TOWSON by pengtt


									                                      Rev. Clare L. Petersberger
                                       The Cultural Crossroads
                                         September 14, 2008


Good morning and welcome to The Towson Unitarian Universalist Church. We are the church of the
open and thinking minds, loving hearts, and helping hands.

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Clare Petersberger and I extend a special
welcome to visitors this morning. I encourage you to do the same as we take a moment to greet old
and new friends around us by sharing how long we’ve been attending TUUC and one thing we really
love about this church!

Do we have visitors to introduce or who would like to introduce themselves?

Welcome! We look forward to getting to know you and to having you get to know us. To this end,
everyone is invited to remain for coffee and conversation following worship.

But now, let us settle into worship. In the African Ibo cosmology, the CHI is the guardian spirit
granted to every individual at the time of birth. It is part of the individual’s supreme creative essence.

According to Ibo belief, the chi is entirely responsible for the fortunes and misfortunes of individuals.
Thus, from the Igbo culture comes the following proverb:

When a person says ―Yes,‖ his or her 'chi' says yes also."


                   Mangwani M'pulele (arr. Mike Brewer)              The TUUC Choir

                                     Aunt, open the door for me,
                                          rain is falling on me.
                                    With two or three head of cattle,
                                      I can pay dowry for a wife.

                                           OPENING WORDS

Trust is an important spiritual quality in Ibo culture. The African writer Chinua Achebe addresses truth
and falsehood conveyed through language in his essay Language And The Destiny Of Humanity.

In this essay, he shares a poem. The poem comes from a very different part of the world – from the
Eskimos. But the yearning for language to speak truth to power is universal. The poem is entitled,
―Magic Words.‖

In the very earliest time, when both people and animals lived on earth, a person could become an
animal if he wanted to and an animal could become a human being.

Sometimes they were people and sometimes animals and there was no difference. All spoke the
same language.

That was the time when words were like magic. The human mind had mysterious powers. A word
spoken by chance might have strange consequences. It would suddenly come alive and what people
wanted to happen could happen — all you had to do was say it.

Nobody can explain this: That’s the way it was.

                                        TEACHER DEDICATION

Our students in Religious Exploration will study magic words this year – words drawn from the six
sources of Unitarian Universalism which are listed in the front of your hymnal. We honor the start of
their journey, together by dedicating our teachers.

So at this time, teachers are invited to come up on the platform while students gather around them.

                                      Teacher Dedication Ritual

REV. CLARE: We are all teachers of one another. We all have gifts to give the children. We honor
those who would take our children under their wing and teach them. Look to the left and to the right,
and remember what you have learned from those around you.

Please affirm that we are all teachers by joining in the unison response in your order of service:

We are all teachers of one another.

DRE: As our community grows and changes, help us to remember to keep our children in the center
of our circle, for they are our most precious gifts, the greatest treasures we have.

Please affirm the importance of children in our religious community by joining in the unison response
in your order of service:

We honor the children.

REV. CLARE: We express our gratitude to those who mentor, befriend, help, advise, and apprentice
our children. Spirit of Love and Mystery, we know you have a thousand faces and a thousand

Our children will also learn from a thousand different faces and names as they grow. May we
remember that those faces are all part of the Mystery. We pray that all of the teachers our children
have in their lives are as wise, respectful, and loving as those gathered here today.

In affirmation of this, please join in a unison reading of the response in your order of service:

We honor the teachers.

DRE; Parents, we need your dedication to bring religious education to your children. Will you bring
your children, regularly, and on time, to explore religious questions?

Please respond: We will

REV CLARE: Children and youth, will you respect the teachers and each other, and will you come
to your religious exploration classes open, willing to try new things, and ready to learn?

Please respond: We Will

DRE: Religious Exploration is a vital part of this congregation's work. Whether or not you have
children, will you, the members and friends of TUUC, support our religious exploration ministry
by getting involved, giving financial support through your pledge, and working with us as you are

Please respond: We will.

REV CLARE: We dedicate ourselves to the children and youth, the teachers, the staff, and the
programs of our religious exploration ministry. With gratitude we dedicate you to a wonderful year
of seeking the truth in love, of teaching and learning! We give you our blessing this day! May wonder
fill all the moments you share together!

In affirmation of this, please join in our hymn of the month, the first one in your aqua hymnal.
And on the second verse, students and teachers are invited to leave for Sunday School classes.
Our Junior and Senior High classes may want to stay for the short video: Peace One Day.

