, pulling stops and leaning into his music with great depth of emotion. It was an exhilarating piece, and we were pleased to be enjoying “our own private” concert as we walked around drinking in the architecture and monuments.

However, just as the organist seemed to hit his stride, he abruptly halted and we were amused by the sound of muffled cursing from the organ console that occupied a high loft that bisected the building! I could not make out the words, but swearing has a rhythm all its own, and I could tell that the organist knew the words and that he was using them correctly!

He began playing again, and when he reached the same place — again everything halted and there was a lot more colorful language! Again, and again, the good gentleman would start, and again and again he would come to the part that tripped him up, and then the air would be turned blue with his obvious rage and frustration.

The end of our tour led us to a small desk where a teenage lad sat to answer questions and sell postcards and descriptive brochures. As I bought a few souvenirs, I jokingly remarked to the boy that I certainly hoped the organist would achieve the perfection he desired before the day was out.

“We have several organists on the cathedral staff,” our host volunteered.

“But we can always tell when it is Edmund, the associate organist, who is in the loft. He’s a true perfectionist, and when he disappoints himself, he slaps the keys and curses, no matter who is listening!”

I imagine the good Lord understands. And I wish I could have climbed up there and encouraged poor Edmund in his efforts. It is hard when you are your own worst critic. I frankly doubt anyone else would have detected whatever bobble Edmund was making — I certainly couldn’t — and we had a fine organist in our touring party, who thought the performance — such as we were able to hear it — was superb.

Some would be nonplussed by the use of profanity in God’s House. I do not recommend it, but I am even more put off by feigned, syrupy piousness on the part of ministers and church officials. The ones I know best “cuss” more frequently than you might think. 

Some things need to be cursed, and the only problem I have with cursing is “wasting” a good oath on a situation that is not deserving. Once in a committee of our synod (the regional governing body of our denomination), an elder of my acquaintance was having a terrible time explaining a point to a minister on the committee. Finally the minister became so frustrated he uttered an oath. Before he could apologize, the elder roared, “Thank you, sir. Now, we can communicate!” They went on to a heated, but very productive exchange of ideas on the subject of campus ministry.

Once I was trying to vacuum up some sawdust the carpenter had left in our church. The bag on the vacuum was defective and it flew off three times, spreading the dust further and further each time. Finally, thinking myself alone in the empty church, I let loose a string of invective, and it was at just that moment I heard one of my sweetest (but most understanding) “church ladies” calling for me, “Yoo-hoo!” If she heard my fit of temper she never let on. (However, the church did soon purchase a new vacuum cleaner.)

As I say, I hope Edmund got his music down. The service of evensong was just a few hours away.


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