The poet Annie Dillard says that we are here to witness our generation and our time. I keep hearing and reading the phrase, “resilience and resistance” and I think it has something to say to our generation and our time.
My initial impulse – right or wrong – when it comes to resilience and resistance is to weave more tightly the fabric of connection, to embody more intentionally the interdependence of the web of all existence.
I am aware that social scientists have been telling us for decades that we are becoming a more isolated, more lonely society. Think Robert Putnam’s influential Bowling Alone. Just a few weeks ago, Dhruv Khullar wrote in the New York Times how social isolation is killing us. I see it in my own world – people I know, people I love. I experience it as I meet with congregants: so many of us are struggling – some visibly, some invisibly – with disconnection, with social isolation.
I believe this struggle is made harder, made more shameful, because of our society’s relentless emphasis on stoic individualism. And it’s not just our society writ large: Unitarian Universalism does a strange dance with individualism that does not always serve us well and that can make connection and community a complicated road.
In the midst of all of that, fear and intimidation seem to be the new shiny coin of the realm in this latest era of the American experiment – hate crimes towards vulnerable communities are on the rise; there is talk of use of our democratic institutions as weapons, rather than as instruments of protection and fairness. It has long been known that fear and intimidation lead to feelings of insecurity, of habits of suspicion and distrust, and to general disconnection. If we are already standing on a foundation where social isolation is the norm, this is no good.
While it is a minister’s job to worry about people, especially isolated individuals and families, I am worrying in a new way and I want to ask you to join me: less in my worry, and more in my response.
I want to ask that, as a congregation, as a religious and spiritual institution, as an intentional gathering place and people steeped in life-affirming principles, we reach out to each other, weaving more tightly the fabric of our connections, though not so tightly that we cannot add new fibers, new threads, new people into our dynamic, interdependent tapestry. If you notice someone’s absence, call them up (or email) – even if you aren’t best buds. If you notice a face at coffee hour that you do not recognize, walk up to them, even if it’s awkward, even if you are in a rush, and start a conversation.
While I think this is always an important part of congregational life, I do believe it is even more crucial that we do this now, and in an ongoing way, as we figure out what this next chapter in American life is going to look like. Reaching out, building resilience in ourselves and in others, cultivating in ourselves our capacities for resistance, these are political acts, but they are not partisan. It is political in the sense that they are moral acts, ethical ones, and they have consequences not only for our inner life, but for our shared public life.
I am blessed to be on this journey with you,