Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Article for the First Parish October newsletter: "Is the Universe a GPS?"

There's something new afoot at First Parish Church UU of Fitchburg

A lot of changes have occurred in the past year and there’s a lot of new language floating around. Words like “empowered laity,” “lay-led congregation,” “spiritual director,” and a hundred other ideas that are buoyed about in the enthusiasm of change.  So, when I ask myself What is happening here? I’m not sure I get a clear answer either. The truth is, your guess is as good as mine. In many ways we are making it up as we go along. That's not necessarily something to be afraid of, but I know it is unsettling. Ultimately I find that if we follow our "inner directive" at all times when choosing a destination, we may only see the next 200 feet in front of us as we drive down the dark road with our headlights on, but the road continues. And we have chosen to travel it. We have our GPS programmed for a destination and we will be ok.

I love the metaphor of the global positioning device.  I love the entire allegorical framework of a GPS device in relationship to the nature of the Ultimate Reality.  A GPS device does not yell at you or demean you when you miss the exit.  It simply reroutes you and tells you what to do next.  It says, Oh, okay. You’re here now.  That’s ok.  You can always get there from here. In 100 yards turn right. However sometimes you really can’t there directly from where you are.  Sometimes our choices have taken us so far off the beaten path we are told, Make the next legal u-turn.  But if the destination is correctly, lovingly and thoughtfully programmed, and if we remain steadfast in our belief that such a destination is achievable, we will get there.  Faster than we might imagine.  

The challenge is in picking the right Destination and the Philosophy to follow as we go. Vision, and then Mission.  In order to arrive at a location we must choose these two things.  We must decide where we want to be and then we must decide how we want to get there.  In that order. When we decide upon a destination, we have something to put in the address field of our GPS device.

Once the decision is made to go, and the address is typed in, we take a deep breath and click BEGIN. That is the point at which the best route to get there is decided. Some devices even know the traffic reports and can actually tell you how long it will take to get there. They even give you alternative routes!  When making its decision about the best ways to go, the device takes into consideration facts about which you have no idea.  A GPS device sees the bigger picture.  We are sitting on the map.  GPS is looking at it from above the labyrinth.  The one thing the GPS cannot do is tell you how to get somewhere when you don't know where you want to go. If you're treading water in life, it's only because you haven't picked a shore. Just keep swimming just keep swimming… (I love that little Disney fish, even at the risk of using too many metaphors :-)  It won't be easy. And you will not feel equipped for all eventualities.  Click BEGIN anyway.

When you make a decision, every power that you have comes into play toward that end. The minutia of your daily decisions, the awareness of your friends and family, the purpose in your daily activities. These are the mallet which hammers the gong of the universe into action. Pick a destination. Commit to it.  And then believe you shall safely arrive.  BELIEF is the absolute key.  It is the cornerstone of all achievement.  It’s what makes the placebo effect work and it’s what makes a millionaire from a paperboy.  It’s also what lowers crime in Washington DC by over 23% in a mass meditation and prayer experiment in the Summer of 1993.  (Something which the Chief of Police estimated could only happen during a 20” snowfall.)  But everything points to belief.  Belief is the key.  Belief is what keeps us going when we can’t see beyond the headlights.  The word is used by every faith.  Usually they are telling you to believe according to what they tell you to believe.  But that’s not the same thing.  The truest “believer” is one who knows that they are powerful and that they have deeply benevolent connections which even they cannot comprehend.  A true “believer” is not a follower.  They are too powerful for that.  A true believer knows that they have something to contribute, not merely receive.  They know how to make an earthquake of their presence.

At the beginning of this year we found ourselves in a very unique position. Our half-time professional minister left for full-time position elsewhere and this congregation was left with the student minister.  Nowhere near enough money to attract another professional and we couldn't really afford to replace what we had to begin with.  Since the church decided to keep me on as spiritual director and become a lay-led congregation, as much for financial reasons as anything else, let’s lean into it.  I know that I am an expansive thinker and I like to work out ideas in conversation with the FPC community that are not yet ready for the formal proposal stage.  I like feedback and I am not the temporal leader of this church, I am its spiritual guide and advisor.  I am a voice.  So, where traditional ministers dictate, I collaborate.  Sometimes this causes a bit of the palpitations here and there.  But I also know that we can figure out a way to channel and focus my integrity, enthusiasm, and dedication without stemming it.  We can use it to our advantage.  Both the church’s and the community’s.  The traditional committee structure is a great way to capture lightning in a bottle if we use it with grace and humility and a spirit of partnership.  Let’s be open minded.  Let’s run the risk of being radically optimistic.  Great things are possible here.

I will not deny that I am called to this church. In my heart I know this is my home and where I belong. Some of my own people had a hand in the walls we stand among today. I have work to do and I feel that this is the best home to do it in. I have ideas about how to be of service to humanity that require infrastructure and people who are spiritually informed in their actions. I have always wanted to do this work with people from my hometown. I want to prove that it's possible in this day and age to make an global positive impact right from your own backyard and to do it while hanging out with your neighbors accomplishing things that really mean something to you. If we are all connected, then there must be a point at which we are all deriving information from the same place. Even if that "place" is uniformly distributed. I want to serve people on a level that is universal yet begins at home.

I can't be all things to all people at all times. At least not in the way that you might imagine by hearing the phrase.  My faith exists in the idea that we all have a tremendous amount of power we may use as soon as we realize it exists.  I can't make sure someone has groceries on the table. But I can sit and talk with them, and help them realize a little bit more about how amazing they are, and then before you know it, if all goes well, there's food on that table.  

We usually can't solve people's problems because people's problems aren't really the problem. People's problems are really the symptoms of the PROBLEM. What we see in front of us is only the natural result of everything else that has gone on before this moment. Like it or not, it's the destination they put into their GPS without realizing it, without making a choice, without thinking about how they want to feel when they get there, and then click BEGIN.

So, to return to the question What is happening here? we must ask also Where do we want to go? because without the answer to the second question we have no frame of reference for the first.  I know where I want to go.  I want to spend time thinking about and experimenting with what a modern, liberal, progressive church with an historic charge to serve its community should look like.  I was to discuss how to set the best possible example of what a church can really be today. I believe that we can take the essence of our church’s long history and inherent sense of purpose and channel that into truly useful service to mankind today; however that may manifest.  

We may not know all the answers yet.  We may not always know the exact next step to take.  But if we are clear about where we want to go, and maintain faith in our ability to make an earthquake of our presence, we shall create remarkable things of which our founders would be proud.  We have a new vision at First Parish Church.  And we have clarified our mission.  There is enthusiasm afoot and I’m not the only one around here who feels it.  Let’s get to work.

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