The Gift of Relationship: Offering Ourselves
In 1990, at the age of 24, I took my first backpacking trip up Grizzly Mountain (known affectionately as The Griz) in central Colorado. At 13,433 feet, you quickly got a lesson in the challenges and dangers of hiking at altitude. In these types of conditions, your trail mates or your backpacking crew becomes most valuable. The acute symptoms of high altitude sickness include shortness of breath, lack of appetite and trouble sleeping. When it gets worse, there is nausea, dizziness, and confusion. And, at its worse, lung congestion or fluid build up in your lungs.
During these times, alone is not how you want to travel. You want and need a group of steady, strong, authentic, kind, openhearted, respectful and concerned fellow travelers.
Our ancient texts say nothing of the Magi, the astronomers, or Wise Men traveling at altitude. However, I have wondered about their own relationships as they travelled. They brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child. What gifts of relationship did they give to each other? I can’t imagine one of them hollering “Roadtrip!” but, you never know.
Days on end with another or a group of others, and quickly, the façade falls away: the truth of the relationship is revealed. In the outdoor world of expeditions, this is called Expedition Behavior or just EB. Such as, “That was good EB.” Or “Dude, what are your thinking. That’s bad EB – get it together.”
In case you’ve never heard of Expedition Behavior, here is the EB bullet point version as taught by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS):
- Serve the mission and goals of the group.
- Be as concerned for others as you are for yourself.
- Treat everyone with dignity and respect.
- Support leadership and growth in everyone.
- Respect the cultures you contact.
- Be kind and open-hearted.
- Do your share and stay organized.
- Help others, but don’t routinely do their work.
- Model integrity by being honest and accountable.
- Admit and correct your mistakes.
I think this is a great list to explore our Gifts of Relationship.
Serve the mission and goals of the group
The Magi were plural, not singular. I believe that if just one Magi had come, it might not have been a story to remember. One marcher is just one crazy person. But, hundreds of marchers on Capital hill, or the statehouse in Raleigh, and there is a story. Movements happen because we offer ourselves to the relationship. Expeditions are successful because a team of people understands that individuals are important as well as the mission and goals of the group. It is a Both/And not an Either/Or.
Today, there will be a group of folks going together to watch the movie “Selma” which highlights the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma. The part that is most important for me is remembering that the march on Selma began with a horrific event know as Bloody Sunday when a group attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge. In solidarity of relationship and belief that they could accomplish more together than separate, they found themselves bloody and beaten. And, we continue to remember this story.
What story is being told about us? If High Country UCC was not in this greater community, what story would be missing? What mission would be left undone?
Going back to Selma and the Civil Rights movement, what might have been alleviated or even unnecessary, had ALL the people understood that really, we are ALL on one huge expedition together. Could we follow the next three points of good EB?
Treat everyone with dignity and respect.
Support leadership and growth in everyone.
Respect the cultures you contact.
Relationships are most effective when we can be and are our true selves. Legendary outdoorsman and outdoor instructor Paul Petzoldt included a 17-page chapter entitled
“Expedition Behavior” in his 1974 The Wilderness Handbook. This chapter, which defines and contextualizes the phrase [expedition behavior], remains the seminal work on the topic. Paul writes, “After a few days away from civilization, everyone starts to change. Values change. The veneer, the bluffing, artificiality, and crutch of family wealth or prestige are no longer valid in the natural environment of camping.”
Can you imagine what our own political systems might look like if the veneer, the bluffing, artificiality, and crutch of ….prestige [were] no longer valid….? Later in this worship series “The Gifts We Bring,” we will specifically name authenticity as a gift that we have to offer. In our Western culture of — get ahead, climb the ladder, make something of yourself, look out for yourself — how often do we miss that everyone deserves dignity and respect? We are called to support the potential of leadership and growth in everyone?
Legends suggest that the three magi were named, Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar. What would the story have sounded like if, as the Persian Melchior tells off the Indian Caspar saying something like “Dude, what’s up with the Frankincense? How lame is that gift? He’s a child. He doesn’t need arthritis medicine yet?” Or to Balthazar, the Arabian offering myrrh, “Dude, what’s up with already signaling his death? He’s just a wee lad. The heavy load you are dumping, I don’t think so. You can’t be serious. Pick another gift.”
Our judgments, our perceptions, our lens of life and the world, too often cloud our understanding of ourselves as well as those around us. We believe we are right and thereby designator of Telling those around us what they need to do, how to be or otherwise what we think. This is not support nor respect in many cases.
Dignity. Respect. Support. How would your life be different if you were offered these gifts on a daily basis? How well are you doing with these characteristics in your own homes? At work? Reading and listening to the news? Posting on Facebook or tweeting?
And then, we get to the last four bullets that state…..
Do your share and stay organized.
Help others, but don’t routinely do their work.
Model integrity by being honest and accountable.
Admit and correct your mistakes
Do Your share. This church wouldn’t be here without your gifts. We are in the Black. While many of our colleagues in the church world are closing their doors and pulling monies out of reserve to pay their bills, You are doing your share. Your gifts of not only your money, also your time and your talents of vacuuming, fixing leaks, mowing, organizational development, teaching, keeping the children, singing, playing an instrument, gardening, carpentry work to raise the height of this lectern — we all have something to Share. “Do Your Share” is a gift of relationship. Thanks for all you do.
Help others, but don’t routinely do their work. The gift of relationship empowers, teaches and supports others. If we routinely did other’s work, they would never learn, understand their own gifts or talents or get to experience the fantastic feeling of accomplishment. Some of us know impatience. Some of us love checking off the box and moving on to another thing. When we do other’s work for them too often, we deprive them of their own growth and challenge and self-worth. And You want to say to me, “Tamara, I can get so much more done if I do it.” This isn’t the point of giving the gift of relationship.
And then, ………. the crux of this ………is when we need to ask for help but don’t want to ask out of shame or embarrassment.
Modeling integrity by being honest and accountable is about our own vulnerability. On a weeklong trip in the Western Cascades, I was leading a group of 13. Your feet are your transportation. If your feet are torn up, you not only endanger yourself, you also hamper the mission of the group. The rule of the trail is to take care of hotspots when they first get warm. At supper on the second night of five, one of the group members asked me to help them with their feet. Excited that someone wanted to take care of their feet BEFORE it became a problem, you can imagine my dismay when I encountered an angry, red, 1” x 3” blister covering the entirety of the ball of their foot full of liquid. Bad EB.
The good news is that this person admitted and attempted to correct their mistakes. For the next three days, we tried a variety of techniques to keep moving toward our destination eventually making it …. All of us together.
The Magi, some scholars say, took a two-year journey to find the Christ Child. Two years is a long time to journey together. I am thinking at some point conflict, disagreement and general malaise occurred. Good thing that the gifts they had were not only for the Christ Child, but also for each other. Because, the story says that they left together to return to their country……together.
May it be so with each of you and especially may it be so with those of us who seek a community here …….to journey with ……. together…. Because as Howard Thurman writes,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
We need each and everyone of us to do this work …. Together.
May it be so.