A Celebration of Christ…and Lincoln?
Last Saturday Minda and I went to one of the most beautiful, festive, and entertaining Christmas spectacles of our lives. (We were lucky enough to be seated on the second row ono the main floor of the Tabernacle!) The special event was called, “Celebration of Christ: An Interfaith Concert”. It was held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square.
Choirs and individuals representing several Christian religions (including Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, and of course, Latter-day Saints) performed exquisite Christmas music—some sacred, some secular. The choir from the First Baptist Church of Salt Lake, made up mostly of African American singers, performed one of the most rousing numbers of the evening. (Unfortunately I can’t provide details as I accidentally threw out my program from the event.)
Jenny Oats Baker (daughter of Elder Dallin Oaks and June Oaks) performed several amazing numbers including What Child is This?. It was some of the most beautiful violin music I’ve ever heard. BYU’s nine-member, male a cappella group, Vocal Point, did some amazing vocal things that I don’t know how to describe. Their music was delightful and thrilling. Their rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas was performed with amazingly pure harmony. Audience members were caught off guard with some hysterical twists to the otherwise too-familiar song. Famous celloist-beatboxer Kevin Olosulo, a Seventh Day Adventist, not only played intriguing music, he also carved an unscheduled moment out of the program to bear a personal testimony about blessings that have come to him because of decisions he’s made to do his best to obey the law of the Sabbath.
Two young men (I wish I knew their names but there’s that issue, again, of the lost program) sang a two-song medley of O Holy Night and How Great Thou Art. It was amazingly beautiful and edifying. So sweet. So pure. So powerful.
At about 60 minutes into the 90-minute event an interesting turn of events occurred. The combined choirs sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic while gigantic, waving image of the Stars and Stripes was projected on the Tabernacle’s famous curved ceiling. Later in the hymn, images of few fallen members of the US military from Utah were projected to the side. The hymn was beautifully performed but I wouldn’t consider The Battle Hymn Christmas music. (Who would?) I enjoyed hearing that powerful and moving hymn sung in concert on Independence Day last summer and I enjoy hearing it sung in church services on occasion. But it seemed not to fit into a concert the purpose of which is to celebrate Christ at Christmas. And then I was startled to see a much-larger-than-life likeness of Abraham Lincoln projected above the tabernacle’s grand organ as the music transitioned from The Battle Hymn of The Republic to a drum ‘duet’ by two dueling drummers: a fresh-faced boy of 10 or 12 years dressed in a Union blue military uniform and a grown man dressed in Confederate grey. The young boy obviously symbolized the moral innocence and rightness of the Union cause. The boy left center state after accusingly pointing a drum stick at the Confederate soldier. He went to the left side of the stage and knelt before a crèche while the Confederate soldier drummed on. Then the Union boy came back to center stage and with a quiet gesture convinced the Confederate soldier to join him by the crèche.
At this point in the concert the big, bold image of Lincoln was far more prominent (and lasted longer than) the only image of Christ that had been shown at the beginning of the concert. That image was a dark silhouette of an image of Christ with outstretched arms. I felt that Christ had been cheated.
I wondered how an interfaith committee of Christians could have found it appropriate to include a tribute to Lincoln and his horrific war in the middle of a sublime Christmas concert. The concert wasn’t billed as “A Celebration of Christ and Lincoln” after all...but during Battle Hymn and the subsequent drum duel, that’s what it seemed to be.
The concert then returned to its proper focus: the universal adoration of Christ and the wonders of the Christmas Season. A splendid and colorful image of Christ shone down from above the grand organ. We in the audience were again bathed in the glowing Christmas spirit. I felt gratified.
All-in-all the “Celebration of Christ: An Interfaith Concert” was a richly rewarding experience. It was by no means ruined by the political advertisement that had been sandwiched into the celebration of Christ and Christmas. I hope that no one thinks me a Scrooge or a Grinch for drawing attention to the Lincoln tribute. I do not fault any of the churches that sponsored or participated in the concert. (The decision to involve Lincoln was made by individuals and not by the institutions they represent.) My intention in drawing attention to this issue is that perhaps some of my readers might consider how American society has virtually turned Lincoln into a god...whom we are sometimes expected to revere right alongside the Savior…and how wrong and inappropriate that is.
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Orem, Utah—5 December 2013—©2013 Daniel Kemper Lubben
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