Rowan Williams’ greatest and most unappreciated virtue is this: good liberal that he is, he nevertheless understands that the conservative position on homosexuality is a theologically serious one and that labeling it as “bigotry” and leaving it there is intellectual dishonesty of the highest order.
A position for which he has caught hell from the Anglican left. These people apparently think that Dr. Williams should have enthusiatically attended Gene Robinson’s consecration and then informed the Africans that the North Americans are right so keep quiet, deal with it and we’ll keep the scratch flowing your way.
But my gracious lord of Canterbury was too honest to do that, which is both good and bad. As Sarah quite correctly points out, one of the greatest, if not the single greatest failure of his tenure at Lambeth Palace was his inability(or refusal) to recognize what was right in front of his face.
That the two schools of thought current in Anglicanism were absolutely irreconcilable. Because of that, Dr. Williams couldn’t see how fatally the North Americans had wounded the Anglican Communion in 2003. So, good Anglican that he is, His Grace kept pretending that all problems can be solved over a couple glasses of really good Port.
Unlike my “Wayfaring Stranger” post, which includes multiple versions of the classic spiritual, this time There Can Only Be One. Where “How Great Thou Art” is concerned, there is Elvis Presley, and then there is everyone else.
That’s not to say others don’t do it perfectly well. Elvis just owns this song. His vocal artistry is at its peak here. As he matured, his love of bass singers drove him to push his voice into a lower register, and this is the voice deployed to such spectacular effect on his post-military sessions at RCA’s Studio B in Nashville. These are the sessions that gave us what his arguably his greatest studio performance: Surrender. These songs have a very different quality than the Sun Sides and pre-military RCA recordings. Less of that raw energy is on display. In return, we get a more controlled, finely crafted performance.
This studio version of “How Great Thou Art” was recorded in 1966, also at Studio B, and is one of the masterpieces of modern gospel music.
His passion for the hymn never waned, as you can see from this live performance from 1972. Watch the ecstasy on his face as he sings and listens to the Sweet Inspirations and JD Sumner and the Stamps perform their parts. This is a man praying through song, and offering his gift up to God as an act of worship. Before and after performances–indeed, whenever he gathered with other musicians–this is what Elvis sang for God and for himself. If you don’t own a good collection of his religious music, you are seriously missing out.
Feel free to post any other versions you think are worthy, and I’ll add them as an update.