Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tim for YoUUth? Pope Song, yes. Jesus song, no.

At the youth CON, last weekend in Wausau, I was privileged to be able to present a Tim Minchin workshop. I had a small group of youth and a couple adults who came to watch and discuss some Tim videos. On the sign-up sheet, I advertised, "If you like piano, comedy, and critical thinking, sign up here. If you do not like profanity, do not sign up here." My workshop filled up immediately. My co-advisor, who was leading a workshop on science and spirituality, said he will include profanity in his workshop description next time, to draw a bigger crowd.

It was hard to decide what songs to play, and in which order to introduce the songs, to this audience who mostly had never heard of Tim Minchin before. "White Wine in the Sun" was a given, and will probably soon become the official winter holiday song for UU churches everywhere. I put it at the closing, like Tim does with his shows. I decided "Peace Anthem for Palestine" would be a good start. It is simple, relatively short, has awesome piano playing, and is pretty representative of what Tim's work is like. I also played, "Take My Wife", "Thank You God", "Tony the Fish", "Storm", "The Pope Song", "The Good Book", "Prejudice", and "The Fence". I will include most of the videos at the bottom of this post, in case you want to pretend you were in my workshop and play them through.

Some of the songs are so lyrically dense, I also printed out lyrics for youth, so they could follow along and catch the words, and also look back and re-read later. I gave them lyrics for "Thank You God", "The Good Book", and "The Pope Song". For some reason, I debated whether or not to include "The Pope Song". I tried looking up what, if any, the UUA's response to that scandal was, but didn't find much. Tim has said this song is "morally airtight", and I think I agree. It's criticism is very specific and very justified.

Another song I debated about was "I Love Jesus". I decided against it for a couple reasons. It is a satirical song about churches and homophobia. Discussion about it would be akin to mental masturbation. We UU's like to make ourselves feel good about being welcoming. I might actually do a bit of that in this blog post to get it out of my system.

With a lot of Tim's work, I think you need to learn to trust him, as he builds up for the joke. That's why, of course, it is so much better to see a live show, where he is in control of the order and flow, and builds the trust he needs to. To see his songs out of context, and sometimes even in context in a show, you often sit there for a long time, thinking, "Oh no. Where is this going? This is quite uncomfortable." Then there is a big payoff, as you realize he has tricked you or led you toward an assumption you then laugh at yourself for making. Knowing I would likely have gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered/questioning people in my workshop, I didn't trust myself, or out-of-context-Tim, to be able to build that trust. I think even if they found it funny, most of my audience would have been a bit indignant about "I Love Jesus".

If I was at a show where this was performed, I don't think I could bring myself to sing along. I have this big fantasy that Tim Minchin will come do a gig at my church, or at a youth CON. (Yeah, so what? There's nothing wrong with that!) In my fantasy, I can imagine the congregation singing "fuck the motherfucker", and joyous laughter for "Thank You God", and thunderous applause for "The Good Book", but I can't imagine the response at all to "I Love Jesus". I really can't. Would we sing? Would we laugh? Would we clap? Or would someone raise their hand and stop the show and tell him about all the social justice work we do, as a church, fighting for the rights of GLBT people all over the world? I love it that my local congregation was, for years, performing civil union ceremonies before they were legally recognized here. I am proud that our churches are part of the national "Standing on the Side of Love" campaign, promoting fully inclusive marriage throughout the country. In our service this morning, I was amazed to learn from our guest speaker, a UU minister in Uganda, that UUs there are fighting immense discrimination against LGBT citizens, and have successfully opposed legislation that would criminalize homosexuality and make it punishable with consequences as severe as life imprisonment and death. Although Tim's message is important, I hope he also knows that some churches are working, using religion to end oppression against GLBT people. We are proud to be among them.

Ultimately, I think a lot of the discussion from the workshop was ego-stroking. Most of the participants were in agreement with Tim's views,which was not by any means a a guarantee, going in. I had hoped we might have some lively debate, but patting ourselves on the back and enjoying a good laugh isn't bad either.

I cannot link to "Thank You God" or "The Fence" because they are on the newly released DVD, Tim Minchin and the Heritage Orchestra. It won't play on most DVD players here, but you can order the CD of it from Amazon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Understand It

I made a video of UniCON, Fall Con 2011 at First UU Wausau. This was such an incredible weekend. Being in the presence of so many beautiful, articulate, creative, intelligent, compassionate teenagers inspires my faith in humanity.

