Feb 24 2014
Democracy and Covenant: Acting Each Other into Well-Being
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
“Love [is] the power to act-each-other-into-well-being….
We have the power, through acts of love or lovelessness, literally to create one another.”
Beverly Wildung Harrison
February 2001: teacher Eileen de los Reyes stands on the stage of the largest classroom at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education to launch her popular course. “T128: Educating for Social and Political Change.” To the students before her, she throws out this challenge: “We are here to create a radically democratic classroom! And if we succeed, you will never want to teach in any other way.”
March 2014: We at the First Unitarian Church of San José jump into a month of exploring the spiritual and practical dimensions of “Democracy and Covenant.” Professor de los Reyes’s words ring in my ears. What did I learn through that class that will help us create the kind of community we long for?
I remember how hard it was for all of us—certainly for me—to stay awake to the play of power and privilege, to engrained lessons about who gets to speak the loudest and most often. I remember our discussion section—a group of 15 students of all ages from Argentina, Mexico, Palestine, Peru, Puerto Rico, the United States—wrestling with the interweaving of “the personal and the political.” How much time would we spend checking in with each other? How much time would we give to the content of our reading? How would we record our learnings and our progress toward that radically democratic classroom? How would we apply these lessons to all our relationships at school, at home, at work?
When I read through those old notes and papers, I see the messiness of creating a space where everyone is honored and valued. All those different perspectives, histories, identities, life circumstances, and more—of course it was messy! We each brought unique gifts and flaws to the table. “Equality” did not mean erasing those different capacities and personalities. We struggled, we got mad, we went through some major life passages. I see the depth of connection and care that grew among us. I remember how we changed each other. I see the goals that we emboldened each other to pursue. They are still, even now, a good measure of how well I am living up to my promises to myself and to them. We were bound together in democracy and covenant.
“Does real democracy always involve covenant?” one of you asks. Yes—I’ll be bold enough to say it—it always does.
What lies at the root of these entertwined ways of living? You guessed it: Love.
“Love [is] the power to act-each-other-into-well-being,” the late feminist professor Beverly Wildung Harrison writes. Right here at the First Unitarian Church of San José, I see the power of such love every day. And I also hear Love’s call to Step Up—to go deeper, to try harder, to notice more, to think more clearly, to widen Love’s embrace!
Did we students in “T128” really create a radically democratic classroom? I don’t know for sure. It’s an ambitious goal. But I do know this: the vision called us to Step Up. And we did—we stepped up. I will never forget it, and I want to live that way every day. Won’t you step up with me?
With love and faith, Rev. Nancy
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