Identity”

Worship Script 2


 Worship Script (2 of 5)

Honoring Our Complex Identities

 

OPENING WORDS

“From the Fragmented World” by Phillip Hewett #440, in Singing the Living Tradition

 

From the fragmented world of our everyday lives we gather together in search of wholeness.

By many cares and preoccupations, by diverse and selfish aims are we separated from one another and divided within ourselves.

Yet we know that no branch is utterly severed from the Tree of Life that sustains us all.

We cherish our oneness with those around us and the countless generations that have gone before us.

We would hold fast to all of the good we inherit even as we would leave behind us the outworn and the false.

We would escape from bondage to the ideas of our own day and from the delusions of our own fancy.

Let us labor in hope for the dawning of a new day without hatred, violence, and injustice.

Let us nurture the growth in our own lives of the love that has shone in the lives of the greatest of men and women, the rays of whose lamps still illumine our way.

In this spirit we gather.

In this spirit we pray.  

 

HYMN #1059 May Your Life Be As a Song

 

FIRST READING

“An American Flag Upon my Tasbee” by Mitra Jafarzadeh.

 

It is a custom, superstition, decoration

To hang prayer beads from the rear-view mirror.

Not broke bodies of long ago prophet,

Not agony in the name of God

Not sculpted, miniaturized terror.

 

Just beads.

 

Mine are brown like coffee beans.

Smooth for running through fingers.

Hung for decor they tell

Those who would decode

. . . something middle eastern.

 

Not for faith,

For culture.

 

So it is no sacrilege

That the smooth brown beads

Break their rhythm for a could metal rectangle of

Red, White., and Blue.

 

An Announcement!
An American Drives This Car!

  

When I called I said:

Don’t wear black today --

It makes you look too ethnic

Put away your turtlenecks.

Choose your pink izod.

 

He said:

I told your sister the same,

And stay away from airports.

Drive if you have to be somewhere.

You, he sad, are white enough

You don’t have to worry.

 

The he said --

But you have your American flag

On your tasbee?

 

 

SECOND READING

“Pulled Between Parts” by Saul Ulloa

 

Identity is one of those concepts I have tried desperately to push to the sidelines for most of mi vida. It was always too complicated, too painful, or too divisive. To put it ­simply, I am a bi-racial, white-passing, queer, socio-economically poor, agnostic Unitarian Universalist college junior at an elite liberal arts college, who was raised by a Caucasian ­single mother. Like all ­people, my identities are complex and multi-faceted.

 

My father was a Mexican immigrant. My mom is of European descent and was born and raised in Michigan. Due to my pale skin and ojos azules, no one ever suspects that I am of anything other than European descent. I can call myself mexicano without ever experiencing what it is like to be the other. I can speak español fluently and have been able to fully participate in the Latino communities in my hometown. But all of that seems not to matter much because I will never be called wetback or spick. I will never be told to go back to my own country or to just speak inglés. To others, I will always be perceived as another well-meaning white guy flouting his privilege. I will never be the other when it comes to race.

 

While I am constantly told that I cannot possibly be Mexican, I love the Mexican part of my heritage. There are few things more comforting than making tamales from scratch on a rainy day or eating a pastel de tres leches con mi familia. I went to many quinceañeras when I was younger, and I speak to my Mexican grandparents only in español. Yes, my narrative does not seem to follow that of the average Mexican-American in the United States, but I don’t think that matters. I feel Mexican, and I also feel a deep connection to my Michigan roots.

 

My experience is becoming more common within the larger American identity narrative. Many of my peers have described feeling pulled between two or more parts of their heritage that make up their cultural identity. We feel uniquely attached to certain parts of our cultural heritage in different ways and for dif­ferent reasons. My own racial and ethnic identities have pulled me particularly to the third Principle of Unitarian Universalism, “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spir­it­ual growth.” It is this faith commitment that has given others and myself the space to discuss the multiplicity of our identities and acknowledge the privileges enjoyed by white and white-passing ­people in American society. This faith has helped me to bridge the gap between my personal identities and the way I am perceived in the world, something I tried to ignore for most of my life.

