Friday, January 3, 2014

Sex, Politics, Religion! Oh, My!


    Over the last several weeks I've been struck by a theme (no pun intended) that has been a part of several popular songs.  And, as I began to reflect more about that theme, I recognized that it's not just a 2013 "thing".  Indeed it's pretty ancient.  But its placement in popular music is what really got me thinking.
      Several months ago, a duo known as "Great Big World" released a relatively short song called "Say Something".  A video more recently came out featuring pop sensation Christina Aguilera.  That video propelled "Say Something" to the top of the iTunes download list.  The "chorus" of the song is:

Say something, I'm giving up on you.
I'll be the one, if you want me to.
Anywhere, I would've followed you.

Say something, I'm giving up on you.

What I hear in those words is a longing--on the part of one person--for honest, open, communication, and the inability (or reluctance)--on the part of the other--to provide that.
       Another current hit, by singer Sarah Bareilles, titled "Brave" seems to hold a similar desire (although the contexts of the songs are very different).  Over and over, the lines repeat: 

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

Apparently, the idea of speaking what is really on one's mind demands courage.  But the desire to hear that set ideas, opinions or truths is strong.
      And then, a few years ago, artist John Mayer released "Say What You Need to Say".  The opening lines, and the first line of the refrain:
Walkin' like a one man army
Fightin' with the shadows in your head
Livin' up the same old moment
Knowin' you'd be better off instead
If you could only
Say what you need to say
How much we hold in!  Even if we KNOW it might be in our best interests to tell the truth, we keep it in.  It may be painful in the moment, but like surgery, it may be our best hope.
       And, to round out this voyage through popular music (although heading back twenty-five years), piano-man Billy Joel released "Honesty" in 1978, with the lines:
I can always find someone
To say they sympathize
If I wear my heart out on my sleeve
But I don't want some pretty face
To tell me pretty lies
All I want is someone to believe

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you
       As I said at the outset, this is no modern phenomenon; dissembling and deceit has a long history.  The sacred texts of every religious tradition bear witness that our tendency to disguise or bend the truth is pretty universal, but not beneficial.  I wonder, however, if part of our hiding of our thoughts, our opinions, our fears is based partly in our desire not to alienate those for whom we most long.  That seems, at least, to partly be behind the lyrics of the songs above.  I suspect, too, that a lot of the bellicosity of our public discourse--whether on gun-control, tracking, immigration, or whatever--is simply a disguise of the true fears that most of us harbor.
       When I was growing up, I heard the warning echoed in the image at the top*:  "Don't talk about sex, politics or religion in public".  Well, while those topics are front-and-center in prime-time media, I'm not sure we're really talking about them. We're certainly not talking about deep issues that underlie them.  To do that might have us run the risk of revealing more than we want, something that might make us vulnerable.  Something that might make us more desirable as well as, ultimately, less lonely.
       Potential New Year's resolution?

Chaplain Gary
*The quotation is attributed to Canadian author Douglas Coupland, but I was unable to track down the precise citation.

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