Fragmentation: Fellowship Church, July 27

Kathryn BentonThe theme of the July 27 worship service at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples was fragmentation.

Following the opening piano prelude by Dr. Carl Blake, the Gathering of Community began with Expressing a Sense of Awe, during which Dr. Kathryn Benton affirmed, “All that is given us is our life. It is more than enough.”

The congregation then sang, “We Celebrate the Web of Life.”

We celebrate the web of life, its magnitude we sing,
For we can see divinity in every living thing.

A fragment of the perfect whole in cactus and in quail,
As much in tiny barnacle as in the great blue whale.

Of ancient dreams we are the sum, our bones link stone to star,
And bind our future worlds to come with worlds that were and are.

Respect the water, land, and air which gave all creatures birth,
Protect the lives of all that share the glory of the earth.

Then the Invoking the Presence involved a responsive reading, “From the Fragmented World,” which affirms:

From the fragmented world of our everyday lives we gather together to search of wholeness.

By many cares and preoccupations, by diverse and selfish aims are we separated from one another and divided within ourselves.

Yet we know that no branch is utterly severed from the Tree of Life that sustains us all.

We cherish our oneness with those around us and the countless generations that have gone before us.

We would hold fast to all of good we inherit even as we would leave behind us the outworn and the false.

We would escape from bondage to the ideas of our own day and from the delusions of our fancy.

Let us labor in hope for the dawning of a new day without hatred, violence, and injustice.

Let us nurture the growth in our own lives of the love that has shone in the lives of the greatest of men and women, the rays of whose lamps still illumine our way.

In this spirit we gather,
In this spirit we pray.

Practicing the Presence began with a meditation offered by Dr. Dorsey Blake, followed by the congregation singing, “Let There Be Light.”

Let there be light, let there be understanding,
Let all the nations gather, let them be face to face.

Open our lips, open our minds to ponder,
Open the door of concord opening into grace.

Perish the sword, perish the angry judgment,
Perish the bombs and hunger, perish the fight for gain.

Let there be light, open our hearts to wonder,
Perish the way of terror, hallow the world God made.

Rev. Elizabeth Olson then offered a prayer that included: “Listen within for the truth to emerge. Let us have the ears to hear. May we inspire and infuse one another with the Spirit.”

Resting in the Presence opened with Dr. Carl Blake playing an adagio Music Meditation by Marcello-Bach, following by The Word on fragmentation and wholeness that was presented by Dr. Benton. She spoke of the tension between the particular and the universal, between the parts and the whole. She then cited examples and described how labels are oppressive and contribute to fragmentation, as we are reduced to particular roles as we move through the course of life. This compartmentalization results in fragmented realms, as we “cease to be a coherent whole.”

But when we relate to others as whole persons, it is the space between us, our relationships, that enables us to act. She then quoted from Howard Thurman about the value of “binding community,” which enables us to see pain as “joy becoming.” With this attitude, we are “never static or complete” and experience a “constant unfolding.” With this grounding, “we cannot tolerate injustice,” and “we are part of the single rhythm, the single pulse.”

Courtney Brown facilitated the Offering Our Gifts, which included Announcements by Bryan Caston and various members of the congregation, and the welcoming of visitors.

Sending Forth began with the congregation singing “We Laugh, We Cry.”

We laugh, we cry, we live, we die;
we dance, we sing our song.
We need to feel there’s something here
to which we can belong.

We need to feel the freedom
just to have some time alone.
But most of all we need close friends
we can call our very own.

And we believe in life,
and in the strength of love;
and we have found a need
to be together.

We have our hearts to give,
we have our thoughts to receive;
and we believe that sharing
is an answer.

4. We seek elusive answers to
the questions of this life.
We seek to put an end to all
the waste of human strife.

We search for truth, equality,
and blessed peace of mind.
And then, we come together here
to make sense of what we find.

And we believe in life,
and in the strength of love;
and we have found a joy
being together.

