Aug 26 2016
The Changes We Embrace for the Sake of Beloved Community
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
In the first days and weeks following the tragedies of September 11, 2001, New York City, still shrouded in ash, transforms itself from a hub of harried competitors, anxious seekers, and disoriented tourists into a family of compassionate, loving kindred. People are united—and this is important—not by a common enemy but by shared loss and sharp grief. The World Trade Center towers and the first responders represent every race, religion, nationality, and class in the world. Everyone of every age knows someone who has died or someone who is directly affected by the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job.
Yet in the midst of horror, beauty erupts. People open their homes, offer free rides, and show up with pastoral care and doughnuts for those working in the rubble of the towers. They make hard calls to next of kin. They find ways to comfort their children. They look at each other gently; they ask the deep questions and answer honestly. They gather in houses of worship to mourn and begin to make meaning. They make meaning by building Beloved Community.
In honor of the 15th anniversary of 9/11 and in the face of today’s divisive national mood, the 9/11 Day group, including family members and survivors of the tragedy, has formed a coalition of nonprofits. Called “Tomorrow Together,” they will “organize diversity service projects, help teach empathy and unity to America’s youth, and bring generations together nationwide for community service.” David Paine, president and cofounder of 9/11 Day, says, “Our goal with ‘Tomorrow Together’ is to rekindle and reinforce the important lessons of empathy, service and unity that arose from the 9/11 tragedy, and to encourage all Americans and our leaders to work more closely together again as one nation to address the challenges facing our society.”
Join Us for Acts of Service
On Sunday, September 11, we launch our own recommitment to service by participating in the collection of much-needed items for our unhoused neighbors and kin who are served by the Julian Street Inn. Please see the list of needed items elsewhere in this newsletter, and bring your gifts to the entryway of the church before the 11:00 a.m. worship service on September 11. Our children and youth will parade in with these contributions as worship begins.
A Call for Deeper Changes
To embody empathy and unity, and to continue to build Beloved Community here at First Unitarian, we must “double down” on the spiritual practices that lead us to our best selves and to deeper connections, collaborations, solidarity, and community. In Joyfully Together: The Art of Building a Harmonious Community, Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (known as “Thay,” for “teacher” in Vietnamese) offers some deceptively simple yet profound spiritual practices, including these two:
1. “The Art of Watering Flowers”: “‘Watering flowers,’” Thay writes, “means giving encouragement by showing someone … their good qualities and our appreciation of those qualities…. The practice of watering flowers is an expression of our gratitude. When we are grateful we will no longer suffer so much.” As a community, we here at FUCSJ have lived through great trauma in recent months. Let us practice looking at each other gently. Let us ask the deep questions—“How are you really?”—and answer honestly. Most of all, let us speak and write and name our appreciations for each other’s beautiful qualities and generous actions. Our parched souls need the water—and we have this kind of water in abundance!
2. “Shining Light”: Shining light is the tender, loving practice of inviting each other to our best selves when we have made a hurtful mistake, whether intentionally or unintentionally. As Thay says, we are “the bones and flesh of the same Sangha [community] body.” So if we shine light on another’s mis-step, we are truly shining light on our own mistakes. This is not about “policing” each other’s behaviors! Rather, I’m inviting us to acknowledge our own mistakes and to encourage others to change with us as we recognize the flaws we share. For instance, as many of you know, I can “blurt” or snap at someone when I am particularly stressed or frustrated. It’s a sad flaw that I’m working hard to change. Recently I was reminded of just how hurtful this blurting can be; the wound I have inflicted can still smart years later, even when I have apologized quickly and tried to return to right relationship. It matters what we do and say! In our community, it’s particularly important that we slow down and think before we blurt or tease. That teasing comment may come across as hurtful. Without our meaning to, we may reinscribe a racist, homophobic, sexist, transphobic, or ableist stereotype with our awkward attempt at humor. Let’s shine light on our own beautiful, broken selves, and practice a deeper mindfulness: slowing down and considering how we want to act and speak with each other, and gently reminding each other of our call to Make Love Visible in all we do and say, when we make a mistake.
With deep love for you and gratitude for this journey we share,
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