Wednesday, April 3, 2013


I happened to be listening to the song “Signs” by the Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band with its theme of exclusion and discrimination. It was released in 1970 against the backdrop of social upheaval and political change. It’s a song that has resonated with me since I was a child. In it, the speaker expresses his frustration over a series of signs he sees. Let’s break it down to see what it has to teach us.

The first sign the speaker sees discourages “long-haired freaky people” from applying for a job. This angers him, and in his effort to challenge the establishment, he “tucked all [his] hair up under [his] hat” and went in to ask why. The owner or manager judges the speaker to be a “fine, upstanding young man” and says, “I think you’ll do,” but to prove hypocrisy on the owner’s part, the speaker takes off his hat and says, “Imagine that!, working for you!” The speaker confronts the problem head-on to illustrate his point of judging people solely on their appearances.

The second sign the speaker encounters reads, “Anybody caught trespassing will be shot on sight.” Again, this angers the speaker, who jumps over the fence and yells, “What gives you the right to put up a fence to keep me out, / or to keep Mother Nature in?” He sees the trespassing threat as something that would offend God when he says, “If God was here, He’d tell it to your face, ‘Man, you’re some kind of sinner.’”

The third sign proclaims to the speaker that he needs a “membership card to get inside.” He is stopped by someone who insults him by asking, “...can’t you read?” The speaker is told he’s got to wear “a shirt and tie to get a seat” and that he “can’t even watch, no [he] can’t eat. [He] ain’t supposed to be here.” The speaker is excluded from the scene altogether because of his kind and his appearance. He is discriminated against by the establishment once again.

In being denied membership into certain areas and groups, the speaker finds himself in front of a sign that reads, “Everybody’s welcome to come in and kneel down and pray,” but he realizes that he has no money to offer when the plate is being passed. Instead, he takes out a slip of paper and writes, “Thank you, Lord, for thinking about me. I’m alive and doing fine.” With all the railing the speaker has done against the signs of discrimination, exclusion, and intolerance, he turns around to create his “own little sign,” only this sign expresses gratitude to something much greater than the institutions that have shunned him on his journey. Despite being misjudged and misperceived, the speaker is happy to be alive and in good health, two essential gifts that take precedence over everything else.

There will be times in life when we will be discriminated against, judged by our actions and appearances, and told that we simply aren’t good enough to be included into certain circles. We will not always be accepted. This should not discourage us on our personal journeys. We do not need to change who we are to conform to others’ ideals and expectations. To do so deadens a piece of us because we have “sold our soul” to belong. With Spirit in our lives, there are no membership dues to pay. It’s an all-inclusive club to which anyone from all walks of life may belong. It doesn’t matter what you look like, who you are, or who you aren’t. Spirit embraces us with love, in love, with no conditions whatsoever. Walking and embracing the spiritual path is what separates us from an ego-driven world. Our eyes open; we see things for what they really are, and we hear the words of Jesus echoing in our ears, “Forgive them...they know not what they do” because what they do is done out of fear.

We may be in this world for a time, but we are not of it. While we are in it, we can channel our frustration and anger into action that leads to positive change and growth. We can forgive those who “trespass” against us. People will do and say things to us that will make our anger flare, but we can control ourselves because we understand the motivation behind their words and actions. If we retaliate, we lower ourselves. Instead, we can turn it into a “spiritunity” to help raise them to a higher level. If they accept, everyone wins. If not, then the best we can do is wish them well and move on, hoping for the best for all involved. Spirit will show us the signs along the way.

To listen to "Signs" click here:

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