And in our search of peace,
maybe we’ll finally see:
even to question truly
is an answer.

After which Dr. Benton offered the blessing and Dr. Carl Blake closed with a piano postlude.

Belva Davis Promotes Fellowship Church

DSC02012During the Announcements period of the July 20 service, long-term attendee, illustrious and now-retired TV news personality Belva Davis proposed a “Social Media Project” as a way to increase attendance at the historic Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. Following the service she distributed a one-page statement that elaborated on her proposal.

Commenting “we are fortunate in so many ways,” she declared:

We have two world class ministers who write and preach timely, visionary and compassionate sermons.

We have a congregation sprinkled with artistically talented individuals.

Finally, we are blessed with the legacy and brilliance of Howard Thurman.

Given this foundation, she suggested:

I thought if each of us who attend on Sundays posted a short note on our Facebook page, or tweeted a message about what impressed us about that week’s service or a Thurman quote and provided a link to the Fellowship website or Facebook page maybe a few people might respond by visiting a service. There is no dogma here, no religiosity intended.

Belva’s initiative comes in the wake of the leadership provided by new Board Chair Bryan Caston, who has helped the church turn a corner and exhibit an invigorated spirit.

DSC02009You can stay in touch with Belva by “liking” her Facebook page and sending a Friend request to Belva Davis.

For more information about Fellowship Church see my prior posts, Fellowship Church: July 6, 2014 and A Meditation on Deep Community



Transform and “Oneness”

The July 15 Transform: Spirituality and Social Change class focused on “oneness.” Conducted by Liza Rankow, it was another stimulating and rewarding event. A diverse group of sixteen individuals participated. As with the Faith and Feet training last weekend, three-fourths of the participants were women.

As I discussed in “Faith and Feet Reflections,” I failed to hear much self-criticism at that training. Last night, however, I heard more acknowledgement of personal weakness. In the full group, one participant referred to his falling short in his efforts to truly love others. One revealed a serious health issue. In my small breakout group which discussed “What does this worldview demand of you in your daily life,” participants spoke of their struggles with empathizing too strongly with the pain of others, reacting with too much anger at the actions of others, and becoming too self-centered. These and other instances of honest self-revelation were heartening, for I find the common reluctance to be open unfortunate.

One participant spoke honestly about his not understanding the key concept of oneness. “I get interconnectedness,” he said. “But I still feel separate. It’s still me acting.” I tried to help clarify the paradox by discussing my understanding of the difference between a distinction and a dichotomy (which separates). We can be full, distinct selves and still be at one with the universe. Afterwards, it struck me that I could have discussed my sense of being infused with that which I call “the Mystery that energizes and structures the universe,” or what others have called “the life force.” We can feel in harmony with that force and committed to honor its purpose: to evolve. Then, just now, I consulted the dictionary and found two helpful definitions for oneness: “the fact or state of being unified or whole, though comprised of two or more parts,” and “the state of being completely united with or a part of someone or something.” Regardless, the issue raised by that participant is crucial. It seems that we need to work on how to communicate more clearly our sense of oneness in a way to nurtures a “both-and” perspective rather than “either-or.”

For me, it does not work to say, as one participant did, “Ultimately we’re creating this oasis within ourselves.” That statement reminds me of Rumi’s, “There is no need to go outside.” That perspective is common among mystics. But those statements strike me as too individualistic. When I go inside I go outside automatically. And I feel that I am co-creating a communal oasis with the Great Spirit and my fellow humans in community.

At the moment, that co-creation is largely informal. The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples does provide me with some sustenance. But as I discussed in “A Meditation on Deep Community,” I would prefer a more intentional structure that provides a safe haven that nurtures deep spiritual growth, including a commitment to changing root causes of suffering, including national policy.

