Soulful Songs and Stories

With a song and your stories, we co-create a soft place for hard conversations and a brave space for personal and spiritual growth.

There has been no gathering since February, but the Soulful Songs and Stories group has been quite active! Since the singular experience of sharing our stories face-to-face can’t be replicated via computer, we have not even tried. What we have done instead is send out an email every Friday about songs, stories, storytelling, community, or personal/spiritual growth until we can meet again.

If you’d like to be included on the Soulful Songs and Stories mailing list, Please register with Jessica Pond (516.472.2914 or  ).

Below is an archive of monthly Soulful Songs and Stories' communications: 

#1 Rebecca Solnit on the Intersection of Activism and Writing.pdf
In this one hour podcast (with transcript) Rebecca Solnit talks about her new book, Recollections of My Nonexistence, and tells her story about growing up, about place, about men, about writing, about reclaiming herself, about her gratitude for the queer community. Although this is an interview, the interviewers give Solnit the space to tell her own story. What Rebecca Solnit does here is sort of what we do in Soulful Songs & Stories writ large, and an inspiration for us to continue telling our own stories. It’s a delight to hear Solnit in her own voice. An exquisite wordsmith and storyteller. Accompany this with Keith Jarrett’s rendition of “Answer Me.”

#2 Being Real and Being Free.pdf
Here are three stories from within stories: “What is Real?” from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, a clear and simple explanation of the role of vulnerability in giving and receiving love. The next is “The Grand Inquisitor” section of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a complex metaphor illustrating how tyrants (even church tyrants) portray freedom as something to be feared. In a similar vein, the last piece is Derrick Bell’s retelling a section of Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ that pits spirit against structure. Soulful songs to go with these stories include “In The Light of Love,” by Deva Premal & Miten; “Oh Freedom,” by Aaron Neville; and two versions of  “Deep Peace”: Richard Stoltzman/Judy Collins and Bill Douglas/Jane Condon Grimes.

#3 Connection and Responsibility.pdf
The Little Prince was written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943. This excerpt from Chapter 21 is about making connection, building relationships, responsibility, and that “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” The companion song is “If I Should Fall Behind” by Bruce Springsteen.

#4 Rachel Naomi Remen’s “Helping, Fixing, or Serving”.pdf
“Duelling Sitars,” with Bill Bailey and Soumik Datta are not really dueling at all: each musician invites the other to participate and then creates space for the other to respond. Sometimes words aren’t even necessary: our presence is what really matters. In “Helping, Fixing, or Serving?”, Rachel Naomi Remen has several anecdotal stories about the distinction between helping, fixing, and serving, and how that only serving heals. This a great guideline for everything we do from giving advice to caregiving to philanthropy. “Do This in Memory of Me” by Edward Hays is a stunningly profound expression of service/consecration. Additional words of wisdom come from Parker Palmer, Dorothy Day, Alan Watts, and others.

#5 On Being Divine and Naked.pdf
Being divine and being naked with each other are a large part of why we share our stories. Songs and stories can help us sort this out: “God Help the Outcasts,” excerpts from a Jennifer Brower sermon, some quotes, and “The Rabbi’s Story.” We cover our bodies with clothing, cosmetics, and ornamentation just as we hide our souls and our true selves behind roles and titles and words and work. A song to ponder: “See Me, Touch Me, Feel Me.” Stories to consider: from Slate and the NY Times on being physically naked; quotes from Rumi, Gibran, and others; and a poem by May Sarton on being spiritually naked.

#6 Thinking Outside the Box and Questioning Authority.pdf
Addressing complex issues—whether theological, social, or organizational—usually requires unconventional and non-authoritarian thinking. Consider the subject in song: “Little Boxes,” “Another Brick In The Wall,” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” And in story: two YouTube videos on Unitarian Universalism, three pages of quotes and David Hayward cartoons, and a poem, “Jailbreak,” by Maya Spector.

#7 Valuing and Loving Ourselves.pdf
Too often taking care of ourselves is mistaken for being selfish or self-centered. Understanding why we should (and how to) value and love ourselves is a large part of why we share our stories. Consider this in the words and music of Keb Mo, “You Can Love Yourself,” and in the wisdom and sage advice of Emma Thompson, bell hooks, Erich Fromm, Byron Katie, Rumi, Virginia Woolf, Malcolm X, and Maya Angelou, among others.

