Thursday, October 11, 2012

“Journey to Higher Ground

 “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

- Aristotle

This religious institution has a mission, To seek inspiration and understanding, embrace all on their individual spiritual journeys, and serve our local and world communities.” We collectively worked on and crafted this mission statement to define our purpose and to describe how we will relate to each other and to the wider community. This is a powerful statement full of ambition: “to seek inspiration;” “to embrace our spiritual journeys;” and “to serve our local and world communities.”


Cascade Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is growing and maturing and our presence in the wider community is also evolving. Now the Social Action Committee has been rejuvenated by the energy and enthusiasm of a fellowship that is vibrant and alive, growing in numbers as well as enthusiasm, and is already active and committed to service within these walls and beyond. The Social Action Committee’s charter is to, help turn the words in our … Mission Statement into action..” and to fulfill “… the vision of a Beloved Community, one social action at a time.


These are inspiring words and admirable ambitions. The Social Action Committee is one expression of our collective commitment to walk our talk. If we want to translate these ambitious new ideas into new actions; into practical applications that will create a visible presence for good within this fellowship and in the communities in which we live; if we genuinely want to live these words into being we need to be able to visualize a reality that does not yet exist. We need to see and believe in a future in this fellowship, in these communities, in this state and beyond that has not yet been realized. We need to dream in vibrant color. We need the perspective that can only be found from higher ground. These ambitious ideals call us to become something that is greater than the sum of our individual lives and purposes. Together we are more powerful, more brilliant, and more energetic than any of us are individually.


Albert Einstein was a genius, not because he knew more than everyone else, but because he could literally see more and see differently than anyone else. Albert Einstein redefined almost everything we understand today about how the universe works because he was able to see it from a new and different vantage point, a different perspective. Einstein was willing to abandon much of what had been long accepted knowledge about how the universe worked, and that has changed everything, forever.


If we are committed to seeking inspiration and understanding in new and different ways we will need a new bold vision; we will need a new perspective. If we keep sitting where we are sitting right now, then we will only ever be able to see what we can see right now.


Here in the Pacific Northwest our geography is relevant. We understand the importance of higher ground. Outside my front door I can see the Cascade Mountains and outside my living room windows I look down on the Columbia River. Higher ground is where you go to get the vantage point, the perspective of scale that is critical and essential for any journey into unfamiliar territory. That is just what we need to inform and sustain a potent, vibrant, energized presence in this building and in the wider community.


Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery understood this. It is difficult for us to appreciate today, but Lewis and Clark were exploring completely new territory. Their mission was a simple one, find a water route from East to West. All of their education, training, and experience and simple logic convinced Lewis and Clark that once they crossed the continental divide they would see a gently sloping decline in elevation toward the Pacific Ocean, and most likely, a river route.


They were wrong; and not just wrong, spectacularly wrong. Instead of the gentle decline in elevation they expected, what they saw were mountains after mountains. The highest and most forbidding mountains that they had ever seen. Mountains higher than they even thought mountains could ever reach.


What I find most interesting about Lewis and Clark’s response to this crushing disappointment is that instead of turning around and going home, they pressed on to the West Coast and spent the winter in what is now Astoria, Oregon. Lewis and Clark walked that higher ground and were able to see the land stretched out before them from a completely different vantage point; a new perspective.


If we keep walking in the direction we are walking right now, we will only be able to embrace the vision and spiritual journey that we can see right now.


We have started that journey; we’ve started to dream in color. A couple of months ago Jennifer Bright led this fellowship through a series of workshops to identify and clarify just what this will mean to us in practical terms. And from that process two issues were chosen to be our focus – poverty and homophobia.


So, as a faith community, we have decided that what translating our words into action will mean for us is that we will be present with people living in poverty and minister to their needs; and we will stand on the side of love with our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) brothers and sisters who are marginalized and oppressed.


