On Interdependence

by Rev. Aaron Payson

This month’s Soul Matter’s Theme is “Interdependence.” There has been a lot of talk, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic about the fate of religious communities in our country.  We’ve seen many religious communities close in the past few years and others are struggling to find professional religious leadership.  

For me, the clearest sign of a thriving congregation in any tradition is one whose mission is to serve the larger community and make space for that community to thrive through common efforts.  

In our congregation, this happens a great deal through the use of our building, and partnerships with organizations like Elder Services which sponsors our Rainbow lunch and dinner program.  Our Garden-On Team works with a host of groups in the region, including the City of Worcester, to foster a deeper awareness of the importance of native plants for the health and well-being of our environment. The Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry includes volunteers from many different groups and places and serves those in need in our area of the City. The Refugee Ministry Group works with other groups to surround and support new arrival families. Our Yout Group works with various organizations to help support the homeless on its mission trips. The IHN Team continues to support homeless families in our community through the In The Our of Need Family Shelter.  And, a host of community groups utilize space to meet at 140 Shore Drive.  

Perhaps most important is that, as a congregation, we continue to welcome people who are looking for a place to call their religious home, who support these efforts, and who find here deep connections with others who are like-hearted.  The friendships that are sustained are often the means through which each of us finds our way through the triumphs and trials of our own journies. 

When we gather for worship or religious exploration activities, we engage in an act of celebration and contemplation of all that inspires us to take on the challenges of a changing world.  

These are just some of the ways we help create, invite, and sustain the community here.  As we continue to plan for the coming year, these are some of the things that motivate me to give my professional skill, time, energy, and financial resources to this congregation.  This meditation becomes particularly important to time during pledge season.  I hope it is the same for you too!

The following story for all ages was included in this month’s materials for the theme and represents what I think is most important about interdependence.  The story is introduced this way. . .

In some countries in Africa, people like to tell stories about a tricky hare, which is like a rabbit, and a hyena. This story is about Hare and Hyena, but it’s about other animals that live in the grasslands of Africa, too. It takes place during a time when the animals all lived far away from each other. The name of this fable is “Hare’s Gifts.” A fable is a story that has a message it wants you to remember. Many times, fables have animal characters that think, talk, and act like humans.

Hare’s Gifts  [CLICK HERE to download a PDF coloring page for the story]
A long time ago, before there were people on earth, there were many different animals that lived all over. Some of the animals lived in the grasslands, but they did not live too close to each other because they thought it was best that way. One such animal was Hyena. He decided that he needed a new home and so he found the perfect place. It was far away from all the other animals, near sweet water and protected by the shade of the baobab tree.

Hyena wanted the best home possible, so everyone who would see it would know how important he was in the grasslands. So he had the best builder in the land build it and decorate it for him. It took a whole moon’s time to build and when it was done Hyena threw a party to show it off. He hired the best chef in the land to cook the food and there was so much, that it took a week to cook it all.

Hyena invited everyone to his party and everyone came and greatly admired his fine new home and the delicious feast. Everyone, that is, except Hare. This made Hyena mad. The next morning, he decided to pay a visit to Hare. “Why did you not come to my party last night to see my fine, new home?” asked Hyena.

“Your fine, new home? I hear that it is nothing special – just another hole in the wall. And I’m sure your party was quite dull.”

“You are just jealous because you do not have such a grand home.” said Hyena.

“I could have one if I wanted one”, replied Hare.

“Oh, you think so! Let’s see then. I challenge you to build a home better than mine in half the time. In two weeks time, I will return to see your home and I expect to go to the best party even given. If you can’t provide these things you bragged about, I think I’ll be wearing a hare coat come winter!” And off he stormed.

Boy, I’ve really put my foot in my mouth this time, thought Hare. Then, because he was always a tricky fellow, he came up with an idea. He visited all his animal neighbors and asked them to help him build a new, fine home. If they did, he promised them two great gifts when they were done. All the animals wanted to see what the great gifts were, but some animals did not want to leave their families. So Hare told them to bring their families, too.

So all the animals built huts for their families and then went to work building a big home for Hare. Because so many animals worked on the home, it was easily built within two weeks. Which was a good thing because Hare was too lazy to help build his home. He picked up a log and a stick and spent his time lying around tapping out beats on the log.

When Hyena returned, he found a home that looked a lot like his own. He asked Hare what made his home better.

“Don’t you have eyes to see?” asked Hare. “I don’t just have a home. I have a village. Now all my animal friends live close by and it’s easier for us to visit and have fun together. This was Hare’s first gift: the village or community. Hyena had to admit that it was very nice to have a community of friends nearby.

Then Hare invited everyone to the party. Because there were so many in the village, no one person had to cook the whole feast. Everyone brought the dish they made best. The food was truly as delicious as what Hyena served, but Hyena wanted to know what made it better. Hare said, “Just wait.” And began to tap out on the log the rhythm he had been working on while others built his home. The beat was very catchy and pretty soon, others started tapping it out. Then butterfly flew up and started moving her wings to the beat and before you know it, everyone was making music and dancing.

Hare said, “This is my second gift: the drum.” Hyena had to admit that Hare’s party was better because of the drum. With all the eating, music and dancing, though, Hyena wasn’t too disappointed.

Some people say Hare really presented the animals with three gifts: the village, the drum and music. Some say music and the drum were the same gift. Hare doesn’t give an opinion one way or another, but I bet he enjoys the argument.

[from “Session 8:Hare’s Gift” in Creating Home, Tapestry of Faith, uua.org]