Feb 13 2008

Being the Change We Want to See-Part II

Being the Change We Want to See—Part II 

In our most recent newsletter (and my most recent blog entry), I mapped out an approach to transformational change that Rev. Dr. Larry Peers introduced to Unitarian Universalist clergy in January. We begin by imagining ourway of being” once the change has been made: What kind of language will we be using with each other? What is our posture, how do our bodies feel? And what is our mood? Then, we picture the results of this change, describing them in as much detail as we can. And finally, we tell a story about the obstacles we faced and the joys we celebrated as we made our journey through this “sacred shift.”

When we begin the process of transformational change with this view “from the mountaintop,” we discover all sorts of gifts: Just by imagining it, we are already beginning to get the new way of being into our heart and body. When we see obstacles from the point of view of having already overcome them, we can imagine solutions to them that might not be so clear if we’re only looking at them from the “valley,” where those same obstacles may appear overwhelming. When we recognize that we will always have much to celebrate even in the midst of change, we can enter into the process with energy and joy, as well as with love and appreciation for our companions along the way.

When we clergy had the chance to apply this approach to an area of transformational change that we would love to see in our communities, I chose to focus on “The Sacred Shift to an Intentionally Multiracial, Multicultural Beloved Community of Faith.” Surprised? Probably not! Still, before I began, I thought, “I don’t know what this kind of congregation looks like. Most people say it’s not possible. How in the world do we get there?” But then, I set my imagination free, I gave myself permission to play, I allowed some Spirit to enter in … and here is what showed up:

What does our new way of being look like, now that we are a multiracial, multicultural Beloved Community of faith? Time and again, we hear each other saying: “I love how we’re the same and how we’re different! Our lives are so much richer because we are all here together! I love you!” The mood of the whole congregation is joyful, passionate, full of wonder and enthusiasm, and loving, in the bell hooks/Scott Peck definition of love as the “will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual growth.” We can see the change in our own body and in the posture of the congregation as a whole: our bodies are open, flexible, fluid; we make expansive, embracing gestures, and we’re all “mixed up” together.

What are the results of this sacred shift? Families from all cultures have a variety of activities to choose from in order to nurture their spiritual growth. For instance, we have a two-hour religious education program on Sunday mornings, with lots of options for people of all ages. People come for an hour of religious education and an hour of worship; some come to both worship services. People show up for Social Hour between the two services so that they can see new and old friends. All our social justice activities and social events embrace folks from a variety of cultures, “races,” and backgrounds. The church is thriving so we are able to grow our staff to include more “races” and ethnicities. Other churches want to learn from us how we became this Beloved Community—so we publish a book about our story! Besides the increasing joy and compassion that are palpable within the congregation—besides the difference we know we are making in each other’s lives—the whole community of San José listens when the First Unitarian Church of San José speaks.

What were some of the obstacles along the way, and how did we overcome them? People really hated the idea of spending two to three hours at church every Sunday. Folks who grew up with the Catholic model of the “drive-by” mass were particularly shocked. But gradually, as folks of all ages tried it and as our religious education offerings became more responsive to the needs of our diverse people, folks started to form friendships and to love what they were learning, and then they couldn’t wait for Sundays to come. At first, some congregants were terrified of inviting people from a different culture or “race” over to their homes for social events. How would they understand each other? What would they talk about? Wouldn’t it be a lot of work? But some Circles of Eight dinner groups began issuing intentionally cross-cultural invitations, their participants all took some risks to find common ground, and eventually, rumors of the richness that resulted spread, inspiring others to do the same. At first some folks got bogged down in guilt—guilt about the privileges they had inherited, about feelings of discomfort or fear, about whether they could participate enough—but through shared spiritual practices and a culture of patience and care, we learned to let these fears go and to focus instead on loving and reaching out. People also struggled to understand how our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to do this work … until enough of us had thought about it and studied it, and had gone to Now Is the Time conferences and attended Building the World We Dream About classes. Then we could see that Unitarian Universalism’s most complete expression lies in exactly the kind of Beloved Community we are building.

What were some of the celebrations we shared along the way? Participants in our first Building the World We Dream About class started a series of culturally and “racially” mixed social events that were a blast. The Beloved Community Project—a collaboration among our Social Justice Ministries, Spanish-Speaking Ministries, and the Third Street Community Center—offered more and more opportunities for us to come together, and these became much-anticipated events every year. Our Small Group Ministry team helped start small groups in Spanish, and then birthed some mixed groups too; these groups deepened the spiritual life of all involved and sent ripples into the wider community. Plus, each time we overcame an obstacle, we celebrated that accomplishment; the preceding paragraph lists at least ten other celebrations we shared!

That was what I wrote in January. As I share these imaginings with you today, I can hear my inner cynic begin to protest: “Hmpf,” she says. “People are too busy for all this hard work! This vision of the Beloved Community isn’t their top priority, anyway. Why can’t we just be comfortable?” Perhaps you are thinking some of the same things.

Or perhaps you are thinking, “Hey, we can do that! We’re already partway there. I love this vision—in fact, here’s what I would add: ________”—and you fill in the blank! Perhaps you are hearing some part of John Lennon’s great song “Imagine” beginning to play in your head, as it is in mine. Wherever you are in the midst of your own “sacred shifts,” whatever your vision of Beloved Community, you have gifts to offer. I hope you will join us, as we nurture new ways of being right here at FUCSJ. 

With much warmth,                       

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