I’ve got a lot of scars on my body. On my chin from falling up concrete steps when I was 3. On my forehead from getting hit with a bat (accidently) when I was 10. On my calf from a dog bite when I was 8. On my knee and ankle from a motorcycle skid-out when I was 17. And a large one on my chest from a mastectomy 3 years ago.
You’ve got them too, I’m sure. We don’t get through life without bumps, bruises, and the telltale scars.
Recently, I took a big chunk of skin off my hand when I rammed it into a handrail. It bled, and for a few days it oozed angrily. Then it began to scab over. The ugly redness left. And a short week later, there remains only a small tender spot. It’s miraculous, really. We do heal.
But there’s no cure for being in human bodies. And, there’s no cure for having human hearts. We lose people we love. We have hearts that get hurt and broken, spirits that get damaged and downtrodden, and feelings that remain tender and cautious about being exposed again. In the moment, it hurts terribly and it seems the pain will stay with us forever.
And still, I believe in healing. I believe that hearts, spirits, and feelings can be healed. We fall in love again. We go out on emotional limbs again. We trust again. It is miraculous, really.
We do heal.
I hope you’ll join me in exploring this possibility.
Here with you,
Past Stone Soup Columns
The other day, I watched the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma. It’s all about social media, and screens, and the impact it’s all having on us. Disturbing for sure. And, I recommend you watch it.
It confirmed what I already knew, but hadn’t really articulated; that we are increasingly silo’d (thanks to algorithms) into hearing like-voices. What we choose to listen to and watch on our screens determines what we see and hear next. And so, we keep hearing only the voices of those who agree with us.
This makes it increasingly difficult to understand why someone might think differently than we do. We assume they are seeing the same news and media, when in fact, they are also seeing only those things that confirm their position.
And, our world is becoming increasingly bifurcated. Left and right. Conservative and liberal. Racist and Anti-racist. Pro-life or pro-choice. Etc. etc.
In myself, I recognize a parallel increasing lack of tolerance for differing views, perhaps precisely because I’m losing the muscle for it. I don’t have to practice it much anymore, so my ability to listen to something that doesn’t resonate with my views is lessened.
Rather than hearing interesting variety, my ears hear dissonance. Rather than welcoming a challenging opinion, I’m likely to shut it down before really hearing it.
In such a world, how can we better listen? There’s probably no such thing as objectivity, but shouldn’t we expose ourselves to enough diversity to form critical opinions and thoughtful responses?
This is something I’m going to be thinking about this month, and work on exercising my ears, so that they’re more open. We are the ‘church of the open minds’, after all. Right?
Right here with you,
Strictly speaking, renewal would imply a return to something as it once was…to make something new again. This word works well when talking about a ‘thing’ that has worn out or become run down. We can renew our front doors by putting on a fresh coat of paint, right?
But when we’re talking about the spirit… of an individual, or a community, or a nation…I would caution us not to think of renewal as a return to what once was, or as a covering up of what has been.
Our spirits have weathered both good and bad, hard times and happy ones, and because of it all, we have gained resilience and wisdom. I, for one, cherish how my spirit has grown over time. I wouldn’t want to put on a fresh coat of spirit to gloss over all I’ve experienced.
Maybe a renewal of spirit is more like a re-commitment…a gathering up of the energy we need to keep on going with our eye on a vision for what’s next. It’s a breath of fresh air, or a second wind. Renewal of spirit restores our creativity, our imagination, and our passion. It’s not a fresh coat of paint, but rather a refreshing reminder that we are enough, and that all we need is right here.
Right here. And I’m here with you.
Under the circumstances, we’ve been doing an admirable job of connecting, right? We’ve offered multiple ways to get together…on-line or by phone…and these connections have been invaluable. I’ve heard many wonder about what it would be like to experience a pandemic without Zoom. Terrible, right? But…
WHEN WILL WE GATHER AGAIN? I don’t think we knew how much we treasure the physical presence of others until we had to distance ourselves. And this extended time of stilted and virtual social connection is wearying, so you’re probably feeling some mix of tedium, anxiety and impatience. When will we be able to return to our space and be able to meet in person?
