Reason in this Season
Friends, there is a lot I like about this time of year, but it might not surprise you that one of my favorite parts of the year is the music. I’ve shared previously about “Pretty Paper” by Willie Nelson, and covered beautifully by Dolly Parton. But I thought I would give you five of my favorite songs about this time of year as a way of sharing the ups and the downs many feel, both theologically and emotionally. With all good humor, I share that there is plenty here to delight and to offend all of us together, much as this season seems to do. I’ve included songs with heresy, indignation, brilliance, virtuosity, and sheer power. I hope you will enjoy them.
“The Rebel Jesus” by Jackson Browne
It’s hard not to love a song offered by a self-confessed “heathen and a pagan” on the side of the spirit of this time of year. My friend Ian who is a music producer of some renown shared this song with me when we were roommates. So much of this song speaks to what so many faiths struggle with. And it holds a lot of what I think our faith gets right.
“Christmas Song” by Dave Matthews
As a teenager I received the album Remember Two Things as a gift from Rev. Chris, who spoke at my ordination. Rev. Chris retired from the ministry this year, like so many ministers in these times of COVID. I don’t know what he will do now for certain–neither does he. But this was the last track on the CD he gave me. I love the story and the implications about the person at the center of so many of the stories and the heretical additions Dave makes to the stories.
“Joy to the World” by Whitney Houston
In the romantic comedy Single all the Way, an adorable romp on Netflix if you’re bored, my favorite character actress Jennifer Coolidge proclaims confidently that “Joy to the World” by Whitney Houston is the best Christmas carol of all time. Who am I to argue with Jennifer Coolidge (watch her likely award winning performance in White Lotus if you have the time). Whitney might have been the best combination of recording artist and live performer to grace my life with her talent. This is quite a different version than you might be used to.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” by Ella Fitzgerald
If you ever heard anyone else sing this song…well…sorry for you. Ella is the phrasing Queen. Her choices of how a melody line goes and the way she seems to find notes between notes still makes her the most profoundly transformative interpreter of lyrics ever to live, in my not so humble opinion. Also, she’s from Yonkers, NY, like my father. And we have the same last name…so I love her all the more.
“O Holy Night” by Mahalia Jackson
Growing up, it was not Christmas until we heard a local married couple sing a duet of “O Holy Night.” They were both in the company of The Metropolitan Opera, so they could bring it. So this carol had a special place for me. But it has roots in our tradition, too. John Sullivan Dwight, a Unitarian minister and editor of a music magazine, wrote the English lyrics for this favorite carol. There are many who have tried to master this towering piece of music, from Pavarotti to Celine Dion to Jennifer Hudson. But the only voice that had the strength to sing at Dr. King’s funeral, the immortal Mahalia Jackson, is the only voice for me.
I hope you enjoyed this totally one-sided take on some of my personal favorite songs of this time of year. Many blessings to you all in these times.
Rev. T. J.