Presentation: How Gospel Music Taught Me Life’s Lessons

(Although this was originally presented as a sermon, it has also been given as a presentation of the wisdom and legacy of gospel music.)

Gathering MusicSometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child  piano by Darko Varga

Centering Moment

Chalice LightingHarvesting Hope and Humor from Hate and Helplessness       

Inspired by Marge Piercy’s The Low Road (from We Are Everywhere), as I heard it at church one morning when I was distraught with the senior bullying issues at my retirement condo I was struggling with. My thanks to her for her for helping turn my helplessness into hope and comfort.


Voice 1 – What can they do to you?

Voice 2 – Anything they want!

Voice 3 – Maybe you can’t stop them.   .   .

Voice 1 – How could you possibly stop them?

Voice 2 – Well, as one, you can fear, you can fight, you can make earnest efforts alone.

Voice 3 – I’m so scared, since they usually roll right over you, yelling and screaming at you! And they even try to hurt you.

Voice 1 – But two people fighting back to back have a better chance.

Voice 2 – Yeah, I remember that termites can bring down a huge structure.

Voice 3 – Three can keep each other sane, giving support, inspiration, conviction, and hope.

Voice 1 – With four you can play games, start a committee, and sing in 4-part harmony!

Voice 2 – With six you can delegate responsibilities and start gathering ideas to further your cause.

Voice 3 – And with seven you can alert the public, caution the prejudiced, and even scare the powerful into taking you seriously as I did on the six o’clock news three times so far.

Voice 1 – It starts when you take the frightening risk of standing up and doing something.

Voice 2 – And when you do it again after they say no, refusing to stay in the victim position.

Voice 3 – It grows when you say we.

Voice 1 – And each day you live in the knowing that you are painting a better world.


                              The Happy Pariah

I stood up and said No to Seniors Bullying; a friend stopped visiting.

We suggested a change toward a more legal condo association;

Folks liked things the way they were, so they voted us down.


I wrote a letter explaining the legalities; hate notes against my family showed up on each of the 15 bulletin boards.

It was supposedly in the name of frugalities; one even mentioned the name of the Lord among some other not-so-nice words..


We went as the Minority Voice of our condo; we were yelled at, called names, and told to go home. But we are home, we said. We want to live together as neighbors.


My family has been bullied for far too long. Yet the sunrise still makes me sing a song.

We were two, three, seven, now more. Eventually they’ll let us have the floor.


We’ll stand up for justice while watching our back. The State investigators are on the right track.

I’ll keep working my way through my day. No matter what avoidance game they play.


But I’ll not stay in a victim position. I’ll watch the trees dance, then do what I can.

And if a pariah it seems I must be: I’ll dern well be a Happy Pariah!

Yes, a Happy Pariah I’ll be!


Welcome and Milestones: Member of Board of Trustees

AffirmationToday we’re thinking about standing for something. So let’s start by standing for our faith.

Love is the doctrine of this faith.

The quest for truth its sacrament.

And Service its prayer.

To dwell together in peace

To seek the truth in love

To the end that all shall grow in harmony

Thus do we covenant with one another.

“May we have the strength to stand our ground. Please be seated.”

ReadingTime for a Jesus Story

When Seniors Bully: Time for a Jesus Story

Friends who know me remember how I have always used stories in my over four decades of teaching as well as in other spheres of my life. It didn’t surprise them that I would use similar tactics in retirement.

However, it did surprise and shock me, though, to find my lovely retirement condo embroiled in struggles which involved bullying by a number of seniors directed at my family and several others who were trying to get our complex to comply with the law. Prejudice against gays was also a real factor.

I had moved here to be near my son and his partner since a decade of being a caregiver for my disabled husband had worn me down a bit, and I knew there would be times I would need their help,.

Among the seniors who showed blind loyalty to resisting change was a lady who really valued her friendships with the snowbirds who had been returning for many years to this lovely spot near the coast.

On January 3, 2014 she opened her apartment door and started toward the stairs. Her neighbor (my son), was struggling his way up the stairs on his crutches.

He needed a couple of minutes to make it to the top. She stood at the top and impatiently remarked, “Don’t worry. I won’t knock you down the stairs.” Well, that wasn’t exactly a threat, but it wasn’t exactly friendly either.

Then she went on to the yearly owner’s meeting, complaining loudly to me that he wasn’t friendly enough to her on the stairs. I wondered, but gently reminded her it took a bit of concentration to make it up the stairs on crutches.

