Taking the Longer View

By Carlton Elliott Smith

Several years ago, while I was living in Boston, my primary care physician recommended I begin taking a daily pill to counteract hypertension. While it wasn't dangerously high, it was elevated enough to cause concern. I resisted for a while, but then after a few more visits with my bp at the same level, I agreed and started medication. I also bought a monitor to track my systolic (non-resting) and diastolic (resting) pressure levels, as well as my heart rate.

Everyday when I'm at home, I enter those statistics and my weight into an app on my mobile phone that graphs my progress over a day, a week, a month, a year. Depending on which of those I'm looking at, I have cause for distress or cause for relief. A recent reading was 112/75 ... I felt like a blood-pressure rock star. The next day it was 142/96, and I felt like a one-hit wonder. And then I looked at the graphs: over a week, both systolic and diastolic were on the rise; the two-week graph showed they were both falling steeply; the three-month graph was nearly a flat-line, and the one year showed a deeper drop for systolic than diastolic. The upshot: Through changing my diet and exercising regularly, my blood pressure is falling, even with my having stopped talking medication for it a few years ago.

We can't always tell what is going on from looking at our immediate circumstances. More important than any individual reading of my blood pressure is the trend that is revealing itself over the course of weeks, months and years. This is true of us as individuals as well as it is of our congregations, our Southern Region and our Unitarian Universalist Association.

The recent leadership transitions in our UUA have sent shock waves through our system. They point to the need for adaptation and transformation. In some cases, they indicate the need to correct an imbalance of power and access. Some ways-of-being are becoming undone and will never be the same again. Others are being reconsidered and re-imagined, while some others remain constant in the midst of change.

As we approach our General Assembly in New Orleans in a few more weeks, we have no way of knowing what will happen between now and then. This is true every year, but I know I have a heightened awareness of the unpredictability and fragility of life now. Just yesterday we received word of UUA Moderator Jim Key's resignation due to health concerns -- We extend love and caring toward him and his family. I affirm our support of Denise Rimes, another of our Region's own, as she steps into the role of Acting Moderator. I pray that in the midst of all the expectations, disappointments, fears, doubts and outrage that we might bring to our time together, we will also bring compassion, generosity of heart, hope, courage, faith and humility.

I think often these days about the beginning of Unitarianism around the turn of the 19th century, with congregations in the Northeast in conflict with one another over the prospect of God being one or three-in-one. I'm sure for many parishioners in those times, the fear was palpable. Friendships, careers, endowments and church buildings were all hanging in the balance. Out of that, the American Unitarian Association eventually emerged, which along with the Universalist Church in America, would form our UUA in 1961. Since our split with Trinitarian Congregationalists, some things haven't been the same -- In many towns in what we call New England, there are now Trinitarian Congregationalist/UCC churches around the corner from our UU congregations. And yet two hundred years later, we have regular partnership and camaraderie among UUs and UCCs, even with that history in our midst.

I am confident that for whatever lies ahead, we will continue to learn and continue to grow. And that the Spirit of Life that holds us all will continue to be gracious to us.

About the Author

Carlton Elliott Smith

Rev. Carlton E. Smith is the Regional Lead for the Pacific Western Region. From 2013 to 2020, he was a member of the UUA Congregational Life Staff Group serving in the Southern Region....

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