Doing and Being Busy

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It’s that time of year in the life of a Director of Religious Education – it’s Planning Season.  Calendars, Curriculum, Teaching Teams, Registration Forms, and so much more!  It’s fun, and I certainly enjoy writing lesson plans and organizing calendars, but still, I can get overwhelmed.
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That’s why I have a little reminder on my desk.  We are not human doings; we are human beings.  Even as there is a lot to do, pause and take a breath and leave space to be.  

Time for All Ages

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My congregation does the Time for All Ages a little bit differently – for one thing we don’t call it “Time for All Ages” instead just calling it “Story” – but I believe that we still expect it to be for ALL ages.  

Two Sundays ago I chose to lead the congregation in the “UU Hokey Pokey” (you put your open mind in, you take your open mind out, etc.) because the minister’s sermon title was “What if the Hokey Pokey Really Is What It’s All About?”.  I didn’t actually think much about it – just sure, this is a good fit, yes, that’s figured out, moving on now …

But afterwards many of the adults of the congregation commented on how much fun that had been.  For weeks now they have been mentioning the Hokey Pokey when they see me, and so many just seem delighted by it.

Honestly, I don’t think it meant that much to the kids even.  They get to do fun and silly things like that all the time after all.  This particular Time for All Ages was a chance for the adults to remember the joy of these childish amusements, perhaps for the kids to enjoy seeing their elders being silly, and for us all to just wave our arms around and laugh together.

Similarly, when I tell the story I don’t call the kids up front and set it apart as something more for them than for everyone else.  The story is for everyone, it is part of our worship that is meant for all ages to enjoy, and it should have something in it for everyone to appreciate.  This is how we have been doing our time for all ages, and it has been wonderful.  

Something for everybody; a time for all ages.

A Discussion Guide for The Fault in Our Stars

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I’ve been listening to the audible edition of The Fault in Our Stars.  You may be aware that this is a hugely popular book, with a movie version currently in the movie theaters.  But did you know that this story is almost perfect for engaging young people in theological conversation?  That this is a very UU friendly novel?

As I listened to the book I kept thinking – yes! this! we should talk about this!  And, knowing that many of our congregants (probably ages 11-99) are reading this book, here is a discussion guide I put together for it:

A Discussion Guide for Unitarian Universalists reading

The Fault in Our Stars,

by John Green.

 

Created by Sara Lewis, CRE

Director of Lifespan Religious Education

Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation

http://www.ouuc.org

 

 

  1. Death is a natural part of life. Unitarian Universalist minister, Forrest Church, wrote: “Death is not a curse to be outwitted no matter the cost. Death is the natural pivot on which life turns, without which life as we know it could not be.” What does a novel about death reveal about the truth of life?
  2. The Reverend Forrest Church died of cancer, and wrote a book called Love and Death: My Journey through the Valley of the Shadow. He had a lot to say about death, and you can see excerpts here: http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/children/riddle/session6/sessionplan/stories/157217.shtml
    1. Do you think the author of The Fault in Our Stars would agree with the Rev. Forrest Church about death? Why or why not?
    2. Rev. Church says “religion is the human response to being alive and having to die”. But in The Fault in Our Stars neither Hazel nor Augustus turn to religion to explain their dying – why do you think that is?
  3. What is the significance of the words Always and Okay for the characters? What do those words imply? How do they relate to a comfort with uncertainty? Which word are you more comfortable with?
  4. How do Hazel and Augustus differ from other teens, other than that they both have cancer? Could they have been the way they were without being sick?
  5. What is the significance of The Imperial Affliction to Hazel Grace and why is she so obsessed with it? Is there any book that has that much importance to you? Why?
  6. Is Hazel’s and Augustus’s relationship deeper than most teenage love stories, or is it just compressed because they are short on time? Were they foolish to fall in love? Why or why not?
  7. Hazel and Augustus visit the Anne Frank house when they are in Amsterdam. How do their lives-cut-short compare to Anne Frank’s life-cut-short? Anne Frank’s diary revealed what many adults believed were unusually deep thoughts for someone her age, and Hazel and Augustus also have unusually deep thoughts for their age. Is it because they will die, or do you think everyone has deeper thoughts than we give them credit for?
  8. Augustus fantasizes about big ways to make his life count, or to make his death count, by saving other lives or some other grand gesture. In the end, he cannot fulfill that wish. For some people, Universalism means that God loves us all, no matter what, or that Love is for us all, not to be earned. What would Augustus have thought of that message? Would it have made it easier for him?
  9. The title of the book derives from a line of Shakespeare: “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves” – meaning that it is not fate at fault. Why choose that line, and why reverse it? What is John Green saying about fate? And does he present fate as determined by some force or as random?
  10. At one point in the book, Hazel asks her father what he believes. He says he doesn’t know what he believes, that he thought being grown up meant you would know but it doesn’t. Is this a Unitarian Universalist sentiment? Is it possible for this to be a comforting sentiment in the face of death?
  11. The author once served as a chaplain in a children’s hospital, and afterward said that he now saw life as utterly random and capricious, yet that randomness did not rob life of its meaning. How is that possible? Can life be both random and meaningful?
  12. This book is about young people trying to live their lives, even though they know they are dying. How is this a book that could inform your religious or spiritual understandings? Did it inform your understanding of the meaning of life? How? Why or why not?
  13. What do you think about the “hero’s journey” narrative of terminal illness? Are cancer patients heroes and inspirations to us all? How can those who are not sick best help and remember those who are? Does remembering someone ultimately matter, and why do we all seem to hope that we will be remembered after we die?
  14. As a Unitarian Universalist, was your personal theological understanding changed at all by this novel? Explain.

