Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What I learned at Retreat

       The annual Circle of Grace Retreat closed Sunday with our worship back at home.  Twenty-seven people (including eleven kids ages 6-15) gathered in the mountains to think, learn, pray, sing and 'do art'.  As background for those who don't know me: this was not my first rodeo.  Circle of Grace has gathered for a retreat nearly every year.  Each time there has been a different combination of people, different themes, different spiritual practices, even different times of the year.
     Every time we go away and spend days and nights together we learn more about one another, laugh more, eat more, sing more and pray more.  I am always in 'running' mode: keeping an eye on the details and the schedule, but sometimes I am also able to be, to sit, to listen, to share.  And it is in those times that I learn a lot.
    Here are some things I learned (or relearned) at this (and other) retreat(s):

  1.  I don't get as uptight when I remember that people are funny and let myself be amused.
  2. It is good for me to remember that I, too, am quirky and funny and it is okay when others are amused at my expense.
  3. It is still true, as Art Linkletter told us: kid's say the darndest things.  To my point, the highlight of the retreat for me was when the children led worship and one our kids wrote a prayer that included the line, "We hope you had a good weekend, Godde, because we sure did."  
  4. We all have something to teach each other, we all have things we can learn from each other.
  5. Being in community is a challenge.
     Here is some important stuff I re- remembered about being in spiritual community:
  1. I re-remembered that the bottom line of what we are asked to do in spiritual community is this:  we are asked to show up, to be present and bring all of who we are.  That means to bring our broken bodies, broken hearts,  our mental health challenges, our questions, our anger, our distrust as well as all of our good stuff: our sense of humor, our artistic inclinations, our voices (no matter how off-key or hoarse), our hopes and dreams, our love, and the dailiness of life.  Our art project was to make collages using images and words that reflect who we each are as individuals.  Mine included images of family, shared meals, emotionally traumatized grandchildren, being on a difficult journey with the scriptural reminder to 'be not afraid' in the background, and images of spiritual ecstasy.  I try to show up with all of who every time we gather and invite each member of the community to do the same.
  2. No one is perfect.
  3. I am not perfect. (shit)
    Last, though certainly not least, is the challenge of being christian, feminist spiritual community requires so little and so much.  After we show up, then what?  How do we navigate through the waters of our differences?  How do we deal with conflict?  How do we be who we are called to be?   I was reminded or I relearned this weekend that in addition to showing up there are only two (okay, three) other things we have to do.  
  1. We need to claim each one as a child of Godde.
  2. We need to be willing to share the 'Table' with one another and
  3. We have to let go of trying to control the outcome of any situation, believing that if we have shown up, seen each other as children of Godde, broken bread, drunk the wine and shared the stories, then it is time to turn all outcomes over to Godde.  That does not mean we don't continue to work on relationships or issues that arise in community, but that our tasks are grounded in viewing one another as Sacred beings and making room for one another's differences and flaws.  Our commitment to working it out is embodied by our sharing holy meals.  
     Turning things over to Godde, relinquishing control, those are hardest for me to keep in my brain.  I find it difficult to believe there is not some way I can manage a situation.   I have to keep learning this over and over.  I am not in control. I am not in control.  I am not in control.  So I work on the other stuff: showing up, breaking bread, and seeing children of Godde everywhere.  And I am grateful I have plenty of loving people in my community who remind me when I forget:  I am not in control.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Re-Imagining the Wheel

