“After all, what are any of us after but the conviction of belonging?” Wallace Stegner
One the great crises of our time is homelessness. Homelessness, we know, is more than simply not having a home, or the money to pay our bills, or the necessary social service support to negotiate reentry to a society to which those without a street address quickly lose their connection.
Yet there are greater problems, problems that affect the homeless but extend well beyond the fact of homelessness, connecting everyone; though moreso those on the margins of our society. Those problems are hopelessness and the feeling of alienation, spiritual maladies with real world symptoms.
It is easy to see hopelessness and alienation in our world, among rich and poor, black and white, learned and uneducated, political or not. Immigrants who have gained citizenship, who have lived and worked in America for years, feel insecure walking the streets and suspect they are not welcome where they go. Many young people feel hopeless as they look at their employment options and consider their college debt. Surely, you don’t have to be young or born in another country to feel alienated—the epidemic of drug abuse, reaching across the generations, income levels and color lines is an indicator of that. The fact is that many people do not feel like they belong in their own country, due to their ability to “compete” in an economic system based on winners and losers, because of color or gender, sexual expression, age or ability.
We, the KUUC, may want ask ourselves some questions as we clarify our values and conceive of a mission worthy of our people and principles:
- What is the nature of our welcome to the world? Do we make people feel like they belong in our community?
- What is the nature of our community? Do we treat each other kindly without avoiding difficult challenges or sweeping conflict under the rug?
- What is the nature of our commitment? Do we work as individuals and as a community to understand and live our shared values and principles?
- People are suffering. Many people feel shut out of “the system”; many feel demoralized and persecuted because of their skin color; many feel despised because of their difference from the status quo; many feel the unbearable pain of being alone in the world.
Is there anything we can do to help? Do we dare to change the world? If we help one person who walks in our doors, in some way we help all people. When others are welcome we too feel less alienated and more clearly see our place in the human family.
With heart and in hope,
“When we choose to love, we choose to move against fear, against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect, to find ourselves in the other.” —Bell Hooks
The other night I was at a business meeting of the church that began as most, if not all, of our meetings do, with a “check-in.” It was an evening meeting, and I must admit I was tired. I had looked over the agenda for the two-hour meeting and seemed reasonably short. I decided that with relatively few items on agenda, we had time enough for good discussions on each item, to vote on items that needed resolution and still get out a little early.
Then the check-in went on and on… In fact, it lasted more than a half-hour. I found myself getting anxious and a little grumpy. It was hard for me to listen, to take it all in, as I still had work to do when I got home, and I wanted to spend some time with my family. I even did my best to get us “back on track” by being brief (for me at least) during my time to share.
I was also being human, isolating despite the opportunity for connection.
It was only after I got home that I realized what had happened to me at the meeting. I had lost track of something important about church life that must always be the priority, always the most important item on any agenda in any worship service or religious exploration program. The most important thing about congregational life is being together in community.
Congregational life is all about sharing deeply, listening intently, and taking a break from the bottom line world of term papers and work deadlines, investment returns and the endless medical appointments which predominate our time, and trouble our sleep, during the cascading ages and stages of Life. Or perhaps it would be better to say that in spiritual community we bring all of these things—our worries and peculiarities, our needs and little victories—with us to a place where they can be heard and acknowledged, where they can be put into perspective, where we can hold them up to the light of our shared values and highest aspirations, all in a safe place, all in good company.
As I am only human, I sometimes forget this most precious gift of spiritual community, I expect we all do. I sometimes forget that community is something I need just as much as anyone who gathers at 69 Washington St. In this season of renewal, we will begin to talk about values and vision and our mission—all important things. Yet, what is most important, whatever the outcome of all the talking and dreaming and making plans and taking action, is that we will be learning about each other; opening the circle of friendship and strengthening the bolds of friendship and community.
Yours in Faith and Fellowship,