It’s November 6, 2020, and as of 2:54pm we haven’t finished counting all the votes, and we still don’t know who has been elected president of the US.
Today I received a request from a European Unification Church member for a survey I’d worked on 7 years ago, and I’ve been looking through it again after all this time, only too happy to be diverted from the intense political situation going on. The survey asked only 2 questions: What inspires you about the Unification Church Sunday service, and what would you change if you could? These two questions get straight to the heart of the issue, and make it easy to gather people’s thoughts without putting them through a lengthy questionnaire. Three things strike me today as I revisit the results: the importance of small groups, making a contribution, and weathering times of transition. Let me elaborate.
I belong to a small group of women who have been going through the 12 steps of ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholic or Dysfunctional Families) together for the past 2+ years. There were 4 of us to start, now we are three.
Being part of a weekly small group dedicated to spiritual growth has been an important source of support and comfort to me. We are not all at the same stage of growth, or on the same side politically, nor do we all share a common faith. One of us is a Catholic turned Jew, one a Christian, one an agnostic, and I call myself a ‘seeker’ without any religious affiliation. One of us is a Trump supporter, two of us not. We come together week after week and share our experience, strength, and hope with each other without needing to judge or be polarized by our various forms of belief or disbelief. We all agree that life is for learning, as Joni Mitchell once said in a song.
Small groups work. They create intimacy and an opportunity to share safely when the participants all agree they are there to learn, not to proselytize, or to ‘educate.’
Making a contribution was a very important takeaway from the survey work for me. People tend to think the leader is responsible for making changes and seeing to it that everything works. But the responses showed that contribution makes people feel more ownership, connects them together, and multiplies creative energy.
One of my favorite responses summed it up: “There wasn’t much I liked about Sunday service at all. This inspired me to get involved and help develop a music ministry. That has developed into collaboration with the pastor to make the service more embracing, enchanting and inspiring.” I happened to find myself in Bridgeport, CT a few years later attending the service that person had been a part of, and I saw the result he had talked about. The musical part of the program was alive, involved many different age groups, and touched the entire congregation.
In my case, I’ve been conscious ever since of being more proactive when I want to see change, rather than just adding an ineffective voice of complaint. That one response changed my participation in my own service in Belgium, and has remained as a way of life for me going forward. I joined the board of the co-op where I live when I felt my input would be beneficial to the building, and this year I joined Vote Forward and wrote 100 letters to voters in Texas and Florida encouraging them to get out and vote. Being active in the democratic process has helped me stay calm and focused, and sleep well at night.
We are currently in a time of transition. I am writing now a day later and the election results have come in. Joe Biden is our 46th president. I am celebrating along with many of us for whom these past 4 years have been filled with a sense of loss and disbelief. Grief over a way of life we felt we knew disappearing. However, there are 70 million people who are not celebrating with me, and I know how they feel. I suffered the same loss in 2016. Going forward none of us can fall back into a complacent life. So much has changed. Democracy takes work, and transition times challenge us to rethink and recreate ourselves and our institutions. When enough people lean in together, a tipping point is reached and change becomes inevitable.
I don’t know what our future democracy will look like, but I hope we don’t squander it, and that we learn to honor our differences with more civility and empathy. Learning to talk to each other when we disagree on just about everything is a good place to start. I am encouraged and moved by Dave Chappelle’s reminder to be a ‘humble winner,’ and by his ‘kindness conspiracy’ message on SNL. “It’s random acts of kindness for Black people. Do something nice for a Black person just because they’re Black, and you’ve got to make sure they don’t deserve it… they can’t deserve it, the same way all these years they did terrible things to Black people just because they’re Black and they didn’t deserve it.”
I’m feeling inspired.