In my forthcoming book, My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography, I discuss that issue extensively and suggest twelve concrete, practical steps for how we can move in that direction. But the dehumanizing forces of modernization are so powerful, I do not expect that kind of holistic organizing to flourish. Reporting on one’s honest self-examination to others, even if with trusted allies, can be a difficult barrier that most people decline to cross. As James Baldwin said:

A day will come when you will trust you more than you do now and you will trust me more than you do now. We will trust each other. I do believe, I really do believe in the New Jerusalem. I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous and people are not yet ready to pay.

But who knows? Maybe even within my lifetime I will be surprised. I did note some glimmers of hope in last night’s class.

In the meantime, I’ll try to be open, available, and responsive, and will continue to explore what others are doing, such as Generation Waking Up. I learned about that project from Joshua Gorman at last week’s Transform class and plan to participate in their intergenerational WakeUp Experience with artists, changemakers, and passion-filled community members of all ages Thursday, July 24, 6:30 pm, Humanist Hall 390 27th Street in Oakland.

Their impressive website, which affirms changing “the system,” declares:

Across cultures and generations, we are forming a planet-wide ‘Movement of movements’ including every issue, approach, and sector of society that is remaking our world…. Our generation’s calling is clear: to create a thriving, just, sustainable world that works for all, we must take bold and systemic action to transform our whole society.

Their post on a workshop “Collective Liberation in Boston” reports:

Through both critical theory and experiential processes, they inquired deeply into what it will take to shift from chaos and disconnection to diverse, thriving community, and how to inspire political, cultural, and social transformations to make the vision of anti­-oppression and community a reality. Barbara drew the experiential content from Joanna Macy’s powerful body of work, the Work that Reconnects. The Work that Reconnects draws from deep ecology, systems theory, and spiritual traditions to build motivation, creativity, courage and solidarity for the transition to a sustainable human culture.

Though I find this project encouraging, I did note one item that concerns me. The site also quotes Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

The use of the word “never” is the first red flag. Absolute terms are usually a sign of sloppy thinking.

But more fundamentally, Gandhi and King would never have made that statement. I prefer the Gandhi-King approach. Nevertheless, I’ll go to the July 24 WakeUp Experience with abundant curiosity.

Faith & Feet Reflections

After participating in a 12-hour training with Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a nationally-known trainer, organizer, and author of a new book titled Faith-rooted Organizing, I sent the following email to Rev. Deborah Lee, who works with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, a co-sponsor of the training.

“Faith-rooted” activists are out front about their faith, whereas “faith-based” organizing merely uses traditional secular methods to organize members of spiritual communities.


Dear Deborah,

Thanks again for a wonderful training in faith-rooted organizing. I found the twelve hours to be very beneficial. Because I deeply appreciate the direction you, Alexia, and the others are taking, I asked Alexia to inform me about how I can keep in touch with future developments concerning with her “un-network network.”

One important dimension seemed to be missing, however. In the Sunday night report back, Vanessa Riles commented on the urgent need to address “internalized oppression.” The written report from that group articulated this question, “How do we support each other in having deeper faith?” I don’t believe the training responded to those urgent matters.

As I see it, we need to deal with those issues not merely with “leadership development” (as the CLUE approach does). We also need to openly encourage all of our members to address those issues and offer them user-friendly tools that can help in that regard – tools that can be easily replicated by others elsewhere. We need to address spiritual needs as well as economic needs.

My interpretation of original sin, crucifixion, and resurrection is that human beings are essentially flawed, limited, and afflicted with contradictions. We inevitably “trespass” against others. To minimize those transgressions, we need to acknowledge our mistakes, at times face-to-face. If we do, we can grow spiritually and in certain ways become like new, or reborn. She not busy being born is busy dying. Crucifixion and resurrection are two sides of the same coin.

Activists are guilty of many sins in terms of how they treat one another, the general public, and themselves. We need to do more than learn how to communicate more effectively. We also need to learn how to actualize ourselves more fully and minimize those mistakes. As Van Jones once said, “We need to be more confessional and less pro-fessional.”

This commitment to self-examination and self-criticism is key to my spiritual faith. I believe spiritual activists need to be out-front and up-front about a commitment to fostering spiritual growth with one another.

