Well, temporarily at least, so much for retirement.
I am serving a middle-sized Unitarian Universalist (UU) church, hundreds of miles from the Treasure Valley, for four months. The congregation has had some difficulties, resulting in a ministerial resignation, and have asked me to step in, March through June. (They will call a longer-term interim to start in July or August.)
What am I relearning, about what is important in a religious body, starting with a new congregation after 25 years serving the Boise UU congregation? Nothing I don't really know. But reminders to me and to all of us who seek to find the "God in everyone" (and everything), to use Quaker George Fox's words. Reminders to all of us who understand that healthy spiritual institutions carry our dearest values forward, embody wholeness and holiness to our children and their children.
I see - once again - that trouble arises from lack of spiritual perspective; from narrowness of spirit; from talking behind people's backs; from ungenerosity; and from clinging desperately to one's own viewpoint, rather than looking at the good of the whole.
I see - once again - that Spirit shines through when good people have a spiritual practice; when they open their hearts to be generous and respectful, even finding the love that so often dwells obscured in our souls; when they find what it takes within themselves to let go of their precious hurts and allow themselves to be gathered back again into beloved community.
That second batch of "I sees" adds up to a tall order. But can we do less, for the healing communities of which we are a part? Can we afford to do less, for the good of our souls? Can we do less for the spiritual homes that nurture us and send us out to heal the world?
I have been conducting intense interviews with a lot of people in my couple of weeks here, doing what I can to listen with the ears of my heart, to understand the pain and the love and the cruelty and the compassion. Doing what I can to speak truth to meanness, to reach out to the broken hearts, to become as much a part of this struggling, very human group as I can in my short tenure.
Last Monday, I received an email that touched my heart. It was from a woman who was badly hurt in all the upset, but who has said, "I am a Unitarian Universalist. I stay in my church, even when things are hard." Building on that committed, ethical, loving and heart-strong stand, she said to me in her email - "I heard some sniping Sunday and maybe you could do a sermon sometime on something I used to try and teach my kids (sounds rather Buddhist). Before you say anything, let your words pass through 3 sieves - is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?"
When hurting people can speak like that, there is hope. Yes, it is sometimes incredibly difficult to find the spiritual high road, in the midst of the pain that always accompanies human existence - especially in important relationships.
It doesn't matter what one's theological stand might be. It doesn't matter whom you love or hate, how you think things should be organized, or whether you agree with decisions made. This religious community, all religious communities - the entire world, for that matter - will be so much better if we can practice what this terrific woman taught her kids. Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
The Rev. Elizabeth Greene is Minister Emerita of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Idaho Statesman's weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.