“Be prepared” is the motto of the Girls Scouts, as well as other scouting movements. When I was in Girl Scouts, we learned preparedness through first aid, camp cooking skills, campfire starting and fire safety, and other practical things. I’d like to think the entrepreneurship we learned also helped us to be ready for anything. These days, scouts of all genders are learning planning skills for disaster preparedness, putting together go-bags in case of an evacuation, and motivating their families to create an emergency communication and reunification strategy.
It’s possible I picked this up from the larger culture and not from scouts, but for a long time my idea of preparedness had more to do with what items I had available to me at all times, and I was less focused on readiness through training and state of mind. I do like being the person who has that item someone needs in my backpack or purse. But being encumbered is less important than being, in the words of the Girl Scouts, “honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do.”
I’m not about to completely let go of stuff. I was thrilled when Marty brought me a tiny fire extinguisher for the pulpit. But I’ve also learned that the world is changing too quickly, and life is too unpredictable, to ignore the spiritual, mental, and emotional preparation for the surprises and challenges that might come next. At our house, we do have food reserves in the basement and go-bags by the door, but we also work on building relationships. We make time for the extended family who support us. We share garden crops with neighbors on our street. At the end of the day, stuff is helpful, but without a community of people, stuff may not be enough. We need each other to get through the hardest parts of life.
One major weak point in concentrating solely on item-related preparedness rather than spiritual, emotional, and mental preparedness is that it might lead us to think individualistically. Building a personal bunker or amassing whatever defenses you are going to need to protect your hoard after the apocalypse means not focusing on building community in the here and now. And building the kinds of relationships that help get you through a disaster takes time, preferably beginning before a crisis hits.
Building community also gives us a sense of meaning. It gives us a “why.” As Universalists, we have confidence that this train is bound for glory, and the only way we are going to get there is together. Our theology does not suggest that we leave people behind. Salvation doesn’t mean the next life only, it means liberation and wholeness for everyone in this world. So we need to get ready by taking care of each other. To quote my colleague the Rev. Teresa Ines Soto, “all of us need all of us to make it.”
Our Unitarian Universalist Principles might offer some guidance about where and how to build the relationships that will help our congregation, local community, and larger community sustain life through adversity. This homily needs to be brief, so I won’t go through all seven, but just for example:
Acknowledging the inherent worth and dignity of every person, our preparedness looks out for the safety and wellbeing of the most vulnerable among us. Our principles would lead us to work on economic justice, disability justice, protecting children and elders, and defending the rights of LGBTQ people. But it’s not just about issues, it’s about people. How are we prioritizing the needs of people whose needs are most often overlooked? How are we in relationship at a human level, not at a patronizing or tokenizing level?
Practicing justice, equity, and compassion in human relations means constantly updating our skills for care and service as well as dismantling systems of inequality. It means we need to stay in touch with neighboring congregations and organizations, be willing to learn, and to support the leadership of communities that are most impacted by injustice. This congregation might consider deeper involvement with Action In Montgomery to build these kinds of relationships.
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth means that we create space for spiritual grounding, recognizing that there are many ways we might go about that in UU circles, but we support each person doing something that connects them with community and with the source of blessing as they understand it to be. Spiritual grounding helps us to be resilient. A habit and a community of practice helps us to manage our defensiveness, to be ready to acknowledge our mistakes and make repairs. Connecting with something that grounds and centers us also connects us with ancestors and traditions that hold wisdom for such a time as this.
I’ll leave the other four Principles as an exercise for small groups and coffee hour conversations. Mainly, I’m asking us to pay attention. Let’s pay attention to relationships, to the impact of our actions, to the future we are creating through our method of preparedness.
Let’s get ready for a future of community care. Let’s get ready for a future where disasters may happen, but we are among the helpers. Let’s get ready for a future where adversity strengthens us in connection and compassion.
People, get ready. You can bring your invisible, weightless suitcase of encouragement, but leave the other baggage behind. Leave behind greed. Leave behind the impulse to hide or disguise. Come as you are, and make it possible for others to get on board. Let’s be prepared together.
So be it. Blessed be. Amen.