The Corner

Heaven in Ordinarie; or, Amateurs Means Lovers


Living in New York City, one is confronted with a daily feast of cultural opportunities, just about every form of beauty created by man. This is especially true of the city’s plethora of religious services, some of which offer world-class beauty in worship. (St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue, with its famous choir school, is just the most conspicuous example.) But it’s good to be reminded that ordinary folks — men and women whose voices will never appear on a CD — can, with a little work and the right spirit, make a truly joyful noise. That’s what happened today at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Between the sermon and the liturgy of the Eucharist, about a dozen people — including a bright-eyed and clean-cut young couple who had been sitting right behind me — left their places in the pews and filed unassumingly to the front of the altar, where they launched into  Handel’s anthem “Lord I Trust Thee.” (You can find another rendition of it here.) They finished the piece, and filed just as unassumingly back to their places, but not before having reduced me to tears with the sincerity and beauty of their rendition.

When you go to a lot of religious services, the temptation is to become a theological and aesthetic critic: This liturgical text was well written, that sermon was awful, this choir is better than that schola, etc. And indeed, there were a couple of things in today’s service that I would object to: I am allergic to politics (left or right) in sermons, so the fact that a substantial portion of Pastor Heidi Neumark’s sermon was devoted to lobbying Congress not to cut the foreign-aid budget didn’t appeal to me. And one of the hymns — the lovely text “O Bread of Life from Heaven” — was delivered in such a lugubrious and lackluster manner that the pastor cut in and ended it before the final verse. (It is the custom in mainline Protestant services to sing hymns in their entirety.) But these things are important only in that they serve to remind us that we all bring our failings into church with us. What’s crucial — what I will remember about this particular service — is that ordinary people, again, people like us, can become utterly transparent to the divine. I saw it happen, a Real Presence, and I am grateful for it.

Most Popular


In Defense of Coleman Hughes

Picture the scene: A young man walks into a congressional hearing to offer witness testimony. His grandfather was barbarically brutalized by people who are now long dead. The nation in which he resides built its wealth of his grandfather’s brutalization. The question: Should his fellow citizens pay the young ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Making Sense of the Iran Chaos

One would prefer that correct decisions be made according to careful, deliberate plan. But a correct decision made impulsively, through a troubling process, is still nonetheless correct, and so it is with Donald Trump’s decision to refrain from military action against Iran. The proposed strike would represent a ... Read More

College Leaders Should Learn from Oberlin

Thanks to their social-justice warrior mindset, the leaders of Oberlin College have caused an Ohio jury to hit it with $44 million in compensatory and punitive damages in a case where the school couldn't resist the urge to side with its “woke” students against a local business. College leaders should learn ... Read More
Film & TV

Toy Story 4: A National Anthem

The Toy Story franchise is the closest thing we have to an undisputed national anthem, a popular belief that celebrates what we think we all stand for — cooperation, ingenuity, and simple values, such as perpetual hope. This fact of our infantile, desensitized culture became apparent back in 2010 when I took a ... Read More

Joe and the Segs

Joe Biden has stepped in it, good and deep. Biden, if he has any hope of ever being elected president, will be dependent on residual goodwill among African Americans from his time as Barack Obama’s loyal and deferential vice president — so deferential, in fact, that he stood aside for Herself in 2016 even ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Madcap Caution of Donald Trump

The worry last week was that the Trump administration was ginning up fake intelligence about Iran blowing up oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz to justify a war against Iran. Then, this week, President Donald Trump said the Iranian attacks weren’t a big deal. The episode is another indication of the ... Read More