So, in my last post, I pointed to three different posts and asked if there was anyone who could help me see the connection between those three stories–or at least help me articulate them. I updated the post when I realized that, in my mind, the different posts, when read as a group, whispered to me that we are missing the point.
“Not sure what point’s lost to us,” commented Bill Baar, author of Pfarrer Streccius, one of the blogs I linked.
Five days later, I may have to agree with Bill. I’ve re-read all three posts several times since posting, trying to understand what my brain was about in linking them together in the first place. I’m obviously troubled by the story of the young man gunned down in front of his house. It’s a news story and we make meaning of this story as we do all pieces of information–but I’d like to hold onto this story til last, if we might.
Let’s start with the piece on The Journey, about how people who come into our tradition (that would be me) treat those who are born into it (that would be my daughters), as if their experiences as a Unitarian Universalist don’t count for whatever reason. It’s more than that–read the extensive comments on the post if you want to know how people have felt marginalized in their own spiritual home for the “privilege” of being born into a faith that demands vigilance and veracity at all turns–even in Kindergarten. The fact that a minister or other leader would find ways to marginalize any of the members of their congregation is unacceptable.
Why do we, as a group, do this? Again, when I say “we” I mean “me” as I’ve done some form of this, myself. I’ve never harbored any feelings about “born-inners” other than the false understanding that there weren’t any–until I met some. Most of the “born-inners” I’ve met have been (based on the work that I do) either ministers or ministers-in-formation, and I have to say, I have felt envy of those people. Not envy because they had it “easy” but envy because they are, generally, so grounded in this faith tradition and its potential and are able to love their faith tradition while also respecting and understanding other faith traditions. They are the grown-ups in the room of our faith, if you will, even when they are only 18.
About a year ago, we had a meeting at my church to discern what our needs were for Religious Education. It was an open meeting and I was surprised that one of our elders made the trip downstairs for the meeting. When we asked the starting question of “Why do we offer Religious Education for children?” This elder responded “to babysit the kids while the adults go to church.” His children were born into the faith. Would it surprise you to know that none of them raised their own kids as Unitarian Universalists? Yeah, me neither.
The next post that bled into my subconscious was the PeaceBang post, which, in a nutshell told ministers “you’re not in seminary anymore, get over yourself.” My personal belief is that church should do for the laity what seminary ought to do for ministers: guide us away from the self and toward the whole. Which does not mean to negate the self, but to put the emphasis of daily life on what is larger than ourselves. From my vantage point as a lay leader and as a person who works in one of our seminaries and has seen a few seminarians run the gauntlet, in my humble opinion, those who have made that transition BEFORE seminary stand a better chance of being the kind of minister we all want: one who can push a congregation to provide succor for the spiritually damaged, provide weekly spiritual and intellectual support for those who are not in crisis other than that which is daily life, and move us all to do the work our faith forebearers have laid out for us. There’s been a lot of talk this week about that long arc and who said it first, but are we doing our part to bend it toward justice? As I interpret PeaceBang”s post, if ministers are spending their energy on themselves in front of their congregations, well, “you’re doing it wrong.” Who do you serve and to what end? (And I will also note, the post is for Ministers of many faith traditions, not just UU.)
And then I read the news story of the young man–the young African American man–the fourth in a family to be the victim of gun violence. The story is not just a story but a real life lost, a flesh-and-bone family, a tangible reminder that there’s still much to do and I wonder do we really have time for all these other things? Born-in vs. Come-in? Ministers who waste opportunities by directing their flock to their personal angst?
We talk so much about growth, but it ain’t gonna happen if we are perceived as picking fights with ourselves and being led by adolescent ministers (and by this I mean developmentally adolescent and not chronologically adolescent because one of the strongest leaders our church has seen of late is a young woman who is not yet 21).
But I don’t despair, because I see the tide a turnin’. I see ministers, seminarians, and Religious Educators pushing us all toward a path that says, gently, “get on with it.” Get on with the work that will save your soul as well as your sisters and brothers, as well as this earth. Put one foot in front of the other and keep marching toward that place where it won’t matter if you were a born-inner or a come-inner or that you ever stepped in at all. The work is hard and will last longer than any of us, but that only means it needs us more than we need it. But need it we do.
I’m not educated enough to use words like “salvific” and I have a very shallow understanding of bodhisattva, but this seems to be the calling of ours and many other faith traditions–the reason many of us find meaning in congregational life–because we want to make meaning out of our being. And it is hard to make meaning when our focus (either as a person or as a congregation) is internal.
The point is not lost. It sometimes gets buried. It just took me a lot of words to uncover it. Blessings to you all on this journey.