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Quilters create social justice message to challenge banning books

Lisa Carloye had congregation quilt a message during worship. Photo courtesy of Lisa Carolye

By Marijke Fakasiieiki

During a worship service last summer, members of Community Congregational United Church of Christ (CCUCC) in Pullman put faith into action by stitching together pieces of cloth to make a quilt with a message against banning books.

Lisa Carloye had the idea last summer when interim minister Gary Jewell invited parishioners to experiment with summer services when many are away.

Now this congregation attuned to social justice shares the quilt and its message with other churches, libraries and groups in Pullman and Moscow to spread awareness about the concern.

Lisa, who grew up in Pullman, left for 25 years to go to school and work. When she moved back in 2005, her parents were attending CCUCC.

Lisa began attending when the pastor was Kristine Zakarison, who has now retired. She was a year ahead of Lisa in school.

"I liked her preaching and messages. She helped me get out of my head and think about more than my work teaching biology at Washington State University," Lisa explained. "She gave the historical and cultural context for biblical stories."

Like other congregations, Community Congregational UCC experiences challenges in attracting younger people.

"Social justice issues are key to my faith. We are an open and affirming church, especially for those harmed by other churches. We want to be a community that helps people live their faith and address injustice. I think younger people are restless and want to do something about issues," Lisa said.

"With Pullman a college town, social justice issues are pertinent," she added.

Growing up in the 1970s during the civil rights movement, Lisa expected people to work, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, so "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

"It's shocking that we seem to be going backwards, unraveling what was done in my lifetime," she said. "We are all God's children. Traumatizing people is anti-Christian. Marginalizing people is anti-Christian. Jesus reached out to marginalized people, legitimized their existence and was revolutionary at the time."

Lisa believes liberal Christians need to claim Jesus' teachings as their own and challenge those who use Jesus' name as they hurt and exclude people.

"Feeling helpless in the face of these changes, I wondered what I could do to make an impact," she said.

Lisa suggested making a banned book quilt.

"The quilt idea spoke to me because quilts symbolize comfort, warmth and embracing, and making a quilt is a way people, especially women, come together, like for a quilting bee," she said.

Lisa felt a quilt would be a more powerful way to address the issue than a poster.

"Quilts have been used to communicate," she explained. "Slaves used quilts to communicate information about the underground railroad."

In social justice history, she said quilts have also brought people together in community. They are pieces of art that symbolize more than being a blanket.

"We picked fabric colors for artistic representation, such as the color orange representing fire," she said.

"I had been thinking about banned books for quite a while. As a college teacher, I believe banning books on people of color and LGBTQ+ people creates a dangerous world. Children can grow up without understanding other people's lives and experiences. It whitewashes slavery and the civil rights movement," said Lisa.

Banning books has happened throughout history. Google's list of banned books includes old books like Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mockingbird and Charlotte's Web.

"We should not just look at those books, but highlight books targeted now, books people are less familiar with," she said.

"Targeting books is targeting people. People wrote the books to tell their experiences. I am shocked how quickly things have degraded. It speaks to the fact that we haven't stood up strongly enough," said Lisa.

"It marginalizes people and narrows understanding of what has happened in our culture and country. I'm alarmed how book banning has spread to banning talk about critical race theory, cutting out honest discussions on slavery and experiences of Black people and cultures," she said.

Lisa is concerned that generations of students could lack context for why society is where it is today, how terrible slavery was, and be unaware of any information that might make them feel uncomfortable or ashamed.

"If kids don't feel uncomfortable about slavery, what are we teaching?" she asked.

With her experience in quilting by hand and the machine quilting skills of Nancy Mack, another member, they discussed whether the congregation could hand piece and sew the sections. They decided "Of course they can."

Lisa and Nancy chose background fabric. Nancy bought printable quilting fabric they could use to print pictures of the spines of books on the quilt.

"Seeing the spine of the book makes it more tangible and clear what books are being challenged and banned now," said Lisa.

One Sunday, worshippers sewed pieces as the heart of the service.

They started the service as usual, with special music, while Lisa gave instructions. People could talk and ask for help.

They set up an assembly line. Lisa taught participants how to stitch, provided them with pre-threaded needles and put cloth strips on the table.

"Some people pinned the strips together. They passed the pieces to someone who drew a stitching line with a ruler. Next, the pieces were passed to stitchers to sew the strips that were the same size.

"My mother was ready with an iron and ironing board to press the seams open," said Lisa.

The pile of fabric grew from strips for two books to four, until the 24 book strips were sewn together.

Nancy added appliqued letters to the quilt, so it said, "We're with the Banned!"

It was the first time the congregation quilted together. Some have quilted banners that decorate the church, but those quilts were not issue-focused.

Nancy put a back and border on it. Then she added old-fashioned library card holders, three on the front and one on the back.

They made library cards with the name of the church and returned the completed quilt the next Sunday.

Sharing the slogan, "We're with the Banned," they invited people to sign the cards.

That Sunday, another church member Bill Condon, who is retired from the WSU library, talked on the value of books as a means to understand other people's experiences and empathize with them.

He explained how the library decided what books go in the library and state guidelines on how to handle requests to ban books.

Then the organizers invited churches, libraries, bookstores and organizations to share the quilt and sign cards.

The banned books quilt has visited Trinity Lutheran, Sacred Heart Catholic and Refuge Church in Pullman, the Unitarian Universalist Church in Moscow, Book People of Moscow, Neill Public Library, Washington State University Library as part of a Banned Book Week event, Moscow Friends of the Library Book Sale.

"In sharing with other churches, I talk about the project and what it means to us. Typically, the quilt stays at a site for two weeks, to give people an opportunity to see it and sign cards," said Lisa, who has felt welcomed and appreciated when she has spoken.

In this way, Lisa has given opportunities for others who share her anger and frustration about book banning to do something.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January 2024