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Stepping Stones (or Railway Cars) into Our Future: July 30, 2023

Earlier this summer was a season of graduations for Lisa and my family. Both of our nieces were graduating from their respective schools, one from Normal West here locally, the other from U of I.

We didn’t hear any celebrity keynote speeches on those particular occasions, but I’ve always found it interesting to hear what celebrities do have to say when they’re invited to give the keynote speech at a college graduation.

I think what I like best about it is that we get a glimpse at the real person, and presumably the best of that person at they attempt to impart words of wisdom to an up-and-coming group of freshly trained prospective world-changers.

TV writer and producer Shonda Rhimes, whose life and work we explored last time we were together, gave such a speech at the Dartmouth College in 2014.

She said..

“When people give these kinds of speeches, they usually tell you all kinds of wise and heartfelt things. They have wisdom to impart. They have lessons to share. They tell you: Follow your dreams. Listen to your spirit. Change the world. Make your mark. Find your inner voice and make it sing. Embrace failure. Dream. Dream and dream big. As a matter of fact, dream and don’t stop dreaming until all of your dreams come true.”  

She said all of that before dismissing all of that.

She went on to say…

I think a lot of people dream.  And while they’re busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing.

Dreams are lovely. But they’re just dreams.  Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty.  But dreams don’t come true just because you dream them.  It’s hard work that make things happen.  It’s hard work that creates change.

Our leaders of NCC had a dream-fest recently (otherwise known as a Steering Committee retreat).  I call it a ‘dream-fest’ because, outside of doing some of the business of the church, we talked about our dreams for our group.

We heard two short readings to prime us, to open our minds and spirits toward what our dreams for NCC could be, and then we shared those visions with each other.

I’d like to share those readings with you now.  One is from Mary Oliver, called Rumi and Shams.

Rumi the poet was a scholar also.

But Shams, his friend, was an angel –

By which I don’t mean anything patient or sweet.

When I read how he took Rumi’s books and threw them

into the duck pond, I shouted for joy. 

Time to live now, Shams meant.

I see him, turning away casually toward the road,

Rumi following, the books

floating and sinking among the screeching ducks,

oh, beautiful book-eating pond!

That was the first piece.


The second was from the one and same Shonda Rhimes, who also said: 

I don’t think of myself as a television producer.  That’s crazy, because I should.  That’s what I do.  But I don’t actually see that as my job. It’s why my business cards say ‘storyteller.’


After these words from Mary and Shonda were shared, we took some time to explore our individual dreams for our church, with the invitation to do away with usual ways of thinking about what a church should be…

Cast the traditional approaches aside, fling the rule books into the pond, see ourselves as Shonda sees herself, as something beyond the mundane and perhaps limiting labels that the world would give us.

Here are some of those dreams…

I talked about making church fun, making it appealing for us and others to gravitate toward because there’s an element of joy and a sense of fun interwoven into the experience of us being together and meaning making.

Someone else spoke of getting more creative with our spaces and the places that we gather…let the walls of our physical space and the walls of our minds be flung wider open to consider endless possibilities.

Another suggested creating uncomfortable partnerships, to build bridges to and create safe space for those with whom we may not share ideologies.

Yet another idea was to work at being especially welcoming and inclusive with more diverse parts of our wider community, such as neighbors with lower incomes.

And the list of our dreams went on…

I’m sure you have dreams for us as well, and I am looking forward to hearing them, both here in a couple of minutes and in our upcoming conversations.

Here’s the question where our dreams are concerned; how do we jump tracks to get ourselves out of this dream-state and into a woke state that is all about movement and doing. The mention of jumping tracks makes me think of a subway.

Have you ever heard the term ‘platform gap’ in a subway station?

The platform gap is the space between the concrete platform that one stands on when waiting for the train, and the space that the train itself takes.

There’s that small gap in between the movement of the train and the non-movement of the platform.

And there are all kinds of signs that warn about the dangers of this gap.  Everyone knows that you either want to be on the platform or on the moving train, but not in that gap.

I’ll re-word our question from a moment ago…Where do we see ourselves in this subway station?

Dreaming is being on the platform.  A dreamer has shown up, not completely off the map, but nothing’s happening, there’s no movement toward anything. While initially helpful, it’s ultimately a very passive endeavor.

Action, doing, engagement is the train…powerful, dynamic, a vehicle for making progressive headway.

[Progressive.  Now, there’s a word we know something about!]

And the in-between, the gap, the space where you’ve shown up and dreamed the dreams (or at least heard about others’ dreams) but haven’t taken the step into real action…

That’s the danger zone, the abyss where life gets sucked away, because you cared enough to dream for a better world, internally and externally, but you didn’t take the leap to transform those dreams into reality.

I can tell you I know that we’re a merry band of dreamers.  You wouldn’t be a part of this faith Community if you weren’t.

You wouldn’t have survived this long through a pandemic and being without a minister, with your smallness in size, if you didn’t have dreams sustaining you.

We heard the poem “Optimism” a few minutes ago, in which resilience was heralded.  I chose this poem because it reminded me of our church.

I’ve revised it a bit, to better speak directly to us, NCC:

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and over to the same shape, but the tenacity of a determined group: finding a way despite impediment by new obstacles-pandemics, membership, finances, location concerns…this group makes its adjustment.
Out of such persistence has arisen longevity, vision, and the ever evolvement of souls and goals.  

An Elton John song comes to mind: “I’m still standing, better than I ever did.   Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.”

So, we’re still here.  But now what?  We’ve found each other, a new era has begun, we’ve celebrated its arrival.

And now it’s time to step on the NCC train, because it’s going places

IF WE FUEL IT WITH OUR INDIVIDUAL ENERGY, making a powerful collective.

And there are number train cars on which to step that you can from.

(otherwise know as committees, but I’m liking words like Generators, Squad, Trailblazers better).

There’s the Steering Navigators. (Nikki)

The Worship Creators. (Chris)

The Social Justice Warriors. (Pam)

The Endowment/Finance Guardians. (Mark and Karen)

The Membership Care Supporters (Lisa)

The Tech Generators (Devon)

Don’t these designations bring new life and vitality to these groups?

These action words enliven and accurately depict what these groups could do, as cars and wheels our church’s mission.

But could is the key word.  What they COULD do, not what they will do just because we stuck a clever descriptive action word on.

The transformation to bring these groups, and thus our mission, to life, the stepping over the gap from dreaming and naming to action and headway can only become realized one way through your choice to personally -as an individual- energize this train.

Please consider becoming a part of one or more of our squads.

In addition to our Sunday morning gatherings (the heart and soul of who we are), infuse life into this resilient train called New Covenant Community.

From our light that has persistently shone despite a myriad of blockages can arise, God knows what.  I can’t wait to see and am thrilled to be a part of the merry making that will realize our dreams.

It’s time for us all to have a chance to share our thoughts and dreams.


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