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A Story of Us: Welcoming Celebration, #UUAGA 2017
Welcoming Celebration: A Story of Us, General Assembly 2017
General Assembly, Online GA

General Assembly 2017 Event 113 (combined with General Session I)

Captions were created during the live event, and contain some errors. Captioning is not available for some copyrighted material.

Unedited Live Captioning (TXT)

Program Description

We come together at General Assembly in a spirit of resistance to rejoice in all that we are and all we will discover together. This time of ingathering, welcome and compassion will call us to courageously come home to our souls and invite our spirits to rise for our shared commitments in a new chapter of faith.

Order of Service

Liturgist: the Rev. Kimberly Debus

With Rev. Paul Beedle, Rev. Daniel Gregoire, Terry Cummings, Rev. Marisol Caballero, Rev. De Vandiver and Ruth Idakula and the UUA CoPresidents, the Rev. Sofia Betancourt, the Rev. William G. Sinkford, and Dr. Leon Spencer

Featured Songs: "Home," by Taya Shere; "Grace," by Eric Morel-Ensminger; "Hand in Hand," by Melissa Monforti; "Where Do We Come From," by Brian Tate; "Resist," by Scott Roewe; "There’s a River Flowing In My Soul," by Rose Saunders; "The Tide is Rising," by Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman and Yotam Schachter

The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.

Prelude

Leon: A new place…
A new cultural landscape…
A new political reality…

A new way of being...

A new way of knowing...
A new longing…
A new call…

A new city…

A new story...

Overture

“Home” by Taya Shere

Melissa (singer)

A Story Begins

Eight voices emerge, reciting the following words in a building cacophony, along with the music. During the cacophony, Marisol, Daniel, Terry, and Paul will move from behind puppets to main stage.

Resist.

Rejoice.

Dancing

laughter

passion

homeward

Resist

Rejoice

Dancing

Laughter

Passion

homeward

Where do we come from?

homeward

Resist.

More love!

passion

Rejoice.

Where are we going?

dancing

Resist.

Where we’re called to be

Rejoice.

The land is holy

Resist.

Where do we come from?

I am somebody

Rejoice.

Where are we going?

Where we’re called to be

Resist.

More love!

I am somebody

Rejoice.

There’s a river…

The land is holy

Resist.

More love!

Where we’re called to be

I am somebody

Rejoice.

…flowing in my soul

The land is holy

Resist.

Where are we going?

Where we’re called to be

I am somebody

Resist.

Rejoice.

Mystery, mystery

More love!

The land is holy

Resist.

Rejoice.

Life is a riddle and a mystery

I am somebody

RESIST!

REJOICE!

More love!

Where we’re called to be

I am somebody

RESIST!

REJOICE!

Where do we come from?

More love!

Where are we going?

Where we’re called to be!

The land is holy

I am somebody

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

RESIST AND REJOICE!

Music and voices crash into silence.

Silence settles.

A Story of Understanding

“Grace” by Eric Morel-Ensminger

Paul: Home is a place of comfort, and life has a way of taking us out of our comfort zone. Twelve years ago, after Hurricane Katrina, most in this city lost their homes to the Federal Flood of 2005, experiencing an extended stay far out of the zone of comfort. For many that stay is permanent: for some because they chose not to return, for others because they could not afford to return, and for still others because systems of oppression in government and private enterprise denied their return. Some families were denied their homes of many generations because they could not produce a paper title. Many learned that their homes - both detached houses and units in large housing projects - would be torn down and not rebuilt. Most who had this experience were black. While the population of New Orleans has nearly reached its pre-flood level of 400,000, there are today 90,000 fewer black residents. When I came to this city four years ago, I began to hear the stories of how that natural and human-made disaster affected the lives of the people here I have come to love.

Eric plays one phrase of “Grace”

Paul: The Federal Flood moved all in this city out of the zone of comfort. As the waters receded, they revealed submerged issues of justice, power and faith: of oppressions and how they intersect with each other and impact our collective stewardship of the land and water we live on; of privileges and how they enable us to look away, or to seize control.

After the flood, those who were here recall the eerie, uncanny silence of the city. No engines. No lights. No birds. No children. The kind of silence that makes you listen. In the first few years, if your neighbor asked for something, you said yes, that’s all. And for years after, on that day, August 29, everyday conversations, even with strangers, stopped to include a few minutes of listening to each others’ stories of where you were, and where you went, and who or what you lost, and what happened next. Even today, it is not unusual for a survivor to share a storm story with a total stranger. Often, these last four years, that stranger has been me. This week, that stranger might be you.

