“What’s in a song?
A couple of people asked me recently what I thought the difference was between two songs I had used as central themes of services here. The difference is especially striking given the election and how it’s affected the country.
The first song I played in August was “Believer” by the group American Authors. It’s a joyful and upbeat song testifying to a belief that things will get better in our world. The second song I played a couple of weeks ago was “Manifesto” by Nahko and Medicine for the People. It’s optimistic but in a more hard-nosed sort of way.
I think both songs speak to the essential optimism in America that things will work out if we take responsibility and believe that we can make a difference. “Believer” is light-hearted and energetic; “Manifesto” tells us to find our medicine to cure ourselves and the world and then use it for the purposes of healing rather than harming. Of course, for all too many Americans the idea of optimism is laughable if they are fearful or homeless or face medical and mental health issues.
Why would I pick two songs that spoke to optimism in a dark and dangerous time?
First, I think that pessimism has a place in our lives but not as a constant burden we carry. I remember my old Zen teacher one time saying that pessimism can wear away any hopes we have for our own improvement let alone helping others.
Second, optimism in my mind is not a guarantee that things will always work out. It at least points us in the direction of healing and hope rather than despair and gloom. Yes, despair and gloom feel strong for many people right now. In my mind, I see that feeling as normal but transitory in nature. We cannot live in that condition for a long time and be healthy.
This is where communities like Westside UU come into play. Our Unitarian side of religious faith has pointed us toward a world where the Seven Principles become the guiding norms of a whole world rather than for a small religious sect. There is a hope and faith that such improvements will happen. Our Universalist side is less obvious. We don’t believe generally in Heaven and Hell as did our religious ancestors. What if we substituted “Awaken” rather than “Heaven and Hell”? Our new Universalist faith would be that we know from the depth of our hearts that we will all awaken to our full potential as human beings sometime in the future. It’s a somewhat more theological statement than the Unitarian belief that the Seven Principles will all come true. Subtle differences to be sure but important ones in my mind.
The last thing I want to say about those two songs is that they both express a fierce joy and determination to move forward no matter what obstacles stand in our way. They express it in different ways but the result is that I finish listening to these (and many others) songs and feel energized and determined.
Perhaps that’s a good reminder for us all. Church on Sundays ought to be a place of renewal and inspiration; of companionship and discernment. What I hope will happen in coming weeks and months is also a fierce joyfulness that we will move into the unknown future but not alone.
I hope you have songs that express joy, determination and perhaps even put a smile on your face as you hear them.
Blessings to us all,