Sep 06 2011
On the wall of the Religious Education building at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley (UUCB), a tree grows, leaf by leaf. Made of fragments of coffee cups, orphaned earrings, broken tiles, watches that stopped ticking long ago, even a few discarded wedding rings, this mosaic Tree of Life evolves as families, partners, friends, and strangers work together to make one whole thing of beauty from the broken bits of individual lives. “We can bring our broken pieces to church,” the Rev. Bill Hamilton-Holway tells congregants at UUCB. The Tree of Life represents unity grown from difference and from brokenness.“How can unity exist without diversity?” a congregant here at the First Unitarian Church of San José asks. What a wonderful theological question! Don’t there have to be differences in order to have something to unite? Then, is there some elemental Oneness that lies below, beyond, or deep within our differences?Humans have asked these questions ever since one culture came into contact withanother. Why are there different languages, customs, and capacities among us human beings?Why are we so fragmented? Why does our communication break down? Stories from the world’s religions—like that of the Tower of Babel in the Hebrew Bible—try to make meaning of these differences. They often say that our differences result from something that we humans did wrong, like being too proud or ambitious.The Unitarian Universalist take on why we have differences is, well, different. Webelieve that everyone holds a piece of the truth. We get at what’s undivided in human nature—and in the universe—by bringing all our pieces together. We need them all for our mosaic. Taken together, our differences can create an even more beautiful whole.In “The Sum of Our Parts,” Rev. Gretchen Haley puts it this way: “In a time when the whole country is retreating to gated communities to be with people who just confirm their own beliefs, and watch television news programs that only confirm everything they already believe …we have the audacity to imagine, to go so far as to live out the proposition that our diversity makes us more unified, rather than less; that being with others who are not like us can make us more connected to something grander, and more a part of something mysterious, and transcendent.”My teacher tells me that in Tai Chi, the human body forms the connecting line between heaven and earth—the place where these energies, or opposites, meet. In the “Five Elements,” we reach our hands toward the earth, draw its energies up through the torso, then fling our hands up toward the sky. We circle them round again until they pause before our eyes, like a mirror.Now that I think of it, the shape we draw resembles a Tree of Life: differences united into something whole. Just as we bring water from our individual journeys to pour into one bowl on Homecoming Sunday, let’s bring our sparkling pieces of the truth, our fragments of beauty, our unique life experiences, and our broken bits to this mosaic we are making—this one Beloved Community.
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