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Broken Vows, Whole Lives, General Assembly 2013

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General Assembly (GA) 2013 Event 3002

Program Description

Speakers: Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith, Rev. Natalie Fenimore, Steven Ballesteros, Jessica York

”Come, come whoever you are... Ours is no caravan of despair. Though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times, come, yet again, come.” This multigenerational service weaves together story, dance, movement and song as we explore themes of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Persian mystic Rumi’s well-known poem.

Order of Service

  • Welcome
  • Reading by Leslie Takahashi Morris, based uUpon the words of the Sufi Muslim poet, Rumi
  • Chalice Lighting
  • Song: "Come, Come Whoever You Are"
  • Homily
  • Song: "True North"
  • Sharing of Stories
  • Moment of Silence
  • Song: "Meditation on Breathing"
  • Homily
  • Closing Song: "Come, Come Whoever You Are"
  • Benediction





SARAH DAN JONES: Good morning. During our service this morning, we're going to ask you to sing an ostinato with us. It's a line from the original Rumi poem that is not included in "Come, Come, Whoever You Are" that's in our hymnal. I'm going to sing it for you once, and then I'm going to ask you to sing it with me, so that we'll be ready to sing it together after each story in our service.


Beautiful. So after each story, we'll sing that three times, ending with come, yet again, come. It's a lesson in trust. Just pay attention to us. We'll help you out.

JESSICA YORK: And welcome, fellow journeyers.

NATALIE FENIMORE: We celebrate this day as another day full of possibilities for growth and learning. Let us open our hearts and minds and lift up this sacred moment of being together in a community of all ages. Come join us as we share stories and songs that celebrate both our unique and common human experiences.

JESSICA YORK: It is good to be together.


STEVEN BALLESTEROS: A reading by Leslie Takahashi-Morris, based upon the words of Sufi Muslim poet, Rumi. Come, come, whoever you are, come with your hurts, your imperfections, your places that feel raw and exposed. Come, come, whoever you are, come with your strengths that the world shutters to hold. Come with your wild imaginings of a better world.

Come with your hopes that seems no one wants to hear. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving, we will make a place for you. We will build a home together. Ours is no caravan of despair. We will walk together. Come, yet again, come.

Chalice Lighting

Carlton Smith lights chalice.

Song: "Come, Come Whoever You Are"

SARAH DAN JONES: Please rise in body or spirit and join us in singing Lynn Unger's musical setting of the Rumi poem, "Come, Come, Whoever, You Are" as it's found in our hymnals. We'll sing it in unison several times.


SARAH DAN JONES: You're beautiful.


JESSICA YORK: Have you ever had a hangnail or a sore spot that you kept picking at, not in spite of the pain, but actually because of it? Don't pick, pick, pick. I do that sometimes with hangnails and also with painful memories. Reliving the memories make cause distress, but it's distress with a purpose.

In 2006, I had planned a worship service for a conference hosted LREDA the Liberal Religious Educators Association. The conference's theme was supporting oppressed and marginalized minorities. And I was part of the integrity team which planned the conference.

The integrity team is a group within LREDA that supports LREDA'S goals of welcoming all people. I was proud of that worship service. It reclaimed religious language. It included a powerful story.

People came up to me all day and said how much they loved the service. I was feeling pretty good. Later that day, the integrity team had a request from someone who wanted to meet with us. It was the leader of the workshop on gender identities.

They shared with us that during that worship service, we sung a hymn, then welcomed sisters and welcomed brothers, but left transgender people or people who do not identify as either male or female out of the welcome. And I had picked that hymn. Now, this person could have heaped anger and guilt upon me. But they didn't.

They said, we are all religious educators here. I'd like to use this as a teachable moment. And they came to us with gentleness and love. Though their tone was loving, I knew that there was pain behind their smile. I knew I had caused it.

I try to be an ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community. I always say I try, because I acknowledge that I will make mistakes. The work of an ally is dangerous stuff, because I go into it knowing that sometimes I'm going to fail-- maybe 1,000 times. In my failing, I'm going to hurt people that I love and disappoint myself bitterly.

And all that I can do is to say that I'm sorry, seek forgiveness, live with the pain, forgive myself, get up in the morning, and start over yet again in love.


STEVEN BALLESTEROS: The hymn, "Come, Come, Whoever, You Are" has a fitting place as a popular and meaningful hymn in our Unitarian Universalist tradition. And the additional words of Sufi poet Rumi, come, even if you have broken your vows 1,000 times, only serves to further the message of this important piece. As a faith, we gather around and form community within the values of our core principles, values which we vow to uphold and stay true to.

