why am I being such a pain?

It’s nice to find that people you respect share your views, especially when those views may have raised some eyebrows among others you respect.

Occasionally, I get the impression that some people feel personally attacked when I (or someone else) suggests that the way we do things now might be profitably changed. Attack? Nothing could be further from the truth. When I say I think something might be done differently, I do it exactly because I hold our faith so dear, and want it to continue to offer its blessings to those who seek them.

I think Unitarian Universalism is very important. I think our faith could be saving to a lot of people. That’s why I want us to survive.

So, here’s a thought from UUA president Rev. Peter Morales, by way of Peter Bowden’s UUA Growth blog, that encourages me to continue doing what I do here.

I had a conversation last year with a famous expert on organizational change—Harvard professor has written a shelf full of books. And in that conversation he made a comment that has haunted me for a year. He observed that when an organization fails it is almost never its problems that kill it. What kills it is its past success. And what he meant was that problems tend to be technical and solvable, but that people have a tendency to hold onto the past, to old ways of doing things even when they’re no longer relevant because the past has become part of their identity. And this holding onto the past kills the organization. What are we hanging onto that no longer serves us?

We need to remind ourselves that our heroes and heroines were always people who knew how to let go, who saw new possibilities, and who were bold. The best way for us to honor the past is to be like them. To push for change, to forge a vision of a new future, and yes, to make trouble.

Unitarians and Universalists are heavily represented in the top ranks of notable religious and political thinkers in the United States, from Thomas Jefferson to Theodore Sorensen. But, Jefferson was first and foremost an iconoclast. Were he alive, he would not be doing the same things in the same ways today as he did in 1800. Why should we?

About liberalreligiongetsloud

Contemporary Music and Worship Director (retired), First Unitarian, Albuquerque NM
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10 Responses to why am I being such a pain?

  1. Paul Oakley says:

    Just a suggestion here:

    I’m assuming, because of the presence of the presence on YouTube of videos of Christine Robinson in the pulpit, that your church has some video-making capacity. So I would like to suggest that you video a few of your contemporary worship services to post somewhere and link to here so that people who have not yet been able to attend one of your services can get a concrete idea of one congregation’s example of how your ideas on worship plays out. Not just a song or two, but a whole service (split into however many parts are necessary to get it uploaded).

    I for one would love to observe one of your services! 🙂

    • I wish we could! Unfortunately, we are allowed to sing copyrighted songs in a religious service without paying royalties, but we’re not allowed to broadcast them (by, for example, posting on YouTube). Don’t ask me what the distinction is, but that’s why we can’t do the whole service.

      I could post the order of service, though, if you think that would give you an sense of it. And, of course, you would be most welcome to come visit.

      • Paul Oakley says:

        Dangit! I keep forgetting about copyright complications. I would love to come visit, but my schedule won’t allow that at least for another couple of years. Hence the video suggestion that won’t work. So… how to do this…

        Yes, an order of service would be a place to start. But I’m wondering how to use “fair use” as a way around the restrictions of copyright. I wonder… maybe record the whole service but edit out the bulk of each song. Leave the intro and beginning and return to the end of each song, so that the style and visual presentation could be ascertained by the person using the video but the bulk of the copyrighted material would be absent. Just like journalists and academics quoting relevant chunks of some copyrighted source material, it seems that this would be fair use, educational in intent and not presenting the work so much as representing its style and presentation.

        Just an idea. 🙂 But, yes, definitely share an order of service if you can.


  2. Here’s a typical order of service from a recent Sunday:

    Prelude (recorded): Dear God (Monsters of Folk), Blue Boat Home (Peter Mayer)
    Lighting the Chalice
    Singing Together (led by volunteer singer, band)
    “Across the Universe”, “One Love”, “Shambala”
    Story for All Ages (after which children leave for RE activities)
    Meditation and prayer. Music: “We Are All Connected” (Symphony of Science)
    Speaking the names of those in our hearts
    Message (aka sermon)
    Receive the Offering (Song: Tomorrow Never Knows)
    Closing song (“One Love”) and benediction

    The offertory is the only musical “presentation”. Rather than singing the Doxology, reciting a group reading, then hearing a guest cellist present an interlude, we begin by singing together for ten minutes, usually lively music to start on an “up” mood. We usually close by repeating one of those opening songs, so people leave with something catchy and uplifting stuck in their ears. We try to keep the arc of the mood as consistent as we can, starting high and energetic, then moving to quiet meditation, rising through the sermon to an energetic end.

    I’ll talk to the video team and see what they think about doing a “fair use” recording.

  3. Paul Oakley says:

    Thanks for this! I love that you do 8 songs (one a repetetion) in the service!

    I’ve used “Blue Boat Home” (Peter Mayer), “One Love/ People Get Ready” (Bob Marley), and “We Are All Connected” (Symphony of Science) in services I’ve led before. My home congregation loved them. We’ve been hampered in singing Blue Boat congregationally by our lack of musicians, but even so, my congregation loves singing it as well as listening to it.

    Thanks for the listing of “Dear God” (Monsters of Folk). I Googled it, as I had not heard of the group or of this song. At age 50 I’m not a musical fuddy duddy – I just don’t have the same kind of exposure to new music as I did 20 years ago. Anyway, I’m glad I did the search! That is a great song! Meaningful lyrics. And its place as a prelude makes a lot of sense to me, though it might work well in other places too, particularly if the service’s topic is the problem of evil and pain in the world.

