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Christmas Party Remarks... That Weren't
In this day and age what we're really looking for is a family and even, at least in many ways, a TRIBE.
The Great Conversation(s) Network held its fifth annual “That Club Loudoun County” Dinner Club Christmas Party at the Wells Chapel of the Freedom Center (AKA the Loudoun Field Center). Your humble author wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to have so many wonderful people in the same room at the same time to express his feelings. That was harder to do than he anticipated, and he instead simply led a small prayer and invited everyone to sit down and eat. What follows below is (roughly) the remarks he would have made had he been better organized and prepared.
Welcome everyone, Blessed Advent, and Merry Christmas to all of you. Three things that I want to talk about briefly on the rare occasions that I get this many of my favorite people in the same room at the same time.
First I think what initially brings this merry and motley crew together, other than the season’s festivities, is the science and art of conversation, not only in terms of education but in terms of citizenship and civil discourse, and actually, perhaps more importantly, simply being the best humans we can be.
We live in a time where a conversation on a complex topic can cost you a friendship. Who here has lost long-term friendships — or even family members — in the last few years? The times really aren’t unique. Some of our country’s founders had massive contentious disagreements lasting years. Today, the technology is different, the conversation can occur more quickly, sometimes in a matter of minutes, over thousands of miles. But the fallen nature behind them is rather … unchanged. So we’re all here at least partially because we value Great Conversation(s) with good people and realize that good people can share disagreements over important issues and still be not only good, but good friends.
So notwithstanding the desire that many of us may have to win arguments and others of us may have to avoid them… the key from my point of view is to have the arguments and have our relationships survive them. There are many directions to take that topic — focusing on ideas instead of people is one of those; and arguing in a way that seeks truth instead of victory is another — but that’s another discussion for another day; instead let me just express my thanks to the Paul and the Freedom Center / Loudoun Field Center, for allowing us to have our Fifth Annual Great Conversation(s) Christmas Party here in the lovely Wells Chapel, as well as Sue, Jennifer, and Karen, and the Buckingham family, for putting this together.
We consider this sort of a kickoff of many amazing opportunities for fellowship here on the campus and elsewhere. We have great things in store… and of course in particular tonight for the event itself, a Christmas Party, a celebration of the season of Advent… a season filled with such a rich mixture of penitence and joy, generosity, anticipation, and a time to reflect on the year past. If you’re from a Western liturgical tradition, Advent is not the end of the year, but the beginning, so it spills over well beyond the spirit of Black Friday and instead shoots towards Good Friday; so we hope that its meaning for even the most … skeptical American is something along the lines of “So this is Christmas, what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun…”
With that in mind, I want to quickly announce what our next major event for our little Dinner Club is going to be — the “minor” events (minor in size and complexity, but indispensable in importance to the cause here) being the monthly dinners and weekly coffees.
We’ll be partnering with a few non-profits both in Lucketts and Leesburg to do an event to support those in need in our community. We feel strongly that the next best way to have a real impact is to stop talking for a minute, and start listening for several to some of the needs we may find and experience right here in Northern Loudoun County. More details to come, but it’ll fall around the Lenten season, probably a week or two before Easter. If you want to be involved with that, or this party next year, or our Constitution Day cookout in September, please touch base with one of the aforementioned event committee types and let them know you want to help.
Which brings me, lastly to this one final point I want to share. My good friend here, Paul, our host, and I have had a few conversations about what a place like this and the things we hope to do here really mean and the word, “community,” keeps coming up. It’s a very critical issue for me, personally. Over the years many of you have had such an impact on me through different, concentric, and often overlapping institutions, from the education community that Helena has been so central and essential to, to the political activist world that many here have found me through.
The local Chamber produced many of our connections, of course, including my daughter’s godmother, Sue, godfather, Ken, as well as Karen who is responsible for most of these great decorations tonight. Some of the St Patrick family is here including my sponsor, Jim and his wife Lori.
So every time Paul and I have this conversation about community, I leave it a little confused, and wondering if “community” is really the right word. It’s thrown around a lot. Many people, based on their identity — race, gender, sexual orientation, political stances, etc — get lumped in with a “community,” while people in a certain geographic feel apart, disconnected, isolated from, the communities in which they live.
So on that front, I’m going to get a little serious about what I consider a major failing of my own in terms of the “ICU” (IndED Cinematic Universe), including this Mighty Network community we created (HERE!) called Great Conversation(s). We’re still less than 100 people at the moment, and it’s mostly local folks and three to five people account for 90% of the activity. But suffice it to say that most of the people on it are people I know.
One of the FIRST people I was aware of that joined this fledgling little Network that I DIDN’T know was a man named Baraka James. His profile is still on here. Good looking guy, beautiful family… member of many “communities” which at least intersect or overlap with many of mine. Never met Baraka though. He was invited by our friend Charles, and joined several months ago… towards the beginning of this fledgling little group.
In June, tragically, Baraka took his own life. Now … the details of this are a little much to get into at a Christmas Party, but a few weeks ago I came across his profile again and just thought, “I know that I don’t feel responsible for anything here… but shouldn’t I?”
I’m sure Facebook and Twitter don’t feel responsible for his loss either, but our purpose here is not to connect online, but to connect in person… like this. I never did so with him. With all his connections and “communities” there was something quite obviously missing. I’m no expert in mental health… but obviously there was a lack of a connection to something important.
Without dragging this point out, let me just say that 100, even 50 years ago the concept of a “family” was so very different than it is today (and is still to this day in many parts of the world). Many Americans seem to think of our family as our parents, our siblings, and maybe a few nieces and nephews, and as we get older, our kids look at us, their siblings and their nieces and nephews; their cousins are somewhere else with their own kids and parents and nieces and nephews. So we’ve lost a lot of the nature of family which makes it really “extended”, and so what many of us are looking for in terms of our friendships is not simply a community, but a TRIBE… a family for lack of a better term. Not simply a group of people with similar interests — political opinions? Zipcodes? — but the people that we truly and openly seek to learn from and develop ourselves with; people we’ll open a vein for; people to be there when we’re looking to connect, when we’re happy and when we’re sad. So sure… one way to go is to simply start having more kids… but in the meantime, where is our tribe?
You see, we take such great pains in the modern zeitgeist to emphasize the ways in which we’re … unique. We want to express our amazing special singular identity. There is definitely a place for that.
Here, however, in this place, with these people — as often as we can get together and connect — this is where we, first and foremost, find each other’s common humanity. What we have in common is what makes us human because what makes us human is loving each other as humans FIRST, as individuals second, and if we want to go tribal, then we probably won’t need to because this IS our tribe… our extended family.
Anyway … that’s the way I see it … thanks for indulging me.
So let’s lift up our (non-alcoholic) glasses to Baraka; to my dear mother — this will be our first Christmas without the opportunity to at least talk to her — to community, to family, and to the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth God, world without end.
(Asked Blessing of the food)
(This is going out on the Feast of the Epiphany (Theophany in the East) so let me take this chance to wish all of you and yours… a blessed Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year! To stay tuned to the events in Northern Virginia — and elsewhere — please join the Great Conversation(s) Network.)
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Founder/Director Independent Education (IndED)
Loudoun Field Center