                                             HYMN #1000
                                           Morning Has Come

                                            PEACE ONE DAY
                                               Susan Seim
(At the end of the video, 8th through 12th grade students are invited to leave for their classes.)

                                        MUSICAL INTERLUDE
                          O-re-mi (arr. Mike Brewer)       The TUUC Choir
                                              Let's dance.
                                    Father and mother are dancing.


Let us continue in the spirit of seeking unity and peace with a spoken meditation by The Reverend
Mark Belletini from the 2008 UUA meditation manual Sonata for Voice and Silence which will be
followed by moments of silence.

Let the sky above me unroll like a scroll, and let me read upon it today’s text for my life:
―You are alive, here and now. Love boldly and always tell the truth.‖
Let the wind arrange the naked branches of the maples and aspens and oaks into letters which
proclaim THIS sacred text:

―Your heart beats now, not tomorrow or yesterday. Love the gift of your life and do no harm.‖

Let the eyes and hands and faces of all men and women and children with whom I share this earth
be chapter and verse in THIS great scripture text:

―Life is struggle and loss, and also tenderness and joy. Live all of your life, not just part of it.‖

And now let all the poems and scriptures and novels and films and song and cries and lullabies
and prayers and anthems open up before our free hearts. Let them open like a torah, like a psalm,
like a gospel, like a sutra, like a veda, like a sacred text and let them proclaim:

―Do not think you can take away each other’s troubles, but try to be with each other in them.
Remember that you are part – not all great – but not by far the greatest, small, precious brief breaths
in the great whirlwind of creation.‖

And remember that every single human word is finally and divinely cradled in the strong and secure
arms of Silence.


Life is struggle and loss and also tenderness and joy. If you have a significant sorrow or joy
to lift up to the healing and transforming powers of the universe, you’re invited to come forward to
light a candle as Jamie Anthony leads us in singing Hymn #1020: , Woyaya.


Our reading comes from Chinua Achebe whose spiritual journey began at the crossroad of the faith of
the Igbo people of Nigeria and the Christian missionaries who came seeking converts. Achebe

I was born in Ogidi in Eastern Nigeria of devout Christian parents. The line between Christian and
non-Christian was much more definite in my village forty years ago than it is today.

When I was growing up I remember we tended to look down on others. We were called in our
language ―the people of the church‖ or ―the association of God.‖ The others we called, with the
conceit appropriate to followers of the true religion, the heathen or even ―the people of nothing.‖

Thinking about it today I am not so sure that it isn’t they who should have been looking down on us
for our apostasy. We lived at the crossroads of cultures. And that crossroads had a certain
dangerous potency; dangerous because a person might perish there wrestling with multiple-headed
spirits, but also, that person might be lucky and return to his or her people with the boon of prophetic

On one arm of the cross, we sang hymns and read the Bible night and day. On the other my father’s
brother and his family offered food to idols. That was how it was supposed to be anyhow. But I knew
without knowing why that this was too simple a way to describe what was going on. Those idols and
that food had a strange pull on me in spite of my being such a thorough little Christian that often at
Sunday services at the height of the grandeur of ―Te Deum Laudamus‖ I would have dreams of a
mantle of gold falling on me as the choir of angels drowned our mortal song and the voice of God
Himself thundering: ―This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.‖

Yet despite those delusions of divine destiny I was not past taking my little sister to our neighbor’s
house when our parents were not looking, and partaking of festival meals. I never found their rice and
stew to have the flavor of idolatry. I remember a fascination for the ritual and the life on the other arm
of the crossroads.

And I believe two things were in my favor: curiosity, and the little distance imposed between me and it
by the accident of my birth. The distance becomes not a separation but a bringing together like the
necessary backward step which a judicious viewer may take in order to see a canvas steadily and

Chinua Achebe’s voice from the cultural crossroads.


The mission of this congregation is to offer us perspective through the search for truth, the warmth of
love, and the fire of commitment. With this in mind, our morning offering will be given and received
to sustain and deepen our common life. Twenty-five percent of undedicated gifts will be returned to
the community to feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the addicted, and to inspire a love of

                      Evening In The Country                           Bela Bartok

                                A Voice From The Cultural Crossroads

This week, I have been listening to voices from cultural crossroads. Friday evening, you, too, may
have watched Bill Moyers Journal. My colleague in Knoxville, The Reverend Christopher Buice
spoke about the verbal attacks on ―liberals‖ by right wing media figures.

