Becoming TLC with UU
Mary H. Reaman, D. Min.
Yesterday Amanda reminded me as I was getting increasingly nervous about all the details for today’s service to take a deep breath and remember today is all about celebration. The hard part has been getting here!
Tree of Life Community opened on Sunday, September 10, 2006 just 3 months after St. Agnes closed. And boy have we had our fair share transitions and challenges in this short span of five years. TLC was seeded by a remnant of St. Agnes folks at the start, but the dream-seed for TLC started sprouting in my journals way back in 2002 with this little invocation I wrote in October of that year:
Tree of Life
Open your gates
Show me to the fruit of Wisdom and Understanding
Tree of Life stretch me so that my mind reaches into the depths of Mystery, while my heart seeks to grow the width of an ocean
Tree of Life fill me with the colors of fall
Shed the dead leaves and ready me
To release new life
Tree of Life
Come alive in me!
The Tree of Life is indeed alive and slowly maturing into a wonderful mosaic of a community! From the beginning I’ve always said that when people come to TLC I want them to have an experience. I never wanted it to be church as usual. We seem to be living up to that.
I mean, have you been asked to remove your shoes at any other church? Just that small request makes people think twice about what they’re doing here. At first I was uncomfortable with it, but now it is a moment that causes me to pause and recall the words of God from within the burning bush, “Take off your shoes for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” It has become for me a way of honoring the sacredness of our Gathering.
There are still some among us who “put up with” Namaste, but who’d really rather not share such a greeting because it’s foreign and uncomfortable. But that greeting, because it is different, offers us an opportunity see ourselves and others through a different lens. It gives us a moment to relate to one another – Light to Light – rather than using the normal greeting of “Hi. How are you?” we say without paying attention because we really never expect more than a superficial response.
These small but uncomfortable experiences, like many of life’s uncomfortable moments, work on us. They give us an opportunity to awaken. They rub us like sandpaper signaling us to pay attention to what we are doing and why we are doing it.
They give us an opportunity to grow and change and experience life and one another in new ways. This is what the spiritual journey is all about! It’s about growth, change, transformation, expansion of heart and mind.
If we believe the same thing now that we were taught in second grade – about the big questions of life – God, the Universe, why we are here – something is wrong! If we are the same person we were even 1 year ago, or 5 years ago, 10 years ago, or God forbid 20 years ago, if we haven’t changed our mind, or our opinions, if we haven’t evolved spiritually, emotionally, intellectually – we aren’t really living – not an engaged life anyway – because absolutely everything in our lives is there for one reason and one reason alone: to offer us the opportunity to transform – to widen our heart, grow in patience, to learn to let go and forgive easily… This is what the spiritual journey is all about and it’s why we need each other to traverse it!
Transformation is the only way we can affect positive change in our lives and in this world. When we awaken to this perspective – that the work of our lives is transforming – we realize that no matter how far we’ve come, we all have to continue to change. Not one of us is exempt. And, there is no time off.
Soul development can be excruciating because it is ceaseless. It means never resisting development at the deepest level. And that requires a profound receptivity on our part.
Because we can only change the world if we change ourselves, if our own selfish desires can be transformed, if we can – more often than not – take the position of realizing we don’t know everything and we don’t have all the answers. Transformation comes when we can allow curiosity and openness to guide our hearts, our conversations and our thoughts rather than judgment, certainty and defensiveness.
My hope is that those who find a spiritual home here find one because it stretches them and assists them in being open to new experiences, open to thinking differently about long-held convictions whether in theology, science or one’s own beliefs, and open to new revelations of God or the Great Mystery.
Too often in life we just do what we’ve always done. Well, if the spiritual life progresses through the cycles of birth, life, death and resurrection just as the earth progresses through the seasons, and species evolve over time, then we mustn’t get too comfortable in one season because change is always on the horizon. We don’t gather here to keep each other comfortable, but to comfort each other in our discomfort, as we respond to Life’s harsh need to change us.
Though we are only 5 years old, a baby in terms of our own development, we have already endued some serious changes and challenges.
