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.


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

  1. My view is that I would hope that any UU church would be open to input from a wide variety of cultures. I agree with you that this is often far from the case.

    At the same time, I don’t know if I agree with you that ANY audience in a very diverse country with many many genres of music, art, and books, should be expected to be familiar with any particular cultural reference. There’s simply too much out there. There are too many channels out there.

    However, even if they are not familiar with a specific cultural reference, I would hope that the audience would be open to hearing why this cultural reference is meaningful to you and might be something that everyone can learn from.

    To give one example, I happen to be a science fiction fan. I think there is much of value in the work, to take one example, of Ted Chiang, that could be meaningful in a religious context. But do I expect that any UU audience would have even heard of Ted Chiang? No.

    Or to take another example, I could imagine a sermon in a UU church that would draw on the music of Richard Thompson, Eliza Gilkyson, Aimee Mann, Nellie McKay, the New Pornographers, John Hiatt, or Cheryl Wheeler. I can imagine it because these are performers whose work I like and who have some interesting lyrics. Would I expect an audience in a UU church to be familiar with these performers, who are hardly the biggest pop stars? No.

  2. Personally, I wouldn’t have gotten the Brian McKnight reference. I know who he is, but I wouldn’t have known the song. (Ironically, I listend to enough Motown on the oldies station from the back of my parents’ car that the Motown I likely would have known.)

    That said, I don’t go to church to hear stuff I already know and I can’t imagine that folks would have objected to the McKnight reference, which is not to say that my imagination hasn’t been inadequate before as far as imagining what people could object to.

    But FWIW, a few years ago, my minister did a whole semon on Daniel Powter’s “Had a bad day” song, which I’m sure not everybody had heard before. Besides, my knowledge of poetry is sufficiently lacking that I rarely know the readings when they are poems, and they often are. So again, I tend to think that references from new sources are fine.

    My one concern is that the youth leader in me tends to wince when older ministers try to work in references to new music as an apparent effort to reach out to the youngin’s. IMHO, it comes off as pandering. But my impression is that you are young enough that it would have been fine.

    But maybe I’m being an optimist.


  3. I had no idea who Norah Jones is – thanks now to YouTube and Wikipedia for my new knowledge (easy listening Jazz). Last year the Pew foundation found that 69% of Americans surveyed said there was a vast difference between the music that young and older people listen to. Is there any reason that UUs would be any different? Radio and TV have fragmented music pretty severely – and the internet even more so.
    One of the standard cliche of music for the young, is that old folks can’t stand it, and don’t listen to it.
    I would suspect that unless most of your UU Congregational was over 50, most would not know who Otis R, was.
    I find the Pews’s survey on ‘Woodstock” interesting
    Older college educated Republican white folks were more likely to know what Woodstock was.
    — Of course, your main point I assume was this statistic:
    “For whites, the top two genres (in order) are rock and country. For blacks, it’s R&B and hip-hop. For Hispanics, it’s salsa and rock.”
    what makes one multi-cultural? I had a co-worker who used to sing Marvin Sapp and Smokie Norful songs, not that I could harmonize with him. I also know (knew) quite a bit about the AA Evangelical gay community. One of my best fiends is a mill worker, I’ve known hunting guides. Noe of those folks are UUa though.
    My favorite UU culture story is when after the UUA merger, a new UUA districts invited historic teetotaling congregations to a cheese and wine tasting.
    For my old job, I’ve attending probably 25 years of annual cultural sensitivity training. They’re fine, but not as fine as having friends from different cultures, or having roommates from different cultures.

  4. Pingback: Arizona protests, women in power, and other UU blogging topics « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

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