I was hauling boxes the other day up into my new office-ish perch above the sanctuary. The open room that a month ago stored old music and a series of odd metal shelves now contains a series of boxes that just made the cross country trip from California. I picked this spot because of the inspiring view it offers of our beautiful sanctuary. It is presently a mess, but it brings me joy to think about setting it up and regularly looking out over the spacious sanctuary and Emerson’s pulpit. I love how old and how fundamentally American our church is. I got a dose of that when marching in the Yankee Doodle parade and being at the booth. I intend on making it a little ritual to stand there, look over the sanctuary and think about the great calling that I and we are a part of. While in the midst of this deep thought here are a few other deep thoughts worth lifting up.
The joy of witnessing the ever renewing irrepressible nature of life. Change is ironically after all the one great constant.
Worth lifting up is the fact that the instinct for compassion is built into the human heart.
The deep pleasure our bodies and souls get when we encounter rainbows and sunsets.
The possibility- as humans have asserted for eons- that there just might be a creative force that started the universe in an act of love,
The magic of romance and the existence of love.
The fact that the world is improving and that eventually humanity might really get it together and take positive control over a world does not yet have a fixed destiny.
In that spirit, bear with me as I tell this intriguing bit of history that I found oddly inspiring. I invite you to think of the following as a metaphor for what is possible. Ready, here goes.
US railroad tracks are almost universally set at 4 feet, 8 and a half inches apart. That seemingly random number was used because 4ft 8 ½ inches was the measurement the English used in building their rail system, and the engineers, the math guys not the train captains, who built the US railroads were expats from Britain. The Britt’s used the presumably random measurement of 4 feet 8 and a half inches, because that was the width the tram tracks in the pre-steam locomotive train system were set at.
English tram tracks were standardly set at four foot eight and a half because the first English trams were constructed using most of the same tools that built the horse drawn carriages and wagons that preceded them. And, those English wagons and carriages were built to that width in order to match the ruts that standardized Roman chariots left behind all over Europe. The span of the axel on those chariots was built precisely wide enough to fit behind two horses striding side by side. So, the question might be building, “What Steve is so inspiring about that?
My point is we humans are building our world, piece by piece, one layer at a time. And although many feel we are backsliding, and in many ways we are, the truth is, as history evolves we generally actually get better. Sure the likes of Trump and Putin, and a trend towards autocracy is startling. It is! However, viewed from one layer up, the trend is up. The combination of how randomness blends in with precedence- evident in how the railroad was built- means that humans have a lot of control over what trends get supported, thrive, and/or are pruned away are within our control.
The fact that there is a process of natural selection as to what ideas, customs, and traditions we move and carry forward means that we can to a large degree control the world that will be. I know in a time of pandemics, another European war, and migrants up against borders all around the world, things look bleak. But, as I do wish to say from time to time, things are getting better. Rates of poverty, preventable diseases, homicide rates, and infant mortality world-wide are all down. Don’t forget that. Likewise the existence of ritual human sacrifice, government sanctioned slavery, homicide rates, and the repression of LGBTQ+ people around the globe are all in decline.
I don’t intend on painting a Pollyanna world view, but as our little church community struggles to make a difference we should be aware that we are part of a wave of awareness that the right wing is reacting against. Around the globe Tolerance, environmental-awareness, and education rates- particularly for women- are all up. I know it doesn’t always feel that way. I know it could be better, but as we work to build a more beloved community, the vast condition that most humans live in is far better than it used to be. Although I believe that it will be too late to avoid what will become some very regrettable climate change, we will learn from that just like we will learn from the disaster that is Ukraine. What’s inspiring is that there are so many stupid and destructive things that we don’t do anymore, or do in far lower proportions than before that the story of progress gets lost.
I know that this is hardly the makings of a rousing gospel tune, but we humans are getting better. Smarter, healthier, more tolerant, and believe it or not, kinder. Please don’t forget that. As I stand in the back of the sanctuary looking over a room built for the purpose of lifting up the human condition, I feel called to lean into these bits of optimism.
What is Steve doing here exactly? In last month’s newsletter I offered a bit about who I am. Perhaps now a clarifying note about just what I am doing here might be helpful. I am from at least now until July of next year acting as a part time minister with you. Under that banner of being your quarter time minister I will over the next three months only be in the pulpit a couple times, the first Sunday of November and December to be specific, but predictably present at church on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month. As the New Year begins the plan is that I will regularly lead those 1st and 3rd services. On those same 1st and 3rd weekend mornings from 10 to 11:30, the plan is that I will lead an Adult Education themed program. Usually these will have a mix of educational, personal reflection, and small group ministry feel.
The plan is that these will always be open to whoever wants to drop in, and that these will be in person events. As we ideally build out the numbers of youth involved in the church, I will lead a youth group that most likely will meet on some undetermined time on those Sunday afternoons or evenings I am at church. As all that takes shape and beyond I will be getting to know different members of the church and visiting those who might benefit from a visit. As with Yankee Doodle Day, I will prioritize being present for the significant events in the life of the church. I hope that helps.