When there was a Re-Imagining Community (based in Minneapolis/St. Paul), Circle of Grace was a member.   The Re-Imagining Community was an ecumenical movement working to challenge the patriarchy in church and society.  One amazing year about half of us were able to go to Minneapolis and attend the Re-Imagining Conference.  Feeling like we had set out on a journey without a map (creating feminist, progressive, spiritual community) we eagerly looked forward to meeting people who might loan us a compass.
What we found was an amazing community of mostly women who were wrestling with our common issues in the setting of their traditional churches.  The lectures we attended, the workshops and worship experiences were all forward looking.  As amazed as we were to share the energy and the excitement of our time there and to meet others who shared our passion for ‘new wine’- we found that we were the ones actually doing/living the work.  The ones living the theory.  Independent of the mother church.  (that includes: independent of mother church paycheck, healthcare, retirement benefits, physical structures, developed educational materials, polity, et. al.- the price we pay for apostasy.)
That means we reinvent a lot of wheels.  One of those wheels is the idea of membership.  People bring a lot of baggage to idea of membership.  
I’m leading up to something here.  Last Tuesday we had our monthly council meeting.  At it we welcomed a new member.  That may seem very ordinary, but coming up with a concept of membership has been a long evolutionary process for us.  Early on, people had a lot of negative feelings about ‘membership’.   The baggage they brought with them was that membership was coercive and restrictive.  Membership, we were clear, did not mean a person signed on to a list of theological tenets.  No indoctrination.   What we ended up with as a statement of membership is that someone became a member ‘by declaration’- meaning: you’re a member if you say you are.   When we applied for our 501(c)3 status our statement of ‘membership by declaration’ ignited a flurry of letters back and forth with the IRS.
It worked for a while, but there are problems inherent with that idea.  The main one is that it is hard to value a relationship that asks nothing of you.  It’s also difficult for a community to work when there is no stated accountability or mutuality.  Our understanding of membership didn’t jive with our understanding of community.   
Over the years our elected council has had numerous conversations about membership: how does one become a member?  what does membership mean?   Our most recent agreement is that to become a member a person is invited to meet with the council and share her or his spiritual journey, give time for the new member to ask questions of any council member, for one or more of us to share parts of our spiritual journeys (to reflect our commitment to mutuality). and then for us to read and commit to our covenant together, the council representing the entire community.  (see our covenant on my first post)
This past Tuesday was our first actual experience of receiving a member this way.  It was amazing!  Our friend came with her daughter and shared her journey of spirit, her struggles, her joy, her anger, her passion.   Then two members of council shared some of their journeys.  We talked about making a place together for many different understandings and beliefs.  What ties us together is not that we all believe the same things, but that we covenant to journey together.  
Then came the time to read the covenant together and make those promises to one another.  Any questions?  Oh yes.  We talked and wrestled and took seriously what we were covenanting together to do.  And when our newest member felt she could, with integrity, covenant with us, we did.  Together.   Then we prayed and thanked Godde.  
I experienced something profound in our sharing and covenanting.  Something meatier and deeper can happen now.  The ‘demands’ of our covenant on me, if I take them seriously, can and do give me structure for my journey, challenge me spiritually, and connect me more deeply with those whom I have made these promises.
We probably still have a lot to learn about what membership means.  We will probably continue to have conversations about it, may even change our understanding of membership again one day.  But as I sat around the table the other night, I found myself thinking that it is not such a bad thing to re-invent or, better yet, re-imagine the wheel every once and a while.  

Monday, September 6, 2010

Losing our Innocence

Something happens when we grow up and find that the Bible stories we learned as children are not literal stories.   'If they are not literal then they must not be true.'  Our child self says.
It can take a while to grow to the place that says 'these stories may not be factual, but they are true.'  It takes even longer to get to the place where one can say,' 'Today, this story is true for me and there are stories in this book that are not true for me today.'

Many folks mourn the loss of innocence of an easy faith.  Of a predictable Godde.  Of one right answer.  The ambiguity of life and faith becomes a great big ole stumbling block.  Developmentally, we are Thomases, "If I can't see it, taste it touch it, then it's not true." Or put more simply, 'Prove it."

But the loss of innocence can be the beginning of wisdom and righteousness.

When I think of the concept of social contracts and what I call 'spiritual contracts' I think of the many contracts to which we subscribe.  A social contract is the implicit agreement of a people that organizes society.  In the United States we are organized around the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Following that line of reasoning a 'spiritual contract' is the implicit agreement between members of spiritual group that organizes their group like the ten commandments and the Golden Rule (love your neighbor as yourself).   These contracts can be approached in a couple of ways.  One is, 'if I keep my end of the contract I (me and mine) will be 'safe' (physically, spiritually, economically...).   Or two, if I keep the contract I will be called to be a deeper, braver, more conscious person in the world, I contract to that which calls me to be a better person, that calls me to a higher ideal, regardless of my personal safety.

I may be simplifying things, but that's at the core of it.  Since 9-11 and Katrina, we have lost the last shred of our innocence in this country.  We realize that we can be and are as capable of evil as any other people.  But we have this thing, this social contract, that calls us to strive to be a better people.  It's called the constitution (and the bill of rights) and though we have lost our innocence (again) we have not lost our contract.  I hope it keeps calling us back to trying to be the nation that was dreamed into being, however imperfectly, over two hundred years ago.  The question is 'how do we improve our contract now that  some of its flaws have been revealed?'

The same goes with our spiritual contracts.  When we lose our innocence over our simple understandings of religion, do we throw it all out?  I should hope not (or I'm really in the wrong business) or should we examine how well we are fulfilling our contract?  Are we willing to fulfill a spiritual contract so that we might deepen spiritually,  become more fully human,  more conscious of of ourselves, others and the Sacred in the world?  Or are we holding on to that get-out-of -jail free card that keeps us from some imagined hell?

It's a challenge.   Lose your innocence and become angry, bitter and hopeless.  Or lose your innocence and become righteous.   Lose your innocence and become wise.  Lose your innocence and become conscious.   We're  all pretty much going to lose our innocence.  What is left is  how we  choose to respond to that loss.