Oh, the music is by Tim Minchin in his band, Rosencrantz. Such a perfect song for an event like this.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Disagreeing About Church, Tim Minchin, kids

Edit: After much consideration, I regret posting my friend's message to me word for word. While I didn't use her name or think that she or anyone in our community would be seeing this blog, it has hurt her that I did this, and she is probably right, that it was not very ethical to do.

This post and this issue are still meaningful and important to me, and my feelings are still the same or even stronger now, after being called a a passive-aggressive bully and being accused of mocking her and every other Christian. It was not my intention to mock or hurt anyone, but since I have, I will remove her message, and paraphrase it.

Oh, my Tim blog. How I've missed you. I've been working and so busy, I have neglected you. But look, this does prove I am normalish, right? I'm not SOOOO obsessed that I would neglect work to blog, or neglect taking care of my needs for sleep and such to blog. Yep. I'm totally normal, just not a good blogger.

So aside from working, I have done some pretty exciting things, especially in the last few days. So I'll start with a post related to recent Tim events, and get back to blogging more regularly now that my teaching assignment is coming to an end.

I went to see Tim Minchin in Chicago again Thursday night. The show was so good, and talking to him afterward was wonderful too. I asked him some important (to me) question (not very articulately, due to nervousness), and he responded with a long attentive answer, which I kind of forgot a lot of due to nervousness. I remember a part about a Unicorn named Sven, but I'll save it for another day because I'm sleep deprived and tired. The Unicorn part is ironic because the reason I'm sleep deprived is because I took my youth group to a UU CON called "Unicon", with a unicorn theme.

So, in case you don't know, a CON is a convention of UU youth from the (Midwest, in this case) area, and we get together and learn and worship and connect and do a lot of amazing things, (but not a lot of sleeping). I led a workshop about Tim Minchin which I will also write more about soon.

This post is about a facebook friend questioning my exposing teens to Tim and questioning our religion. Basic backstory:
- Christian friend who knows I'm an atheist asked me about Tim a few months ago and I warned her, she would not like him.
- She goes and looks up the lyrics to "Thank You God" because of some facebook comment by me at a later date.
- She tells me she is speechless and offended. I told her I warned her.
- Thursday night, after Tim concert, I posted pics of myself and kid with Tim Minchin.
- Friday, I take my youth group to CON. Made Facebook status update at 10:41 pm, "Made it to snowy Wausau, Wisconsin. The fun is just getting started. First worship service at midnight. Sleep shmeep."
- Saturday night, I posted status update, "What's more fun than being at a Tim Minchin concert? Being in a church with 200 amazing teenagers (as THEY are singing Tim Minchin songs). Sorry parents if they come home singing a bit a foul language. They have gained some valuable critical thinking skills."
- FB friend posts frowny face, then sends me this lengthy private message:

Edit: She questioned how I could expose teenagers to Tim Minchin and how my church is even a church because Christian and church are synonymous. She asked how I would feel if a Christian was going around mocking atheists. She said I mock and insult her and every other Christian on Facebook when I post things about Tim Minchin.

Ugh. So I penned a lengthier response. And I just thought I'd post it here. Because I'm apparently too tired to even do a properly entertaining ranty rant. I'll just post my response. Thanks for reading. Comments welcome!!!

Hi, Friend. Thanks for expressing your opinions in a caring and civil manner. I hear your confusion and want to respond. I know sometimes when we disagree, we just want to vent and be heard and understood, and if that was all I thought you were wanting, I might just let you know you’ve been heard and not continue the conversation. I think though, that you are genuinely confused by my beliefs and my church and the joy I derive from Tim Minchin, so I would like to address your questions.

First, when you say, “ religion is something that should be the last things a Christian & atheist should discuss”, I disagree. I enjoy talking about religion and embrace differences of belief. I think you and I respect each other enough to have a kind, intelligent discourse. You and I both know we won’t change the other’s mind, and I don’t think we have that goal. If our goal is understanding, and preventing resentments between us, I welcome the conversation.

