By Lois Winter
Lately I’ve been feeling alienated and disoriented, confused and disappointed. I’ve always known that my neighbors and I disagree, but we’ve still shared a mutual respect. Now that seems to be gone.
Since we base our opinions on different sets of facts, there are some things we are unable to discuss. I have to limit what I say. Conversation shuts down. We’re missing a common vision.
It makes me wonder who we are as a people. As a country. Who have we become?
I have always believed in the promises made by the United States of America.
* We are welcoming. The Statue of Liberty is our symbol. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But now we have a travel ban, based on where you’re from, not who you are.
* Cultural diversity - “E pluribus unum” is on our coins. "Out of many, one." You can find a restaurant from every country in the world in New York City. But now we’re a country of discrimination and deportations.
* Champion of human rights - “With liberty and justice for all.” But now we have a dysfunctional, underfunded criminal justice system that provides much better justice for those who are able to pay for it.
* Equal opportunity - Horatio Alger. Anyone can rise to the top. All our ancestors were immigrants who were able to move into the middle class because they took advantage of free public education. Now that is threatened by a voucher system that allows parents to choose their school. If only all children had parent advocates able or willing to make that decision. Since so many do not, opportunity is no longer equal.
* A collective vision - “We the people….” But now individual rights seem to triumph over group interests. “My way” over “our way”, threats and violence to those who disagree, bullying.
* Empowerment - We can make a difference. “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Now we spend hours talking to automated machines instead of people. We are disempowered.
* Civility and courtesy seem to be a thing of the past. Now, there are anonymous posts in social media, aggression, vicious responses, ridicule.
I just returned from two weeks in Spain, where there are outdoor cafes everywhere, where people converse with each other well into the night.
The first thing I saw in the passport line reentering the United States was someone wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a huge squirrel holding an assault rifle. The shirt said, “Defend your nuts.” That’s how I knew I was home.
These changes in the society, I thought we were, make me mourn for the loss of collective goals and give me a feeling of isolation and a lack of empowerment. It seems we’re not who I thought we were.
So I have a helpful solution for this malaise: Fellowship Circles!
No, they don’t solve any of the problems I’ve listed. But there are three reasons why they help me feel so much better!
Examples of discussion topics include: self-discovery, pivot points—before and after, leisure time, change, friendships, family, accepting diverse viewpoints, aging, shredding, acceptance and challenges, the work of justice, and giving away our gifts.
So Fellowship Circles are an antidote to the daily assault of our society. We feel the connection to others; we reveal our true selves, and we challenge ourselves to grow. These intangibles are priceless.
A description of the connections we make in Fellowship Circles can be understood through a quote by [Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian] Henry Nouwen:
“When we honestly ask ourselves which people in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”