A group of us were sitting around tables at church this past Tuesday, putting together a fundraising mailing for Help End Homelessness, HC Inc. This is the kind of task that I basically need to be with a group if I'm going to do it. If we divided up the letters and each took our pile home, they would sit on my desk for weeks. So on Tuesday, we divided up the letters and right then and there wrote notes to the people we know, folded up the letters and sealed the envelopes. It was surprisingly painless--and it gave me a chance to talk with some of my favorite people.
Randy was still buzzing with excitement from playing two shows with the Columbia Orchestra over the weekend. The program included Mahler's Second, the "Resurrection Symphony". Randy told us, "On Saturday night, I hit a high C on the trombone! I hadn't been able to do that as I practiced the music on my own, but with the help of the whole brass section, I nailed it!". He was discussing this experience with another brass player after the concert who assured him that many people have had a similar experience (note: I tried to fact-check this on the web but came up empty).
There is "something about playing with a group" that enables music to happen. Now, I know from personal experience that ensemble playing cannot make up for an individual's lack of skill or lack of practice. In fact, an player who is off pitch or off rhythm can pull a whole group down. But music is one of the many experiences in life where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I'm fascinated by the experience of community--and the connections between experiences of community and our spiritual life and understanding. Maybe I'm making up for the first two or maybe three decades of my life when I put a high value on individual achievement, standing up against the crowd and finding your own unique voice. I still value those things, but more and more I recognize that my greatest personal achievements were only possible because I was part of a community. My list of things that were possible because I was part of an ensemble includes:
- Becoming a foster parent
- Raising three kids of my own
- Growing my relationship with God
- Becoming a decent preacher
- Becoming less of an idiot than I used to be
In each case, I improved not because I took a class or read a book or had a mentor. I grew as a person because I was around people who (1) believed in me and loved me and (2) were serious about learning and growing in their own lives.
This past Wednesday night, I got together with four other women for pizza and beer on the patio of Union Jack's. I doubt anyone who saw us there that night would have called what we were doing "spiritual". But that group of women (and two others who were sorely missed Wednesday night) have agreed to travel together this year, "bearing witness" to each other's lives. We are honest with each other. We give each other room to tell the truth. We refuse to give advice--no lecturing or fixing allowed. When something sad happens to one of us, we cry together. And when something great happens, we all celebrate. Week after week, we hit the relational equivalent of high C. What a gift.