For the Week ending December 8
Cookies. This item is the tie that binds my family on my married side. My mother-in-law, Penny Farrell, the woman for whom the multigenerational religious education event this Saturday, December 8th is in honor of, was some kind of baker – not a cook mind you, but what simple magic came out of her kitchen every November and December. When I first witnessed the whole shebang, I pooh-poohed it as leftovers from a bygone era – the days of dough-making and freezing and mountains of dishes. Why pray tell? Who had time?
But six years ago on a New Year’s Eve, my mother, daughter and me with ingredients of all kinds and tables covered with baking sheets and cooling racks, the floor dusted with flour and sugar, were baking the cookies we hadn’t made yet. Weeks earlier, my mother-in-law Penny’s breathing had begun to slow, the cancer pressing the lungs more each day, alerting us that visiting was more important.
On this New Year’s eve, however, my husband had left to meet his siblings from far and wide gathering at her assisted-living facility in Baltimore where she had moved the year before to be closer to us but even closer to her only daughter. They sat with her and told stories, the funny ones that bind them in a unique way, some about crazy cookie baking moments. They hugged her, told her how much they loved her, massaged her arms and hands. Finally as her breathing became more shallow, they told her she could go, telling one last story about their father, who had died two decades before her, and his propensity to always tell them all to hurry up and go.
Back at the house, we — her daughter-in-law, her granddaughter and her friend, my mother, were knee deep in sprinkles and dragees until my husband called just a few minutes after midnight, to tell us she had died. Then we stopped.
We cleaned up and cried. We poured some milk and chose her favorites, peanut butter and chocolate kiss and spritzes and ate them in silence together. We do this every year as I have been baking now since I met her 35 years ago.
Our family isn’t amazing or perfect but a collection of folks who chose, in one way or another, to formally constitute ourselves as an entity. Part of this constitution are a few shared practices – baseball is one and baking cookies another.
This is what we do. I invite you to join me on Saturday for the first Annual Baking Silly for the Holidays event at RRUUC – we will be baking cookies of all kinds, singing holiday songs from all the traditions, eating pizza (which is so not a holiday food!) and mostly creating ties that bind us together.
P.S. Here’s a recipe for a Glitter Ball Cookie with Honey Ginger filling to make at home!
November 29 from Beth
Feeling overwhelmed? Well, that’s a dumb question. Most likely you are. So many awful things going on in the world lately and not enough bandwidth to do something about every one. Every month at the Religious Education Committee meeting, we have a “deep chair” discussion question. This month the question was “How can your religious community support you in all that’s going on in the world?” The discussion uncovered many wonderful ways to do some self-care in this crazy world. Here are some things you can do to help yourself, help your family, and ultimately help the world.
- You don’t have to do it all. Choose one thing that you’re passionate about. Work on that. Rest assured that others will choose some of the other issues and work on those.
- Take a news and/or social media sabbatical. Much stress comes from the constant bombardment of information coming at us. One day, one afternoon, one hour won’t take you out of the information loop, but it may help with your ability to be your best self.
- Find people to talk to. Make a coffee date with friends. Stay for some of fellowship hour on Sunday and talk with other RRUUC parents. Join a Small Group (registration opens in January.) Come to an RE potluck brunch. Sharing with others will help you feel connected and not so alone.
- Reconnect with or start a spiritual practice. It doesn’t need to be long or complicated. Dan Harris, author of Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics says that even one minute of meditation is beneficial. https://www.10percenthappier.com/ Bake some cookies. Write in a journal, even for just a few minutes. Take some big, full breaths.
- Get outside. Connecting with nature is a great way to cope with the awfulness of the world. Breath the fresh air. Take a family walk. Listen to the birds.
- Get some exercise. It could be a meditative walk or run. It could be something more intense to help you get out of your churning mind for a while.
November 16 from the Rev. Amanda Poppei, Guest Blogger (original source UUA’s Braver/Wiser)
The Beauty Spilling Out
“You look at people and… it looks like it’s real because it’s what we see, but there’s so much wonder on the inside. As if you had a plain packing crate and it was filled with silks and Persian rugs and things that would spill out and make everything beautiful, if only you took the trouble to open it.”
