removing barriers to participation in governance.

21 Oct

Join me on a thought experiment, won’t you? In this blog posting, I want to explore an idea, not advocating a particular pathway; to think outside the box and see what happens.

Imagine with me that there is an organization called the Evolution Society. They have an important message about evolution that they want to share with as many people as possible – to really get it out there. They initially appeal to institutions of higher eduction, which join as members and provide funding. But other people want in – people who are not affiliated with the institutions of higher eduction. Some of those people have money they want to give to fund the expansion of the message. Some want to join because they want the snazzy brochures the Evolution Society puts out. Some live in areas where the Creationist Society is dominant and they want to keep in touch with people like them. These folks want in!

Credit: barebente

Credit: barebente

Now let’s say that some members of the Evolution Society really don’t want it to evolve. They want to keep their membership limited to institutions. They have agreed to expand the types of institutions that can join them, but these new types of institutions won’t be able to vote or participate in the governance of the society. And they encourage free-range members to join an institution, preferably a university or college. They are afraid of what might happen if they open membership up, and besides, doing it this way has worked for them for decades.

Fast forward 10 years, and the Evolution Society is struggling and exists only on the campuses of a few colleges and universities. They have become fringe. Instead of closing their doors, the Evolution Society lingers, slowly shrinking in both membership and relevance. Pretty soon, they are serving a bare minimum of folks and their message is not on the cultural radar. They are virtually extinct.

Meanwhile, the Creationist Society has been much less picky about who they let in. They they have established strongholds not only in the places where the Evolution Society already exists, but have expanded across the country and world. They have small groups, coffee clubs, and even bird watching groups that spread their message.

 

So here is my wondering: Is the UUA like the Evolution Society?

Yes, for a long time we have been the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

But a look at the cultural landscape tells us that that fifty years from now, religious life will primarily be lived outside of congregations. It might be lived in coffee houses or living rooms. It might be lived with smaller groups of people, seeking deeper and more intentional spirituality. It might be lived in yoga classes or birdwatching groups that connect their faith to the work they do to preserve songbird habitat. Congregations will, hopefully, continue to exist, but the number of people who feed their religious and spiritual needs that way will be small in comparison to the number 50 years ago.

So it was with interest that two pieces in the current UUA Board packet caught my attention. The Emerging Congregations Working Group submitted a proposal for the creation of Covenanted Communities, which are defined as claiming UU principles and sources, furthering UU values in the world, committed to being in covenant with the larger UU movement, etc.

I am excited about this idea, as it is a new way of addressing the Beyond part of Congregations and Beyond. At this time, the Working Group recommends that these Covenanted Communities not be member congregations – meaning they will not receive voting privileges. I understand why the Working Group made this recommendation – there will initially be vast amounts of confusion between what the difference is between”related organizations” and “covenanted communities.” By not giving Covenanted Communities voting rights (which related organizations also do not have), they are not privileging one group over another.

Perhaps, down the road, these groups will get the right to participate in our governance. I trust that the UUA Board and leadership will work through the complexities involved in making this happen.

But when I read the 2009 Fifth Principle Task Force Report, also included in the Board’s packet this month, it gave me pause, and I started to wonder.

Don’t get me wrong, the 5th Principle Task Force did an amazing job analyzing and laying out the issues with our current General Assembly process. Their conclusions advocate for a smaller, less frequent General Assembly, with fewer delegates but whose registration and room and board are paid for. Yay! This is great!

As an aside: They also express concern that “Substantive linkage and distant delegates participating through offsite voting are initially a clash of values” and so advocate that technology being used for learning and for observing, but not participating in the actual governance. As someone who was an off-site delegate this year, I disagree. It was such an amazing experience to be able to participate in our General Sessions from afar.

But getting back to the issue at hand. One might argue that both these reports seem to want to continue to put up barriers to participation in our governance, when perhaps we may want to consider the exact opposite. What it would look in the future if, instead, we opened up governance up to all Unitarian Universalist “citizens”?

