Why UUs Don’t Sing Gospel (well)

ok, before I get into the main body of this post let’s start with the obvious…..most UUs can’t/couldn’t get over the theology of gospel in order to actually sing it with some gusto.

Some of you know that I am TA-ing a class at Earlham College this semester. The class is History of the African American Religious Experience. (I’m really happy……I’m not the only dark face in the room) Anyway…while in class today watching a documentary, one of the people in the documentary said “hope that comes out of the denial of suffering is false hope.” That got me to thinking.

There’s a reason that UUs don’t sing gospel well….most UUs don’t do suffering. And gospel, at its heart, is about people who have suffered. People who have made a way out of no way. That’s just not something most UUs are comfortable talking about.

So….what kind of hope are UU churches preaching? Is it a false hope? Or is it a real hope that comes from an understanding of suffering?

But…..there’s another reason UUs don’t sing gospel well…..gospel requires one to be truly in touch with their emotions while singing…and that’s something else that UUs aren’t comfortable with. Even with songs that supposedly lots of UUs like, they aren’t sung with gusto. What is it about emotions that scare so many UUs when they cross the church-house door?

oh well…that’s enough for now. back to reading.

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5 thoughts on “Why UUs Don’t Sing Gospel (well)

  1. I had a great time singing gospel at one of the shows I reviewed over the summer.

    At the same time, it isn’t something I’ve done in church much. Part of it is that plenty of UUs have suffered, but they haven’t done it as a collective experience. For example, I’ve got a UU friend who as a kid was beaten by her parents for getting less than an A, another who is losing his house in the mortgage crisis and a third who watched her husband slowly and painfully die of cancer. All of them have suffered, but they don’t have too terribly much in common in their ways of suffering. The abused kid can sing about overcoming suffering but the other ones can’t. The cancer widow may well view cancer as an evil akin to Satan, but the other ones don’t have similar unambiguous devils.* The mortgage guy is still suffering.

    Or perhaps, like a UU, I’m overthinking this.

    *Some former abused kids can see their parents as devils, most of the ones I’ve met have a more nuanced view.

  2. Well my first thought was is this Southern Gospel or Traditional late 19th – early 20th Century Gospel or contemporary urban Gospel? And of course what you’re referring to is not the song is the feeling from the singers.
    IMHO, UUs are not gospel singers because we’re not (as a rule) emotional demonstrative people. Many of the songs in the gray hymnal are fit for that kind of singing, low key non-anthems late 70s folk music.
    On the other hand, I have seen an UU minister in the pulpit weep because of the beautiful and powerful singing of the UU congregation. And yes, I, in the congregation, felt that power and connection myself. So, it is possible….

  3. oops, forgot to talk about suffering, so let me add that here below…. yes, many of the gospel songs are about suffering.
    The song alluded to in the first line “Talk about suffering”, and “Rock of Ages”. But gospel also has awesome songs (songs about awesome, that is) like “In the Garden”, “How Great Thou Art”, “I love to Tell the Story” – UUs have some songs like that – but not enough.
    But of course, this eludes the point of how do we UUs help those who suffer – suffer loudly (as some do) or suffer silently (as it seems most UUs do) – certainly a large part of the appeal of Christianity and Buddhism is about dealing with suffering.
    Snarkily, we can say that we deal with suffering by sending money to lobbyists and writing letters to our Representatives, and by placards and slogans. But yeah, this speaks volumes; how do we deal with suffering. Do we have a casserole committee, how do we personally talk with those suffering; and of course what is our theology of Hope? Very important question…

  4. It seems to me that your point Kim, still stands, the type of transcendant feeling of being in touch with your emotions that typifies gospel is not part of the UU make up. I think part of that can be found in CC’s self depreciating remark, “overthinking”.

    UU’s tend to be more intellectual, at least from what I’ve seen.

    A good part of it it socio-cultural. It maybe that singing gospel is just not part of our society’s middle to upper middleclass intelligensia’s make up, which is the majority make up of being a UU. Now while I am sure that there are many UU’s that don’t fit in that category or at least grew up in it, I believe a majority do.

    Our religion tends to celebrate the intellectual who is passionate about his intellectual endevour. That’s not a culture that’s going to bring forth great passionate gospel singers. It’s a culture that will bring about great conversationalists, witty passive agressives, but not great gospel choirs.

    The citation to Buddhism, for instance is an example of our faith’s intellectual bent. Buddhism, may be about suffering, but it is also about calmly distancing one’s emotional self from it. Gospel is about emotionally embracing hope and the transcendental glory that you will feel as you live in hope for your better day.

    Buddhism is about accepting one’s suffering and moving on. It’s different. That might be one of the reasons I run into so few Buddhist gospel songs.

    The hope preached at our churches is not false, but its not an activist hope. The hope I experiance at UU churches comes out of an intellectual analysis of suffering which brings about a reasoned sincere call for members of the congregation to do something, but not a transcendental eppiphany that makes a person better at their corps while driving them to be force for change.

    The UU sermons I have heard (excluding an award winning one “we are in Katrina”) tend to be dispassionately self reflexive, with moments of intellectual clarity based on cross reviewed analysis. More akin to a person having a revelation under Psychoanalysis. That kind of sermon will not bring about Gospel fervor.

  5. Pingback: Singing gospel, serving at Guantanamo, and an offensive ad « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

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