The Power of Community

Chalice lighting

This flame shines to welcome you as you are

It is a light to gently illuminate the self you sometimes hide within

The self that may feel too imperfect

Too frightened

Too vain

Too selfish

Too bad

And all the many things we worry about

You are welcome for who you are and as you are

And by this light, we risk being our true selves

Because that vulnerability sets us all free

To shine

Reading: The Inner Net, by David Bowden

Woven into each and everyone of us there is an inner net

We connect to each other

Thread to Thread

Cell to Cell

Heart to Heart

When formed correctly the net forms community

And we catch boat loads of life

We all yearn to be hewn in this collection

For it is the human connection

It’s the reason why we have eyes, tongues, and lips

So we can be intertwined together as we see, speak and kiss

It’s the reason why we have right and left hands

So when my right reaches your left

Pinkies, rings, middles, pointers, and thumbs interconnect

In the loom of the human thread

But we have become disconnected

By nations and nationalities

Language and legalities

Wars and quarantines

Prejudices and bigotry 

The net of humanity Has been severed severely

As we cut ourselves off

In the pursuit of individuality

And in the midst of this shrinking world sensation

Many are placing the blame on technology

As we burrow into browsers

Unplug by plugging in for hours

Miss blue skies while working in the cloud

Laugh out loud without laughing out loud

Humanity seems to be disconnecting

At the one point in history when it is the most connected

But just as to the good we are not entirely compliant 

Nor entirely resistant

Neither is this tool entirely consistent

For the problems of our world used to be too big and too distant

To connect to and know of its widespread existence

But now our world is too small and too close for us not to make a difference

We can now connect 

Crowds around a cause

The ignorant to knowledge

The isolated to college

Orphans to their fathers

Donors to nonprofits

And injustices to those who can stop it

We can now see

Our newborn nephew

A revolution breakthrough

The troops as they withdrew

Uncensored world news

And what is and isn’t untrue

We can now hear

Cries from Thailand

Shouts from Somalia

And can shove our arms, elbow-deep,

Through our screens, reach out, and touch them

But so often

We use this tool to ignore them and the rest of those humans

For just as fire can be used for warmth or destruction

We misuse urls, firewalling off the world with distractions

We search daily, but find nothing

Add friends, but lose community

Look for love but get pornography

Try to discover ourselves, but lose our identity

And though this entity is filled with both

Healing and brokenness

Guilt and innocence

Some of what’s Godly

And some of what’s Devilish

That does not detract from its significance

When it comes down to it

The true nature of this new age unit

Is in how we use it

Woven into each and everyone of us there is an inner net

And I pray we may stitch our world back together

As we knit, patch, and connect

Message, part 1 - by Rev. Andy Pakula

I wonder if anyone recognises the picture on the cover of the handout?

It’s Captain Planet and the planeteers from Captain Planet cartoon series. Started in 1990 – 29 years ago – to educate people about the protection of the environment. It was co-created by Ted Turner. Voices included Whoopi Goldberg,  Margot Kidder, and LeVar Burton.

Each of the five planeteers has a power of nature, but when they combine their power, it creates the green-haired superhero, Captain Planet, who has much more power than all of them put together.

[Thin bamboo canes are distributed]

This is weak on its own. It can’t carry much weight. It wouldn’t do well in pushing open a door or removing an obstacle. 

It can be broken without too much trouble.

Can you help?

[People come forward with bamboo canes]

When these sticks are together, they become stronger and stronger together. Now, they are sturdy enough to open a door, or to remove an obstacle.

Together, they have the ability to make change – the definition of power. And together they can resist attempts to break them. Together they are strong.

And we are also much more powerful and stronger together than when we are apart.

This seems obvious, doesn’t it? We know an army is stronger than a single soldier. We know a stream is more powerful than a single drop of water and a river is more powerful still. We know that a movement of a million people is more powerful than a movement of a thousand.

And although it should seem obvious that we are more powerful together than apart, the way most people act suggests that maybe they don’t completely understand or maybe coming together is just too hard.

Most people today lack community. They don’t have it and they don’t seem to seek it. They may have a few friends and family members. They often interact through digital communication where they have loads of so-called friends but far fewer real-life connections. 

They may have friendly conversations with their work colleagues. They may go to a pub or a meditation group or a yoga class. They may sit with hundreds or thousands of others as together they experience a concert or a film or a play. They may tweet or sign a petition or even show up at a large demo as they try to cause some kind of change.

But they don’t connect deeply and stay connected. Everything is superficial or small or one-off. It doesn’t build strength. It doesn’t build power.

What we aim to achieve here in this community is something more. It is serious connection. It is power generated by being together, by partnering with other organisations, by using our combined resources in powerful ways.

Together we can be powerful.

We can be harder to break.

We can force open the doors of opportunity.

We can push away the obstacles of injustice.

Together, we can be strong.

Reading: Brave Are We, by Alison Trower

Delicate wings can carry me far.

I am strong in my fragility, powerful in sensitivity.

