Friday, March 17, 2006



To a vile, narrow-minded old hypocrite and fake moralist-for-a-buck like Joe Lieberman rock'n'roll musicians looked like an easy target. Even young people who can vote, rarely do. Sleazy ole Joe thought they'd be easy to demonize, easy to victimize, easy to make bear the brunt of his demagogic kiss up to the cultural far right. Now his political life may hang in the balance. Plenty of musicians and songwriters and fans of music only know one thing about Joe Lieberman. They may not even know he's the most guilty Democrat in the whole U.S. Congress for Bush's war on Iraq and they may not know his unsavory role in the confirmation of anti-choice fanatic Sam Alito and they might not understand what a phony he is on environmental matters. But they do remember Joe Lieberman is the senator who tried to kill rock'n'roll.

Joe Lieberman doesn't respect cultural diversity and doesn't respect young people, their language, their concerns, the hopes and aspirations. Their music is junk culture to him. Millions of young men and women know better. And on March 5 Galen Guengerich preached a sermon at All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City, called "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," based on a brilliant, inspiring and compelling song by Oakland-based punk rock band Green Day. Give it a read and feel the power of rock'n'roll Joe Lieberman sought to murder:

In one of his recent books, Thomas Friedman relates the following African proverb: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running.”

In my experience, many human beings act the same, especially Americans. When the sun comes up, we start running, and in most cases we don’t stop until long after the sun goes down. Sometimes we run literally, of course, either on a treadmill, in the park, or through the neighborhood. But mostly we run in other ways, presumably because where we find ourselves as
individuals is not where we want to be. Sometimes we run like lions, pursuing something we want but do not have. We chase after things: financial security, vocational success, academic achievement, and emotional satisfaction. We also run away from things, like a gazelle from a lion. We flee from failure, or embarrassment, or disappointment. Whether pursuing or running away, we are always on the move.

I recalled this proverb about the lion and gazelle as I was reading a new book titled Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality from Emerson to Oprah, by the Princeton historian Leigh Eric Schmidt. In religious terms, Americans are restless souls, he observes. Countless American churchgoers have rejected their inherited faith traditions and become what Schmidt calls spiritual seekers, turning to individualized sources of enlightenment. In other words, they become spiritual rather than religious.

This trend is not a new feature of American religious life, according to Schmidt. We did not discover spirituality for the first time during the psychedelic days of the 1960’s, nor did we first notice mysticism when Madonna took up Kabbalah, a form of ancient Jewish mysticism. Pro basketball coach Phil Jackson was not the first American to find Buddhism enlightening, nor did Oprah pioneer the idea that the spirituality involves feeling good about ourselves. The penchant for being spiritual Lone Rangers has been part of our national character from the very beginning. We have always been a nation of seekers.

Our nation was founded on three pillars: a political theory of individual rights and civil liberties, an economic view of the beneficence of free markets, and a religious vision of souls that have been emancipated from the bondage of original sin. This emphasis on the primacy of the individual in the political, economic, and religious realms is known as liberalism. The religious consequences of liberalism were far-reaching from the start. In 1860, Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way: “The stern old faiths have all pulverized. ‘Tis a whole population of gentlemen and ladies out in search of religions.” It soon became clear where they would find these new religions. In 1871, the historian John Wiess said in his book American
Religion, “America is an opportunity to make a Religion out of the sacredness of the individual.”

The challenge for the individual, once emancipated from the need to seek salvation for the next life, was to find meaning and purpose in this life. The search for spiritual depth took myriad forms, many of them either generated or shaped by the Transcendentalists. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, sought direct mystical experience of the infinite, often through
the contemplation of nature. Henry David Thoreau, late of his cabin on Walden Pond, sought meaning in solitude. He put it this way: “To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone.” Walt Whitman took the opposite approach. He viewed religions as landscapes: each has its own unique appeal. The goal, with religion as with landscapes, is to experience as many as possible. As Whitman put it, the goal is “to know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls.”

This individualist approach to spirituality was sufficiently well established, and sufficiently worrisome, that the visiting Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville expressed his concern about it as early as the 1830’s. America is a novel expression of individualism, he said. When it comes to religion, however, the new democracy seems to throw each of its citizens “back forever upon themselves alone” and “to confine them entirely within the solitude of their own hearts.”

