The Three Sisters: A Parable on Community

In the tradition of the Iroquois (as well as a number of other Native American cultures) there are three sisters who are essential to the health of the community. They each have different needs and talents, but it makes them an amazing team. Individually they would be hard to raise and none of them could sustain a town, but together, they could sustain a culture.

The three are: corn, which grows tall and thin and is vulnerable to weeds; beans, which need to grow up the corn but whose roots fix nitrogen in the soil; and squash, which spreads out along the ground between the stalks, choking weeds. Together, they also contain all the amino acids that the human body cannot manufacture. They form a nutritional backbone for health, and their fibers can be used to produce tools and crafts.

Planning the planting around those traits meant that no matter how the hunting went, the community would not be malnourished. Playing on their strengths and allowing them to support one another was one of the great early feats of indigenous American ingenuity. It allowed for civilization to grow and flourish.

Like those farms of hundreds of years ago, a congregation is made up of individuals with different strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Coming together to pool resources for the greater good is one reason many of us join a religious community. Combining our strengths and shoring up one another’s weaknesses allows us all to give our best. Planning allows us to use our strengths in ways that support each other towards the common goal: the Mission of the Congregation.

Our differences are not a weakness or a flaw in how Unitarian Universalist communities. Our diversity is a strength.

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