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The Faith Quilts Project

 The Faith Quilts Project

First Parish of Sudbury
Rev. Katie Lee Crane, preaching

Hands to work and Hearts to God
The Faith Quilts Project

OPENING WORDS, Rev. Katie Lee Crane

From a card that sits in my office:

  • Assume that in spite of the ways we have been divided, it is possible to reach through those divisions, to listen to each other well and to :change habitual ways of acting which have kept us separated.
    • -Ricky Sherover-Marcuse

UNISON CHALICE LIGHTING

We kindle this flame:
Heat, light, energy,
burning passion,

in this chalice:
the common cup of seeking
humanity;

that we may find a way
to heal injustice
in our world.
               -Suzelle Lynch

READING  Interfaith Dialogue through Play Doh by Christopher Buice

A number of years ago I helped to organize an exhibition by a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks who were touring the country. These monks were here to demonstrate the Tibetan art of butter sculpture. I didn’t know anything about butter sculpture at the time, but I was glad to help organize the event.

Part of my responsibility was to find home hospitality for the monks. One local family with two small children agreed to host two of the monks. The couple was a little nervous because the Tibetans did not speak English well and they did not speak Tibetan at all. Of course their fears turned out to be unwarranted. The Tibetan monks were wonderful guests. They found nonverbal ways of communicating.

During their visit the monks happened to notice the two small children playing with play-doh. The monks got down with the children and started playing with them. The Tibetans and the children played together, molding many different shapes and combining various colors. It turned out that play-doh was a lot like the material the monks used for their butter sculpture. So the children and the monks discovered that they like to play with the same stuff. They laughed and had fun together. They were able to overcome differences of culture, language, age, and religion through their common enjoyment of play-doh.

Adults communicate with words…. But any child psychologist will tell you that play is the language of childhood. Play is how children communicate with one another and make sense of the world. Some theologians would even say that play is how children learn to participate in the larger Creativity in which we live and move and have our being….Adult Christians look to the Bible for meaning, Muslims to the Koran, Hindus to the Vedas, and Buddhists to the Sutras. But children of all faiths find meaning and renewal through play. For them (and for us) play can lead to the renewal of mind, body, and spirit.

PRAYER Crazy Quilt  by Jane Wilson Joyce

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia
is cracked. California is splitting
off. There is no East or West, no rhyme,
no reason to it. We are scattered.

Dear Lord, lest we all be somewhere
else, patch this work. Quilt us
together, feather-stitching piece
by piece our tag-ends of living,
our individual scraps of love.

SERMON         Hands to Work and Hearts to God, Rev. Katie Lee Crane

Let us sew love. (S-E-W as well as S-O-W)

In our world there is most certainly hatred, injury, discord, despair, and sadness, but, blessedly and in spite of everything and everyone that would have us believe otherwise, there is also hope and joy and faith and love. For those of us involved in The Faith Quilts Project it is, quite simply, our small effort to mend the world. Like the Jewish call to tikkun olam  the call to repair the world  we are sewing love, we are mending the world. And we’re doing it with stitches and stories.

Clara Wainwright tells how she felt compelled to do SOMETHING in the days following the attacks of September 11, 2001. One television documentary called "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero" drove home for her the power of faith for both good and evil. It was faith that motivated the attacks, but it was also faith that sustained some who were attacked. It was faith that held out hope for some of us and while others abandoned their faith in the face of despair. As a collaborative quilt-maker for more than fourteen years, Clara turned to her art to find a means of expressing her feelings and fears about the polarization of our world.

It was a simple idea, really. Invite people to make collaborative faith quilts. It might be a quilt made by a single faith community, or perhaps a quilt that represented a dialogue between two or more faith traditions. It could even be a multi-faith quilt such as the two "We Bostonians" quilts in progress for the Boston Public Library. She knew from experience that the process is fun  almost like adult play  but she hoped it would inspire deep thinking about one’s faith and meaningful dialogue. Working with fabric and each other, the process short-circuits some of the usual barriers people encounter when talking with others about subjects so sensitive and personal as one’s faith.

It’s like the story of the Tibetan monks and the American children. Collaborative quilt-making is a form of play that transcends theological, religious, cultural and language barriers. Clara had already been bringing together people to create collaborative quilts. Rarely did the people sew. Nor were they necessarily artists (or, at least, they didn’t think of themselves as artists). Often they had something in common, but seldom did they know each other well. Sometimes they literally did not speak the same language. But what they created together was staggering in its beauty and its power.

I know this because my first encounter with these collaborative quilts was when I attended an exhibit of Clara’s work at the DeCordova Museum a few years ago. I was stunned by my response to some of the quilts. They were like icons, drawing me into something deeper that moved me to a place where I had no words. I returned again and again to see the quilts. And to sit with them, letting them take me to that place. For me, it was a holy place. It was a transforming place. It was one of those experiences when you see or hear or experience something that you know has changed you and the way you make sense of your world.