If you want it as a pdf: A Discussion Guide for Unitarian Universalists for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

 

Recommended Summer Reading List

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First Principle: Respect for Everyone, Inherent Worth and Dignity

The One in the Middle is a Green Kangaroo by Judy Blume

My People by Langston Hughes

My Sister, Alicia May by Nancy Tupper Ling

Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom by Tim Tingle

Second Principle: Offer Fair and Kind Treatment

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora

Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivisaz and Helen Oxenbury

Third Principle: Yearn to Learn, Acceptance of Others and Encouragement to Growth

How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz

The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story by Uma Krishnaswami

Fourth Principle: Grow By Searching for What is True

God’s Paintbrush by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Each Breath a Smile by Sister Susan (Sister Thuc Nghiem)

The Three Questions: Based on a Story by Leo Tolstoy by Jon J. Muth

Fifth Principle: Believe in Your Ideas, the practice of Democratic Principles

Wanda’s Roses by Pat Brisson

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson and Sonia Lynn Sadler

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone

Sixth Principle: Insist on Peace and Justice

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai

Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom by Shane W. Evans

What Does Peace Feel Like? By Vladimir Radunsky

Seventh Principle: Value the Interdependent Web of Life

All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon and Katherine Tillotson

Lessons from Mother Earth by Elaine McCleod and Colleen Wood

We Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow and Bob Staake

Credentialing!

While I was away on Sabbatical, I also finished the work for my religious educators credentialing, and after the final interview was awarded the status of Credentialed Religious Educator, Masters Level.  This has been a continuing education project that I have worked on for the last three + years, working with a mentor that I spoke with on the phone once a month during that time.  Because of my previous Masters in Teaching, I had a bit of a head start and was able to apply some of that work toward the credential.  For this credential I took two graduate level courses (UU History and Polity as an online course through Phillips Theological Seminary and Liberal Theology as a winter intensive through Meadville-Lombard Theological School) and attended five 15 + hour long professional trainings.  I read 71 books, and wrote up a professional portfolio that was 153 pages long and demonstrated my mastery of 16 areas of professional competency.  Finally, I wrote essays explaining my personal theology, pedagogy, and understanding of the meaning of faith as well as a self-assessment and plan for ongoing professional development after credentialing.  This was capped by the personal interview in Boston with the credentialing panel.  And I am now a credentialed religious educator!

This work has been of amazing value to me already, as I felt the depth of my knowledge, confidence, and abilities expand throughout my studies.  Yes, I would have matured as a religious educator over the last three years anyway, but the credentialing program gave me four things that helped me really grow:

 

1. A Road Map.  Just having the list of what competencies to study, the rubric of what competency would look like, and the resource list to study is a priceless gift in itself.  Any religious educator who is just starting out could just take that reading list and start going with it, and they would benefit immensely.

2.  A Mentor.  The mentor relationship meant I wasn’t doing this all alone, but had the accountability of needing to tell someone else each month what I had accomplished, the comfort of having someone else to ask for advice when I felt lost or overwhelmed, the cheerleader encouraging me to keep going when I felt discouraged, and the much-needed outside eye when I started just spinning my own wheels and going around in a circle.

3.  A Deadline.  It is a fact of human life that most of us find it far too easy to put off any and all tasks that don’t have a deadline associated with them.

4.  And finally, it gave me a Project to Talk About.  This meant I could present what I was doing to the congregation and place the time and the money that I spent on continuing education in a context for them.  The credentialing program lifts up the fact that what we do as religious educators is a profession, and that we do need to continue to grow as professionals and expand our skills and knowledge in addition to the day-to-day and week-to-week tasks of our jobs.