Outside the zone of comfort, there come invitations to learn, to stretch our awareness, our knowledge of ourselves and our neighbors, of privilege and oppression, of systemic injustice and how oppressions intersect, and of how evil may be resisted through faith and power and justice. Outside the zone of comfort, New Orleans’ three small Unitarian Universalist congregations ceased competing and learned to be in right relationship. And I have been blessed to learn from New Orleans Unitarian Universalists, about how to lean into discomfort in order to stay in right relationship. I invite you to seek this blessing while you are here - for I assure you, we are offering it to you.

I invite you to wonder with me: how do we get to that place of radical and holy discomfort without re-enacting disaster? How do we awaken every day our capacity to look and look deeply, to listen and listen deeply? How do we connect head, heart, and hands in the service of faith and power and justice?

At its founding, what is now First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans was known as the Strangers’ Church, and we have a tradition of greeting strangers as friends. Please turn now, look and listen and greet your neighbors, and take your neighbors by the hand.

Congregational Singing

Musician 1: Rise as you are able, remaining hand in hand, and let us sing Melissa Monforti’s joyful song “Hand in Hand.”

A Story of Home

Daniel: Is home always somewhere over the rainbow, way up high?

Perhaps in a foreign land?

Perhaps here?

When my dad’s parents Henri and Lauraine immigrated from Haiti in the early 1970s, they were looking for a home that could offer them the opportunities that were always just beyond their reach in their native land. Haiti has been wrecked by centuries of oppression, embargo, ecological devastation and dictatorships, neglect.

My grandparents left the political and economic turmoil to start a new life in the United States. Coming here as generations before and after them had, they recreated themselves and their children in New York City. They worked hard, learned English, and established a new home in the United States.

In this process they added their spices, language, colorful art, blood, sweat, tears, and joyous laughter to the extravagant boundary of this country. Their children took various paths in life. My generation, their grandchildren, went off in many other directions, including one special-case who went on to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. And we are just beginning to learn what paths their great-grandchildren might take in this land.

Along the ways there has been some incredible success stories and heroic turnarounds: college graduations, small business, fantastic travels across the globe. And we have had some spectacular failures and profound disappointments: lives lost too soon from illness or violence, addiction, broken relationships. Home has to be a container strong enough to hold us in the best of times and the worst. Where is home for the immigrant, and their descendants? Home is wherever we are.

I believe that my grandparents carried home in their hearts in pieces, and wherever they could come together as a family, bringing the pieces together, there was a home.

For me, home is where I am free to be me, free to hang my pictures on the wall, it has a table for me to order my thoughts through writing, and a place for me to laugh in my reckless way of laughing, and another place where I might cry when crying is the right thing to do. It’s a place of love, truth telling and courage. I can’t say that I’ve actually found that home yet, but I’ve certainly seen fleeting glimpses of it. Unitarian Universalism has offered some tantalizing bits of home for me at times over the years, and at other times I’ve wondered…

There is no place quite like home and, in a way, that notion makes me fearless as I seek it out.

New Orleans is a city that has been a home to people for countless generations, first to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, then the Spanish and French colonists, enslaved Africans, Haitian exiles, African Americans turning their heartache into songs of freedom. Vietnamese immigrants. Second, third and fourth generation Irish, Italian and Jewish Americans, even a good number of Unitarian Universalists of all kinds.

People come and go so quickly here.

Congregational Singing

Musician 2: We come and go so quickly, we aren’t always sure where we come from, where we are, and where we are going… together, let’s rise in body and spirit to sing the words by Paul Gaugin, set to music by Brian Tate.

We will sing this three times: the first time all together and the next two times as a round. Please follow the lead of your leaders. At the end keep repeating “mystery, mystery, life is a riddle and a mystery.”

A Story of Our Hearts

Terry: Like most people, when I was a child my parents and teachers taught me how important it is always to tell the truth. But sometimes, telling the truth about ourselves isn’t easy. In fact, it can be downright dangerous.

When I was a young boy, yes boy, I often used to pray to the god of my understanding, “please God, make me a girl.” This was the truth about myself that I couldn't tell anyone else for over 50 years. During those years, the life I was living was not as honest as I would have wanted. Perhaps if I had found a Unitarian Universalist community earlier, I would have been able to share my deepest truth before I did.

