Our Seven Principles in Song and Verse
Rev. Douglas Taylor
August 14, 2016
Let me offer a little introduction to today’s service. Skimming through the program you will notice we have not Doxology or Covenant, no Joys and Sorrows, no Spirit of Life, no hymns at all really. What we have instead are 8 songs which I will play with their videos. This is a project I had a lot of fun with this summer. For each of our seven UU principles, find a contemporary pop song that has the same message and values. My rules were that the songs needed to be recent – in the past ten years, and they needed to be on the pop radio stations, preferably songs reaching #1 on the billboard charts. It was harder than I thought it would be.
Perfect (for Principle 1) Pink
Our first song, as our prelude following the Passing of the Peace, is from the artist Pink. She has a long string of number one songs over the years. Her music is driving, edgy and sometimes controversial. She started her career early as part of the Philly club scene at the age of 13; she was performing every Friday night. Pink become an accomplished singer and songwriter within a few years, but also nearly dying from a drug overdose at the age of 15. This song, Perfect, is the clean version of the 2010 number 1 hit. I offer this trigger warning for the video – it features self-harm.
Opening Reflection: “in which the project is explained”
I invite you to notice we have listed the UUA seven Principles on the back of our order of service. I have also printed up multiple copies of the song lyrics. And, if you are willing, I have also included a blank card in the order of service. Tell me what songs are important to you and why. Don’t be constrained by the rules I made for myself – tell me about your favorite sonata or opera piece, something from 50 years ago or a song from an obscure independent label. And why is it important to you.
To connect with the First Principle – the inherent worth and dignity of every person – I chose Perfect by Pink because the lyrics proclaim that you don’t have to prove you are worth. There are a large number of great songs I could have used from artists like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Christina Aguilera. Many song writers are creating songs today with the message that you are beautiful as you are, that you are enough, that you don’t need to change yourself to meet anyone else’s expectations of who you are supposed to be. Some of it is focused on self-esteem boosting, but some of it taps into something deeper about our inherent dignity as people.
Finding something for the Second Principle – justice, equity and compassion in human relations – was a little trickier for me. At first I figured I would use a love song that talked about equality. But when someone recommended If Everyone Cared by Nickelback, it clicked. The message in that song is to treat each relationship like your most important relationship. A line in the last verse says “If they could love like you and me; imagine what the world could be.” So it is still almost a love song but not really.
If Everyone Cared (for Principle 2) Nickelback
Our second song dates back to 2006. Nickelback is considered ‘post-grunge.’ The band’s name “Nickelback” was coined by the bassist Mike Kroeger from his time working at Starbucks. A basic coffee was $1.95 and he was ‘repeating the same mantra as he handed customers their change: “Here’s your nickel back”.’
Reflection: “in which we learn about my music”
My music is not really pop music. My music is really Blues, Soul, Folk and some 80’s music. Left to my own devices, that’s what I would seek out. My kids have kept me in touch with pop music of the past 2 ½ decades. Each genre and generation creates a cultural identity through music. One element that has become more common in pop music is curse words. So my wife and I are often downloading the ‘clean’ version of a song. It can be a barrier. The Pink song I played is the ‘clean’ version. Several songs offered by friends and colleagues had the “f-word” in the song and I struggled with that a bit but eventually decided to avoid that. But part of the cultural identity of pop music today is entwined with frustration and anger at the world. That’s part of the message. But that is not part of our Principles so I felt it fair to avoid that.
For the Third Principle, I found plenty of sounds about acceptance of one another and encouragement; but not a lot that spoke to ‘acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.’ Oldies like Bette Midler’s The Rose, James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend, and Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors rank up there with Rachel Platton’s Fight Song and Stand by You; Macklemore’s Starting Over; and Katy Perry’s Roar.
Brave (for Principle 3) Sara Bareilles
Amid the plethora of choices I picked Brave by Sara Bareilles with the line “You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug.” You have the power to choose life or death, she is saying; choose life. The song made it to number 3 on the Billboard charts in 2013. Sara Bareilles had earlier #1 hits with Love Song and King of Anything. The music video features people dancing in various locations in public and is kinda fun.
Freedom (for Principle 4) Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams is best known for his amazing hit song Happy as part of the Despicable Me soundtrack. Williams is no stranger to hit songs. He and his production partner Chad Hugo wrote (but did not sing) over 40% of the popular songs on the radio in 2003 – they wrote songs that became hits for Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg, Nelly, and Jay-Z. Williams and Hugo now have their own recording label called Star Trak, (‘cause they are Star Trek fans too.) Freedom was a single release in 2015 reaching only #30 on the charts, so I am breaking my rule about using only #1 songs here. It reached #1 in Belgium.
Reflection: “in which we get a music lesson and a history lesson”
The definition of Pop Music is simply music that is currently popular. Latin music, country music, disco, funk, grunge, baroque, orchestral, hard rock, heavy metal, death metal, jazz, rock-a-billy, afro-fusion punk, and easy listening are all genres that have a particular identity based on certain musical attributes. Pop is whatever is popular. And yet, others will say you can describe pop by its musical attributes. Pop has a simple beat and melody with lyrics that focus mostly on love and romance. There are notable exceptions to these descriptions, which is mostly where I spent my explorations for today’s project.