On my way home, I read the last chapter of Alexia’s book. It talks about providing spiritual sustenance to the staff. And I see that faith-rooted organizing uses spiritual rituals in its public events. That’s all well and good. Those activities are designed to help with burnout and discouragement. They provide spiritual comfort.

But spiritual growth is not always so easy. It often requires painful introspection. I heard nothing about that during our twelve hours and I saw nothing about it in the last chapter of that book, where it would have fit. I find this lack a serious deficit in your approach.

If I am wrong about my impressions, please correct my misunderstanding. Otherwise, I urge you to consider deepening your approach.

I attach the Meditation that I presented at the Church for the Fellowship of all Peoples Sunday. It touches on some of those issues.

Feel free to share this with Alexia.

Keeping faith,

A Meditation on Deep Community

Earlier today, during the Meditation segment of the Sunday morning worship service at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, I presented the following:

Fellow members of the priesthood of all believers, good morning.

Writing my autobiography led me to reflect on what I really want. I concluded that what I really want is deep community. So I titled the book, My Search for Deep Community.

My first experience with deep community was the civil rights movement, which was committed to reforming national policy from a holistic attitude that affirmed the whole person. As Gandhi’s movement was rooted in a spiritual community dedicated to the self-development of its members, the civil rights movement was rooted in the Black Church whose members supported one another in a joyous, profound celebration of life. Us white folks weren’t merely fighting for the rights of African-Americans. We were fighting to help one another save our souls by attacking a major root cause of injustice: the government in Washington.

I would like to experience deep community again. So I decided to increase my commitment to Fellowship Church. Given the history of this church, I figure there’s no better foundation for my search.

• When we go down deep to the ground of our being, we automatically engage with all humanity and all life. We drop our masks. We get down to who we really are: a human being interwoven with all reality.
• When we get down to that ground, we don’t stand alone. Our roots are interwoven with other roots.
• So when others suffer we suffer and we want to help relieve that suffering.
• Relieving suffering requires addressing root causes, getting deep.
• Addressing root causes requires correcting national policies that are the source of so much suffering.
• If we see a child drowning, we don’t tell her to pray. We change her environment.
• Changing those national policies requires building massive popular power by expanding the beloved community so that its reach is larger, which will enable its roots to grow more deeply.
• Building that power requires a long-term vision of how we can fundamentally restructure our society into a compassionate, truly democratic community.
• That restructuring requires a strategy for building momentum by achieving winnable objectives. That was key to the Gandhi-King strategy: a focus on winnable objectives. We can build on and reform what we have rather than trying to tear it down and start over.
• Even when our Congresspersons usually vote the way we want them to vote, there’s still more they can do to use their office as an organizing tool to help build local support for evolutionary revolution. We can talk with them about how we can do that together.
• We have majority support on many important issues, but so far we’ve been unable to persuade Congress to respect the will of the people.
• Building national power will require an improvement in how activists organize, how they relate to one another and the general public.
• That improvement requires ongoing personal growth rooted deeply in the willingness to examine oneself honestly, admit mistakes, and resolve to avoid them in the future.
• That growth requires peer support. Due to the fragmented, frantic, dehumanized nature of modern society, providing mutual support often requires intentional, conscious effort. We need to set aside special time to share a meal, really listen to each other report on our efforts, enjoy each other’s company, have fun together, and brainstorm about how to move forward.
• Without jeopardizing their tax status, non-profit organizations can support their members in making their own decisions about what action to take.
• Growing a national deep community will be enhanced if we develop user-friendly tools, like Alcoholics Anonymous did, that concerned individuals, without going through any elaborate training, can easily use to meet the unmet need for deep connection.
• With those tools, the number of deep communities could spread rapidly.
• Knowing that others were using the same tools would deepen the sense of community.

So that is what I mean by deep community: growing deep roots personally, socially, and politically.