Meanwhile, since our family was being bullied, we had started a buddy system to help curtail the opportunities for harassment. This was based on the idea that abusive behaviors occur more easily with privacy. So I was determined to shine the light on any places where a victim could be caught alone. This included the laundry room, mail area, parking lot and hallways. That meant my being there whenever humanly possible! I even started wearing a Go-Pro camera to document incidents.

A week or so later my son and son-in-law were in the laundry room, following the plan of avoiding being alone to reduce the bullying. This same lady walked up and said, shaking her finger pointedly, “I like you. I don’t like you. I really don’t like you.” As she barked out angry words, she pointed at my sister-in-law, my son-in-law, then at my son.

About then I returned from the restroom, right in the middle of shocked expressions. As I opened the door I was a few inches from her angry face. She seemed surprised to see me and stopped mid-sentence for a second.

I had been clued in by phone on my way down the hall, so I knew what had happened. I looked around, then said to the woman, “I think it’s time for us (me and her) to go on.” I was relieved as she headed upstairs to her apartment.

A couple of weeks later I spotted her alone in the parking lot. I knew this was my chance!

After a friendly greeting I asked her if she went to church. She answered, “Not often enough, but I’m very religious!”     Here was my opening.

I said, “I’ve been thinking about something Jesus said. His words went kinda like, “If you do it unto these my children, you’ve done it unto me.” At that point I held my heart and my voice quavered with real heartfelt emotion.

She recognized the near-quote from the teachings of Christ. I reiterated, “You see, when you do something to my son or members of my family, you’ve done it to me  .   .   .” She could feel my motherly emotions through my voice and piercing yet sincere eye contact.

I added, “You’re a mother — you know, don’t you?” Then she reached out to pat me on the shoulder and we both teared up a bit.

She had not bothered us since that day. About once a week I would see her and give her a firm yet caring look. My aim was to cement our agreement while showing respect.

I’m aware that this peace was tenuous, yet it is far preferable to the previous state of bullying. Too bad the other senior bullies involved weren’t open to words of peace. She still stands on the side of being loyal to those who vehemently resist change here in our complex, even when it means supporting illegal activities.  Yet for a while we had a mother’s arrangement.

Perhaps peace is a thin thread which must be nurtured to keep from breaking.

But all stories do not have a happy ending.

Unfortunately, with her associating daily with her friends who have a pattern of constant bullying of us, she eventually lapsed back into the hateful behavior. (A neighbor across the hall witnessed her calling her gay neighbor “A–hole” which was one of many similar actions which continue to this day.)

A few steps forward, and then some back. But on we go:)

Hymn: Love Makes a Bridge.   # 325                                                                                                                 Please stand on the side of love as we sing verses 1, 2, and 3 only. 


Near Seattle, living on a houseboat, a UU minister named Robert Fulghum said all he really needed to know he learned in kindergarten. He even made that into a wonderful best-selling bookl

He inspired me to admit that most of what I ever needed to know I learned from gospel music of my youth!

What I took from being raised in a fundamentalist tradition was simple strains of hope and words to live by. Some were like a lullaby for my soul while others were almost Rock and Roll.  Yup, some foot stomping and body swaying is quite in order for some gospel tunes! They charged me to find a calling for my life, to imbue my days with meaning. 

I always say tradition is like a buffet table where we bring what we can and take what we need. What I left on the table of Christian zealots was the drawing of circles that excluded some of God’s children, hateful behaviors and self-righteous habits and even some of the lyrics which you may notice have at times been adjusted. (I always found the first verse seemed truly inspired whereas the others were at times just finishing a product–arggh! including enough blood and guts to please the less inspired fundamentalist powers that be.)

Gospel music usually included some foot-stomping fun. I carry fond memories of touching lyrics and tunes right beside the humor and good times of singing with others. At our UU church, of which I was a founding member, one year we started a quartet. Ha, there were three of us, but we aspired to finding that 4th singer!

This love of gospel music doesn’t mean I cherished ALL my religious heritage. I also left on that table of tradition sternness, guilt, fear, exclusivism, the meanness of abuse and an unforgiving spirit since I took a personal stand that being a Christian for me should involve living in a Christ-like manner. These things I left behind are a little too obvious in the news these days. 

The juxtaposition of hope and harangue, yen and yang, rings true to my heart as real life is filled with such dissonance. In that spirit I might add that poetry bares the soul and music feeds the soul. I think of friendship and making music together as a form of “God’s Psychiatry”.  

We’ve all heard about the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Well, it’s time you heard mine. I was taught that the word “gospel” meant good news. In my youth, I was in dire need of some good news, and I found it in song — thus the Gospel According to Hildra. You may notice I changed a few of the words on these public domain lyrics to fit my heart’s inclinations.