    The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Three Dog Night’s “Shambala
    The Beatles’ had slipped from my lexicon with the passage of time.

    I like the idea of starting the service with a somewhat extended time of singing together. Do you project lyrics on a screen or use some other means of providing people with the lyrics?

    I am curious as to the average age/ range of ages attending your contemporary service. In this order of service the songs sung together are all in the category of “oldies” (like me). Do you usually have contemporary or contemporary-classic rock mix in that slot?

    One question regarding the order of this order of service. I notice that the announcements come after the Singing Together period. Doesn’t that interrupt the flow of the service, the aesthetic and thematic throughline? I have observed this as interruption in many UU and other churches and have long had difficulty with it. If it is an integral part of the service for you, I would be interested to learn how. For a long time my home congregation managed to avoid announcements altogether. But when it became clear that they were at least occasionally called for, I introduced them Quaker-style in the penultimate position, right before the final blessing and postlude, which I thought made sense since they pertain not to the flow of the service but to returning to life beyond “these walls and this liturgy.” I recognize that a lot of issues to do with individual taste and preference come into it. I’m just wondering how you do it so it doesn’t break the flow that you’ve beautifully put in place with the together-singing of the congregation.

    And thank you so much for sharing this order of service! Having an actual example of the thing discussed makes if much easier to understand. It would be great if your video team finds “fair use” a viable way to illustrate your services as well. Thanks!

    • Paul Oakley says:

      4th paragraph edit malfunction. Sorry. Just means these songs were dredged from very deep depths of memory on listening again. I don’t hear or think of them usually.

      Question, though, re the “standard” service at your church. Do interpret correctly that the fairly solid custom is to begin the service as follows:

      Chalice Lighting
      Responsive or Unison Reading
      Musical Interlude (somewhat formal/classical in nature)

      If so, that is both interesting and puzzling…

      • Yes, that’s the usual form in the traditional services.


      • Paul Oakley says:

        Oh, “puzzling” was specific to the doxology’s position, since traditionally the doxology was used in Christian liturgy to close off a particular liturgical item and make it clear that the next thing was ready to begin. But here it is right at the beginning of the service, before a reading rather than after it… It just was puzzling that a very traditional leftover from Christian worship is strongly positioned in the “standard” service (as opposed to occasionally used in whatever position) without fulfilling its longer traditional function. But of course UU services have lots of local-historical idiosyncrasies.

  4. The first two of those “oldies” were chosen by the 40-year-old lead singer for the week, actually. And “Shambala” was suggested by my 19-year-old niece – it’s her current favorite song. Song choice during the opening singing is usually a negotiation between me and the singer for the week, so it varies depending on who’s singing.

    The myth of attracting young adults with contemporary worship persists. But there are two separate and interesting things at work that undermine that stereotype.

    First, I think we’re appealing to people who feel that music IS worship and not just a breather between “real” liturgical elements. That’s a preference that cuts across demographics. We have some 20-somethings and we have some 80-somethings who attend regularly. My unscientific guess is that the age distribution at the contemporary service matches that of the traditional services pretty closely. What does NOT match, demographically, is the noticeably higher number of newcomers who land in the contemporary service. Make of that what you will.

    The other thing we may fail to consider is that “our” music (from the ’60s, or ’70s, or ’80s, or whatever) is no longer just ours. Postmodernism is the style of the Gen Xers and Millenials. Every town of any size has at least one radio station playing “classic rock”, so many people in their 20s or 30s are just as familiar with the Beatles or Bob Marley as they are with Sarah McLaughlin or Matchbox 20. (Check that graph from last.fm I posted previously!) We have an LP copy of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Greatest Hits” in the house, but the CD copy belongs to my 26-year-old. I also play hip-hop artists like DC Talk (“Love is a Verb”) and Macy Gray (“Beauty in the World”) for worship and get positive comments from the boomers and GGers, so maybe postmodernism is just what we all do now.

    We project the lyrics for a couple of reasons. First, I find it depressing to lead a song and see the tops of a bunch of heads looking down into hymnals. We sing better when we’re standing up straight, and I believe that our posture affects our mood. Second, we would have to buy a bunch of expensive sheet music or negotiate with the publisher of every song we do, if we wanted to hand out printed lyrics. Projecting lyrics in a religious service, however, is allowed as long as you have a legitimately purchased copy of the music. So, we expand our repertoire within my limited budget and people sing and feel better.

    We use the projector for the whole order of service. The story for all ages often has pictures, and the ministers have been using it more and more to illustrate their sermons (either pictures, or key quotes or ideas).

    Announcements are the thorn in my paw. I often put them right before the offering, at the end, but sometimes they need to be earlier in the service where, as you noted, they risk breaking the flow. But there’s a time of disruption while the kids are trooping out, so I usually invite people to greet their neighbors and then bring them back with the announcements. Today, I’m leaning towards having them at the end. I wish I could just use telepathy….

  5. Paul Oakley says:

    I was a bit surprised at how relevant the preface to a 19th-century Universalist worship book seemed to contemporary questions of reviving worship through revising it to make it work for people who live and breathe contemporary culture. Here is my brief reflection on it.

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