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2008 - January

UUCMP Newsletter
January, 2008

Dear Friends,

I taught aerobics, mostly step classes, for nine years.  I watched, every January 2nd, as a whole herd of new aerobics students flooded eagerly into their first class.  For most of them, it was the first day of their new membership – bought almost immediately after single handedly (and in record time) eating every last chocolate Santa left hanging on the Christmas tree.  Twenty-four hours of tearfully staring at the scale and a mirror-induced identity crisis they felt called to sign a lifetime contract at the local gym and pencil aerobics classes into their personal calendar through the year 2025.  They bought new clothes and fancy shoes.  They began eager enough to stand in the front row.  Determined to one day wear spandex.  To stare down their goals and ride it out to the bitter end.  Which for most, wound up being January 10th.   

Year after year, I would look out on January 2nd and see the great determination in the room.  And by January 4th, I would watch that determination waning.  Students would complain that not one person recognized the amazing physical transformation they experienced in their first class.  Many who continued through the first week noticed that their thighs were beginning to mutiny.  Their muscles were sore and their shoes smelled.  No one mistook them for the dancers in music videos.  By the second week they said they felt like even God was rolling Her eyes at them.  Disillusionment.  Despair.  Drop out.

This usually happened to the snickering of the regular members.  Old members, like new ones, have their patterns around this time of year.  They turn to pointing at new members who get lost in the locker rooms.  Smiling as they struggle with new machines.  Practicing their polished cynicism.  Finding pride in helping to fulfill their own prophecies that the new members would be gone by February. 

I say this here because there are many parallels between physical goals and religious ones.  People who go to church seek spiritual fitness.  Stronger relationships.  More stamina in their convictions.  More power in their lives.   Churches are places where people want to become stronger than their fears, develop heartier sense of hope, find some endurance for the love they feel in their heart.  But whether it’s muscles or meaning that is sought, it’s the same in both arenas.  Fitness, whether physical or spiritual, requires three things: a sustaining vision, commitment and community.

All too often, and despite our better intentions, we end up acting less like our ideal character and more like the professor on Gilligan’s Island.  We can find ways to fashion generators from palm fronds, vaccines from algae and transistors from coconuts, but we can never get down to fixing that huge hole in the boat so we can get home.   We spend so much time in comedy or drama that some of our larger goals are lost.

It is important that we, in this religious community, remember this.  We live in a place and a time where spiritual disillusionment is rampant.  Where people feel discouraged by the lack of care and conviction in the world.  Where they are seeking some help fixing some huge hole so that they can get home.  In the next six months to a year, UUCMP is going to begin to look like a place of promise to many people.  People who see the rewards of our building efforts.  People who have heard our message of meaning amidst diversity.  People hungry for a better way.  People eager to find new places for their strengths.  We can make the difference between their discovery or their despondency.   Between their enthusiasm or their apathy.

It is going to be up to us to help them find their way around, even as we continue to discover it for ourselves.  We will need to help them discover the resources we offer, how to find them, how to use them, how to we create them.  We will need to help them find their place at the table, to learn their names, to encourage them when they stumble and to make them welcome.

When we do build our new sanctuary… when we finally do open the doors to our new building, we will be ready.  We will be ready because we will know what people are needing and we will have given ourselves over to the task of preparing.  Not just by acquiring a new building, which like new workout clothes, will lose its luster if the people inside are there for image instead of exercise.  We will be ready because we will have forged a sustaining vision to greet our new members, joined them in renewed enthusiasm to a commitment that sees past the struggle, and helped create a community of compassionate understanding and encouragement.  We will be ready because we figured out the wisdom of putting away the palm fronds, algae and coconuts and building something capable of taking us home.

To the Glory of Life.