—KJ Charles, in An Unsuitable Hei
I had no idea what to expect from my first trip to Disney World this summer, but I left with lots of impressions: discomfort with the total commercialism; awe at the detailed work put into the park; and delight in the way that people visiting Disney World are “all in.” None of the visitors were too cool, or too world-weary, to put on a pair of Mickey Ears and sing along to “It’s A Small World After All.”
And: wow, they were all in on the T-shirts, too. It seemed every other person had a custom T-shirt declaring who they were: Disney Mom! Celebrating Jaden’s 6th Birthday! He’s My Mickey, I’m His Minnie! I felt I could look deep into someone’s soul just by reading what they had printed on their shirt.
Isn’t that what we all want? Well, not to have our innermost thoughts always printed on our T-shirts, but to be seen for who we are?
I know how painful the opposite experience is. The hardest times in my life have been when I’ve felt misunderstood; when someone has experienced me in a dramatically different way than I experience myself. Sometimes, there’s important learning for me there —- for instance, when I’ve been unaware of the impact of my words on a person of color, and I’ve been able to realize that impact is more important than myintention.
When that learning has happened — when through a relationship, through a conversation, through the trust of someone else, I was able to make the “me” on the outside match more closely how I feel on the inside—it’s been an opportunity to be even more deeply, and truly, known.
The truth is, we can’t be summed up by a T-shirt (even a really cute one with Mickey ears). But it is indeed an impulse of the human self to be known fully by those we love, and that’s almost never possible unless we’re willing to risk the conversations that help us see past our initial impressions.
We’re so beautiful inside, so full of complexity and dichotomies and yearning. When we risk telling the world who we are—and when we risk truly learning about each other—we offer a great gift.
November 5, 2018 from Beth
Today at the end of the Liberal Religious Educators (LREDA) conference in Houston, TX that I’ve been at this weekend, some of the young adult religious educators organized a die-in to protest Ted Cruz’s policies and work. Ted Cruz’s staff was coming the next day to the hotel we were in. We all held signs that had things that were “killed” by Cruz’s work. We filled the hotel lobby for a few minutes before the hotel staff asked us to leave. As we left to go back to our closing session, we sang “Be aware, we are a sanctuary. All made holy, loved and true. With thanksgiving, we’ll be a sanctuary for you.”
We learned many things about standing up for our UU values at the conference. Some of our speakers called this “holy disruption.” Holy disruptions work to change our perspective and the perspective of others about how the world works and what’s status quo in our lives. I know many of you already do this sort of practice. You vote!!! You march in protest. You look for and challenge microaggressions. I encourage you to talk with your kids about it too.
Our lives are so crazy busy though. We also heard a workshop on saying yes and saying no when it comes to social justice work. There is so much that needs to be done in the world. It can be overwhelming. So, pick one. Just one. Rest assured that other people are picking some of the other very important causes that you didn’t. What is the most important cause that you would like to work on this year? The middle school class recently heard from social justice leaders at RRUUC, asked questions, discussed, and then voted on the one that mattered the most to them – gun violence. How about your family? What do you have to say no to in order to be able to say yes to this cause. How can your family work on it together? Or even with other families?
Whatever happens in this mid-term election, stay the course, choose a cause to say a “holy yes” to, look for opportunities for you and your family to create “holy disruptions.” Our world and our faith need it!
October 19, 2018 from Gabrielle
Last Sunday our Coming of Age participants stood in front of their congregation and spoke their truth about what they believe. The span was glorious….no God, reincarnation, evolution and the inevitability and embrace of change and more. Some of these children (I call them that until they are out in the world on their own though sometimes I never let the word go) were in fifth grade when I arrived, and in just a blink, there they were, contemplating and sharing with us the stuff of existence.
Blink again and….
When asked how she managed to write a Pulitzer Prize winning column, a book or two and be home with three children, Anna Quindlen, then a NYT columnist, spoke about how she worked differently, more concentrated, less chitchat. She confessed she also didn’t spend much married time with her husband. But as both were the oldest of large families, they were prepared for how much work, how much time it took to raise a family.
