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Change Is Comin’

Many of the other Ethical Societies have, somewhere on their building and often near or above the area where the platform speaker stands, some version of the Felix Adler quote, “The place where people meet to seek the highest is holy ground.”  (Felix’s original words actually were about “men” but he did seem to mean that in the inclusive sense.)  The reference is to the idea in many religions, and especially in the Hebrew scriptures, that there is some space that is especially holy — a place set aside, a place to be especially respected.  Adler’s idea was that it was not the place that was holy; it was the act of taking seriously high ideals together, as a community, that created “holiness.”  It’s an extension of the idea of the worth of the individual human being: when such human beings act in ways that help to bring out that precious worth in each, we create something that serves, in an ethical society, the same function as a priestly dedication of a space might serve for another group with different emphasis and beliefs.

When our Society got started, using rental space, we had no way to put that wording on our space, so we included it explicitly as part of opening words.  Now, thanks to the creative and generous gift of member Amy Anderson, we have a banner with the words on it to put on the speaker’s lectern.   And so, it would be redundant to use the words as part of our opening.

Any change in ritual — even in groups like ours that eschew ritual or deny that we have rituals — will bother some, and please others.  For the remaining months before our summer break, we’re going to experiment with some different opening words, seeing how they work.  I’d ask that you not react just the first time you hear them, but “try them on for size” as you hear them several times over the next few months.  Then, in June, take some time to reflect on which words resonated for you, and which ones didn’t.  And also take some time to listen to others about which of the opening words resonate for them, and which haven’t resonated.

Perhaps some of the words will just take hold, like the candleholder of the “ethical person” migrated from the food table at a festival to the front table and transplanted what had been at the front table, with very little comment from members — and now she or he just seems to be part of our Sunday mornings.

It seems no matter what words we use in the script for Sunday morning, some people like some parts, and dislike others.  We’d love to magically find something that speaks to everyone — whether a founding member or a curious newcomer sitting in our midst for the first time, or everyone in between — and that’s not likely to happen.  But who knows?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments the better.”  In our non-ritual rituals, let’s give these experiments some time, and see what happens.

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