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Friday, July 2, 2004

Unbelievable, indeed.

The following words were set to apparently rousing music for the closing celebration at the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly on Monday evening. (I was out eating dinner at the time, and so missed this particular bit of GA.)

We don't believe in miracles,
We belong to 21st century worlds,
Free from myth and fantasy,
We live in full reality,
'mid the wonders of our technology,
Surely, surely creation's apogee.

And then, in Dan Harper's report of the event, we come across this unironic passage:

Hushed comments came from the audience throughout this third movement, with members of the audience saying things like, "That was unbelievable!"

Indeed it is! Whenever religious liberals say they "live in full reality" — unlike, say, other people mired in their pathetic myths and superstitions — I see a very lively expression of modern mythology.

I greatly prefer the Rev. David Rankin's view that "all religions, in every age and culture, possess not only an intrinsic merit, but also a potential value for those who have learned the art of listening."

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 2 July 2004 at 6:12 PM

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July 2, 2004 09:17 PM | Permalink for this comment


I find the words of the hymn both incredibly offensive as well as a lie. UU has its myths, too, including the idea that objective reality can be apprehended. This is triumphalist and wrong.

Steve Caldwell:

July 3, 2004 01:16 AM | Permalink for this comment

Contrast the words you quoted from this composition with the following quote from the third movement (text copied from the UUA GA 2004 web site report of the closing celebration):

"The third movement returned to the feel of the first movement, with Elmore singing a gospel solo over the other musicians. The Choir sang:

'But now the miracle surely depends
on whether we inside it can comprehend.
So that the cosmos, glistening, mysterious,
Her secrets demurely kept from the curious,
O can't see, it's glistening, mysterious ... '

The "Free from myth and fantasy" lyrics may simply be a telling of the story of where we've been as a liberal religious movement and isn't a final statement of what Unitarian Universalism is all about.

I'm going to check out the streaming video presentation from the UUA web site ... you've got me curious. Right now, I'm listening to the jazz combo prelude to the closing worship service.


July 3, 2004 05:43 AM | Permalink for this comment

Having had to listen to that choral piece made me realize that it was an example of what happens when humanists write hymns. To be honest I couldn't read what the lyrics were in the 3rd movement because it was so bad to start off with i was affraid o look up. The music reminded me of the time on Star Trek when Spock hung out with those space hippies, yes it was that bad.

In fact the whole closing was horrible, it was as if SNL scripped it. "What do UUs like? Some poetry, a children's story, a choir singing experimental music and something 'ethnic'. Unfortunatly by the time we got to the very nice Mexican music I was lost. There was no theme, there was no center to the closing, it was obviou that the music director ran away with the show and no one was in charge to say NO. Everyone was over dramatic, the only natural person was Bill coming up and put a bullet in it. Thank you Bill, if only you could have started off with the benediction.

D. C.:

July 3, 2004 07:07 PM | Permalink for this comment

On a Friday night a couple of years ago, I went to hear Bishop Spong, bete noire of traditionalist Episcopalians, at one of the local UU churches. While waiting for the program to start, I flipped through the hymnal in the pew rack. I saw maybe one reference to God in the hymns I looked at.

I was reminded of what an older friend said about the UUs -- "they don't believe in anything except general human warmth."


July 11, 2004 07:02 PM | Permalink for this comment

Take a look at "Bring Many Names" in the UU hymnbook. It blows me away everytime we sing it. Maybe it will move you too.

Dan Harper:

July 12, 2004 02:12 PM | Permalink for this comment

For the record, Chris Walton is correct if somewhat tautological when he states that this reporter's reporting was "unironic" -- by definition, reporting is supposed to be intentionally "unironic." However, where this reporter clearly went wrong is in not making it clear to readers that the audience's reactions were prompted by the music and the musicians, but apparently not the lyrics. As a matter of fact, the lyrics were difficult to follow, and this reporter obtained a copy of the sheet music in order to be able to quote them accurately in the story.

And now for a little editorial comment -- it struck me that this piece of music was a lot like many jazz standards, where the wilted words just don't measure up to the evergreen melodies. Ray Egan writes decent music, and he is one heck of a pianist, and in the great tradition of jazz, that was enough for me.

That's my $.02 worth -- Dan


July 12, 2004 05:13 PM | Permalink for this comment

"Bring Many Names" is indeed offers one of the more moving theological perspectives of any song in our hymnal, as do most of the other pieces written by the same lyricist, Brian Wren. Unfortunately for us, Brian Wren is Methodist, not UU. Don't get me wrong--I'm very glad to see his work included in our hymnbook. My point is, we need more UUs also writing hymns displaying similarly excellent theological views.


July 13, 2004 09:44 AM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks, Dan! Maybe with music this good, we can find some better lyrics. Or perhaps like lots of jazz standards, we'll come to know and love the music sans words.

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