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General Assembly (GA) 2013 Event 2002
In our faith community, the journey from promise to commitment requires grounding in right relationships among many identity groups. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Council on Cross Cultural Engagement invites you into a worship that honors best practices in navigating that journey.
[MUSIC - REGGIE HARRIS, "I'M GOING TO SIT AT THE WELCOME TABLE"]
All right. There's a Gaelic saying that inspired this next song. And when I read it, I was immediately struck by the power of the message, which says, "In the shelter of each other, the people live." And in a world that focuses so much energy on the rights of the individual, we must try to remember that the world works best when we can lean on, work with, and love each other.
So using call and response this morning, that means you sing back to me what I sing to you.
[MUSIC - REGGIE HARRIS, "IN THE SHELTER OF EACH OTHER, THE PEOPLE LIVE"]
Well sung. Well, my ancestors were slaves here in America. and like millions of other African Americans, they longed for freedom. Even in the degradation of slavery, their desire for freedom could not be quenched. And so in that longing, they sang the spirituals, songs of faith, songs of hope, songs of freedom.
Many of those songs were also used as secret codes to aid in escape, many times on the Underground Railroad. This is one of the most well-known songs of the Underground Railroad days, "Wade in the Water." So join me as we in spirit and in song make our way to the promised land. That's a much better key.
[MUSIC - REGGIE HARRIS, "WADE IN THE WATER"]
Can I get an amen this morning? Amen.
REV. DAVID M. GLASGOW: We're going to do one more song before we light our chalice, but I want to take a moment to introduce the musicians who were up here supporting us this morning, from Oakton, Virginia, Sarah Jebian; from McHenry, Illinois, Carrie MacDonald; from Midland, Texas, Erika Nielson. Our organist this morning from Raleigh, North Carolina, Yuri Yamamoto is there. On keyboards from Greensboro, North Carolina, Mark [? Froynt; ?] on base from Nashville, Tennessee, Carroll Skricki; on drum set from Spring Hill, Tennessee Brian [? Foty; ?] and on percussion, from Roxbury, Massachusetts, Matt Meyer. Thanks to each of you for your generosity this morning.
Should we sing one more? I'm going to hand the reins back over to the amazing Reggie Harris.
REGGIE HARRIS: Thank you, David. How are y'all feeling this morning? Really?
REV. DAVID M. GLASGOW: They've had more coffee than we have.
REGGIE HARRIS: Indeed, they did. Well, I'd like to invite all who are able to stand. Turn to your neighbor and give them a smile, and if you are so willing, give them a hug. Don't forget our neighbors who are also seated. Find them.
REV. DAVID M. GLASGOW: And could we all also give a big shout out to folks who are joining us online this morning? Pay online, folks. This is for you.
[MUSIC - REGGIE HARRIS, "THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE"]
REGGIE HARRIS: Good morning. Can I get an amen?
REV. NORI JUNE ROST: We've sat at many welcome tables. Lest we forget we have one too, more abundant than we know. Through the lighting of this chalice, we widen the spirit of welcome and invite those who tend the fires, bake the bread, and nurture others to come and sit at this table so that we may all grow in generosity, equity, and love.
REV. DAVID M. GLASGOW: The tragedy of human existence is that one by one we can do so little to improve the world. The triumph of human existence is that gathered together, we can do so much. Would you rise in body or spirit and kindle your flames with ours as we sing "Gather the Spirit."
[MUSIC - REV. DAVID M. GLASGOW, "GATHER THE SPIRIT"]
Please be seated.
SARAH DAN JONES: Come in. Come into this place, which we make holy by our presence. Come in with all of your vulnerabilities and strengths, fears and anxieties, loves and hopes. For here you need not hide, nor pretend, nor be anything other than who you are and are called to be.
Come into this place where we can touch and be touched, heal and be healed, forgive and be forgiven. Come into this place where the ordinary is sanctified, the human is celebrated, the compassionate is expected. Come into this place. Together, we make it a holy place.
[MUSIC - REGGIE HARRIS, "THROUGH THE WINDOWS OF THE HEART"]
KARIN LIN: On September 21, 2006, 10 Unitarian Universalist leaders met around a table in Boston, Massachusetts. The 10 included members of DRUM, Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries, UU Musician's Network, ARE, Allies for Racial Equity, and UUA staff. The group was convened by Gini Courter, UUA moderator. Their task was to discuss a variety of issues related to cultural misappropriation as experienced at the 2005 and 2006 general assemblies.
At the 2005 General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas, it was made clear that we were falling short in our goal to be the anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural community. Several incidents preceding and during General Assembly revealed significant shortcomings in our collective efforts with the brunt of the pain received in the UU people of color community. As a result, the UUA board of trustees convened a special Review Commission chaired by the Reverend Jose Ballester to study these events.
Another result was the formation of ARE an organized accountable group of white allies existing in formal relationship with DRUM.
MATT MEYER: While these efforts were positive, events of the 2006 General Assembly suggested rather urgently that we had not learned all that we might from our 2005 experiences. There were numerous reports of unequal treatment by the ushers in admitting or not admitting individuals of who did not have their badges and of presenting spoken and written material which was discriminatory or racist.