As the humans that we are, there is no doubt that at times these vows will be broken. Sharp words may be exchanged, and mistakes will occur in our faith-based environments and the world around us. Though I might venture so far as to say that two are one in the same.

Although these vows will be broken, we shall not despair. And we will welcome one another and ourselves again and again as a recognition and affirmation of our being human and the power of unconditional acceptance. This hymn gives a message and lesson that forms the core pillar of what our faith represents and how we may live it in our everyday lives.

We are loved because of who we are, and who we are remains beautiful and good, no matter our mistakes. With this in mind, I will venture into an experience of mine that has helped bring forth my commitment to being a welcoming and accepting person, a lover of leaving as well. I left a mindset and re-approach it with the will to see things differently. Through this process, I experienced the value and power and being welcomed yet again with love.

My story starts with being born into an unsafe household that lacked the necessary quality and care to nurture a child. I have a biological sister who was born about two years before me and would later be adopted into the same home as myself. Scary as that environment was, my sister found a bond with the members of my biological family that has stayed with her to this very day.

It is a bond that I do not understand and I do not possess. It is hers both as an understanding as an experience. In the household of my early childhood, I was mistreated and hurt. And I found comfort and protection in the presence of my sister, who was fiercely protective of me. I tell you this story of the first three years of my life, some of which I spent in foster homes, because of the lesson that I've learned.

I saw my birth family as being at fault for my hurt. And as you can imagine, that did not sit well with my sister's emotionally close bond to them. From her point of view, no matter the physical, emotional, or mental pain put upon the two of us, my birth family is made up of the people who gave us the gift of life, able body and mind, and dangers, whose silver linings came in the form of child protective service agents, and a better life, and as our adoptive mothers would jokingly say, the great looks that we both share that they just can't take credit for.

Now, though, I've come to see that my sister is entitled to this perspective, whether or not I'm ready to fully feel the same. I have, however, been able to transform the majority of my pain and trauma into feelings that I can come to terms with and leave with understanding love in my heart. I'm welcomed still into my sister's companionship, a companionship that she has always offered, as she accepted me with my negative thoughts and pent up hurt.

This continual act of welcoming has helped me transform my feelings and thus myself into a more accepting person who knows that it is OK to see through the looking glass and see something different than a sibling, a parent, a stranger and all others see with whatever opinions and feelings they hold. I know this to be true, whether or not I see vows broken or break them myself.

For through this understanding, I've improved myself, how I treat others, and hopefully, the existence of our seven principles within the parameter of our covenantal faith, which so fortunately extends to all. Whoever you are, wanderer, worshipper, or lover of leaving, and so one and from wherever you come, you shall be accepted, for our caravan is a joyful, multi-religious, multi-generational, and multicultural span of all colors, creeds, beliefs, orientations, abilities, and perspectives. By coming to terms with my past, affirming my sister's views, and living to the best of my ability, a Unitarian Universalist lifestyle, I'm better able to accept my pain, leave negative thoughts, and welcome new ideas, all the while with exceptional energy of love ever present in my heart.

Similarly, we enrich our faith as a caravan that does not despair in the view of all that is. And instead, works hard to becoming our highest selves and accepting each other no matter where we stand upon the journey that is life. So come, even if you have broken your vows 1,000 times, come, yet again, come. Thank you.



Song: "True North"

TRAVELER'S DREAM: This is one of my original songs called "True North," and it is a song of wandering.



Sharing of Stories

YURI YAMAMOTO: Listen to my stories. Listen to my stories. Listen to my stories. Listen to my stories. Listen to my stories.

JESSICA YORK: I invite you to add your voice to ours.

YURI YAMAMOTO: Listen to my stories. Listen to my stories.

JESSICA YORK: We all have a story, a vow broken, either by you or by others. Did you lose a friend? Was trust lost? Was it regained? Take a moment to remember your story.

Then turn to a neighbor and share your story and a story communion. You will have four minutes total for the sharing with your neighbor. Please share.

YURI YAMAMOTO: Listen to my stories. Listen to my stories. Listen to my stories. Listen to my stories. Listen to my stories. Listen to my stories.

Listen to my stories. Thank you for your stories. Thank you for your stories.