Even Walt Whitman, effusive champion of the open road, foresaw dangers ahead. In Leaves of Grass, Whitman describes the state of mind of a seeker who has been on the road too long.

Down-hearted doubters dull and excluded,
Frivolous, sullen, moping, angry, affected, dishearten’d, atheistical,
I know every one of you, I know the sea of torment, doubt,
Despair and unbelief.

Make no mistake: there is nothing wrong with the spiritual practices of contemplation, solitude, and exploration. In fact, they are much to be desired. But they are not sufficient, because none of them alone constitutes religion. The question confronting the individual seeker, according to Schmidt, is this: “Is Whitman’s open road about ceaseless and
adventuresome questing, about exploring many paths rather than settling on one, about the intuitive and artistic openness of the individual to inspiration come where it may? Is the point precisely the freedom of spiritual seeking? Or is the real point to find a well-marked path and submit to the disciplines of a new religious authority in order to submerge the self in a larger relationship to God and community? And if one submits to that kind of regulation, does one forfeit the very liberties-religious and intellectual-to which modern liberal democracy has pledged itself?” In other words, does the emancipation of our souls from the clutches of established religion give us the freedom always to live in novel spiritual lands? Or does it also give us the freedom somehow to find our way to a new religious home? I suspect that you already know my answer, but before I give it, allow me to say more about the first of these two freedoms, the freedom of the perennial seeker.

Some of you-perhaps many of you-know the music of Green Day, a contemporary band that came out of the punk clubs of the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1980’s. Today, Green Day is one of the most popular bands in the U.S., if not the world. To put them into perspective musically, Green Day is like the Who in their talent for rock anthems, like the Beatles in their flair for pop sensibilities, and like Bob Dylan in their commitment to outspoken social and political commentary. They can also write remarkably good ballads, one of which won a Grammy Award last month for record of the year.

The album on which the Grammy-Award winning song appeared is called “American Idiot.” It was the third-best selling album of 2005. Like Green Day’s previous albums, “American Idiot” is fueled by two passions: a deep-rooted aversion to authority and a deep-seated sympathy for outcasts. One song, titled “Jesus of Suburbia,” describes Green Day’s lineage.

I’m the son of rage and love
The Jesus of suburbia
From the bible of none of above…
City of the dead
At the end of another lost highway
Signs misleading to nowhere
City of the damned
Lost children with dirty faces today
No one really seems to care

To make certain no one misses the point, Billy Joe Armstrong, Green Day’s lead singer and guitarist, often wore two armbands on stage during the “American Idiot” tour. The armband on his left arm said “Rage,” and the armband on his right arm said “Love.” The title song on the album describes why they are enraged. My guess is that when most people see the title
“American Idiot,” they make assumptions that are one-hundred percent half right. Green Day has indeed been critical of our nation’s leaders. But the force of their critique extends to the citizens of our nation as well. The lyrics of the song “American Idiot” read, in part:

One nation controlled by the media
Information age of hysteria
It’s going out to idiot America.
Welcome to a new kind of tension.
All across the alienation.
Everything isn’t meant to be okay.

There is one additional thing to say about idiot America. In common usage, the word “idiot” means a person who is foolish or stupid. In fact, the word actually means a person who is ignorant. But the original meaning of the word “idiot” comes from an ancient Greek word, idios, which means “one's
own” or “private.” In this sense, the true meaning of the album title “American Idiot” appears in the song “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” the exquisite ballad that won the Grammy Award for best record. The lyrics read, again in part:

I walk a lonely road The only one that I have ever known Don't know where
it goes But it's home to me and I walk alone I walk this empty street On
the Boulevard of broken dreams Where the city sleeps And I'm the only one
and I walk alone
My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me My shallow heart’s the only
thing that's beating Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me Till
then I walk alone
The emancipation of our souls gives us the freedom to explore unfamiliar
spiritual lands. But the road of the private seeker is a lonely road,
because only one person is on it. As Whitman predicted, it can become a
boulevard of broken dreams.

