Service: Taking the Leap – August 18, 2013

Worship service, August 18, 2013
UUCC Augusta, Maine
Claire Curole, service leader
Kathy Shaw, Worship Associate
Hannah Faulkner, pianist

Inviting the Silence
It is the custom in my home congregation to ring a chime to signal the beginning of our sacred time together.

Prelude – #8 Mother Spirit Father Spirit

Welcome & Announcements – Kathy

Chalice lighting:

We light this chalice in the spirit of Becoming.
May its flame shine brightly to guide us on the journey forward.

Opening Words – Claire

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to…”  So says the character Frodo Baggins of his friend and mentor Bilbo as he, Frodo, is starting out on his great adventure as told in the fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings.

Today’s service is not about that story – not exactly.  But it is about story, about adventure, about vision, about cultivating the willingness to take risks and to head out into the blank spaces beyond the edges of the map, even where someone has written the warning “Here be dragons….”  It’s about preparing to seize opportunity as it appears, and learning to take that great flying leap, head first and tail flappin’ in the wind, into the great unknown.

It is not coincidence that I’m presenting this service today.  This is the weekend that Rev. Carie and other members of the Travel Team – [listed by name] – are attending the Kickoff Conference for the Leap of Faith program that our congregation is participating in this year.  In the course of this program we’ll be taking a close look at ourselves as a congregation. We’ll be asking questions like “What makes us who we are right now? And what parts of who we are now do we want to carry with us as we grow into the future?”

We often ask questions with the assumption that we are looking for answers.  Seems logical, right?  I will tell you right now that I do not have answers and when we leave this room today we probably will not have answers.  But it is my hope that by the end of this service we will have started to ask some very open-ended questions that we can carry forward into the coming year.

Please rise in body or in spirit and join in singing Hymn #1020, Woyaya, that’s hymn #1020 in the teal hymnal.

Opening hymn – Woyaya #1020

Reflection – “The Right Tools for The Job” – Claire

Briefly, for anyone who missed it, Leap of Faith is a UUA initiative pairing healthy congregations seeking to grow – such as ours – with mentoring congregations to explore some of the barriers that might be interfering with growth. The mentoring congregation we are partnered with is First Parish, Milton, Mass. There’s a bit more information on the bulletin board in the foyer.

There will be various opportunities to participate and contribute to this process – we’ve had one powerful conversation earlier this month and I expect there will be more. I don’t know exactly what or when, so make sure to read the newsletter and follow the announcements!

I’d like to introduce some language that may be familiar to some and new to others. This is from the conversation we had earlier this month. You will hear folks on the Leap of Faith teams talking about Technical and Adaptive Challenges, or Technical and Adaptive Change.  This is a way of distinguishing between two general approaches to problem solving.

Technical challenges (and their technical solutions) are simple – they’re not always easy, but they’re simple: This is the kind of situation where it’s easy to identify what’s not working, and fairly easy to figure what to change to fix it, and actually making it happen is the hardest part.  Technical challenges often come down to resource allocation: questions of Not Enough Time or Not Enough Space or Not Enough People or Not Enough Money frequently look like technical challenges, and sometimes they really are.  With a technical challenge we can ask the right expert how it’s been done in the past, or we can go look up the answer in an instruction manual. Technical challenges are the ones we can adequately address with the tools we already have in our tool box.

Adaptive challenge is when part of the challenge is the tool box.  Adaptive challenges are sneaky; they are not easy to identify and once identified there’s often no obvious way to resolve them with the tools and methods we have at hand.  One of the ways to identify an adaptive challenge is to notice that applying a technical solution to what looks like a technical challenge just isn’t working. That’s a big clue that maybe it’s a different kind of challenge.

With an adaptive challenge there’s no consensus of expert opinion to rely on, no step-by-step illustrated manual, no map to the unfamiliar territory.  Resolving an adaptive challenge requires experimentation – trying new things to see how they work, or how they don’t.  It calls for collaboration – when there are no experts and no manuals to turn to, we have to pull all our creativity together and share our collective wisdom.  And it calls for deep reflection and evaluation – asking those hard-to-answer questions about values and attitudes and relationships and identity, questions that don’t have a single answer and may very well lead only to more questions.

That’s what adaptive change looks like: messy, uncertain, complex, organic, transformative. It’s growing into the unknown, beyond the walls, beyond borders, into the blank space and off the edge of the map.  Learning to navigate adaptive change is itself a growth process.  And what the Leap of Faith process is for, as I understand it, is to enable us as a congregation to identify the adaptive challenges that have kept us from growing in numbers and to consider how we want to address them going forward.

Offering #402 – From You I Receive – Kathy

Hymn – Wake Now My Senses #298

Sermon – “Head First, Tail Flapping . . .”  – Claire

I’ve just recently become familiar with the language of technical and adaptive change, but when I read the material introducing the terms it was clear to me that these were ideas I’d already met, up close and in a very personal way.

Those of you who read the June newsletter may recall that I’m starting seminary this year.  And so, this time next week, I will be at the airport waiting to catch a plane, which I haven’t done in about ten years, to go start school, which I haven’t done in almost twenty years, in Chicago – where I haven’t been since I was a toddler.  It is an adventure – a grand unexpected adventure – and so, from this wondrous place of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, I offer to you these thoughts on embracing adaptive change, growing outside the box, and jumping into the unknown – on taking, if you will, a leap of faith.

I mentioned earlier that the response to a technical challenge is technical change; it follows that the response to an adaptive challenge is adaptive change, and that adaptive changes are the ones that happen at a deep level – at the level of values and relationships and even identity.  It can be a gradual slide or a sudden jolt, intentional or spontaneous, but sooner or later. . . shift happens. . . and my observation has been that when deep change needs to happen, it will inevitably find its way in.  Nothing stays the same forever – that would be dreadfully boring in any case. And part of the challenge of change is in letting go.

