Isaiah 55:12 and An Excerpt from The Man, a song written by Taylor Swift and Joel Little July 16th, 2023
Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Good morning and thank you again for being here on this beautiful Sunday! As we come to this part of our gathering, I invite you now to take some deeper breaths, to tune into your heartbeat, and the gift of being here together like this.
And I offer this preacher’s prayer from Psalm 19.
God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
She was born on December 13, 1989 in Reading, Pennsylvania and lived there until when at the age of 13 her parents sold their farm to move to Hendersonville, Tennessee, to support her dream of becoming a country music star. And she has become so much more than that. And you know I am talking about . . .
And for you to whom she is new and you are like what is going on with my church today? Why in the world are we focusing on Taylor Swift? Well, two reasons. One, we love Alissa and Alissa loves her and we are celebrating Alissa since she is moving on to bigger and better things! The second reason is, I think she has a lot to teach us as a progressive Christian Church in 2023.
In a time when article upon article is being written about how no one cares about community and about how divided we are and about how people don’t show up together any more for a shared purpose, well let me tell you, that is not exactly true!
Now I realize that even though I waited six hours to get my tickets at face value it’s still a privilege to have attended the concert, so we can acknowledge that right there and still I think we have a lot to learn from Taylor Swift.
Because officially, a religion is a collection of cultural systems, beliefs, and worldviews that relate humanity to spirituality and sometimes moral values. And religions have narratives, stories, symbols, traditions and histories and eventually shared meaning from the experiences that come from the sacred texts and the gatherings. Well do you know what? Being a fan of Taylor Swift and her music has symbols, rituals, traditions, shared histories.
And there are even living rituals that have been added at the shows like during “YOU BELONG WITH ME”
At the bridge, fans (who are super tuned in) know to clap twice after she sings “I’m the one who makes you laugh, when you know you’re about to cry.” The claps mirror the recorded claps in the song.
And there are the shared histories, not just that she shared but what is created by the community of those of us who gather around the experience and the text so to speak.
What she has built and is building with her music, and her art, with the radically inclusive community in her shows and at her shows, I can’t tell you! The dancers were all shapes and colors! It wasn’t just stick people! It was beautiful bodies of all shapes and colors! That is a statement!
She is building a community with her advocacy for those often marginalized and she battled the corporate machine that tried to steal her art, and she took her music back. Even in Tennessee where this is very challenging she has spoken up for the LGBTQ+ community as well as support for women’s bodily autonomy. It seems a lot like the best of a religion, the best of a religious community, what many of us thought it would be always and everywhere, would love for it to be in a way.
So in a time where many congregations are in decline and individually and collectively many systems are anxious and confused, uncertain of what to do in this new paradigm, what if it’s not that no one cares about community and it’s not that people don’t want to show up together anymore for a shared purpose… What if people are just plain tired of communities that are inauthentic? What if they just no longer have patience for places that say one thing and do another? What if people are just done with not being allowed to sparkle as they are?
I think the pandemic clarified for many of us that life can change in an instant and our time is precious and so why spend any more of it on things that don’t match who we want to be and where we want to go? What if people are actually hungry to show up for something hopeful? Something beautiful? Something that allows heartbreak and for healing to happen?
And here’s the other thing I wonder? What if people are in love with singing in a group and they just don’t know it? It is powerful! And doing that right there creates a shared experience that defies any description. I can’t tell you how good it is to chant among thousands: Can I go where you are? Can we always be this close? Forever and ever…
We church people are all about singing together with other humans every single week. And of course it isn’t flashy and you don’t need tickets and we do it imperfectly and sometimes unrhythmically and awkwardly but we do it every week and we do it with love and we do it even when all we have to offer is a croak…
I have been pondering all kinds of things since we returned from the 34th General Synod of the United Church of Christ gathering with people from all settings of the UCC. We celebrated so many important things, including the election of the first woman minister and president!!!
But amidst the celebration there was lots of talk of decline, and frankly I found it depressing and I could have used a chaplain, ha ha!
There was a lament in the reduction in the presence of kids, in in-person worship attendance, and demographic shifts that mean an aging America that impacts religious communities in particular ways, a seemingly huge reduction in the number of people who are interested in community. Or at least that was how it was conveyed! And also at some points I wanted to shout out! Yes, all of that can be true! And I disagree that people aren’t interested. That’s the wrong way to say it.
People are just done with performative religion- they are done with communities who don’t care about justice or climate change or racism or women’s bodies, they are no longer interested in giving their time and definitely not their money to places and spaces that aren’t willing to use their platforms to do what is right, even when it is hard. Are you with me?
What if people of all kinds and family combinations are in fact desperate for community? But for a lot of them ain’t no way they are going to look for it here. It’s on us to get the message out about what they are going to find here.
And I think we have been together long enough that we can be honest and open and I can share that the church for me has sometimes been one of the many places in my life where I felt like I haven’t belonged and I have wondered how differently my ideas, my experience and accomplishments would have been affirmed, seen and received if I was a man.
I have had many seasons where the song, The Man was one I played on repeat:
I’d be a fearless leader
I’d be an alpha type
When everyone believes ya
What’s that like?
It felt like a text that understood me-
We women aren’t supposed to ponder possibilities too boldly or we are called pushy.
We aren’t supposed to be too smart or we are called abrasive. To be taken seriously we are told we must remain calm, perfect and unreactive, little emotion, agreeable and more mindful of the needs of others than our own.
To be believed, we are told if it was true, they would have experienced it too…
We aren’t supposed to be excited to let our brightness find its place… We aren’t supposed to speak too loud or we are called too much.
I love that line:
They’d say I hustled
Put in the work
They wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve
What I was wearing
If I was rude
Could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves?
I know all the women in this room know exactly what I am talking about.
The stories then shared after this song and others came out, I felt seen. Many of us had our experiences affirmed.
And what if that’s another thing maybe that sociologists should add to their list of things that make a religion and build a special kind of community- rituals, traditions, symbols, music, shared histories and also a community that affirms and sees each person! Creating space for each person to be valued and to be able to see themselves in the little stories and the bigger story of what we do with our precious gift here on Earth. And the essential gift of knowing we each belong.
What would that be like if more people felt that?
Beloved of God, what if we learned from Taylor Swift? And doubled down on being authentic? And worked hard to be a space where all belong, a place for hope and beauty and rituals and singing. And what if these ancient things that we church people are about, are just exactly what the world needs? Maybe with a few sequins added or some red lipstick perhaps or a black hat? What would it be if more people felt seen? What would that be like? May it be so. Amen.
©Rev. Nicole Lamarche