Last July in worship I introduced a notion to guide our social justice work that I said intrigued me – “Sanctuary Everywhere.” What if we as a congregation committed ourselves to the work of creating safe space for all people, perhaps all beings? What would that mean?
In the last four months, we have had a brief glimpse of what it can mean to provide sanctuary for one person facing life-threatening expulsion. With the help of dozens of friends from neighboring faith communities we have seen to her safety and helped meet her most essential needs. It’s been challenging but intensely rewarding work. For, in providing safe space for La Mariposa we have also built bonds of friendship and love. Reaching across boundaries of language, of culture, of ethnicity we have begun to know the rich and complex caring that is possible between and among people.
It’s a good place to start. So, again, how would it be if we extended that commitment, if we dedicated ourselves to the work of keeping all people safe? It’s a big idea but in many ways not a reach for us. It’s integrated into the social justice work we are involved in already, from our commitment to immigrant sanctuary, to Black Lives Matter, to our work to end hunger and homelessness, to support people of all genders and gender expressions and even our work to protect and sustain the Earth, a safe harbor for all life.
But what I especially like about the notion of “Sanctuary Everywhere” is that it gives us a focus that is centered in our faith, a faith that calls us to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people and to work to bring about a beloved community where all are held with compassion and respect. It gives us a grounding for work in many venues.
I look forward to exploring this further in coming months, and I welcome your thoughts around it, too. But I thought that this month I’d tell you a little bit about where my own thoughts around this are going. I’m thinking that if I’m going to work for sanctuary I need to begin by creating sanctuary in my own mind and heart. That means examining those habits of thinking and feeling within me that hold me back, that keep me from truly extending a sense of sanctuary to others.
I realize that part of this just has to do with my own limited experience of the world and other people. And I’ve come to realize that this lack of experience is actually part of the privilege that I inherited, unknowingly, as a white person in this country. From my earliest days, I was raised in a culture where the white experience was normative – that is, normal, every-day, the regular thing. What I learned of non-white people might have been interesting, even exotic, but it was something out of the ordinary. I know I’m not alone. Perhaps this was your experience, too.
This isn’t anything awful or shameful, but I’ve come to realize that it severely limits me in my efforts to grow as a person and to inhabit a faith I affirm. So, an important part of the work of my own spiritual growth has been to give myself to experiences that will take me outside of that limited context and take in other perspectives.
There are many ways of doing this, and we offer some in this congregation and in the larger Asheville area. These include classes, such as Asheville’s own Building Bridges (the next session runs weekly Sept 10 through November 5, 7-9 pm at Rainbow Community School) or trainings by the Racial Equity Institute. You might also consider sitting in on meetings of Asheville Standing Up for Racial Justice, which are the second Thursday of each month at UUCA. Also, this fall I’ll be leading a discussion of a Beacon Press book by Robin DiAngelo called White Fragility, which explores why white people have such a hard time talking about race.
I’ve also made a point in my private reading of exploring nonwhite authors. Here are some who have produced some amazing works recently. I think of Toni Morrison’s latest novel, Home; Michael Eric Dyson’s powerful essays in Tears We Cannot Stop; Tracy K. Smith’s luminous book of poetry, Wade in the Water, and our own Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed’s astute analysis in Revisiting the Empowerment Controversy.
From the Hispanic perspective, I’d recommend Luis Alberto Urrea’s book of poems, Tijuana Book of the Dead, and his novel, House of Broken Angels. From the Native American perspective, I was impressed by the novel There, There by Tommy Orange and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a renowned biologist and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, on weaving together indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge.
There is such richness out there when we open our lives to diverse perspectives. Let us be about creating sanctuary where we can be in conversation with it all.
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister