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.


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

  1. The well-worn career advice is to dress for the job one wants. If you’re a secretary, but want to be an office manager, dress like an office manager, for example.

    This post makes me wonder if we should be preaching to the congregation we have or the congregation we want. And I can honestly be talked either way on the answer to that question.


  2. Hey, Kim. You’ll get a kick out of this one! I was listening to Marketplace on NPR (yes, NPR!) and they were talking about how people listen to music. The host said he listens via iTunes, but that more “hip” people use cloud-based music options, like Pandora. I looked at Pandora this a.m., and I think it actually may be a way for me to learn about music! I grew up in a fundamentalist bubble that was impermeable to popular culture, including music, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I like that I can start with something I know and like, and Pandora will build on that for me, including giving me lyrics so these ears of mine can hear what’s being sung.

  3. Recently our minister used a Dancing with the Stars moment to make a point in the sermon and there was a buzz through the room like there usually isn’t. People woke up when there was a reference that was unexpected and also they could relate to. Still the point was made while he copped to airing his dirty little secret. I really like the concept CC noted: preaching to the congregation we want to be. All of this was covered in the “how to be a multicultural congregation” panel discussion at GA–a most excellent guide to getting started.

  4. Kim, IMO, it is completely appropriate to USE any reference in a sermon – pop culture to high culture to whatever else people experience. Whatever informs your reflections is certainly appropriate. What is not appropriate is to assume that anyone knows what you are referring to or express upset when you discover that they didn’t know what they didn’t know.

    If you know your congregation’s field(s) of reference, take advantage of the reality you know about them. And use your ministry to expand their world(s). But you only ask for problems if you go into a sermon expecting people to know/ be familiar with/ appreciate what you want them to.

    People are where they are not where I or you believe they should end up. By all means, lead them into an encounter with what for them is new. Lead.

  5. Agreeing with some of the comments here that say it’s important to explain EVERY reference. What is more off-putting than the lack of references one relates to is the assumption that every reference used is in everyone’s cultural vocabulary. Yes, I would have to explain a Lady Gaga reference, and I know that, because I know a lot of my older members have no clue who she is. But what’s important to remember is that one has to explain an NPR reference, too. Truthfully, it’s safer to use references where you remember that not everyone knows what you’re talking about. I think the bigger problem is using a pop culture reference and assuming everybody understands it. A multicultural congregation won’t necessarily be one where everybody has a wide cultural vocabulary, but where it is understood that the worship experience will pull from a wide cultural vocabulary, and where everything is given its context.

    IMHO, that is. 🙂

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