Sunday, March 21, 2004

Recalled a pearl of wisdom this morning ...

The familiarity of the words woke me with a start.

It was during a session of the Board of Trustees meeting of Starr King School for the Ministry - a seminary member of the consortium known as The Graduate Theological Union on the northern boundary of the University of California, Berkeley. GTU is made up of ten or so theological schools of as many denominations (Buddhist, United Methodist, Unitarian-Universalist, Episcopalian, Baptist, Jesuit and Franciscans, The Pacific School of Religion, etc.). Served two three-year terms on the board that was selected from a national pool of UUs. We met several times each year in marathon 3-4 day sessions that brought together some of the most exciting thinkers I've known. It also provided some of the richest intellectual experiences of my life. We were both clergy and lay participants, with differing religious beliefs and political persuasions all within the context of UU-ism. When compared with the general population, I would have to say that within that context, we are universally considered liberal.

Not sure what the context was ... I believe that I was trying to explain just what it was that I'd learned of value during those years as a merchant in the Black (mostly) low-income community of Berkeley. My response to a question was, "...I learned that if I was going to change the world in which I found myself, I would have to BE what I wanted to see." At the time it seemed a tiny truth. It obviously wasn't.

One day recently, at the suggestion of a friend, I entered my name into my search engine (this had never occurred to me) and -- aside from links to my blog and some other sites -- was one to a major speech presented at a general assembly of the denomination. It was delivered by Starr King School president, Dr. Rebecca Parker. She'd quoted my simple words in the body of her keynote speech. In addition there were several sermons from ministers in pulpits from other parts of the country, people who were total strangers. I was stunned! That I may have guilessly said something of religious significance was awing to me, and stunning because it was so simple -- that "simplicity that lies beyond complexity."

I closed my eyes and could visualize the fireside room where the group gathered, hear the sounds of movement along LeConte Avenue; childrens' voices from a daycare center nearby, and feel again the rightness of those words. They'd spilled out of a very young and unpolished Betty (another of those who lives behind my eyes still), one not yet old enough to question the truth of them, nor self-conscious enough to censor their elegance, and trusting enough to accept the fact that those sophisticated thinkers would understand what they meant. That's what woke me this morning. One of those rare moments of truth. This has has been a driving force in my life, a personal philosophy, these few words define it well.

I suspect that the reason for the guilt feelings yesterday about not participating in the demonstrations is related. I think that it matters little just how many others are acting in ways that support my beliefs, the fact of my not "being what I want to see" weakens ever so slightly my own effectiveness in the world, and leaves me feeling diminished. This, I cannot delegate. And -- only I will know when I've failed to live up to my own guiding principles... .