Opening Words from Sun. September 19 by Dara Strickland

Good morning, everyone! I’m Dara Strickland, my pronouns are she/her, and it is so good to be her with all of you today.

As a part of our Platform, Opening Words has been important to me since before I even joined the Ethical Society. When I was still just a visitor, I was amazed that members sharing their personal joys and struggles with ethical life was an integral part of weekly meetings. For me, it was the first sign that the Ethical Society was a true community, not just a lot of nice people who liked to listen to lectures on Sunday mornings.

Early in my membership, I joined the Platform Committee, which researches and coordinates our guest speakers for Platforms but also arranges Opening Words. Surely I was an asset to the team because of my network of diverse personal connections? Maybe because of my extensive knowledge of local history and culture?

FALSE.

The truth is that I’m on the Platform Committee because even though I’m a loud person (especially by Ethical Society standards), I’m also very, very sneaky.

Here’s the unvarnished truth about members who give Opening Words: during the year we get a handful of wonderful volunteers, but the rest have to be ambushed like unsuspecting antelope in the coffee hour watering hole.

A hunter’s view of the Becker Room:

  • She just took a bite of banana bread and her mouth is full!
  • He has turned away from his conversation to get more coffee!
  • I strike! – “I was hoping you could help me with Opening Words…”

You see, that one sentence contains the three essential elements to getting an Opening Words speaker:

  • “I was hoping…” – Hope is perhaps the most vital humanist value. If we didn’t think the world could be better, or, failing even that, that we could be better in the world, we wouldn’t be sitting here today and we certainly wouldn’t be watching and waiting to return. Humanists are hopeful people.
  • “…you could help me…” – There’s not enough room in any Platform to enumerate all the ways our members help each other and seek to help others. That’s what puts the “deed” before the “creed.” Humanists are helpful people.
  • The most vital element is surprise. As a congregation we have millenia of years of ethical life experience in this very room. Think about it – if there are 20 people here today over the age of 50, that’s 1000 years of wisdom right there. But the element of surprise is necessary because even though that wisdom is so great, so appreciated, Humanists kinda hate talking about themselves.

Over the last year and a half, the mighty hunters of Opening Words speakers have had slim pickings without access to our coffee hour habitat. Sending emails and making social media posts has no real surprise factor. We have bribed. We have called in favors. We have threatened military history lectures. And, now that we’re back in person, we have to stay six feet apart. How are we supposed to ambush people now?

Like everyone else, we have to balance the vulnerability that makes us a community with the distance that keeps us safe.

Here’s my solution. It’s a pole. A four foot pole, to be precise, which when extended gives me a six foot reach. With this, I should still be able to get a sufficient surprise factor at coffee hour. It’s not a subtle plan.

Or you could come forward, like the wonderful Opening Words volunteers who saw us through our time apart. We’ve just had a long season of reflection, and you all have some piece of wisdom, some verse of poetry, some lima bean recipe, that your hopeful, helpful community wants to hear.

So: volunteer for the role or expect the pole.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.