Wholly One

When the earth was still flat
And clouds made of fire
And mountains stretched up to the sky, sometimes higher,
Folks roamed the earth
Like big rolling kegs.
They had two sets of arms,
They had two sets of legs,
They had two faces peering,
Out of one giant head,
So they could watch all around them, while they talked while they read.[1]

This comes from a song featured in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Some might say about this musical, “Well, it’s not for everybody.” It involves escapes from communist Germany, gender confirmation processes, broken hearts, justice for sex workers, and a lot of rock and roll. Yes, it’s not for everybody. But as you heard in the song, it is about everybody. The part of the song I recited was inspired by Plato’s Symposium, where Aristophanes tells the story that all humans were once joined as great spherical beings but they rebelled against the gods and so were separated, torn in half as punishment.[2] In the musical, though, the main character tells the story using Norse gods, Egyptian gods, and a wide range of other deities. It’s sort of a lesson in inter-religious dialogue…it just happens to be a dialogue about punishing humans for getting ahead of themselves. But in truth I tell you, Plato’s story is just one voice in a chorus of stories about the shared ancestry of humankind.

In the Kumulipo, the creation chant of these islands and one of the most sacred texts in the Hawaiian religion, some of the chant is concerned with creation by explaining the work of deities. But does anyone know what the Kumulipo is mostly filled with? Genealogies.

The genealogies of the great chiefs are told as issuing forth from the stars in the sky.[3] And the genealogies of those people governed by deities and chiefs, you know, people like us, come in a few different ways, but all humans share a common ancestor in the Kumulipo: Haloa, who became the kalo plant and still today is the sibling of humankind. Many take seriously their siblinghood to Haloa and the kalo, and from that relationship the rootedness, the oneness to the land, to this home.

In religion, myth, and folklore, it is actually harder to find a creation story that does not include some kind of shared common ancestor than one that does. I’m not even sure if one exists. And the story of our genetics tells much the same tale.

You might remember some years ago when it was announced that humans share a common ancestor, lovingly referred to in genetics at that time as Mitochondrial Eve. Mitochondrial Eve refers to the most recent female common ancestor to all humans living today. People who study this branch, or really root, of genetics like to point out that she was not the only woman in her time, she was not a “new species” or a “new creation.” She was simply the one who drew the card from the genetic deck that led to all of this (indicating all those persons in attendance). Of course, if those scientists were serious about avoiding those inferences about being the only woman or being part of new creations, maybe the name Eve wasn’t the way to go. In that name lies the bias or preference for the Judeo-, Christo-, and Islamic system of belief, which is especially inapt since all signs point to this shared ancestor…coming from the region we call East Africa today, and not from the region we call the Middle East or Europe. Geneticists today prefer another name: “mitochondrial-MRCA” or “mitochondrial-Most Recent Common Ancestor.”

I like to think about our MRCA. I like to imagine her getting a glimpse of how things are going with her children. Do you think she’d be surprised at the number of us today? I think some of us walking around in space or on other heavenly bodies would be a lot to handle. After all, she’s roughly 200,000 years old, older than any interpretation of divinity on earth today. In fact, this ancestor would transcend the very meaning of divine, which means to come from the vine. She is the root in the earth that took hold and divided and divided and divided into us. You might say there is as much holiness in division as there may be in divinity. Yet we are children, products of division.

See, the Gods grew quite scared of our faith and defiance and Thor said,
I’m gonna kill ‘em all with my hammer, like I killed giants.
But Zeus said no, you better let me use my lighting like scissors,
Like I cut the legs of the whales and dinosaurs into lizards,
And so he grabbed up some bolts,
He let out a laugh,
Said I’ll split them right down the middle,
Gonna cut them right up in half.[4]

Gods dividing people, rather than bringing them together: not a new tale. And faiths, and churches, and schools, and governments, and neighborhoods, and train tracks, and gates, and take your pick, depend, rely on division, on separation. You could say it’s our birthright. You could call it our fate. You could call it part of our nature.

But. Here we are. Here we all are, coming together again and again and again. Whatever you like to call this—a service, worship, a talk, “the thing I do for an hour in between early coffee and mid-morning coffee.” And yes, I know some of you think of it like that. This is one of the many ways we come together again, one of the ways we counter that blood-borne division so many know so well. And in a few weeks, at our congregation’s annual meeting, we will come together for one of the extraordinary things we do in a year. We will gather again for our annual meeting to lend our voice to some of the most important ways we stay together, we act together as a community. And at that meeting we will speak together about something that never has caused any division in any community: money.

With the start today of the annual pledge drive, we begin a season of asking ourselves what are our priorities in the coming year. And we did a lot this year together. We finished up three units of housing in the building—certainly a bold move, friends. After a number of years, you decided on a minister—also a bold step for any congregation. But we enter a time that is more than just filling out a pledge form.

Of course, that’s important and part of how we plan, how we provide all we do here to one another, how we can meet the needs of our community and our world. How is important.

But perhaps just as important to consider at this time is the “what.” What are we doing this for? What are we doing here on a Sunday, on all the evenings that so many of us spend here? These weeks when we consider how we are going to make our year work, we have to ask ourselves what it is we want to do. And those aren’t easy questions, right?

