Sunday’s Zoom crash got me thinking quite a lot about vulnerability and frustration. I always look forward to Sunday platform meetings and was especially looking forward to yesterday’s meeting with the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester, my home Society, because, being Founders’ Day, there was an opportunity to wear both clergy leader and executive director hats as we celebrated the founding of the New York Society for Ethical Culture and ECSW. I had invited friend and colleague, Mike Franch, to join me for a collaborative presentation, “Founders Then and Now,” that focuses on the people behind the ones we typically consider the founders of Ethical Culture. There would have been no New York Society if Felix Adler had not been supported by a dedicated group of people, and there would’ve been no Westchester Society if people who were members of the New York Society decided not to pursue starting a new group in New Rochelle.
I woke up flush with anticipation and confidently logged into the Zoom session only to find problems. Zoom couldn’t find the server, would not allow screen sharing, and people could not get in from the waiting room. After a series of restarts and tweaks we successfully started the session only to find that when people joined they often couldn’t share their audio or video – a problem that also afflicted our guest speaker, Mike Franch! This was especially troubling because for the first time the Westchester Society was host to members of the Baltimore Ethical Society who were doing their best to join the session with uneven results. We tried restarting again but then found we could no longer bring people in from the waiting room. We abandoned Zoom and tried shifting to Google Meet without much success and ultimately threw in the towel for the Sunday meeting. A dark cloud descended upon me and I took the rest of the day off.
While lying in bed this morning, still deciding about actually getting up, I got to thinking about confidence and vulnerability. The experience that came to mind as I lay in bed captured for me the emotional quality I experience around public performance. When our children were little, Ruthanne and I enjoyed blowing bubbles in the yard with the kids. The local toy store had begun selling bubble wands that could turn out incredibly large bubbles. It took some special additives to the bubble solution and a fair amount of practice to master the technique but the results were amazing! Huge, shimmering, undulant bubbles would appear out of the wand and hover over the grass. It was magical – like nothing I’d seen before and it was captivating and intoxicating to make them.
One thing about bubbles is that they are delicate and easily popped – and I find public performance to be very much like those bubbles. The performance may be created by technique but it can only be sustained by appreciation. And appreciation is a delicate thing – it’s a relationship built out of joint connection and held aloft by hope. It can be intoxicating and can lift our spirits. It might even be addicting in some way but it can be devilishly hard to conjure up sustain.
These days our public performances are compromised by our physical distance and the limitations of the virtual tools we have available. Even so, our Ethical Societies have engaged in a number of gatherings that have risen above their virtual limitations and reached, at least in some small ways, into the hearts of participants in a way that has been nurturing and enlivening. It’s those successful gatherings that have fed my own confidence in facilitating virtual gatherings, a confidence that was in full bloom Sunday morning when I pressed “Start” to begin the meeting. Confidence can be delicate, too.
The great challenge that I see is how difficult it can be to keep hope alive in the face of challenges. Challenges are not delicate. They persist in their own messy way making it difficult to navigate paths to success and sustain them. I’m reminded of the bubble solution – when the bubble making activity is done the solution remains a sticky puddle and the chores of cleaning up will certainly be recalled the next time you are asked to make bubbles.
Vulnerability cuts both ways. Yes, it is pretty painful to have expectations crushed and ground under the heel of technological snafus but it also opens a window to what makes life beautiful and worthwhile. It MATTERED that we couldn’t find a way to meet yesterday and the frustration of loss brought home how central the connections with members and guests are for making and sustaining ethical community. We can’t do it without each other. We CAN do it together!
Wishing you well as you navigate the week ahead!