Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Congregations and Beyond

Friends have asked me my thoughts on Peter Morales’ whitepaper and after finding out that I’m going to Orlando to brainstorm about it with others, have generously shared their thoughts with me.

I’ve noticed some interesting things in their thoughts (and for the record, I think all are valid). Now, these are rough approximations … there certainly are people in each category who do not agree with the others in the group. But for the most part:

My Social Media peeps: after years of shouting from the rooftops about the very real community and relationship that happens via blogs, FB, Twitter, etc., they’re excited to see others are realizing it.

My Boots on the Ground Parish Ministers: wonder if any of this is relevant to their churches and have concern that this will take away from the help they desperately need.

Theology Wonks: want more emphasis on the “there, there.” What is the root of what connects us? What are those “core values”?

Polity Wonks: want to know if this is a step toward being an association of members rather than an association of congregations, and if so, will this dilute/change our congregational polity?

One question I’ve heard from almost all groups is a desire for clarification, to know what the end goal is.

One thing I feel quite certain about: if we want to make a significant change in the world, if we want to extend our saving message beyond those who manage to figure out that they’re “Unitarian Universalists without knowing it,” it is going to require change and an “all hands on deck” mentality. No more protecting our own little square of real estate or working from models crafted 50 (or 200) years ago.  

Are we willing to? Are we going to be an association that protects the walls, or knocks them down? An association that throws gasoline on burning bushes, or ice water?

Significant change will occur when all the entities – UUA, UUMA, MFC, local clusters, local congregations – look for possibilities. That minister holding 3 third-time jobs? Do we want to encourage someone who is helping 3 struggling congregations, or say, “Meh, doesn’t count”? That minister who spends time out in the community each week, feeding the hungry and being a visible representative for UUism? Do we want to say, “Well, do it on your own time”? That excited person who says, “I know a whole group of people who we should reach out to,” – do we say, “Nah, they don’t fit our profile”? To the person establishing and nurturing relationships online, do we say, “Those aren’t ‘real’”?

And along with the logic about needing to have both wings and roots, we must talk boldly about our saving message, our history, our theology. We are not a giant “non-denominational” movement. We are not the “none of the above” choice. This is not the Grand Church of Tabula Rasa.

We are Unitarian Universalism. We are missionaries into a hurt, broken world.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Love Beyond

"My grandmother used to tell me stories about how they would put straw under the eyelids of slaves so they couldn't fall asleep," he confided to me.

JT and I took many classes together in seminary, and are good friends. He is one of those encouraging sorts of people who always have a smile and a "How you doing, darlin'?" for everyone. 

In my last semester, one of the classes we were in examines the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

For me, this is a rich history course. For JT, it is memories. He is a retired funeral director, getting his M. Div. for his own spiritual growth, and to strengthen his existing ministry. He is African-American, and he grew up in the South. He drank from labeled water fountains. He is a big man, tall and broad-shouldered, with dark skin. This dignified gentleman, a successful, generous businessman, lived, and lives, in a world that sees him as the bogeyman. 

He and I both have deep beliefs about the power of love. For me, life has made this root of my theology easy. For him, it has made it a just-shy-of-impossible struggle.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached over and over about justice. But even more, he preached on love. He exhorted others to even love those who wanted to hurt you, wanted to bomb your house, wanted to kill your babies. Over and over, through his sermons, through his speeches, he counseled love. He knew that to cede the power of love was to lose part of yourself.

JT shows me how very hard this is. That to forgive others, others who have never even realized how wrong they were, is a herculean task. The stories of what was done to ancestors are passed down, generation to generation, in his family. There are no such stories in mine. We do not pass down what we are ashamed of.

Our professor, slightly younger than JT, grew up in the North and remembers being yanked away from a "white" water fountain when visiting family in the South. But he is more positive. We read the laws that were on the books in every state in the late 1950's. "Look at how things have changed!" Part of our grade is based on analyzing the success or failure of MLK's ministry.

After class, JT shakes his head. "Right is right, and wrong is wrong," he says. There are certain things, certain hurts, that are unforgivable.

Today, we will probably hear "I have a dream" and "mountaintop" and maybe even "arc of the universe." But to me, Rev. King is still speaking. Part of my spiritual practice lies in reading and studying his words. Words he wrote 50 years ago challenge, indict, and inspire me today. Every day for 2012, will be MLK day for me.

His ministry continues. 

Thursday, January 05, 2012

I do not do enough. I do not give enough.

But I want to.

This is not false humility, it is truth.  I am not yet the person I want to be. But I feel that I can be.

Jesus, John Lennon, and probably your mama have all talked about my problem. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I have good intentions, and soon as I have more time, more money, I'll do something with them.

I waste. I waste time, I waste money.

Time that could be spent making a real difference in the world is frittered away. I never have time to be bored. From the moment I wake til I fall asleep, there is a steady stream of information available to me. Computer, television, email, books. Boredom spurs creativity, for good or for bad. Grownups often go to great lengths to "keep kids busy" because they know that boredom can lead to mischief. Ya gotta keep kids out of trouble.

We are being constantly entertained, too. And we are kept out of trouble. And we are kept out of good.

I waste money. Another book here, another coffee there. Click, swipe, it is mine, to be abandoned on a shelf, or quickly consumed. Both, 24 hours later, wholly forgotten. Waste.

I know that who I am is not what I do, but I also know that what I do shapes and creates who I am.

I want to be better than this.

I want to be around people who encourage me to do so. Who teach me how to. Who motivate me to set aside my smartphone and join them in transforming our little corner of the world into a better place. Which will help transform me into a better person. I want to change my life in a big way, I want to give myself to something big. But I need help. I need tools so that I can manage my money, my time, my ideas.  I need to feel I'm not doing it alone, that I'm a part of something important.

Sunday, I will walk in the doors of your church.

What will you have for me?