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On Sunday, July 16th we gathered in the sacred space that is All Saints Church for an awesome evening of Jazz Vespers with the brilliant Dawn Bishop. Here is the meditation offered in the service by Susan Russell … following the reading of the Maya Angelou poem “Human Family.”

“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

These words of poet Maya Angelou
are as true today as they were when she wrote them in 1990.
They resonate with the theologies
hat tell us that we all come from one Creator
and that our lives are inextricably woven together
as members of the same human family.
And they exemplify the theories of quantum physics
that we are indeed stardust —
just as Joni Mitchell told us —
and to stardust we shall return.

And yet — poetry and theology and science be damned —
at this moment in our nation
the dominant narrative is polarization rather than interconnection;
the prevailing wisdom is that we have never been more divided;
and the toxic rhetoric of demonization and marginalization of anyone “other”
has fueled the dismantling of systems of mutual support
and threaten the safety nets that protect the most vulnerable.

We indeed are more alike than we are unalike —
and increasingly we are alike in our dismay
at what we see unfolding around us.

And this evening — in the cool, calm, beauty of this sacred space —
surrounded by light and music and community —
I suspect we are alike in our need for a break from it all.
Some respite from the struggle.
Some relief from the rhetoric.
A moment to push the “pause button”
on the cosmic remote control and halt —
for even a few moments —
the assault of what my father used to call “the news of fresh disasters”

We’ve come to the right place.
We’ve come together at this moment — at this time —
to be renewed by the power of music and contemplation;
of reflection and community
to feed us and refuel us for the work ahead.

Here at All Saints Church our mantra is
“whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on the journey
there is a place for you here” …
for we are — as Maya Angelou reminds us —
more alike, my friends, than we are unalike …
and together we can become a force to be reckoned with;
an interconnected people of diversity, passion and power
committed to shared goals of love, justice and compassion.

Hear these words of both hope and challenge
from author, feminist and social activist bell hooks …
words I discovered just last week in a quote
included in the email signature of the awesome Dawn Bishop:

“Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid,
to make us choose safety instead of risk,
sameness instead of diversity.
Moving through that fear,
finding out what connects us,
reveling in our differences;
this is the process that brings us closer,
that gives us a world of shared values,
of meaningful community.”

And one of the deep truths bell hooks speaks to
is the challenge to the false narrative of either/or
that has so permeated our civic, cultural and collective discourse
that we seem to have lost the ability to apprehend
the in-between or the both/and –
succumbing to the misapprehension
that unison is a requirement for unity.

It is a false and dangerous narrative
that builds walls rather than bridges;
that divides into us vs. them
polarizing, demonizing and marginalizing
instead reminding us of the “we”
that makes us all members of the same human family …
a human family where we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

I can think of no richer way to debunk that fallacy
than with the lesson we learn from music …
where unison, harmony and dissonance
all play their part in creating that which calls us beyond ourselves
into a unity that both embraces and transcends our individual experience.

And I can think of no better music
to be the soundtrack for the resistance
to what bell hooks names as Dominator Culture
than Jazz.

Choosing the risk of improvisation over the safety of the composition;
the diversity of dissonance over the sameness of unison;
reveling in differences in a musical journey that brings us closer
in the shared experience of this moment and this time.

We are in the right place.
We have come together at this moment —
at this time —
to be renewed by the power of music and contemplation;
of reflection and community
to feed us and refuel us for the work ahead
as a force to be reckoned with;
an interconnected people of diversity, passion and power
committed to shared goals of love, justice and compassion;
more alike than unalike;
working to turn the human race into the human family.
Amen.

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