Quite separately, I came to know Maggie Herzig. Some of you will remember Maggie’s earlier visit to First Parish as our guest during the "Wheel of the Year" exploration of some of the world’s religious traditions. She spoke of her interfaith family: Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist and Muslim. And she spoke of her work at the Public Conversations Project, known as PCP, where she and her colleagues facilitate constructive conversations on difficult issues. Really difficult issues  like pro-life and pro-choice folks talking together…constructively! Just this week’s latest newsletter from PCP offers resources for helping those of us who want to have constructive political conversations with people on "the other side." Knowing of Maggie’s professional and personal interest in interfaith dialogue, Clara reached out to her and The Faith Quilts Project was born.

Now there are dozens of quilts in progress. There are multiple Jewish and Christian quilts and two Islamic Quilts  one of the first was made by our neighbors at the Islamic Center in Wayland. I know of two UU quilts  one at Arlington Street Church (pictured on the cover of your order of service) and another at First Parish in Cambridge. There is a Ba’hai quilt, a Wiccan quilt, and a Mormon Quilt in process. Th
ere’s the quilt made by Gloucester Catholics whose churches are closing and consolidating into one; they stitched something of each congregation into the quilt that will travel to the church that remains open. There’s a marvelous quilt fashioned by one congregation’s youth in conversation with the congregation’s elders about their Judaism. There’s the deeply moving quilt made by people living with Alzheimer’s disease  some of whom forgot even the most basic symbols of their lifelong faith in just the few weeks it took to complete the project. Their words and images are surrounded by a border of self portraits made by loving caregivers. And, then these words across the center: "We remember."

Barry Gaither, Director and Curator of the Museum of the National Center for African American artists is reaching out to the African, African-American, West Indian, Cape Verdean communities seeking quilts representing their voices and faith experiences. Our own youth advisor Kristy Wacek and friends whose spiritual explorations and devotions include the Hindu Goddess, Kali, are beginning a quilt to help them exchange and express the meanings they find through Kali. They hope the process itself will deepen their understandings and facilitate more meaningful conversations in their little intentional spiritual community.

I’m hoping that some of the urban-suburban partnerships, such as those we know of through our membership in Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries might yield some collaborative quilts  like, for example, our own Sudbury United Methodist Church and its partner the Greenwood Memorial United Methodist Church in Dorchester or the Medfield UU congregation and its partner, Bibleway Christian Center in Dorchester. I even dream of a Sudbury Faith Quilt  with all twelve faith communities represented  hanging someday at the Goodnow Library.

The project will culminate in April of 2006 when at least fifty Faith Quilts will be displayed throughout Boston in places like the Cyclorama, Boston City Hall, and the Boston Public Library, the Museum of African-American Art in Roxbury and Cambridge’s Multicultural Arts Center as well as Dorchester’s Codman Square Health Center. Jeremy Alliger, founder of Dance Umbrella, is spearheading the plans for a month-long celebration of Faith, the Arts and Community which, in addition to the display of the Faith Quilts, will include exhibitions and performances of faith-inspired music, dance, art, poetry and film.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And it’s the "what," really, not much about the "who" or the "why."

The project includes lead quilters, artists and dialogue consultants who facilitate each project. But the most important "who" are the folks who come together to explore  together  their respective spiritual journeys and faith traditions. In a day when we hear so much talk about moral values, these people are daring to talk about their values right out loud and then stitch them into a thing of beauty for all the world to see.

It’s a radical thing to talk to one another about faith. And it’s just as radical to listen to one another without judgment.

The Shakers had the expression "hands to work and hearts to God." That’s what this seems like to me. Lord, make us an instrument of thy peace… Let us sew love.  Quilt us together, feather-stitching piece by piece our tag-ends of living, our individual scraps of love.

What happens in the process is part old-fashioned quilting bee, part story-telling, part play and part deep spiritual exploration. And, when all the parts come together it is indescribable. It’s new. It’s beautiful. It undoes all the stereotypes about how we can’t talk to one another about religion. In fact, it’s based on the premise that we MUST talk to one another about religion. Or, risk a broken world, severed and splintered by religious misunderstandings.

When I learned of the project, I literally begged to become involved. I had seen Clara’s quilts. I’d met Maggie and I knew that everything about this project resonates with my deepest call to ministry. I remember telling you when we first met that I sought both ways with words and ways without words to make meanings. It’s why  though I am no artist or dancer  I choose movement meditation as a form of prayer and collage as a form of spiritual journaling. I told you that I believe stories are the way we change the world: one story at a time, one person at a time. Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko says it this way:

I will tell you something about stories,
[he said]
They aren’t just for entertainment.
Don’t be fooled
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.

