Yes, I am one of those Unitarian Universalists who reads ahead as we sing hymns to determine whether or not I agree with the lyrics. I believe that our commitment to reason, truth, and meaning demands this of us. Sometimes, of course, my love of a tune or certain lyrics can clash with my reticence regarding other words.
On a recent Sunday morning we sang one of my favorite hymns, “We’ll Build a Land,” a tune I find appealing and singable. The imagery of certain phrases stirs my imagination, such as “raising up devastations from old,” “restoring ruins of generations,” “mantle of praises resound,” and “oaks of righteousness.” At the same time, other phrases trouble me either linguistically, theologically, or both. I’m not sure what “oil of gladness” represents, for example, or whether giving the afflicted “garlands instead of ashes” has meaning beyond the poetic.
My greatest challenge, however, comes during the refrain, which reads, “Come build a land where sisters and brothers, anointed by God, may then create peace.” I am inspired by the commitment to peace. However, I cringe at the notion that we cannot create peace without the input of God (and am curious about the nature of this “anointing”). Over the years, however, I have allowed myself to compromise my qualms in order to enjoy great music shared with other voices in loving community.
Until the day comes that I have time to write The Atheist’s Hymnal, I will gladly embrace the spirit of such hymns.