Sunday, February 11, 2018: Sing The Whole Song

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“One of America’s biggest problems is that people of color are having conversations about race literally every day. And most white people are only having them when they are forced to.”

(by W. Kamau Bell) ( * )

PRELUDE

WELCOMING WORDS: Nyla M.

CALL TO WORSHIP: “All We Are One” (by Yvonne Seon) ( * )

Each of us come from a different place, yet all we are one.

We carve for ourselves our own unique space, yet all we are one.

We learn how to speak, eat, dress, cook, and play in different ways.

Of common homeland, we have not a trace, yet all we are one.

We kill, maim, and harm one another with no thought for God’s will.

We forget the One God and one grace, yet all we are one.

On a mountain in East Africa near Olduvai Gorge, our common mother, “Eve.”

Says that we come from one human race, and all we are one.

INTROIT: “I’ve Been in the Storm So Long” (Spiritual) ( * )

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Ted, Gabe and Zach A.

We light this chalice

For the dream of peace

The hope for justice

And the love of all.

(by Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN: “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” (#99) ( * )

OUR COVENANT:

Love is the doctrine of this church,

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

To dwell together in peace,

To seek knowledge in freedom,

To serve humankind in fellowship,

To the end that all souls

Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.

This is our great covenant,

One with another, and with our God.

SONG OF ASPIRATION:

From all that dwell below the skies,

Let songs of hope and faith arise,

Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,

Through every land, by every tongue.

Amen.

CHILDREN’S TIME: Katie Camire

SINGING CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:

Go now in peace, go now in peace;

May the love of God surround you,

everywhere,

everywhere

you may go.

CANDLES OF JOY AND SORROW

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

MUSICAL MEDITATION

RACE, POWER & PRIVILEGE: “Why it Matters to Me” (by Jennifer S.)

OFFERTORY

ANTHEM: “The Storm is Passing Over”

READING: by Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley ( * )

What continues to challenge my personal faith is wondering whether I will ever see the day when our religious movement moves beyond its Eurocentric norms. We would probably all agree that a life of faith cannot be nurtured in the face of endemic evil. But it’s more difficult to see that it is also impossible for many people from non-European heritage to be nurtured by an upper middle-class Euro-centric norm blessed by self-satisfaction.

…In our movement, there seems to be a cannon of language that “educated” people are supposed to be familiar with and love. There is a canon of literature that is presumed to have been read. There is a canon of music that too often does not allow the spirit to emerge freely.

In most of our congregations that I have been a part of or worked with, structures that create and sustain whiteness are normative. There is a presumption from some clergy and some laity that these canons of music and literature and art, and language, and social discourse, rooted in the European experience, are normative. Eurocentrism is seen as logical and rational, and those who express a need for a spirited form of worship, or those who use a different language set are somehow made to feel less educated, less than worthy. … Speaking personally, while I enjoy and appreciate a wide variety of cultural traditions, when I cannot find myself in a worshipping community, it drains the life of the spirit out of me, and I must go elsewhere to nurture my soul.

If I and other colleagues who are rooted in cultures outside Europe are to be nurtured in our movement, then I must keep the faith that things can be different. Being open to and supporting new possibilities in ministry, different cultural forms in worship, new ways of seeing-these too are important to keeping the faith, to nurturing the spirit. If you will stand with me in solidarity in an expanding circle of culture so that it includes all of us, you too will be keeping the faith.[1]

HYMN: “Come Ye Disconsolate” (see insert)

SERMON:

Sing the Whole Song

The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson

When (Molly Worthen) sought out conservative and progressive critics of white evangelical politics and asked them how to best understand it, this was their answer:

Pay attention to worship, both inside and outside of church, because the church is not doing its job. Humans thrive on ritual and collective acts of devotion. And the way we worship has political consequences. It shapes our response to evil and our reaction to people different from ourselves.”[2]

Universalism, proclaiming the acceptability of each and every person by a radically all-loving God, offered a solid foundation for anti-oppression, anti-racism work in our lives and in our institutions. Unitarianism also had the capacity to provide theological imperatives, as it moved closer to a Universalist position, grounded in its embrace of one God for all people. But the theological landscape of Unitarian Universalism has changed. In today’s more diverse UU theological environment, that clear imperative is no longer authoritative to us in the way it once was. Today, as Unitarian Universalists we rely on two major sets of theological tools, the Principles and the Sources from which we draw.

