Holes in the fabric- tears and unraveling- What can be mended? What is rent for good?
I asked those questions of colleagues last fall feeling anger, mistrust, conflict – over multiple areas of congregational life intensifying around the edges of East Shore- I had been aware of this since my arrival- and I attributed it to normal levels of anxiety when change is being initiated… It was clear to me that whatever I was doing, or focusing on was not helping so I sought outside help to see what I/we could do.
Last Sunday, East Shore got to hear the summary of our consultation from regional staff, Rev’s Christine Robinson and Jonipher Kwong- members and friends.
From their month with us, they concluded that the highly anxious times that we live in, and the transitions here created a “perfect storm” within ESUC- they recommended:
- Developmental Ministry
- Build trust
- Step up your work on Right Relations Program
- Work on Your Governance Structures
- Pay Much More Attention to Communication!
- Fulfilling Your Mission like Going to a Potluck – to “practice love, explore spirituality, build community, and promote justice
Christine and Jonipher believe in your potential for transformation as you work through this conflict. And they departed, offering us their blessings on your journey.
When I went on the website to read the report, I found a report from 2015 from Mark Euwert-
His summary and recommendations offered similar areas of focus….
- Create a new mission, vision, and strategic plan for the congregation Check!
- Clarify your governance program and align it with your key documents
- Make steps to improve your way-finding at all levels, and build your membership culture
- Provide more support for your annual drive and stewardship education year-‘round
So what now?
Our busy needles will do no good until we sit- in the uncertainty- in the moment and feel that futurelessness that surrounds us here, in the nation- in the world.
I have always been a fiercely independent sort “I can do it myself” has been my motto since about the age of two. I was born to charge through obstacles- bulldozing my way through obstacles to get to my objective… until January 4, 2003.
I went to my doctor for my routine physical… I had been without health insurance since September and I was just waiting for the church’s insurance coverage to begin Jan 1st. I had a little stich in my side that had been nagging me but other than that- I was feeling pretty normal. My doctor was also a friend- and the routine exam changed when I heard Penny say soberly “This does not look good.” From that day until January 16th, when I awoke from surgery to learn that they had removed three grapefruit size ovarian tumors- and a lot more of my inards… I found myself in the unique state of futurelessness that only a life facing death can create. Sometimes it takes an extreme directive from the universe to get our attention… and the very real possibility of a fatal disease is one of life’s richest opportunities to let go and simply be.
I had to gather my spirit…. Minute to minute- exam to exam- breath-to-breath present for the moment of now until a new breath marks the step to the next moment. The absence of a future gave me the precious space and motivation to make peace with all that was unfinished in my heart and mind- time to find acceptance for all that is my life. The truths of who I am, who I have been, and who I might never become. In the peace of that acceptance I surrendered and allowed my self to be cared for- mended.
From the minutia to the eternal- the questions of our lives confront us- what to have for dinner- how to protect our children in the aftermath of another tragic mass shooting- duct tape and the existence of heaven or hell- moment to moment we are confronted with the only answer to it all- truth. Very real truth- the seed of all faith. There never is a future. That is an illusion we create for ourselves because it is comforting to think about what comes next- to plan- to control. Really? All we ever have is this one moment- this breath we are now breathing- for before the next it could all change. Faith comes when we discover and internalize the precious beauty revealed in this moment. Beauty is Truth. Truth, beauty-
The preciousness of that awakening is what mending is all about. Mending is the work of faith- the only work of importance to us now- our spiritual work as a community. Mending.
Mary Phipher bought a sheet at an auction which had two holes carefully mended. she writes “… most of us are no longer menders. We are K-Mart shoppers who discard objects at the first sign of disrepair. Mending takes time, skill and personal attention. It is cherishing, having an I-Thou relationship with something. Object you are mine so I will fix you.” Staying in relationships is to be a mender. Marriages that last do so because of a commitment to cherish… we mend what we value. We value what we mend. Mending hallows objects and gives people depth of character.”
Descartes expressed only half the truth- Cogito ergo sum- “I think therefore I am” leaves out the other essential component in the spirit of humanity. Amo ergo sum- “I love therefore I am”. Human beings are tribal- pack animals. For our safety and for our souls we need one another. Both reason and relationship, heart and mind, sustain our growth, our integrity and our well being. Heart and mind- side by side in ongoing conversation and relationship, defining what is essential to our existence.
At the very same time, our fears, our egos, and our less than perfect self-concepts can often keep us from reaching out for what we really need… allowing ourselves to be cared for- expressing how we truly feel or those fears can keep us from reaching out to someone who we see is in need.
In the play, Dancing at Lughnasa Brian Friel says:
You work hard at your job. You try to keep the home together. You perform your duties as best you can — because you believe in responsibilities and obligations and good order. And then suddenly, suddenly you realize that hair cracks are appearing everywhere; that control is slipping away; that the whole thing is so fragile it can’t be held together much longer. It’s all about to collapse.
This anxiety over change- the experience of differences- nothing like you planned… do you feel it? No future…truth – and beauty start right there- in uncertainty- in all of the pain and loss- the truth of who we are and our purpose is most starkly revealed in the moment when there is no future.
Pema Chodron says, “Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live.”
We have shared much together in the past few months, communally, nationally and globally. We have all been part of the conflict, engaged, ignoring, pretending and just plain oblivious- we each had our part… felt right- felt wrong… at the same time that the world around us stole precious lives, dismantled security, which all added to your loss of trust in life’s predictability.
The world around us and within us has brought tragedy into our lives, and the uncertainty of disease, conflicts, and injustice. The fragility of the world in the wake of its tragedies and the uncertainty of our own political future asks us for holding, for mending, being together as we try to restore faith- doing and being more than just individuals clinging to the grass so as not to fall off the world.
East Shore did not arrive at this moment on its own- with only the stories of this year or last year. You carry forward all the stories of the past- the triumphs, the losses, the errors, the tragedies are all part of the construction that is East Shore Unitarian Church. There is more to your story than I have been to unravel for you, with you. You will need a longer, more intentional developmental ministry to understand, and integrate the truth of your story. You will need to mend and rebuild trust.
I have no promises for what will be- I have no assurances of what more any of us or all of us may be called to endure. These last few years on this earth have taught me that there is no tragedy or loss beyond our imagination. I have also learned the truth of human beings power to reach out, to build and rebuild lives, heal hurts and give generously of all that is needed. From hurricanes, to floods, to fires to war- human beings with hearts to love, hands to heal and minds that are open show up.
Gather your spirits- Sit together – be gentle, sit by each other and listen, rock in chairs, care for the children. You will mend- you are mending- and all the work of a future begins with being here, now in this moment- building faith, mending souls so that in the next moment you will be present- for whatever you are called to be present for.
I have seen you do what needs to be done- I have been witness to your ability to be equal to whatever task is put before you- you have one another- the heart of this congregation is the truth that no one who is here must face uncertainty or loss -what ever might befall you, alone- there is strength in the warmth of your neighbors’ hand- the truth of your loving care. That is the truth you can hold onto- all the beauty you will need.