Posts Tagged resilience

Social Incarnation

“There’s no such thing as a good individual in isolation; rather there is a good individual in relationship: the decisive forms of virtue are socially incarnated.”  Here’s my reflection on hope in dismal times.


For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive MillardRev. Andrew Clive Millard

“… and so we light the Candle of Hope.  May its flame remind us of the eternal hope of the human spirit: that each person may grow for themselves a life of meaning; that this congregation may be a beloved community for all who seek it; and that our world may both celebrate our common humanity and embrace our human differences.”

Candle of Hope lit on an Advent WreathIf you’re familiar with our tradition of the Advent Wreath, you’ll know that we lit the first candle, the Candle of Hope, on Sunday morning.  This Sunday we’ll relight it and also light the Candle of Faith.  The Sunday after that, along with the first two, we’ll light the third candle, the rose-colored Candle of Joy.  And the Sunday after that, once all of the others have been relit, we’ll light the Candle of Love.  So by Christmas all…

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Seeking a Song of Love


For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard

A hand that’s warm in friendship strong,
that lifts us up when things go wrong
and builds a church where — more than creeds —
we count our blessings in good deeds:
our hands can offer hope’s embrace
to make the world a better place.
— additional fifth verse to hymn 300, “With Heart and Mind”

While in Denver for my seminary studies at the Iliff School of Theology, I also worked for the Mountain Desert District, first as Youth Chaplain and then as interim Youth Ministry Coordinator.  Working with teenagers and their UU congregations from New Mexico to Wyoming, from Texas to Utah, I witnessed their youthful struggles with matters of personal and religious identity, with questions of morality and justice, and with attempts to put their hopes and aspirations into words.  In other words, exactly the same…

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Adaptive Leadership, Pledge Drives and Resilience

There’s a lot of discussion amongst today’s Unitarian Universalists about “adaptive leadership”.  It’s been the subject of workshops at the UUA’s General Assembly and was one of the tracks at last year’s UU Ministers Association “Institute for Excellence in Ministry”.  It’s the focus of much of the First Year Ministers’ Seminar in Boston, and it was the main topic for a recent Southeast UU Ministers Association Retreat at the Mountain.  It’s also a significant part of the UUA’s “Harvest the Power!” program on lay leadership development for congregations.

Many of the problems facing us in everyday life might be considered technical challenges, in that it’s simply a matter of acquiring the knowledge or skills needed to resolve each problem.  Should one of the tires on my bicycle develop a puncture, for instance, it’s either a matter of taking it to a bike shop for the tire to be replaced or buying a new tire and then replacing it myself.  I come out of the process pretty much as I went in, at least once I’ve washed the dirt and grease off my hands!

An adaptive challenge, though, isn’t about acquiring knowledge or skills, at least at first.  Rather, it requires, in the words of Ron Heifitz of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, “developing the organizational, cultural and spiritual capacity to meet problems successfully according to our values and purposes.”  Many of the problems faced by groups of people — from a congregation to human society — are actually adaptive, not technical; addressing them can be messy but doing so is always transformative, for individuals as well as for their culture.

At this time of year, most UU congregations are doing their annual pledge drives, and the congregation I serve is amongst that number doing its canvass.  Now it might seem like ensuring there’s a healthy budget is a technical challenge: it’s simply a matter of finding the right way to ask members and friends to submit a generous pledge and that’s all there is to it.  Well, no.  For one thing, very few people get excited at the mere thought of a balanced budget!

In Heifitz’s terms, we’ve been developing our organizational, cultural and spiritual capacity by embracing an understanding of stewardship that goes beyond the pledge drive.  A few times a year each of our members is invited by a “steward” to a friendly meeting — over breakfast or lunch or afternoon coffee — to simply talk about what it means to them to be a part of our Fellowship, reflecting on where their shared hopes for the congregation overlap the dreams of their hearts.  As part of the pledge drive, of course, the next round of such conversations will include a request to our members to complete their pledge cards.  Then, future stewardship meetings will return to more general discussions of connection and caring as we develop our stewardship ministry together.  UUA Consultant Frankie Price Stern says that we may well be the only UU congregation in the country taking this approach to stewardship, so the rest of the denomination is watching us closely!

