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.

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