I don’t need deep community to be happy. I can be happy meditating, hanging out with Giants fans, and getting a massage once a month. But I do need deep community to be fulfilled, to become ever more fully who I really am. I feel it is my duty to foster deep community.

But I’ve decided to stop trying to make it happen. Trying to force it doesn’t work.

So I don’t plan to initiate any more formal projects. Rather, I’ll informally study, engage in dialogs, listen carefully, really listen, and write, while remaining open to any invitations from fellow peers to collaborate as equals in efforts to build deep community.

What do I mean by a “peer relationship”? I mean one in which no party considers herself or himself to be superior or inferior, tries to dominate or is willing to submit.

That’s part of what I understand to be a priesthood of all believers. Because I feel that mutual respect here at Fellowship Church, I thank you for the opportunity to commune with you, as we pursue truth, justice, and beauty.


Update on the Book

On July 6, nine months after beginning to write it, I submitted the final manuscript for My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography, to the formatter. I feel good about it. It’s close to as good as I could have done by myself. I look forward to getting feedback about how to improve it and what to do with it.

The only person to have read the entire book, Bob Anschuetz, a retired English professor who provided line editing services for the book, has written the following for the back cover:

In this extraordinary autobiography, lifelong community organizer and social activist Wade Hudson traces his adventurous journey in search of an authentic life rooted in “deep community”—an association with others that combines activities aimed at fostering mutual support for personal growth with active efforts to create a more compassionate society dedicated to the common good. In detailing an amazing array of personal experiences, from community organizing…to involvement in the human-potential experiments of the 1960s counter-culture…to leadership roles in some of the most meaningful social movements of our times…to driving taxi for a living, Hudson shows that the capacities for compassion, caring and authenticity do not come easily. He portrays his own development with rigorous honesty, revealing the many sides of his personality, admitting his mistakes, and acknowledging the ways in which his experiences have changed him. These testimonies from the heart, and the personal struggles they reflect, produce a fascinating life story. They will also encourage readers to develop their own capacity to love themselves and others, and to live their lives more fully by working with others to help build a better world.

Tracy Atkins, who helped with the formatting, commented, “We have enjoyed working with you, and really like your book and what it stands for.  Great job and extraordinary life.”

Though those comments are encouraging, I have no idea what to expect with the book. All I know is that writing it was a great learning experience for me.

Concerning the cover, some 35 individuals gave me feedback to my “Which Cover?” post. I very much appreciate all of the input. It heartens me to see that so many of you care so much about the book.

About 60% of those favored Option B, the one with the yellow and purple background. That was my initial favorite as well. Some of the comments in favor of that option included:

  • I prefer the yellow and purplish cover, Wade…seems to me it represents a “higher learning.
  • Family and I think the bottom cover is a softer look.  Of course, these are all women, who picked the bottom cover. (four of us)!
  • Totally intuitive on my part, but it has a softer, more heart-centered feeling to it, ergo more reflective of the title.

The comments in favor of the “red/orange”option were longer and more substantive. Those comments included:

 “A” the red one . . being placed in the center of the cover instills strength and balance .. the colors are striking and in a book store will make you pick it up. The lower design has you placed ready to slip off that edge. Not so attention grabbing. Nice colors but NOT working well with you slipping off the edge my humble opinion


A is stronger than B because:

1.  It uses a strong, positive colour – a red or orange (true reds, such as crimson (bluish) and vermilion (yellowish) are best for this) – which lends you authority AND makes you more attractive to both men and women – so the psychs say!
2.  It places you centre-stage, where you should be for an auto-bio.
3.  It has you facing in the (conventional, left-to-right reading oriented Western sense) forward rather than backwards.

B gives the impression that you are sadly (blue tones in the violet sky) looking back over your life, perhaps about to cry in your beer that “It was better, back in the day”! 😉


A gives the impression that you’re looking forward confidently to continued successes.


