There were so many people I wanted to say hello to these past two days. And, not just hello,
but how are you?
what's your story?
what do you think of this and that? A hundred or so RMCUCC folks (lay, church workers and clergy) showed up in Denver to a conference called Congregations Alive.
There were many people, much energy, passion and love for church. An extroverts dream! For me, a little crazy-making. So I strategically planned, noticed and engaged the people that would make the most of my time. On occasion, I would wonder and want for a conversation with the person over there. As we broke each meeting or lecture, everyone would run in separate directions, engaging in conversations about things that matter. The love of God, the teachings of Jesus and perhaps how those things would deepen individual communities.
This is a conference that happens every other year. This year's workshops and key note speakers focused on a just world for all. Rev. Traci Blackmon the UCC's Executive Minister of Justice and Local Ministries and Rev. Amanda Henderson, Executive Director of Interfaith Alliance of Colorado spoke of their work on inclusively, belonging and providing space for mutual understanding and respect. It was good, it was really good to be reminded and encouraged towards these ideas.
Here are some nuggets from Rev. Blackmon, Rev. Henderson, other speakers and clergy folk:
1. We come to every conversation with our own lens. It's like taking one of those old transparencies and with a marker creating your story in word and image on the transparency. When looking at the world, engaging in conversation with others and even looking at the biblical text your transparency is held up in front of you. You must look through your life's journey and the stories that accompany it. Each person has their own unique lens.
2. The ideas of institutional racism/injustices (also known as systemic racism/injustices). A form of injustices expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. It is reflected in disparities regarding wealth, income, criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education.. so that, we recognize using people and their physical features or ethnicities as markers for perceived cultural and societal norms is a form racism.
3. The word diversity might be over-used. Perhaps we use the word belonging and inclusively instead. What does it mean to invite and welcome those to belong to our community? And, what we mean by belonging is inviting all into the circle to participate. Because we have invited all into our home, the community is inherently changed. The idea of belonging and inclusively creates an openness and we have the presence of different expressions, gender, age, race.
4. It's not what we say or the content of our teaching, it is our presence, engagement and the way we make others feel that will cultivate places of healthy change.
5. A great quote worth noodling on: "A poisonous root will not produce healthy fruit." Traci Blackmon. Racism will not just go away. It will not die out. We must produce strong, healthy foundations for the next generations. Roots that will thrive and create healthy outcomes. Perhaps children that will grown up to make images and words on those old transparencies that they can hold up in front of their eyes and have lenses of love, belonging and inclusively?
Per usual two days with my UCC peeps filled my heart and stired my soul. It was at the end of my time at Congregations Alive that I was most alive. That I felt more than I had felt in the two full days I spent listening and taking in information. That feeling was God stirring in me. Inviting me to open up in ways that were unchartered. To be alive meant putting myself out there. Being , exhuberant, zestful and eager are alive words. But to be alive means other things too. It means taking risks and to feel the full spectrum of emotion, zestful and not. So, in my last few hours there I asked a lot of wondering questions and engaged in difficult conversations. If I was going to attend Congregations Alive then I wanted to feel and be alive.
I was curious about the older transgender women's experience. I sat with her and she allowed me to say all the things. Tell me what ally means to you! I want to know! She was so full of grace and beauty. God was pouring out of the exchange.
I wondered about boundaries with another. We contemplated how to have healthy relationships. What it meant to have true connection and still be set a part. It was not eager nor zestful. It was hard and sad. But, it was alive and real. God was pouring out of this exchange.
I spent the whole ride home exchanging story after story, opinion after opinion and unpacking all that we had experienced with a collegue and trusted friend. It seems to me that information, lectures and group chat are important, but unless you get to these places of depth- congregations cannot be alive in the full spectrum of emotion. It is in the full spectrum that God shows up and we know faith.