The Soul Matters theme for November is Holding History, and Scott Taylor shares a rabbinic wisdom story to illustrate the importance of “holding” our history.
A disciple asks the rebbe: “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rebbe answers: “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So, we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.”
The wisdom in this story reminds us that educating ourselves about our history, personal and culturally, isn’t enough. It isn’t until we willing to accept the past by taking it into our hearts, so we fully grieve, forgive, confess, and redeem the past through apology and restitution.
It is disheartening to witness the overt refusal of so many people in our country to accept the ugly truth of our nation’s history to the degree that books that tell the truth are being banned from school curriculums. When I heard that one of the targeted books is Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I was outraged. The story in her first novel, The Bluest Eye, broke open my heart and continues to drive my commitment to do the difficult work of becoming an anti-racist. While I was serving our congregation in Chattanooga, I enrolled in an African American Literature class and was introduced to Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and more. Through these authors, I was introduced to the racist history of America that was not taught when I was growing up. And I know that one college class doesn’t make me an anti-racist.
Yesterday, UUC Asheville’s staff went on a Hood Huggers driving tour designed to teach the past, present, and future history of African Americans in Asheville led by founder, DeWayne Barton whose vision behind this innovative enterprise is “rebuilding Affrilachia through art, environment, and social enterprise.” The history we learned on this tour is a story of resilience and ingenuity while exposing how systemic racist policies and practices closed and bulldozed the all-black Stevens-Lee High School in 1965. Sadly, desegregation of schools did not improve the lives of blacks, in 2019 Asheville city schools ranked fifth in the nation in the achievement gap between whites and blacks and according to DeWayne, this has not improved.
Although you have been doing a great deal of work in this area already, one of the goals of the interim period is to address this issue and is directly stated in my contract:
1.5 Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, and Multicultural Awareness: The Congregation and the Interim Minister are committed to understanding the ways systems of oppression within and beyond our Congregation are perpetuated and agree to collaborate on the development of a joint process of reflection and growth to ensure progress. This includes, but is not limited to, the ways in which the characteristics of dominant cultures live in our practices, systems procedures, and our very lives.
Your board of directors will be studying together Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be an Anti-Racist, in addition to working monthly with Rev Claudia to examine the existing “equity footprint” of UUC Asheville’s system of governance.
The Holding History theme provides an opportunity to reflect on our personal histories as well. Scott Taylor writes, “Remembering who we want to be is tied up with remembering where we’ve come from. Holding on to our roots keeps us rooted. It also keeps us connected to gratitude and humility.”
You don’t have to be in a small group to explore the rich resources and opportunities of this month’s theme. If you would like to receive a copy of the Holding History packet, send an email to email@example.com. I’d be delighted to share it with you, and to entice you, I offer this poem from the packet by Jo Harjo: https://poets.org/poem/remember-0.
In faith and love,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister