A long and winding road to “The Point”

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.

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About TinaLBPorter

I write poetry and blog at www.tinalbporter.com. And I'm thrilled to be writing with you.
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8 Responses to A long and winding road to “The Point”

  1. julian says:

    Love this post Momma. I’m gonna have to stew on it a little and come back and comment later. Just wanted to let you know I visited and that I thought this was wonderful.

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  2. Ogre says:

    “Not educated enough”–pfft! Pfft! They’re not reserved for those “educated” (by others). Anyone who understands them is entirely entitled to use them. My grandfather got his butt tossed out of high school–and still managed to be a very highly educated individual, as well as a quite successful one. Education (the industry) is one way to education. But it’s not The One True Way.

    Having said that…

    What we’re doing–and what you’re doing–isn’t easy. It’s often hard. Were people perfect and conditions optimal, things could be different. But the making of meaning–that’s hard. Period. But quite satisfying when it’s achieved.

    And then it’s time to make more. Kind of like hot, homemade bread, it’s incredibly satisfying and gets devoured. Leaves a glowing memory… and demands to be done again. And again.

    “… After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

    Even the shallow end needs a boddhisatva for those still learning to swim at all. Thanks for being a shallows boddhisatva…

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  3. Sara says:

    I was puzzled how the three posts were connected – so thank you for the long and winding post to spell it out! Very nicely said.

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  4. Bill Baar says:

    Re: 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.”

    UU Ministers and the balance of professional UUs like our Representatives in Congress. Most happy with their own but the others leave a lot to be desired. I’m happy with the two I’ve known. They ran good Churches. And I enjoy reading Peacebang.

    But Liberalism’s at the cusp of going bust or a radical definition and reappraisal of what’s gone badly wrong with it. I’m guessing it’s the UU establishment that will need a swift kick rather than do any kicking of its own.

    The great fear is now one will think there’s much left in the greater UU worth kicking into gear and we’ll just plain disappear. Surviving Churches rebuilding some new kind of Free Church.

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  5. PeaceBang says:

    Hi Momma, sounds like you’re processing a lot of big stuff. I haven’t read The Journey’s post yet but will. One phrase of yours that confused me a little bit was that you attributed me as saying “if ministers are spending their energy on themselves in front of the congregations, you’re doing it wrong.” I’m not sure what that means but it doesn’t sound like what I meant. So just to clarify, what I was critiquing is the sort of preciousness that we’re all encouraged to engage in in seminary, a fascination with our every thought and feeling about ministry so we can articulate our sense of calling and vision to those who will call us to serve their congregations. After we leave seminary, we have to become much less fascinated with ourselves and much more fascinated with helping lay people do the same for themselves. I think you understand that correctly — in fact, your writing helped me see it more clearly for myself, so thank you.

    Finally, I am encouraged by the direction you’re going in: it is good to stop and discern where we are putting our energy. I have to do this, too, all the time. What is the church called to do and be!!?!? Should we be teaching Unitarian Universalism and quibbling about who’s more theologically grounded in the tradition or should we be equipping people to be lovers of the world and get out there and just do/be that? It is a genuine question and it determines how we spend our time, money and energy in our congregations. My DRE and I struggle with it all the time: we want very much to perpetuate the faith tradition but we also recognize that maybe that’s not the point. Both of us are teachers and scholars of UU history and theology and we love that “stuff.” I am a born-inner and he is a come-outer who has spent thousands of hours studying Unitarian theology and history. We have to stop and question at times, we know what WE love to teach, but what do our people really need?

    Keep it up. Keep weaving the threads. Thank you.

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