An old friend was at a conference in Long Beach this last month, in late March, and I popped into his hotel for an afternoon to say hello. We are unlikely friends in the way childhood friends often become. This friend has no problem seeking ways to extract profit from situations. From real estate to businesses, it is his calling to see the angles for profit.
The reason I’m telling you this is because when I walked in on him, he was sitting at his hotel desk and ordering on his laptop Netflix movies that document the corruption of Enron, the sins of fast food, and the film “13th” (referring to the Amendment) and the harsh story of blacks from the late 1800s on.
He is beginning to speak about the need for someone to clean up economic inequality, and to do something about gerrymandering; it seemed altering political districts for political gain was a concept he had just discovered. When I lifted my jaw off the hotel bed, I told him, “I’m excited that you’re telling me about the need for us as a nation and a world to learn a new story.” Those were my words, not his. I told him that if he kept it up, I just might have to refer to him as being “saved” and write up his awakening in my church newsletter.
Although he was at the same time bemoaning the likelihood that any of this change will probably happen, and proceeded to complain about a crowded plane, he said that “part of the story of this moment” – referring to Covid and George Floyd’s murder – “is an increasing awareness that change is needed.” It is always heartening, even ego stroking, to see more and more get what I think many of the collective “we” that make up UUs have long understood.
At one point during this visit, my nameless friend (nameless because you might someday meet him) and I were standing on a street corner, and he was telling me that, for he and my brother’s friends, I was held in high regard for the major choices I have made in my life – working with the disabled, caring about the earth, and becoming a minister. I told him I was touched, and started choking up right there, as I do. But even if the praise was directed at yours truly, it really applies to all of us. One of the saving graces of being us, is that we get to walk this life and pursuit of justice together. That “us” part is my favorite part of my “job” as minister.
We might feel that all we do together in the crazy business of being a religious community is meet, work, plan, negotiate, and make decisions that never leave our pretty campus or zoom screens. And that is certainly truer than I wish. However, what this little encounter with an old friend reminds me – and I hope you never forget – is that all you can do is keep plugging. Keep holding up that things can, and need to be, better.
A little lost to me in a life busy with memorial services, calls back East, stressing about ignored e-mails, sick people, and next Saturday’s RE program, are the fundamental choices not I, but WE have made to try to serve others and the world. Hearing him come around, heartened me for all of us. His seeing me as someone long on the side of change really is praise about all of us. We walk that path together.
Our story and call in religious community is to lift each other up. UUs have long known the value of seeing the best in each other and bringing it forward. To remind ourselves that, in a world where very practical decisions seem to be the deciding factor, that our bottom line is that we actually have a way to walk and a commitment to talk about.
I am always collecting quotes that inspire me, pasting them on my desktop and dropping them into sermon files. I have used this quote in weddings before, but it calls to me beyond that. It is from the Catholic, mystic, and Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry. He says, “Your marriage” (please substitute our world, our church, or your life) “is going where the two of you and time, life, history, and the world – will take it.”
So, take it. Work this marriage (we can substitute our lives or this religious community) like a precious account, like a farmer loves their land. Wendell says, “Dote on your loved one, and your life together. You do not know the road; you have committed your life to a way.”
Let’s remind ourselves of that. Over the table at Board meetings, written between the lines of e-mails, let’s not forget to remind each other that “We do not know the road ahead, but we have committed our lives to a way.” A good one. The best one.