In the Interim: Gradual by Gradual

When I was growing up my father would tell me stories about his parents. They were Russian immigrants (or maybe, Polish – it seems to have depended on where the border was at the time anyone was relating family history). My father’s parents came to the U.S. speaking no English and they learned about the ways and speech of this new homeland. (There were, with them, many Yiddish phrases thrown into their sentences, which my father passed on to me. After all, you never know when you might need “Vaksn zolstu vi a tsibele mitn kop in dr'erd un di fis farkert!” — “May you grow like an onion, with your head in the ground and your feet in the air!”)

But there was wisdom to those phrases…and one of them, from my grandfather, was “gradual by gradual.” A version of “little by little,” I am told that my grandfather used it to explain how slowly, things would change…while encouraging his children to stick to their task and believe that it would come round right in the end.

I’ve been thinking about the gradual shift of things recently, in several contexts: on the Sunday when this congregation was involved in the White Supremacy Teach-in; as we discuss the ways in which adjustments to the congregation’s Coming of Age program can increase understanding of white supremacy issues; as we look at adjustments that may tweak existing programs in ways that will, perhaps, better meet the changing needs of parts of the congregation.

Someone in another congregation once came up to me and declared: “I hate change! I don’t want things to ever be different than how they are right now.” While I understand and empathize with that heartfelt declaration, there are a couple of realities that bear mention: first, we live in an environment that is always evolving. And so it is only an illusion to believe that our lives aren’t changing. They do, they are…the question is whether it is happening in ways that feel acceptable to us or jarring. The phrase, “You can’t stay neutral on a moving train” is true.

And second, our sense of ‘how things are’ is informed by where we were, and how we were, when we entered the existing system. While we may think that having an order of service proceed in a particular way is ‘how we’ve always done it,’ the reality is that it has evolved and is familiar to us now…but it wasn’t always that way. The question that needs to be asked is, how do I exist in the system of the larger congregation, and how does a particular program interact
with others in this system?

If we study these things a bit, we are likely to find out first that the UU statement about interconnection is true: what happens in one part of the system does impact another. And we are also likely to learn more about not only why things are the way they are – but perhaps, learn about how they came to be this way.

Change, or adjustments, or evolution, doesn’t always happen in straight lines. It is frequently ‘gradual by gradual.’ And if we can understand the ways in which transition happens, we can not only engage with the transition, but share leadership of the journey we and others are taking on the road to new and – perhaps – exciting homes for our spirit. May it be so with us.

– Deb

Deborah Weiner

Interim Director of Religious Education