I don’t know Wade.  If your autobiography is mostly addressing spiritual issues then B seems most appropriate. If it is more pragmatic or advice oriented then I would choose A. Spiritual books usually have the misty backgrounds and the bright red looks like a more earth bound manual type of a book.


As to the cover choice, I myself had no trouble deciding on it quickly. Definitely, it’s the top one, both for the type and the layout. A great portrait, by the way. You look like a modern-day Walt Whitman. I would, however, like to see an added line of space between the book title and the top of your hat….

As an addendum to my earlier cover-choice message, my impression is that you SHOULD be looking into space, and not squarely at the reader. To me the book represents you as more of a visionary, or prophet–even a bit of a loner–attached to an uncommon cause (deep community), rather than as simply a good guy looking to make friends wherever they’re available.


Regarding the cover layout, of the two I prefer A, in which  the position of your face invites people to open the book. Suggest a larger and less ornate font for “My Autobiography” – italic is still ok, but find a font that’s more legible, without the curlicues. Regarding background color, my preference would be to stay away from purple / pastels which to me suggest this is a new age or self-help book and do not convey strength the way a strong solid band of color does in A. For the solid band, orange would not be my first choice (perhaps a deep burgundy?) — in any case either color will likely work well to draw the eye and convey a sense of strength.

So I’m going with A, the red/orange option. Thanks again everyone!







Transform: Spirituality & Social Change — July 8

180_Liza180The first of four Tuesday night classes conducted by Rev. Liza J. Rankow, MHS, PhD on July 8 was very beneficial, for me anyway. With a diverse group of about twenty individuals, about half of whom were persons of color, a wealth of resources was abundant in the room. I was encouraged to be with such an impressive group of like-minded individuals.

During introductions, of particular interest to me was Joshua Gorman, who referred to his work with Generation Waking Up, a project with which I was not familiar. After glancing at their website, I am even more intrigued. Their site states:

GENERATION WAKING UP is a global campaign to ignite a generation of young people to bring forth a thriving, just, sustainable world. We strive to:
– Awaken in young people a clear sense of who we are as a generation, an understanding of the urgent global challenges and opportunities we face, and a calling to take action.
– Empower young people with the training, mentoring, and support needed to thrive as global citizens, leaders, and change agents in the 21st century.
– Mobilize young people locally and globally across issues, geography, and all lines of difference, unleashing the collaborative power of our generation.

During the discussion, Joshua asked if participants in the class would be able to interact directly with one another. In response, Dr. Rankow asked Jeremy Sorgen from the Center for Spiritual and Social Transformation, which is co-sponsoring the series with Dr. Rankow’s OneLife Institute, to reactive the comments feature of the class blog. I found that response to be an encouraging affirmation of horizontal communication.

At the end of my introduction, I said I hope to discover concrete, user-friendly tools that activists can use to support one another in their personal growth and political activism that gets at root causes, including the government in Washington.

One comment from the evening that I found especially helpful was a question that Evelyn Rangel-Medina asked: “Why is our activism not a form of prayer?” That statement rang a bell for me. It sums up “spiritual activism” in a way that challenges the conventional use of the word “spiritual” as referring only to inner work, when in fact action in the outer world can be spiritual as well. So, thanks to Evelyn, I no longer consider “spiritual” to be a synonym for “inner.” We can fully integrate the personal and the political.

That question led to other comments about the need to be “tactful” and to learn how to handle anger. Referring to traditional activism, one participant commented, “They’re so angry they’re not getting anywhere.”

Evelyn’s comment sparked in me awareness of one tool for nurturing deep community: language. We can stop referring to our inner work as “spiritual” and our outer work as “political.” Our whole life can be a meditative practice.

The same perspective leads me to question whether we can speak of a direct personal relationship with a “God” that is separate from the world. Rumi wrote, “There is no need to go outside.” But it seems to me that when we go inside we automatically go outside, unless we short-circuit the process with a mental construct. When we go down to the ground of our being we interact with all life.

Toward the end of the class, Dr. Rankow asked the students to select a daily spiritual practice “that stretches you a bit” and then “bring it into relationship with your work in the world.” I resolved to be more disciplined in my walking meditation and to re-start a daily journal.

On my first walking meditation, I reflected on my interest in peer-based mutual support and asked myself “What is a peer?” While alternating my reflections with awareness of my breathing, I came up with the following answer: a peer relationship is one in which no party considers herself or himself to be superior or inferior, tries to dominate, or is willing to submit.

That conclusion led me to a deeper commitment to “the priesthood of all believers.”

Fellowship Church: July 6, 2014

On my way to worship at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples on Sunday, July 6, Rev. Dr. Kathryn L. Benton, Co-Minister and Rev. Dr. Dorsey O. Blake greeted me.







While Board Chair Bryan Caston set up the recording and made notes for his Announcement.







Readying the Spirit
Silent Meditation.
Prelude. Alexander Major played a beautiful prelude on the piano.







Ingathering of Community
Expressing a Sense of Awe
Dr. Dorsey Blake opened the service with the opening lines from “A Garden Beyond Paradise” by Rumi:

Everything you see has its roots
in the unseen world.
The forms may change,
yet the essence remains the same.

Every wondrous sight will vanish,
every sweet word will fade.
But do not be disheartened,
The Source they come from is eternal—
growing, branching out,
giving new life and new joy.

Why do you weep?—
That Source is within you,
and this whole world
is springing up from it.

Music. The congregation sang “Énter, Rejoice, and Come In.” The lyrics included “Open your ears to the song,” “Open your hearts everyone,” and “Don’t be afraid of some change.” Then Dr. Blake coached the congregation to sing the first and fourth verses again, which led to a much livelier rendition!

Invoking the Presence. Dr. Benton read the following poem by Hildegard of Bingen:

Holy Spirit,
giving life to all life,
moving all creatures,
root of all things,
washing them clean,
wiping out their mistakes,
healing their wounds,
you are our true life,
luminous, wonderful,
awakening the heart
from its ancient sleep.

Practicing the Presence
Meditation. Hassaun Ali Jones-Bey reflected on the Fourth of July by riffing on the double meaning of the second syllable of the word “freedom,” which can be heard as “dumb.” He said, “I want to find a way of feeling free without feeling dumb. I would like free from dumb.” He then reflected on how we only have certain degrees of freedom. “There’s something called gravity that keeps me on the ground…. I really don’t want complete freedom…. These constraints, our inter-dependence, are what gives us free-from-dumb rather than free-and-dumb…. We are the founding fathers and founding mothers who have to make this idea of freedom come about…. May I wish you free-from-dumb and interdependence every day from now on. Blessings.

Music. The congregation sang “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” which includes the following lyrics:

Though like the wanderer,
The sun gone down,
Darkness be over me,
My rest a stone,
Yet in my dreams,
I’d be nearer, my God, to thee.

Prayer. Dr. Benton opened the prayer with an excerpt from “Be Melting Snow” by Rumi:

Lo, I am with you always means when you look for God,
God is in the look of your eyes,
in the thought of looking, nearer to you than your self,
or things that have happened to you
There’s no need to go outside.

Nearer to Thee, Great Spirit of this moment, of this place. We welcome your presence into the quietness of this place as we prepare for that moment of prayer. We center ourselves by breathing deeply the breath of life, bringing our heart to that breath. [Silence.] We find ourselves at the altar of the soul within and we pray. We long to be nearer to Thee in our thoughts as we strive to solve the challenges of our days. May we keep you near that we may not only think of ourselves but of all of your creatures, the insects, the birds, the reptiles, the other mammals. May we think also of the plants, the flowers, the trees, the grasses. And may we think also of the elements, water, earth, fire, air. May we remember the whole creation in our thoughts. We long to be nearer to Thee in our feelings, as we strive to love and not hate, as we turn our anger to a passion for all life. May we find on that altar of the soul your deep love for us. As we feel this love may we remember those who are suffering, those whose lives are nearer to us: [six names] and others we name here [silence]. And finally Great Spirit of this moment we long to be nearer to Thee in our actions bringing into our consideration the welfare of all creation, our fellow human beings, those that are homeless, those that are incarcerated, those living in poverty, those living in violence. We bring into our consideration the welfare of the animals, the plants, and the entire Earth. With each act, may we consider the consequences for all life. Nearer to Thee, O God, nearer to Thee than ourselves. There is no need to go outside. Amen.