I would love for this to happen. Soon.
But. Picture this. There’s a registration system for determining which fifty people can come on Sunday morning. If you’re chosen, you (masked) are greeted at the door by another UFPer (masked), who stands behind a Plexiglas barrier, and gives you detailed instructions. Don’t hug or even touch anyone else. Don’t touch any surfaces unnecessarily. Don’t pick up a hymnal.
You’re given a number that corresponds with a seat assignment in the sanctuary, and you must go directly there, and not move about. Should you have the need, only one person is allowed in the washroom at a time, and we’ll want to sanitize the room between users.
During the service in a sparsely-seated sanctuary, there’s no singing and no interactive rituals. There are computers/cameras present in order to continue to offer the service virtually. After the service, there’s no coffee hour. You need to leave the building through a designated exit. And then a team will sanitize all surfaces and pews.
And. Picture this. After such a gathering, we learn that one in attendance has tested positive for COVID 19, and then many need to quarantine, and maybe others get sick…
This makes me wonder why we would gather. And yet, we do need to gather again sometime. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. At some point we’ll need to decide that it’s safe enough, and that the benefit outweighs any risk. Your UFP Board is thinking hard about this, but right now, it looks like October will be too soon to re-open. Big sighs.
The reasons we gather are many…to celebrate life, to care for one another, and to recommit ourselves to the interconnected web of all that is. Gathering together grows courage and seeds the possibility of our collective liberation. We gather to learn about how love really works, and how it could work, in our lives and in the world. Simply put, being together nourishes our hearts and lives in countless ways.
So…please! Help us to think about this. How can we continue to support and sustain the UFP community? What do you need right now? What would help you to connect? Do you have ideas about ways we might better show up for one another? How can I show up for you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas! We need you to participate in how UFP evolves in a changing world. Email or call me. Talk to one another.
I believe in us, and in our collective creative power to be a beloved community no matter the circumstances. These are tough times when we should not be alone. So let’s figure out how to be together, even when we don’t gather in the usual way, by gathering our spirits and our hearts in love and connection. This is who we are.
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August 5, 2020
On Sunday, June 28, we offered thanks for how, across generations and through time, we carry the flame…fighting injustice, singing the songs, speaking the truth, and moving toward a vision of a better future. The Story for All Ages was “There” by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, and Glen Caradus sang Hold On, both of which I refer to in my reflection.
Here it is, with a few edits for clarity:
What a week I’ve had! Hanging the Black Lives Matter/Indigenous Lives Matter banner on our street sign. Attending Ministry Days and General Assembly both of which are laser-focused on how we must become anti-racist if we are to be relevant into the future. Reading the Commission on Institutional Change’s report, called Widening the Circle of Concern. And participating in a panel that the Canadian Unitarian Council had on Thursday evening where we heard the personal experiences of black Canadians.
All of this is steeping in my heart and my bones…So you can just imagine the kind of tea that’s brewing, I have a particular vision in mind. I’ve got my eye on that prize…or maybe better, I’m trying to listen to people who have their eye on the prize. And ‘there’ is becoming quite alluring and compelling. I’ll get to that in a moment.
First let’s just think about today’s story…sweet, right? There. Are we there yet? Makes me think of the song we sing sometimes…Woyaya… “We are going, heaven knows where we are going, but we know within…”
And so it is with the youngun in the story. They’re asking a lot of questions…expressing both anticipation and trepidation about what is to come. Wondering if they’re ready.
Yet somehow, most of the time, they keep facing toward ‘there’…knowing it’s beckoning them and that they’re gonna keep moving toward it.
But you know, I got a little concerned in the final pages when staying ‘here’ seemed a better option, because I think that’s what we too often do. It can be too easy to settle into ‘here’ because it’s comfortable and known and it doesn’t require much of us.
