Monday, October 19, 2009

Seeing Beyond Belief

On Sunday, the UU Urban Ministry (our parent organization) held a wonderful event led by Unitarian Universalist theologian Thandeka. Despite the rain and cold, more than 80 people came to the UUUM’s facilities at First Church in Roxbury to think together about how Unitarian Universalists can “see beyond belief.”

What I liked the most about the event was the way Thandeka brought all of us in attendance into the conversation. We weren’t there just to sit back and listen – Thandeka sought the participation and contributions of everybody. We were there to reflect and share, and even dare to show ourselves. It was lovely!

Thandeka used the movie “About Schmidt” with actor Jack Nicholson as a way of engaging us in a conversation about how people can become disconnected from one another and their own feelings. Thandeka had us investigate Jack Nicholson’s character, Warren Schmidt, by observing how he interacts with others and how he views his relationships. We were able to see him as isolated, frustrated, angry, sad, numb and much more. Gradually, through the afternoon conversation, we began to see that there is a little bit of Schmidt in all of us. And then Thandeka gave us the task of imagining how someone like Schmidt would experience a visit to a Unitarian Universalist congregation. What would the experience be like for him and his imagined adopted child from Africa? Would he be one of the statistical 5 out of 7 visitors who never return to a UU church? We broke up into small groups to discuss this question and create skits to depict the imagined experience.

There were moments of wonderful shared poignancy throughout our afternoon together. And what I enjoyed the most was the opportunity to hear other’s thoughts – to really just listen and imagine the possibility that we are all inextricably connected, and to ponder together the question of what that means.

Then this morning I received this quote from Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
"Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building; it is to lead them into the populist pitfall and transform them into masses which can be manipulated. At all stages of their liberation, the oppressed must see themselves as women and men engaged in the ontological* and historical vocation of becoming more fully human."
All of this is a helpful reminder to me and to all of the staff, volunteers and interns of Renewal House. Truly, the women and men we serve in our program at Renewal House are engaged in the ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. They are in crisis and come to us from a particularly oppressed place of pain and hurt – but they are still whole people, just like us.

Schmidt, residents of Renewal House, UU members and ministers -- all of us – are individuals engaged in a struggle to find and make meaning, to form connections and keep hope alive for ourselves and for those we care for.

I am grateful to have had this opportunity to “see beyond belief” and to be part of a community that takes the time to reflect on what it means to become more fully human.

* a particular theory about the nature of being

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