In an ancient Chinese teaching story, a king of Wei wants to attack the smaller and weaker kingdom of Zhao. Ji Liang, an advisor, comes to the king and says:
"On my way here today, I met someone on the road. He was going north and told me, 'I want to go to the kingdom of Chu.' said to him, 'The kingdom of Chu is to the
south of Wei. How can you get there by going north? '
"He replied, 'My horses are good.'
"I was confused. I said, 'Even if your horses are good, this is not the road to Chu,'
"He replied, 'I have a lot of money to pay for my trip,'
"I said to him, 'Though you may have more than enough money, this is not the road to Chu!'
"He told me, 'Yes, but my driver is very skilled.'
"And with all his advantages, he kept going north, farther and farther from Chu.
"Now," said Ji Liang to the king, "Your majesty wants to control the whole world and to gain the world's trust by your every action. Your majesty has vast lands and a very good army. Attacking Zhao, a poor and small country, however, is similar to the man who wants to go south by driving north. The more wrong action you take, the farther away you will be from your purpose."
We enter now into the season of celebrations: Thanksgiving, Solstice, Christmas, New Year (western) – and we do so fully. This story, though, helps me peer to our celebrations' far side – to the New Year time celebrated in the eastern world (January 23 in 2012). That week, January 16, I will begin a period of sabbatical study leave from our usual ministry, extending through May 31, 2012.
Ji Liang helps me introduce how I'll spend that time in two ways.
1. His story dates from the Warring States Period of Chinese history, which begins in 475BCE, just four years following the death of Master Kung (Confucius). Part of my study time will be devoted to plumbing the humanist tradition in Chinese spiritual life. Master Kung is the wellspring of that tradition. I will be following its growth through reading at Harvard University's Yenching Library and traveling in China's Shandong
province, Master Kung's home. I expect this study to cast some helpful light on the challenges I see facing our western religious humanism today.
2. His story teaches us that the most important resource required for success in any long-term project is a clear image and understanding of our goal - where we want to arrive. Last June we voted to pursue a Strategic Plan of "ambitious growth." In the Unitarian Universalist Association, there are "Breakthrough Congregations" who have achieved such growth in recent years from starting points very similar to our own. Des Moines IA & Bloomington IN are two. Part of my study time will be devoted to deepening my acquaintance with their path, through in-depth interviews and on-site visits. And how will you be growing as I spend this time in these ways? I'll peek at those possibilities in our January newsletter. But first, let's enjoy our celebrations!
See you in Church.