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98 nick salvatore 5 Deeply Within: Catholicism, Faith, and History I’m not a churchgoer, but I realized, as time passed, that my music is filled with Catholic imagery. It’s not a negative thing. There was a powerful world of potent imagery that became alive and vital and vibrant, and was both very frightening and held out the promise of ecstasies and paradise. There was this incredible internal landscape that they created in you. As I got older, I got less and less defensive about it. I thought, I’ve inherited this particular landscape and I can build it into something of my own. —Bruce Springsteen, 2005 I find myself in Detroit, Michigan, on any one of many Sundays between 1998 and 2004. I get off the Lodge Freeway, take a right on West Grand, past Ford Hospital, past Hitsville, Motown’s original home, and on past some badly run-down houses, to Linwood. A right on Linwood takes me past the Shrine of the Black Madonna, the still-operating site of the Reverend Albert Cleage’s Black Christian Nationalist movement. Shortly beyond this church, Linwood becomes C. L. Franklin Boulevard, and I make a left into the parking lot, leave the car, and walk across the boulevard to New Bethel Baptist Church. It’s about 10:30 a.m., and the congregation is gathering for the eleven o’clock service. This is Reverend Franklin’s former church, the physical space he regularly transcended in the powerful sermons he preached here between 1946 and 1979, the church that made him one of the most influential preachers of his generation. It is also the space where two of his three children whom 01.i-x_1-198_Salv.indd 98 11/3/06 9:55:12 AM I met, daughters Erma and Aretha, immersed themselves in the Baptist tradition and established the foundations of their sense of self. New Bethel Baptist Church is ground zero for so much of modern American religious experience and popular culture, and I am writing a biography of Reverend Franklin. As I approach the wooden doors, a member of the congregation acknowledges me, welcomes me with a warm smile, and holds open the door. But who am I as I enter? In part, of course, I am the social historian and biographer, and that is a role that feels comfortable at this stage in my career. But it has become very clear to me in past visits that I am here more than as the historian. I have shown myself enough in the church beyond the need to make contacts for interviews, and even given three talks from the pulpit on different occasions. No, some part of me I don’t know (but is anything but foreign nonetheless) is asking my travel agent to book my return flights home in a way that usually enables me to attend services. Over time, other things have happened to me as well in that church, with that congregation. Gradually I stopped sitting in the visitor’s section (although I am still occasionally placed there by the ushers) but rather sit among the worshippers. Then too I found myself voluntarily going forward with most of the congregation for a prayer service in the well of the sanctuary—two hundred or more people, whose joined hands form a bond the strength of which I marvel at, praying as Deacon Milton Hall chants an ancient spiritual in tones that still echo his Arkansas upbringing. But praying? I feel so self-conscious, stymied—how do you do this praying thing? And yet I sense a calmness as well, not quite of belonging, but more akin to coming closer to an internal home. Later, during Altar Call, when Pastor Robert Smith seeks those who would accept Jesus Christ, two young junior deacons, one of whom I know, approach me. I respond with an informal, “Ahm, but you know who I am. I live in upstate New York.” The man I know—his seriousness cuts right through: “You are in this church enough to be a member regardless of where you live. When will you make the jump?” Reading his seriousness , I dismiss the glib retorts that had leapt to mind. I think: “But I’m a Catholic.” My vocal cords cannot pronounce those words. Instead, I startle myself as I blurt out, “Not yet.” What does this mean? I ask myself for the rest of the day heading home. I don’t think I will...


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