Longing to Be

You'll remember from an earlier post I used the Sufi parable about the "no-thing" man at the banquet. It's such a profound insight I used it again in my 2008 annual report opener for Connections UnitingCare . Here is what I wrote.

I am energised by the story this annual report tells. It is the story of magnificent commitment from a passionate Chief Executive Officer, passionate staff and passionate volunteers - passionate about creating connections that bring about belonging!

At the conclusion of every Connections UnitingCare board meeting I offer a short piece of prose for the board to consider. These pieces are an attempt to offer a profound base against which the board can reflect on the work just completed.

One such piece of prose that deeply moved board members is the following parable. It concerns a banquet where a king is yet to take his place at the table. A dishevelled man walks into the banquet hall and takes a place in the king's seat. The prime minister, incensed, asks who the dishevelled man thinks he is. To questions of whether he is a cabinet minister or king the man says "No. Higher."

Are you then God?" asks the prime minister.

"No. Higher" says the man.

"That is impossible" says the prime minister, "nothing is higher than God."

"That no-thing" says the man, "is me."

This parable is from the Sufi tradition but resonates readily with Christian value of radical inclusion. I think it so moved the board because it resonates with the individual's desire (longing) to be valued as we are (to be). In other words it captures the importance of be-longing.

Belonging is both about

1) expanding the circle so that those beyond it can be within it and

2) creating a flow to the centre of the circle at regular intervals, for those on the outer extremities (and vice-versa).

Whatever else we say about ourselves, Connections UnitingCare primarily exists to expand the circle and create the flow. And the board exists to review our life as an agency against that primary aim and to imagine how we might go deeper in living towards that aim.

As we have discerned and deliberated on matters of the agency this year, I believe the board have effectively given that aim its deserved significance. So while we provide a range of programs on behalf of various levels of government, we equally voice concerns and take action when government funding decisions or policy initiatives seemingly undermine our primary aim. While we are an agency of the Uniting Church in Australia, we speak with commitment into that church, when its institutional agendas overshadow the creation of belonging. The institutional church is not immune to asking things of its agency that distract it from the work of inclusion.

But neither are Connections UnitingCare - and the board - immune from the possibility of losing focus. The world demands accountability as "plans adhered to", "targets met" and "risks mitigated." But governance is only about these things to the extent that they service our higher aim - building belonging. Just now, the world seems awash with exciting innovations for integration, conversation and connection. Our most important role as a board is to keep our eyes on those possibilities, as much as on the details of current reality.

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