“Ultimately,” she said that is it well-worth what you give up; because “fifteen minutes ago [she and her husband] held their first baby who is now ten-years old, and fifteen minutes from now, he will leave for college.”
Fifteen minutes. A moment. Just a blink
As it happens, Tom Scocca wrote a beautiful, contemplative piece published just this week (take the time to read this too) that once again reminds how fast life can be, if we are lucky.
“Before the children arrived, there was not much difference from one year to the next…This is the illusion of adult timekeeping, and children make it unsustainable. Life moves along at an unexceptional, unexamined pace and suddenly it’s the first day of school, and then it’s the first day of school again. The jeans I remember just buying him are up above the ankles. The younger boy kisses me back when I kiss him good night, but by last year the older boy started to twist away from holding hands a few yards before the school door, to dart off ahead. Now he just walks to school on his own. There’s time still for him to circle back for a hug at day’s end. Someday, though, a hug will be the last one.”
He reminds us again as all great philosophers and theologians do: “All our conversations about choices and priorities and life decisions are held in the shadow of the great constraint.”
My daughter, Clare and her husband Pete, gave birth to a baby girl this past Wednesday, Charlotte Davis McGuire, far away, across the country, with me and my husband waiting by the phone all night (truth be told, I was awake, he was asleep.) She did not arrive until early morning, on the stroke of midnight…one foot in the past, and the other into the future, she strode. I love that.
I wrote the opening reflection when my daughter was eight years old, and ended it with “My daughter will change too, she will be grown and though always my child, her face will have lines and her ever present smile more rare. It will be different, though I know not how, no do I want to. “
Today from a new grandmother’s perspective, I wish I had known.
October 11, 2018 from Beth
The gift of space. The gift of time. The gift of reflection. These are all gifts that our Coming of Age program gives our youth. Through experiences, discussion, reflection, and writing, they explore who they are in their family, in Unitarian Universalism, in their own hearts, and in the world. We tend to get caught up in the busy-ness of everyday life and rarely take the time to pause and think about the big questions of life or delve into what we hold as sacred and valuable. It is a myth that UUs can believe whatever they want. Beliefs must be well thought through and intentional. That’s what we offer all ages in religious education.
The Coming of Age ceremony this Sunday joins in a stream of Unitarian Universalist Rites of Passage. It’s their first big ceremony since child dedication. In child dedication, promises are made from parent and congregation to support the child in their UU faith formation. While faith formation is never ending, Coming of Age marks a year of intense focus on individual beliefs. In a short three years, these youth will take part in Bridging as they become a part of the adult congregation. My hope is that they will be better equipped to bring their UU values and beliefs into everything they do in the world.
Perhaps, after listening to our Coming of Age youth this Sunday, you’ll take a moment either for yourself, or better yet, for your family to think and talk about some of life’s big questions. Now more than ever, it matters what you believe.
I leave you with this poem by religious educator Sophia Lyon Fahs.
It Matters What We Believe
Some beliefs are like walled gardens. They encourage exclusiveness, and the feeling of being especially privileged.
Other beliefs are expansive and lead the way into wider and deeper sympathies.
Some beliefs are like shadows, clouding children’s days and fears of unknown calamities.
Other beliefs are like sunshine, blessing children with the warmth of happiness.
Some beliefs are divisive, separating saved from unsaved, friends from enemies.
Other beliefs are bonds in a world community, where sincere differences beautify the pattern.
Some beliefs are like blinders, shutting off the power to choose one’s own direction.
Other beliefs are like gateways opening wide vistas for exploration.
Some beliefs weaken a person’s selfhood. They blight the growth of resourcefulness.
Other beliefs nurture self-confidence and enrich the feeling of personal worth.
Some beliefs are rigid, like the body of death, impotent in a changing world.
Other beliefs are pliable, like the young sapling, ever growing with the upward thrust of life.
October 7, 2018 from Gabrielle
A ministerial colleague from Worcester was once asked what her response was to stress and lack of time. How did she manage to preach, pastor, lead and conduct rituals of passing and birth, be a mother and a wife and friend and colleague… all in five days week after week? She had often shared her commitment to meditation and the grounding it provided her…one hour plus physical exercise. I had expected her to answer with that. Instead, she told us that when there is simply too much to do and not enough time, she meditates for two hours every day plus exercise until the time crunch passes. Not only did her grounding stay in place but she found she got more done.
