For those unfamiliar with the religious denomination known as Unitarian / Universalism (UU) a little introduction is required to explain what UU is and what it is not.
It might be best to explain what it is. It is not a Christian church. Unitarianism originated in Transylvania, but it has nothing to do with werewolves or the occult. Rather than being Trinitarian – believing in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – it is Unitarian. The nature of that single deity is generally regarded as Deists regard it; a clock builder who created the clock, started the pendulum and went off to do something else. So, most Unitarians see the Universe as either the work of the Creator or as both the creation and the creator.
In the mid-20th Century Unitarians merged with another church, the Universalist Church which was more Christian in its thinking, but believed that the concept of a loving Deity and Hell were inconsistent and chose to believe in the Deity.
After some period of meeting the two denominations decided that what was most important in our daily practice was how we regarded and treated each other and abandoned the concept of a creed for the concept of a covenant between members.
Out of this, seven principles of living were adopted.
Consequently, the membership of Unitarians is quite diverse in background, belief and practice. In any congregation you are apt to find Jews, Buddhists, Secular Humanists and Pagans, all living more or less harmoniously with each other.
There is only one problem with this history and these beliefs; the music is weirdly intellectual. Much of it is about nature and the universe. While it is awe inspiring to look up at a “star” in a constellation and know that it is really another entire galaxy like our own Milky Way and that while near in celestial terms, it is so far away as to defy imagination. That kind of awe does not inspire toe-tapping visceral emotional response.
Christian hymns on the other hand are visceral. They range in effect from fear to adoration, but there isn’t much about them that is neutral.
One would think that a denomination that doesn’t believe in Hell would be incredibly joyful, but it isn’t reflected in the music. Unitarians sing spirituals, not for the typically Old Testament references to religion, but because they are about freedom for an oppressed people. They frequently hark back to Moses and Pharaoh and crossing the Jordan. UU belief in the first principle which has to do with respecting the intrinsic worth of every person celebrates justice and fairness. It’s alright to sing spirituals. Gospel, on the other hand, is out.
Enter the Blues.
Blues from its inception was frowned on by preachers. While the themes in Blues songs were sad; you lost your job, your dog died or your mate left (usually for someone else), there was ultimately celebration, “Hey, I’m still standing.”
“Now she’s gone
But I don’t worry,
I’m sittin' on top of the world.”
At times the level of forgiveness, and depth of love, is hard to fathom;
“She caught the Katy, left me a mule to ride,
She caught the Katy, left me a mule to ride.
Now my baby caught the Katy
Left me a mule to ride
The train pulled out (the station)
I swung on behind
Crazy 'bout her
That hard headed woman of mine.”
The problem that Gospel preachers had and have with the Blues is it celebrated the resilience of humans, rather than the benevolence of God. And, perhaps worst of all, those flawed humans who listened to Blues musicians listened in “juke joints” on Saturday night and skipped church on Sunday.
The Blues are not about a better world in the next life; they are about getting through life in this world.
Since UU “theology” is about our interactions with each other and not with the Creator, Blues music seems ideally suited for UU.
I just don’t want to hear anything with a “back beat” and lyrics about science, technology or nature.
This is a sermon that you are welcome to enjoy, but the opening music is what I have in mind: