What does it mean to be a people of ancestry? The American writer Ralph Ellison said, “Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values.”
This is a new view for many of us:
It’s a big difference. As Ralph Ellison notes, when we choose our ancestors, we choose to see ourselves differently: through the lens of the way they lived, through the lens of the values we aspire to!
Take success, for example. There’s an old line that challenges the sense of privilege and entitlement some of us have: “He was born on third base but believes he hit a triple.” For those of us who live with privilege, choosing to see ourselves through the lens of ancestry means remembering how we really got to third base. . . People of ancestry to recognize that we arrived there because we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.
Ancestor-conscious people speak of blessings differently, too. They look at their blessings and choose to see not only a gift, but also a responsibility. It’s one thing to gratefully celebrate the blessings passed on to us; it’s quite another to be so grateful for those blessings that we ensure they get passed on to others. To be a people of ancestry means recognizing that something of value has been entrusted to you and that there is a long line of people behind you counting on you to pass it on.
To be a People of Ancestry, then, is to know ourselves as part of something larger—a network of gifts and obligations rooted in our most cherished values, and lived out across the generations. We are part of a story, not just a set of random happenings. Our choices tell the next chapter. Ancestors plop life’s incomplete and sometimes intimidating endeavors in our laps and say, “We’ve done our part and taken it as far as we can. The next step of the journey is in your hands.”
This month, in honor of our Soul Matters theme “A People of Ancestry,” consider whom you claim as ancestors, and what legacy they have left for you. What legacy, what challenge? And what gifts will you pass on to those who come after you?
The information above was adapted from the Soul Matters packet provided to us via www.soulmatterssharingcircle.com
I was looking through the readings in our grey UU hymnal when I stumbled across a litany by Audre Lorde, who was, in her own words, a "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”
I was drawn to the power of her words in “We Were Never Meant to Survive” which appears in the Peace, Justice, and Equity section in the back of our hymnal. As I read her words, I was moved to tears by my sense of the truth of her words, “For all of us this instant and this triumph—we were never meant to survive.” Let the weight of those words sink in. If you find yourself among the “we” Lorde refers to, you were never meant to survive. At times throughout history those considered among the ‘not meant to survive’ banner have included people of color, feminists, religious heretics, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. When I think about the sacrifices and struggles waged by those who came before and today, so that we can be who we are and where we are today, I am awed. We are free not only to survive, but to thrive.
For me, the power of this reading is its ability to connect each of us with the struggles for survival waged by oppressed people over time. Today, I find this connection to our spiritual, religious, political ancestors inspiring and energizing. If I take to heart the struggles waged for my benefit and others, I feel moved to increase my efforts to overcome fear, violence, and oppression in its current forms. This, I believe, is what Lorde intended. Her words encourage each of us to remember and honor the work of those who came before and to speak out against oppression despite our fear.
Whether you feel yourself among the oppressed or not, the questions each of us must ask begins with: Can I stand in solidarity with the oppressed? What would it mean to create a community where everyone’s survival and freedom mattered? What do I feel called to do to promote peace, justice, and equity in the world? Many here at UU Church West have found a way to join in creating a more just world. It is my hope that each of us find a way to remember, speak, and act to dismantle oppression. The struggle continues!
“The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.” —Rabindranath Tagore
From Be the Change by Stephen Shick, p. 23. Call No. 261.8 Shi.
On our Unitarian Universalist ancestors:
“Keepers of the dream will come again and again, from what humble places we do not know, to struggle against the crushing odds, leaving behind no worldly kingdom, but only a gleam in the dark hills to show how high we may climb. Already there have been many such heroes — women and men whose names we do not know, but whose words and deeds still light the path for us.” —H. G. Wenzel, Unitarian Universalist layperson.
From A Chosen Faith by John A. Behrens and Forrest Church, p. 56. Call No. 230.91 Bue.
“The blossoms of today draw strength from the roots of a thousand years ago.”— Japanese poem
From Quotations from the Wayside edited by Brenda Wong, p. 51. Call No. 242.4 Won.
“Along with the civil and metaphysical history of man, another history goes daily forward — that of the external world in which he is not less strictly implicated. He is the compound of time …. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
From Emerson’s Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, p. 17. Call No. 814.3 EME.
On the origin of myths:
“… the bold conjectures and myths that the human mind produces in its quest for knowledge ultimately come from something far deeper than a purely human source. They come from the wellspring of nature itself, from the universal unconscious that is bringing forth through the human mind and human imagination its own gradually unfolding reality.”
From The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas, p. 436-437. Call No. 190 - T189 TAR.
“What lies behind you and what lies before you are tiny matters compared to what lies within you.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson.
From Quotations from the Wayside edited by Brenda Wong, p. 87. Call No. 242.4 Won.
“Mothers and fathers are expected to screen virtually every aspect of their children's lives …. It isn’t that parents can’t say no, but that there is so much more to say no to … [We] once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise them in opposition [to the culture].”
From The Gift of Faith by Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar, p. 19. Call No. 268.4 Nie.