Saturday, January 14, 2006

Through the Fire

The birthplace of gospel music burned to the ground last week. Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago was church home to Thomas Dorsey during a period of spiritual renewal, and as he shifted his attention from jazz and blues to church music, a hybrid form emerged that over time would define the music of American legends Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin and countless others.

Gospel music is soulful in the purest sense. Conscious of suffering, gospel music is defiant in the face of it, shouting and clapping and singing of hope to come, a happy ending to all our troubles. Gospel brings redemption to the blues and focus to jazz, and evokes the spirit of Pentecost, when the church spilled out into the street in riotous energy.

The defeat handed to Pilgrim Baptist--and really, to Chicago--is severe: a landmark of church architecture and an important artifact of cultural history are gone forever. But defeat doesn’t define us, according to the gospel: defeat is itself defeated by hope, which springs eternal. Hear the word of the LORD:

They’ve kicked me around ever since I was young,
but they never could keep me down. . . .
With GOD’s arrival comes love,
With GOD’s arrival comes generous redemption.
--Psalms 129-130

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