Polarities: A note from Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd

Why are our themes more complicated this year?

Why did we take one-word ideas like “belonging” or “joy” and add counterparts that turn a single dot on a line into a spectrum?  I like to think we’ve chosen these polarities as our themes because most of our lives aren’t lived on fixed points anyway.  Most of the time, our real emotions and real challenges shake out somewhere along a spectrum of one sort or another. We’re usually neither all this one thing nor all that other. We’re moving, rejoicing, and struggling somewhere in the messy and beautiful middle of a whole bunch of things. So, this year, we’re embracing all the spectrums of our lives. Don’t be one or the other – be you. 

Our Themes for 2019-2020

September: Estrangement & Belonging

In a globalized world, in many ways we are more connected than we have ever been. And yet, when it comes to meaningful relationship and connection, many people have never felt more estranged. The great theologian Paul Tillich once said that we are estranged on at least three levels – from ourselves, from each other, and from whatever it is we understand to be holy. And yet – we seek and find belonging.  What are the groups and affiliations, even identities that you claim as your own? How is a sense of belonging both a gift and a struggle?

October: Sacred & Mundane

For thousands of years, people of faith have been parsing out the difference between what is sacred and what is not.  Faith traditions have different answers to these questions, of course.  There are sacred spaces and sacred objects, sacred rituals and sacred time.  But between each of those regions of the sacred, there rests the everyday, the mundane.  Most of our lives are lived in this “mundane” space that is not generally set aside as sacred.  And yet, the dualities break down when we see the sacred in the ordinary.  On the one hand, what is truly sacred to you?  On the other hand, how does the most ordinary thing hold the potential for sacredness?

November: Resistance & Surrender

We live in a time of great resistance, some of it difficult but essential, some of it difficult but damaging.  With elections a year away and a world that some of us find to be increasingly tyrannical, how do you rise up and resist?  What forms of resistance are actually effective?  Conversely, what are you resisting that might really be calling you to surrender?  Surrender doesn’t have to mean giving up.  Sometimes it means willingly handing a part of yourself over to something even greater than yourself.  Sometimes it means letting go, and sometimes letting go is in fact the most powerful form of resistance we can undertake.

December: Expectation & Disappointment

The holiday season is a time of high expectation, the dream of a perfect gift, the anticipation of a child newborn, the time spent waiting in the dark for the moment when the festival lights are kindled.  And yet disappointment is the necessary counterpoint to all of that bright expectation.  Is it possible that you are sometimes harmed by your own expectations?  That you are sometimes healed even through your disappointment?  This month, we’ll dream big dreams, set high goals, and wait with baited breath for the bright New Year.  We’ll also meet the world as it is head on, ready and willing to learn from all life brings, even when it defies our expectations.

January: Brokenness & Repair

On ingathering Sunday in September, children in our religious education made chalices out of flower pots.  Not a moment after class was over, one of those lovingly-painted creations was already broken.  Since parents are teachers, one parent among us immediately reminded the child of Leonard Cohen’s famous lyric, “There’s a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.”  This month, we’ll look at the mystical Jewish concept of “tikkun olam,” which teaches that our work as human beings is to repair the world.  Repair can’t happen without brokenness, and surely there are some broken things that can never be fixed.  What heals you when you are broken?  What brokenness is currently being repaired?

February: Fragility & Resilience

Perhaps there is no single spiritual resource we need more than resilience – the ability to withstand it all with grace.  Resilience is less triumphant than victory, more uplifting than mere survival.  Resilient people maintain the cause, the vision, and the dream long enough to see it through.  The counterpoint of fragility seems like a difficult concept to bless.  And yet there are times and spaces where the projection of resilient strength is just that – a projection.  There are times when the bravest thing we can be is vulnerable.  What spiritual practices offer you resilience?  How can you help build a more resilient congregation, community or culture?

March: Trust & Anxiety

This month, the spectrum we’ll consider holds two ideas that can both protect us and put us at risk in our personal and spiritual lives.  Trapeze artists teach that the whole beautiful dance depends entirely on trust – trust from both the flyer and the catcher that they’ll be there for each other.  But misplaced trust results in dropped catches and great risk.  Maybe it’s best not to swing from the trapeze without enough anxiety to set up a net before you jump off into the air.

April: Sorrow & Joy

William Wordsworth once wrote that, “joy and woe are woven fine.”  Surely we feel this in our own lives, both in times of celebration and in times of great loss. Perhaps it’s this co-mingled sensation of love and loss that best characterizes the human condition in the first place.  What gives you great joy?  How do you grieve its passing?  What joys are born from the midst of your own deep sorrow?

May: Play & Work

It’s almost summer, and spring is bursting up from the midst of a hard winter.  In your life, how do you balance the impulse to play and the sustaining power of honest work?  So often in our culture, we think of “work” as a set of professional obligations.  Perhaps your real work in this season is something else entirely.  Perhaps even play itself is a kind of work, guiding us toward who we are hoping to be in this bright new season.