Posts Tagged creativity

Looking Back, Looking Forward

As we enter the final weeks of 2011, stores are busy with last-minute shopping and post offices are crowded with last-minute mailing, and it won’t be too long before we’re into 2012 and life gets back to what, for most of us, passes as ‘normal’.  For the week and a half from Christmas Eve through to New Year’s, though, I am thoughtfully wishing (to use Unitarian Universalist minister Forrest Church’s phrase) for a time of happiness and peace, of precious respite from the busy-ness of our modern society, for you and yours and our whole world.

The end of each year is a natural time for looking back.  Much of what seems to be on television right now, for instance, seems to be year-in-review retrospectives, whether it’s the year’s most interesting people or the year’s funniest adverts.  It’s also a time for looking ahead, for thinking about what we want to do and who we want to be.  Imaginative dreaming lifts us up for the longer view, to see what seeds we might plant for the distant future while continuing to nurture the past’s growing seedlings so they may in time bear fruit.  New Year’s resolutions, of course, need to be specific, bringing creativity to bear on imagination and turning vision into action.  In a similar way, my congregation’s staff and lay leaders are preparing for the second half of the church year, planning meaningful Sunday services, fun-raising social events, informative and inspiring religious education classes and workshops, and prophetic work for justice, all of which are dedicated to our mission of creating a dynamic community that celebrates life and searches for truths.

One of the questions that is occasionally asked about our congregation’s mission is where justice comes in.  After all, Sunday services, community events and faith development are clearly implicated, but what about our work in the wider world?  Indeed, as the great Unitarian (and then Unitarian Universalist) theologian James Luther Adams put it (in one of my favorite quotes!), “a purely spiritual religion is a purely spurious religion.”  Certainly prophetic action that speaks truth to power is one of the hallmarks of our faith, inherited from both Unitarian and particularly Universalist halves of our religious heritage, being integral to most of our Seven Principles as well as built into the very governance of the congregation.  From my perspective, however, our efforts to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice are represented — required, even — by all three pieces of our mission statement.

First, a community is dynamic to the extent it includes diversity.  Homogeneity breeds stagnation for if there is no difference or variation then there is no impetus for change or growth.  Diversity does not automatically lead to fairness, however, and in fact will only survive where there is equity, compassion and acceptance of one another.  Second, the celebration of life recognizes both joys and sorrows, lifting up the good times but not pretending that there are no bad times.  In this we honor everyone’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and we work together to insure that everyone may speak their conscience and be heard, finding healthy ways to agree to disagree when necessary.  Third, we embrace a plurality of truths.  As a religion that helps us to figure out for ourselves what it is we truly believe, we actively encourage one another’s spiritual growth, providing a safe place for exploration and demanding a world where people are not treated differently just because of who they are or what they believe.  Our ability to create a dynamic community that celebrates life and searches for truth, then, depends intimately and necessarily on an orientation toward justice, both within our own walls and beyond.

I’m looking forward to seeing how we live our welcoming, worth-shaping, wondering faith in the year ahead, bringing our good news to those who so need to hear it.  My thoughtful wish is that 2012 may offer celebration where there is joy and comfort where there is sorrow, invitation where there is loneliness and generosity where there is fullness, great-heartedness where there is difference and strengthening hope where there is difficulty.  So may it be.

Comments (1)

High Places

I love mountains.  I guess I didn’t know that before living in Colorado and New Mexico for four years, not that it’s something I’d have suspected growing up in a seafaring nation that prides itself on being an island!  Most mornings of those four years I was greeted soon after leaving our house with a breath-taking view of the Rocky Mountains, occupying the horizon west of Denver and stretching as far north and south as the eye could see.  (The Rockies dominate local geography to the extent that directions are often given relative to them — “go toward the mountains” or “head away from the mountains” instead of “turn left” or “go right” — which is fine unless it’s a rare cloudy day, or it’s night-time!)

During my internship in Albuquerque, we lived in the foothills of the Sandias.  At a mere two-miles high rather than the Rockies’ almost three, the “watermelon” mountains may be less majestic than their snow-capped cousins to the north, but I found them more approachable — not just physically but emotionally: I found their proximity and solidity a source of comfort, even if it meant that our mobile ‘phones rarely had signal!  Every morning, stepping out onto the driveway, I would look up, and the Sandias were there, ready to greet me.  I found myself developing the spiritual practice of reciting the version of Psalm 121 improvised by Christine Robinson, Albuquerque’s minister and my mentor:

I lift my eyes to the hills.  Whence will my help come?
My help comes from the creativity of the cosmos
which is making the Heavens and the Earth.
It comes also from the core of myself.  It is my guide and hope.
On this path I am safe whatever befalls me.

Last month I enjoyed getting to know two areas of North Carolina’s High Country: the Mountain, the Unitarian Universalist retreat center near the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and then Watauga County, including the towns of Blowing Rock and Boone and the aptly named Grandfather Mountain.  For all that I lived at an altitude of a mile or more for four years, it was a very different experience to stand on the “Mile High Swinging Bridge” than spans the ravine between two of Grandfather’s peaks, looking out — and hundreds of feet down — to the surrounding countryside!

Setting my vertigo aside, though, there’s nothing like being in such a high place to get an immediate idea of where I am; with the land laid out beneath me, I can see where I’ve been and where I’ve yet to go.  It’s not surprising, perhaps, that the ancients located their gods on mountains, from which they could see what was going on in the human world, a gods’-eyes view that necessarily eluded mere mortals.  After all, with imperfect memories, limited awareness of what’s happening around us, and next-to-no ability to anticipate the future, it’s difficult for us to climb out of the valleys and canyons of our human lives to reach a higher place of mind and time, much less a mountain top that affords us a panoramic view of history and destiny.

And yet we are blessed with creativity and imagination, with abilities to be confident in ourselves and to trust our companions on this spiritual journey that we call life.  We may not know exactly where we come from, but in sharing stories we can get an idea of where we’ve been.  We may not be completely clear on what we are, but in building community we can appreciate who is with us.  And we may have little idea of where we’re going, but in dreaming together we can explore what might be.  Come, let us lift our eyes to the hills!  Let us be one another’s guide on this path, offering hope with a smile and an out-stretched hand.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: