Wednesday, March 07, 2012

What Does It Mean To Be Who We Are? (2)

In a recent post I wrote about the importance of "knowing thyself," of not only living our lives but also of looking at our lives to understand who we really are.  Dom Helder Camara once said, "Watch how you live.  Your lives may be the only gospel your sisters and brothers will ever read."  When asked about the message he wanted people to hear, Mohandas Gandhi said, "my life is my message."  And, of course, Socrates famously said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."  This is not a new idea.

And it's not only a good idea for individuals -- you and me -- but for institutions, as well.  In particular, I was suggesting that it'd be a good idea for a religious community to look at its "life" and see what it has to say about who and what it is.  And in that post -- which was also my "Words of Wikstrom" column for the March bulletin of the congregation I serve -- I promised that I would spend time here at A Minister's Musings examining the life of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist.
For this first installment I want to lift up the Mission Statement of TJMC.  It says:
Mission Statement for TJMC-UU
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church is a church of the liberal tradition rooted in the heritage of Unitarian Universalism and dedicated to the belief that in every individual there are extraordinary possibilities.
  • We are committed to the individual and collective pursuit of spiritual growth, social justice, and life-long religious education and understanding.
  • We foster an open and free community in which we share our gifts, care for one another, and honor our differences.
  • We seek to have a lasting influence on local, national, and global programs that promote equity and end oppression.
What happens if we look at the things we are doing as a faith community through the lens of the Mission Statement we've created together?  How well do our verbalized values line up with our actual activities?

Unquestionably the two most central activities of our community are the religious education program for our children and youth, and the weekly communal worship service.  I would wager that more people have more contact through these two things than through everything else we do combined.  And so it is worth noting that both of these activities tie directly into -- or, to put it another way, flow directly out of -- all four of the points of our Mission.
Not only what we're doing in Religious Education and Worship but how we're doing them, as well, is both in keeping with and an expression of the values in our Mission.  While there is professional leadership in both of these areas, neither would be possible without tremendous lay involvement.  And in both cases this is not just token involvement but true collaborative co-creation.

And this, I would suggest, is true of all of the things that are done within the context of "The Worship Council" -- the UU Christian Fellowship, NatureSpirit, the Labyrinth Ministry, the Clear Spring Sangha . . . all of these are "rooted in the heritage of Unitarian Universalism," "dedicated to the belief that in every individual there are extraordinary possibilities," they are demonstrations of our commitment to "the individual and collective pursuit of spiritual growth . . . and life-long religious education and understanding," and are manifestations of our "open and free community in which we share our gifts, care for one another, and honor our differences."
I would say too, of course, that the same is true of our "Lifespan Faith Development Council" -- our religious education for children and youth, our adult faith development programs.  In fact, some might say that these values are even more clearly present in our congregation's religious education across the lifespan.  And certainly the invitation to become more deeply and fully informed about the issues of the day creates a necessary foundation for the last point to become actualized.
In a recent sermon I gave a list of some of the many activities we engage in under the umbrella of the Social Action Council:
Adopt-a-highway, Chalice Lighters, Children’s Worship Collections, Emotional Wellness Ministry, Environmental Action – Green Sanctuary, Food Pantry, Gay/Straight Alliance, Giving Tree, Guest at Your Table, Hospital Food Packets, IMPACT, Marriage Equality, PACEM, Partner Church(es), Peace Action - UNO, Refugee Partnerships, Social Action Collections, Soup Kitchen, Undoing Racism, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, our Youth’s work in relationship building with the residents of the Cedars.  (And largely thanks to our children and youth and our Gay-Straight Alliance we are connecting with the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.)
It seems self-evident that these things are in alignment with our Mission Statement as well.  Very much so.  I would note that in our Statement we do not simply endorse activities to increase "justice" in the world -- in a vague kind of catch-all way -- but are rather specific, declaring that we aim to have an impact on, or to be involved with, programs that "promote equity and end oppression."  Lots of things can be contained within that rubric, yet there are projects and programs that'd be a stretch to include.  This kind of clarity can be very helpful in deciding what to do and what not to do as well as in helping us see why we're doing the things we are and how they fit together.  (I'm hoping that further conversations about our social justice initiatives might concentrate on that particular phrase and just what we think it means.)

I could continue, but I think the point of the exercise is clear.  Take any particular activity of the congregation -- from the existence of a particular group or committee to the various specific tasks that they do -- and ask whether or not there is (or could be) a clear connection between that activity and our Mission Statement.  If so, let's get better at articulating that connection, that "we do this because our Mission is this."

And where there is a disconnect -- if there are places of disconnect -- we can ask ourselves three questions:
  1. Is there something we can change about the way we're doing this that would help it to align with our Mission?
  2. Is there something we should change about our Mission Statement because we're doing this thing?
  3. Is this something we should stop doing so that we could more energetically focus on those things our Missions calls us to be doing?
 In my next post on this subject the exercise will be essentially the same, but I'll propose a different lens to use while looking at our congregation.  I am hoping that this series will spark a lively conversation . . .

In Gassho,

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