If you try to guess my religious background from the types and sources of music presented on this blog, you're apt to be perplexed. What is this guy--a Protestant (if so, which denomination?)? A Catholic? A Mormon? A Jew? In various ways, I'm both "none of the above" and "all of the above."
I am a believer in Jesus Christ and His infinitely loving atonement for my sins on the Cross, as well as in His virgin birth, resurrection, divinity, and the eternal life He has promised all who believe on Him and follow his way--in short, the fundamental tenets of all orthodox Christian belief. At this point in my spiritual journey, I can't say with assurance that our Heavenly Father is either satisfied or displeased with my lack of commitment to a particular church or denomination. But somehow I'm comfortable, even happy, with it, and trust that He will let me know if and when He wants me to be otherwise.
I was baptized and raised in the Roman Catholic faith, with two wonderful parents who modeled the best in Catholicism and endeavored to teach me and my siblings its ways, without being overly strict or stifling about it. We were also blessed with the love and example of my father's Catholic parents and their brothers and sisters, who are all beloved saints to us, even if not yet declared so by the Church! At the same time my mother, who converted to Catholicism from the Baptist tradition after marrying Dad, let us know that there were other approaches to God worthy of respect--and (as recent genealogical research has substantiated) that we were descended on her side from a pioneering Baptist minister in 19th century Florida! I'm glad I was able to experience traditional Catholic worship, liturgy, and music before the changes wrought by the Second Vatican Council made so much of these more "common" and, for me, less rewarding. The longer they were gone, the more I missed incense, Gregorian chant (especially that), and even Latin. Perhaps it was the air of mystery and majesty they lent to the Mass experience, a palpable connection with the past, the Saints, and maybe even with Heaven, that made it so engaging.
It was loss of that engagement as a teenager in the early 1970s, deepened by the focus of my religious instruction classes on "social relevance" rather than real spiritual nourishment from the Scriptures, that led me toward the fundamental Protestant Christianity some of my high school friends were then exploring. Reading the King James Bible for myself, as well as works like C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and others, opened a new spiritual dimension in my life. To me, nothing ever written was more poetic, moving, and full of wisdom than Job, the Psalms and Proverbs, Isaiah, Luke, or Paul's Epistles (just to name a few).
While the demands of college studies robbed me of the time I needed (and should have spent anyway) on deeper Bible studies, my thirst for a more spiritual life remained. As a senior I finally escaped the carnal bedlam of the dormitory by moving into an apartment building near campus operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS; the "Mormons")--no drugs, no alcohol, no insufferably loud rock music. And it was there that I met my future wife Melany, a member of the church. As our friendship grew, I began studying LDS teaching and history. While I remained skeptical about some tenets of their theology and belief, I came to know the Mormons as every bit "Christian," in the sense of believing passionately in Christ and leading Christ-like lives (for the most part; they're still human like everyone else), as any denomination. I also came to love their musical tradition, which is grounded in the old English hymnody of Watts, the Wesleys, et al. prevalent in America when the church was founded, but features their own hymns born of persecution and the arduous journey West, as well as more modern compositions that still reflect the sweet reverence of an earlier time. And, after law school, I finally wed Melany! The church has been a central part of our family's life ever since.
Several years ago, one of my brothers wed a wonderful Jewish lady and converted to her faith. I had always been fascinated by Jewish teaching, tradition, and history; my sophomore-year college roommate was Jewish and taught me much about the delights of Jewish food, music, humor, literature, and family life. Other friends introduced me to Jewish history and the cause of modern Israel, which I believe in deeply. In fact, my brother and I had together enjoyed all things Jewish for many years, so this step seemed quite comfortable for us. The Jews are Christ's own people and especially beloved of God, and it only seems right that we're part of the same family.
I am abundantly blessed to have such a diversity of threads woven into the fabric of my spiritual life! Each of these--Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jewish--has its own rich musical tradition, which approaches God and life, and celebrates them, in its own compelling way. I aim in this blog to explore them all (if not in exact proportion), and to help the visitor appreciate, to the extent my limited musical background permits, how much closer to God they can all bring us.
~ Thomas Fleming