Sunday, November 05, 2017

"How Can I Keep From Singing?"

Sunrise at Pin Oak Marsh

Standard time returned overnight, so I awoke too early --- but with No. 108 in the Unitarian Universalist Hymnal, "My Life Flows On in Endless Song," running through my head. That was a positive thing.

The lyrics of this wonderful old song in their original --- explicitly Christian --- form are for practical purposes anonymous. They've been tracked to a poem attributed to "Pauline T." that was published in The New York Observer during 1868. Baptist preacher Robert W. Lowry added a tune and published the result during 1869 in a little volume entitled "Bright Jewels for the Sunday School."

Comes along Pete Seeger a century later to fold "How Can I Keep from Singing?" into the emerging folk movement --- after eliminating the explicitly Christian references and adding a 1950s verse by Doris Plenn that referenced the witch hunts targeting communists, gay folks and others "un-American" during that decade.

It's the Seeger version that appears in the UU hymnal, although more orthodox Christian versions now may be found in denominational song and worship books ranging from Catholic to United Methodist.


UU Minister Tandi Rogers tells the story of encountering two Evangelical clergymen, one older and the other young, on a plane some years ago. Asked which denomination she represented, she replied "Unitarian Universalist," which the younger man found puzzling. So the older man explained, "They're the ones with all the ethics and none of the doctrine. They do good without believing in hell."

Which is one way of putting it. Another is to take a look at the seven principles affirmed by UUs, which I also reviewed this morning (it's been some time since my years among the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of North Central Iowa):

1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The interesting thing here is that all seven of the principles could be embraced by any religious person regardless of denominational expression. Well, maybe not Principals 4 and 5. But the others work well even when frosted with doctrine and trimmed in practice.

Here's the "How Can I Keep from Singing?" as performed by the choir of First Unitarian Church, Oakland, California:

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