Tag Archives: gospel

Al Green and geophysics

I had planned to go to Al Green’s church on Sunday in Memphis before the Mormon opportunity came up, so right after the Mormon service I headed over to the other side of town to the Full Gospel Tabernacle, where Al Green has been presiding for thirty-five years. Luckily, the service started at 11:30, a deeply civilized hour for church, and it was everything you might imagine Al Green’s church would be: incredible singing, an outrageously excellent band, dancing in the aisles, powerful preaching, a warm welcome to us visitors sitting in the back pews, and that feeling, that wonderful feeling of God’s love repairing every rift, wiping every tear, that radical righting of every wrong that the black church embodies in every gesture, every utterance. When I was taking care of my mother, I listened to gospel music at full volume every single day. It’s what got me through the hardest time of my life. And while I don’t honestly know whether the Full Gospel Tabernacle would actually welcome someone like me any more than the Mormons would, the fact is that not one word that was said there on Sunday locked me out or pushed me away. I’ve been reading a book called The Theology of American Popular Music which helps me understand why I love the black church so much. I really may end up there for good one of these days, who knows?!


A couple of months ago, a generous stranger wrote to me and told me about the research the geo-physicist Maria Beatrice Magnani is doing on the faults that lie under the Mississippi River, so I sent her an email and we met up Sunday afternoon for a really amazing and interesting coffee. I hope to have more to tell you about all this down the line, but in the meantime I just want to expostulate about how great it is to meet another river-lover, from Umbria of all excellent places!, who is a really fine scientist with the soul of an artist. How cool is that?!

sing it


As we were parking the car in town this morning, we ran into Nancy again, walking her Black-Lab-ish dog, Greta, (not kidding!) and we got to talking about parking and she told us that some residents of Wabasha complain about the parking, which had us sort of incredulous. And she told us that the way they solved it at the town meeting was that someone came up with an overlay of a standard Target store and its parking lot on the town map, which shows how the whole downtown of Wabasha is not as big as the parking lot of a Target store, and so therefore if you park anywhere in town you are within equivalent walking distance of any store in town as you are from the Target store in its parking lot. This clever argument seems to have worked; they didn’t build a parking structure downtown.

Mary Kay and I headed off to church to see the window, and wow, it really may be the best Tiffany window I’ve ever seen. The photograph doesn’t show how there’s cloudier and crisper glass that gives a really marvelous sense of distance and dimensionality to the image. And we nearly fell over when the lay reader read a sermon by none other than our beloved Father Barrie, how cool is that?! I guess Mary Kay and I made a bit of a scene when we heard his name, because after the service everyone came over to ask if we knew the author of the sermon, so we got to bask in a bit of reflected glory for a bit…thanks, Barrie!


Little House in the Big Woods is set in the woods near Pepin, which is just across the river from Wabasha. I had re-read the book yesterday for the first time since I was nine or whatever, curious as to what I’d find, especially after reading the New Yorker article about Rose and Laura Ingalls Wilder. We drove over to a wayside rest area that has a log cabin that purports to be a reconstruction. There was no cellar, the attic was a loft, and the spot is now surrounded by cornfields instead of big woods, so all in all I was not blown away by its historical veracity.

So we headed to early Sunday dinner at a waterfront restaurant in Pepin — actually, the most expensive meal we’ve had on the trip; not bad, but not exactly anything I needed — and I was really beginning to get a bit cranky. It began to feel like one of those endless Sundays Laura Ingalls Wilder describes in the book. I have always had a certain curious dread of 4 pm on a beautiful Sunday afternoon: like I might get stuck there in this enforced state of suspended merely attractive idleness and never get free. It’s occurred to me that perhaps I’m going to die on some future beautiful Sunday at 4 pm, and my aversion is a kind of odd prognostication. I would much prefer to die on a rainy Sunday. Or any other day of the week. I think Linda Norton knows exactly what I mean: see Landscaping for Privacy for evidence.

Anyway, we headed back over the river to our riverfront cafe headquarters with free internet and five bars of cell signal and three kinds of root beer to choose from, and I felt way better almost immediately, and then it was time to go to the gospel choir rehearsal Nancy had invited us to, so we drove back to Pepin to the high school, and walked in and there are what one woman described (not completely accurately, but pretty close) as “seventy-five white Norwegian Lutherans” singing serious old-school Black gospel, and I tell you, they are REALLY good. Not good-for-a-volunteer-choir good, really amazingly good. Tight, crisp, bright, beautiful, fierce singing. Absolutely committed. And hearing them sing “Let My People Go” brought tears to my eyes.

Music changes the world. For real.

“I have charged myself with contentment and triumph.”

a difficult charge to live up to, from my man Walt Whitman, but if he managed to avoid despair and desolation in the face of the Civil War, I can certainly at least aspire to his mystical engagement with the wonders of this world, exactly as it is, rather than as I might wish it could be.

today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death, so along with the Whitman my brother so eloquently posted in the comments yesterday, I am posting a recording Joycie introduced me to in 1985 or 86, which I regret not playing at her funeral. full volume. I play it every year in her honor.

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Walter Hawkins: I’m Goin’ Away on Love Alive II

I visited this high volume ritual on patient and hopefully not too long-suffering Richard and Mac in the midst of driving around Bemidji today doing various errands, which take on thrilling overtones when you’re camping out. Laundry! Groceries! Oil Change! we also had a few hours in a pleasant cafe in downtown Bemidji where I tried to get the bills organized, if not actually paid. we set up camp at Bemidji State Park, which is blessedly nearly empty midweek, and laid out all the clean laundry and organized it into little subsections, each going into its own plastic bag. and each category of food into its own bags as well. totally OCD. I feel like I’m re-inventing skills the army has been inculcating in recruits since forever: a place for everything, everything in its place. but with a small car and three people suiting up for three different kinds of activities, it can get crazy pretty quickly if we aren’t anal about it!

Richard made a fine dinner for us with the new groceries, and read to us as he has each night from Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out
by Annette Atkins, a really wonderful book about Minnesota history for the general reader. Totally recommended!