Eventually, though, the truth refused to be hidden any longer, and I found the courage to share my pain with a few other people, and eventually the world. The process of claiming my truth wasn’t a smooth one. It was hard work. It was painful and it came with a price.

My transition led to rejection and sorrow, loss and grief. In the end, though, I discovered another secret that I had been carrying, a secret I didn’t even know myself. That secret was my ability to love. And to share my love with strangers.

The ability to share someone else’s pain, to be a comforting presence for those whose voices need to be heard. These are some of the other gifts I didn’t realize I had until after I felt the knives of prejudice, anger and fear against my bare skin.

Until I realized that so many others, millions of others, bear the scars of such things from the earliest moments of their being, I wasn’t able to love as fully as I do now.

During my difficult but joyful transition I began to ask questions about myself and the country in which we live. And it was during my gender transition that I finally discovered Unitarian Universalism. Within a few short years of becoming a Unitarian Universalist I heeded an irresistible call to ministry. That call has opened up for me a door to telling not just my truth, but sharing my truth, and our shared truths, with love and compassion. Love and compassion for the listeners, irrespective of who they are, or what they might believe, or whether they might disagree with me.

As Unitarian Universalists we have many truths to tell. Truths about justice, liberty, equality, compassion, and human rights for all. Yet in the past couple of years, and especially more recently during the unusual times in which we are living, our shared truths appear to have been lost on those who do not share our vision of the world or our country. Our views on religion. Our views on peace and justice and how to achieve it. These truths need to fall on fertile ground during times like these.

Is it possible that our sadness that people don’t agree with us is self-inflicted? Should we have paid more attention to those both within and outside Unitarian Universalism who did not then and do not now agree with the majority of Unitarian Universalists? Perhaps that is so, but for me, as I move forward, I have learned that the truth is simply not enough. I know that I must do more to include love and compassion with the truths that I believe in and share.

I am proud to be a transwoman. I am happy in my skin. I am thrilled to be living out my journey of faith. My faith in Unitarian Universalism’s beliefs and principles has never been stronger. Using a public restroom is one example for me of an act of faith that the god of my understanding loves me. And in that faith I can find the courage to love back. With love and compassion comes the courage to resist injustice.

Congregational Singing

Musician 3: Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network member Scott Roewe has written this beautiful song, “Resist,” to accompany our call for compassion in the face of injustice. Join us in singing.

A Story of Courage

Marisol: “Though we tremble before uncertain futures, may we meet illness, death, and adversity with strength. May we dance in the face of our fears.” writes trailblazer, Gloria Anzaldua, who knew a thing or two about courage.

Courage requires both vulnerability and careful strategy.

I am not unlike other people of color in mostly white company in that I don’t often show my full self. I am guarded. Not inauthentic, because the me that has learned to navigate mostly white spaces definitely is a part of me, it just isn’t my whole self. To bring my full self would certainly risk being misunderstood, but more than that, I would be risk inviting even more harmful words and behaviors into my day. Each day is an ever-exhausting dance of negotiating each interaction and conversation. How much of me do I allow this person or group to see? How much of that decision is about risking vulnerability and how much is about self-preservation? Hundreds of times a day, I must ask myself, who benefits from this risk more? This time, does stepping out into the unknown or withholding my full self simply serve to alleviate the discomfort of another, or does it bring me closer to true freedom?

Courage is not demanding “safety” when the confronting the annoyance of having one’s haughty and long-held answers questioned.

It is incompatible with despair.

Courage is not becoming defensive, or insisting on being viewed as an individual when the privileges of membership in a dominant group are brought to light. Rather, courage recognizes that growth insists on a willingness to be utterly transformed.

Courage is not believing that anyone is “helping” or coming to “the assistance of” members of marginalized groups. Rather, it is recognizing that the need to play savior comes from societal brainwashing caused by systems that convince some they are superior over others.

Courage is seeking one’s own liberation from these lies, knowing it will require a relinquishment of power and an admittance that they’ve been bamboozled.

Courage does not require perfection from us, or air-tight plans, or even expertise.

But, I’ll tell you what courage does require. Courage requires taking great risks while stepping into the unknown.

It takes no courage to shut one’s mouth, step aside, and listen when needed. The only thing at risk here is one’s ego and a self-identity built around the myth of superiority.