He wondered if such verbal attacks may have contributed to Jim Adkisson’s decision, in July, to
literally attack, to open fire, on members of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
Books by popular right-wing talk-radio personalities were found in Jim Adkisson’s apartment.

Chris said, ―I just think a lot of people are hurling insults from the safety of television studios,
the safety of radio studios, the safety of cyberspace, which they would not throw if they had to stand
right next to a person and look in their face and say the same thing.‖

Chris concluded, ―And so that’s a void in our community, the chance to be in the same room
and to have these exchanges and remember the humanity of the person on the other side.‖

Since such an invitation to dialogue is likely to be declined – as was Bill Moyer’s invitation to right
wing talk show hosts to come on his show, and since the First Amendment guarantees ―free speech‖
is there anything that can be done?

There ARE limits to free speech. Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that you
cannot shout ―Fire‖ in a crowded theater. But what can be done when people shout ―hell, fire, and
damnation‖ on fellow citizens from the safety of studios and cyberspace?

When Russ Savage labeled an autistic child ―a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out,‖
outraged parents organized a protest in front of Savage’s studio calling for him to be fired.
A few stations and one advertiser did drop his show. But Savage is still on the air.

A member of The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist congregation who visited, a here, a few
weeks ago, wondered if Jim Adkisson’s trial might offer us the same opportunity to organize protests
against ―hate talk.‖ If we were able to join with other minority groups targeted by right wing shock
jocks – especially immigrants – we might have the numbers to actually have an economic impact.

In the meantime, I’ve been listening to voices at cultural crossroads WITHIN our denomination.
The UUA Commission On Appraisal has released as a bylaws revision the first draft rewording the
language of our existing principles and purposes and their sources. Spoiler alert – it is 115 lines

This doesn’t mean it is not worth reading and discussing. But my first reaction to this draft was that I
was hoping for fewer words, not more. When asked about ―things commonly held among us,‖ I would
be hard pressed to remember 115 lines, and any listener would be hard pressed to pay attention after
about line 15.

This is why I’ve always appreciated the succinctness of Francis David who said of Unitarians in the
16th century, ―We need not have to think alike, in religious matters, to love alike.‖

Responses to this draft have revealed that we Unitarian Universalists do NOT all think alike –
especially on the issue of cultural appropriation and misappropriation. One of the phrases in the draft
reads ―Grateful for the traditions that have strengthened our own, we strive to avoid misappropriation
of cultural and religious practices and to seek ways of appreciation that are respectful and

What does this mean?

In seeking answers, I’m drawn to the writings of Chinua Achebe. As we heard in our reading,
Achebe was born in Eastern Nigeria to parents who had been converted to Christianity. But his father
still remembered when Christian missionaries first came to their village 30 years earlier.

Achebe’s great uncle, who had raised Achebe’s father, and who was given the name, ―Udo who
cooks more than the whole people can eat‖ by a grateful village, had welcomed the first missionaries.
Achebe writes,

―For a short while he allowed them to operate from his compound. He probably thought it was some
kind of circus whose strange presence added luster to his household. But after a few days he sent
them packing again. Not, as you might think, on account of theology, but on the much more serious
grounds of musical aesthetics.

Said the old man: ―Your singing is too sad to come from a man’s house. My neighbors might think it
was my funeral dirge.‖ So the missionaries left the family compound but they won the heart of
Achebe’s father. And Achebe’s great uncle never seemed to have objected. Achebe believes this is
because ―the old man was the very embodiment of tolerance.‖

Achebe goes on to share, Before my father died, he had told me of a recent dream in which his
uncle, long long dead, arrived at our house like a traveler from a distant land come in for a brief stop
and rest and was full of admiration for the zinc house my father had built.‖

Achebe concludes, ―There was something between those two that I find deep, moving and
perplexing. And of those two generations - defectors and loyalists alike - there was something I have
not been able to fathom.‖

His novel Things Fall Apart, which was published 50 years ago this past June, and has become the
most widely read African novel, probes this mystery. Our TUUC Book Group will be discussing this
novel at 7:30 on October 1.

The portrait Things Fall Apart paints of the indigenous African faith practiced by his great uncle is not
of ―the people of nothing.‖ On the contrary, the Igbo proverb that ―when a person says yes his or her
chi, or life force, says yes also,‖ is lifted-up as a positive. The idea of personal ―chi,‖ or life force,
motivates the protagonist to make the intentional, internal commitment to become productive,
courageous, and a leader.