  

HYMN #389 Gathered Here

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

The Audre Lorde Project  by India McKnight

"Honey, those girls were being chased for at least half a mile once school got out," Ms. Myra recalled. I shook my head knowingly. We had just walked out of the subway station across the street from Boys and Girls High School and were listening to the owner of Cafe 258, one of our original safe spaces.

She went on: "Since business was somewhat slow, I was standing in the doorway and saw them down the block, running toward me. I heard the boys yelling, 'Dyke,' 'You think you a dude', cursing and carrying on. When the girls got closer I opened the door of the shop, pulled them inside, and locked the door. Those boys banged on my windows so much I thought they would break them. After about 15 minutes they left. I fixed the girls some hot chocolate and called their parents. I don't know why folks act out like that, but not on my block!"

Not on my block, not in my neighborhood, not if I am aware of what is happening. This is the aim of the Safe Neighborhood Campaign created by the Audre Lorde Project, a New York City-based community organizing center for people of color who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gender-variant. The Safe Neighborhood Campaign was started by the Safe Outside the System collective, one of three working groups at the Audre Lorde Project. Its mission is to work within People of Color communities to end violence against LGBTQ people. The Safe Neighborhood Campaign engages communities in developing a deeper level of accountability for one another. We recruit local businesses and community nonprofits as safe spaces and safe havens for the neighborhood. A "safe space" is one in which the employer and employees are willing to intervene in the harassment of LGBTQ people inside as well as outside of their place of work or business. A "safe haven" is a place in which community members can seek refuge from the threat of harassment and physical violence. Ms. Myra turned her coffee shop into a safe haven that day and continues to do so.

Audre Lorde Project members have gotten somewhat used to the looks or comments directed toward them as they walk through the neighborhoods together. The most negative interactions have not been about our perceived sexual orientation or gender identity but rather about the shades of our skin. Our multiracial group can definitely stand out in racially homogeneous neighborhoods whose demographics are slowly shifting. Most of our members identify under the umbrella term People of Color, a term that implies a solidarity across cultures for people who are marginalized by race or ethnicity. We also have to acknowledge the ways in which internalized racism still divides us, both within our specific racial or ethnic groups and across groups.

The divisions are made apparent by our interactions with business owners or community organizations as we recruit them for our Safe Neighborhood Campaign. I have a pretty good relationship with the owner of a local bookstore, so I thought it would be great to recruit the bookstore as a safe space. At the time, I was training one of our new members in the process of recruiting safe spaces, so I asked him to come along. Although Thomas and I arrived together, the owner stopped me as I began to speak about the campaign and said, "Are we actually going to talk about this in front of him? He's the problem." "What? What do you mean?" I asked. The bookstore owner replied, "Those white folks are moving in here, bringing the police and causing the violence against our people." Thomas identifies as Hapa, meaning that he is both Asian (Japanese) and white. I identify as African American, as does the bookstore owner. Thomas interjected, "Sir, I'm not white, I'm bi-racial, half Japanese, and I'm very invested in ending the violence against folks in the community. It's where I live." The owner silently shook his head, so we decided that we would follow up another time. Although it would have been easy to dismiss him, we realize that meeting folks where they are and continuing the dialogue is a vital part of the process of creating safer neighborhoods. Thomas and I debriefed our experience, discussing the way that assumptions about our racial identities have affected our ability to make cross-cultural connections. We made sure to share this experience with the other members of the collective and learned to intentionally identify our members as invested community leaders when introducing them to safe space owners.

As I work on the campaign, I'm reminded of what Tracy, another safe space owner, says about the neighborhood:

In this community, we are not going to all look the same, go to the same church, or eat the same food, but we have a responsibility to look out for one another regardless.

This organizing campaign at the Audre Lorde Project calls us to redefine community across identities and cultures. We have learned that we need to engage one another in order to survive as business owners, as community organizations, and as human beings. 

 

MEDITATION

“That Quiet Power Within Us” by Jay E Abernathy, Jr

Let us join in a moment dedicated to that quiet power within us. It is within that we find the will to face the world; it is within that we find the love to embrace the world; it is within that we find our personal identity and know the world.

