Midweek Faith Lift
September 26, 2018
UCOA Points of Light
Inclusion & Connection
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
This morning we welcome the Coneheads who have a short skit to share with us! NOW, after witnessing the Coneheads, we have to ask ourselves just how would we react if they showed up on a regular basis? What if they did walk through the door on a Sunday morning? How would we initially respond to their “differentness” and how would that be over time? Would we want to get them each a wig so they at least had “normal” hair? Would we want to “socialize” them so that they could be more like us and less “freaky?” Would we be able to hold space for the “differentness” even when we were uncomfortable with it? Week after week after week after week after week?
Even more compelling, could we look at ourselves through Conehead eyes and have empathy for how “strange” we are to them? What is it with all this gray hair and coffee drinking? Don’t you know that much coffee isn’t good for you, and oh the sugar you all consume! What is it with all the singing, anyway? What in the world is this “Spirit” that you guys keep referring to but can’t see? What’s with that?? And how in the world do you people cope with round heads??? It is wonder you can get any thoughts together without a pointy-head to focus them!!
This inclusion business is slippery, because you can really believe you are “doing it” and completely miss those times when you are not! I certainly have missed the mark many times. I have embraced diversity but missed it on true inclusion! One of the best descriptions I have heard to describe the difference between diversity and inclusion is this: Diversity is being invited to the dance; inclusion is being asked to dance, it is being asked to help plan the dance! We can easily embrace diversity, but who do we ask to dance? And what dances are we willing to learn? True inclusion asks us to learn other dances as well as teach our own.
At UCOA, we say that inclusion means being accepting, respectful, non-judgmental and discerning. That could be a whole talk in itself, that business of being accepting, respectful, non-judgmental and discerning. That sets a high bar, one that asks us to become educated on cultural and individual differences to cultivate understanding and discernment. It takes willingness, an open heart and time to learn about how other cultures respond to the demands of living. We cultivate that open-hearted willingness in our spiritual practices here at UCOA. Inclusion really asks us to know ourselves well enough to be self-accepting and curious about how we respond to the “other.”
That is not easy. I remember my days in the school system working with inner city African American kids. I didn’t really have a clue. Fortunately I had an African American colleague as a teammate who was able to “educate” me….because I was willing to learn and she cared enough about me to make the effort. I finally “got it” that my job was not to make the black kids “act white.” My job was to understand what I was seeing and hearing so I could interact more meaningfully and respectfully and actually build relationships with kids and families. She prescribed a reading program for me: Black and White Styles in Conflict by Thomas Kochman and Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit among others. And I did my reading homework and it did change me, thank God!
Inclusion also means that we have healthy boundaries, not that we have no boundaries. Being accepting does not automatically mean that everything is acceptable. Part of what inclusion also means is having a bottom line and a willingness to hold that line on a standard of how we treat each other, how we behave toward ourselves and each other. That is part of how we make respect real in our journey together.
What we have embraced in our Light of Inclusion is our desire to really get to know each other in depth; getting beyond our differences, because we do have them, and seeing one another as God sees us: imperfectly human Divine Lights!
This takes me into our next Point of Light, which is Connection. And to begin that one, I want to share with you some insights from The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, page 64-67.
When we embrace the Light of Connection, we “tame” each other. We patiently spend time with each other, learning to treasure what is truly “golden” about each other. We are invested in each other and we care about what matters to one another. As the story tells us, Connection takes time, it takes patience, it takes showing up and it takes a commitment. The Fox goes on to tell the Prince that he really wants the Prince to show up at the same time each day, that way, at 3:00 PM he can look forward to when the Prince arrives at 4:00. The Fox explains that this is a “rite” or a “ritual” and that it is important, because it create a shared experience and a shared sense of stability and meaning.
Our shared practices and rituals here at UCOA give us a sense of being connected, of sharing an experience together that gives meaning to our collective journey. It is what forms our connections with each other and our literal hugs on Sunday morning support our human and spiritual connections. For some folks, that is the only time they are hugged! Shared memories from special events like Ragbrai, the Garage Sales, Trivia Night, the Healing Fair, the Silent Unity Retreat, UCOA Retreats, clean up days and so on serve as connection builders.
This bowl is filled with stones that we each pledged in support of my time here as your minister. It is always in my office and I sometimes run my fingers through the stones to connect with your energy. It was a ritual that was part of my installation, and it continues to have meaning for me. We have heart connections within our community because developing those connections and shared memories and experiences builds understanding and fosters peace. It creates shared benchmarks and reference points that help us “see” where we are and from where we have come. I
f you can look at someone in this community and say to yourself, “You know, I used to get really irritated with him/her, and now I don’t so much,” then you have a measure of your personal growth. If in our connections, we see the true gifts each one brings to the table, then we are fostering our sense of community, our connectedness and our oneness with each other.
When we were looking at the Light of Connection, it was clear that as we reach inward in our community, in our own hearts and personal awareness, we also reach out to the larger community of Ames. Sometimes that is easier than the looking within! We reach out when we pray for each other, care for each other when sick, visit each other in hospital and rehab and sending cards to mark birthdays and special events.
We reach out to the larger Ames Community through our interfaith services, through the Gardens and produce donated; through the Dream Seed, through Good Neighbor and serving on that Board, through MICA and our food drive, through our Christmas stockings to YSS and to the Ames and Story County Animal Shelters. Sometimes this outreach is person to person and sometimes it is just in the form of money, food or “stuff,” but our presence matters.
We just met and awarded 3 more Dream Seed grants to young people last week. We have given grants for welding aprons, computers, software, cameras and lenses and most recently funding for a legal name change for a Transgendered young person for a new name. This is a youth in foster care who also wanted to know about their genetics as they have not had connections with biological family.
Wow, we are connected to so many beautiful souls, some of whom we “tame” and get to know quite well and others who will never know us personally, but our connection has made a difference. Jesus directed us in the gospel of John:
34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (NRSV)
In practicing the Points of Light of Inclusion and Connection, we are doing just that!
Blessings on the Path,