12/25/2006

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Breaking the rules A 1997 sermon by Martha Niebanck recalls Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley: Breaking social rules, sometimes just even talking about our culture and the meanings of what we say and do takes courage. I had an experience this summer at Star Island that brought this message home. I still haven’t learned all there is to learn from the experience. Two weeks before I went to Star Island for a week with religious educators I was driving home from the Doolittle Home one Friday and went into Building 19. That’s my Friday afternoon ritual. I saw a CD of Sweet Honey in the Rock, called Sacred Grounds and played it when I arrived home. The first song, “I Remember, I Believe” left me in tears the first time I heard it. I couldn’t explain it but I was drawn to that song. I played it again and again for the next two weeks, imagining getting a singing group together to sing it for the talent show. In my past years at Star Island, I had always waited to be invited to sing with other people, so to initiate a singing group was new for me. I wasn’t sure of the rules, the conventions involved in inviting singers, of ignoring the choir director, of getting men and women to sing together instead of the usual women’s singing group. I didn’t think about it consciously, but the sense that I was in new social territory gave me a vague uneasiness. The theme speaker that week was the Reverend Marjorie Bowens-Wheatly, an African-American woman who is the affiliate minister at the Community Church in New York. She spoke each morning about the challenges of making our communities diverse. She spoke about the need for African Americans to define and control their own culture rather than to simply...