For the Fourth Principle – a free and responsible search for truth and meaning – I was surprised to be able to call to mind a lot of oldies by John Lennon (Imagine), Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now), Bob Dylan (Blowing in the Wind), and the Beatles (Let It Be). But I had sparse choices for more modern options. What if God Was One of Us by Joan Osborne and Tell Me All Your Thoughts on God by Dishwalla are both from 1995; hitting the charts over 20 years ago. I almost picked You Found me by the Fray; but ended up with the one you just heard by Pharrell Williams even though it never made it to #1, he has had several #1 songs so I went with it. I like when he sings “Mind, use your power. Spirit, use your wings.” Basically he is saying we should search with our mind and spirit. That’s the 4th principle. And that last verse is great!
Moving on the Fifth Principle – the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large – I am sure you can call to mind a million songs about democracy and voting and the right of conscience … you can’t? Neither could I. This was a tough one. I wanted a contemporary version of Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up. But it’s not out there. So I cheated. I picked a song that is not on the radio. The Hamilton Soundtrack album has made it to #2 on the charts, so that almost counts, right?
Cabinet Battle #1 (for Principle 5) Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda is an artist to watch! He wrote the early draft of his first musical In the Heights while a sophomore in college. People don’t often talk about Hip-hop show tunes or Broadway Rap Battles, but they do when talking about Hamilton.
I need to set the stage a little more for this song. Hamilton is basically a musical about how Alexander Hamilton developed the National Banking system. Gripping stuff. And the musical is remarkably accurate. People are learning history listening to the songs. The scene I am playing is a cabinet meeting. George Washington is president. Thomas Jefferson is Secretary of State; Hamilton, Secretary of Treasury. I picked it because it is a Rap Battle between Jefferson and Hamilton where they both state their case and then Washington tells Hamilton to build coalitions, convince others, and compromise. You can’t just push through because you think you are right. The Democratic Process means you have to listen to others, work with others. It’s good stuff.
Prayer Rev. Douglas Taylor
From whom all things come and to whom all things return
We gather this hour seeking meaning and understanding for our living.
This is our house of faith; this is our hour of worship;
We are a people of many beliefs together as one faith.
We are seekers of peace and light;
sifting through the moments of today
with an eye toward the eternal values that undergird life.
For the blessings of this day, the gathering of these good people,
and for the joys of simple things: we give thanks.
For songs that lift us up and for companions that carry us on:
we raise our voices in thanksgiving.
And for the revival of faith and trust in the face of the tides of life:
let us remember to give thanks indeed!
Help us to respond to life’s gifts with a generosity of spirit
Help us to meet differences and challenges
with an openness and a willingness
Let life’s melody rise and fall with us
Let the rhythm of love roll through our days
Let the music of the universe echo through our steps
And may our songs of our people
be songs of courage, respect, justice, and love
This we ask in the name of all that is holy
May it be so.
Offertory and Song Intro:
Where Is the Love? (for Principle 6) Black-Eyed Peas
Black Eyed Peas started out as a hip-hop group but settled into dance-pop after a few years. They represent an interesting ethnic mix – one member is Jamaican, another Filipino, a third is Mexican-American, and the last is from California. Where Is the Love? was their very first major radio hit. It is about the post 9/11 world, and brings a message heavy with social-awareness. This is our song for the 6th Principle – the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. The song starts with the question, “What’s wrong with the world,” and then lists issue after issue, bringing it around to the poignant question again and again: Where is the love? It made it to #1 on the Billboard charts in 2003 – which breaks my rule about music only from the past 10 years. This one is almost 15 years old.
Now is the time for our offertory …
Reflection: “in which we talk about what is missing and why it matters”
When I started this project I thought it would be relatively easy to accomplish. I figured our UU Principles held general enough values that pop radio would be littered with them. What I discovered was a mixed bag. The 1st, 3rd, and 6th principles were pretty easy – I had several songs to choose from. But the 4th, 5th, and 7th principles were much harder. The 2nd principle just took some reframing on my part to figure out what exactly I was looking for before I could find it. What I think that says about our pop culture is that our society values the messages of encouragement, acceptance, dignity, and self-esteem (particularly from female artists.) Our society also values anti-war songs, songs of world peace and building a better place. However, we don’t really have songs about the use of the right of conscience, interconnectedness, spiritual consciousness, and the search for meaning in life.
The 7th Principle, respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, was hard to land. I wanted to find today’s version of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 song Mercy, Mercy Me; it doesn’t exist. I found an array of great songs that could work, (What I Be, Michael Franti; One Voice by Wailin’ Jennys; and of course nearly anything by Peter Mayer,) but none of them were on the radio.
Fireflies (for Principle 7) Owl City
Owl City is one of the numerous solo projects of a man named Adam Young. All the music was written, composed, recorded, and produced by him while he was living in his parent’s basement and working at a warehouse. Fireflies, according to Young, is a song about bugs and insomnia. But listening less literally and more metaphorically, it is a song about cosmic consciousness. It is about staying awake and seeing the light, about being aware of all the little things around us in our world and how we are not separate from them – we participate with them.
Before and After Benediction:
Extra Shout Outs for today: Same Love by Macklemore, Take Me to Church by Hozier, a ton of songs by Green Day and U2 and Kendrick Lamar and the Indigo Girls
Cheap Thrills (Bonus song) Sia
This last song is not connected to our principles in any way. It is just another great song in the long tradition of music that invites us to dance. It is the current #1 song in the country. And while dancing may not be one of our UU Principles, the importance of joy is certainly one of our religious principles in this congregation.