We will be considering the theme of Resilience in our worship services during the month of February. I have noticed that the word “resilient” more and more these days, a buzzword in everything from nonprofit mission statements to the blurbs on the back of organic milk cartons. Faced with climate crisis and a bitterly divided nation, faced with the rise of fear-mongering nationalism at home and around the globe, we may feel anxious and brittle, we may be yearning for an assurance of our resilience. And just like “sustainable,” the concept of “resilience” is both crucially important to our survival, and also at risk of being overused to the point of losing meaning. Where can true resilience be found?
Kenny Wiley, a lifelong UU and core team member of Black Lives of UU (BLUU), reflects on the relationship between joy and resilience in a 2015 UU World article. The article is about personal experiences of racial profiling and the power of Black friendship to help him through. Wiley writes, “The healing kind of laughter doesn’t minimize the seriousness of what happened [in the racial profiling incident] or give up the struggle against injustice. The healing kind of laughter comes from being in community with people who truly understand.” He also writes about Maya Angelou’s friendship with James Baldwin, and how laughing with Baldwin helped her in the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. I offer this reflection-within-areflection for its insights into resilience and in honor of Black History Month:
Maya Angelou turned forty on April 4, 1968. She had planned a big party in Harlem, with many of the day’s black intellectual elite among the guests. History had other ideas; Dr. King’s assassination sent Angelou into a weeks-long depression. It was fellow writer James Baldwin who helped her dig out of it. Angelou recalls Baldwin’s assistance in her book A Song Flung Up to Heaven, where she writes that laughter and ancestral guidance got her through:
There was very little serious conversation. The times were so solemn and the daily news so somber that we snatched mirth from unlikely places and gave servings of it to one another with both hands… I told Jimmy I was so glad to laugh. Jimmy said, “We survived slavery. You know how we survived? We put surviving into our poems and into our songs. We put it into our folk tales. We danced surviving in Congo Square in New Orleans and put it in our pots when we cooked pinto beans… we knew, if we wanted to survive, we had better lift our own spirits. So we laughed whenever we got the chance.
Resilience is nothing new, and it’s not just a way to attract funders, it doesn’t just sound good in ad copy. People have called upon deep resilience in the context of terrible oppression for countless generations. What is it that puts you in touch with your resilience? Faced with the gravity of our times, do you feel tired, or resilient, or both?
In congregational news, I am happy to report that we have assembled a great team to search for our next Religious Education Director. Andrea Pannone and Christian Roulleau on behalf of the RE Committee, Marcia Tranavitch on behalf of the Personnel Committee, and I are working together on this search. We have decided to search for an Interim DRE, to help guide us through the period to follow Louise Marcoux’s 16 years of loving service to our congregation. To hire an Interim DRE accords with recommendations from our Unitarian Universalist Association: after a long-serving DRE, it is good to enter into an intentional time of transition with leadership dedicated to the process of change. Much like an Interim Minister, an Interim DRE serves for one or two years, and prepares the way for our next settled Religious Education professional. We will keep you posted on the process as updates are available, and we welcome your input and questions.
Yours in faith,
Rev. Jolie Olivetti