Friday, April 10, 2015

Blind but now I see...

In a recent conversation at church about finding new partners for ministry - people, businesses or movements who might broadly share our love for this community, embrace a connection to compassion and want to work with us to both use part of our building for their work and assist us in preserving our historic Sanctuary - I was surprised to find out that we had not yet made a commitment to speak with the town's young entrepreneurs. As our meeting matured, I realized this was a gross oversight that we needed to rectify. Not only have these young business people found a way to bring new life and beauty back to our decaying downtown, but they have learned through hard work and risk-taking what works and what doesn't in Pittsfield.

As I sat with this realization in prayer last night and this morning, two broad insights began to take shape:

+ First, over and again I find that whenever we church people rely on just what we know, we wind up missing the mark.  Including myself in this, I see how the blinders we wear both keep us focused on what we think is important - tasks, relationships and rituals - while blinding us to other visions, connections and possibilities. There are, for example, 3 or 4 very successful local businesses in our small downtown which have weathered the economic depression of the past 7 years. They have also cultivated a loyal and lucrative client base, too. Why did we not think of speaking with these young business leaders earlier? Because they are in the for profit realm and we tend to think that those outside of the arts or the social service world don't share our values. WRONG! These businesses and individuals care deeply about the common good. They value what is good and strong and beautiful in our community. And they are actively engaged in the civic life of Pittsfield in ways that heal what is broken. 

Our spiritual siblings in Judaism speak of this as "tikkun olam" - repairing or healing the world - and from my perspective these businesses are doing a better job of changing and healing our local culture than most of the churches.  They are all about fair trade economics. They all buy and sell local products - mostly organic. They pay decent wages, hire local people, support a wide range of civic endeavors from art fairs to fundraising on behalf of women and children wounded by abuse. And, they have invested themselves emotionally and economically in the well-being of our small city. In a word, they have embodied their compassion - incarnated their words into flesh and deeds - all on their own dime.

+ Second, given the generational division that is at work in so many of the congregations in our area, it is clear to me that we need a few 30 somethings to serve on our team.  By nature, those of us in the 50-60 years don't see what is taking place just beyond our comfort zone. We don't engage in the emerging night life. We rarely participate in the out of the box arts offerings. And God knows we almost never go into clubs or eateries we have been in before. Not so with our younger members (and other potential allies.)  When  I was in conversation with my city council person about our exploration of new partners, he named these young entrepreneurs as resources we all might learn from. They know that the revitalization of our region is predicated upon decent jobs, a creative arts and food sector and the preservation of the region's natural beauty. "Without something satisfying, fun and meaningful to DO after work," he reminded me, "we're toast." 

Two years ago, on the night before we left for one of our Canadian get-aways, I took the time to stop into three different local cafes between the hours of 9 and 11 pm. They were hopping - each with a different crowd and groove - but all having fun in support of three very different venues.  The first was a folk music club that catered mostly to old timers like me - and it was definitely a graying crowd. Next was a blues bar filled to overflowing with 40 something folk in muscle shirts, tight jeans and tons of make-up. Lastly was a DJ dance club with 20-30 somethings on the prowl in slinky dresses and baggy jeans. It was fascinating. Earlier that year the jazz band I was hanging with at the time played another downtown venue as part of the arts walk and drew a much different crowd - more elite, more eclectic in style and taste - but every bit as engaged in the scene as these other three businesses. If we're going to crack this nut and make new allies, we need to bridge the generational divide.

And here's why:  it is so easy to miss what is right in front of us. Yesterday I spent a few hours in rehearsal with my music colleague at church working on three tunes for Sunday. Two I am totally down with - "Peace Piece" and "Well You Needn't" - but the third seemed impenetrable. Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" starts with a bass riff that I could not grasp or play. And even when I sat down with the sheet music, I couldn't hear what the notes on the page told me. It wasn't until Di sat down at the piano with me - and played the written notes over and over - that my mind opened. You see, I was "hearing" what I believed SHOULD have been written - a walking bass line in C that made sense to me - with all the notes reasonably close together. But what was written was a bass groove in C built on fifths. Very unusual. Not impossible to play - and once I heard the right notes - I could make it happen. But for a few days I couldn't play it because I could not imagine that the written notes were right. (How many other songs have I butchered because of this? How many other blessings have I missed?)

The same thing is operative in our quest for a new mission partner: we have to take our blinders off - again and again - listen to what the REAL notes are telling us, ask for assistance from our younger allies and then see where the Spirit leads us.

1) Eva Perri

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