Monday, August 29, 2011

"Hallelujah"; A Beautiful Version of a Beautiful Song, and Religious Language

The song I’m writing about today isn’t a Tim Minchin original. It’s been done many times by many people. This recording of this version was taken, it looks like, by some amateur audience member, of what appears to be a somewhat impromptu performance (they are holding printed lyrics) of “Hallelujah”, by Tim Minchin and Geraldine Quinn. In addition to the poor video, and sound quality, and people crossing in front of the camera, and an audible rude comment from the audience, Tim and Gerry seem a bit intoxicated. In spite of all this, I absolutely LOVE this video.

It looks like they are having a blast. I realize they’re a bit drunk, but their felicity just makes me smile. I also think it's cute when he says, "shush now" after she says, "I love you", at the beginning. I think her singing voice is really powerful and beautiful. Maybe it's just me, but this performance almost seems ...erotic. When he sings, "remember when I moved in you, and the holy dove was moving too, and every…breath…we drew…was hallelujah", his voice is so passionate, and they are both, kind of rocking, rhythmically. I think it's downright sexy, and probably evokes the sensual emotions those lyrics were meant to, more than any other version I've heard, including him singing it live. Both times I have heard him sing it live, it was amazing in a different way. It was serious, and almost reverent. Can something be reverent and ironic at the same time? I think he likes the dichotomy, and has said, “I love getting a crowd of 95% atheists to sing ‘hallelujah’.”

I won’t drone on about the lyrics or meaning of the song. It would just be my interpretation of the song, anyway, as I’ve never researched it or anything. To me, it is a song about the passions and sorrows of a relationship, couched in religious language. I often like religious language, and don’t mind describing experiences as spiritual, even though I’m not sure what “spirit” means. I don’t believe in a “soul”, but sometimes feel I’ve been affected there. I like going to a “church”. However, I usually replace “prayer” with “good thoughts”, and I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the word “worship”.

I’ve gone to a UU church for many years and we have Sunday Worship Services. Not all UU churches call their services “worship”. I don’t have much experience outside my own church, so I’m not sure what the discourse about this has been in other congregations. I’m sure there has been a lot of it. I’ve always kind of bristled at the term, but have never really asked anyone about it. I still have lots of questions and things I’m learning, and just haven’t gotten to that one yet.

The issue is addressed in a curriculum I am looking at, to possibly use this fall with our youth group. It says the word “worship” comes from the Old English “weorscipe.” That is a combination of two words, which mean worth and -ship or shape. Hence, the English term worship as a title of respect. As a verb, the word meant to ascribe worth to – or to give shape to that which we find worthy.

I can interpret this as “to articulate what is meaningful”, and maybe see some value in using this term. But it is a stretch. I think most of us think of worship with the common dictionary meaning:
–verb (used with object)
to render religious reverence and homage to.
to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing).
–verb (used without object)
to render religious reverence and homage, as to a deity.
to attend services of divine worship.
to feel an adoring reverence or regard.

For many UU’s, these definitions don’t fit. Maybe the last one, “to feel an adoring reverence or regard”, but only on certain occasions (like while watching Tim Minchin’s “Hallelujah”). It’s not for everyday Sunday services, at least not for me. There’s a time and a place to use religious language to powerful effect, but I prefer not to “worship” in church. I guess with our churchy definition of worship, to give shape to what we find worthy, this blog is my worship.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Not Perfect

Sometimes it’s hard to be an atheist here. By here, I guess I mean in this country, but more specifically, I mean in my little town, or in my school I work in, or around my Facebook friends who are so Christian, or around my friends and family who are Christian. Aside from dealing with the idea that atheists are “bad” or “untrustworthy”, it’s more of my conflict that stems from being a people pleaser, knowing I am disappointing people. Some of my friends just think that everyone should be Christian, and some really fear for my soul and mourn the fact that I will be spending eternity in hell. I really hate to disappoint people.

I love the lines in Tim Minchin’s Not Perfect, “This is my brain, and I live in it. It’s made of love and bad song lyrics. It’s tucked away behind my eyes where all my fucked up thoughts can hide, cause god forbid I hurt somebody.” I often have to remind myself to not try to take responsibility for other people’s feelings. My job is to be genuine and to be myself. If that makes someone sad, it’s really not something I should worry about.

I do sometimes worry about it though, especially when I care about the people very much, like a couple of my closest friends or family members. My Grandma has Alzheimer’s and she lives with me and I take care of her. She’s a lifelong Catholic and I think it would break her heart to know I’m not even Christian. Luckily, it’s easy to hide my non-belief from her, and if she hears me say something blasphemous, it’s quickly forgotten.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the nature of “belief” lately, and how that relates to my loved ones. Some people say that belief in anything supernatural is delusional, and therefore akin to mental illness. Tim has said as much, in saying he didn’t Christen his children because he doesn’t want the mentally ill handling them, but this could have been purely a joke (or not), I don’t know. I can’t really accept that religious beliefs are a symptom of mental illness though, when I think, again, of those I love.

I had dinner this week with a high school friend I hadn’t seen in many years and his partner. They are Methodist ministers and are gay. They are lovely, god-believing men who are trying to make a difference within their religion regarding how the church treats homosexuals. I think that is admirable. They didn’t seem to care that my beliefs about god were different than theirs. They just wanted to reconnect with me and learn the joys and sorrows of my life, and I felt the same toward them. There’s no way I could view them as mentally deficient in any way. And at night, when I hear my grandma, in the room next to me, talking out loud to her god, starting with “our Father who art in heaven”, and five minutes later ending with “and please bless Mary Sue and thank you for allowing her to take care of me, day and night”, I feel like I would be the mentally ill one if I thought less of her for her devotion.

Maybe, someday, if I get to talk to Tim Minchin again, instead of being a starstruck fangirl, I’ll actually ask him something of importance, like if has people in his life who are religious. People he loves? People he respects? Can he genuinely care for them while disagreeing with them?

I’m glad that in our church we have such a wide variety of belief systems and we are all respected and treated with worth and dignity. I LOVE the words in our hymn, Here We Have Gathered, "May all who seek here find a kindly word. May all who speak here feel they have been heard." I love coming to this place where I am loved and accepted for who I am, and where I love and respect people who I may disagree with. I try to carry that out of the church doors into the rest of my life as well.

If I added a verse to “Not Perfect”, it would be about “My Church”. Lyrics below.

This is my church, and I live in it.
It’s made of stained glass, and people of different faiths.
The weird thing is we don’t see eye to eye,
But we see heart to heart and that is why
We support each others’ search for meaning.
This is my church, and it’s fine.
It’s where I spend the vast majority of my time.
It’s not perfect, but it’s mine.