I write to you, after a long hiatus, from the city of New Orleans. On Christmas Eve (two weeks ago), I came across a link on Facebook advertising a training for religious leaders who wanted to learn how to lead spiritual pilgrimages, offered jointly by The Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal and the Church of the Larger Fellowship. Thanks to the generosity of the Center for Public Ministry in Minneapolis, I was able to make arrangements to attend, and so here I find myself.
I’ve been enjoying the city’s Southern hospitality for about a full day now, and I have found a generous welcome everywhere I turn. (Except for that
worker at Arby’s in the French Quarter, who absolutely would not give me the key to the bathroom, no matter what kinds of pitiful pleas I made, until I took the time to buy a cherry turnover that I didn’t want. But given that my day had not allowed for much actual food, perhaps even that was for the overall good.)
From my seatmate on the plane ride down here (a professional arm wrestler who is working on the ground crew reassembling a giant factory from South America that had been cut apart and shipped here in giant pieces to be reassembled in Louisiana) to the wonderful lady at the bus stop who looked out for me and patiently helped answer my ignorant questions about public transit, I’ve been truly blessed on this trip so far. By chance, I was also sharing my bus ride through a few transfers with a gentleman from India who is temporarily staying in Kansas, and who has been traveling around the U.S. for the past thirty-five days. We spent a couple of hours exchanging stories about our respective travels and exploring the global history that drives the current U.S. foreign policies and affects race relations and the political climate around immigration. I have felt such deep gratitude that my life has panned out in such a way that I had the chance to meet these people, and I am humbled to think that I am growing into a person who not only is able to have these interactions, but who is able to appreciate how rare and precious these sorts of conversations are.
Eventually my journey deposited me on the doorstep of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans, whose doors are brightly painted to announce the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal, which is housed inside. I made up my bed in the dormitory upstairs and met more wonderful people — the UU folks from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Arizona, California, and Louisiana who will be sharing this week with me. We’ve got a good mix of ministers, directors of religious education, and lay leaders who work with youth in their congregations. So far, I have experienced my companions as open and curious, committed to helping make this world better for all and showing a courageous willingness to enter into this communal work honestly, authentically, and with integrity. I anticipate that this will be a powerful time together.