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Walking the Line

So much depends on the lines found on maps. The side on which we make our home determines the schools and social services we have access to. The side on which we are born determines our citizenship (for now, at least). The side on which we live and make our lives determines so much about how we speak, how we think, and who we are. One of my favorite, small examples of this is a map that distinguishes areas of the United States by the most common word used for carbonated sugar water (most often Soda, Pop, or Coke). You can view the map here. One of the reasons I find this particular set of borders so fascinating is that my hometown – Rochester, NY – happens to fall right on the line between Soda and Pop. Which may be why I use the two terms interchangeably.

There’s a story from the early days of Islam, about a group of Muslims who fled to what is now Ethiopia, seeking asylum after being persecuted at home. The authorities from their native land came to retrieve them, and the matter came before the king of that place, who was a Christian. The pursuers made their case that the king should not concern himself with these heretics, because they followed a different religion than he. But after talking with the fugitives and discussing their faith, the king drew a line in the sand and declared, “The difference between you and me is no thicker than this line.” The Muslims would be given sanctuary.  This is the other way of seeing the lines on the maps, whether physical, ideological, or spiritual: so thin and imaginary that they should show us how close together we truly are.

The lines we use to divide our spaces and ourselves, matter. They have a profound ability to shape lives, and to harm them. But they are also fragile things. They cannot truly obstruct the fundamental interconnectedness of all people any more than a line drawn in the sand makes the dust on one side any different from the other.

This year, we will be walking some lines together. The border of neighborliness between the First Parish Church in Beverly and the First Universalist Society of Salem has come down. We are all one congregation now, and must figure out what that means together. At the same time, the crises and possibilities of our particular moment in time, seem to be crying out for a greater and more common maturity about the ways in which we are different, and the ways in which we remain the same. For this reason I have chosen as our worship theme for this church year, “Privilege & Oppression: In Our World and In Our Selves.” Together as a learning and worshipping community, we’ll explore the structures and patterns in our society and in our own hearts that can turn the blessing of difference into the evil of iniquity.

And in at least one other important boundary we’ll be navigating together, I will be going on sabbatical beginning in January and ending in April of 2016 (returning for a few weeks around the middle point). This means crossing over into unexplored territory; I’ve never had a sabbatical before. And this congregation has been through the same process with other ministers, but never before have all of us, in the unique configuration of this moment in the life of our community, met this same challenge and opportunity. There is a newness before us now. It is uncertain, because no great change is ever possible in the overriding presence of certainty. It is a pathway – a line – which I look forward to walking with you in the months ahead.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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