Thursday, April 23, 2015

Funny Movie Churches -- Sister Act (1992)

I admit that I like, on occasion, to hear profanity in prayers. The occasions are when a new believers are praying with the only vocabulary they have.  If a seasoned pastor, on the other hand,  uses such language to show how edgy he or she is, that's really annoying.

A new believer, or even someone who doesn't believe, can be an unsettling presence in the Church. Such a person can also allow a sedate congregation to get a fresh perspective of God and his work.

The movie church in the 1992 comedy "Sister Act" is in great need of a fresh perspective, of being shook up. St. Katherine's is a church and a nunnery in San Francisco. The nuns stay cloistered behind their walls because their Reverend Mother is afraid for their safety. A small handful of people attend the Sunday services, which seem to be rather sad affairs.

But then the plot happens. Whoopi Goldberg is a casino lounge singer named Deloris who witnesses a gangland murder and must hide at St. Katherine's disguised as a nun (I'm pretty sure this is fairly standard law enforcement procedure). And as can happen when a new person enters a church, there is some disruption, good disruption. With the arrival of Deloris, the church and convent change in two major departments: music and outreach.

In my opinion, there are three important components to music in the church:
1)  Lyrics that honor God
2) Musical quality
3) Worship from the heart.

If any one of these components are subpar, then worship can be painful. We've visited churches that had excellent musicians, but the lyrics were insipid, and the people in front seemed to be performers rather than worshipers.

The choir of nuns pre-Deloris in "Sister Act" seem sincere-- far be it from me to complain about the lyrics to "Crown Him with Many Crowns." But they sing boring musical arrangements of classic hymns, not in harmony or even on key. One is under the impression that the torturous tunes from the choir play a part in keeping people from attending the Sunday morning services.

Deloris contributes her musical skills to the choir, taking over as director. Initially she uses traditional hymns with more jazzy arrangements. She also demands more rehearsal time for the women and gives them proper training. People in the community hear the improvement in the music and begin to flock to the services. The Reverend Mother is upset by this "blasphemous boogie-woogie," but the Monsignor is too happy to have people at his service.

Deloris also introduces songs that are adaptations of Motown pop. "My Guy" becomes "My God," and "I Will Follow Him" capitalizes the male pronoun in the lyrics. Sadly, these lyrics are not very profound, but they do attract people to church. And the lyrics really aren't much dimmer than those found in your average song on K-Love. Overall, the music of the church is much improved post-Deloris' arrival.

Prior to Deloris' arrival, the Reverend Mother kept the nuns "safely" within the walls of  St. Katherine's. But Christ's Great Commission (found in Matthew 28) calls His disciples to go out into the world. The only true place of safety is in God's will, and it's questionable whether the nuns doing arts and crafts separate from anyone not wearing the white and black is either safe or profitable to the Kingdom of God.

Deloris sneaks off to a bar across from the nunnery and is followed by two of the nuns. The nuns are inspired by the lively atmosphere and the jukebox. Apparently in 1992, Motown was all that could be found in jukeboxes in San Francisco bars.

Over the objections of the Reverend Mother but with the support of the Monsignor, Deloris encourages the nuns to go out and serve the community. They go out to serve, painting over graffiti and repairing vehicles with musical accompaniment (Motown, of course). The nuns' ministry to the community attracts good publicity (which is a swell thing, unless one is hiding from criminals who have access to newspapers and television news programs).

"Sister Act" is at times cute ("That nun is dancing like a teen!") at times funny ("Whoopi Goldberg in a habit? Get out!") and at times dumb (nuns chartering a plane from San Francisco to Reno is quicker and more practical than making a phone call to the Reno police). But as always, I'm not here to review the film. The church at the beginning of the film might not get a thumbs up, but St. Katherine's at the end of the film certainly does.

-- Dean