Friday, 29 July 2011

How can we measure a community's soulfulness?

I have been busier than usual and so my reading for pleasure has been books with short chapters and snippets.  I have returned to a book called Journey to the Light edited by Linda Jones and Sophie Stanes which is about people of religion and their encounters with doubt.  There are some fascinating stories but the one that I love the most is from Rabbi Lionel Blue.  He is my secret crush - not so secret now!

I like Lionel Blue for, amongst other things, his humanity and absolute faith in God - which he calls WW (Whomsoever, Whatsoever).  He casts a critical eye over religion - Christianity as well as Judaism, and writes about every day encounters with WW.  It was one of his books which gave me permission to be religious - to be able to think in terms of faith as quite pragmatic and integral to life rather than dogmatic and church-based.

Here's what he writes about growing up.

'We have to be careful because sometimes we grow up and we don't allow God to grow up as well.  You end up as an adult and God as he was at the Sunday school stage.  I remember a boy at barmitzvah who asked me. 'Rabbi, do you believe everything you read in the book of scrolls?'  I replied, 'Of course not, some of it's unbelievable,' and he looked really shaken.  I said to him, 'You're supposed to become an adult today, you've asked me a question, so here's an adult answer.  The best way of looking at it is that the book is the beliefs and experiences of all our ancestors, our forefathers and foremothers.  You've got your own truth and you've got to add it on.  You can't be your own grandfather.'  I tell my students that they should be careful not to be trapped by religious rules.  They've got to find Whomsover, Whatsoever wherever it is.  They've got to make their own journey.'

As Unitarians we don't need telling this.  As individuals we are committed to finding and following our own path or perhaps forging our own path would be a better description.  And as communities we must do the same.  Each community is different and has its own path to forge.  As our own individual paths cross and collide we create a wonderful magic that is religious community - or not.

If we think that we are not creating magic - then what is it that is holding us back?  Do people themselves know the issues?  I suspect that in many communities at least a few people will know what the difficulties are and why, but there may be some communities where people really cannot fathom what the problem is.  We have congregational assessment forms which give us an idea of how the patient is doing - all the vital signs are being checked - but still there is something missing.  

I think that we might call this the soul of the community.  What is our community's higher purpose?  Is there a dynamic or are we stuck?  Does each individual feel that they matter and that they help to create the whole?  How is a community's soulfulness expressed?  Is our community's soul mature, has it grown as we have grown or has it remained as a Sunday school soul?

Is there something more profound than the congregational assessment form that we can create which helps communities move into more soulful being?  This needs some thinking - I am not sure whether it needs a lot or a little.  If anyone has any thoughts then please do comment.

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