I have heard the argument that one must be a member of a congregation to be a Unitarian Universalist, because we are a covenantal faith and you must be in covenant in a congregation in order to be a part of us. But people are demonstrating left and right that we can be in covenant with one another in ways other than through congregations. This means that requiring membership in a congregation has become a barrier to participation for many people who consider themselves Unitarian Universalist but are not members of a congregation. If we are looking to remove barriers to participation in our governance, might we want to look at opening the possibility of participation up to even more people, rather than further reducing it?

In this model, certain important elements would not change. We would continue to need a very strong Board of Trustees. We would continue to have an Administration and Staff that work to achieve the ends of the Association. The UUA would still provide strong support to congregations and other covenanted communities. I am only suggesting that we look at who can vote, and imagine what it might be like if we considered opening it up instead of locking it down.

We would need to work out some details, such as how to determine UUA “citizenship” – but that is an exploration for another time. I trust that our great minds can figure such a thing out.

I believe that we need a robust Unitarian Universalist Association that can serve stakeholders that may or may not belong to a congregation. A UUA where all who meet certain “citizenship” requirements are able to participate, whether or not they are affiliated with a congregation. We have more free-range Unitarian Universalists than we do congregation members. Many of these folks were raised in our congregations. Might we want to allow them to have a say in the future of our faith tradition?

I understand this sounds like heresy. As I said, this is a thought experiment. It seems to me that if we want to achieve our governance goals of greater and more diverse participation, direct democracy is going to be more effective than indirect (which is what we have now).

Culturally, younger people favor direct democracy. In addition, particularly as our technology continues to allow more and more off-site participation, more people would be able to participate. Direct democracy also gives privileges to marginalized voices – people who may not be their congregation’s delegate but whose lived reality adds important depth to the conversation.

We are moving into a post-congregational era of our cultural history. We see the signs all around us. Congregations won’t die out, I don’t believe that, but we won’t have as many as we have had, and more and more people who identify as Unitarian Universalists won’t belong to one. I want Unitarian Universalism to evolve with the times, and this means looking who we are.

What do you think? What are the pros/cons of direct/indirect democracy? And with these questions in mind, how might we best live our global end of “A healthy Unitarian Universalist community that is alive with transforming power, moving our communities and the world toward more love, justice, and peace in a manner which assures institutional sustainability”?

 

Unitarian Universalism’s relationship to Christianity, part 3.

15 Oct

In the first part of this post, over on the The Lively Tradition, I argued that whether or not we are Christian (which varies depending on how you define Christian), we are part of Christendom and that by saying we are not, we lose some of our power. In the second part, which I posted on this blog, I worked on some of the “so what?” issues.

All that being said, I also think Unitarian Universalism is moving toward something, as was mentioned in the comments on the original post.  Perhaps it is like cell mitosis, only instead of being an exact replica of the original cell, we are evolving into something different.

But I don’t believe we can move healthily in any new direction until we make peace with where we have come from.  Unitarian Universalists have had so many folks who came/come to us wounded and accepting “all religions except Christianity” for so long that, now, as our congregations embrace a more spiritual or theistic humanism it can look/feel like we are going backwards. But I truly don’t think we are – we are healing, which is absolutely necessary for us to move forward with strength and power.

Albuquerque UU, taken by Denis Paul.

Albuquerque UU, taken by Denis Paul.

A Universalist message of loving the hell out of the world is powerful.

A Humanist message that it is our responsibility to do so is powerful.

A Unitarian message of not having to think alike to love alike is powerful.

A Pagan message of we are all connected is powerful.

We need all this, and more.  Not one over/above another.  And not “all except this one…”

Indeed, if we look at our congregations, we see how they vary. Particularly if we break it down geographically, we find vast differences in how our message is incarnated in our congregations.

