CHAMPIONSHIP LEVEL Think you’re following the reverie surrounding this weekend’s Lewis-Tyson fight closely? Well, I went to church on Sunday with Lewis’ mama. Or at least I was at church with his mama, and the rest of the Lewis entourage (sans Lewis himself), when they showed up to get some of that fightin’ Holy Spirit this past Sunday at Al Green’s church. Sure, Lewis may have gotten the keys to the city from Mayor Herenton, but his family and followers went for the keys to the Kingdom, which were handed down from the mighty Reverend Green and his rockin’ gospel choir. The church seemed more than happy to receive them. “Your son can whoop anyone in this world. Praise the Lord,” proclaimed the pastor who headed things up until Green arrived. You’ve just got to love Memphis. And any of you who are heading to town to root, hobnob, or bet this week might want to check out this little gem, hidden off Elvis Presley Boulevard in the shadow of Graceland. My advice to you? Forget Graceland for the moment. Keep driving, and catch the Jungle room in August when the 25th death anniversary set gets here. That will certainly be a much more interesting time to check out the lush/tacky abode of Rock ‘n Roll’s proclaimed King. I mean, you’ve got a chance to see Al Green preachin’ and singin’ and healin’ and dancin’ live and in the flesh, and for free, no less. Who knows, he might even serve you up some redemption, and who, in some corner of their little soul, doesn’t want to be redeemed by that man with the voice of gold and the giant ring on his finger to match? This church/attraction is undoubtedly an authentic Memphis experience unlike any other, and while you kind of have to gauge your odds as to whether Green will be there on a given Sunday, what with the fame and the tour schedule and all, it’s more than worth it either way. I’ve now been once with Green at the pulpit and once without, and both experiences were equally (or almost equally) memorable. Since Green will be performing with Isaac Hayes at the Desoto Civic Center on Thursday, I’d say your chances of catching him in preacher mode this weekend are probably good to excellent. Six to one lets say, though you’d have to consult that agency in Vegas if you want to get the actual odds. The church is officially called the Full Gospel Tabernacle, and is nestled away at 787 Hale Road. And when they say full gospel, they mean it. This parish and choir can sing. I mean really sing, and I suppose it’s not altogether surprising when their leader is one of Memphis’ most famous musical exports. On top of the singing, there’s the dancing. Now normally I don’t shake my proverbial groove thing unless there’s a six-pack or so behind me, but both times I stepped foot in Green’s house of worship I was up, clapping and swaying, before the morning was through. Even in light of the ever-rolling cameras present this time around, obviously there to capture the Lewis clan in their every public step as the fight night countdown continues, I danced. The resultant fear of flicking through the channels only to see my aforementioned groove thing wiggling on national television will surely wear off with time. If my churchgoing experience as a kid involved more of that kind of praise, I might not have whined and complained about going so much. Although, I’ll admit, a three-hour plus service isn’t something that I could do every weekend. Now, to be honest, I sometimes had a bit of a hard time following Green when he commenced with the sermon. Much of his preaching was interjected with commentary about the aforementioned news cameras that were circling around the church all morning. But we know better, don’t we? Al Green, entertainer extraordinaire, uncomfortable in front of the camera’s adoring eye? I’d contend that Green’s comments were more for show than anything else. This seemed especially likely in light of his repeated references to the “ways” of the Deep South, followed each time with a meaningful glance at the cameras, and also his diatribe on the blessings of America in a sociopolitical context of terror. This latter theme came out of left field, so to speak, but doesn’t every public figure have to address the issue when offered a national platform to speak post-September 11th? At one point, mid-sentence, he even erupted into an impassioned rendition of God Bless America, which while off-putting at first, or maybe just unexpected, was damn good. I mean darn good. Oops. But Reverend Green’s ability to vacillate between the message and the showmanship is precisely what makes him such an entertaining preacher. By making the service and its corresponding message a bit of a performance, people listen rather than falling asleep behind their Bibles, even if he doesn’t make complete and total sense. The service begins pretty late in the morning, so don’t you worry if you plan to spend fight night carousing and cheering, or crying and cursing if you’ve misplaced your bet. Things start heating up at about 11:00 AM, and go until 2:00 PM or so, but people seem to pretty much show up when they want to. At least “tourists” like myself (and the Revered) do. The small core of actual parishioners gets there at about 9:45 for Sunday school, but this week Green didn’t roll in until 12:30, fresh off a plane from Chicago. Punctuality is, at best, optional. So what was Green’s advice for Lewis come fight time? “Better put some tape on those ears,” he quipped, and no one was afraid to laugh. In light of the little chunk Tyson took out of Lewis’ leg at a January press conference, you can’t really argue with the man on that count.

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