The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Blow, Gabriel Blow

So, I recently read Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (2007), and was impressed by Matthew Avery Sutton's depiction of the Mother of Televangelism.

Sutton's thesis is that her mix of politics, pizazz and "old-time religion" created the template of the modern religious right, a development which I as a good liberal Anglo-Catholic cannot help but deplore as inimical to both Church and State. But that ideological conflict is one that can wait for another day. Like William Jennings Bryan, who was both populist champion of the rights of labor, and narrow minded theocrat, McPherson's legacy is far more complicated than her charismatic, show-businessy style, her *ahem* deviations from the norms she preached. There needs to be reckoned her genuine thoughtfulness to the poor, especially unwed mothers, who sought shelter from her Foursquare Gospel Church. McPherson was far more complicated than we'd like to have her--neither an Elmer Gantry-style charlatan, nor a saint.

There's a lesson for me, at least, in that. We are none of us merely our ideological commitments. We are all more complicated than that--I know (online) a theologically conservative deacon whose devotion to his prison ministry is profoundly impressive, and number among my friends a number of people whose politics I vigorously disagree with, but whose faith, generosity of spirit, and, even more specifically, whose hard work for various causes and commitments to better the world is nothing short of inspiring. It's all too easy for me to focus on the disagreement and not celebrate the common life. I err when I do that.

McPherson also, by way of Cole Porter and P.G. Wodehouse, provided Patti LuPone with one of the great diva turns in musical theater, which I saw her perform about a year before she did this performance in front of the First President Bush:

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