How wonderful that different aspects of our message appeal in different contexts, geographies, and congregations!  This flexibility, this fluency in a variety of different ways of being religious, gives us strength and power. It makes our faith tradition both unique and highly relevant to contemporary life.

giving thanks in all circumstances.

1 Oct

Dear one,

My heart ached for you when you got the phone call telling you that your child had suddenly died. It is a tragedy to lose our children, no matter how old they might be. We always love them, they are always our children, and we are always their parent.

But even more than the news, what broke my heart was when I gave you a hug and you whispered, because words were too hard to speak out loud, “Give thanks to Him for everything, right?”

I heard this phrase a lot when I was a chaplain in the hospital. Patients would use it in an effort to avoid their grief, to invalidate the uncomfortable feelings they were feeling. It is a phrase I find repellent. And so, off the cuff, I answered you, “No, you don’t have to give thanks for this. This is terrible. You are allowed to grieve, to hurt, to be angry and sad.”

But I don’t identify as a Christian anymore, so I know my words may not have brought you comfort. My words may not have been what you needed to hear. So I want dive into your tradition to help explain this phrase that is so often taken out of context and used in such a damaging way.

There are two place in the Christian Scriptures where the idea of giving thanks in all things occurs:

Ephesians 5:19-20

“as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

and

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

First, let us take a look at the verse from Ephesians. These days, this book is accepted to not be an original Pauline letter but is generally understood to have been written in Paul’s “name by a later author strongly influenced by Paul’s thought.” Because of this, and because the author probably had the Thessalonian letter in front of him, let us focus instead on that scripture.

1 Thessalonians is understood to have been the first letter written by Paul to one of the new Christian communities, around the year 52. This makes it, chronologically speaking, the oldest book in the New Testament.

Paul was concerned about the young church. There were some errors that existed between what he had taught them and how they were practicing, so Paul was writing, in part, to clarify. And he wanted to encourage them in their faith. In the section in 5:12-25, in which the verse we are dealing with resides, Paul is writing about how Christians should behave.

Notice that the wording is “Give thanks in all circumstances” – This does not mean to give thanks for all circumstances.

Rather than deny our uncomfortable feelings or try to cover them up with gratitude, we can take comfort from and be inspired by the writers of the Psalms. The Psalms are full of laments, both communal and individual. Indeed, a lament is the most common type of Psalm. In these laments, the writer appeals to God in times of distress. “They typically open with an invocation of Yahweh, followed by the lament itself and pleas for help, and often ending with an expression of confidence.

tears_of_sadnessThe laments in Psalms show us that our feelings of sorrow, grief, anxiety, worry, anger, fear and so much more – these feelings are not foreign to God. In fact, we are encouraged to take them directly to God, and that God will be with us through them all.

This is what Paul is entreating the Thessalonians to give thanks for – not the trouble or struggling that is visited upon them, but that through it all, they are not alone. God is with them, and will be steadfast no matter how messy the emotions may seem.

And so I encourage you at this time of deep, deep sorrow, don’t try to pretend to be thankful. No one expects that from you. Instead, take your grief to God. Know that God is there with you in the pain. Lean on God and know that in this darkest hour, you are not alone.

With much love and sympathy,

Dawn

PS: In writing this, I came across an incredible resource. Amy Roberts put together a 30-day devotional after the death of her daughter. It is called Psalms for the Grieving Heart and it can be printed out or accessed online.

innovation and ministry.

18 Sep

This is a bit more of a personal post than usual. As I come up on the 25th reunion of my high school class, I am thinking about the amazing education I received, and how it has served me.

Some people are surprised when they find out that I have a Bachelors degree in Computer Science. And they become even more flummoxed when they find out that I was in the very first graduating class of one of the first STEM public magnet schools in the country, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Fairfax County, VA.