Yet, within us is also a great void. We feel this void at times of great loneliness, frustration, and despair. Sorrow, hatred, and greed, too, are within us. 

Just as we need to be alone at times to put things right, so do we need to be with others to love and be loved. This great social urge also is within us as powerfully as that separateness -- that uniqueness -- that gives us identity. 

Let us look within ourselves with honesty and trust. We shall find there a personal center important to who we are. We shall find there something held in common with those about us -- family, friends, neighbors -- and in ever-widening circles until we find that which we have in common with all people, something irreducibly human, something completely natural. 

This is the center of all religion, all love, all concern for others; and it is the center of all personal growth. May these few moments be a personal time for you -- a time for that person within you who feels at one with humanity, with nature, and with all the universe that was, is, and shall be. Amen.  

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is.  We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

“Passing”

by Nell Newton

Have you watched any of those shows on PBS that trace the genealogies and DNA of famous people? They take whatever stories and records the person might have, get a DNA sample, and then do the research. At the end they sit down with the person and show them what they’ve found. The names, the ship manifests, the marriage certificates, the little bit of genetic code that points to a specific branch of human migration. 

I love those shows. And I especially love the one with Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. because he really addresses the complexities of families, secrets, and the history of race in this country. 

A year or so back my family got up our courage and money and started that line of investigation. We were hoping to sift out fact from fiction because there were a lot of dubious tales from less than reliable narrators. 

We wanted to find out if a great-great aunt really came from Damascus, or if our great grandfather came from India, or if our great-great grandmother was full-blooded Mayan. We were curious and hoped our DNA would fill in the incomplete stories. It might answer some questions. 

But in the end I knew what it would show: I’m a post-colonial mutt in 21st century America. 

As a multi-racial person, I am supremely ill-suited to speak on the experience of white or black or brown. I am all and none of these. But I can speak from my own experience, and I’ve had some interesting experiences. And, I can speak as a person whose family contains the whole palette of human coloring. Mine is a calico family with blonde and brown and black hair, hair that is smooth, and curly, and frizzy. Brown and green and blue eyes, freckles, dimples, and when we grin our cheeks rise high. We have broad shoulders and wide feet. Our complexions range from fair to deep and our babies are especially beautiful. 

Some of us identify as white, and some of us identify as people of color. And, while you’d think that we would be completely comfortable talking about race and identity, we don’t. We can, we have, but in general, we don’t. And, recently I tugged on one of those loose strings and realized that we don’t talk about race and identity because some of us are still struggling with passing. Passing as white. Passing as not colored. Passing as acceptable. 

So, here’s where I can speak from – from the experience of passing, becoming acceptable, striving to be measured by my conduct and brilliance while wearing an indeterminate skin. I can speak from the weird place of holding white privilege AND being seen as a not-one-of-us other. 

It’s a weird place. 

Here’s the awfulness of passing: knowing that your father, your grandmother, your ancestors, sacrificed some of their own identity to make your life easier. To make it easier for you to go forward. 

Now, plenty of our ancestors sacrificed for us to be successful. But denying one’s own identity tends to leave odd scars on the family tree. 

As a mutt I’m already used to complexity and find the white/black racial labels to be woefully limiting. And dangerous. Because it allows for convenient boxes, and people don’t live in boxes. 

There will be many ways we will dismantle the systems of racial oppression. But we’re not going to do it all rationally. Or all at once. 

This is our work. 

To start this work I’ll invite you to journey with me a while. I can’t ask you to fully understand the weird place that is my identity, but if you would accept my invitation, as we journey together, we might begin to see where you are weird too. I’m going to be bold and suggest that there are plenty of us who are quietly passing in different ways. 

Perhaps there are parts of your family that were not acceptable, not spoken of, not included in the family’s history – oral or written? 

In the work of becoming acceptable our families routinely edit these histories. Sometimes consciously, sometimes out of fear. 

Maybe the family name was changed to make it acceptable to English ears? Maybe alcohol or drug addiction twisted limbs of the family tree? Mental illness? Violence? Poverty? Illegitimacy, abandonment, or adoption? Were they called ugly names or denied opportunities because they didn’t speak perfect American English yet? 

