When I heard about yet another mass shooting--this time at the Umqua Community College in Oregon--after my initial sadness, horror, and anger, I thought of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, #563 in our hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition: “A person will worship something—have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts—but it will out. That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts will determine our lives, and character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping, we are becoming.” It seems that guns and violence dominate the imagination of our country. Our culture worships them, in the truest sense of the word—lifting them up as having a greater worth than the lives lost to them. We will see what this nation becomes. I fear that if we continue to worship a culture of violence, our nation will become more violent, the threat and fear of it becoming what governs us. I say this every time one of these mass shootings occurs, but it is not just these events. It is the day-to-day violence that happens that we never hear about because it is so ordinary. It is the vitriol of the public exchanges on social media that happens afterwards, a violence itself that prevents any dialogue that could move us toward a thoughtful and sane response.
In the wake of events such as these, I am grateful for this community and for our Unitarian Universalist faith. They remind me that I am not alone in imagining and practicing a different culture—one that values human life more than violence. Unitarian Universalism is not alone in this, but having a place and a people gathered around love and justice, freedom and hope, joy and gratitude gives me courage and reminds me that a worship of violence and guns is not the only kind in our culture. There are people worshipping other things, and building communities around them.
This brings me to another quote that I have been carrying around with me lately. Author and community organizer, Margaret Wheatley writes, “There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about. Ask ‘What’s possible?’ not ‘What’s wrong?’ Keep asking. Notice what you care about. Assume that many others share your dreams. Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. Talk to people you know. Talk to people you don’t know. Talk to people you never talk to. Be intrigued by the differences you hear. Expect to be surprised. Treasure curiosity more than certainty. Invite everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. Acknowledge that everyone is an expert in something. Know that creative solutions come from new connections. Remember you don’t fear people whose story you know. Real listening always brings people closer together. Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. Rely on human goodness. Stay together.”
I think her words are very wise and imagine a culture grounded in the practices she lifts up: Discover as a community what we care about; Be brave enough to start conversations that matter; Be intrigued by differences; Treasure curiosity more than certainty; Listen to bring ourselves closer together; Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. In fact, we are trying some of the right now as we engage in conversations and discernment about whether or not start a capital campaign in order to raise money toward making our building more accessible. It is not easy. We all have different stories, perspectives and priorities with regard to what we care about. We are not all created equal in what we can offer of time, talent and treasure. It takes courage to listen with curiosity instead of certainty, to ask “what’s possible?” instead of “what’s wrong?” However, in order for us to discover what we care about as a community and how to prioritize what we can do, we have to be in conversation with one another. While it can feel risky, it seems to me that this is how we truly build trust and deeper connection and community.
I appreciate the work of the Next Steps Task Force to guide us into this discovery of what matters to us and inviting us into meaningful conversation around our building and how it serves our covenant and how it presents obstacles to it. In particular, I appreciate Ruth Whalen Crockett creating and facilitating conversation and listening for the three congregational forums. I am grateful to the folks who have already indicated that they would be willing to make start-up pledges to a campaign. I continue to be humbled by the culture of generosity in this congregation, where so many give freely of the time, talent, and treasure you each have.