American physician Mark Hyman says, “The power of community to create health is far greater than any physician, clinic or hospital.”
He is correct. Together we find it in our hearts to help those who need it ... we put in place the programs, services and resources that will lift us as a nation in allareas of life.
Together we heal. Alone and divided we create disease in body, mind and spirit.
Monks may live in peaceful isolation, but they deprive themselves and others of the beauty — and, yes, sometimes messiness — of human connection and conflict.
Leaders may boldly claim that they “alone can fix it” — but they deprive themselves and other of the power of community.
I spent a great deal of my life avoiding community. I worried about not being accepted; not having anything valuable to say, or contribute; and not wanting to get too close to others — perhaps because they might disappoint me. Even when I did “belong” to a community, I spent most of the time on the edges looking in. I often searched for any reason to leave the group and isolate.
In the aftermath of an extremely dark night of the soul several years ago, I was touched by grace. I experienced the world — the one I could see, and the one I no longer had to see to know it existed — in an entirely new way. Through multiple moments of true oneness and connection with all that is, I began to understand the importance of connecting with others in community.
I became active in a local church. I didn’t just sit in the back of the room and leave early. I sat in the front row and became involved in every service, meeting and group I could. I let others see me, and I saw them.
Eventually, I saw that many of the leaders and members were not walking their talk. There were lies, drama and secrecy. One side was pitted against the other. Chaos began to reign. It was not unlike what we see in our country now. Many, including me, left this particular church, which continues to struggle to reclaim its footing and soul.
I didn’t let disappointment in this one community stop me. I understand that all communities — like the people that create them — are both human and divine.
I am more involved than ever in communities both big and small. I don’t seek communities filled with people who think just like me — but I do choose to be in community with those who have an open mind and heart ... who don’t just see things in black and white because of the color of someone’s skin or their political affiliation ... who can at least listen to reason.
When I was ordained, my vows included the following words, which I say out loud every morning: “I vow to empower myself and other through building community.” I was called to create an online community that does just that. Community In Spirit has been alive for three years. We have 244 members who are all welcome. We may not always agree with each other — but we respect each other. We listen to each other. We love each other.
I ask the following of anyone looking to join: Do you want to be an active member in a community that is spiritual but not religious and is respectful of all faiths? I monitor the discussions every day to make sure that everyone in the group feels empowered and respected — not just the ones that join on Tuesday or Thursday, or believe exactly what I believe. Everyone.
Communities definitely have the power to heal. They also have the power to hurt. We are seeing both in America right now — sometimes at the same time.
What communities do you belong to? Are they filled only with people who look and think like you? How does your community deal with conflict and opposition? How does the leader of the community create a welcoming and safe space for all and not just those who voted for him or her?
Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of community is accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members ... a heart of grace and a soul generated by love.”
How compassionate are the actions of the members of your community? If we think of America as one big community, how much grace and love do you feel under the leadership of Donald Trump? How empowered do you feel to survive Covid and to look your child in the eye and say, “The President loves you and will take care of you no matter how mommy or daddy votes?”
Communities are both human and divine. They are not perfect — but we owe it to each other and ourselves to make them the absolute best they can be. We owe it to ourselves to call out members who confuse community with tribalism — and to do whatever we can to empower those members who truly do want to reach across the aisle and to sit at the same table.
My blessing for all of you today is that you find your way to the kind of communities I have. They keep me honest. They challenge me to live my vows. They inspire the kind of love and equality for all that they themselves want to see. They keep me connected to God — not a fire-and-brimstone God of law and order but the kind of God that can hold a mother whose son has just been shot seven times in the back and feel her pain. We all deserve to belong to a community like that.