Moment of Silence


Words only have meaning because of the silences between the words. Music and rhythm exist because of empty spaces, however brief, between notes, beats, and chords. Together, let us now create a longer rest from speaking, from singing, listening, perhaps for the sound and the music of life itself, the blood rushing through our arteries and veins, the faithful tempo of our hearts, the steady rhythm of our breathing. Make room now for the healing, the quiet hearing that can begin in the midst of sobs and can continue after the tears are done.

The healing, the silence healing that man's broken bones, broken vows and broken hearts, the unheard of growth of cells multiplying and dividing in the wombs and in cracks in the sidewalk. Make room now for the deep balm of sunlight and the soft balm of moonlight, of life, of love. Why despair when gratitude, joy, acceptance, forgiveness are as near as the next breath, the next heartbeat? You're welcome. You are welcome, welcome, silence.

[A minute of silence.]

Song: "Meditation on Breathing"

SARAH DAN JONES: We come out of the silence and join in song. I'm going to sing "Meditation on Breathing." There are several part, and we're going to be singing them. And we ask that you sing whichever part resonates with you. And if you want to move, breathing in, breathing out. Let's have a C, Yuri.


When I breathe In, I breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I breathe out love.

Breathe In, Breathe Out


CARLTON SMITH: My ministerial colleague, the Reverend Dr. Patrick O'Neill gave me permission to share this story with you, a story from his childhood. One day, walking alone home from school on a winter's afternoon, he was jumped by some bullies who beat him up and left him lying in the snow. A neighbor who saw what had happened offered him hot cocoa as she invited him into her home. She saw how mad he was, and she said this to him.

You are angry with these boys. It is natural for you to feel that way given what happened to you. But now, let it go. This day has other things for you. Patrick looked at the woman's forearm. There were numbers tattooed on it.

When he innocently asked her what they were, she told him that they represented her past, not her present, nor her future. It was only later that Patrick would realize that the woman and her husband had been held captive in a concentration camp in Europe during the Second World War. This was a place where women, children, and men were treated as slaves and where many, many lost their lives.

The digits on her forearm were the identification number put there to keep track of her like all the others who had been held captive. Remember, she said to him, this day has other things to give you. As an adult, Patrick would reflect upon it this way. Imagine hearing this from a death camp survivor.

Besides the hurts of an unfair universe, this day has other things to give you. Besides the hurts and pains you want to hold in your heart, this day has other things to give you. I heard this from someone who knew a thing or two about pain and anger and being a victim. I can see myself in Patrick's place in the story. I was one of those young boys who was beat up and made fun of for no good reason.

I can see myself in some ways in the woman's place in the story. Though I've never been taken into captivity and made to suffer in the way that she had been, I have from time to time been able to help people move beyond their hurt and their pain. And I can also see myself in the role of one of those young boys that was mean to Patrick. As a child, I wasn't always sweet and kind to everyone I knew.

As an adult, I haven't always been sweet and kind to everyone I know. Don't get me wrong. In my best moments, I mean to be loving, generous, thoughtful, drama-free-- somewhat drama-free. And it doesn't turn out that way every time. In fact, sometimes when I think I'm being good and kind, I find out I'm not being good and kind after all. How does that happen?

Because none of us can ever fully know what another person is feeling. If those boys have been able to feel Patrick's hurt and pain, would they have treated that way still? And if those guards in the concentration camp had been able to feel the woman's suffering, if they had been able to see themselves in her eyes, would they have still treated her that way? I hope not.

And I know that for every time that I've either been mistreated or mistreated others, I've tried to use it as an opportunity to figure out how I want to be with others going forward. Unkindness is its own broken vow. But this day, this life has other things for me and for you besides hurting others and being hurt. Ours is no caravan of despair.

I hope we can keep learning its lessons. But we've broken our vows 1,000 times.


NATALIE FENIMORE: Though we've broken our vows 1,000 times, come, come, yet again, come. These words of Rumi speak to the welcome at the heart of Unitarian Universalism. We seek to be a home for all those who desire our company. We seek to make a welcome to all those who search for our good news.

Come, come, little children, teens, young adult, adults, elders, come, families in great diversity. Come to this loving home, this safe harbor, but do not come here to find a place to escape the world. This is a community of engagement and of creativity. Gathered in covenant and right relationship, we live out our intention to change the world in ways that lead to peace and justice.

Our Unitarian Universalist community of faith is where we find and gain the strength for joyful and devoted action in the world. Our Unitarian Universalist welcome is a call to the creation of the beloved community. And this is vital and often messy work.