Courage does not ask us to stop trembling, it asks us to find ways to incorporate our trembles into our dance.

Courage, the faithful companion of hope, keeps us going, traveling into the unknown, knowing that both smooth sailing and rough waters are ahead.

Courage is sticking around when “we” and “us” are spoken in contexts that clearly don’t mean “me.”

Courage is claiming this faith as home when nearly everything around me says I am out of place, yet everything inside me says I am home.

Courage is the generations and generations of ancestors who taught us to actively pursue joy, laughter, and celebration alongside outrage, grief, and fatigue.

The goddess, Tonanztin, madre de los Mexicos, bringer of corn, nuestra morenita, teaches that we can make for ourselves a place of comfort and leave room for wonder, even when our home has been invaded and has become nearly unrecognizable. Courage is being firm in saying, “I know exactly where home is and what it looks like. I will figure out any way to get there, with the help of good friends. We will dance the whole way there, through the terrifying unknown. I will brave the rough waters knowing that my boat may be smalI, but it is so strong. I will leave a trail of beauty in my wake, so that other courageous seekers who follow will not be lonely on their journeys because despite all, this river in my soul will not let me forget that I am somebody.

Congregational Singing

Musician 4: Let us rise and join on the journey of courage as we sing Rose Saunders’ soul-filled song.

A Story of the Journey

Deanna and Ruth: It took a river of ancestors to bring us here together today, gathering on the banks of the Mississippi River

A river that represents bondage as well as liberation

A river that symbolizes wealth of Spirit and faith

A river that is both cataclysmic and can yet bring healing balm to the soul

A river that is a manifestation of the blood that runs through all of our veins

A river that serves as a conduit of diverse culture and religion that force us to accept, embrace, and even come to love difference

A river of ancestors who offered us gifts of courage and heart, compassion and hope brought us to this place and this time, together

A river that has so many stories to tell

We have heard four stories, out of thousands, stories of us, stories of understanding, love, courage, and home. And there are so many more stories to tell.

Let us resist any narrative that tells us we are alone, that any one of us pulled our self up all by ourselves

outside of community

outside of systems

outside of history

We rest on the shoulders of many ancestors

We rejoice in our interdependent web of existence across space and time

We rejoice and we honor our ancestors, those who have died, passed away into the mystery, who opened the way for us to be who we are and how we are. For the ancestors who showed us love, who chose to live and lead with courage, whose lives made our own in their stories, their blood, their wisdom,

We rejoice and honor the ancestors that whisper in our ears lovingly daily and who strongly demand justice, we give thanks.

Beloveds, at this time, we invite you to think of the ancestors who co-created you - Let us take a deep breath in and out together.

Again.

And again.

And thinking of those for whom we give thanks who are no longer alive in body but who are ever present to us in our memory, we invite you to fill this room with their names, with their stories, with with our gratitude. Call out loud, whisper softly, sing out - let us consecrate this place with our acknowledgement of those who made the way for us to gather here today.

[ names of the ancestors ]

We give thanks

We give thanks

We give thanks

Dear friends, we invite you to take a deep collective breath, settle gently into the place where you are, allow your heart to soften into this moment.

We breathe in and out together

Exchanging sacred breath with the trees and the river and the bayous and with each other. We have come together with broken hearts and broken promises. We have come together to revisit, restore, renew, recreate the covenant that binds together this faithful body. We have come together to take a faithful assessment of how power is arranged - within our hearts, our congregations, our association, our institutions, our governments, our societies. We have come together for spiritual fortification.

We breathe in and out together

Exchanging sacred breath with the trees and the river and the bayous and with each other. We may not always know what or where home is or how to be there - but we give thanks in this moment that we are not alone, we are held in a vast web of love and co-creation, we are worthy now, we are enough. Revelation is ever unfolding and we have the courage, the heart and compassion to live into what is wanting to be born of us, the promise of beloved community.

We breathe in and out together

And we say ase’ and amen

Chalice Lighting

Deanna: In this time and in this place, we invite our leaders forward to light the chalice in the power of grace.

Sending Off In Song

Leon: And with this flame, we say Welcome to New Orleans!

We send you off this evening with this song, written by Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman, first sung at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, to Introduce to lift up Pope Francis' call to action on climate change.

The tide is rising, and so are we!

For more information contact web@uua.org.

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