Look how the air sustains bodies

yet my hand goes through it as if through nothing.

Gossamer tenderness can heal the

ravages of this world; it can warm like the sun

and soften edges with a whisper.

I do not underestimate gentleness,

nor precariousness.

Life itself is out on a limb.

I am out on a limb.

My nerves are exposed,

my veins visible, my pulse is a quick and quiet tapping,

yet I dare to take part.

In all my vulnerability I dare to fly.

I have scars.

My wings have ragged ends.

Brave are we who are born at all.

It takes courage, to be sentient, 

to not know the future,

to have blind-spots, thin skin,

to ache, to bleed, to lose.

Like a bug I could be crushed and spilled,

so I carry my dainty body with care, knowing my cargo is precious.

My cargo is my sentience.

In being breathed life - I was breathed frailty.

It is human to live amongst the things that hurt.

I am flesh,

I take part.

Message, part 2 - by Rev. Andy Pakula

Imagine now if these sticks insisted on staying a distance apart from one another. Imagine that they wanted to be far enough from each other that they could hide their brown spots, their abrasions, the places where sprouts were cut away.

How strong would they be then?

I love “Lean on Me”. Sometimes in our lives we do all have pain and sorrow. Sometimes we have a load that we can’t carry. Many times were are not strong on our own. And then, we need someone else to lean on. And that is part of what community is about. And that is incredibly important to all of us. It is important to this community.

But this almost perfect song doesn’t quite get far enough when it says “I’ll help… for it won’t be long ‘til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on”.

I’m going to help you because someday soon I’m going to need your help. 

First, the love we aspire to is not transactional – it is not a consumerist, free-market love. We help and give not because we want to build up credits to be repaid at a future time. We help and give because we believe in love – we believe that love given or received is a great good. We believe it is this that builds hope, and peace, and trust, and understanding. It is this that is part of our purpose – that it gives our lives meaning. What more would we want to be said of us besides that we loved fully and openly and generously?

Something else is missing too and that is the paradoxical relationship between strength and vulnerability. 

Alison Trower writes: “My nerves are exposed, my veins visible, my pulse is a quick and quiet tapping, yet I dare to take part. In all my vulnerability I dare to fly.”

Vulnerability is a part of the human condition. Every one of us has our tender places, our exposed nerves.

And our natural impulse is to hide this vulnerability away.

Long ago, I found myself as a stand-in adult chaperone for a high school youth group at a Unitarian Universalist congregation in the States. I did not want to be there. I remembered too well from my own teen experiences what young people in the age range of fifteen to eighteen were like from my own time at that age.

I knew for certain that they were hard and cruel. They teased and demeaned those not as cool or sporty as themselves. They had no compassion, no generosity, no decency.

But as the first evening of the retreat began and stretched into the night, the young people led each other through increasingly deep activities and exercises. I watched something incredible happen. I saw the acts and the masks fall away. I saw young people show their deep pain and insecurity and I saw this vulnerability elicit a change in others. They became compassionate, they became tender, and they too shared their own vulnerability.

The space between these young people melted away and they were truly connected, truly in relationship, truly united, truly one.

I had never seen such a thing in my life. I thought I was the only one who felt such pain and, even as an observer, I was changed by this experience. That weekend was probably one of the most important reasons why I am here today rather than trying to negotiate a deal for a biotech company. I saw what could be when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

The paradoxical relationship between power and vulnerability comes about not because our suffering brings about power. It doesn’t. That’s not how it works. Suffering doesn’t automatically lead to strength.

There is nothing wrong with strength. A community full of people who are always brave, always confident, and never afraid of being wrong would probably be a very powerful place. The problem is that it doesn’t exist.

Every one of us is flawed. Every one of us has pain and sorrow and weakness. We are afraid of being wrong, afraid of being exposed, afraid of others knowing how imperfect we feel. And all this fear keeps us apart because we will risk almost anything to avoid others knowing just how inadequate we are - or think we are. And we’re all imagining that it’s just us, when it is all of us.

Vulnerability is the ability to be ourselves with others despite all the messiness and imperfection that is inevitable in each life. Showing vulnerability is taking the enormous risk of revealing what we imagine are defects so severe that no one else could be quite so bad and that – if they knew – no one could ever love us.

In a place of safety and compassion, the masks and acts and defences can melt away. We can dare to be ourselves, listen, share opinions, lend a hand, follow and lead depending on what is needed instead of doing what we think will make us look strong.

Such vulnerability creates the opportunity for strength – both individual and communal. Such vulnerability eliminates the petty squabbling and need to be seen to be important or the desire to avoid being seen at all.

A community characterised by deliberate safety and vulnerability is a strong community. It is a place where our individual power can emerge, a place where our combined power can be unleashed and focused, a place that can change our lives and change the world.

Closing words

This world needs people who are able to be themselves

People who are prepared to let others see them and know them and love them

It is only through such vulnerability that we can be strong

That we can truly unite

That we can truly build power

That we can truly create the world of which we dream