Most of us here are familiar with our seven Principles and embrace them, as have the Unitarian Universalist congregations I have served. As Unitarian Universalists, we are, by and large, willing to be called to account to them. While we may not always agree with the application of a particular principle in a given situation, we accept that standard. We have covenanted to affirm and promote the principles, and by implication, covenanted to live by them to the extent that we are able.

The trickier matter is the sources. In my experience our people do not embrace or accept the sources as authoritative, or even as essential to the conversation. I think this creates a problem.

The Principles were developed as a distillation of the truths and wisdom contained in the spiritual Sources we recognize as having import for our faith and our living tradition. The Sources are the roots, our roots. The principles are the branches. And in Unitarian Universalism, whether we like it or not, feel comfortable with it or not, the tap root of Unitarian Universalism is the Jewish/Christian scripture and traditions. It is from these that we grew, unfolded, and it could be argued, thrived.

I was once at a dedication ceremony in which the minister turned to the parents of the child and said, “We use this flower as a symbol; it is a cut flower, and it will not survive because it is cut off from its roots. In order for a flower to grow and thrive it needs to remain rooted in the soil. In order for this child to grow in spirit and in health, she needs to be rooted in the soil of her tradition. She needs to be a part of a faith community. She needs to develop the roots through she will draw strength and nourishment.” To which I say, “Amen.”

Our seven UU Principles, as standards by which to judge ourselves and our behaviors, resonate and are compelling. You respond to them, as do I. When I preach from the Sources however, particularly from the Jewish/Christian sources, I experience resistance. I fear our Unitarian Universalism may be like the cut flowers of our dedication ceremonies.

Our Principles posit that the spiritual and essential nature of the human being is relational. Within that belief structure, the Principles identify what are proclaimed to be the ways of the righteous, how human beings are to behave when in proper relationship with each other and with their God. Where then, can we turn when confronted with our shortcomings, with the truth that reveals the gap between these aspirations and our behaviors? There is no reassurance in the Principles that it is human to fail, and that we are still beloved and accepted by the universe, by God.

Unlike lucille clifton, African American poet who writes:

The making of poems

the reason why I do it

though I fail and fail

in the giving of true names

is I am adam and his mother

and failure is my job[3]

I find that powerful – an undisguised, unabashed acknowledgement of repeated failure that is not a cause for despair, or embarrassment, or a reason to give up. It is simply stating the truth of it. This, she says, is how writing poetry works.

And this, I say, with her, is how anti-racism, anti-oppression work, works.

the reason why I do it

though I fail and fail

in the giving of true names

is I am adam and his mother

and failure is my job

Humble, honest, real.

In contrast, I look in our hymnal and see #303:

We are the earth upright and proud, in us the earth is knowing.

Its winds are music in our mouths, in us its rivers flowing.

The sun is our hearth fire, warm with earth’s desire,

And with its purpose strong, we sing earth’s pilgrim praise.

Our day is just beginning. (Singing the Living Tradition)

Or #313:

O what a piece of work are we,

How marvelously wrought;

The quick contrivance of the hand,

The wonder of our thought,

The wonder of our thought. (Singing the Living Tradition)

Out of four hundred and fifteen hymns in our gray hymnal[4] there are five hymns listed under “Failings and Frailties” and five under “Forgiveness and Reconciliation”. Not surprisingly, there are no listings for the topics of sin or evil.

When the UUA’s Racial and Cultural Diversity Task Force conducted its interviews in the research phase of its work, one African American UU commented:

In the black churches hymns are about the struggle, surviving, salvation. Our hymnal is about nature and flowers.[5]

There are three hundred and seventeen “readings” in the reading section of our gray hymnal[6]. There is one reading listed as “Confession”.[7] . There are eleven readings listed under the topic “Failings and Frailties”. Eight under “Forgiveness and Reconciliation”. Nothing under sin or evil.