For some immigrants to this country, the upheaval and culture shock left them weak and unstable. .I know that my own immigrant grandmother never quite got used to being colored, and it warped her life in America. 

I know that my other grandmother was fiercely intelligent and had to slide sideways through a world were women’s lives were circumscribed by domesticity. 

As part of this journey together, I would then invite you to go back into your own family and look closely at any gaps in the story – pull on those loose threads and see what knots tighten or come undone with gentle tugging. Was there a time when any part of your family was unacceptable? How did you manage to finally pass? And what was the cost to your grandfather, your mother, your aunts? 

What stories did they finally tell you to show that they had succeeded? Because in those stories are also the quiet warnings not to go back, not to ask, not to undo their work and sacrifice. In those stories you are reminded that being unacceptable is dangerous. And they love you too much to see you go back there. 

Now, take those stories, take those fears, and wear them. Breathe into the danger and tension and feel the complexity of benefiting from those sacrifices. Spend time getting used to the complexity. 

Did your family benefit from oppressing other people? Go examine that possibility. It’s okay to be objective at first. But can you find a specific person whose potential was blunted by laboring for your passing? Hold that person in your mind as you consider how you will go forward. 

Before we can learn to hold full empathy for another who seems different, we need to resolve the shame or discomfort that we might still be carrying from our families. By looking at the compromises and sacrifices made in the past, we can better honor them and honor the struggles of others. 

This is our work.

Then, once we’ve looked back at our heritage, the work doesn’t end. The next step it to look at our own selves.

 There are other ways we might be silently passing. Hoping we won’t be looked at too closely, or judged too harshly.

 Too often I hear that UU congregations are too homogeneous – too white, too affluent, over educated – and that’s an easy stereotype to bemoan. But it’s too easy, too simple. And it’s wrong. We’re more complicated than that. Because we’re human beings. 

Just like our families might have been shaped by adversity, all of us who come to this church have struggled somehow. And some of us are still struggling to be acceptable. Still struggling to pass by not acknowledging our whole selves, our complicated identities or situations. 

Some of us are grappling with economic insecurity – just getting by, and having to make tough choices between medicine and car payments. But we come to church and smile and don’t mention these hard choices. 

Some of us are grieving terrible losses. And the rest of the world seems to think that we should be upright and optimistic. So we come to church and look thoughtful and don’t mention that our hearts aren’t done, might not ever be done being undone. 

Maybe it’s hard staying sober or maybe the medication isn’t quite working well enough. Maybe it’s hard not crying when you see a mother and baby even though the abortion or miscarriage was a long time ago. But we come to church and hope that no one asks us anything too personal. 

Someone this morning might have said “I can’t go to church like this; people will see me and think I don’t belong there.” And so they aren’t here with us because they weren’t up to the effort it takes to pass. To meet our standards of acceptability, whatever they imagine those are. 

And this is why passing for normal, successful, or affluent is problematic. It denies the full range of our experiences and prompts us to edit out the problematic parts of ourselves and our identities and it denies us the chance for wholeness and connection. 

I often tell people that church is a place where we come together to learn new ways of being in the world. And we learn best by experience and experiment. Of the things we will learn is how to dismantle racism and other forms of oppression. We won’t get it right the first time, or the second. But we have to keep trying. It is the work that will heal our world. And like anything, we have to start with ourselves. 

When Rabbi Jesus asks us to love our neighbors as we love our selves, the hardest part of that is the second part – loving yourself fully. 

But it gets easier if you think about the people who have loved you forward – your family, your friends, your partners, your teachers. Consider their love for you. It might not have been perfect, but it was love. 

Look at the love that pushed you forward, and see if its momentum can push you a little further to greater love and empathy for others who are working to be accepted, not just acceptable. 

This is our work. 

As your minister, I am here to hold the fullness of your lives, even the tough spots, the wounded parts, and uncertain moments. This is my work. And I give thanks for this work. 

Blessed be

Amen

 

HYMN #1051 We Are . . .

 

BENEDICTION
#694  by Frederick E. Gillis

 

May the Love which overcomes all differences,

Which heals all wounds,

Which puts to flight all fears,

Which reconciles all who are separated,

Be in us and among us

Now and always.