Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Vatican Rag

It's a Throwback Thursday, and today I am gonna' go WAAAAY back- all the way to 1965. The great Tom Lehrer recorded a live album called That Was the Year That Was, an album full of satirical songs about the big news stories of the day. As you see in the accompanying quote, Tom's music was a great inspiration for older artist like Ray Stevens and current heroes like Weird Al. Now before you get carried away with the old jokes, I was only 6 and don't remember any of his music from when it actually happened. I was in high school when Hank Semmler (the father of my friends Carl & Steve) introduced me to Tom's music. And I LOVED it. I memorized every song on the album, eventually bought the CD, and still have it on my iPod. Even as outdated as the actual news stories on which the songs are based are, many of the underlying principles behind the songs (while in many cases now considered politically incorrect) are still very relevant today. And most every song- no matter how many times I hear them- makes me laugh. But there is one song in particular that literally cracks me up every single time it plays- and that's the song I want to share with you today. It's called The Vatican Rag.

Let me begin by saying that this song does poke a little fun at the faith and practices of the Catholic Church in 1965, but that is not what makes it funny. I have Catholic friends for whom I have a great deal of love and respect, and they find the song hysterical too. In fact, if the entire Church wants to follow the lead of Pope Francis by actually believing the teachings of Jesus, then perhaps we would all be better off being Catholic in our own way! What makes this song so hysterical to me is not the Catholic part- he could just have easily have joked about Methodist or Lutheran rituals. The thing that makes me laugh is the way Tom lampoons the idea of our need to make church "relevant"  and to "sell the product." Remember, 1965 was before anyone had ever heard of things like seeker worship, contemporary Christian music or praise bands. The Catholic church was just beginning to allow languages other than Latin to be spoken in Mass. They were allowing new kinds of music, including some songs played on guitar. The humor here comes from Tom's suggestion that if the Church really wanted to connect with the world, then we needed to go all in and get serious about using popular music and embracing the culture in our worship. He then offers "a modest example." You can hear it below.

He may not have meant it to be, but the the song was pretty prophetic. In the years since we have indeed introduced modern music and practices into worship. Much of it is beautiful and very appropriate. Some of it has been just as silly as The Vatican Rag. The real question behind anything the Church does to be "relevant" is this: Do we do it to draw people closer to God, or do we do it to "sell the product?" In the nearly 50 years since this song was written, the answers have been decidedly mixed. But let's not over think this. Primarily this song is meant to be funny, And it is! I hope you enjoy it. And if you love it like I do, be sure to check out more of the album. I would especially recommend National Brotherhood Week, Pollution and Who's Next?  Hope you all have a great Thursday!

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