I have a friend who works for a fabulous non-profit. She took a pay cut after a few years doing something far more lucrative. The non-profit depends on people of all means to be partners in the work they believe is possible, so she is connected to all kinds of folks which is some of the fun. One loss for her, though, is that after her job change often when she told folks what she did for a living, her answer was met with silence and awkwardness and nary a follow-up question. I suggested maybe it was just that her work was so different from most folks’ that people didn’t even know where to start. Recently another friend suggested that he thought the silence was because her work forced a moment of perspective-check on folks. In that silence, he thought they were wondering whether they did something they believed in either inside their workday or beyond it? He thinks they are assessing in the silence whether they are invested somewhere larger or whether their sphere of influence has narrowed only to include themselves and those most like them?
I don’t know which theory is right or maybe if there is another explanation for why this friend gets met more often with quiet than she had in her previous life. Is it really harder to make conversation about at-risk-youth than it is about patent law or consumer marketing? I don’t know. I do know that one of the things I love about being in community – religious community – is some sense I have an insurance policy against living too small, too blind, too routinely.
It must seem funny to say that as a minister because technically my job is to do the waking up. “If you aren’t in danger of being fired at least twice a year, then you aren’t doing your job,” says the old prophetic command given to new ministers. However, I rely on the whole community to make sure we do not miss the signs and wonders and calls the world issues out.
It has not failed me. So far, almost every issue we have responded to or collective call we have answered began with one of our members sounding an alarm or voicing a passionate hope. My job (and our leaders’ work) is just to listen and to know a good wake-up call when we hear one.
This is why I love our new mission statement. It feels like it frames a wake-up call of the best kind. I love that it presses us to ask ourselves how is it we get about being more loving (the kind of love that is expressed through the work of intention and inclusion and welcome and of meeting difference in relationship). I love it that it presses us to figure out how we feed our spirits so we become mature souls who are grounded in what is important and sustained for the long haul of mutual care, forgiveness, courage, introspection, resilience to setback and loss, and service. Finally, I love that it presses us to ask how and where are we distinctly positioned to do healing in the world because ew believe healing is the end-game of inclusive love and the growing of a soul; the fruits we aim at that tell us whether we have been watering the right trees in the spiritual paths we have chosen for ourselves.
Who knows what it means to cultivate radically inclusive hearts and minds, to feed our spirits with well-balanced diets that keep us whole, and how to heal the whole hurting world, but the questions are great ones for keeping us grappling with the good stuff. And no matter what anyone says they are doing with their lives if we are knee-deep in this work together this year and next and for years to come, we won’t have the nagging feeling we have veered too far off course. This is the course: Living the Mission Impossible together. Or giving it the best go we can.
So, you will see how we have divided the year into segments where we try to take each piece of the mission and go a little deeper. Suggestions or challenges about what you think would also be good crucibles for exploration should come right to the program staff who are struggling to figure that piece out (Tuli, Emilie, Kim or me). Music that speaks to the mission’s challenges should go right to Mitchell who is looking to find songs that anchor us on the path. Thoughts about how this mission challenges and informs how our congregation governs itself, invests its money, welcomes its guests – anything at all – can be channeled to and through your elected Board leaders.
We hope this year has opportunities for you to find greater peace and joy in your life, places to be connected, challenging questions, and opportunities to sow your gifts into the world. May we wake one another up to the best in life’s – its signs, wonders and calls into depth.
Vanessa Rush Southern, Parish Minister