The music and lyrics of my past took me from the depths of human feeling and pathos to dangling before me the charismatic possibility of hope for the future. I somehow even learned that I could make a difference in my world, using my free will. Never underestimate the subliminal and long-lasting effect of music and words on a person’s psyche! 

Sometimes the titles alone give the lesson summary; other times I just had to share some lyrics! No doubt the chorus of each tune stuck fast in my mind, and I love repeating them.


I learned the value of telling stories: 

I Love to Tell the Story

Tell Me the Story of Jesus

Wonderful Words of Life

This is My Story, This is my song, thankful for life’s gifts all the day long. Life is before us, all shades and hues. Grace is amongst us whatever our views. Sometimes we hold hope square in our hearts. Then we move on, each taking our part.

On the Jericho Road – My late sister, late brother, his dear wife and I always sang this when we were together–in 4 part harmony of course!

Then I learned how important it is to sing when you can:

He Keeps Me Singing as I go:

There’s within my heart a melody 

    And it whispers sweet and low

    Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep

    It’s all part of life’s ebb and flow.

Truth, care, understanding, sweetest words I know.

            Fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.

I learned to sit right down for a lullaby:

Blessed Quietness on  the stormy sea, speaks to me and the billows cease to roll.

Fall Fresh on Me

Be Still My Soul

Take Time to Be Holy]

Tread Softly (Be silent, a whisper is heard. Be silent, treasure each word.

Tread softly, wisdom is here. Tread softly, it bids us draw near.)

In The Garden (I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses…

what a picture for the mind… the voice I hear falling on my ear. . . and

the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.) {I made my sister a CD of old songs we used to sing around the piano, to shape notes, no less.  She enjoyed it during her last few weeks while she was in hospice. She loved that.}

Now the Day is Over, night is drawing near. Shadows of the evening steal across the sky.

And then there was my mother’s favorite song, Do Lord.  My sister and brother and I sang it at her funeral. The words “Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me” made me chuckle, wondering if the songwriter thought God had a memory problem!?!

I learned to be part of a community and keep each other company: 

Abide with Me

A Beautiful Life  – Each day I’ll do a golden deed by helping those who are in need.

My life on earth is but a spell, & so I’ll do the best I can.

Blest Be the Tie

Brighten the Corner

Dear Hearts and Gentle People

God be With You Till we Meet Again, by His counsels guide, uphold you. Put His arms securely round you. God be with you till we meet again. (My older brother remembers hearing this as we left our church to walk home every Sunday evening.)

Somebody Needs Your Love. Out in the darkness of this Planet Earth. Somebody needs your love. Led by your kindness your soul finds its worth. Somebody needs your love 3x . Someone’s in sadness, yearning for gladness. Somebody needs your love.

I learned to love nature and seek the light.

Fair are the Meadows. Fairer still the woodlands. Robed in the blooming garb of spring. Love will I cherish, truth will I honor. Thou my soul’s glory, joy and crown.

Heavenly Sunlight. I sang this for a number of churches that my daddy preached at. That was when I was only 3 & 4 years old, before a life of abuse made me shy. Walking in sunlight, all of my journey; over the mountains thru the deep vale. . . Walking in sunlight, sunlight of love.

Beyond the Sunset

Let the Lower Lights be Burning

Sunlight, sunlight, in my soul today. Sunlight sunlight, all along the way. And of course,

I’m on the Sunny Side of Life!          

Peace be Still  – (I wrote these lyrics as we sat in the Chocolate Porch and took in the wonders of nature.)

A summer evening is time to play. I saw two rabbits right here today.

When we’re outside we can feel the breeze, and sometimes our allergies makes us sneeze.

One day we found a four-leaf clover, and dragonflies the whole yard over.

Chorus:  The world is out there. Look if you will. Peace, be still. Peace, be still.

                   Looking outside can be a thrill.  Peace, peace, be still.

Here in the woods you see hummingbirds. Hush, no words, watch the birds.

The wonders of nature are everywhere. Just look outside in the open air.

The rabbits and squirrels and mockingbird; they’ll all come by but don’t say a word.

Repeat Chorus


I learned Don’t worry — Be Hopey!

Peace in the Valley: I’m weak and I’m weary but I must go along till life comes and calls me away. Through the night dark and gloomy I will look for a light and watch darkness turn into bright day. There’ll be peace in the valley some day, though life seems so hard some days (so many ways). No more sadness, no sorrow, or trouble I’ll see. I will make peace in the valley for me (and thee).

