It had been a while since I was on a two propeller plane. I was on my way to Binghamton for a regional meeting, and saw the little thing sitting there on the runway. I travel all the time, and pride myself on being intrepid, but for some reason this one made me a little nervous.
Nevertheless I got on board, and sure enough, the little thing managed to get into the air, if a little wobbly. I was sitting on the wing, looking out to the right, when I noticed the propellor was slowing…then stopped.
Well surely, I thought, there must be a backup engine that kicks in after take-off. I looked to my left, and that propellor was still going. Hmmm. Hmmm. The flight attendant was looking more attendant. Nobody else seemed to notice. Must be no big deal. After a long five minutes the pilot came on to explain that the right propeller had failed. Happens all the time (well, not all the time, but sometimes and its just fine). We’ll just turn around and go back. No need to worry.
We’re all so well-trained now to be obedient in air travel, and so we waited obediently. I saw the young mother in front of me pull her two year old son much closer. The elderly veteran to my left smiled encouragingly at us all. The young woman to my right suddenly turned to me and started talking about all that she noticed around her. Instantly we were a community — attuned to one another and engaged in a common enterprise– the task of coming to terms with life, with what was most meaningful and present to us in that moment.
We made it back fine, if a little rockily. And we sat huddled together in the terminal waiting for our next plane feeling connected and displaced at the same time.
Community can happen in an instant. I know there is a particular kind of community that happens when people engage with one another over time and through many different kinds of experiences — people who choose to be with one another. And then there’s another kind of community that can come when we least expect it, and are not trying to construct it. It happens to us, and we only have two choices at that point: respond with openness or close down into our own fear. Religious community is like that. We can work really hard to construct our perfect version of what we want to surround ourselves with. Or we can be open to something unexpected and unbidden that speaks to us of life’s energy at its core. The two aren’t mutually exclusive of course, but I wonder how often we give credence to the second kind, or think about how we might respond when community happens. When spirit is born.
My head is still buzzing after our Congregations and Beyond consultation last week. The privilege of being in a far-ranging conversation with 22 visionary people astonishes me. In such a short time we could barely cover the territory of explorations, and I still feel like I’ve only been able to process 10 % of what we discussed, but I want to share some ideas that are emerging.
First and foremost what impressed me about the conversation was how clearly we all understand this work to be a shared ministry. We all understood that reaching out to connect people of common faith is everyone’s work – not just the UUA’s or some particular kind of staff person. All of the ideas generated were based on the assumption of willing hands and hearts. It just goes to show something I’ve always believed: that people find all kinds of energy for that which really calls to a deep place inside of them. And clearly this is tapping into that energy.
Twenty two committed Unitarian Universalists have gathered in Orlando, Florida to brainstorm how we might extend the reach of Unitarian Universalism in this new age.
We are laypeople and ministers from all regions of the US; we range in age from early twenties to late sixties, we are black, latino, white, differently abled, of various gender identities and sexual orientations. And we are called to spread the reach of the message of liberal religion.
All of us are hyper-aware of the new technologies that enable us to think in a new way about connecting. From the beginning we committed to having this conversation in a way that is transparent through different kinds of media. And in our opening conversation we realized that we still struggle with what it means to learn in public. As we developed our covenant for this time we were looking for a way to reflect deeply and creatively without worrying about who was watching and whether they might misinterpret our brainstorming.
At the same time we wanted to model real and true transparency and trust that our conversation partners beyond will see this in this experimental light. The covenant we came up with expresses this struggle. You can check it on the Blue Boat Blog.
Some of the challenges around this are just technical (just technical!) What media do we use to share the conversation? To share it on Facebook is quickly overwhelming. Twitter creates a nice feed but not everyone is on twitter. Etc., etc.
More of the challenges are around deep cultural shifts. Who can speak on behalf of whom? Who are the deciders of new initiatives? Who is responsible for carrying a vision forward? Right now we are spending some time envisioning what our movement would feel like, look like, be manifest in 5 years if we were a vital faith for the future. I can’t wait to hear what comes of this conversation!
I’ve been incredibly excited to see the conversation developing around the UUA’s “Congregations and Beyond” initiative. If nothing else, it has started a really important conversation. Checkout the Facebook conversation. There have been dozens of blog posts and twitter conversations about it. Follow the Twitter hashtag #congbeyond.
Joanna Crawford summarizes the responses well in her latest blog:
- “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.”
I’ve heard this same desire for clear goals expressed everywhere. And I would like to caution us that this is actually the worst place to start. Read more