Come, come, whoever you are.
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.
Two nights ago, I stood in the midst of a crowd of thousands of people, holding yellow electric candles which illuminated the dark night, wearing yellow shirts printed with the outline of a heart and bearing the words, “Standing on the Side of Love.” This rowdy crowd, which alternated between chanting and singing, joined together as one to sing the simple yet oh-so-powerful words of this Rumi poem.
This gathering, organized as a part of the social justice activities at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, took place outside of Tent City, a detention city that has been in operation for over 20 years in Phoenix. At tent city, undocumented workers, awaiting sentencing and/or possible deportation, live in inhumane conditions. They are housed outside in tents during cold winter nights when temperatures drop down into the 40’s and also during the oppressive summer heat that blankets Phoenix, even in the evenings. In an ugly ironic twist, right up the road from tent city is the Phoenix animal shelter, where stray cats and dogs are housed in climate-controlled, indoor cages.
This evening vigil was part prayerful meditation and part protest. Various speakers spoke throughout the night, led the group in chants of “Shut it down” or “We are with you” and led a variety of songs.
I came to this protest after 48 hours of meeting with local partners in Phoenix, learning about the legacy of the controversial SB-1070 legislation (which the U.S. Supreme Court is currently mulling over) and meditating on what it will mean for Mennonites to come to Phoenix in 2013 for a convention gathering.
Earlier that day, I sat down at a meeting with a local Phoenix city official, who also happens to be a member of a Phoenix-area Mennonite congregation. During our conversation about what types of public witness and engagement we should be thinking about at our gathering, this staff member said, “It will be important to remember: Arizona is America. There are problems here that may be more visible, but are just as present in communities across the United States.”
These words rang in my head, as I stood outside, sweating and singing, at the barbed-wire boundaries of tent city. Here the injustice was obvious and displayed almost arrogantly for all to see. But as we sang the words of this Rumi poem, and repeated the phrase, over and over, “Even if you’ve broken your vow 10,000 times,” I was challenged to think about the places in my own community where people are not welcome or are denied dignity. How many times have I thought to myself: This time I recommit to becoming an advocate for women, an ally for people of color, or a helper for the GLBTQA community. On multiple occasions, I’ve decided to commit myself anew to vegetarianism, water conservation or some other form of environmental care. And this list of new commitments to justice could go on.
And each time, I fall short in some way. Although the goals are there, I have in fact, broken my vows 10,000 times, and there are likely more pending failures in my future. But the invitation of this poem, and at this rally, and perhaps even of Arizona, is still to come, and to remain in the struggle and journey, in our communities and in the new places that we encounter, even though we may fall short time and time again.