Last Sunday, celebrating Gay Pride Day (and month), I quoted from Glen Thomas Rideout, a young gay African American who wrote about his experience of being hired by the UU church in Ann Arbor, Michigan to be their music director. The first song he had to lead at the church was “We Are a Gentle, Angry People”–and he didn’t know until they were singing it that it had a verse with the words, “We are gay and straight together, and we are singing, singing for our lives.” He was expecting the congregation to balk at singing “gay and straight together,” but was pleasantly surprised to see young and old, black and white, singing these “scandalous” words with force and conviction. He hadn’t thought it possible for there to be a church that would affirm such a thing. The congregation’s singing of that song let him know that there was a place for people like him.
I didn’t have time in the service to quote everything else Mr. Rideout said, but I’ll leave you here with what he wrote about the power of music to change lives and society:
The courage of conviction attained in singing has powered humanity’s great struggles for political justice, social equality and religious freedom. These struggles have been sustained and powered by the music inside human beings. When my congregation sang that song [“We Are a Gentle, Angry People”] with clarity and pride, they reignited the same strength of song that poured into the streets of Montgomery, Alabama, as hundreds of civil rights supporters joined voices to sing, “I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.” Within that singing beat the pulse of a people who had spent too long bearing the weight of racist oppression and disenfranchisement. Within that singing rang the determination of Americans all over this nation to wrest equality from the jaws of resistance. Still they sang: “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around…” And forward they marched.
To sing is to give voice to your self. It is to allow the body’s innermost aspirations to have space to speak with color and with inspiration. When you sing, your sound is rich with your history and your opinions, your heritage and your hopes. And so you must sing. We need your voice. And because your story is forever changing, because your voice is like no other voice, and because your voice…and my voice comprise the uncompromising strength that is our voice, because through our singing we save lives, we must sing always.
Given that we will soon be returning to church in person–and that most of us have not been able to sing together with our fellow UUs for a long, long time–the above words really spoke to me. I look forward to seeing your face and hearing your voice in July, my friends. With, of course, a little…
peace and unrest,