Turning to another spiritual topic of interest these days, it’s perhaps not surprising that in developing our capacity to respond to adaptive challenges, we also deepen our resilience.  After all, it isn’t usually technical problems that call for resilience; a punctured bicycle tire shouldn’t affect my own sense of identity and who I am trying to be in the world!  Rather, it’s adaptive challenges that call into question our purpose, our attitudes towards risk and difficult decisions, our comfort (or lack thereof!) with disequilibrium, distress and change.  So, when it comes to the problems that we all inevitably face in our lives — whether as individuals or in families, as a congregation or in the wider society — may we support and encourage one another in our efforts to draw upon our cultural and spiritual resources for resilience, finding within ourselves and through each other a deepened capacity to respond to life’s challenges.

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Summer Serenity

Summer tends to be a time of transition and replenishment.  One year of school has ended and another has yet to begin, and though work continues through June, July and August, almost all of us feel the change of pace, the shift in activities.  More than in other seasons there are camps and conferences, picnics and parties, visits to friends and family, weddings and vacations.  The sunny splash of the beach beckons, as does the coolness of the forests and the mountains.  Weekday work may not be so different, but regular schedules are relaxed, the precision of the kitchen replaced by the carefree delights of the grill, the glow of the television abandoned for the shade of a porch or a tree, the electric hum of air conditioning silenced on cooler days when open windows invite in gentle breezes.  There is a sense of lull but also of activity — of pausing, but also of anticipation, enjoying the season for itself but also looking ahead to the Fall.

Churches tend to go through their own time of transition and replenishment during the Summer, too.  Spring elections are behind us and new leadership roles are taken up; ministers and staff review, regroup and make plans for the coming year; formal religious education classes are in recess and instead there are camps and retreats for children and adults alike.  Those who have studied such things tell us that most “church shopping” takes place during the Summer, when families in particular look for spiritual homes where they can feel part of a supportive community, where their questions can be answered and their answers can be questioned, where they can join with those of like heart and mind to give thanks and build the common good.

Sometimes Summer’s transitions are bigger than usual.  There may be a new school, a new job or even a new career, perhaps accompanied by a move of many miles.  Such changes, even if deliberately chosen, are often bittersweet, the promise of the new offset by the absence of the familiar, the excitement of possibilities for the future dampened by the distancing of the comforts of the past.  If unchosen, they bring with them feelings of loss and regret, perhaps fear of the unknown, and usually anger at the causes of the unwanted changes.  Change, though, is inevitably a part of life, and there is no escaping it; indeed, it is a major part of life and since most changes, large or small, are not chosen, it is in how we respond to change that we do our living.

The Serenity Prayer is a well-known expression of what it might take to do that living, appealing as it does to “the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  I have kept a copy of this prayer pinned to the wall above my desk since I was a child, finding in its simplicity a deep wellspring of hope that I had not encountered elsewhere.  As an adult, I have come to recognize and appreciate the power of being in community that brings life to that hope, that fosters in us wisdom, builds in us courage, and nurtures in us serenity.  We do our living in response to change to the extent that we are resilient — able to bounce back from all that our world throws at us, able to give thanks for the simple gift of life and all its challenges and graces alike — and we are so much more resilient when we are, as individuals, joined in community with others.  Families and friends, colleagues and congregations, all can offer us the love we need in our daily lives to not just survive, but thrive.

May you enjoy replenishment of life and the spirit in these Summer months, in yourself and in the company of those who bring joy to your heart.  If you are in transition, may you find those who will comfort, support and encourage you, never able to do your living for you but still accompanying you on this journey of faith, hope and love that we call Life.  And, with a song in your soul and a smile on your lips, may all your days be glad.

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