2010 AEU Certification Ceremony Talk, Amanda Poppei
Amanda Poppei earned a BA in Religious Studies from Yale University. She also has a Masters of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Amanda started young imagining a life in religious leadership and is a Unitarian Universalist minister, with a strong background in interfaith work. She did her intern work at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, MD, and served as a chaplain at the Washington Hospital Center, where she completed a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education.
The Washington Society went on a long, extensive search looking for a new leader after over thirty years with the previous Leader. And Amanda Poppei was drawn to WES's sense of warmth and caring, and to the Ethical Culture emphasis on living and acting with integrity. She was chosen as the Society’s Senior Leader in 2008. We had to send her to reeducation camp for a year to inculcate her into the Ethical Culture philosophy and tradition - in other words, Amanda participated in Ethical Culture/Ethical Humanism history and philosphy part of our training program beside a survey of the other modules. Amanda brings a passion for social justice and a commitment to building a multigenerational community to her work at WES. She views a religious community as a place where we travel through life together, helping each other to be the people we wish to be.
Amanda and her husband Peter have an adorable daughter, Marcella.
And I can add that Amanda Poppei has immense energy, seemingly has boundless good spirits, and is very bright. She has proved to be an energetic addition to the circle of Leaders and the Washington Society is feeling very good about their choice for Senior Leader. (text prepared by Leader Richard Kiniry to introduce the New Leaders to the Assembly)
"In diversity there is beauty and there is strength." I wish I had Maya Angelou's voice to give those words the deep resonance that I can hear in the way she might say it. "In diversity there is beauty and there is strength." The difficulty, I think, is that diversity gets thrown around so frequently these days. We all want more diversity, but aren't even sure what we mean by that. But surely it's a good thing? Rainbow stickers and colorful fabrics, little children all dressed in costumes of their home countries, people with slightly different takes on the same general political viewpoint. That's what we mean, right?
I don't think it's what Maya Angelou meant. I don't think it's really what we mean. And I know it wasn't what Felix Adler meant, when he stood in front of a crowd that day in 1876 and shared his dream of a religion, his dream of a movement. I don't know how many of you regularly read Adler's Founding Address, but I've read (really, all three of us have read) a lot of Adler the last couple of years. The Founding Address is still my favorite—because it presents a dream so big, so beautiful, so welcoming. Adler didn't create Ethical Culture as a haven for the few, or a movement for just some of us. He hoped to create—he believed he was creating—a religious and educational movement that spoke to every person, whatever their creed, whatever their belief, whatever their background. Let me share a few words with you:
"Believe or disbelieve as ye list," he said "we shall at all times respect every honest conviction. But be one with us where there is nothing to divide - in action. Diversity in the creed, unanimity in the deed! This is that practical religion from which none dissents. This is that platform broad enough and solid enough to receive the worshiper and the "infidel." This is that common ground where we may all grasp hands as brothers, united in mankind's common cause."
Now what, I wonder, would it mean for us today, for us here, in this movement, if we took Adler seriously? If we took him, literally, at his word?
We are not, nor will we ever be, the right place for everyone. No single religious movement could be. People have preferences for how to spend their Sunday mornings, or their Saturday mornings. There's a newness, an openness to our time together that wouldn't work for someone who wanted to stay firmly rooted in an older religious tradition. We might be too informal for some people, and too formal for others. We occupy a unique place in the marketplace of ideas, and I wouldn't want us to become other than what we are.
But I believe we are already a place for people from many places, people with different beliefs and ideas and hopes. And even more importantly, I think—I know—that we also have in common our choice to walk together, to learn how to be together. Adler called Ethical Culture "that practical religion from which none dissents." He was talking about the impulse toward action, the impulse toward the good, the right, the just. We can be, and indeed I think we are, a movement that draws people together from all kinds of different places, that stays open to new thoughts and new ideas, new forms and new people, because we know that we are pulled together by something that runs deeper than all of this. We stand on solid ground about what we value, what draws us together. And that, I think, is the gift our movement gives us: a big broad tent, yes, but also a clear sense of why we're under that tent. Why we have made this place our home.
Our home and our laboratory. Adler thought of Ethical Societies as living laboratories, places where we practice being ethical. And the truth is, that practice is so much more interesting when we're doing it with people who look, and think, and act different than we do. When we get to see a broad spectrum of the human family, and in our relationships learn more about our own humanness, our own humanity. Only by seeing the uniqueness of others can we appreciate our own uniqueness, only in noticing and honoring otherness do we experience that ultimate religious vision: the beautiful tension of our own uniqueness held in oneness.
One of the themes that the Washington society will explore this year is "Harmony Through Differences." We've been looking for a children's story for that theme, something we can share at the beginning of platform one Sunday to kick off the unit. We just haven't found the right one yet…in fact just before I got in the car to come up here I was looking at a few more—one about Jerusalem, one about cows, one about different kinds of families. None of them were quite right. They talked about tolerating differences, or even respecting them. But we're looking for something deeper, something more beautiful.
We're looking, I think, for our story, for Adler's story, for Maya Angelou's story. We're looking for the story that tells about how a group of people with all kinds of ideas—believers, disbelievers, worshipers, infidels—all those people that Adler called together that Sunday not quite 150 years ago, how we can come together and create something that is bigger, and better, and richer because of our particular contributions. "This is that common ground where we may all grasp hands as brothers and sisters, united in humankind's common cause." May we indeed live into that vision, a vision of a tapestry made still more beautiful by its different threads.