All Souls Kansas City

“Reflections on Dreams in Stone, Bread and Community,” November 22, 2015, Rev. Kendyl Gibbons

Bread

In 1976, the year I became a student at the Divinity School there, the
University of Chicago issued a book of more than 300 photographs of
all the buildings on its campus, entitled Dreams in Stone.  The
academy – that idealized community of intellectual endeavor and
discourse – they said was primarily a dream of the human imagination.
It was a concept, and a mission; to guard the accumulated wisdom of
the past, to pursue new truth, to conduct an ongoing conversation
among engaged minds.  In order to exist in actual time and space, that
dream had to be given the form of buildings; class rooms, offices,
laboratories, libraries, auditoriums.  It had to take on the weight of
stone and steel and wood, in order to create a shelter for that work,
and a home for that community.  But the dream came first, and must not
be lost among the forms.

Dreams in stone.  60 years ago, the members of this congregation, some
of you among them, created a form to incarnate their dream of a
liberal religious community in Kansas City — a place where conscience
was free to recognize its duties to truth and to our fellow beings; a
place where questions informed the cultivation of the human spirit; a
place where the heritage of reason was honored, and people walked
together through the challenges of history, and the changes of their
lives.  We here today have taken up their heritage; we are the keepers
of that dream in this time.  We face challenges they had no thought
of; we have resources they never imagined.  But the dream is not so
different, and it still has to be made real in the bones of a
building, especially if we are to practice hospitality as a spiritual
art.

And friends, that art is to be cherished at this moment in our
national and international life, for it is deeply at risk.  Our larger
culture has forgotten what was once learned at such cost to our
Japanese-American neighbors, when they were imprisoned for years,
without accusation or recourse, because of what they looked like.  It
has forgotten the passengers of the ocean liner St. Louis, returned to
the Nazi death camps because no nation would take them in.   Always it
is said, when the panic is over and sanity returns, Never again.  That
is what we promise ourselves, and the rest of humanity.  Never again.
And then the generation rises that did not live through it, and we
head right down the same path of destruction and doom.

It is no trivial matter that we are about here.  We are deciding, once
again, which dream we are going to embody.  What are these stones
going to say?  Are we indeed a community of good will and service,
where diversity of thought and identity are welcome?  Or are we merely
a clubhouse for the like-minded, warming ourselves around a cozy stove
of mutual admiration and self-congratulation?  I believe that our
predecessors had a larger dream than that, and it is my dream today.
The religious community that nurtures my spirit is one where not
everyone is like me; where I have much to learn from others, as they
do from me.  It is a place where we honor wisdom from many sources,
both ancient and modern; where the truth of the heart and of the
imagination are cherished as well as truth of the mind.  That is what
I want these building stones to say to everyone, both inside our walls
and out – that here we strive to trust our common humanity and our
hopes more than our fears; that we can come together in caring for one
another, and building a brighter future in a better world, even when
we don’t always agree.

We are about to start testing that proposition in a very practical
way.  The fine architects from GastingerWalker have listened with
great care to all that we have been able to tell them about the kind
of building we want, and all the wonderful things it might do for us.
Your board and committees and staff have made some educated guesses
about what our funding capacity might be.  We are starting to drill
down to what dreams are possible for our community to realize in
stone, and what our priorities are in this moment.  You will hear from
the architects presently, and they will tell us what is emerging as a
plan that might best realize our hopes.  We have a long way to go yet
before we will know exactly what is possible, or exactly what anything
will cost, or what trade offs we may end up needing to make.  But I can
assure you that something about the outcome, or about the process
along the way, will disappoint you.  We certainly won’t be able to do
everything we can think of, and there will be some rather unglamorous
necessities, like roofing, that have to be attended to.  There will no
doubt be compromises, and delays, and frustrations – turning dreams
into stones inevitably involves all those things.

So the question is, how are we going to handle those bumps in the
road?  Are we going to turn on each other, and assume that it has to
be someone’s fault, and if it weren’t for somebody else’s
stubbornness, or unwarranted interference, or lack of imagination, or
sheer  contrariness, it could have all been so much better?  The truth
is that we are all going to have to work hard, and be generous
supporters, and do our part to carry this project along.  That’s the
only way it ever works, building our dreams in stone.  This generation
has an opportunity, now, to shape what this community will become.  We
do it all the time, of course, with every contribution of time and
talent and treasure and leadership and energy and support that we
offer.  But this kind of project only comes along a few times over the
centuries.  Now, over the next few months, we will decide what dreams
we want to write in this stone – not only by the choices we make about
the shape of our building, but also by the choices we make in how we
conduct ourselves throughout the process.

Which is why we begin with an ancient ritual that expresses in the
everyday symbol of bread, our common humanity, and our need for one
another.  We need to be part of a community just as urgently and
fundamentally as we need to eat.  We rely on others, known and
unknown, to plant and harvest and mill the grain; to oversee the magic
of yeast and baking; to set the table before us.  There is no
self-sufficiency in the sharing of bread.  Not alone do we write our
dreams in stone.  The people who offer the ritual gift of sustenance
this morning are here to help us engage with mutual understanding,
respect, and good will.  The members of the Committee on Ministry
minister to this community; they serve the aspirations of the human
spirit, and the highest good.  So too do those who even now are
laboring in the kitchen, so that we might enjoy a nourishing meal as
part of our celebration of today’s beginning.  So too must all of us
do our own parts, in thankfulness for the fellowship that sustains us,
and that we sustain.  As the choir will remind us presently,

The promise of living with hope and thanksgiving
is born of our loving our friends and our labor.

The promise of growing with faith and with knowing
is born of our sharing our love with our neighbor.

The promise of ending in right understanding
is peace in our own hearts and peace with our neighbor.

May these be the dreams that we inscribe both in the stones of this
church, and in the living of our days together.

by Kendyl Gibbons
November 22, 2015