President’s Perspective – Start from where you are

By Mindy McPherson, 2019-20 President

I was struck by the message that the Rev. C.W. Dawson delivered to our congregation in August, “The Call to Ahimsa in a World of Violence.” I was, perhaps, most touched by the sentiment, “Start from where you are.” As a result, I have spent time reflecting upon how the many dimensions of nonviolence are, or could be, or should be, present in daily life. So, where am I? Where are you? Where are we?

My path to ahimsa starts with building peace with myself. It starts with my family, my interactions with my spouse, and the lessons I share with my children.

I’ve been focused on my children quite a bit lately, as I was able to spend the summer months at home with Axel (7) and Anja (5). During our time together, I found myself continually teaching and reminding them about appropriate behavior. One lesson from parenthood that sticks with me, though often not when I need it most, is that moments of anger, frustration, or sadness are not functional teaching moments. Causing harm to a sibling is not an appropriate communication strategy, but working through such moments of chaos is not the time for instruction. We have to take our deep breaths, calm our bodies and minds, and only then move forward with the gentle reminders of body control, kind words, and thoughtful actions. We start with using our words. We talk about respect, love, forgiveness. We show compassion. We start from where we are.

It is important to have established expectations or ground rules about our behavior. It is important to contemplate and understand the expectations before we’re pushing through difficult times.
Many groups within our church community function by adhering to behavioral norms or covenants. For example, our Board of Trustees uses the following norms to guide its work:

  • “Speak the truth in love” (or at least respect).
  • Do what good readers do: listen with both charity and (constructive) skepticism.
  • Allow time for discussion.
  • Expect discussion.
  • Debate ideas, not people.
  • Monitor your own participation: If dominating, perhaps hold back a bit. If silent, do speak up!
  • Use I statements.

As we move into the new church year, I encourage us, as a connected community, to contemplate how we interact with one another. Where are we? Where are we in a move towards ahimsa? How are we showing compassion? What tools do we have to carry our congregation meaningfully down this path?
Your board attended a retreat in August at which we had the opportunity to spend time reflecting upon our mission, vision and ends statements. As a congregation, as we collectively refocus our intentions and lean in to the exciting work to be done, I encourage us to consider our congregational behavioral expectations. Let’s start from where we are so that we can be ready for the road ahead.