Steering committees were formed because this is still a Unitarian Church and nothing can happen without a committee. The Food Task Force is working on getting food into the kitchens of people who are hungry. This means a renewed emphasis on our Food Bank Sundays, which you probably have already noticed with toilet paper Sunday, Diaper Sunday, and Peanut Butter Sunday. Granted diapers and toilet paper are not technically foods, but they are a necessary component of the whole food nutrition process. They are also working on longer range plans for a community garden. They are exploring the idea of forming a food bank in East Wenatchee, as the only food banks operating now are all in Wenatchee. There have been discussions about volunteering at existing food banks specifically so their hours can be extended to accommodate the working poor who may not be able to access the service during their limited hours of operation. And they have discussed the viability of providing lunches to children, particularly during the summer months when children are not in school and receiving the free or reduced fee lunches on which they depend.


As for homophobia a steering committee has been formed to shepherd this fellowship through the process of becoming officially recognized as a Welcoming Congregation. The Unitarian Universalist Association has a formal process for a congregation to be recognized as a Welcoming Congregation - a religious home where intentional steps have been taken to become welcoming and inclusive to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. The program was first begun in 1990 and grew out of an understanding that widespread prejudices and lack of awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people existed within Unitarian Universalism that resulted in the exclusion of LGBT people from full participation in the life of the church.


This is what it is going to mean for us to translate our words into action. Turning these words into intentional, public, and meaningful actions will require, of course, more than just the vision of a reality not yet achieved. It will take a lot of work.


I still remember what it was like to work. I was a social worker in the field of child welfare for almost twenty years, but this was not been my only, or even my most important profession. At one time I had the perfect and most important job. From the time my daughter Becca was 3 until I was no longer cool, about middle school, I had the position of full time professional stay at home Papa. I recall one day in particular. I had given Becca her lunch and was getting her ready for her nap. Getting three year olds to take a nap is an essential function of the professional stay at home papa. Apparently; however, I was not doing it correctly.


Being my daughter and having been taught by example, Becca was unafraid to express her opinion, a characteristic that is much cuter in 3 year olds than it is in 16 year olds. Becca told me that I was not doing it right. Actually she said, “That’s not the way mommy does it.” Confident in my professional stay at home papa skill set, I calmly explained to Becca that I wasn’t mommy. Becca looked up at me and said, in the way that only three year olds can when they realize that their parents are idiots, “You’re the mommy now!”


Clearly, I needed a different perspective. I had to begin to see myself not as the professional stay at home Papa, but as my daughter saw me, the mommy. If I wasn’t able to gain the perspective of a three year old, I would always be “doing it wrong.”


If we keep standing where we are standing right now, we will only be able to understand what it means to serve our local and world communities in the way that we understand it right now.


We may not personally identify with poverty or homophobia, but don’t think that it does not affect us and that since it doesn’t affect us we have no duty to do anything about it. The reality is that, as Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We are, in the Christian tradition, truly our brother and sister’s keepers.


More than that though, poverty and homophobia are daily realities for many of the people and families living in the Wenatchee valley. Our solidarity with vulnerable, marginalized people can do much to change the lives of a person or family. On our own our individual voices and actions have great power; but collectively our unified voice and witness can influence the arc of history. Margaret Mead famously stated that we should never despair of the little we can do because all great achievements in our human societies have been initiated by small groups of progressive thinkers who were willing to act.


I see great things happening, modern day miracles of justice, equality, and compassion stirring in the life of this fellowship. That can really only happen if we accept the challenge to join our voices and actions together and commit to addressing the poverty and homophobia in our own communities and beyond.


And that is it, bold journey’s into unfamiliar territory may expand us, individually and collectively, but only if we are willing to let go of the familiar, find an appropriate vantage point from higher ground,  and win a new perspective. Because if we stay where we are right now, then we will only be able to seek inspiration, embrace the spiritual journey, and serve our local and world communities in the ways that we seek, embrace, and serve right now.


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