For example.  I have a relationship to my closet that is way more conventionally feminine than I ever want to admit.  It is a privileged first-world problem that I can stand in front of a closet full to overflowing and howl that I have nothing to wear. Your laughter tells me that I’m not alone.  Fortunately, for the last several years our church has held a spring rummage sale, which prompts me to engage in the spiritual practice of addressing my closet clutter.

Some things are easy to get rid of.  [holding up an imaginary item] “What on earth was I thinking??”  Into the box it goes. [holding up another imaginary item] “I haven’t seen this in years. . . and I have no use for it now.”  Poof!  Off into the world to live with someone else.  Then there are the things that are easy to keep: things that I currently use that are in good repair.  Sometimes they are perfect just as they are, and sometimes they are not perfect, but they are serving a purpose until something better comes along. Sometimes I find things that need a little work to be really useful, perhaps a bit of mending or alteration.  And in any inventory of this kind it eventually comes down to the hard decisions: what do we do with the things we once loved that no longer serve current needs, and are taking up space, or time, or energy, that could be used for something new.  Sometimes we lovingly find them a new home; sometimes we hang onto them for awhile because we just aren’t ready to let go of them yet, even though we know that really, it’s time.

I am of course no longer talking about just the clothes closet and the rummage sale.  That’s why it’s a spiritual practice for me, this digging out of forgotten things and considering how they fit into the life I am living now and whether they will fit into the life I want to live going forward. I’ve found that this process of addressing clutter in the closet also applies to clutter of the soul.  It is no less of a challenge to dig out and decide what to do with the beliefs and values packed away in the unconscious mind than it is to admit that a favorite shirt really does not fit anymore, or has worn out beyond repair.

A bit over a year ago I unexpectedly found myself deep in this kind of reflection, taking personal inventory not of the closet but of the soul.  I found that despite my honest efforts to do things right, my carefully constructed life was still just not working; it had in fact started coming a bit unglued.  I did not know the phrase “Adaptive Challenge” but I did realize that when you’re doing things right and it still doesn’t work then the next thing to ask is, “Am I doing the right things?” and if the answer is no, then the question becomes “And what would the right things look like?” and that is where the adventure starts.

Self-discovery is not easy and it is not comfortable and it is not predictable.  There is no manual, there is no map. I asked myself questions like “Who am I?” and “What am I doing here?” and “If this isn’t what I’m here for, then what should I be doing?” and if sitting with these questions unanswered was uncomfortable, then the unexpected answers were downright terrifying – at least at first.  It is so very hard to let go of what you thought was true about your self, about the world, about your own place in it.  But then, somewhere beyond the fear – fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of failure – came the quiet voice within that whispers, “Yes.  YES.  THIS!

Well.  How could I refuse?

Change happens. Adaptive change happens at a deep, powerful level. And if it sometimes sneaks up on us in ways we don’t understand and aren’t expecting, we can also invite it in by engaging in the kind of deep questioning that we will need to do sooner or later.  Any fix-it person knows it’s easier to have the tools you need on hand rather than running out to look for them when a situation arises.  Taking inventory – of our values, of our attitudes and assumptions about ourselves and others, of our dreams and visions – is the work we need to do to prepare ourselves for whatever the future holds.

We need to start asking the hard questions:

Who am I?  Who are you?  Who are we, each individually? What possibilities do each of us contain, waiting to unfold? How do we grow into those possibilities and engage in our communities – our families, this church community, the other parts of our lives as individuals? What roles do we fill in those relationships?

If we first learn to ask those questions within ourselves individually, and we listen for the answers, then we can ask those questions among ourselves. Who are we as a community? What possibilities do we contain, waiting to unfold? How do we grow into those possibilities and engage them, as a congregation, in relationships beyond our walls? What is our role as a faith community in the context of our larger community?

But we can do more with this vision. It’s like a video game. Badaleep! [sound effect] Level up!  Who are we as Unitarian Universalists? What possibilities does our faith tradition contain, waiting to unfold? How do we grow into those possibilities and engage them in the wider world, at the regional or national or international level?  What role does Unitarian Universalism have in relationship to other faith traditions? or to social and political movements?

Level up!  Who are we as people of faith, people of conscience, people of vision living in the world? What possibilities are contained in the promise that gets us out of bed and brings us here on Sunday mornings?  How do we grow into these possibilities? What’s the role of religion in this beautiful complex broken world?

I do stay up late at night thinking about this stuff.

Some responses to these questions may come easily. Others may become clear only after long reflection.  It’s not about the answers, but rather about the questioning process that pulls everything out of the tool box – or the closet – and takes a good long look to see what’s in there – what’s worth keeping and what needs to go, and what’s missing and what needs to be upgraded or replaced.   Who are we? What are we here for? What will it look like for us to grow and change and still be us, only more so, and with a better tool box?

This is where Leap of Faith comes in – by examining our deep values and seeking within for our unresolved questions, by opening up to possibility and opportunity that we have not yet imagined and by being ready to take the risk of engaging the future without knowing exactly what it is going to bring or how we are going to get there from here –  By taking that leap into the unknown, head first and tail flapping in the wind, that’s how we do it.

Please rise in body or in spirit and join in singing hymn #131, Love Will Guide Us, that’s hymn #131.

Closing hymn –  Love Will Guide Us #131


Many of us know the words attributed to Universalist preacher John Murray – Go out! Go out into the highways and byways, and give the people something of your new vision!

Go out! Go in peace, go in love.  Take what you find here out into the world, share it along the way, and come back for more.

Amen and Blessed Be.

Postlude –  #116 I’m On My Way

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