We Need a Moses

“We Need a Moses”

IMPACT Listening Process Kickoff, August, 2012

Min. Erik W. Wikstrom

Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church-Unitarian Universalist

So . . . anybody feeling excited?   Inspired? Okay, but is anybody also feeling a little bit of dread? 

What I mean is, is anybody feeling that they’ve got a bit of a slog ahead?  That it’s not as easy as it should be to get folks from the congregation as involved as you know they should be?  As they, themselves, say they want to be?  Is anybody feeling a little bit weary about returning to the fray to once again battle people who are overscheduled, and under-motivated, and misinformed, and otherwise difficult to get to the table?

If so . . . you’re not alone.  It’s obvious that there are others here who can “feel your pain.”

And this puts me in mind of someone who isn’t here.  The guy was an early organizer, and a really successful one at that.  He was able to mobilize a pretty impressive number of people to make some really substantive changes, not only in their own personal lives but in the systems that ruled the country where they lived.  I mean huge.  This was a guy who set a really ambitious goal of totally transforming conditions for a large group of people . . . and hit the mark.

So why do I think he knows anything about what I’ve been talking about here?  Because change takes time.  The initial change?  Oh that can sometimes come pretty easily.  But the “rooting” of that change?  The establishment of this as the “new normal?”  That can take some time and some real, on-going work.

And as soon as these people hit that phase of the process they started complaining.  And backsliding.  They stopped following through on all of the commitments they’d made.  They even started saying that all this work wasn’t worth it, that they were better off before, and they started saying that the organizer of demanding too much of them, that he had is own agenda and wasn’t really listening to them, that he was too confrontational. 

Can you guess who I’m talking about?

The guy I’m talking about, of course, is Moses who was able to mobilize the Hebrew people to essentially overturn the Egyptian way of life and to free themselves from their bondage.  And this story has resonances all over the place, because there are lots of kinds of bondage, and all kinds of Pharaohs.  And because the very folks who should be most involved in creating the needed transformative changes often grumble the most about them.

“Why didn’t you leave us in Egypt?” they cry.  “At least there we knew where our food was coming from!”  “This manna tastes terrible!”  “What?  Weren’t there any graves in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die?”

Doesn’t that sound kind of like, “I’d like to help change things in Charlottesville, but I really can’t take two hours out of my schedule to talk about ways of making a difference.” ?  Or what about, “I really can’t commit to asking three of my friends to attend the Action – they’re all way too busy.”?  Or, “I really do want to make a difference, but I just don’t want to have to deal with the traffic at the JPJ Arena.”?

It’s hard to deal with that kind of thing.  And some of you here tonight have been dealing with this kind of thing in your congregations for years now.  Even successful organizers get discouraged.

Yet here we are.  And we are facing a tremendous task.  Not only carrying on the effort we began last year to create something really, radically new in the way the folks in this area collaborate for the good of our youth (and, of course, our entire community),but also to once again mobilize people to dream together of a new challenge for us to engage.  And we do all of this within a context of IMPACT no longer being the new kid on the block – having passed through the initial years of excitement-because-it’s-new to the harder period of sustaining on-going effort – and while we hold up a goal of growth in both depth and breadth and in numbers – can you imagine 4,000 people at the Nehemiah Action of 2017?  We’re talking about doing again what we’ve always done while we create “IMPACT 2.0.”  IMPACT is at a turning point to dream bigger…do you want to be a part of it?

We need a Moses.

And luckily, we’ve got a few of them here.

Now I know that some of you are thinking that any kind of comparison to Moses is overblown.  Well, maybe not so much.  As a Rabi friend from Maine liked to remind people, “Even Moses wasn’t . . . well . . . ‘Moses’.”  For one thing he stuttered; terrible public speaker.  And he had low self esteem.  And he seriously doubted that he could take on the job.

And then, once he had it, it was pointed out to him, by his helpful father-in-law, that he couldn’t do it himself.  He needed to delegate the job, to spread the work around, to involve others.   No one can do it all by themselves.

We need a Moses to lead IMPACT into the next phase of it’s evolution, and to lead Charlottesville into more good for more people, and friends I am here to tell you tonight that we are the Moses we need.