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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Our Six Sources, Musically: The Annual Choir Service

Presented by The PBUUC Choir with The Great Noise Ensemble, and Michael Holmes, Guest Conductor David Chapman, Music Director and pianist with Rev. Diane Teichert and Celinda Marsh, Worship Associate


Why Sources?

A homily preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

On the occasion of the performance of Sources: A Unitarian Universalist Cantata

by Jason Shelton, words by Kendyl Gibbons

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

June 2, 2013

Unitarian Universalism evolved in the twentieth century, moving away from its Protestant roots and attracting people of diverse theological beliefs but a common ideal about how to live in the world. So, it made total sense that in 1984 and 1985, our association of congregations adopted a set of seven principles by which to live and a set of five sources from which to draw, adding the sixth in 1995. The UU movement needed to define itself, or it would disintegrate. Indeed, around then it was in or entered a period of membership growth that continued into the 21st century, while the Protestant denominations declined.

Greater self-definition can be empowering, as we know for ourselves as individuals.

However, a couple years ago, Unitarian Universalist membership began to decline too, and some could see it coming. In response, in 2005, we put out a question about the Sources, “What is our center? What holds us together theologically?” We concluded that there isn’t a cohering, central belief, which I think is true, and okay. And since then, we invited ourselves to review and perhaps revise the seven Principles  -- they were left as they are, which is just fine with me.

(If you want to follow or get in on the course of these kinds of deliberations among us, you need to join our Denominational Affairs team at PBUUC, watch the live-streaming or videos of, or attend, our annual national gathering called General Assembly held each year in June, this year in Louisville, or nominate yourself to serve on the national UU Commission on Appraisal, which conducts the consideration of such big questions).  

I think now that those were not the right questions. I think what we need now is to be able to go deeper into our Six Sources and tap them more directly in our living into the Seven Principles. That’s the challenge we face. Not one of definition. One of depth.

Just as many of us feel our daily lives are scattered and even shallow, drawing from six sources in order to live out seven principles is just too much. Our openness to diverse sources is appealing, but is it sufficiently sustaining?

It sure would be a unique person who could draw deeply from six different sources at any one point in their lives. Especially since one of them, the Third Source, encompasses all of the world’s religions! Who would have the time or patience to be that reflective?

One could draw deeply from all six sources including many different religions, over the course of a lifetime, but it would have to be a long and attentive lifetime! Instead, I suggest that we each must go deeper into fewer Sources, even while we welcome and learn from those who are going deeper into other Sources. 

Going deeper requires paying attention to what is beneath the surface of your daily life, and tapping the resources of our sources to live that life more fully. To go deeper, you may need to choose one source – okay, you can double-major if you want, or have a major and a minor – in a given period of your life. To go deeper, you may need to do some serious study, and self-study. Some are afraid to look inside and find longstanding problems that need attention – they would rather focus on other people’s foibles and follies. To go deeper, we may need to study together and share more intimately with each other. To go deeper, we must commit deeply. Will you? To go deeper is to tap sources that will sustain us for richer, more engaged lives. Will you?

Once they’d finished all Six Sources, the composer Shelton and the lyricist Gibbons realized the work still needed a concluding movement to answer the question: What holds these diverse theological roots together?

During her sabbatical Gibbons had been visiting African American churches on the north side of Minneapolis on Sunday mornings. “I just loved it,” she says. “Their choirs sing all the time, constantly in the background. One morning the choir and congregation were repeating this simple refrain, and five or six teenagers got up and did a rap about Jesus. And I thought, that’s what we need to do for a finale. But do we have the nerve?”

She called down to Nashville. “I know what we have to do: hip hop.” You could have heard a pin drop at the Shelton house, he recalls. “Uh, really? OK, now I’m nervous, Kendyl.” Up till then he’d been calling all the musical shots.

“Ok, let’s reach out to the young adult UU leadership and see who’s out there. Who are the young hip hop artists in Unitarian Universalism?”

They found Justice Whitaker, then a leader of Five.12 Collective in Brooklyn NY, which creates films and hip-hop music with a message. Whitaker hadn’t been involved with church since leaving home in 2000 to travel, then to attend New York University. As a child he’d attended the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Luis Obispo County, California, and he’d loved being involved in district and national organizations for youth and people of color as a teen. He definitely wanted to be part of this—UU hip hop.

So, the closing movement came together:  Gibbons wrote the words, and Shelton the music, for a repeating refrain. Whitaker came down to Nashville for the Cantata premiere and, Shelton says, brought the house down with his contribution.

Jason Shelton says, “What makes us whole is the promise: We will honor each of these paths and be grateful for what they are and how they ennoble who we are.”

In just a few moments, we will hear the seventh movement, “The Promise.”

(The story of the composition was taken from UU World Magazine, Summer 2008 also found at http://www.uuworld.org/life/articles/108002.shtml and in Sources: A Unitarian Universalist Cantata: Background and Performance Notes by Jason Shelton).

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