how do we deal with the ethics of singing the adapted words to "Go Now in Peace.
I wrote to Mark Belletini, chair of the Hymnal Commission which published our grey hymnal, and asked him for the backstory about "Go Now in Peace" and the concerns I expressed in the previous blog post. Mark was kind enough to give me his take on the topic and also his permission to reprint his reply here.
I feel comfortable now with the way I plan to approach the topic with my congregation, which is also explained in the previous blog post. I believe, after hearing from Mark, that it is not an ethical lapse to keep singing this song as adapted. I will stay open to being convinced otherwise if evidence emerges that she really did say she didn't want anybody changing her words when they sing it. However, I will sing the original words and invite my congregation to do the same, if they wish. And I may not say my piece just before we sing it but later in the service, to avoid worrying the kids.
Dear Kit, as far as I remember....(i did not keep the written records of course, they are tucked away somewhere at the UUA...
so if you want actual written authentication I cannot, sadly, help you there)
Natalie Sleeth simply did not give us permission to change her lyrics. She did not say why. Unless people who are surmising
the reason for a change i.e. "she was a conservative Christian" actually talked with her, they are being embarrassingly presumptive
since she was a member of a rather progressive and inclusive Methodist Church in Dallas (where Methodists are the liberals, most often.)
The use of the word God, I hope, has not now become a test for conservatism, but I suppose among some UU's, it probably is.
As I remember it, she told us she wrote of God in her song as she understood that word, and she did, quite understandably I think,
have a difficult time understanding why a word she felt to be so inclusive and welcoming was perceived to be so limiting by others,
especially because, she told us, she thought everyone brought their own meaning to that word. I know we did not argue with her.
I suppose some would have. We felt that what she said was sensible enough to feel good about putting the piece in for those
who wanted to sing it her way.
She was not alone of course in refusing to give us permission to change words.... We were told NO by many authors...
including decidedly progressive thinkers...including the estate of John Lennon, who forbid us to change Imagine's brotherhood of man. Pete Seeger said no to us about
changing a song of his to brother and sister where it would have made no scansion problem at all. He wanted the word brother repeated twice.
We said no to both songs, but said yes to Natalie Sleeth's because its a lovely little piece to send children forth,
and we understood that many UU's won't sing it as she wrote it. My suggestion always has been from the beginning: Sing something else. Its OK.
There are other great little songs in the book. There are often good composers in even the smallest congregations who can write simple departure chants.
We don't sing it here in Columbus because God language is not the usual idiom here, and I have no intention of changing the words,
but we do indeed use other music for that part of our celebration. It sounds as if you did that
(I just read your blog) and it didn't work. I think you way of dealing with it is respectful and intriguing and very UU in spirit.
I personally have no problem with people singing different words to the same melody, as in Amazing Grace, where some folks
just hated the sonics...NOT the theology mind you....of the ugly to sing word "wretch." So sing soul already.
Your sermon should be pretty amazing. Your action is worth reflecting on, I think.
I hope you will be able to find something suitable to use there in Whidbey. Hope your fall days are nurturing you. Mark B.