At the CUC event on Thursday, which a few of you were present for, Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana spoke about how a faith community should not be a place of comfort…but rather a place for us to practice being uncomfortable, which he compares to be faithful.
And, there is good reason to be uncomfortable, if we’re willing to look. The pandemic and the global response against racism is reason enough, to be sure. We’re experiencing things we’ve never seen before. There’s no ‘normal’ anymore. Even though these times contain great promise, it’s uncomfortable.
Within our ‘walls’…that is within Unitarian Universalism, the Commission on Institutional Change for the UUA was charged three years ago with supporting “long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism.” They begin their report with a list of hard realities, including these:
- New generations face a bleak future. There’s despair caused by income inequality, climate change, the opioid crisis, and now the pandemic. Young people are increasingly at risk and need a sustaining faith.
- But our society is moving away from institutional religion. We continue to attract a greater diversity of people, but retain a small percentage.
- More of those who enter our doors today are not coming OUT of some other faith, but rather are coming seeking spiritual ground. And we are not ready for them. We have not invested in developing a vocabulary of faith sufficient to meet these troubling times.
- We have a beautiful theology which promotes equity, inclusion, and diversity, yet that’s not what is often experienced within our congregations. People coming to us for spiritual sustenance expect cultural competency…but we don’t offer it…yet.
The list is long, and while we could put this report aside as something made far away by a group of people we don’t know, let’s not do that. Let’s sit in the discomfort and allow it to change us. Because, if young people leave, and those who come to UFP don’t find what they need, our saving message will not help them. And we will not survive.
Fred Woodson, a colleague older than I, said in a recent facebook post that he was feeling obsolete, but that while his feelings are real, reality is so much larger than those feelings. It’s not about me, he said. So he expressed a willingness to listen amid the fires, earthquakes and winds around him.
Again, if we’re going to contribute to a different future, we have to set aside our own feelings and be willing to be changed. Even to make the changes ourselves.
What helps me is to hold a vision of ‘there’…of that place toward which we are moving…is a vision of the beloved community. A place where every person is valued. A place where the earth is honoured. A place where all of our relationships are grounded in respect and compassion. A place where power is shared, and is used to ensure that everyone has what they need to thrive.
For this congregation, my vision of ‘there’ is….a place where we listen deeply to all voices, where we share the ministry knowing that every person has unique gifts. It’s a centre for social action, and where we have partnerships with others working to restore wholeness in our community. It’s a place where we’re willing to step aside humbly, to seek true reconciliation and to center those who experience marginalization. Where those of us who have power work to understand our privilege, and how we can use it to heal, not to harm. It’s a place where black and indigenous and people of colour feel welcome, because we’ve done our work to become culturally competent. It’s a place where youth and young adults have agency to explore truth and meaning. It’s a building that is accessible to those of differing abilities. Here is where loving and justice-seeking energy exudes out and beyond our walls, drawing the community in, and us back out again…to greater interconnection and healing.
Can you see it? Do you share this vision?
And BTW, I was bothered by today’s story in that the youngun seems to be making the journey all alone. That’s simply a lie. None of us are making the journey to ‘there’ alone, and when we imagine that we are, I believe that we are contributing to the problem. Wholeness, in community…where all that is broken is healing AND healed…only happens when we are in it together. I know that, especially right now, many folks are feeling alone…physical distancing will do that to a person.
Beloved COMMUNITY is antithetical to being alone. We’ve got to remember that we…and by ‘we’ I mean all of us…are walking that path together, passing the flame one to the other, receiving from those who’ve gone before, and passing it on to those who will come.
Rev. Danielle Di Bona, a UU minister who identifies as biracial (half Wampanoag Indian) told a beautiful story in a worship service earlier this week. She spoke of attending a pow-wow, where as is tradition, everyone danced in a circle. But one elder was dancing in the opposite direction, going upstream, bumping up against the flow. And when asked why, he said that there is so much wrong right now that the world has tilted off its axis, and that he was dancing counterclockwise in order to tilt it back.
Uncomfortable? Sure. But the world needs us.
So be it.