May 04 2010
At our recent buck-a-book sale, I picked up a wonderful book of essays titled “Hard Blessings: Doing the Work of Love,” by Unitarian Universalist minister Tom Owen-Towle. Owen-Towle tells this story:
Not too long ago, a Methodist bishop in a Midwestern state received a letter from a rural congregation under his care. These good folks were worried that their church was being taken over by a new group of people—new members of the church whose worship style was very different from that of the long-timers. For instance: the new members had brought in a load of hay, spread it across the sanctuary floor, and then begun to roll in it “in fits of ecstasy.”
“Bishop,” the long-time congregants wrote, “we need you to tell these new people they don’t belong in our church. Please kick them out!”
The bishop wrote back: “All I want to know is this: When they get up from rolling around on the floor, are they better partners? Are they better parents? Are they better citizens? If they are, let me know, and I’ll send a bale of hay to every Methodist congregation in the county!”
Now, I confess: the mere thought of hay spread over (and then ground into) the beautiful labyrinth-inscribed carpet at the center of our sanctuary is almost enough to make me break out in hives. And I can hear our Building Committee hollering already!
But … I also believe that Methodist bishop has got it right. We need to ask ourselves: What are the effects of all that we experience together at the First Unitarian Church of San José? When we get up from our worship services and committee meetings, our Small-Group Ministry sessions and Social Hour, our Lifespan Faith Development classes and our social-justice actions, are we better partners, better parents, better citizens?
I hope so. I believe so. But the question always bears asking. And it leads to these questions, too: Could other styles of worship, other classes, other actions and activities help us to live our faith and our love more fully? Or maybe, do we need fewer choices but more openness to the power of the experiences we already share?
In our worship services on Sunday mornings in May, we will deepen our experience of the interdependent web of all existence, and we’ll ponder our human place in it. We will experience a more embodied style of worship through our singing and movement; we will take up the strands of earth-centered traditions and paganism that are woven into our faith; we will celebrate the more-than-human parts of this great web. Will we come away better partners, better parents, better citizens—better lovers and friends? We hope so. We believe so. With your open hearts, minds, and spirits, we will travel together into the center of our web. May there be plenty of hay, metaphorically at least! May there be both ecstasy and grounded truth, and the transforming power of love!
Yours in the spirit,
 Adapted from Tom Owen-Towle, Hard Blessings: Doing the Work of Love (Carmel, Calif.: SunInk Publications, 1999).
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