My spouse used to think it was strange that I take such pride in my secondary alma matter. But it is hard not to be proud to have been in that first class, particularly now that Newsweek has listed my school as THE top public high school in the country. Again. This is not an unusual distinction for the school.*

The detailed Newsweek article quotes Principal Evan Glazer sharing that the school is “preparing kids to go into fields that have yet to be invented.” A teacher is quoted as being excited about it being “a public school that allows us to try new things!”

Okay, you might be saying. So what? What does this have to do with anything except Dawn bragging?

Well, it turns out that my high school actually prepared me to be in the ministry, because this field is changing. Not as rapidly as technology, but it is changing in unprecidented and unforseeable ways.

There are two primary drivers for the changes that the church is seeing right now: timing and technology.

Phyllis Tickle points out that every 500 years, the church goes through a massive upheaval. Right now, she says, we are going through the Great Emergence. Watch the video for a quick summary of her arguments.**

Combine the timing issue with the radical changes in technology and in how we relate to one another due to social media, and church is not what it was even 25 years ago. There are a lot of folks who have written about this phenomena, I don’t have space to go over it here.

The point is that for a very long time, culturally speaking, church was about the same. Now it is not. This means that now, more than ever, we need leaders (lay and professional) who are willing to try new things, to experiment, to innovate. Leaders who will take the past, build upon it and then go in new places.

I don’t think I would have made a very good minister in the 1950s, or 60s, or even 1980s. But I think that my education and experience have predisposed me to be energized by these changes. So in many ways, I am doing exactly what my high school educated me to do 25 years ago. Who would have thunk it?

——————–

* The wikipedia article has a list of some of the many, many awards. As my spouse and I look into high schools for our kids, my standards are ridiculously high. And I think that ALL students should be able to have access to such an amazing opportunity.

**Granted, she is speaking particularly of the Christian Church, but as part of a tradition that is directly connected to Christianity, Unitarian Universalists cannot help but be impacted by these changes.

effort & inertia.

3 Sep

A huge part of my sabbatical is working on a book that reflects on lessons and experiences I had in Roller Derby and applies them to psychological, sociological, and theological topics. Each chapter has two titles: the first one, in capital letters is the basic concept, followed by a phrase or inspiration from derby.

I won’t promise to post all the chapters, but I will post many of the first drafts. What do you want to know more about? What should I write less about? I welcome all constructive feedback, questions, curiosities.

Towards that end, here is the chapter I am calling…

Effort & Inertia: Stinky Pads

It’s midway through practice and we are doing a hitting drill with full contact. It’s my turn, and as I chase after my teammate, I am breathing heavy and envisioning where I will catch up to her and how I will slide my hips in front of her and then sheriff her with my shoulder.

Midway around the track, I catch her and as I go to slide in front of her, the top of our arms touch. Her skin is so slick that my arm slides in front of her fast enough to throw off my balance. Before I know it, I am face down on the floor. My teammate has lept over me gracefully.

I get back up, and go stand back in line to try again. As I look at my teammate, I see she is covered in sweat. There are no dry spots on her shirt. Indeed, if she stands in one place too long, a puddle will form.

Roller derby makes you sweat, some more than others. Many sports make you sweat, of course, but many sports don’t have you wearing as much protective gear as roller derby does. Sweat gets into our helmets, our elbow pads, our wrist guards, our kneepads, and of course our skates themselves. At the end of practice, we throw all our sweaty gear into our bags and into our cars. If we are lucky, they will have time to dry out before the next practice. Many of us aren’t so lucky. So in addition to being sweaty, we stink.

photo

Oh, how we stink. Even after cleaning my pads and letting them air out, two years after I last strapped them on, I can still smell them when I walk into that part of the basement. Since our sense of smell is the one most tightly connected to our memories, it’s not uncommon for me to stand and nostalgically remember my roller derby days whenever I have to get something from the basement freezer.

Sweat. Stench. Signs of effort.

I have come a long, long way.

