Love, Unity, Aspiration: Blended Family As Metaphor
What does it mean to be a people of conflicting inheritances? How do we reconcile our multiple identities—and the realities of our complexity? Join us for a metaphorical contemplation of the paradoxical, perplexing and inspiring truths from the past, present and future that shape us as a faith community.
[A medley of Unitarian Universalist composers: Yuri Yamamoto, piano; Matt Meyer, percussion]
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Good morning.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Welcome to our worship. Welcome, if this is the faith that you were born into or the faith that you have discovered for yourself. Welcome, whether you have been in the family since the time when the Universalists and the Unitarians were still dating. Or if you have just discovered us in recent weeks or months.
Welcome, if you feel that this is completely your place or if you still sometimes feel like an impostor. Welcome to this next day in the life of the family of Unitarian Universalist, to this meditation on all that we inherit and all that we still have to build. In the spirit of reflection and remembrance and hope, we light our chalice this morning.
In this 50th year since the consolidation of two free religious traditions into the new and bold and ambitious association of congregations, we take this time to take the pulse of the family, to hear the old stories and listen to the new voices. We honor, in our gathering, our religious ancestors who sacrificed much so that we might gather today. We honor, in our gathering, the youngest generations, who will take up our unfinished work and set us in directions yet unimagined. So let us enter into this family meeting with truth on our lips and forgiveness in our hearts.
REV. LILIA CUERVO: The hymn, [SPEAKING SPANISH] Ven, ven, cual eres ven, comes from Las Voces de Camino, translated as, voices on the journey, which is our new Spanish language companion to the Unitarian Universalist Association's worship and music resource, singing the living tradition. I, and others, work hard to bring to our Unitarian Universalist family this useful resource in Spanish. Before we sing together, I want to invite you to repeat the words after me.
[SPEAKING SPANISH] Ven, ven, cual eres ven. Nomada embusqueda. Si amas la vida, la nuestra es la caravana de amor. Ven, otra vez, ven. Now Kellie Walker will lead us in this hymn.
“Ven, ven, cual eres ven”
[#37 from Voces del Camino (UUA: 2009); Words by Yalal aDin Muhammad Rumi, Music by Lynn Ungar; Translated by Ervin Barrios]
KELLIE WALKER: I invite you to rise in body and spirit and join in this hymn, which set Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi's, words to music by our own reverend, Lynn Ungar.
[SINGING: "VEN, VEN, CUAL ERES VEN" BY LYNN ADAIR UNGAR]
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: You catch within my breath like a gift
MARISOL CABALLERO: Like a ghost
TJ KAHN: You who walked forward with firm steps so
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: I could be here now
TJ KAHN: I intuit the lines with difficulty
MARISOL CABALLERO: You crossed and how
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Your joy was your salvation
TJ KAHN: You, my odd aunt, who walked between worlds on
NICK ALLEN: That little ledge of hope,
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: A precarious tightrope balanced above
MARISOL CABALLERO: The snapping jaws of indifference and hate.
TJ KAHN: You, my angry uncle, are bound to me
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: By a truth stronger than blood.
NICK ALLEN: I salute you. I embrace you, though you lie unclaimed by the family.
TJ KAHN: You, my missing cousin, in the family I built myself.
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: You knock on my heart's door like
MARISOL CABALLERO: A song I am ever singing,
NICK ALLEN: Like a picture I forgot I took,
TJ KAHN: Like a legacy. And though you were too tired to stay,
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Your accent is in the music.
NICK ALLEN: Your soul is the lyrics,
MARISOL CABALLERO: Your note sounded. You said, I belong here.
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Make room at the table
TJ KAHN: Or make a new damn table.
NICK ALLEN: Prepare. Prepare me a place
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Where I can rest,
NICK ALLEN: Where I can be held,
MARISOL CABALLERO: Where I can be known
TJ KAHN: In this faith.
MATT MEYER: [DRUMMING MUSIC] I invite you to take a deep breath, be present in your body, and the space, and join me in a singing meditation. Join me. Keep going. You could pick either part. You can make up your own.
