The past year has required each of us to make so many decisions, so many choices. Many of them have been hard decisions, some of them have been life and death decisions. In many cases we have been torn, making the “right” decision all the while not wanting to make that particular decision. Couldn’t there be another choice? This year, more often than not, the answer has been, “No.”
Likewise, in the coming months, this congregation (meaning each of our members) will collectively have to make decisions about what this congregation’s priorities should be. I have for many years thought that our goals and behaviors should be to do whatever is necessary to make this wonderful, engaging, enthusiastic, life affirming congregation sustainable. Not just in terms of finances, and, also in terms of our staff and member human resources. (Sometimes, we deplete both our financial and human resources when we get ahead of our current capabilities.) In that vein, I offer you this reflection from my colleague in Maine, Erika Hewitt.
May we each learn and teach each other the art of choosing wisely because “a people; a community—is only as healthy as the boundaries it agrees to keep.”
The Golden “No” by Erika A. Hewitt
. . . A few years ago, in need of a place to live, I went to see an apartment. After showing me the space, the landlord took me outside to the porch and told me that he’d welcome me as a tenant.
“I have a couple of rules,” he advised. “No dogs, that’s the first one. And the laundry room is for tenants only, not friends or guests.” I nodded my agreement.
As he spoke, a car parked at the curb and a woman got out. “That’s the girlfriend of someone who lives on the third floor,” commented the landlord. We watched as she opened the car’s back door and removed a heaping laundry basket and a small dog. The woman, the dog, and her laundry all entered the building… even though it had just been explained to me that two of them weren’t allowed. The landlord squirmed, making no move to enforce his own rules.
I get it. I do! I get both sides of this squirmy situation: it’s a hassle to go to a laundromat (and leave your sweet furbaby at home), and we all avoid conflict a little (or a lot).
I hate to be a goody-goody (actually, I’m kind of a goody-goody), but I feel disoriented when I’m in a new place or situation and can’t figure out whether the rules are real or imaginary. I don’t just mean “masks required” stores that don’t enforce the mask rule. I also mean other mixed messages sent when a boundary is accompanied by its simultaneous breaking—like when I visited an out-of-town gym right before lockdown and, while working out, noticed that underneath a sign saying “NO FOOD” someone had placed a plate of cookies.
Boundaries can be uncomfortable. Upholding boundaries? More uncomfortable. On the other hand, belonging—to an apartment building, a gym, a community, a congregation—doesn’t mean you can do anything you want.
If a boundary is important enough for you to establish, then I figure you’d best prepare yourself to name it out loud when someone violates it (even when cute dogs and cookies are involved). That accountability isn’t inherently unkind. If anything, it’s an expression of care for everyone else in the picture, because a system—a people; a community—is only as healthy as the boundaries it agrees to keep.
Trickster God who teaches us to say yes to life and yes to love, teach us also how, and when, to say no: the golden “no” that preserves boundaries in the face of mistakes and nonsense, so that [we may care for] the interdependent whole.