Resting in the Presence
Music Meditation. Alexander Major

The Word. Dr. Dorsey Blake also reflected on the Fourth of July. First, he began by quoting from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Then he offered this prayer, “Let the words of my mouth that proceed from the meditations of my heart find favor in the heart of the universe and in the heart of those gathered in this place today. Amen.”

Recalling how his grandmother had challenged the notion of “Independence Day” by declaring, “I don’t know why you young black people celebrate Independence Day,” Dr. Blake said, “That prompted me to think about what does it really mean, this Declaration of Independence?” He went on to reflect on how the colonists were revolting against abuses. After trying to resolve them, they were breaking away to form their own government and affirming wonderful ideals. But as Dr. King pointed out, no matter how noble those ideals, how can you pursue happiness if you don’t have a job?

Dr. Blake then quoted from a speech that Frederick Douglass gave on July 4, 1852.

Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?…

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

Go search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Many years later Dr. Thurman would say things very similar when he said the United States would end up being the most hated nation on Earth. Dr. Blake also reflected on Thurgood Marshall’s comment on the bicentennial of the Constitution when he said we should celebrate those who have continued to push for change to enhance human rights.

Today, in this country, even religions are oppressive. As Douglass said, “If you are going to have a slave master, don’t have a Christian one.”

Paul said you should always obey the law of the government. But when Jesus was asked the same question, he gave a different answer. In the midst of a popular revolt against “taxation without representation,” someone asked Jesus if he should pay taxes. Jesus replied by referring to the Roman coin, which had an image of Caesar on one side and an image of the High Priest on the other, and replied, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Jesus refused to sell out those who were revolting by telling people they should pay those oppressive taxes. That challenge was also reflected in his Prayer which affirmed the Kingdom of God on Earth. He refused to sanction loyalty to Rome. He was therefore seen as a threat for good reason.

Yet, Frederick Douglass still had hope. “If he had hope, how can I not have hope?” The Declaration states that when humanity is faced with a long train of abuse, “It is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.” How many abuses have we experienced? Clearly we must act. “I am suggesting we not listen to Paul. He was wrong.” We need to proclaim “a new era. We are called to bring a new kind of community into being.”

Offering Our Gifts
Announcments. Bryan Caston.

Sending Forth
Music. “Love Will Guide Us.” Love will guide us, peace has tried us, hope inside us will lead the way on the road from greed to giving. Love will guide us through the hard night. If you cannot sing like angels, if you cannot speak before thousands, you can give from deep within you. You can change the world with your love.
Blessing. Dr. Dorsey Blake.
Postlude. Alexander Major.

After the service, the ministers greeted the parishioners, including Belva Davis, a local TV news anchor, long time Fellowship Church attender, and former associate of Dr. Howard Thurman and Sue Bailey Thurman.





DSC02030 DSC02031


































And I asked a parishioner if I could photograph the drawings she made during the service.

DSC02029 DSC02028















Then I photographed the books on display for sale downstairs.


DSC02034 DSC02032




Pressed for time, I only stayed briefly for the Social Hour, but I left with my spirit uplifted by a wonderful worship. Then at home, I noticed the following poem by Steven Biko on the back of Sunday’s program:

We regard our living together not as an unfortunate mishap
warranting endless competition among us
but as a deliberate act of God
to make us a community of brothers and sisters
jointly involved in the quest for a composite answer
to the varied problems of life.

NOTE: If you want a digital audio tape of this service, let me know and I can send it to you via