This message was inspired by the Ysaye Barnwell song, “We Are”
Shared on April 25, 2021 via Zoom to the UU Congregations in Brunswick and Statesboro, GA
I picked out these songs that I’ve been using from Singing the Journey for my sacred text – mainly because I liked the songs. And this is a good one. And when I made out my schedule –I also placed a topic in parentheses by the song title – that summed up what I thought I would share. By this one, I put “Identity.” And as I started preparing for it, it occurred to me that I may have done a sermon on Identity before. So, I looked on my sermon page – and sure enough, back in February of 2015, I shared with both congregations a message entitled, “Who Goes There: An Exploration of Identity.” I didn’t have a text for that sermon because I was trying to be more extemporaneous and let my PowerPoint images guide me as I shared. And I no longer even had the PowerPoint – having all my files corrupted in a changeover of computers. BUT this was after Costya started videoing my sermons in Statesboro, so I had the video to watch. And I discovered that it was a really good sermon! I was drawing from my knowledge of various theories that I used to teach about when I taught a class called “Human Growth and Development” at Georgia Southern. And I shared all the stages and steps related to identity formation provided by the expert psychologists, sociologists, and all the other ologists. So perhaps I was teaching more than preaching, but I ended up with some inspirational and spiritual stuff that made it sermon -like. So, I thought, “You know – I could just show them this video tape.” A lot of you were not here in 2015 – and the others –may be like me and not remember things you read or heard yesterday – much less, six year ago. But then I decided to challenge myself to try to prepare something from a different perspective – maybe with less book learning stuff. If you ARE interested in the other sermon though, I encourage you to just google revjanepage and Who Goes There? It will pop up.
Since I wasn’t going to use science as a resource, I decided to use YOU as a source – so I asked folks on Facebook to respond to the question, “Who Are You?” in two sentences or less but not answer with your name. I got some interesting responses.
Most of the responses included various roles you were in – including mother, father, grandmother, professor, veteran, student, friend, and spouse. Some included other categories of identity such as female, heterosexual, Christian, Buddhist, Taurus, black Irish, and English. And many of you included personal characteristics like healthy, happy, spiritual, sarcastic, and loving, (some specifying WHAT they loved like animals, nature, poetry, friends, sunshine, and ME).
Tanya Carden shared that every time I asked that question (meaning she DID remember the sermon from six years ago), she thought of Tolkien’s character, Tom Bombadil. And Tanya gave me permission to use her name in sharing this.
" 'Who are you, Maser' [Frodo] asked.
" 'Eh, what?' said Tom, sitting up, and his eyes glinting in the gloom. 'Don't you know my name yet? That's the only answer. Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?'"
I am one small thread in the tapestry of life, less vibrant than many, less entangled than some, yet still vital to the part of the picture woven around me.
And I thought – well, that’s my sermon. I’ll just pull this from Tolkien and go from there. So, I tried to find the entire quote – and I found the first part where Tom responds to Frodo. But I couldn’t find that last part about the tapestry of life. I put the quote in google – and that usually works – but nothing came up. So, I went to the passage where Tom was responding to Frodo to see if it was after that – and it was not. So, I thought – well, maybe Tanya was doing that from memory, and she misremembered what it said. I messaged her to ask for her help in pointing me to where I could find that passage and whether it was Frodo who said it. And she responded, “Oh, that was all me.” I should have known – because there were no quotation marks around it.
So, our prophet is not Tolkien – it’s Tanya!
Let me read that prophetic quote from Tanya again:
“I am one small thread in the tapestry of life, less vibrant than many, less entangled than some, yet still vital to the part of the picture woven around me.”
Now, of course, Tanya’s not the first person in the world to talk of the tapestry of life. Others have used this metaphor in slightly different ways.
The poet Maya Angelou said:
“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”
And Marilyn S. Bateman wrote:
“On a clear day we can see forever and ever. We know where we came from and why we are here on earth and where we ultimately are going. The threads woven into the fabric of our lives are beginning to create a beautiful tapestry.”
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:
“Destiny itself is like
a wonderful wide tapestry in which every thread is guided by an unspeakable
tender hand, placed beside another thread and held and carried by a hundred
And there are many others – all good – and perhaps all worthy of other sermons. But Tanya’s was different in that it especially showed the significance of each thread in the tapestry and the metaphor used each thread as an individual’s life in the bigger tapestry of life. Most importantly, Tanya points out that her thread – though it may be less vibrant than some, though less entangled than some – was still VITAL to the part of the picture woven around her.
