LeBron James and Lady Gaga Matter…or How UU Culture Inhibits UU Growth pt.3

I got a very nice email from a reader of this blog who asks the simple question of how does one become more multicultural. While I plan on doing a private email to that person, I thought I would give some thoughts about it writ large.

Hopefully, unless you really have just crawled out from under a rock or woken up from a few years nap, you have heard about the two people whose names grace the title of this post. If you haven’t, email me and I’ll give you a quick rundown on them.

Did you know that LeBron James and Lady Gaga have something in common when it comes to UU circles? No? Well listen up and I’ll tell you what it is.

Both the phenomena that are LeBron James and Lady Gaga have tremendous religious significance yet the only place they are being talked about in a UU church is during coffee hour (with the exception of maybe a youth group meeting…but are they talking about the religious significance of them)

Lady Gaga is a classic example of conversion experience and also about the masks (personae)that we present to the world and what happens when something goes viral (and I’m sure you know that things went viral long before YouTube).

And then there’s King James who, no matter what you think of the ESPN special about his choice, has so much religious significance. First there’s how he was received in Cleveland when he first arrived…like he was a Saviour. Then there’s the whole spectrum of reaction to his decision to go to Miami…from anger that results in his jersey being burned and the owner of the Cavaliers calling him out of his name…to those in places like New York and Chicago who are calling him names…to those in Miami who are glad that LeBron’s coming means that Dwayne Wade is going to stay. All that emotion, and we’re not touching it.

What does this have to do with UU culture and how that culture can inhibit growth? Simple, King James and Lady Gaga are all about/a part of popular culture. And far too often, UU culture shows nothing but disdain for pop culture.

So…what’s the best way to begin to become more multicultural? Don’t be the stereotypical UU…actually PAY ATTENTION to popular culture.

Look and see who’s on Letterman and Leno…Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel and Carson Daly (I’m not saying that you have to watch them every night, or ever watch them…but you can find out who’s going to be on those shows without actually watching them). And for those of you who can’t tear yourself away from PBS…look and see who’s on Charlie Rose AND Tavis Smiley.

Watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report for a couple of weeks. After their first segment, which is usually but not always about politics, there is normally something crazy about the culture of America (pop or not).

When its new season starts, watch Saturday Night Live…especially Weekend Update.

The Simpsons and Family Guy are worth their weight in gold.

Read Entertainment Weekly. You don’t have to read it every week, but once-in-a-while would be good. It gives a good overview of just about everything pop culture related…from books to t.v. to music (of all genres) to movies to theatre. And Rolling Stone isn’t bad for that either, even though it is going to be heavily focused on music.

Read the sports page of your local paper occasionally.

Did you know that, week in/week out, there are more romance novels sold in this country than any other type of book? Pick one up and take a gander at it…you can pick them up really cheap at used bookstores.

As you can see, I think becoming more well-versed in pop culture will start you on the road to becoming more multicultural. But then again, I’ve always really liked pop culture. Maybe I have this all wrong.

Would Otis Redding Have Been Better? or How UU Culture Inhibits UU Growth pt. 2

I was going to title this post ‘Tyler Perry Unitarian Universalism’ but Steven Rowe’s comment on my last post made me change my mind.

In his comment Steven says: Some of the “problems” with Brian McKnight might be more old fashion generation gap than culture gap…

I find this analysis fascinating and scary at the same time, for the same reason. If this is more generation gap than culture gap (and I’m not saying that I agree with that analysis), then how far back would I have had to go in order for most of the audience to get an R&B reference? Would Anita Baker have worked? Earth, Wind and Fire been ok? The Isley Brothers? Or would I have had to stick to Motown and Otis Redding?

Is it unreasonable to expect UUs to have some generational knowledge post-1985?

Now…the reason I think this is more cultural than generational is that I think I wouldn’t have had the same issue if my musical reference was Norah Jones and not Brian McKnight.

What I’m really trying to get at is that there seems to be a list of “approved” minority references that one can make in a UU church…for readings there is Ghandi….MLK Jr. …Amy Tan…Howard Thurman…Sandra Cisneros…in music there is Motown and Julio Iglesias…for TV and movies there’s Oprah…Rita Moreno….Bruce Lee…(I know there are more, but you get my drift)

As a member of a minority group, I have to be bi-/tri-/multi-cultural all the time. But, far too often in UU churches, there is the feeling that they don’t have to be. That anything other than NPR, classical music, PBS, golf and wine is not to be bothered with…that it is to be disdained.

So where does that leave those of us who actually LIKE pop culture? Or who have other cultural influences?

Do I think that everybody who walks into a UU church needs to know the current playlist of the local Urban Contemporary-/Country-/Latin- music station? No. Do I think you should know who Alicia Keys…Kenny Chessney…Enrique Iglesias are? Damn straight.

Do you need to know every person of color who is in the movies or on TV? Nope. But it helps if you know some beyond Denzel Washington…Will Smith…Antonio Banderas…Jackie Chan.

And for writers…how about going beyond the usual suspects of Tagore…Morrison…Walker…Tan…Cisneros.

Being multicultural is not as hard as UUs want to believe it is. It’s just really a matter of doing it, instead of just talking about doing it.

Brian McKnight??? In Church?!?!?!…or…How UU Culture Inhibits UU Growth

Shoulda been a better man/the kinda man that you needed/Woulda been better off/if I done right by you/I coulda done this…I coulda done that/but I know I can’t go back/’cause now it’s just too late/I’m sayin shoulda…woulda…coulda…yeah

Pop quiz…if you can name the ALBUM that this song comes off of…I will give you something whenever I see you.

So…First Church asked me to bring the message on July 18 (yesterday for all you home players). Never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t. And I’ve known what the subject of the sermon was going to be for a long while. But the spark for the sermon was a song…the chorus of which is at the beginning of this post. The song is by Brian McKnight, one of my favorite R&B singers. Now I didn’t have a problem with the fact that the song was the original spark for this sermon. Didn’t cross my mind to have a problem with it. Didn’t phase me in the least that I was using the song as a way to do exegesis on three different Bible passages and a section of another book that I really like.

Then it struck me…I didn’t know how many people in the audience were going to know who I was talking about when I said the name Brian McKnight.

I thought about changing the song that I was going to use. But the song that came to mind was this:

Funny, funny how time goes by/And blessings are missed in the blink of an eye/Why oh why oh why should one have to go on suffering/When everyday I pray please come back to me…If I could turn, turn back the hands of time/Then my darlin’ you’d still be mine/If I could turn, turn back the hands of time/Then darlin’ you, you’d still be mine

which is a song by R.Kelly, another of my favorite R&B singers. So I was in the same predicament.

There’s been some talk of late about UU culture (what it is, does it need to change), and I wasn’t going to get into that subject again. Until I ran into my little predicament.

There is an assumption made about you (no matter what your race) the first time you walk into a UU church. Let’s not lie about that. The assumption about you is that you are a NPR listening, classical music loving, wine drinking, Birkenstock wearing multiple-degreed person. You’ve also been to the most recent showing at the art museum/gallery in your town, go to the theatre on a regular basis, have season tickets to the local symphony and give money to the local no-kill shelter. Don’t put comments on here telling me that you don’t fit that description. I know there are those of us who don’t. But let’s not lie to ourselves friends…too many of us put on airs and think we’re hot sh*t (as my family would say) and look down on those who don’t copy our ways.

Now…why am I bringing this up in a post about my little predicament? Simple…I wouldn’t have had this predicament if the singer of the song that inspired my sermon was James Taylor and not Brian McKnight. I wouldn’t have questioned whether anybody in the audience would know who I was talking about if it were James Taylor. Why is that?

Could it be that too often UU culture asks people to not bring everything they are into the church? C’mon…let’s be honest…how comfortable does the typical UU church culture make those who don’t fit it in some way feel? Say you’re a fan of Reba McIntyre or Brooks and Dunn. How welcomed do you feel in a church that never makes reference to anything country music related but will beat something written by Mozart to death. Or what about those who love the TV show Family Guy. How many UU churches really welcome those who like that show if they are over age 16? Really love reading Nora Roberts novels. Have you heard anything from her books spoken from the nearest UU pulpit? The most serious movies you watch are The Naked Gun trilogy. All you hear about at church is the latest movie that Meryl Streep is in?      My guess is that you see where I’m going.

Too often UU culture thinks that there is only one type of culture. And that, dear friends, has inhibited our growth. The churches that are growing the most, across denominations, are the ones where the culture develops organically. Where people are allowed to bring their whole selves in.

How many people do we repel because there is no mention of Brian McKnight or R.Kelly or Reba or Brooks and Dunn? Talk with disdain about Family Guy? Think there is nothing of note in Nora Roberts novels?

At some point we need to look ourselves in the mirror and see ourselves for what we really are and what we present to the world and how we are received.