During the final plenary session, a song break featuring Thula Klizeo was presented by a group of UU Musician's Network members wearing white sneakers and the South African style of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. All the presenters were white, the song break was short, and the South African dance movements accompanying the song had not been well rehearsed and seemed to mimic the rich, South African culture. And although information on the song had been thoroughly researched and was well presented to the plenary, there was a significant number of people present in the plenary hall who felt that the song and its presentation had misappropriated cultural elements in a way that was hurtful.
That became evident as an increasingly-large group of protesters gathered at the procedural microphone while the song and dance continued. All those involved on the stage at the procedural microphone and elsewhere in the hall would later describe the moment as tense. Many would call that an understatement.
KARIN LIN: These events, along with all the histories and emotions of those who have lived these stories and more, arrived at that table in Boston. There too, the mood was tense. Before the group could tend to task, they had to take a leap of faith, a leap of faith that the group could hold all that was present at the table, the sorrow, the frustration, the questions, the sadness, the pain.
MATT MEYER: But two other things were present too, hope and love. Over the course of the two days, the 10 gathered at the table, shared their fears and their tears. They listened with their hearts, and they leaned in to hear more, even when they were hearing of pain caused by their own actions.
KARIN LIN: At times, they sat in silence until their souls found words. Sometimes they broke the silence with song.
JANICE MARIE JOHNSON: I was there at that first meeting. The mood was at best tense. We gathered as a community, but we were far from it. I suspect that each of us agreed to come for one reason alone, out of a deep respect for us and trust in our beloved moderator. I can still feel the depth of emotion around that table.
REV. WENDY VON ZIRPOLO: I didn't join the group until a few years after the stir, but when I learned that there was a task force on cultural misappropriation, I remember hoping that you would all produce a rulebook, you know, a list of don't sings, don't says, don't tells so that we would know how to play it safe and perhaps a book of to do's too.
JANICE MARIE JOHNSON: Well, we heard that from many people and some of us may even have thought that possible. There were some things we agreed would be helpful as guidelines. For example, contextualizing songs and stories, being clear about why you are using them. What our heart work taught us, what we really learned, we learned that it really was all about relationships.
REV. WENDY VON ZIRPOLO: No rulebook?
JANICE MARIE JOHNSON: Sorry. No rulebook. We learned what mattered most was creating relationships of trust and respect, respect for hearing the rules we each bring to the engagement and trust that we will each be heard. Once we had established that at our table, we knew we could share from deep and sometimes tender places.
We didn't always agree on things, but we committed to engage in respectful and caring dialogue, which is why we changed the name from the Task Force on Cultural Misappropriation to the Council on Cross-Cultural Engagement. The group now includes DRUM, UUMN, ARE, LREDA, the Liberal Religious Educators Association, the UU Ministers Association, the GA Planning Committee, and a member of the UUA Board of Trustees.
REV. WENDY VON ZIRPOLO: And we should add that although the group did not produce a rulebook, sadly, some very specific things did emerge from those early years. Worship leaders began gathering earlier to plan. We're in tighter relationship with the GA planners, and we're given some guidelines. That's when we started to hear the words, "Rise now in body or spirit," and saw some other changes in language and contextualization.
JANICE MARIE JOHNSON: Correct. Today, all plenary presenters and workshop leaders submit scripts that undergo a review by people well versed in anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism, indeed. But it is important to note that one of our most important learnings was that without question, we will err. And when we err, we need a process to address that error, to learn from our mistakes, and then to make amends, which is why we now have a Right Relationship team helping us to be our best selves in spite of our missteps.
REV. WENDY VON ZIRPOLO: And we won't all agree either. Do you remember the year-- you do. Do you remember that year that we the council parsed through "We'll Build a Land," and we included testimony from several voices about how painful it was to hear the song, and we include testimony from others about how important it was for them to sing it. And then we had people asking us how could they take that worship back into their own congregations as a teachable moment?
JANICE MARIE JOHNSON: I do well remember. There's nothing, nothing simple about any of this which is why there will never be a rulebook. It's up to all of us to commit to creating these covenantal relationships of respect and loving kindness in each of our congregations.
REV. HOPE JOHNSON: Is that OK? The story of how the Council on Cross-Cultural Engagement came to be and has evolved reminds me of a story that I've heard many times. It's a story that comes from many places, a story recounted by different voices. It's a story often told when people are moved by the promise of the welcome table, so moved that they decide that they want to recreate the welcome table in their own communities. Of course, their intentions are good. They want nothing more than to share the blessings of community, of common unity around one table abundantly set.
REV. MELISSA CARVILL-ZIEMER: We have been divided by our differences in this town for so long, we have forgotten the unity that underlies our diversity. If only there were a way to allow everyone to see what unity looks like, to remember how unity feels. I know. I'll suggest to my colleagues that we have a communion at our interfaith healing service next week. What better way to remind everyone of the ways we are connected to everyone at the table?
REV. HOPE JOHNSON: Well, this particular minister preceded in a way that so many perceived when captured by the vision of unity around the table. She began to prepare the plans for a communion ritual by scripting inspiring words. She wrote of invitation and inclusion, of welcome and respect, of sharing the blessings of kinship with friends and strangers alike.