Wayfaring Stranger

Be Thou My Vision

Balm in Gilead

In the Sweet Bye and Bye

Whispering Hope   (Didn’t Emily say “Hope is a thing with feathers.”)

It is Well with My Soul

Written by: Unknown, Copyright: Unknown

Climb, climb up sunshine mountain
Heavenly breezes blow;
Climb, climb up sunshine mountain
Faces all aglow.
Turn, turn from sin and doubting,
Look to God on high,
Climb, climb up sunshine mountain
You and I.

I learned to be grateful for what you have.

Showers of Blessings

Count Your Blessings, count them one by one.

Bringing in the Sheaves

Bless These Gifts

Precious Memories

I learned to stand up and serve others

Dare to be Daniel. Dare to stand alone. Dare to have a purpose firm. Dare to make it known.

Send the Light

My Faith Looks Up to Thee. My faith’s a melody. We sing in harmony. This is our choice. There is just one of me. I share my faith with thee. Join in this song with me, rejoice and sing. (with thanks to Shirley Locke with whom I coordinated on the words.)

Standing on the Promises

I Would be True, for there are those who trust me. I would be true, for there are those who care. I would be strong, for there is much to suffer. I would be true for there is much to dare.

A Beautiful Life: Each day I’ll do a golden deed, by helping those who are in need. My life on earth is but a span; each day I’ll do the best I can.

YOU MAY NOTE THAT I CHOSE TO HANG ONTO THE WORDS, NOT NECESSARILY THE ACTIONS I SAW AROUND ME. It took a number of years for me to become assertive enough to stand up. The examples of women in my life pointed toward what we now call “victim behavior” of accepting one’s lot in life with no thought of being a change agent in my own life. I had to learn to stand on the side of love while saying no. My heart still remembered those gospel songs which whispered to me of hope.

Active Standing Meditation

The famous starfish story (it made a difference to that one) taught me I didn’t have to solve all problems, but I could hold my head high if I made a difference!  Like I taught my boys in scouting, leave your campsite better than you found it.

But, oh dern, I thought I could stand up once and it’d be over. I learned it was like green living. Putting litter in its place was not enough. It took staying with it, so don’t give up, rinse and repeat! (Ahem, they even say standing up can be good for your health…)

Albert Einstein said the world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.

So, for this Standing Meditation, you are welcome to stand if you wish.  We stand in reverence for making a difference. Then you may choose to either close your eyes or look at a window or other object to help your mind focus.

Think on these things while you ponder or pray, as is your personal preference:

Have you ever been kind to someone when no one else seemed to be?

Have you ever stood alone, maybe even while being criticized or attacked for your ideas?

Have you ever stood up for justice in matters either big or small?

Have you ever questioned an unfair bill?

Have you ever spoken out when hearing the toxins of prejudice being spewed forth? (sometimes this can involve friends)

I recently had to stand up as a witness and victim of hateful bullying. It was truly hard,  particularly with the many months of intense witness intimidation, but worth it to be an assertive advocate for change. 

Standing doesn’t have to be an angry act–in fact it works better if done calmly.

We stand in our truth, knowledge and kindness. 

We stand in our courage, and even in our fear.

We may even stand while shaking, hoping, or praying.

We stand in kindness and love, even for our opponents.

Stand up in peace and calm conviction.

We stand alone, but others may join in, or we may join another who stands.

We stand to make the world a better place. We don’t have to be perfect, or even always consistent. But we can spend time standing for something. We can stand up to be patriotic following your own conscience. 

Consider your daily life. Look for opportunities to stand for what you hold dear.

MLK said “The ultimate measure of people is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.”

Remembering that quote may help you when you weary of standing, standing, standing for something!     

Please be seated as you continue to stand for what you believe, standing in both respect and love. 

These wonderful Summer Singers will inspire you now. Let the hope whisper to us for comfort and courage. Then let your days stand for something! That’s the Gospel According to Hildra.

Sharing of Responsibility Offertory

Summer Singers present Whispering Hope accompanied by Darko Varga

Closing Words:

As a teacher, I can’t resist giving you an assignment. Our homework is to spread hope and caring. Now go in peace while you rock with the saints both past and present!


Darko Varga plays a resounding When the Saints Go Marching In.

Copyright 2017 by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.


About grantutor

Career educator in both public and private schools. Has tutored all ages. Writes about education, parenting, & seniors. Sings harmony with folk/rock group and a choir. Caregiver for spouse who dealt with Stage IV cancer. Happy person committed to nature and conservation of a green world.
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