On Radical Hospitality at The Journey

November 20, 2009

The Journey is one of my favorite Unitarian Universalist blogs. Lots of wise and fun and interesting stuff (and some very sad, hard stuff too). For some reason, this post struck me as particularly poignant, especially as our congregation thinks about the sort of church we want to be as our minister retires:

I want the radically inclusive church. I mean, really radically inclusive.

A few years ago, the big buzz you heard at all the UU things was “Radical Hospitality.” I went home from GA or Fall Conference or wherever it was, and looked on half.com for a book about radical hospitality. Found one. Bought it.

Boy, was this NOT the book all the UU’s were talking about.

Puhleease, we talk about radical hospitality and often what we mean is “don’t ignore people when they come into your church.” That’s not radical anything.

This book I picked up was written by some missionary-type Christians. They talked about picking up homeless folks and taking them home with them. And that, my friends, is radical hospitality. Not that I’m recommending you (or I) do the same. Just don’t pat yourself on the back because you engaged someone in conversation and think that you’re radically hospitable.

I am pretty sure our church is somewhere in between “don’t ignore people when they come into your church” and “pick up people who are homeless and let them live with you.” I’m afraid though we are closer to the first than the second.

That’s the thing about church, right? You like knowing people, you like it being familiar, and safe. But when you get too much of that all of a sudden you are a club of everyone who knows each other and it is hard for new comers to break in.

One thing that stands out to me as the difference between more hospitable and less hospitable churches is if you consider your church to be more like a social club or a good place for all the liberal people in town to get together, or if you consider your church to be, you know, a religious and spiritual home where people come to nourish hearts and souls, love each other, and do the hard work of love and justice in the world as a community of faith. If it is the first (social club) it is harder be radically welcoming because hospitality is sort of hard and takes work and energy, especially if you are just fine with the friends you already have at church and all the committees are filled. If it is the second (spiritual home, community of faith), it seems like it is easier to welcome people into that because nurturing others, reaching out, and caring for people who are seeking and/or hurting, seems like it is part and parcel of growing a spiritual home and community of faith (but not so much part of a social club).

I should think this out more and write on it more clearly. But to be honest, I often blog when I am putting off pressing work, like studying for my general exams, for instance, and so I really should get to that. But I hope to return to this.

On a Roll

November 6, 2009

My lovely partner has our dear little boy (nearly eight months old!) and I have a few precious minutes to work and rest, which, after caring for a flu-sick child the whole week, work and rest feel very similar because no one is nursing, crying, or sleeping on me while I try to sit very still so as not to wake him.

I do wish I would post here more, and I have drafts in the queue, but just can’t let myself publish things that are so unpolished.

I was reading the Interdependent Web and saw a quote from ministrare and went over to read the whole post. And I saw this quote:

I learned that when an issue with me/my ministry arises, I should listen more, explain less, apologize clearly and directly, and document my efforts to improve the situation. It does not help to explain my thinking in that moment.

I think I need to do this more in life. When there is a complaint, listen, don’t explain, apologize clearly and directly. My partner and I struggle with this a lot: one complaint causes the other to say, “Well you do that too!” and no one feels heard or addressed. I want to make a rule for myself (ha! and my partner, but it is harder to make rules for him…) that when there is a complaint, I will make sure that the person feels heard, try not to explain it away, and apologize. The apologizing part is hard sometimes, right, because what if you don’t feel like the complain is legit? We can at least apologize that the person feels hurt or upset. We can make sure the person feels heard even if we don’t affirm that it seems the same way to us. Isn’t that often the point of the apology – not to say, “Yes, you are right and I am wrong,” but to say, “I can understand why you feel that way and I am sorry you do and I’m sorry for my role in that.” This is a difficult balance – to affirm, to hear, to honor, but also to factor in our own perspective.

I have to remind myself over and over that I am never going to “get it” and it will be done. Life is an ongoing journey, struggle, joy, learning, growing, hurting, celebrating sort of thing. We aren’t going to figure it out. It is like the tide – in and out, in and out.

And so it goes.

So We Probably Really Can’t Have Poor Ministers

November 6, 2009

I know lots of others have realized this and commented on it, but it just struck me anew this weekend. Two things reminded me of this. First, there is a family in our congregation where the dad is, like me, on the path to ordination.* They have three children and I can’t imagine how hard it has been for them for him to take three years off to go graduate school, and then try to find an internship and CPE that pays anything close to a living wage. I assume the irony must not be lost on many of our leaders and congregants that the UUA and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee are members of the interfaith Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, but we don’t typically pay student ministers a living wage and require them to do a unit of CPE which is a job that requires you to pay them.

The second thing that reminded me of this (aside from my ongoing realization of it in my own life), was a post on a message board where the poster was considering going to graduate school in pursuit of eventual ordination. She didn’t say her denomination, but I could tell by the details she posted that she was UU (which I know is not technically a denomination, but you get the idea). It was absolutely clear to me that she really didn’t realize what it took, or how impossible it would be for her given her situation as a single mother and the challenges with poverty that she described in her post. I didn’t have the heart to try to compose a post discouraging her.

I’m sure it has occurred to people before that one of the reasons our congregations are so un-diverse is because it is a pretty un-diverse privileged crowd of people who can afford to become our ministers. It seems to me that this would be something on the priority list to reform, but it is my sense that it is not. I wonder if it is because we have enough ministers so there is the sense that making fellowship and ordination more accessible would just flood the Association with too many ministers? Or there are just other financial/reform priorities?**

*In case you know me and wonder, “Really? She is still at that?” Yes, I am. It is the so-called “turtle track.” Slow and steady…

**It is important for me to point out that I recognize that I am implicated in this structure of injustice, as well, as a Unitarian Universalist and privileged person. I also don’t want this to be read as “Oh, bad Unitarian Universalists can’t get anything right,” which I know is a favorite past time of UUs. That said, I still thought it worth it to post my thoughts about it – both as a way to contribute to bringing the issue to our attention and, let’s face it, because blogging about things is helpful to me to “get it out” and reflect on things. Why I feel the need to write this long explanation, I don’t know. But I did.