We’ve been touched deeply by death with the loss of TLC members Dell Ollier, Chris Kendall, and my mom and my sister. And yet in grieving together we have grown thicker bonds. We’ve changed the time of our Sunday services 4 times in 5 years. With every time change, we had changes in faces with a handful of steady Eddy’s who come no matter what time we meet. We’ve moved locations. And our biggest change yet, I think has been our best so far, and that was the decision to join forces with some UU’s. Not only has TLC found a partner in Unitarian Universalism, but also, I believe Unitarian Universalism has found a new and unique expression in TLC.
Now stronger than ever, I think we have something invaluable to offer our world. We have here the seed of the church of the future! I believe the Church of the future will be less about holding the same belief and more about drawing forth reserves of reverence and awe such that we learn to honor diversity of experience, while recognizing that no matter what our differences are we have to find a way to live together peacefully or we won’t have a future!
In a world bent almost to broken by separation, fear of difference and the violence that comes when we draw such a deep lines of separation between Christian and non-Christian, male and female, black and white, gay and straight, you and me, we at TLCUU come together intentionally in spiritual community to promote a way of being that honors diversity and offers a prophetic and peaceful presence of Unity in the world.
Just in our little community we have Christians from various denominations, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnositics, Pagans, and those of undefined beliefs and yet there is a real sense here that we are One, supporting each other and sharing the journey of life. In order to maintain and grow this kind of prophetic spiritual community we will have to really live into the covenant we have taken with each other.
Here we have to practice profound acceptance of one another and openness to one another’s unique ways of looking at life and living it. We have to practice here a spirit of non-judgment when we encounter personalities that clash with our own. Here we have to practice opening our hearts and minds whenever we learn about others, what they believe, and the life-experiences they’ve had.
Here we will have to become good at forgiveness in order to allow ourselves and others room to grow and change as a result of wisdom gained through life’s experiences. And we have to do these things in a spirit of non-violence. That means not gossiping when we disagree with someone or the choices they’ve made. It means checking ourselves when we feel resistance to trying something new or are defensive in our behavior and viewpoints. And maybe most importantly, it means giving one another opportunities to begin again, regardless of actions, attitudes and offenses perpetrated in the past.
If we can practice these things here, just maybe we’ll be able to do these things out there and that’s when things really start to change! If we truly allow our covenant to guide our relationships, not just here, but even at home, in the workplace and in our neighborhoods, there is no doubt about our ability to lead the way into a better future!
While it would be easy to discount the strength of our little community it’s important to remember the strength of a group is not determined by its numbers but by the intensity of its dedication to its goals. Every revolution on earth has been engineered by a small group, not by the masses. So let us, TLCUU be a seed for a spiritual revolution the world over because the world saw something in us!
Because they saw in TLCUU that fostering unity in the midst of diversity is possible, because they saw in us a commitment to love rather than judge and forgive rather than respond with revenge.
Just imagine TLCUU being the catalyst for change because they saw that we thrived on it and the freedom that came as a result of it! Imagine a world where people choose their work according to the good it will do for the poorest of the poor—because they saw it in us. Imagine a world where spiritual reflection rather than political expedience began to determine everything we do as a nation—because they saw it in us.
Imagine a world where humble listening to the other became more important than being right or controlling the conversation—because people saw it in us. Imagine a world where what makes for peace becomes the foundation of every personal, corporate, national decision—because they were called to it by us.
Imagine a world where the care of the earth became a living, breathing, determining goal in every family, every company, every life we touch—because they saw it in us. Imagine a world devoted to becoming a community of strangers that crosses every age level, every race, every tradition, every difference on the globe—because they saw it in us.
Imagine a world where the voices of JC, Buddha, Muhammed and the greatest scientists and cosmologists of the day like Einstien, Swimme, and Hawking were not competing voices of Truth, but collective voices of truth, honored for their contribution to the evolution of the human race, because they heard it here with us.
We may be young, but with your heart, and my heart, with your mind and my mind, with our dedication and commitment to one another and our common values TLCUU can have a real impact on people’s lives – and we know that because it has already had an impact on us! YES?! So let us celebrate these 5 years of learning and growth and go into our 6th year full of hope, promise and conviction that the world will be made better because of us!
For Tree Talk: What kind of impact has TLCUU had on you?