#8 When to Listen, Speak, and Be Silent.pdf
Knowing when to listen, speak, and be silent have been hallmarks of our Soulful Songs and Stories time together. We celebrate and explore this in song in Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” To help us consider this in story, we have Win Bassett, Parker J. Palmer, and Christian Scharen on silence, and Audré Lorde, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and James Baldwin on speaking out.

#9 Mercy, Kindness, Justice.pdf
Kindness/mercy and justice are UU hallmarks and are a practice (or at least a goal) of how we are with each other when we gather to share our stories. Consider this in song: “Bring Forth the Kingdom,” “The Kindness Song,” “Kindness is a Muscle,” two jazz versions of the “Star Spangled Banner,” and “We Shall Overcome.” Written words and stories are from Naomi Shihab Nye, George Saunders, Mark Matousek, Thich Nhat Hanh, Kathleen & James McGinnis,  William Wordsworth, Maria Popova, and Adam Phillips & Barbara Taylor, plus quotes from a host of others.

#10 Laughter.pdf
We celebrate laughter in song with  “The Laughter Song!” by Lisa Coleman, “The Secret of Laughter” by Swami Kriyananda, and Regina Spektor’s “Laughing With.” In word and story we have the wit and wisdom of two dozen people as diverse as Reinhold Niebuhr and Kevin Hart, Viktor Frankel and John Cleese. And yes, cartoons.

#11 Sow the Seeds; Let Go of Expectations.pdf
By telling our stories we sow the seeds not only for our own growth and liberation and healing, but also for those who hear our stories. There’s no guarantee of the outcome; if you want a guarantee, buy a toaster; otherwise, we should let go of expectations. Consider this in song: “The Garden Song,” by David Mallett, “Plant A Radish,” by Tom Jones, and Ina D. Ogdon’s “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.” Offering perspectives in parable, story, and poetry we have Jesus, Anthony De Mello, and Gandhi, plus some unfamiliar or unexpected sources: Stephen W. Hawking, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Carl W. Buehner, and June Jordan, among others

#12 The Way.pdf
Sharing our stories, beliefs, and experiences around a theme suggested by a song is a pathway to our higher, better selves. Some who have been exemplars of what this journey could look like—Jesus, Lao Tzu, and others—have had the path they followed/emblazoned referred to as “The Way.” When we seek or walk The Way, sometimes we have company (a mentor, a book, etc.) but in the final analysis, in the words of the song “Lonesome Valley,” “Nobody here can walk it for you, You gotta walk it by yourself.” Some of the people who shine their light so we can find The Way include singer/songwriter Tift Merritt, Thoreau, Rachel Naomi Remen, Sophia Lyon Fahs, John Steinbeck, James Baldwin, Barbara Holmes, and more.

#13 Minute Particulars and Scoundrels.pdf
What makes sharing a story so special is that it’s a “minute particular,” a personal act of caring and vulnerability. Any “scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer” can wear a pin, throw money at a problem, wrap themselves in a flag, or hide behind a principle. A look at two lines from William Blake’s epic poem, “Jerusalem” as it relates to creeds and deeds and calling out injustice. We’ll explore this in song with “The Water is Wide” (sung by Pete Seeger, Eva Cassidy), “Up Above My Head,” “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen,” and more;  and in stories via the NY Times, the UUA, Martin Niemöller, Ann Patchett, Craig Ferguson, Hillel, Ricki Lee Jones, and Rabindranath Tagore, among others

#14 Songs and Stories of LGBTQI+Allies.pdf
Here are alternating songs and stories, almost all of which are by people who identify as LGBTQI. There are more than two dozen musical selections including pieces by Aaron Copland, Billy Strayhorn, KD Lang, Paul Robeson, Freddie Mercury, and Stephen Sondheim, and an equal number of stories and quotes from Harvey Fierstein, Barbara Jordan, Quentin Crisp, Tim Cook, Alice Walker, and Sally Ride among others.

#15 Body and Soul.pdf
A look at Soulful Songs and Stories through the lens of Black Lives Matter and the issues of race, diversity, and privilege. There over two dozen musical selections ranging from Luigi Boccherini to Miles Davis and Ruthie Foster, alternating with words of wisdom from Dave Chappelle to Frederick Douglass and Nikky Finney.