Homily: “Learning The Family Dance: Blended, Busy, Beautiful and Blessed”
DR. LEON SPENCER: Recently, I read this ad online: "Welcome to learntodance.com. Free online dance lessons. These online dance lessons will teach you the basic steps and styling for the dance style you choose. Just click on a dance style below, and in no time, you will be up and off of the couch and enjoying the wonderful health benefits of taking dance lessons."
The ad went on to list the various kinds of dance and to say: "no experience or partner necessary, classes start soon, learn the three basic Latin steps." Learning the family dance takes more than a click and it takes more than a check of the browser setting.
Unitarian Universalism merger was a coming together of two families into a blended family system. The dynamics and the family life cycle of blended family systems is a good metaphor for how we as Unitarian and Universalist merged. Blended families don't just happen. As a counselor, I find working with blended families very challenging. Four boundary issues quickly emerge and call to be resolved.
The first being that of membership. Who are the real members of this family? For many marginalized groups, it is not really clear about, how do we belong or become a real member? I can remember attending a fellowship for over a year, but never being asked to join. And as a matter of fact, being told that I just didn't need the pledge, but to just keep coming.
Space issues are another boundary piece that we need to deal with as blended families. The question is often asked, now that I'm a member, what space is really mine? Where do I belong? Do I get to sit at the table or do I have to build my own damn table?
For many of our oppressed sisters and brothers, we buffer the issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, by creating our own spaces for truth-telling, reconciliation, self-definition, and healing in community. Sometimes for marginalized people, we have space on the dance floor. But it is hard to dance when the music never changed. You sometimes find yourself saying, oh my God. I can't dance to this. I keep telling them to change the music. However, no one seems to know what I'm talking about. And what if dancing isn't something you're differently-abled body allows you to do?
Well, who's in charge here? Authority becomes an important issue and must be clearly defined. Who determines what makes a good dance? Even if one's dance is done from a chair. What's a ten versus a seven on the scale? Come on. I know some of you watch Dancing With The Stars. Who makes the decision? Who has the power? And who's in charge of money, time, defining worthiness, and the long list goes on and on.
Time is crucial, and of course time has to be negotiated in the blended family. How much time do I have to give to others? And how much do I get of their time? Blended families are born out of loss and hope, a willingness to deal with and to forge ahead in the new relationship, and at the same time, to deal with the loss is needed, as well as a process for making a healthy adjustment.
This process is much like learning a new dance. You have to keep moving. So you can't sit on the sidelines. You can march to your own drum. However, this metaphor is easier to conceptualize than to do in a multi-cultural, anti-oppressive families. Learning to dance requires adjustments for celebrating and managing the expectations and the realities and the stress.
It goes beyond learning the three basic Latin steps, the waltz, a line-dance or chair dancing. It requires that you welcome everyone to the dance floor. We all have to dance to whatever we bring to this family. And once you learn the dance steps, the music changes.
Let's imagine the first family meeting of Unitarian Universalists 50 years ago. Think about it. I can imagine it was like the coming together of two families attempting to blend, to bless, to hope for the future. Not everyone was happy. Some felt it was like a family reunion that was waiting to happen. Others were not so trusting.
So here we are 50 years later at the family reunion. Look around. Who's in the room? Who's not in the room? General assembly's really remind me of my family reunions. First, there is a theme, and is bound to be some disagreement. Some family secret will be revealed. And the planners never get it right. It's held in a place that is just too far. It's too near. It's too hot. It's too cold. And the litany goes on.
My family of origin was blended, extended, multi-cultural, working class, educated. I am first generation college. We were smart. We are smart, Southern, Native American, white, black, Caribbean, Jewish, and Portuguese, just an interesting gumbo. Our identities are multiple. And it's another opportunity to be encountered with ourselves, our communities, which were hostile as well as nurturing, and with others, including the other within ourselves, as always happens. Love was expressed—in different ways—but certainly was expressed as love.
I have two favorite aunts, Eva and Geneva. My aunt, Geneva, wouldn't miss a family reunion for the world. However my aunt, Eva, said she would never attend a family reunion because someone will die. Now, no one ever died at any of our family reunions that I can remember. But she would go on to explain that someone was certain to die if she went to a reunion.
