“For Everyone Born” by the wonderful Shirley Erena Murray is a very popular and beloved hymn in my brand of progressive Christianity, and I love it too – except for the parts that don’t feel inclusive or expansive enough. Because of those places, singing this song sometimes feels more hurtful than healing for me and others I know.
The intention of this hymn is a beautiful one: it’s meant to make everyone feel welcome at the table, and to challenge us when we limit who’s welcome at the table. However, its dualistic language leaves out a lot of people! When I hear “For woman and man,” “For gay and for straight,” sung during worship, my heart shrivels up — I and so many others don’t belong to either of those binary categories. I know the song is well-meaning, and that the intent is to be all-inclusive, but…those two verses leave me and so many others out.
And then there’s the ever-controversial, often painful “for just and unjust” verse. Many churches I know simply leave that verse out. The language of the verse puts the impetus for reconciliation fully on the “abused” in the “abuser, abused” equation, pressuring them to just forgive already without acknowledging their safety or comfort or right to be hurt, their right to withhold forgiveness. (For various texts that explore how true forgiveness and reconciliation require justice, safety, and respected autonomy for the one harmed, see my tumblr blog’s tag here.)
I first revised the “for gay and for straight” simply by tucking lots of other identities into the verse. I know it’s not perfect, and surely still leaves some out…but hearing my church sing the verse that way was a moment of real healing for me. To have my concerns heard and recommendations acted on, to be acknowledged in that way, explicitly in the song, after so often feeling unheard and left out in faith spaces, was genuinely healing.
Later, I revised the other tricky verses at the request of a seminary professor who wanted a revised version to sing in chapel. Again, I felt such healing and relief at being heard. Since then, my revised verses have been sung in several different faith communities. I would love for it to continue to spread — and to be further revised, however necessary, as time goes on!
Finally, I’ve now added a verse that centers dis/ability. Disability justice is a great passion of mine, and something that tends to go overlooked even in the most “progressive” faith communities and institutions. (For a list of my recommended resources around disability theology and activism, see here.) This is the verse I am most open to feedback around — particularly from members of the disability community. I am autistic, but currently able-bodied — is there anything in my wording of that verse that needs fixing?
Without further ado, here are my revised verses. Note that I’m only pasting the verses of this hymn that I did anything with — for the full original hymn, including the chorus that is sung between each other verse, you’ll want to visit this webpage.
My revised verses:
[hymn’s first verses go before this one]
For woman and man, a place at the table —
and all those between, beyond, and besides;
expanding our world, dismantling power,
each valued for what their voice can provide.
For gay, bi, and straight, a place at the table,
a covenant shared, a welcoming space,
a rainbow of race and gender and color
for queer, trans, and ace, the chalice of grace.
For sighted and blind, a place at the table,
For hearing and Deaf, all brain types and speech;
Accessible space, rethinking of language,
All eager to learn from those who would teach.
For just and unjust, a place at the table,
a chance to repent, reform, and rebuild,
protecting the wronged, without shame or pressure,
for just and unjust, God’s vision fulfilled.
Notes on some of my choices:
If you’d like to see an image of my verses side-by-side with the original verses, just to help you see what changes were made, visit this tumblr post.
In the “for woman and man” verse:
- “for all those between, beyond, and besides” – there are many persons who are not exclusively “man” or “woman,” myself included; but we don’t all fit into one third box. We aren’t trying to turn a binary into a “trinary” here! I think I myself would fit best into the “beyond” category in this phrasing, while I have lots of friends who would describe themselves as being more “between” woman and man, or something altogether besides that (such as agender, bigender, genderfluid….).
- I changed “dividing the power” to “dismantling power” to emphasize that we should resist a simple redistribution of oppressive power; rather, we must work to dismantle that power altogether. A somewhat simplified example of this out in the world is when people celebrate women who have made it to high executive positions like CEO of a company that exploits workers and/or harms the environment. That’s not a victory, just because a woman is in charge! We have to get rid of that whole system!
In the dis/ability verse:
- I paired “sighted and blind,” “hearing and Deaf” in order to show that neither being sighted and/or hearing, or blind and/or deaf, is the default or “whole” setting for a human being.
- Moreover, I capitalized Deaf to honor members of the Deaf community. More correct would be to write it d/Deaf; see this article for an explanation of “d/Deaf” and what Deaf culture is all about, including the argument that Deafness is not inherently a disability but simply a part of human diversity. (I am myself hearing, but as an autistic person who belongs to the Neurodiversity movement, I resonate with this idea; I hold that autism is a disability, and a natural manifestation of the diversity that God wills and loves.)
- “all brain types and speech” is a rather awkward way to word things; that’s definitely a phrase I’m open to feedback on. I couldn’t fit “neurotype” into the meter, but that’s what I was aiming for! As to “types of speech,” I’m talking about accepting all forms of communication as valid, such as the unique ways many disabled individuals speak (e.g. ticks, long pauses, Autistic echolalia…) and communication that is not verbal speech, such as that of AAC users.
- “all eager to learn from those who would teach” – No one should assume they know best for another individual. And if an #actuallydisabled person wants to teach about their disability, a platform should be eagerly provided! Still, no member of a marginalized community should be pressured to be the main source of information if that’s not a role they want.
Please do feel free to spread this around, to sing it in your own communities, etc.! If your community does make use of my revised verses, I would love to know about it. If you post a video of it being sung anywhere, I would love to hear it!! You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you have any suggestions for further revision, please do let me know that too. Let us all join together in the endless effort to draw our circles wider!