And the Igbo’s value of community through festivals such as ―a week of peace‖ (not just a day!)
during which a person does not say a harsh word to his neighbor; no work is done; and people call on
their neighbors and eat and drink together ―to honor the great goddess of the earth without whose
blessings (their) crops would not grow‖ highlights the potential of this indigenous faith tradition to

This yearning to cultivate relationships among people and with the natural world
finds expression in the myths the Igbo women share with their children such as why a mosquito
buzzes in the ear; why the tortoise has a shell; and why it rained after the sky and earth quarreled.
The wonder of children is drawn to such stories.

The desire to cultivate relationships among people and with the natural world also finds expression
following the pronouncements of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and Caves. The Igbo people turned to
Agbala’s guidance to heal their sick and to protect the well-being of their community. But Achebe
does not sentimentalize the faith tradition of the Igbo people. He is critical of its demand to abandon
twins to die in the Evil Forest because of the superstition that they incarnate bad spirits. He is critical
when the Igbo people kill a child because an oracle says the child must be sacrificed to protect the
community. He is critical of a faith tradition that teaches women that they are powerless to protect
such children.

And so Achebe lays the groundwork for the attraction of the message of the Christian missionaries
that we are all children of God, that we are all beloved of God, that infants and outcasts, the weak
and the suffering, the poor and the oppressed, are all loved by God. Achebe describes how the
Christian missionaries did not just preach this message – they built schools to educate not only
children, but adults, welcomed the outcasts of the Igbo society, offered jobs to people who had no
crops, and provided medicinal remedies that cured diseases.

But Achebe is also critical of the Christian missionaries. In one dialogue about God with a Christian
missionary, a member of the Igbo tribe observes, ―You say there is one supreme God who made
heaven and earth. We also believe in Him and call Him Chukwu. He made all the world and the
other gods.‖ The Christian missionary replied, ―There are no other gods.‖ But when the member of
the Igbo tribe asks about Jesus, the Christian missionary is hard pressed to explain how the Trinity is
one God.

Achebe is also critical of how the Christian missionaries applied their own standard of justice
to the Igbo people - literally whipping male tribal leaders into submission. And Achebe is most critical
of the negative impact the Christian missionaries and colonists had on the bonds of kinship of the
Igbo people by preaching and teaching that a man should curse the gods of his ancestors; leave his
father and his brothers; and embrace something foreign and different. This is when things literally fall
apart in Achebe’s novel.

What I take from his voice at the cultural crossroads is while not everything is true in any given world
religion, there are universal truths in all the world’s religions. And for Achebe, these truths are most
often discovered not in doctrine but in art. He would love Jane Bates’s exhibit because it would
remind him, personally, of the collages his father used to make.

And, more universally, these works represent the truth of the life force, found in many cultures
from Asia to the American Southwest, from Mexico to the influence of African art on Matisse.
Achebe’s favorite Igbo festival involves the goddess of creativity who is responsible for both creativity
and morality in the world. Achebe said of it, ―Art cannot be in the service of destruction, cannot be in
the service of oppression, cannot be in the service of evil.‖

Now there are slogans for signs at protests against ―hate talk‖ in the name of entertainment! Achebe
sees his own work as being ―concerned with universal human communication across racial and
cultural boundaries as a means of fostering respect for all people.‖ And isn’t that our faith tradition’s
mission, as well? If we are dedicated to ―fostering respect for all people‖ do we really need rules
about cultural misappropriation in our association’s bylaws?

Chinua Achebe teaches at Bard College in New York. But on September 22nd, George Mason
University in Fairfax Virginia will be giving him an award for being a strong voice at the cultural
crossroads for the past fifty years. In his writings, I hear hope that it is possible to limit ―hate speech‖
in the name of compassion and it is possible to enlarge upon our principles and purposes to find
things commonly held among us by articulating, the truths which guide our lives and make us more
human and listening to the truths which guide the lives of others and make them more human.
All our voices, all our creativity are needed at the cultural crossroads.

                                              HYMN # 1033
                                             Bwana A wabariki

                                            CLOSING WORDS

To not only thank our teachers but to get to know them, parents are invited to move to the front of the
meeting room for a Parent Welcome following our closing words by my colleague The Reverend
Steve Crump: That which is worthy of remembering, hold in your hearts. That which is worthy of
repeating, speak with a clear voice. That which is worthy of doing, create with your hands.
And that which is worthy of living, go and live it now. Go now in peace.


To top