by Lauren Hall
Shirley Erena Murray’s text, “For Everyone Born,” is a powerful hymn for human rights and justice. First published in 2008 by the Global Praise unit of the General Board of Global Ministries (1), Community of Christ plans to include it with Brian Mann’s similarly titled composition in its hymnal, Community of Christ Sings, to be released in 2013 with new translations in Spanish and French. This hymn strongly resounds with the enduring principles (2) of the denomination, created by an international council representing its global membership. Ironically it has also ignited a struggle over its very inclusion in the collection.
Because Community of Christ is represented in over 55 countries and committed to being an integrated global family, approximately 15% of the 650 hymns in the collection will be multilingual, representing a total of 25 languages spoken within the denomination. These songs will carry the three dominant languages of the denomination, English, French, and Spanish, as footnoted text meanings or sing‐able translations. The intent is to have a “global core repertoire” for members to learn throughout the world and sing together in international gatherings regardless of one’s native language. When “For Everyone Born” came to the attention of the hymnal editorial team, it was submitted for its complex themes of hospitality and peace‐making represented in each verse and its alignment with the denomination's mission to promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. The text was such a strong candidate because of the struggles and complex issues facing the church in various cultures in various ways.
For Everyone Born, A Place at the Table
For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star over head.
And God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace;
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice, and joy.
For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding to share,
with wisdom and grace, dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that's fair.
For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song,
the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, the right to belong.
For just and unjust, a place at the table.
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mind-set of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live.
For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free.
Words: Shirley Erena Murray
Words © 2004 Hope Publishing Company
Murray presents the unconditional and challenging vision of God’s shalom, especially as it addresses the worth of all persons. (3)
Ms. Murray writes:(4)
I wrote this text in 1998, when I was involved with work for Amnesty International and because I couldn’t find anything to reflect a broad overview of human rights in any hymnbook. You can see that I have used some of the very basic ideas of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the right to shelter, safety, food, and later, the right to a job, to freedom of speech and worship. I’ve tried to put them in a context which relates directly to the Gospel, but without excluding those who are not of the Christian faith…. But in [a] more specific way, and to me an authentic one, it relates deeply and immediately to the manifesto of Jesus and all that he taught.“ What is this table? In my mind it began as the table of the world in the peaceable kingdom, an imaginary place of justice and joy where everyone gathers and is fed. But inevitably it was taken up as a communion hymn, in the context of the Holy Table…. And in places where exclusion by the Church is a source of injustice and pain, as with the gay and lesbian communities, it has been used to ask for a place at the table, along with every other believer.”
In all the compelling and powerful ways this text “speaks” to us, it also triggers emotional reactions and can be difficult to sing. In particular, verse four sparked robust debate in the selection process. The file is thick with wide reviews from various sources and feedback from counselors, social workers, and pastors over the tensions between seeing the ideal of Christ’s teachings of reconciliation and wholeness and the realities of extreme sexual abuse and pastoral care. We are certainly challenged by this hymn to live into what the church claims to believe and called by the Creator to help bring into being. When asked whether Ms. Murray foresaw challenges for congregational singing, she responded: (5)
… I wrote the ‘tough’ verse 4 because I knew, under the manifesto of Jesus, that even the worst abuse has to be dealt with and faced, and forgiveness requires singing about here. Of course, I have had much reaction to this – personal stories of terrible pain and lifelong trauma from all kinds of abuse. Sometimes the verse is omitted… by insecure leaders of worship. This destroys the architecture of the text. Sometimes – less often – it is welcomed as exposing and recognising wounds that seem impossible to heal.
The selection committee’s discourse went full circle regarding this truth. As one pastor reflected, “I have reversed my thinking about this hymn, thanks to a wonderful discussion we had during the adult class at my congregation. I set the stage by opening a discussion of what purpose hymns play in worship and how we sing our theology. From a pastor’s view, we should not just sing songs that make us comfortable…[but] because it is right and calls us to live up to Christ.” Though we may not always be able to sing it, the text will be published in its entirety.
In many parts of the world and even in our churches, systems are still in place that oppress. “For Everyone Born” identifies particular areas where this is true. Pressing issues facing the church can look significantly different among cultures and nations. Though Community of Christ seeks agreement or common consent in important matters, it commits to ongoing dialogue and lovingly upholds the common faith in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church. It is acknowledged that the lack of agreement on certain matters is hurtful to some of God’s beloved children and creation. Again, when sharing about the creation of this hymn text, Murray writes: (6)
“I selected the areas of injustice which directly affect women, children and the elderly – always the first casualties of discrimination, poverty or war. I leave it to the singer to imagine other forms of discrimination. And it became clear that no amount of writing about people’s rights will ever be effective if the supreme component of forgiveness, which creates understanding and compassion, is not there…. I hope that, as you sing this [hymn], you find yourself speaking out for anyone excluded from having a voice at the table of decision‐making on grounds of gender, age, orientation, or race. It seems we still need to do this!”
Recently, a Community of Christ leader from Asia addressed the international council that created the denomination’s enduring principles. He admonished that in the midst of our differences, we work for the day there are no more victims, where all people have equal worth, and poverty and suffering is abolished. Until then, we also sing songs that shape us into “creators of justice and joy.”