And when she met with the other religious leaders, she told them about her vision. She shared the words she had crafted, and each person agreed that a welcome table was just the thing they needed to bring that bruised and hurting community together.
REV. MELISSA CARVILL-ZIEMER: I am so glad you all agree. Hoping you would feel this way, I took the liberty of stopping by the bakery on Main Street on my way here. The owner is a long-time friend of mine, and I just knew he would like to contribute to this effort, and he is willing to donate 50 loaves of country wheat bread for our communion. Isn't that wonderful? We won't have to worry about finding the money for the bread.
REV. HOPE JOHNSON: Well the response in this particular place was a lot like it is in so many other places. Several people around the table expressed appreciation for this minister's initiative, and thanks to the baker for his generosity. It was all falling to place so seamlessly. They just knew this was the right thing to do.
But then one brave voice dared disturb the good feeling in the room. It was the priest from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. Well, you know, I'm afraid many of my parishioners won't feel welcome. We only serve country wheat bread? Might we also have corn tortillas available on our welcome table?
REV. MELISSA CARVILL-ZIEMER: Oh. Corn tortillas? That never occurred to me. I've never seen that offered in communion, but, sure. Yes. Of course. Let's have corn tortillas too. After all, we want everyone to feel truly welcome at this table.
REV. HOPE JOHNSON: Well, in that case, said the monk from the Thai Buddhist temple, let's include rice crackers too so that the families from my community will also feel welcome. The minister, once again, graciously agreed to his suggestion. But as idea after idea kept on coming, she was utterly surprised. Pita, fry bread, dark rye, and cornbread were all requested for the welcome table. Yeah, along with gluten free and vegan options, you know? to make it even more inclusive.
REV. MELISSA CARVILL-ZIEMER: I guess what I hear you saying is that it isn't enough simply to invite people to the welcome table. We have to provide food that's welcoming too. See, I love country wheat, and that's what we use when we have communion at my church. But I understand now that country wheat doesn't appeal to everyone. By honoring all our diversity at the welcome table, we can more fully celebrate our unity. I can hardly wait.
REV. HOPE JOHNSON: Well, this particular story had a happy ending. By holding space wide enough to honor their diversity, this community was truly able to celebrate their common unity. Not only that, but after the interfaith healing service when everyone gathered for a shared meal, the adventurous among them began to sample some of the other breads and crackers that had been included in the communion.
Diversity was not only witnessed, it was also experienced, tasted, affirmed for its goodness. Diversity in unity. Unity in diversity, and all were welcome, and all were fed. And it was truly a blessing.
DEBRA BOYD: And now let us break bread together. The ushers will be passing large baskets filled with a variety of breads and crackers from which you are invited to select a piece. Immediately following behind the large baskets which contain breads suitable for vegans, the ushers will also pass small tins filled with gluten-free choices so that we may assure that those with dietary limitations are also served.
Please select bread from the larger basket unless you are on a gluten-free diet. And now, let us break bread together.
REGGIE HARRIS: "When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun--" Let us break bread together is one of the sorry songs, an African American spiritual. If you heard this song being sung late at night in the slave quarter, you would know that there was going to be a secret meeting in the hush harbor or the eastern side of the land. It was a song of faith, but also a secret code song for making your way to freedom.
REV. DAVID M. GLASGOW: So we share this together today aware not only of this deep, historical significance, but also of the power of kneeling as a universal human gesture of humility and vulnerability. Even more than in traveling together or standing together, those who kneel together commit to spending time in one another's presence, learning, listening, growing together in humility and in strength.
This is a different way for us to reach for freedom even today. So as the bread is passed among us, I invite you to remain seated and sing with us.
[MUSIC - REV. DAVID M. GLASGOW/REGGIE HARRIS, "LET US BREAK BREAD TOGETHER"]
CARRIE MACDONALD: We have shared bread together, so it is easy for us in this room to recognize the kinship we share as members of the human family. But as we go from this place, we may need to remind one another of the importance of leaving our comfort zones, of overcoming our fears, of reaching out to the stranger.
May we ever be open to the opportunities life presents us and always appreciative of the inherent worth and dignity of each soul we encounter.
SPEAKER: Pass the stories on. Let them live in us and through us inviting the community to offer each other they gracious gift of home and hearth thus offering a new, the generous gift of belonging.
REGGIE HARRIS: As one of the major anthems of the civil rights movement, "Guide My Feet as a Call to Individual and Collective Commitment." It was sung in the churches and in the jails, sung before, during, and after marches, at sit-ins, at protests, at organizing meetings, and at funerals.
This journey of seeking justice requires that we as individuals and as a world community set our minds and hearts to the task of moving forward. And as we are able in body, mind, and spirit, to be the change we hope to see in the world, every day in every way.
So now together, in that spirit, would you rise in body, in spirit and sing with us the words that have propelled freedom in this country and around the world.
[MUSIC - CONGREGATION, "GUIDE MY FEET"]
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Last updated on Monday, August 19, 2013.
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