#16 Ennio Morricone + Stories from The Moth.pdf
The music of Ennio Morricone, who died on July 6, 2020: two pieces from The Mission and two from Cinema Paradiso. Two stories from The Moth, one by Micaela Blei: What it took for me to realize I’m totally comfortable and beautiful, and one by Satori Shakoor: I’m goin’ for being over-the-top alive.

#17 Three Soulful Songs, Three One Sentence Stories.pdf
Arca, “No Queda Nada”; Julianna Barwick, “Healing Is A Miracle”; Nate Najar: “Sous le ciel de Paris.” Plus David Whyte’s poem “Everything is Waiting for You.”

#18 Letting Go/Revelation.pdf
Tricia Rose Burt, Letting go of toxic things; Aryana Rose, Loving someone enough to let them go; Al Sharpton, Letting go of the script. These are paired with “I Saw The Light,” Earl Scruggs; “I’ll Fly Away,” Nashville Jam; and “This Train Is Bound for Glory,” Mumford and Sons.

#19 Un/Inhibited Conversations.pdf
Two pieces on storytelling, two stories from The Moth, and one from Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, coupled with the songs “Invisible String,” “Now Let Us Sing,” and “Down by the Riverside.”

#20 Dis/Connection.pdf
Erin Barker: Forgiveness all around—almost + “All in a Family,” Loudon Wainwright III; Amanda Palmer: Give, receive, and ask fearlessly + “Please Don’t Pass Me By,” Leonard Cohen; Katie Makkai, The word “pretty” is unworthy of everything you are + “Come Healing,” Leonard Cohen.

#21 Fun & Happiness.pdf
Two mini-stories, 12 one-liners, six extended quotes, four songs, and a Jenny Joseph poem, all about fun and happiness. For your added enjoyment, two fun musical pieces (Penguin Cafe Orchestra and the Grateful Dead) and three selections for your musical reverie (Yo-Yo Ma, Keith Jarrett, and Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez).

#22 Worthy, Right Here, Right Now.pdf
The Beatles and a story about an avid runner; John Rutter & Snatam Kaur and a story of an “unworthy” piano in the hands of Keith Jarrett.

#23 Is There Any There There?.pdf
“Shallow,” by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, “The Trappings” by Goat Rodeo, and a long but easy reading escape story from two kinds of prisons involving a misbegotten romance. This time, rather than offering statements, we have questions for you. For further contemplation, four pieces by Mozart, from classical to jazz, from the concert hall to the street.

#24 It Takes More Than an Outfit.pdf
In “It takes more than an outfit,” we explore the real you, sans outfit, or as Dorothy Allison says, "Two or three things I know for sure, and one is that I'd rather go naked than wear the coat the world has made for me." There's additional music based on "Laredo": a wistful "Streets of Manhattan," plus woodwind, guitar, and jazz versions. Bid farewell to outfits and say hello to being real to versions of Jay Ungar's beautiful “Ashokan Farewell.”

#25 Time in the Age of Covid.pdf
Because we’re painfully aware that the time of social distancing seems interminable, while other changes are occurring at a blistering pace, we consider “Time in the Age of Covid.” Musical pieces are from Sandy Denny, Phillip Glass, Pink Floyd, and others—paired with words of wisdom from Fareed Zakaria, David Brooks, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, C JoyBell C, and more.

#26 Don’t Postpone Joy.pdf
The theme “Don’t Postpone Joy” is celebrated with multiple versions of the songs “This Year,” “In Spite of Ourselves,” “Ode to Joy,” and “Welcome Table,” and in stories from Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbara Holmes, Hafiz, and David Cohen. (In the words of Jennifer Brower, “Life is a near-death experience. Don’t let a moment of your living be wasted on small things.”)

#27 Biblical, Metaphorical, and Humanist Songs and Stories.pdf
We celebrate the season with songs (15 pieces of music!) and four stories, ranging from the sacred to the secular, from holy to humorous, some familiar and some fresh. Whatever your belief or non-belief, you should find something that speaks to you.

#28 Practicing Love with its Sleeves Rolled Up.pdf
Songs and stories about community and interdependence. It’s built around the poem “Declaration of Interdependence” by Richard Blanco, and two songs we first heard on Grey’s Anatomy: Goldford’s “Walk with Me,” and “Take Me In” by The War and Treaty. Additional poems, stories, and quotes are from Edward Hays, Desmond Tutu, Dean Koontz, Ani DiFranco, bell hooks, and others. Since we’re emerging from the darkness of politics, the pandemic, and the winter solstice, we’re including seven musical pieces to accompany us into the light.

