Transformed Into Ourselves, Not by Ourselves

Ministry & Metanoia, part 5

A Prayer

Dear Ground of Being,

We know we cannot transform ourselves. What we can do is attend. Keep watch. Be ever on the look-out for the beginnings of a new compassion awakening within us. We can direct what small and meager powers we can to nurture what is new in us that struggles to be born.

It begins with paying attention, in gratitude and in hope. In gratitude, we bring attention to the feel of sunshine, of the inhaling breath, the faces of friends, the food that sustains us.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. In gratitude, we bring attention to this world where our stumbling efforts at human community and lovingkindness occasionally shift governments and institutions.

Burkina Faso this week joined 20 other African nations to abolish the death penalty.

In hope, we bring attention to suffering, hoping for its ease. Let us not turn away from the cries of the world: the families of seven people murdered in India by mobs fueled by rumors being spread through a social media site; the suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan; the children taken from their parents at the US border; the asylum seekers who have suffered from domestic and gang violence who are now to be turned away; the severe droughts that wrack Afghanistan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mongolia, and South Africa; and the flooding that is wracking Belarus, Rwanda, Mexico, New Zealand, and France.

In gratitude and in hope, may we keep watch on our world, for our world is our self, and keep watch on heart, listening, listening, for the call that it was made to answer.


A Reading

James Luther Adams, “A Time to Speak: Conversations at Collegium," 1986, in An Examined Faith: Social Context and Religious Commitment, 1991, pp. 32-33:
“The characteristic accent of the Gospels, metanoia, is lacking in liberal religion. We are an uncommitted and therefore a self-frustrating people. A sense of commitment requires a change of priorities. But as Unitarians we tend to assume we’re liberated already. Maybe this is a hangover from the Enlightenment, imagining that we are emancipated because we don’t accept the inerrant authority of the Bible, or something like that.

“Let me put it autobiographically and say that in Nazi Germany I soon came to the question, 'What is it in my preaching and my political action that would stop this?' Maybe it was an extreme judgment of myself, but I said, 'If you have to describe me, you’d say I’m not really involved, for example, in combating anti-Semitism as it is in the United States.' It is a liberal attitude to say that we keep ourselves informed and read the best papers on these matters, and perhaps join a voluntary association now and then. But to be involved with other people so that it costs and so that one exposes the evils of society – in Boston we’re right across the tracks from poverty -- requires something like conversion, something more than an attitude. It requires a sense that there's something wrong and I must be different from the way I have been.

“The function of a vital church would be metanoia as a continuing process. There should be increasing awareness, a raising of consciousness with regard to the evils around us. There should be moments of commitment, for example, in prayer as a prophetic form of spirituality."
A Call to Leap

If we could end in ourselves that dynamic of self-protection and ego defenses – the dynamic in which lie the roots of evil – that would indeed be a profound conversion, metanoia. And it is nothing less than this that is the task of congregations. Adams says, “The function of a vital church would be metanoia as a continuing process.” A vital congregation seeks ever-increasing awareness. However raised its consciousness may be of evils around us, a vital congregation always aims at raising it higher. Every worship service must give some attention to the world’s pain – in the prayer if nowhere else – for this is prophetic spirituality. Taking in the anguish of the drought in Mongolia teaches our hearts greater kindness in our day-to-day interactions.

The function of the church – of the congregation – is transformation. We are not here to stay the same. We have plenty of ego defense mechanisms and self-protective strategies that keep us the same.

Were you transformed at last Sunday’s worship? At your last journey group meeting? Or at Faith Development Friday? If so, then those functions did their job – which is to say, they helped facilitate in some way you doing your job, us together doing our collective job. Then what? What’s next is the next transformation – each one a little more radical, each one chipping away a little more at the walls we erect around us, each one a little more attentive to the world hurt, and our own, and how our own and others’ defenses contribute to that hurt.

Are you seeing how the parts of today’s service fit together -- what the reflections on ministry, what Shannon left us, what Cindy takes from us, have to do with metanoia? Knowing those who came before, who made our community, we know ourselves. We know ourselves and thereby become transformed into ourselves more and more. This is what ministry is. It’s what I’ve been saying for five years in various different ways and what Rev. Carol said her way and what Shannon said in hers, and what Cindy’s emerging ministerial voice has already begun to say, and what many of our lay leaders also remember and remind: we can’t transform ourselves by ourselves; we need each other for that, and all the people present, past, and future that contribute their lives to ours, in so many ways we never know.

Because of them, because of their ministry, I can leap into mine, and you can leap into yours. And leap again. And leap again. Because of them, the net is there. And the name of the net is love.

* * *
This is part 5 of 5 of "Ministry & Metanoia"
See also
Part 1: Marking Ministry Milestones
Part 2: Shannon
Part 3: Cindy
Part 4: Metanoia

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