Over the past weekend, many of us were right here in this space for the second Jubilee Anti-Racism training this church has hosted in the past two years. And it was different than the first one. First of all, fifty people registered for Jubilee. Fifty people came on the first day, including ten neighbors and friends who do not attend this church. The whole list of people showed up, including almost your entire Board, almost all the Worship Team, and many other groups. And the trainers, after the weekend was over, said that they felt, that they could sense the changes that had already taken place between the two trainings. And some of the lessons we learned, and some of the work we undertook together is taking root. This week, on the agenda at your Worship Team meeting was a discussion of how to move further into building an anti-racist identity into the worship life of this congregation. It’s important to consider the “what” when we are thinking about “how.”

I also know that there are discussions going on already about making anti-racist training a part of the budget, not part of any particular group’s budget, but it’s own line. And you better believe that on the list of ways to become a truly anti-racist community, we must dedicate more than our hopes, our vision, our faith, to this work. It takes dedication of resources, too. Because friends, the work is not done.

Even in the context of our training, there are ways that members of this community are still, still, learning. And there are ways that we are still making mistakes, still causing unnecessary pain to people of color in our community. It even happened this past weekend during our training together. And if you think it’s hard or uncomfortable to hear that from me, if you are feeling a little twinge of sadness or disappointment in hearing this, please, please, please, I beg you, consider what that feeling would be like stretched over weeks, months, years. Try to feel what experiencing real pain at comments or remarks that are made in our community would be like for you. Consider the extra work, extra time, extra teaching, the extraordinary grace that is so regularly a part of the life of people of color in our world, grace that is felt must extended to stay in relationship.

And for those of you who know anything about grace, you know that if you must extend it, it’s not grace. It is something even more selfless, something even more precious, something even more holy. And friends, that kind of pain coupled with that extra work, and the grace that must be given, builds up. And it must, must, must be honored. And blessedly some places are starting to do just that. In fact, at some leading institutions of higher education, faculty of color are now starting to get credit toward tenure because of all the extra time they spend counseling students of color who are experiencing race-based pain and trauma at school. You know something is real and something is serious when it is something that can help get you tenure, friends. It’s a lot of extra work. It makes me wonder whether there should also be a budget line, right next to Jubilee, for an optional retreat for members of color after, or even during, the our next training. “You go on vacation. We’ll do the work.” That would be really, really anti-racist my friends. They’d write articles about us.

Now, what cannot happen today, right after service, is for those who are wondering what happened this past weekend, to spend coffee hour figuring out what happened. Please do not do that today. Find a trusted friend sometime soon and have a conversation, but not today. And what really can’t happen is to crowd or question those who were involved today. That would not be fair. What would be fair, what would make sense, is to attend ADORE on April 28th to discuss some of these questions in greater detail. Or to make an appointment with one of the people on the 8th Principle Task Force to talk more about these questions.

And see, getting us talking about this important work all started with talking about what? Money.

Because any talk about money, is also talk about values. And any church’s annual budget is essentially a map of what that church values. So in the coming weeks, whether over stewardship dinners, at home, in committee meetings, in your dreams, we should all be thinking about what it is we value here. And not only how it is we can accomplish it. Because after the “how,” after the “what,” the real question is “why?” Why are we doing this? Why are we here?

Well, there’s actually simple answer for that. Our mother, the same mother, two hundred thousand years ago, in what we know as East Africa, won. She won the honor. She won the fate. She won the electric touch of years strewn out before her like subjects before their queen, of giving birth to every single one of us.

Before any myths taught of division, before any gods saw fit to favor a whisker on the chin of any son of any man, our mother, our mitochondrial Most Recent Common Ancestor, embodied wholeness. She was “oneness” incarnate.

You ask me how, you ask me what, you ask me why, we must come together at last? Why we must, we must, each one of us, must do better by our siblings? And I tell you: “because mother said so.”

The last time I saw you,
We had just split in two,
You were lookin’ at me,
I was lookin’ at you.
You had a way so familiar,
I could not recognize,
‘Cuz you had blood on your face,
And I had blood in my eyes,
But I could swear by your expression,
That the pain down in your soul was the same
As the one down in mine,
That’s the pain, that cuts a straight line down through your heart,
And we call it love….
That’s the origin of love.[5]

What so many stories of dividing us tell us, is that it is terrible pain to be divided from one another. The creation chant of this aina tells us it is against our very nature to be separate, to be divided. And chances to unite, to come together, to see what must be done are rare. Chances to consider how we do what must be done are precious. And chances to answer the question, “Why am I doing this?” with the only answers that matter:

Because we are siblings,
Because it is the only way to heal the pain down deep in our souls,
Because we need each other,
Because we love each other,
Chances to say these things loudly and then to practice what we preach are chances we will not have forever.

Fortune, the wealth of spirit we yearn for, favors the bold:
Fortune favors those who do more than yearn for what we want: to boldly grow compassion, justice, and joy.
Fortune favors those who seek out how we will do these things in the coming weeks: through devoted, consistent, and wholly embodied commitment.
And fortune favors those who answer why we do this work together: “Because this is a holy place and because I love you.”

And may it ever be so.

 

[1] “The Origin of Love” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch by Stephen Trask.

[2] Symposium by Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett located at http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/symposium.html.

[3] The Kumulipo, translated by Queen Liliuokalani (1897), located at http://www.sacred-texts.com/pac/lku/. See chapter entitled “A Branch of the Twelfth Era.”

[4] “The Origin of Love” by Trask.

[5] “The Origin of Love” by Trask.

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