This is what I want to say to you this morning: the boulevard of broken dreams leads here, to this place. Everyone who walks through the sanctuary door has spent time walking down that boulevard. Your broken dream may not feature the sense of male alienation that pervades certain branches of the contemporary musical and literary canon. But you doubtless have at least one dream-for yourself, your loved ones, our nation, our world-that has broken to pieces. It’s one reason why you have come to All Souls, because the boulevard of broken dreams leads here.

It also ends here. This is where broken dreams, and the lonely souls who hold them, can be lovingly healed and somehow made whole. The word religion does not mean to cut loose or set free. It means to bind together. This is something we cannot do alone.

The hallmark of a religious community is the experience of worship, when we gather to hold ourselves and our world together, if only for a brief hour. By listening to transcendent music, we connect our hearts to the rhythm of eternity, to that sense of a nurturing presence we often call God. By pondering inspired readings, we connect our minds to the wisdom of the
ages. In prayer, we proclaim our compassion for the brokenness in our hearts and in our world. In silence, we pour out our deepest longings to the Spirit of Life and Love. Through the ministry of the word, we declare our commitment to each other and our compassion for a broken world. Worship is a time for finding lonely souls and holding them close. The boulevard of
broken dreams ends here.

Tomorrow morning, when the sun comes up and you begin running again, remember this moment. Remember the peace that pervades this hour of worship, the sense of beauty that infuses it, the sense of purpose that fills it. Remember the feeling of being embraced this community of love, uplifted by our common hope, united by a common faith. Worship is religious
practice-it’s where we learn how to hold ourselves together when the running begins again.

Thank goodness and thank God that not all people have been taken in by blow-hard reactionaries like Lynne Cheney, Bill Bennett, Sam Brownback and Joe Lieberman. Our brothers and sisters in Connecticut can rise up on primary day, August 8, and march to the voting booths and retire Lieberman and send a message to reactionaries and bigots like him that we don't forget. And if you don't live in Connecticut, just ACT BLUE with a $10 or a $20 contribution (or more if you can) for the campaign of Ned Lamont, a forthright and earnest non-politician who can retire Joe Lieberman and start cleaning up the mess sleazy pols like Lieberman, Bush, Cheney and the rest have left in Washington.


Yesterday Tom Gogola also showed he wasn't falling for the line Lieberman-- or, as he refers to him, "Senator Fuddy Duddy"-- has been pushing, namely that although he may have been too carried away with a little war hysteria, on all other issues he's in synch with the Democratic voters of Connecticut. This is patently absurd and Gogola also used the music analogy to point it out in yesterday's NEW HAVEN ADVOCATE.


At 9:08 AM, Blogger Amanda said...

thanks so much for the link to the sermon on Green Day -- outstanding. this is an example of why i'm proud to call my self a Unitarian.

love this blog!

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Amanda said...

link to full speech

At 11:53 AM, Blogger Colier Rannd said...

As a buddhist, I have a lot more love for the quietness of alone then I know a lot of people do in the traditional religous sphere. However, I get your point Howie. Proof that punk music is more spiritual than all the "Proud To be An American" country songs put together could ever be. Good stuff.-michael

At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was stunned by this sermon. Thanks so much.

Edmonton, Canada

At 11:54 AM, Blogger newc said...

I am still haveing a hard time articulating your message.

At 4:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just read your sermon,good one.billiejoe and the rest of greenday should be honoured, their music is sending a message of hope to all of our children,independance,understanding,hope,and realisation that we could all live in peace,even with alternative language,preach'n'rock like 1+1=2

At 4:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just read your sermon,good one.billiejoe and the rest of greenday should be honoured, their music is sending a message of hope to all of our children,independance,understanding,hope,and realisation that we could all live in peace,even with alternative language,preach'n'rock like 1+1=2

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is nice :)

Greetings from The Netherlands...

At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need to encourage the New Haven Advocate folks every chance we get. The last article I read of Gogola's, I sensed a little latent attachment to "Fuddy Duddy." The kid's allright, but old habits die hard in the "Land of No Change."

At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

omg...are u kidding me?! wtf?! i am a huge Green Day fan..but this is bull! how can u get freakin sermon, out of a song? i mean, GOOD GOD!! and, im sure you wont even post my comment...