I am so glad that I pursued credentialing, and would encourage all who are engaged in this work to give it a real look.

 

 

On Memorial Day, It’s OK to Feel All the Feelings

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How should we as UU parents explain Memorial Day to our children?  Although UU’s are generally pacifistic, as our 6th Principle indicates (in the children’s language): Insist on Peace and Justice Around the World.  However, individual UU’s have and do serve in the military (I did), and there are military families within our UU congregations.

Memorial Day is a day to remember the dead from all the wars our country has fought.  I don’t know about you, but I have very conflicted feelings about much in American history – our country has done many things that were unfair or wrong or even horrible, and we modern Americans are the heirs to that legacy.  Our country also has had many wonderful ideas and ideals and there were brave and courageous men and women who fought – in one way or another, if not always just physically – for those ideals.  And we are the heirs to that legacy also.

And then there are all the lives that were cut short – men and women who had families and were loved and would have rather lived on.  I think it is only right that we pause to remember and honor those lives, for they died in the name of our country whether or not we agreed with the justifications of that war.

My feelings on this day are all mixed up, but mostly I feel sad.  And it is OK for children to feel sad, too – it’s part of life.  As a good parent, you do not need to shield them from these realities.  In fact, you do them a disservice if you don’t allow the full range of feelings.  Feel all the Feelings, and then talk about them.

This is why The Wall by Eve Bunting is the go to book for many teachers on Memorial Day, I think.  It is a simple and lovely story about visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with the emotional poignancy of this day presented in clear and child-friendly terms.

And then, if you have a memorial or a cemetery within visiting distance, take the kids to visit today.  Take flowers to leave there, or make a pinwheel for peace and leave it.  We can remember the dead and wish for peace in the future at the same time – it’s a perfect time to wish for peace, in fact.

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And so, today I don’t wish you a “Happy” Memorial Day, exactly.  I wish you an Emotionally Honest and Reflective Memorial Day.  As I did last year, I’ll be taking my children to the local war memorials, and feeling many complicated feelings myself.

 

What I Did on Sabbatical

During this last week of my 13 week Sabbatical, it’s time to wrap it up and get ready to return to the regular work of congregational life. The sabbatical was actually something that I got very stressed about as I was preparing for it and imagining how it would go, but now that I’m done I am so grateful for this time that you all gifted me with.

First, the reasons why I felt stress before the sabbatical are a big part of the personal and spiritual development that the sabbatical time gave me. Was I worried about leaving you all with coverage in my absence? Yes, but I also knew that Bonnie and the Family Ministry Team and the Teaching Teams would be fine. No, my real stress was that I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to do with myself during that much time. I was afraid that in the absence of a schedule and a list of things that Must Be Done By This Deadline, I wouldn’t even know who I was – because schedules and To Do Lists are anchors, and they are also distractions.

I had an idea that I would fill this time and “get a lot done”. I did get some good things done (my post on Credentialing will be up next week), but that was not the take-away from my sabbatical time. I actually ended up leaning in to the unscheduled time, and found that I could embrace being a Human Being instead of a Human Doing. This quote from the book The Dance by Oriah nicely captures the idea:

When we avoid the emptiness, when we fill the stillness with too much doing, we are trying to outrun our, sometimes unconscious, conviction that who we are will never be enough. The things we try to hang on to – our work, our relationships, our reputation and perspective – are the things we believe will make us worthy of life and love … If we can simply be with the fear that we are not enough, and with the vastness of what we do not know, we discover an emptiness that is not our failure but is the very source of the fullness of who and what we are.

Sabbaticals are interpreted in different ways, with probably a unique idea of how that time should be spent in the mind of each person who is blessed with the opportunity. But I think it is very telling that the word sabbatical has the same root as the word Sabbath. In his book, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the Sabbath practice as “building a palace in time”. It elevates to a conscious level the realization that we are temporally bound creatures, or that we exist in the flow of time. In fact, as one time management book that I read once pointed out, how you spend your time is how you spend your life. We say “the time got away from me”, but what if we said “my life got away from me”?

The great gift that I found through taking a Sabbatical was that I was reminded that this is the only time I will ever have to live this one life that I have been blessed with. I do not have to earn the gift of life, or prove myself worthy of it, before I am allowed to enjoy it. While the many things that I do are often worthy and wonderful, they cannot define me. The Sabbatical time let me go deep with this idea, struggle with it a bit, and ultimately find my spiritual development greater because of the time.