I am remembering the Women and Religion Resolution and how it caused the UUA to produce a degenderized hymnal supplement, 25 Familiar Hymns in New Form in 1979. It bought the UUA some time in the face of women’s unrelenting insistence. I was one of those women who would sit down and refuse to sing announced hymns that had sexist language. There were many of us in the pews, “disrupting” the services in this way.

It is twenty four years since the gray hymnal was published. Clearly it is time for a new one. White people have not been doing what the women did back in the 1970’s. Maybe we don’t have people of color in our congregations in sufficient number to do that kind of disruption alone. Maybe they are too tired of doing white people’s work for us. White allies could insist on hymns that speak to a broader range of human experience and a deeper theological expression of the faith journey. Our hymnody could resource us better as we struggle on our journey toward wholeness.

As a minister I am guilty of not adequately using the hymns that are in our hymnal that speak of the difficult times of life. I too have succumbed too often to the pressure to preach on the bright side, on the sweetness of flowers and the beauty of dew drops. To preach on rebirth at Easter, without having acknowledged the grief and horror of the loss sustained on Good Friday. Along with many of my colleagues, I lack a broad based knowledge of hymnody from which to draw within or outside of our tradition. But I know there are those in our movement who do, in the UU Ministers Association, the UU Musicians Network, DRUUM (Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Ministries), and in you, the folks in the pews. There are hymns I love in the Black church that sing of love and hope, of fatigue and struggle, of a God and Jesus who carry us through. They traverse the breadth of human emotion, experience, and longing. More than one African-American participant in my congregation years ago said to me, I love your church Rev. Anita. I would join your church; but Rev. Anita, I need my Jesus, and I can’t join, if I can’t bring my Jesus with me.

We are the flower, cut off from its tap root. No one should be unable to bring their Jesus with them to the UU table. I have never had someone tell me they were unable to join my UU church because they could not bring their Buddha with them. I think we battle with a case of self-loathing when it comes to our Jewish/Christian heritage, and until we break through that, we will continue to be a flower severed all or in part, from its roots. I cannot help but wonder to what extent this self-loathing of our authentic roots and origins, contributes to our inability to access our other roots – the roots of our white supremacy, of our identity as privileged, and as, of course, the “elect.” That is our tradition, isn’t it? Our forebears were the Pilgrims, who believed themselves God’s elect. It is not that hard a route to follow, from our present position to the tap roots, the soil of “specialness” in which we are deeply planted.

Ignoring our history as a faith tradition, its insidious biases as well as its strengths, can only hobble us in our efforts at rooting out the White Supremacy that lurks within our UU identity. From our heroic exodus out of slavery that can give us strength, to the prideful self-satisfaction as the elect, the toxins and the antidotes are there in the soil in which we are nourished. Our tap roots.

It may surprise us to find how much comfort and strength we can experience by acknowledging that sometimes we feel like a motherless child (#97), that nobody knows the trouble we’ve seen (#99), and that sometimes we do really feel wretched, times when we are saved not by ourselves, but by the bonds of love and grace (#205).

They say that music is the language of soul. Let us then sing the whole song of our souls; of the sorrow and suffering, the joy and hope, the forgiveness and the reconciliation. Sing the whole song, the whole truth of our being. It is the truth they say, that sets us free.

May it be so. Amen.

CLOSING HYMN: “Amazing Grace” (#205)

EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE (read by the congregation):

We extinguish the flame but not the light of truth,

the warmth of community,

or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.

BENEDICTION

CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE

May the long time sun shine upon you,

all love surround you,

and the pure light within you

guide you all the way home.

POSTLUDE

( * ) = indicates the author/composer is a person of ©Indicates a person of color

[1] Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, from an address delivered at a 2002 Convocation of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association.

[2] Molly Worthen, “How to Escape Roy Moore’s Evangelicalism”, New York Times, Sunday Review, Nov. 19, 2017p.1f

[3] Lucille Clifton, “the making of poems,” in Two Headed Woman.

[4] Singing the Living Tradition, 1993

[5] Leslie Takahashi Morris, Chip Roush and Leon Spencer, The Arc of the Universe is Long, UUA 2009 p. 79.

[6] Ibid

[7] #496 by Harry Merserve