Extending an invitation to join a daunting, devoted conspiracy
T his is almost crazy, almost unbelievable. But it's real. Women and men of wildly different faiths are gathering around a table on another Thursday morning, perhaps as you are reading this. They are part of a conspiracy. I sit with them.
Sitting across the table from me today -- again -- is a warm, smiling bear of a man. He's not only a Christian but a conservative Christian. Religiously, the distance between his faith and my faith is greater than the distance between the Earth and the moon. My faith, Unitarian Universalism, began at the time of Luther and Calvin. Originally, we were a very liberal version of Christian faith. Now we include a Christian perspective but long ago chose to become a pluralistic community.
Historically, this man and I would be suspicious of each other. And in terms of religious faith, maybe we still are. But this man and I have been sitting at this table for two years. I like him. I respect him. I know I can count on him to follow through. I know the community problems he cares about and what he does about them. I've seen his heart. So I gladly join with him in this conspiracy.
The woman on my right is a Jew, a natural and official leader with a captivating song in her voice. The woman on her right is a great friend of mine, a liberal Christian pastor. She got me into this. There are several more Christian leaders of various stripes; a Roman Catholic priest is there almost without fail.
The man on my left is a Mormon and a skillful event organizer. The woman on his left is Baha'i, whose people know present-day persecution. Next to the meeting's moderator is a respected Islamic leader who has been through much since 9/11. And on the other side of the moderator is a Scientologist; we've all come to count on her dependable work. At least a baker's dozen of us. You get the picture. We've been meeting like this for two years.
There are some serious human problems in this grandest of Oregon's counties. Six hundred to 1,000 homeless folks spend their nights in the woods, any given night, some of them children. We listened in spellbound silence as one of them, one who made his way out, talked to us months ago. But he's only one and that's only one of the problems.
Children and parents are falling hard through some big holes in our social network. Or they've been downsized onto the streets by corporate decisions outside their control. Failures in medical assistance, failures in dental assistance. Disability stories. Elder stories. The stories can make you cry if you aren't careful, even turn you into a bleeding heart conservative.
You already know the tips of the problems, because you read the snippets of stories in this newspaper. They make good copy. They make ugly and awful reality. You already know, but like us, you probably don't know the full brunt of the reality. It's daunting.
Washington County officials, health care professionals, nonprofit leaders, hospice workers and more have taken this motley crew of religious leaders down below the tips of those problems. Down to the larger anguish. Down to the darker fears. Down to the quiet despairs. They've showed us the depth and breadth of the challenges.
They've stunned us into silence. They've plied us with encouragement. They've asked, "Do you think you and your congregations can help? On a grand scale? Because we need something on a grand scale."
And we, the conspirators, we are now not anguishing. We are now not in despair. For the past two years we have been religiously setting aside our religious differences. We have listened, we have talked, and we have listened some more. There's a passion for action now. A plan has begun to hatch.
No one of us or of our faith groups can act on a grand scale. But each of us and each of our faith groups can act on a small but coordinated scale. In words I've learned from a Buddhist, each of us can light up one corner of the world. Put our small lights side by side, like the small bulbs on a string of holiday lights, and we can make a grand difference, we can be a great light.
On Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 8:30 a.m., at the Kingstad Meeting Center (15440 S.W. Millikan Way), you can join this healthy conspiracy. Registration deadline is Oct. 10. If you are clergy or a lay leader in your church, synagogue, mosque, meeting or temple, please come. Come for all or just part of the day.
The cost is small: $8. The impact is profoundly large. Come and be stunned by the challenge. And come, be stunned and lifted up by the possibility. You can now change the large, ugly realities in a large way. The Rev. Mark Hoelter is parish minister of Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Hillsboro. You can contact him at email@example.com. The Faith Forum is presented by the Inter-Religious Action Network and the Vision Action Network of Washington County. Details are available at www.visionactionnetwork.org, or by contacting Emily Gottfried at 503-295-6761 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Wes Taylor at 503-692-1820 or email@example.com.
©Copyright 2003, The Oregonian (OR, USA)
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