Monday, November 29, 2010

Circles of Trust and UU Small Group Ministry

So I have recently finished reading Parker J. Palmer's book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life.  A great deal of the book is committed to describing Circles of Trust which Palmer has both led and been a part of for many years.  The Circles of Trust have much in common with the Unitarian Universalist small group ministry and yet I am also struck by some of the differences.  The first thing that struck me is Palmer's assertion that circles of trust can consist of as few as 2 people and as many as 25.  In small group ministry 6-12 is considered optimal and in my congregation's experience you need at least 8 people to really make the group viable.  Another striking difference between the two is that people are allowed to pass in the circle of trust - whereas there is an expectation that everyone will share each time, with 5 minutes (in our situation often timed) to speak without interruption or comment.  The primary commitment in a circle of trust is "to protect and border and salute each other's solitude." If we insist that people share each time are truly making a place that the shy soul can come out of hiding - a key feature of circles of trust?

What I wonder is what can we learn from Palmer's circles of trust that might inform our practice of small group ministry?  While both covenant groups (small group ministry) and circles of trust facilitators are trained that the job of the group is not to "fix" anyone or anyone's problems but rather to give a place to be heard, I wonder if really give our leaders the tools to do this?   What also does it mean that we insist that people share each time since part of the point of the group is to deepen ties within the larger  community? Again do we have something to learn from Palmer here about truly making participation voluntary - voluntary down to not everyone has to speak each time?

Maybe it is just that I have a deep longing for this sort of spiritual community, a place to be heard and to get out of my own head and yet also to listen deeply to my inner self.  Maybe I just long to form a circle of trust that would give me a place outside of my congregation to explore my own self and to become more deeply myself.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Living Gratefully

So yesterday I led worship at the College of William and Mary and I titled the service "Living Gratefully."  I have been thinking about what it might mean to live gratefully, not in a pollyanna, prosperity gospel way, but in a way that takes seriously the deep paradoxes of life.  What does it mean to live in gratitude even in the midst of suffering?  Can we be authentically grateful even in the midst of grief and loss?

One story that always comes to mind when I think about this in The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.  Corrie and her sister were imprisoned in a Nazi camp for hiding Jews in their home.  One of the stories in the book is that Corrie's sister reads a Scripture passage that says to be thankful for all things and so they give thanks for the fleas in the barracks.  Corrie is a bit skeptical, to say the least, as I think most of us would be.  Yet it was because of the fleas that the guards would not venture into the barracks which allowed them to hide the Bible they possessed, to talk together and share their meager rations.  This seems to me, to be an authentic way of living in gratitude while not downplaying the reality of suffering.  It also strikes me that Living Gratefully is a discipline..that we must practice living in gratitude.  It also may not be as easy a discipline as it might seem at first, for to be authentically gratefully, would mean to be grateful even those when we are angry, sad, frustrated, afraid. It means being grateful for the fleas even when we are skeptical! Gratitude might spill forth when things are going well but I think only a practice of gratitude allows us to be grateful in the midst of suffering.

I was also thinking about how the word grateful is very close to grace-filled.  Unitarian Universalists don't often talk about grace and I think we need to do so.  I just finished reading William Schulz for my theology study group.  Schulz defines grace as:  "grace in fact refers to whatever blessings of Creation come to us unbidden, unheralded, and unearned. In this sense, the gracious—whether manifest in the rising of the sun, the sparkle of a fish, the chuckle of a child, or the deliverance of death—is the gateway to gratitude and the wellspring of faith."(What Moves Us, Workshop 9). Grace cannot earned and it cannot be demanded yet it is freely available to all of us.This is a core message of Unitarian Universalism!

Might it be that in accepting and welcoming grace, those gifts of Creation that come into our lives often unexpectedly and always unearned that we can then Live Gratefully?

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Salvation by Org Chart?

So for awhile now I have been concerned about the emphasis on the move to policy based governance in Unitarian Universalist congregations, districts and the UUA itself.  It seemed to be billed as the solution to all that troubled us...if we could just free our boards from the day to day work then all our problems will be solved.  This is an exaggeration of course and that is not to say that the way Board's work in most congregations (and by extension to the rest of our association) couldn't use some creative re-imagining!

Yet policy based goverance fever has taken hold and spread like wildfire around the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Again not all of it is a bad thing..often our boards were weighed down with decisions best left to others and ministers, staff and congregational committees often felt the need to get board approval to do anything rather than just going ahead and doing it.

Yet I think we need to step back a minute and ask questions about a system developed not for congregations but comes out of a corporate model that was then translated into the non-profit world. It was developed by John and Miriam Carver, it is also known as the Carver model.  It is a management theory. It comes out of a corporate model that is focused on increasing profit and then translated some of the practices for non-profits.  Yet congregations are not just another kind of non-profit; and our primary mission is not profit.  Our mission is to transform individual lives and the world.  We are places that foster spiritual growth, justice and to be a home for the liberally religious.  How does this mission fit with a corporate model of management?

I was prompted by another blog post  on appreciative inquiry to finally write down my own thoughts, encouraged that others are also thinking critically about what it means for a faith community to turn to management theories for a solution to their problems. 

The title of the blog was inspired by a story about James Luther Adams, in arguments with Unitarian humanist, Edwin Wilson who said that "James Luther Adams believes in salvation by bibliography" to which Adams retorted "There is no such thing as the immaculate conception of an idea." (source of this JLA story)  So taking my cue from Adams and Wilson, are we as Unitarian Universalists believing in Salvation by Org. Chart?

Maybe we should heed the challenge of JLA and consider the sources!

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Monday, November 1, 2010

When Sabbath is Hard

Well it looks like I managed to miss the entire month of October blogging.  It has been a crazy fall with too little time for rest and re-creation.  Hopefully I can now begin again.

I am having a bit of a rough Sabbath day today.  Not because I follow this strict set of rules and find myself rebelling against them.  Rather sometimes when I stop and have some time to think and to feel, it isn't all sweetness and light.  In fact today it has just felt rather.....yucky. 

I think much of my own, and by extension our culture's, avoidance of Sabbath, comes because I and we know we might have to face ourselves.  I might have to feel what I have been avoiding feeling.  I know, however, that the feelings don't go away just because I refuse to acknowlege them.  In fact in my experience, they just get bigger and more intense.

So what to do with a hard Sabbath?  I am working on feeling what i am feeling, yet not letting spin out of control.  I need to not make decisions out of this place.  I am remembering that this too shall pass.

I am remembering that I am not alone.