Monday, March 08, 2010

The Birditarian Birdaversalists

And what prompted the story of the Penguins and Purple Martins:

Two seemingly related worlds sharply diverging from each other.

Purple Martin World: UU seminary/ministerial world. Here, everyone I run into – UU seminarians, UU ministers, UU professors – would agree that the number one mission in a UU church should not be community. It should be a result, not the raison d'ĂȘtre.

Penguin World: small minister-less UU churches who agree that their number one mission is community.

(Yes, there may be UU ministers who don’t fit Purple Martin World and small minister-less UU churches who don’t fit Penguin World. But these are what I have had experience with.)

On Facebook, I reposted a quote I saw on Peacebang’s status:

"Transforming Congregational Culture" by Anthony B. Robinson: "Too many churches have adopted as their implicit purpose the maintenance of a congenial community for their members."

A member of Penguin World posted:
“And this is wrong because …………….?”

Ms. Kitty responded:
I think "Community" is only one of the reasons for being a church. Without a common purpose that is larger than "community", a congregation will be hard-pressed to really be a community. Our churches need to be striving for something larger, like feeding the poor or housing the homeless or working for justice.
And more folks responded, the majority of them revealing whether they live in Penguin World or Purple Martin World.

At the same time, I was talking to someone helping a Penguin congregation figure out their values. Their top 3 values are all permutations of inward “community.”

Two different understandings about the purpose of church.

Rosemary posted:
Sad Story.
These poor penguins did want to fly but they didn't have the wings...

And poor Rev Purple Martin who now has a mess on her hands....

Can the Association of Birditarian Birdiversalists do a better job of preparing Rev Purple Martin to understand and navigate congregational dynamics?

Love that!

But I have to argue with point 1 … the penguins didn’t want to fly, not for some selfish reason, but because in their world, that’s not their purpose. Their purpose is to swim.

So I think that in answering the greater issue: what do we do about these penguins and purple martins? -- we have to address both sides.

  • Yes, the Birditarian Birdiversalists need to prepare Rev. Purple Martin in understanding the difference between a Penguin church and a Purple Martin church, and how to better navigate, teach, work with, etc, her beloved Penguins.
  • AND, the Birditarian Birdiversalists need to discover how can they affect the evolutionary process of the birds. Because it’s an evolution. In this metaphor, the penguin and the purple martin both start as the same thing, but they evolve in different ways. Is there a way for new church start-ups, the ones who say they want to be minister-led, to evolve with wings? Wouldn’t that work better than try to figure out how to retrofit them with wings later on?
Is anyone else envisioning Opus lighting a chalice at Bloom County UU Fellowship?

Now, I am revealing what world I identify with, in that there is an assumption on my part that it is better to "fly" than to "swim." Yup, I'll own that.

But you often can live for a long time just swimming and eating fish. Might not grow the flock much, but they could be content in their penguin-ness.

So I think we need to figure it out all around, own it, and move on. During search, don't tell the minister, "Sure, we want to fly!" if you want the benefits of flying, but don't actually want to fly. And minister, if you see that they are swimmers and don't want to change, are you sure you want to play the "I can change him after we get married" game?

But hey, I don't know. I'm still a Lizard Eater.


ms. kitty said...

Great post, LE! Thanks. You've nailed it, IMHO.

uuMomma said...

This so puts all my angst in perspective. Thanks! I'm going to stop banging my head against icebergs.

Karen said...

Great post! But what are purple martins in a flock of mostly penguins to do? They're not happy with just swimming around, but penguins are the only flock around.
(word verification for this comment is "grolum" - interesting)

Karen said...

I failed to mention in my last comment that I'm a UU seminarian coming out of that flock of mostly penguins. For whatever that's worth... So I'm learning that purple martins really DO exist and that I might possibly be one of them.

luke1720 said...

I think your answer to the greater issue: "we have to address both sides." doesn't really bring to light what it means when you say, "... prepare Rev. Purple Martin in understanding..." or "... how can they affect the evolutionary process..."

The Theory of Evolution doesn't come about simply because something grows an opposable thumb or because a limb simply begins being used for flight or swimming (to carry your analogy a little further).

I'm sure you know as well as I do that evolution is actually survival of the fittest... the weaker one dies, the strong one moves on... evolves.

And so what I believe has to happen in this scenario is there is a power struggle between penguins and martins and one dies and one lives. It is as simple as that.

A district executive told us once that as we change and pull and drag the penguins into flight with us martins (i quote) "there will be carnage."

There has been. And although there will be community... wonderful, sacred community, it won't include any penguins for they will have gone the way of the DoDo Bird

Elz said...

Beautiful series of posts and reflections. What concerns me is an undertone that "community" ends when the last bit of coffee hour is put away. Community at its best includes access to personal assistance in times of need. Old (1600s)New England town meeting records (weekly or monthly,not the annual debate-fests we have now) show not only the notorious judgments against folks, but also impromptu work parties when they know someone doesn't have the ability to maintain their responsibility. One of my favorites was a fence repair, so the pigs of Widow Whoever will be kept at home until her sons are old enough to maintain the fence for themselves. At the same time, someone else, who was judged capable of mending his own fence, could face expulsion from his property if he didn't keep the pigs home after two previous warnings have been extended.

To be pragmatic, my nephew just came over and moved some boxes into a closet for me, which I have been unable to do after a recent injury. Why should my congregation not have a list of folks to help out at that level, who can help folks like me after the nephew goes away?

A good analogy is marriage. We used to say that marriage was just something people contracted and then used, preferably to raise kids and pay bills. Now we know that the marriage itself is a lifelong job.