It seems rather apt to talk about church and religion, sitting here on a glorious Sunday, winter morning, the sun shining, disguising the slightly biting chill.
Yesterday of course it seems the world and their brother watched the funeral service of Whitney Houston. I loved the quote to Whitney’s mother Cissy Houston from Pastor Marvin Winans, who preaches at a church in Detroit – “Miss Cissy has brought the world to church today.”
He meant that the family had quite correctly, and in the end, beautifully, decided to hold the funeral in the church Houston went to as a kid and where she first started singing, in the choir. This was rather than having the big ‘Hollywood’ service. The result was an incredibly moving service in a small 300 capacity church in Newark, New Jersey.
What was interesting for me was the coverage. Sky and the BBC cut back to the studio a few times, in one case cutting the Eulogy, and in another, missing the coffin being taken from the church to the sound of Whitney singing I Will Always Love You. CJ and I watched the CNN coverage, with an obviously moved Piers Morgan, not my favourite of people, but he was visibly touched by the emotions of the congregation and the performances of the artists – Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, CeCe Winans and for me R Kelly, who was simply awesome – I gave up wiping me eyes at that point! Kevin Costner, who is a favourite person of mine, a great director who, it may sounds silly, but I feel is slightly underrated, gave a poignant speech.
It was Pastor Winans though that I will remember. It was interesting to see how the British media concentrated on the celebrity guests, and hardly mentioned the stirring and moving eulogy, and it once again got me thinking about religion in the UK.
Cliff Richard is of course Britain’s best know Christian celebrity. It seems though that it simply is not cool to be a Christian in the UK and I know Cliff thought long and hard in the sixties about letting people know.
I think Christ needs a new PR agent here. Watch any award ceremony in the States and the hardest of rappers or rockers will usually dedicate their win to two people – their mother and God. Eighty percent of Americans go to church, five percent of Brits do, why is that? Religious programming is non existent over here except for the few dedicated channels on Sky. Sunday papers in the States cover sermons and services from different churches.
Years ago I was offered a weekly radio programme on a station in Santa Barbara, KGFT, the Gift. U2 were first introduced to America through the Christian broadcasting stations while today Natasha Bedingfield’s success in the US has come through the same medium, (Christian music is a billion dollar industry, Word being the main label, based in Nashville). Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill were two ‘pioneers’ of Christian rock songs, whilst today other artists include Matt Redman, an American who actually preaches in Brighton.
Since we have had a home in Nashville we have been invited to attend a couple of churches – Nashville has more churches per head than any other city in the US. I’d love to attend a true Southern Baptist service, and will one day. The service yesterday gave everyone a taste of what it is like. There was a sense of family within the church, contentment, much like there was at the radio station I did the show for.
CJ and I love driving past churches in Nashville and reading the large signs outside, some vert clever. One we love is “It wasn’t raining when Noah started building the Ark,” and my favourite, “Prayer, unlimited wireless access to God.”
Religion is personal and can be dangerous as we know, extremists, but there are extreme Christians too. I knew someone who believed that he was a superior Christian because he was ‘born again’, so he would get into Heaven and the local vicar wouldn’t! What nonsense. And this was after he had tried every other religion on earth!
It is of course all individual interpretation of the Bible, or the Qur’an – you can possibly read into the text what you want to see. I have my own beliefs; my Lord has a sense of humour. A few years ago, when tribute shows were popular, I came up with a premise for ‘Jesus, the tribute show’. My friend was not amused, but my Jesus was!
It’s just when you try to impose your beliefs on other people that problems are created.
Another Twilight Zone moment right now; on the Andrew Marr show just now Nicky Campbell has told us the subject for the big Questions – is Britain a Christian country? Great question.
I thought the eulogy was superb and perfect and even CJ was tempted to go to church this morning!
I find one difference with the US and the UK with churches, is that here it seems it is almost a class thing, and a social status standing, whereas in the States it is more a community thing.
It was also interesting to see Twitter yesterday. While a lot of people were obviously tweeting about the Whitney service, a few seemed oblivious and it embarrassingly highlighted some people’s “It’s all about me,” outlook. Also, don’t personally retweet compliments, surely? One Brit TV presenter was one, another a Nashville based songwriter/performer.
Like my friend Mike, you didn’t have to like Whitney Houston’s music to be moved by yesterday’s service.
Here’s R Kelly’s offering yesterday – http://youtu.be/dOpSPlWJJ1E
I thought a bit of Cliff too – he quickly talks about Christian songs, and how he picks his songs, plus a live performance of one of my favourites – Yes, He Lives – http://youtu.be/pRXvOe1GFpA
And finally, an outstanding song by the aforementioned Matt Redman, Heart of Worship. This is many people’s favourite worship song but it is also just a great song, truly beautiful, regardless. If this was a general love song it would be massive and it will stick in your mind I promise – give it a listen
“You can never put God first and God forget you” – Pastor Marvin Winans.