There was a time – just after college when I began working in the “real world” where I would actively avoid anything that made me sweat. I had lost that part of me that enjoyed getting dirty while playing in a creek, playing tackle football in a field. I avoided anything where I might get dirty, or, heaven forbid, that might make me smell.

All around me were pictures of what being a woman meant – nicely coiffed, clean, in a pressed shirt and impeccably accessorized. This is what I thought I was supposed to be now that I was “grown-up”. I abhorred anything that might require sunscreen, or bugspray, or ultra-heavy-duty-deoderant.

Thank goodness for roller derby, which allowed me to reclaim my love of getting dirty. Now, like a kid, I revel in it (sorry, honey!). These days, if I am participating in a physical activity and don’t sweat, I feel like I have not worked hard enough. I haven’t put in enough effort.

So you would think that, given how much I enjoy the effort that I put into practice, and how good I usually felt when it was over, that getting me to actually get in the car and go to practice would not be such a insanely difficult endeavor.

But it usually was.

Most days, I just wanted to stay at home. I was tired after a long day of working, I had barely had a chance to say hello to my kids, much less knowing I would be missing bedtime again. With a job that has a lot of evening meetings, there were some days I didn’t even go home first – I would spend 10 hours at the church and then go straight to practice.

Most days, inertia set in. And it became a battle with myself to get to practice, even as much as I loved it.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this process, now, so I know that I am not alone. For many of us, even if something is wonderful, fulfilling, exciting, challenging – all this good stuff – we still have a hard time getting off our butts and actually doing it.

This is one reason why new exercise routines fail, or new healthy-eating plans, or : Inertia.

Inertia is the tendency of an object at rest to stay at rest, or an object in motion to stay in motion. This fundamental principle of physics applies to the motion of objects, but the word itself actually comes from a Latin root that means idle or sluggish – words we usually use to describe human beings.

If we are going about our daily business, and then come home and plop on the couch, it is inertia that will want to keep us there for the next 4 hours. It is inertia that tells us that it is too hard, too difficult, too time-consuming to get out the equipment of our old hobby that we loved to do before we get derailed from doing it regularly a few months ago. Particular to my field, it is inertia that keeps someone from going to a religious service, even if they know they will love seeing their friends and worshipping with their community.

It is also inertia that can keep us going even when other resources have failed. It was actually easier for me to get practice on those nights I worked late, even though I entered practice pre-exhausted. It was easier because I had been in motion all day and just allowed it to carry me along. Whereas if I had gone home first and slowed down, it was harder to resume activity.

A friend of mine recently shared a quote with me, from Lucille Ball. She said “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” At first glance, I thought my friend meant “Ask a busy person, because obviously they can’t say no!” but the quote continues: “The more things you do, the more you can do.” Inertia works both ways – it is harder for us as human beings to change our state than it is to keep doing what we are doing.

So how does one get over the inertia that may prevent her from participating in something that will be fun, exciting, and fulfilling, and actively recalibrate her activity level? Marelisa Fábrega, author of How to Live Your Best Life – The Essential Guide For Creating and Achieving Your Life List, recommends the following in her blogpost entitled “Seven Ways to Overcome Inertia and Get Yourself Unstuck”:

1. Shock Yourself Into Action
One way to get the bump to move us from resting to activity is to shock ourselves into action. This may be by asking ourselves pointed questions, such as ones that might focus on the consequences of not engaging in an action. “What happens if I don’t make it to practice tonight?” I might ask myself. The answer: Not only will I feel worse for not going, and not only will I neglected to engage in a healthy, stress-reducing activity, but I also won’t be eligible to play in the next bout if I don’t earn these practice points!

2. Secure Short Term Wins
Sometimes, overcoming inertia is giving ourselves enough quick wins that we become energized, which can then help us get motivated in the longer-term. For getting out the door for practice, I would create short-term wins like “I am just going to pack up my gear and put it in the car” often followed by “I am just going to get dressed and put my contacts in” – with no requirement that this meant I would actually go to practice. Of course, by the time I had done all this, I was pretty much ready to go and so usually did.