#29 On the Road, There Is a Different Torah.pdf
Theory v. practice, and the dark side of dogma, with stories from Jonathan M. Metzl and Richard Wright, and music and song by Tvärvägen, Deva Premal, Charles Bradley, Sam Cooke, and Keith Jarrett. For your musical reverie, sans dogma, pieces by Erik Satie, Mika and Richard Stoltzman, and Franz Schubert.

#30 Songs and Stories about Songs and Stories.pdf
We pore over why “the very act of story-telling is by definition holy” (James Carroll) and how “the nearest thing to telepathy is making music together” (Oliver Sacks). When we listen to or tell stories, or create, perform, or listen to music, the holy awaits us. With stories from Martin Luther King, Jr., Alex Tizon, Peter Sellars, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and others, interspersed with music—old and new, familiar and not—from Nathaniel Rateliff, Kenny Banks Jr., Jacob Collier, Yo-Yo Ma, Doreen Ketchens, Anatoly Liadov, Cécile Chaminade, and lots more.

#31 On Struggle, Anger, a Trolley, and (Non-)Violence.pdf
To what extent is opposing tyranny and oppression at odds with non-violence and the admonition to turn the other cheek? The answers may lie in stories from Frederick Douglass (the limits of tyrants), Howard Beale (anger), Michael Sandel (trolleys and justice), and Walter Wink (turn the other cheek). Music to accompany the stories comes from Twisted Sister, Sam Cooke, Osibisa, and others. The dismantling of white supremacy depends not on placards, parades, or principles, but ultimately on the price we’re willing to pay to recognize it in ourselves and call it out in others, whether that’s around the dinner table or in the workaday world.

#32 Spiritual Capitalism and Why less Is More.pdf
Experience the divine/holy/sacred not “by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.” (Meister Eckhart) We’re so busy checking the right boxes, adding, attaining, achieving, or performing that it’s been called “spiritual capitalism.” Franciscan friar Richard Rohr believes that authentic spirituality is more about letting go. We’ll have music to both underscore and contemplate those points.

#33 Stories of Family History That Enrich.pdf
Based on a 15 minute film by Carol Nguyen in the New Yorker and a 1500-word essay by Claudio Lomnitz in LitHub, we look at stories of family history that enrich. The film “produced an unprecedented openness,” and the essay revealed “our precondition: a matrix of past decisions that made us possible.” To savor and complement these stories, we have all instrumental music, some familiar (“Answer Me,” “Amazing Grace,” Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” and Schubert's Impromptu No. 3) and some possibly not (pieces by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Jamison Ross, the Mats Eilertsen Trio, Habib Koite, and Moira Dela Torre).

#34 Dealing with Mishegoss, Mystery, and Miracle.pdf
In the midst of mishegoss (or as Jennifer Brower like to call it, “crazy-busy”), the “why” of things is often a mystery, and we don’t always see the miracles in and around us. Noa Kushner reminds us that, “If there seems to be few places we can isolate where miracles abound without anything hard or painful accompanying them, take heart: even the rabbis have trouble finding miracles that are free from pain.” Society taught Melissa Febos to hate her own body, but she was able to relearn how to love it when someone accepted her as she is. In spite of her metastatic breast cancer, a brain tumor, the revelation that her mother lied to her her whole life, and divorce, Elizabeth Wurtzel was astonishingly herself: funny and poetic and articulate and in good spirits. Accompanying the gift of these three lyrical pieces are the soulful songs “The Boy in the Bubble,” “River Flows in You,” “I’m Amazing,” “All of Me,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “You Take My Breath Away,” “Cortège,” and “Amazing Grace.”

#35 Awareness, Otherness, and Truth-telling.pdf
Explore with us Awareness, Otherness, and Truth-telling via “Town of Stairs,” a short story by Rosalie Ryan, a clip from the Netflix series Ginny & Georgia, and music (including works by by R. Nathaniel Dett, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Orrin Evans Quartet, and the JALC Orchestra).

#36 Happiness on Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings.pdf
Tom Waits starts us off with “The Heart of Saturday Night,” and we try to answer A. E. Stallings question, “Why should the Devil get all the good tunes?” via short quotes and fun music that may work for both Saturday night and Sunday morning. Additional music is written or performed by Duke Ellington, the Woodie Brothers, Jim Snidero, Reynaldo Hahn, Albert E. Brumley, Judy Garland & Barbra Streisand, Keala Settle, and Iris DeMent. Short quotes—most just a sentence or two—are from Barbara Holmes, William Arthur Ward, Edward Docx, Universalist minister Hosea Ballou, Lady Blessington, Marcel Proust, C. JoyBell C., and Chuck Palahniuk. No platitudes or clichés.

#37 The Downside of Not Telling Our Story.pdf
We use the newly released “Tell Me I’m Okay,” by Jess Locke, and Jim Morrison’s words from a 1970 interview to probe the downside of not telling our stories. More songs on the theme: “The Great Pretender,” “Black Masks & Gasoline,” “Brilliant Disguise,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Hear My Voice,” and “Everlasting Arms.” Then, decompress and relax with these delightful pieces: “Combat Breathing,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” “Margareta,” and “Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op.9.” More stories, via quotes from Brené Brown, Frederick Buechner, Audré Lorde, Valarie Kaur, Mary Oliver, Jesus, David Foster Wallace, Libba Bray, Thomas Merton, Steve Marston, and Sheila Heti.

#38 Decluttering Our "Friends" List.pdf
We may have to whittle down our list of superficial or infrequent friendships when the lockdown eases, so that we can nurture the strong, core friendships we really need—or, at the very least, jettison toxic relationships. Joni Mitchell provides the theme song, “Both Sides Now,” and Gina Pell & Amy Parker provide the lead story. There’s lots more music, with and without words, to accompany the ideas of Richard Wright, Viktor Frankl, Maya Angelou, Dorothy Allison, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, and others.

#39 Leveling the Playing Field.pdf
We’re using Amanda Palmer’s “Sing” (regardless of who might hear your song, sing it anyway) and the stylistically similar “The Paradoxical Commandments” by Kent Keith (no matter how much grief you get for doing the right thing, do it anyway) to focus on the injustice of not having a level playing field. Are we our sister’s and brother’s keeper? Do we really take the second UU Principle (Justice, Equity and Compassion in Human Relations) to heart? We look for perspectives from Desmond Tutu, Jesus, Hafiz, Paulo Coelho, MLK Jr, and Karen Armstrong. Snatam Kaur, Yiruma, Willard Jabusch, Helen Sung, Roy Hargrove, Allison Russell, Felix Mendelssohn, Rita Payés, Antônio Carlos Jobim, and Omar Thomas offer music, with and without words, to think on these things, and to delight us. We conclude with a page of rhetorical questions and four graphics.

#40 “This Is My Story, this Is My Song”: Some Lessons from Lockdown
The pandemic was a great magnifier, allowing us to see, perhaps for the first time, that the good things were very, very good, the bad things were horrid, and the useless things were exposed as unacceptable. What did lockdown, sheltering in place, and working remotely teach us about the unnecessary, our relationships, music, gratitude, and (un)learning? Music composed and/or performed by Phoebe Palmer Knapp, Gus Kahn, Leon Bridges, Yuja Wang, Joan Chamorro, Allison Russell, Charles Lloyd, John Prine, Henryk Górecki, and Playing For Change is matched with words from Cal Newport, Ed Zitron, Barbara Holmes, Taylor Ho Bynum, Krista Tippett, Michelle Boorstein, and Maggie Smith.

#41 Pants on Fire: Can You or Kant You?
Songs and stories about whether lying is a black and white issue, or if there are 50 shades of gray in between. Songs and other musical pieces performed by Prettymuch, Pete Seeger, Fleetwood Mac, Depeche Mode, JD Allen, Albrecht Mayer, Nina Simone, Jon Batiste, Sonny Stitt, Patty Griffin, and The Chicks. Stories and quotes by Gregory House, Alan Kay, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Pamela Meyer, Sarah Silverman, Olivia Ward, John F. Kennedy, Albert Camus, Jordan Peterson, Aleister Crowley, Anthony Bourdain, Janis Joplin, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Music in Soulful Songs and Stories PDFs #1–39

Monday Meditation and Poetry-Rev. Dr. Fenimore
Wednesday Messages-Rev. Brooks
Wednesday Conversation
Thursday Contemplations-Alia Shinbrough
Friday Meditative Moments-Rev. Brower
Soulful Songs and Stories
COVID19 Personal Protective Equipment