It is, as Haitian immigrant Edwidge Danticat writes, "creating dangerously." By this, she means creating as a revolt against silence, creating when both creation and reception are dangerous undertakings, our obedience to a directive. We can come together to create boldly, dangerously.

We must create the beloved community with an awareness of how difficult it is, because it is hard work, it is work that challenges us to bring our whole selves and engage deeply and for the long haul. And it is work that is not well supported by the wider culture, because a wider culture asks us to see our strength in individualism alone, and which asks us to be aware of sharing our stories with one another, which dictates our separation, our faith, our tradition must call us into community.

Our task is to create spaces where we might know and value each other. So I am here, like you, offering my life story as a gift to Unitarian Universalism, as a gift to you. I offer my story as an African-American women, my story as a mother of children of color, as a Unitarian Universalist religious educator, as an ordained minister. When we are welcoming of all our stories into the DNA of our faith, there is this added value, this richness, this depth. The inclusion of my story and all your stories expands the vision of who we are and what we can become.

To be the beloved community, we must know that we care for each other as beloveds, not merely in the abstract, but in the particular. Wanderer, worshipper, lover leaving, not merely in the abstract, but in that particular and the personal. We can share our stories of joy and pain, memory and hope. Can we seek to be beloved to one another and to say come, come, welcome?

Yet it is so often that we will find that we are hurt and hurting when we get to the door, that we have broken our vows 1,000 times. We have broken our vows to each other. Others have broken our vows to us. We have broken our vows to ourselves.

We will need to forgive ourselves and each other in order to go forward into deeper relationship. Maybe some people cannot even come into the door until there is first an acknowledgment of the need to say a word of forgiveness, forgiveness almost at first meeting. Our isolation from others, from one another may be so great, our individual and ancestral pain so deep.

As to cry for reconciliation from the start, pain may stand between us like a wall. So why bother? It is so hard. It is such a difficult thing to do. How can we lay ourselves open to another person seeking understanding, forgiveness, and eventual reconciliation?

Why do we come to tell our stories when deep down, we may feel that we will be misunderstood or misunderstand, offend or be offended? We do so because our faith calls us to this moment. We are challenged to move ever closer to the world we hope to create. And this creation of the world we dream of will at times be a painful birthing.

We come together as imperfect people. There is no expectation of perfection. Indeed, our imperfection can enable us to be understanding of the imperfections of others. And so it is a sacred undertaking of love and trust to open up a space here, this space where we worship together and have our personal sharing.

We can listen to each other and embrace a new understanding. And reconciliation is something else that begins in listening. We must make a space to listen to our stories. To reconcile, we need to make peace with the past, not by ignoring it, but by looking at it clearly from its many sides and then move into renewed relationship.

We must gain and grow from our knowledge of each other. We have all experienced times of pain and grief and conflict, which have separated us one from the other. We all need to be reconciled with something or someone. Here in our faith, we can try to forgive when forgiveness seems impossible.

There are stories here, hurts here. But here we can take the time to listen to one another, to understand each other's lives, and to reconcile. We can come back into right relationship if we commit to that as our goal. That being said, right relationship is healthy relationship.

It is not being held hostage to pain or to guilt. When it is right and good for us to part from one another, we can part in love and compassion, because our aim is to open up ourselves and this world to be better containers for joy. In this moment, know that our eyes are ready to see each other, our hearts enlarged to hold each other's pain and joy, our arms entwined in embracing as we journey.

Come, come, though you've broken your vows 1,000 times and will break them 1,000 times more, come. Don't give up, don't stop listening, don't stop listening to one another, come, yet again, come.

SARAH DAN JONES: Just as we've discovered through story and song, there are lessons to be learned in many situations. So it true with our closing hymn. Joining me along with Traveler's Dream-- Denise and Michael-- are Matt Meyer and Christopher Sims in an arrangement of "Come Come" that invites us to embrace our covenants and move to the beat of life. I invite you to rise in body or spirit and join us in this joyful song.

It's a little different, so Matt's going to lead this one. If you listen to him, he'll sing it through once. And then we'll all get with it.



Closing Song: "Come Yet Again Come"

SARAH DAN JONES: We close our service in power to come, come whoever we are, be it wanderers, worshippers, or lovers of leaving, we recognize that we often break our vows, but ours is no caravan of despair. Through our faith, we offer healing, joy, peace and love. Go out and share your story.