A Call for Unity

Last Saturday night, congregations assembled at the Mondavi Center for “an evening of interfaith music.” But, truth be known, the defining moment of A Call for Unity, presented by SN&R, took place not onstage but onscreen.

Certainly, the music provided a generous helping of memorable moments, and the many calls for unity, tolerance and hope were heartfelt, graciously nondenominational and even powerful. But midway through the proceedings, a video of Building Unity’s centerpiece project was shown on the enormous screen at center stage. The video depicted the work of 200 volunteers rebuilding a house in Oak Park. An elderly woman who had lived there without hot water for 10 years walked through her remade home, praising Jesus; her daughters cried openly at the change of fortune.

Shrug your shoulders—the work of Habitat for Humanity (joining the Interfaith Service Bureau and many others here) is widely known and maybe dimly appreciated in that “Yeah, that’s a good thing I’ve already heard about” way, and now, on the two-year anniversary of a generation’s saddest moment, we are in the capital city of the world’s favorite punch line, where being jaded is the base cost of paying attention—but, for a few minutes, the sell-out crowd got a glimpse into one life changed fundamentally through a communal act of generosity. It was moving in a tears-come-to-the-eyes kind of way, and it lay at the marrow of the event.

There were luminaries (see “United we stand”). There was a Muslim prayer, translated into English and signed for the deaf. There was a Grammy-winning local musician (Mary Youngblood) whose solo flute playing was evocative, mournful and timeless. (Youngblood’s American Indian heritage boasts a tribe on the West Coast and a tribe on the East Coast. Noting that people ask her how that happened, Youngblood quipped, “I like to say, ‘The white man gave my people a car.’”) There were Muslim children who sang (in that childlike way in which they’re unaware that hundreds of eyes are watching, and the children can’t stand still) and Christian children who sang (from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—they came onstage around 10:45 p.m., well past most legally recognized bedtimes, which gets to the apt criticism that the event was simply too long). Though I’ve seen a lot of performances at the Mondavi Center—it’s my day job—Saturday night was, for me, a stately display of fine local talent: the delicate a cappella of Schola Cantorum, roof-shaking gospel from Faith Fellowship Community Church, the 19 (!) stringed instruments (mostly guitars) of Rondalla de Guadalupe, and the charismatic Hazzan Avraham Alpert.

Perhaps multiculturalism has evolved into a blurry word, but last Saturday, it was exalted, enjoyed and obvious in the best way. A Call for Unity is maturing into an important and—more importantly—warmly enjoyable annual event.