3. Dangle a Carrot In Front of Yourself
Reward ourselves! Both long-term and short-term rewards come in handy when trying to overcome the inertia that keeps us idle. Short-term carrots for me almost always involved chocolate after practice. A longer term carrot might be qualifying for the roster for the next game.

4. Use a Stick
Fábrega points out that “not only do we have a tendency to move toward pleasure, we have an even stronger tendency to move away from pain.” So then how can we use this to overcome inertia? Denial is an effective technique – I have found the denial of chocolate to be quite effective. Another one she recommends is charging yourself money. “For example, you could ask a friend to charge you $5 for every day that you fail to take action toward the achievement of your goal.”

5. Fill Your Gas Tank
I think this one should probably really be number 1. How often can we not get started on something because we don’t have enough energy? This might mean taking a nap, getting to sleep earlier more regularly, or having a healthy snack. It might also mean going for a walk, light job, or doing some yoga – something that helps get our blood flowing.

6. Create a Clear Vision of What You’re Trying to Achieve
Visualization works wonders. We were often told in practice that, in order to master a skill, several times a day we should visualize ourselves mastering the skill. Combining this with some of the other tools can yield particularly powerful results when overcoming inertia: I would visualize eating that lovely piece of chocolate when I got home from practice. When my mouth started salivating, I was out the door.

7. Stage It
We can also remove physical obstacles that might prevent us from getting done what we are trying to get done. For instance, if I hate going into the basement to get my gear, I could set it up closer to the door that I will go out. I might make dinner in the crockpot that morning so that lack of something to make for dinner is not my excuse for not going to practice. Fábrega says “Set the stage for the action that you want to take.”

Sometimes, the rewards of putting in a good effort are not quite enough to overcome our inertia. But when we do overcome it, we can be extra proud. One sign of that effort in roller derby is how much our pads stink. Roller girls are secretly (and not so secretly) proud of them. Still, just to be safe, if a roller girl hands you something and says “Hey, smell this”…don’t.

a possible new approach for congregations to organize around their mission.

25 Aug

I have read quite a bit about congregation dynamics, organization, and governance in the past few years in addition to serving an historic, urban congregation. As our world and culture changes, so too must our congregations. We cannot keep doing things the way they were done in the 1950s. So what do we do, and what might that look like? Here is a model I have been tinkering with.

It is in our congregations that our mission and vision is best incarnated. It is through our congregations that we change ourselves, our communities and our culture. Please note that I am not using the traditional definition of “congregation” here, but am expanding it to include any community of faith. For these purposes, a congregation might be a covenanted community or other emerging organization that does not fit the traditional definition.

I propose a 6H Approach for congregations to use to serve their mission:

  • HEALING those participants who are spiritually wounded and struggling, providing resources (such as pastoral care and counseling) to those in spiritual need who choose to participate in the life of the congregation. So many people come to us desperate for our message of love and acceptance. And so many of those already with us have crises in our lives during which we need a community of love and support. Before any of the other steps can take place, people need to be spiritually rejuvenated.

  • HOLDING participants in care through providing opportunities for them to make connections with others in the congregation; and through worship and religious education opportunities that help them deepen their faith. This step must continue through the rest of the process, as it grounds participants in the congregation and its mission.

  • HEARING and honoring the the stories of participants, recognizing that each person and each story is unique and brings something to the table. An important part of this step is to create space to encourage participants to discern how they are called to minister to each other and to the world. There are deep discernment and spiritual direction components to this step.

  • HELPING participants to gain the skills/training/experience necessary to live out their ministry. It may mean saying “This does not fit with our mission” and returning to the HEARING phase. Provided the ministry does fit into the mission of the congregation, it may mean connecting them with an existing ministry. It means holding participants accountable and helping them create a plan for the ministry. It means helping a participant to learn/discover the risks/cracks in their plans. In this step, the congregation might provide leadership training, or grant writing training. Or perhaps the congregation would help connect participants with others in the local/extended community who are interested in or already doing similar work.

