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The Season of Reconciliation

The Season of Reconciliation

The Season of Reconciliation
Here I am in my church, the Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, New Jersey telling the story of the Secret Quilt Code of the Underground Railroad as we begin the Season of Reconciliation.
You may be asking what season is that?!? It began at Redeemer back in 2000 when the racial dialogue group came to the worship committee saying “racism is alive and well in the United States of America and what is Redeemer going to do about it?” The worship committee took the challenge seriously and began a journey that would lead us to an amazing liturgy using some of the models of the Peace and Reconciliation movement going on under the guidance of Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in South Africa (for more go to www.redeemermorristown.org). We set aside the time between Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday and Absalom Jones Sunday to seriously answer the challenge set forth.

There are those who reject the quilt code claiming it is a falsehood concocted to sell the book. As an oral tradition, I doubt it is all 100% true but I also believe it to be 100% real. The very first time I told the story was at Redeemer. I couldn’t see the choir but after the service, one member stopped me exclaiming, “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!!!” When I asked him what he knew, he told me the story of growing up in a three generation household in the projects. He told of a young white teacher who came to his school and taught the children Black history. He told of being so excited he went home to tell his grandmother… and she told him the story of the secret code she had learned at her mother’s knees. So much so, that as I said the code, Michael joined in.

The story is too long to share but here are my three favorite pieces. First is the safe house also known as the log cabin. Almost all log cabin quilts of the era would have had red in the center squares. But, this one has yellow for safe beacon. An escaping slave would know the house showing this quilt was a safe place to come for food, clothing and shelter. It is on the altar at Redeemer to say boldly “this is a safe house.”

Next is the “fifth knot of the tenth block” also known as tumbling blocks. It is written this quilt would go up on the plantation on the day of the night you were supposed to run. Five knots ritually tied invoked the power of the ancestors for protection on the journey. So, the fifth knot reminded them they did not go alone but would be joined in spirit by all those they had loved and lost.

And, finally, here are broken  dishes and flower wreaths.  In some African traditions, when someone dies, you weave a wreath of flowers to leave on the grave.  When you visit the grave, you leave a piece of broken pottery.  It is written flower wreaths or broken dishes would be left along the trail to honor those who did not survive the journey.  At Redeemer, we place this piece on the pulpit to honor all those who gave their lives that others might be free; Martin Luther King, Jr., Steven Bieko, Matthew Shepherd, Oscar Romero and so many more both known and unknown through the ages.

The fabrics selected for these pieces were collected from around the world and include Aboriginal, African, European, Indian and American textiles.  The images include Native American Spirit Guides, the Star of David, Christian symbols and so much more.  The five shades of humanity as defined by Native American tradition are also included; red, brown, black, yellow and white.  Importantly, the fabric that binds each of the pieces together is made up of a single piece that includes all five shades of humanity plus every color of the rainbow to say clearly we are all one and together, we create a wondrously beautiful mosaic.

This year, I find the liturgy even more meaningful as we maneuver through the ups and downs of the first days of our new presidency.  I hear Scripture calling me to clothe the naked and feed the hungry and care for the sick and the homeless; but that is not what I hear from my own government. The hope I hold on to in these days is of Jesus and his courageous example and determination to make his world a better place.  May we all work to do the same in this day and this nation.  One of the blocks not pictured here is Crossroads.  It was a message to the slaves that they were at a crossroads and needed to decide would they run for freedom or stay in captivity?  It seems to me we, too, are at a crossroads… what will you do?

Safe House
5th knot of the 10th block
Broken dishes and Flower wreaths
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