On a day like today I would ordinarily be pontificating on a variety of subjects... the passing of Coretta Scott King, who in a lower-key way may have been as important as her husband... the swearing in of Justice Alito... official records and emails newly released that reveal that Louisiana refused help from the Feds in evacuating hospitals during Hurricane Katrina... news out of Russia, Putin announcing that they’ve developed a new hypersonic uninterceptable nuclear capable missile system... and, of course, the State of the Union speech tonight. But what I’m really thinking of is the first meeting of the new church small group I’m attending tomorrow. Our church is trying the “small groups” program. People have been spending weeks taking facilitator lessons, reminders have been read from the pulpit to sign up early as groups are filling fast, people have dropped by from other congregations already doing it to tell us how neat it is- including my Mother-in-law.(who I dearly love) And now the time is at hand- tomorrow after work my group will meet for the first time- and I find myself feeling a mix of anticipation and trepidation I had not expected.
The first bit of excitement was a bit of “small world”; one of the names in the list in the email announcing the meeting time was a customer and friend whom I’ve never met in the flesh (business being conducted via fax and email)- I had no idea she was a Unitarian, much less a member of my own church. Now we get to meet at last! Of course, I already knew most of the ten members... which is where the trepidation enters the picture. These groups often become second families, we were told, major sources of support over the years. One had pointed to the Covenant on the wall of our sanctuary “Love is the spirit of this church and service is its law - to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another; this is our covenant” and said that small groups really bring that to life. And I begin to wonder if I’m tolerant enough to fit in a group that intimate and interdependent.
Those of you who know me, at least from years of posting at Beliefnet, or CFUU.org, or American Unitarian, may understand my fear. My congregation includes one who posted on the Sunday after 9/11 an essay about how we had brought this upon ourselves by making America an international outcast, from Kyoto to endorsing Israeli terrorism. Another always finds a way to drag politics into anything at all, completely out of the blue- like when a group of us had agreed on a date for a party, she said, “Unless Bush has us all in a concentration camp by then.” A couple use phrases like “Christian Taliban”- which is hate speech, in my view. How do I react? Any group I would join- including the one I’m meeting with tomorrow- will have a few like this in it. Do I ignore the digs, or be honest and object? Does honesty matter, since we’re not supposed to be a political discussion group? But how can I discuss spirituality with people I believe to be hate-filled, self blinded? I know some have past pains that cause them to talk that way- but am I required to suffer in silence because they can’t let go of the past? Or should I speak up and let them deal with it?
It’s a measure of how much I love All Souls that I dither so... generally speaking, I’m not the sort of man who spends his time in introspection; worrying what others think. I will even admit to bordering on the arrogant in my usual unconcern. Perhaps that fault is my problem now, in that I’m not practiced in finding the balance between tolerating others and permitting myself to be abused. I guess all I can do is go and be myself... and see if the others have been having this internal conversation as well.