Regarding the words “church” and “worship”, I understand your confusion of my use of the word worship and will try to clarify in a moment. I disagree though with your assertion that the words “Christian” and “church” are synonymous. I’m not sure where you got the definitions you listed which ALL have as a requirement Christianity, ecclesiastical authority, or Christian God. I could rebut with alternative definitions which do not have those requirements, but I don’t want to turn this into a forensics competition. Surely you aren’t claiming that Christians have exclusive rights on the word “church”, discounting numerous world religions, are you? My church does have its roots in Christianity, but has since grown to include people of various faiths or no faith, so that is how we are not a “Christian church” (although we do have some Christians). I think you know I belong to the Universalist Unitarian Church. We are a church because we have a common creed of promoting religious freedom, individual expression and social justice. I won’t go into details about our principals and practices unless you want me to, but we are a valid religion! My particular congregation is one of the oldest churches in Peoria.

I am not actually a fan of the word worship, because it does have a Christian connotation. I personally feel uncomfortable using it to describe our church services, but I am in the minority in that. Some UU churches don’t use it, and those who do, use it because it originates from the Old English word weorthscipe, meaning “to ascribe worth to something, or to shape things of worth”. To us, “worship” is to give shape to, or articulate that which is meaningful to us (freedom, dignity, justice, compassion, etc.). Again, this is not a debate round. Good question. I hope that helps you understand why I said “worship” to describe the church service I was at Saturday night.

Regarding Tim Minchin, you’re right that I don’t see his message as hateful. I see him as intelligent and compassionate, speaking up for people who have suffered injustices at the hands of the church. I don’t think he hates God or Christians. He picks very specific issues with religions and speaks up about them. Christians discriminating against gays? Yes, someone should speak up about it, especially when Christians promote actual violence against gay people and promote such hostility that kids are killing themselves (or others) because of this rhetoric. I know this is not YOU, but it is fine with me that he sings about the bigots who do. The Pope allowing priests to get away with sexual abuse? Of course I am glad that someone will speak up against a person who millions believe is beyond reproach, even if it means innocent children are being raped. A song questioning the infallibility of the Bible? Yes, when people try to use this one book written thousands of years ago to restrict freedom and oppress people? Yes, I’m glad he questions why people ignore science and reason and empathy in favor of the Bible. And the song you are probably upset about, (I know you looked up the lyrics to “Thank You God”, and I don’t know what else of his you know.)? I too am baffled as to how someone could really believe that a god of the whole universe really could or would cure one person of an ailment, while NOT helping masses of starving children and suffering people everywhere. Am I mocking you? No, it is just such an improbable belief it is extremely baffling to me that someone could believe that. I wouldn’t want to believe that. It sounds sick and cruel to me.

When you say that I am mocking and insulting you and all the Christians on my friends list, I feel disappointed. Please don’t say, “- because then you feel that way about me & every other Christian that is on your friends list- but it's your right”. Please don’t make assumptions about what I think or feel. I care about you, and although we disagree, I try not to take it personally. Do you think I am going to hell? Do you think I’m a sinner? Do you think I’m bad for enjoying this music and exposing teenagers to it? If so, OK. I can accept that without it affecting my feelings of you or my relationship with you. Sometimes you do things that I disapprove of. If it doesn’t affect me or other people, I just shrug it off as none of my business. (Example, although I think it is morally reprehensible to eat meat, I would never ever say anything to you about your choice.) If what you do does affect me or people, I might speak up and express my opinion. (Example, when you posted a pic of the stamped dollar bill saying that “Allah was god” and you commented something about it being wrong, and I commented about there being freedom of religion here and wanting people of all faiths to be respected.)

I expose my kids (and kids at my church) to Tim Minchin because my religion promotes critical thinking. We encourage our kids to question everything, to think for themselves, to pursue their own religious path. How would I feel if people mocked my beliefs? People like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Glenn Beck, Rush Linbaugh, Newt Gingrich, the 50% of Americans who wouldn’t vote for an atheist president and say atheists can’t be trusted? I feel irritated sometimes, but I actually try to laugh. And I laugh at Minchin’s 10 minute rant about exactly the kind of new-agey, hippyish people that make up a good portion of my church. I don’t want us all to be alike. I want someone to point out to me if they think I’m being ridiculous. I want the questions. I want the conversation. So, thank you for that. I DO respect your faith and especially your freedom to choose it. I hope you will respect mine.