So, who is Tanya? She’s a VITAL part of the tapestry of life. It would not be the same without her. And the same is true of you and me.
At Christmas time, I always love to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his personal dreams, in order to help others in his community. But he feels like a failure because of the failure of the savings and loan company and the money that is owed. His imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence. Clarence shows George how he, George, has touched the lives of others and how different life would be for his wife Mary and his community of Bedford Falls if he had not been born. I love this film because it demonstrates that we all make a difference – for better or worse – we change the world.
President Biden recently shared how George Floyd’s little girl said, “My daddy changed the world.” And indeed, he did. As did the young teenager who videoed his death, and the police officers who were finally able to cross that blue line and share with the jury that this action in opposition to their training and good policing. For once, there was some accountability. And there were many individuals who made a difference – including those who took to the streets last summer, even during a pandemic, to say – we will not be silent about this. We demand accountability. We demand justice. Everybody working together made a difference. It took every thread – some more vibrant than others – but every thread mattered. Every thread was a vital part of this piece of the tapestry of life.
Tanya’s quote includes the words, “still vital to the part of the picture woven around me.” What are the pictures that include your thread? Family, work, friendship, your congregation? You may not have a statue erected to commemorate your life – and even if you did – it my come down some day, as some should. But these parts of the picture are different because you are there – and here.
I spent most of my teaching career at Georgia Southern. And when I stepped down as Department Chair to focus more on preparing for ministry, the dean tried to get the Department to buy one of those bricks in the little garden area by the College of Education in my honor. I told them not to do it, that I didn’t need a brick. It became kind of a joke – and when we had our little departmental party at the end of the year, they presented me with a real brick that had this written on it with magic marker. Jane Page wuz (spell out) here. And we laughed – and I kept it in my office till I retired in 2005. Then I thought – what should I do with this brick? So, I took it to the women’s bathroom on the second floor and put it there on the counter by the sink. I think it’s still there. One day, someone will be cleaning up who never heard of me and throw it away – and that is okay. Because if you’ve spent any time at Georgia Southern as a student, faculty, or staff member – you have made a difference in that part of the picture of the big tapestry of life.
In some of our communities or “pictures in the tapestry,” we may have good intentions, but our thread and the direction that we take it may have a negative impact for others, and we need to evaluate that impact and move in a different direction. When I was part of the Meadville Lombard Theological School Community (perhaps still wearing my Professor hat), I criticized a book in class which perhaps prompted other students to continue in a very negative direction – including our instructor – and then found out that what we had done had been extremely painful for one among us. We took a break, and I immediately went to this friend and said, “I’m so sorry. You know my heart. I would never have intended to hurt you.” And we hugged. But I later came to understand that I needed to look at the impact of my actions, not just my intent, and I did and worked hard to change myself and the culture of that community (which like most of our institutions was still deeply flawed by systemic racism and white supremacy culture). For better or worse, in that community, what I was doing was making a difference.
And the same is true of your presence in these congregations. Now some have many visible threads over a substantial period of time. We’ve had several folks in the last year or so who have needed to step back from leadership roles, and we are so appreciative of their service and their continued presence among us. They have made a big difference. And new folks coming in are stepping up to fill these leadership roles and move us forward. Others may not be able to lead – but their very support and presence in our mission is VITAL – to quote Tanya once more. VITAL. We need all of you.
I think Barnwell’s song does a good job of sharing who we are as Unitarian Universalists. She says:
We are mothers of courage and fathers of time,
we are daughters of dust and the sons of great visions,
we’re sisters of mercy and brothers of love,
we are lovers of life and the builders of nations,
we’re seekers of truth and keepers of faith,
we are makers of peace and the wisdom of ages.
We are our grandmothers’ prayers
and we are our grandfathers’ dreamings,
we are the breath of our ancestors,
we are the spirit of God.
Regardless of your theology – we are the breath and spirit of all that we proclaim as holy and sacred in this Tapestry of Life.
My challenge to you today is for you to consider how you might contribute to this part of the tapestry of life. We have lots of opportunities for your thread to be woven into our UU picture. And we will be grateful. I’m SO grateful that I’m going to sing you a song of gratitude to end this message.
Oh, we give thanks
For each precious soul
Threads red, green, blue, brown, purple, and gold!
For the very young - to the very old
Oh, we give thanks
For each precious soul.
Amen and Blessed Be!