At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, you wanna know how to get a sermon out of Green Day song? try this: when Green Day makes a song, or an album, or a video, or w/e, do you think that they make the lyrics or the melody just so that it sounds good? huh-uh, nope! they play this music to get a mesage out, to kids, and adults, and old people, sure that when Billie Joe writes his songs, hes not thinkng about how to make it rhyme, hes prolly thinkin about how to get the message out, strong and the next time you wanna criticize anything or anyone, get your facts straight first.

oh, yeah, and also chew this over:

"a song is meant to be herad, and then interpretated by the listener, relating to his/her own personal life. my songs are about whatever you think they are, i'm not here to tell you what to think about them."- Billie Joe Armstrong

from, me....aka: Chuchie Armstrong

At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well sed billie joe :) im only 13 n i agree wiv u totaly keep up the gr8 work can't wait 2 hear ure next album :) ( ure next serman 2 music lol ) the girl or boy or who eva it was, was out of order she/he am tlkin crap 2 say that they were greenday fans in my opinion he/she am no true greenday fans :)

At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe Green Day is a very powerful group here to comment on the stupidity of the American people. I know a lot of people would disagree, but of course you can get a sermon fro Boulevard of BrokenDreams! The song is way more than a band talking about a lonely road where they walk alone.

At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone noticed that the words to Boulevard aren't correct? Just wondering


At 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone noticed that the words to Boulevard aren't correct? Just wondering


At 6:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hu eva posted that coment am tlkin crap the last paragraph ay even part of the song its part of the serman !!!!!

At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's beautiful. I've always been able to go on and on about the personal and collective appreciation that I am aware of with Green Day, I never thought a religious sermon would come out of one of their songs!

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi the serman 2 boulavard of broken dreams is excellent


At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi all , greenday am sooooooooooooo kwl !!!!!!!!! \m/\m/ after i watched bullet in a bible at my m8z i had 2 get all the greenday albums !!! i love every single song on every single album !!!!.i jus think bein a greenday fan is bein a minorty and uve gotta b who you r and if any 1 gives any thin else giv them the middle finger!!! \m/ l8r dudes law law xxxxxx \m/ \m/

At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, its people like Laura who give us teenage Green Day fans a bad name. Be coherent so people can actually understand whatever the hell you mean to say. -__-

But, the sermon was amazing. I'm not particularly religious myself is all I can say :]


At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi ppl i doe no wot that karlee is tryin 2 bloody say cuz laura does not giv ppl a bad name she is a best m8 she wud neva giv greenday fans a bad name cause we both luv em !!!!

loved the serman it was gr8 :) :)

At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

by th wa huevr said the lyrics to blvd. o' brkn drms is rng ur rite;sorta,usee da dude jst mest up and dint stp wrtn like he did when hes wrtn th lrcs to th song, dumas

At 7:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

h-l-o peeps if any1 is stil on dis frign website & would b so kind(or just have da guts 2 put in anonymous as der id) 2 tel me if ders such tang as a edited AMERICAN IDIOT cd. b/c im 12 & i rely want 1 . but if ders no such ting im S.O.L. cuz' my parents don' let me hav stuff wit "parental advisory " on the cover. thanks alot, anonmuss

At 5:53 PM, Blogger Dylan said...

Fantastic. I have been a fan of Greenday for eleven years. They have reached such a point of musical and lyrical maturity that it is not surprising that people are writing sermons based on their songs. Thanks for the post. The sermon is an inspiring interpretation of Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and I say so even though I am no longer a Christian and I walk the lonely road. What an awesome soundtrack to do it to! Music is one of the most powerful forces to wrest this broken world from the hands of the American Idiot and infuse a sharper, brighter and more inspired consciousness in the hearts and minds of young people.

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a great blog, but some of the Green Day lyrics are wrong, where did:
'The emancipation of our souls gives us the freedom to explore unfamiliar
spiritual lands. But the road of the private seeker is a lonely road,
because only one person is on it. As Whitman predicted, it can become a
boulevard of broken dreams.'
come from?
Thanks for the blog anyway

At 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the greenday lyrics are not wrong!!!! loads of people have said that but its not true !!
the part of the song you think is wrong is actually part of the serman!!!

At 5:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go Green Day!!!!!!!!This was awesome I'm a huge Green Day fan!I'm glad yu guys could help ppl with one of their songs!!!!!Billie Joe rules!!!!!!



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