Last year as part of their monthly deep conversation, the Religious Education Committee went through a process of considering “what it would it look like to center families with children in the congregation?” It wasn’t a critique, indeed the congregation was founded on that very premise and many aspects of RRUUC life are inclusive of families with children…which is not always the case in all congregations.
As we conducted the provided assessment, our appreciation of RRUUC’s congregational culture grew after each “yes” we checked, but gaps were revealed and many of those gaps, are created by a larger culture that tells us time is scarce. It places significant pressure on parents to not only make choices about how they spend their time, but also their children’s. Some of this is due to the many choices that privilege of secure incomes and a rich cultural community provide. But some is also due to the fact that parents work harder and longer hours today, and when not working are commuting to and from work.
How then, we asked ourselves, do we accommodate this reality but also provide what families want if they have no time to participate? How can we be sure that what we are providing is indeed what families are looking for? No surefire assurances…try some things.
This Sunday, we begin with one of those initiatives, First Sundays, whose objective is simple — fuel a warm community. First Sundays invite parents into their children’s K-12thgrade spaces directly after worship to engage in a simple act of service together while building peer and intergenerational friendships and modeling “being a good neighbor” — two facets of family ministry.
On Sunday, we make peace and love backpack charms for our neighbors who attend the Dream Academy – South Lake Elementary School’s after school program, an AIM partner. Parents will meet other parents and the kids that belong to them and vice versa. Coffee will be available outside the classrooms as will the cookies. Fifteen to twenty minutes a month…not exactly two hours of meditation daily….but maybe what we really need.
September 28, 2018 from Beth
Parents, you are your child’s primary religious educator and sexuality educator. Sounds daunting, right? What do you do and say in these times of a Supreme Court nominee who is accused of completely ignoring consent? How does this issue relate to Unitarian Universalism? Our first principle calls us to respect the inherent dignity of every person. That respect means asking for consent and respecting the answer. The third principle, “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations” is often taken on a large scale of justice. Yet, having compassion in our personal relationships is also part of it.
Talking to your kids isn’t a one time thing. It is finding that opportunity everywhere and expressing your values. Talking to middle and high schoolers about consent and the Kavanagh accusations makes sense. Our kids may find themselves in situations similar to the parties he attended. Our Our Whole Lives program gives them some tools. An honest, open conversation between parents and teens adds to the benefit. You are the expert on your family’s values and you know your children best.
Talking to elementary and preschool children is less obvious, but still important. Using age-appropriate situations to illustrate, it’s not too early to talk about what consent means and why it’s important. Consent is often equated with sex and sexual interactions, but it it much more. It’s giving them options. Instead of an unwanted hug from a relative, would they rather get a pat on the back or a handshake. Look for these teaching opportunities.
And, you don’t have to go it alone! You have the benefit of a loving, vibrant community that is River Road. For our youth, we offer space for them to think and talk about this very large, complicated issue. They can support each other in their UU values. Parents have other parents to bounce ideas off of and hear what’s working for other families.
And, you have your friendly religious education professionals who are always willing to chat with you, and give you excellent resources like these…
September 21 2018 from Gabrielle
I try to guide or lead or be the storyteller or teach (we have so many good words) as often as I can….in that way I remain connected to part of the congregation I serve…it’s children and youth. It isn’t about what I teach them, though I certainly hope I am not wasting their time, it’s about what they teach me.
Last Sunday the Elementary children (K-5th) engaged the story of the Good Samaritan. First they watched a deft video retelling of the story made by the Mormon Church. Then each group talked about the idea of “who is my neighbor” and how are neighbors treated. The older group shared the places they see the story happening in the world now. I was not at all surprised that they are fully aware.
Nor was I surprised when I asked them, who they were in the story…the man hurt needing help, any one of the people who walked by or the Good Samaritan? They easily, perhaps more readily than adults, claimed all three. The biggest struggle was with the word neighbor, some visibly wrestling with how it may be harder to help a neighbor you know than a stranger. I admit that this is true for me too.