  • HANDING OFF the mission to the participant(s). Provided the ministry fits with the mission of the congregation, the congregation needs to trust the participants and not micromanage every level of detail of their ministry. The congregation should give the participant(s) access to the resources of the congregation (newsletter, facebook page, copy machine, etc.) with clearly defined policies, limits, and expectations.

  • HOMECOMING provides the essential accountability and ongoing connection between the congregation as a whole and the various ministries in which participants are engaging. Is the ministry effective? Does it continue to fit with the congregation’s mission? What might need to be updated? What is working that other ministries might be interested in replicating? This phase is also a time for people to review and renew (or change) their connections with different ministries – perhaps an individual will want to re-enter the Hearing phase for additional discernment.

With the 6H Approach, congregations could structure themselves around these different steps. There would still need to be strong governance of the congregation, but this would help organize the congregation’s ministry around its mission. In this way, with the mission at the forefront, congregations can better be about the work of transformation.

In the interest of transparency, I haven’t yet tried this out in a congregation but I hope to have a conversation around these lines with my congregation when I return from sabbatical.

I welcome feedback and thoughts/suggestions.

feeling impotent about Ferguson.

20 Aug

As a human being in general, and as a minister in particular, I am called to pay attention; to pay attention to what is going on in the world around me, particularly when I would rather focus on much easier topics. To bear witness to the highs and lows of human life.

I have been struggling with that this week. I don’t want to pay attention. I am on sabbatical, the kids just started school, I finally have time to myself. I want to work on the book I have in my head. I want to tackle that enormous reading list.

I open the book I am supposed to read for my study group in November, and this is what I see.

In the vicious maltreatment of defenseless citizens of Ferguson, where old women and young children were gassed and clubbed at random, we have witnessed an eruption of the disease of racism which seeks to destroy all America. No American is without responsibility. All are involved in the sorrow that rises from Ferguson to contaminate every crevice of our national life. The people of Ferguson will struggle on for the soul of the nation, but it is fitting that all America help to bear the burden. I call, therefore, on clergy of all faiths to join me in Ferguson…In this way all America will testify to the fact that the struggle in Ferguson is for the survival of democracy everywhere in our land.

The original is the telegram issued by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on March 8. 1965. I changed “Selma” to “Ferguson” because that is what my heart read. And as I read it, my throat closed and my spirit cried out.

Fifty years, and we are still viciously maltreating our citizens, and sorrow rises to contaminate every crevice of our national life.

I know so many of us feel similarly right now. So many of us are hurting, overwhelmed by the issues going on in Ferguson and elsewhere around the country.  We may want to just ignore it, but since it is not going away, we get drawn in.

Our pain is a testament to our interconnection. We hurt, seeing and hearing about these events, because we know we are connected to those who are suffering, in Ferguson and beyond. We have an innate capacity for compassion, to want to reduce suffering if we can. And right now, many of us feel impotent.  “What can I do about it?” we may ask ourselves.

I find hope in the increasing intensity of what is happening – not just in Ferguson, but around the country. The longer people are demanding justice and are showing up in Ferguson and in solidarity in our own towns, then isn’t it more likely that something must change?

This is the start of something big, something hopeful but not without pain. The best way to address that pain is to do something that has meaning. No matter how impotent those of us at a distance may feel, there are things we can do to help out. This list that the Huffington Post put out is the best I have seen.

So hang in there with me. Pay attention, but take breaks. Take care of yourself. Step away from the computer and take your dog for a walk. Hug a loved one. Call a friend. Go see a movie.

Then, when you are rejuvenated, read through that list again and do something about the next item on it. In this way, instead of going out in a blaze of existential impotence, we might keep the flame of justice and compassion burning within us for as long as it takes to see this through. May it be so.

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