Someone was certain to die even though she never showed up. But it did not matter to her. She'd go on to say, come see me in my house now. Bring your dancing shoes. She went on saying, don't wait to celebrate in some strange place with a lot of people who I can't figure out who they are, who they belong to, how they got into this family. Of course, she knew who everyone was, where they came from, who they belonged to, and how they got into the family.
My aunt, Geneva, on the other hand, would not miss a family reunion. She welcomed different life experiences. She was curious. She was just, direct, and, as she would say, she trusted in the power of the Lord. She loved and accepted all of us and helped us to bridge the past to the future. She encouraged us to develop our rituals as a family, our traditions, and, yet, to learn some new dances.
She didn't require that we have dancing shoes. She encouraged the celebration of, and honoring the fact that some things, like oppression, privilege, internalized oppression, they need to die, in order for our aspirations to become a reality. I loved both of my aunts and learned much about dancing from them.
So what does my reflection on my family of origin have to do with us as we gather at this reunion of our blended family of Unitarian and Universalists? I think that both of my aunts, and not the ad, were right. Learning the family dance takes more than a click or a check your browser setting. The Unitarian Universalist merger was the coming together of two families into a challenging blended family system.
Blended families don't just happen. As my friend and ally, Annette Marquis, would say, it's a new day. What will we do with it? It's a new day. It's a new dance. What will we do with it? That's the question that we have to answer now. It's a new dance. It has complex steps.
Is there room on the dance floor for all of us? You need no special stamp or ticket to enter the dance. You can dance alone, if you choose, but you might miss the opportunity to learn something new like the electric slide. Don't worry about being perfect. Someone might step on your feet or you might step on somebody else's feet. You might make missteps and make a mistake. Don't worry. It matters what we do after the mistake.
You could come up with a new dance routine or change the music. But we are committed to staying on the dance floor. Listen. To music is playing. How do you rate your faith community? It's a new dance with new music. This dance can be beautiful, bold, and blessed. Come on, let's dance.
KELLIE WALKER: "I'm On My Way" is a traditional African American folk hymn. As with many African American spirituals, it probably passed along layers of messages. In this case, an escape attempt and an invitation to join the escape. The tune is named in honor of Egbert Ethelred Brown, the first African American to be ordained a Unitarian minister in 1912.
We honor the anonymous people who suffered greatly and yet worked for freedom. And we honor all those who continue the struggle today to achieve freedom and justice for all.
“I’m On My Way”
[#116 from Singing the Living Tradition (UUA: 1993). Arranged by Mary Allen Walden]
KELLIE WALKER: Please rise, in body or in spirit, as we sing together.
[SINGING: "I'M ON MY WAY]
Words for Going Forth
TJ KAHN: No, we are not guests.
MARISOL CABALLERO: We are members of the family.
DR. LEON SPENCER: The face you don't expect that the door.
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Still, family.
NICK ALLEN: We came early to cook and now we are serving food.
TJ KAHN: Searching for that extra table leaf, because the doorbell keeps ringing.
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: The ones who smile while when we think we have all the places set,
DR. LEON SPENCER: And here is another knock at the door.
MARISOL CABALLERO: The ones who know where the card tables are stored and pull them out.
REV. LILIA CUERVO: Because everyone is arriving and some second cousins and first friends decide to tag along.
TJ KAHN: Now you might see us hooking together all the TV trays and dusting off chairs from the yard.
DR. LEON SPENCER: We're the ones who know that we will always have enough room.
NICK ALLEN: We're hopping up to find someone,
MARISOL CABALLERO: Another fork,
TJ KAHN: A sharper knife,
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: An extra roll.
DR. LEON SPENCER: We know food enough fills our table,
TJ KAHN: Truth enough will fill our minds,
MARISOL CABALLERO: hope enough will fill our hearts.
NICK ALLEN: We know this because
ALL: We are family.
REV. LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Thank you for joining us in worship. Now Yuri and Matt have some traveling music to let us take the next steps into our day.
[Yuri Yamamoto and Matt Meyer]
Friday Morning Worship is General Assembly 2011 event number 3002.