If we dare to open up to another person with something about ourselves, there is a very strong probability that the other person will dare to open up to us. And so we will dance together, going deeper and deeper into who we are at our core.

This is pretty easy when you are talking with someone who seems a lot like you. Perhaps you have similar educational or cultural backgrounds. Perhaps you share a love of music or computers. Maybe you are both dealing with aging and ailing parents. Or, maybe you are both UUs who grew up in the Catholic or Jewish tradition. It becomes more challenging to have what Maggie would call a "constructive" conversation when there are profound differences between you  the kinds of differences that usually create barriers.

But when you have a common project  a hands-on, shared effort  sometimes constructive conversation can evolve out of the shared experience. This, of course, is the fundamental mission of The Faith Quilts Project: to deepen interfaith and intercultural understanding by gathering together people of diverse faiths to share their deeply held beliefs through collaborative quiltmaking.

A final word about the quilt behind me: Mending Baghdad. Technically, this is not one of the fifty Faith Quilts, but it is a collaborative quilt and it is an act of faith. In the build-up to the Iraq war, Clara and several artist friends wanted to do something to, in her words, "turn our rage into beauty." They decided to invite a group of artist friends to do a project that would help each process their thoughts about the war. Clara’s project was this quilt. She created the basic image from a newspaper photo the morning after the U.S. bombed Baghdad. It was the "shock and awe" period. In the weeks and months and, now, years, since the war began she invited people to "mend" Baghdad by adding to the work-in-progress. Some of the stitches are invisible, some are clearly visible  the Arabic writing, certain architectural details and one grandmother-granddaughter team’s desire to add green grass along the Tigress River.

When I first saw this hanging in Clara’s studio, I had that same stunned reaction I’d had at the DeCordova. It drew me in. It captivated me. It would not let me go  and to this day, it will not let me go. I am particularly drawn to several tiny images in gold thread in the lower right. Someone chose to "return" the precious antiquities that had been looted from the Iraqi national museum  sacred and ancient objects that are precious not only to a nation but to a host of religious traditions.

I want to stitch my tears into this quilt. I want to say to the people of Iraq and people of all nations: "I am sorry." I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

And I want to believe that by holding the vision of beauty in the face of rage, we can  each of us in our own ways  do a little something to mend the world. We can sew love.

Mending Baghdad is still evolving, stitch by stitch, and will remain unfinished, says Clara, until the war is over. Then, she hopes it will find a home in Baghdad where, perhaps, those
who see it will know we cared.

CLOSING WORDS

We live in a time where violence and fear polarize, where religion is politicized and where values are put on trial. People feel threatened, isolated, and wonder how to live out their faith in a world such as this. The Faith Quilts Project is our little effort to change the world  one stitch, one story at a time.

Let us sew love.

Katie Lee welcomes two very special guests and collaborators on The Faith Quilts Project to our Meeting House this morning.

Clara Wainwright is the project’s artistic director of the project. She is a quilt-maker and public celebration artist. She has worked with youth and adults over the past fourteen years on more than 40 collaborative quilts. She founded First Night, a New Year’s Eve celebration of the arts and community which has served as a model for celebrations in over 200 cities around the world.

Dialogue Consultant Maggie Herzig, is a founding associate of the Public Conversations Project, a nonprofit organization in Watertown that designs and facilitates constructive conversations on difficult issues.

Katie Lee chairs The Faith Quilt Advisory Council made up of a diverse group of people  artists and clergy, quilters and museum curators, media professionals, educators, interfaith and international project directors — who consult, support and promote the project.

Something about the quilts you will see…

Mending Baghdad is drawn from the horrifying images of "shock and awe" which initiated the war in Iraq. I left the collage unfinished and invited many people to participate in "mending" Baghdad. At the International Institute’s Dreams of Freedom Museum, the Cape Ann Historical Museum, my studio, the DeCordova Museum and the Kennedy School of Government, people "secured" buildings, added architectural detail, humans, trees and grass, and messages of peace. Note several people’s "return" of some of the gold treasures looted from the Iraqi National museum (lower right). I was particularly honored to have the involvement of several Iraqi Americans. Eventually, I hope to find a place in Baghdad to give this work.                                        – Clara Wainwright

We Bostonians is a Faith Quilt in progress. It is one of two quilts designed to be a permanent installation at the Boston Public Library, both exploring the diverse and interacting spiritual paths of 68 local people. The panel you will see contains the self-portraits of local people, including First Parish members Adi and Rutty Guzdar. The portraits are framed by the words of writer Karen Armstrong in her book The Spiral Staircase:

We used to think that science would answer all our questions and solve all the mysteries. But the more we learn, the more mysterious our world becomes yet we do have glimpses of transcendence even though no two experiences of the divine are the same.

For more information about The Faith Quilts Project, go to www.faithquilts.org