Other classes made food for the homeless who they identified as the man needing help, while another class designed a “better Jericho road” where people are not robbed and beaten. One of the younger elementary classes trooped down to our friendly free libraries built as part of Serving Together to refill them with food and books while considering whether these serve as Good Samaritans of a sorts.
The group I worked with learned how to take good group portraits with iPhone cameras so as to come to know our RRUUC neighbors a bit better. Although the iPhone picture taking was the initial draw, they also enjoyed considering the people who would want their photo taken and practicing introductions and shaking hands. It was their reminder to make sure that everyone be shown the photo to approve it.
There was a mention of a tip jar. That didn’t fit into the story at all. And frankly I didn’t know what to do with it other than to enjoy their very high energy around it. We laughed and tussled about it — and everyone left in good spirits.
This week I work with another group and I am so looking forward to what I learn. I can’t get this anywhere else in my life. I can’t get eyes that see the world newly. I can’t even get the energy they bring. I also think, except in the most exceptional of households, that they can’t get what we did on Sunday either. Growing a soul requires all different engagements…and I am absolutely certain that what we did this past Sunday, whether in these four classes or the ones happening across the bridge, qualified.
My soul grew a bit deeper this past Sunday…and looking forward to it growing bigger still.
Sept 13, 2018 from Beth
Welcome to our new Family Ministry blog! This Sunday, Sept 16 kicks off the new RE year and it also kicks off our new Family Ministry initiative. This Sunday is the first of four family potluck brunches at 10:30. These are an opportunity to meet other families who are engaging in learning with your kids. Connections like this go a long way in supporting each other on this journey through the world of parenting.
The second of our Family Ministry programs will happen on the first Sunday of each month. We are offering either a family service or family faith development opportunity. The kids will learn about and begin each project in the classroom. Then parents will join them after worship to continue to work together.
So, why are these activities important? The Unitarian theologian, James Luther Adams proposed that all we need to navigate the problems of life and the world are “Five Smooth Stones.” Roughly summarized, these are
- always learning
- being together matters
- listen deeply to each other
- do good works
- remain hopeful
By being together and listening to each other at potluck gatherings and serving or learning together on first Sundays, we hone the relationships and skills needed to be a hopeful, positive influence for our families and our world.
We’re looking forward to seeing your families this Sunday!
For more information about Luther’s Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion, check out these links.
Five smooth stones as presented by Rev. Naomi King https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86ovUEwcqV8
Sermon by Rev. Douglas Taylor http://uubinghamton.org/2012/05/five-stones/
September 7, 2018, from Gabrielle
When Beth and I sent an invitation this week to all previously registered families in religious education, we claimed that RRUUC was the place where we could make better the world. It is. We also declared that RRUUC is a place dedicated to learning and practicing how to be the best person each of us can be. It is that too.
We do this in the context of multigenerational community…. every Sunday, whether in a classroom or the Sanctuary, whether we are all mixed up together, like we will be this Sunday, or whether in do this “work” in parallel play – “us here, you there.” We do it over the course of your child’s entire childhood birth to graduation. And then we invite them back after that.
Religious life provides a unique container for modeling what to choose to attend to: life and death, competition and sharing, friendship and loneliness and yes, kindness and cruelty. Where else does this happen for your child? Where else does it happen for you?
When we give birth, we are filled with a fire of commitment to remake the world. This gives way, over time, to providing opportunities where our children learn how to remake the world themselves. In these ways, we connect to eternity and a world extraordinarily larger than our small corner on Whittier and River. Somehow our child knows this, even when they resist. The multigenerational nature of congregational life illuminates it.
Coming to church or temple or mosque or one’s congregation is vital. It is also, no longer lifted up, culturally, as relevant – more often the opposite. It is a countercultural expression to commit to this endeavor we call RRUUC…to promise your child and yourself an examined life…while living it.
So bring some water this Sunday…maybe it is the water of your child’s first swim or their last race of the summer or from the lake where generations of your family have swam…bring that, pour it with all the others who will be there too, and re-commit to this counter-cultural practice called “church.”
See you on Sunday!