Are We Ready? A New Church Year Begins

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Ready or not, here it comes.  “It” is of course, a new school year.  The kids in my life (even my own homeschooled kids) are all making transitions this week: new schools, new classes, new teachers, new schedules, and of course all the new stuff that they need to do all those new things.

The church year follows the school year, and so we are in a transition here as well.  My congregation is in a big transition at the moment, welcoming a new Interim Minister and going into a church year where we may do some things in new ways.  

And the Religious Education program is in a time of transition as we try a brand new experiment for our Elementary grades – a new program I am calling Labyrinth Learning.  What is Labyrinth Learning?  It is a mixed grade (1st-6th) program.  Labyrinth Learning has developed from the inspiration of the Way Cool Sunday School, Workshop Rotation, and Multiple Intelligences models of Unitarian Universalist Religious Education. It is a model that utilizes different learning styles so that children can self-select for what is best for their own learning, and generally emphasizes the experiential and relational nature of religious education and faith formation.  And it is something brand new that we are creating for ourselves – so this is bound to be a transition and a grand adventure!  

Other things will be new too: Coming of Age on Thursday evenings, a new rite-of-passage program for 6th grade, a 7 Principle program offered at our earlier worship service, and small group ministry model for high school youth group.

Are we ready?  Mostly.  The pencils are sharpened, the new bulletin board displays and posters are getting done, the volunteers are trained, the shopping list is in my purse, the registration packets are in the mail.  

The transition is both scary and exciting.  There is the unknown: how will it go?  Will I make new friends? Did I put too much on my plate/schedule or is this just right?  But there is also the satisfaction of newness: those spiffy classrooms waiting for the kids, those new backpacks, those empty binders waiting to be filled up.  I love those signs of the new year about to unfold.  I treasure that row of sharpened pencils and the potential they represent.  What we will make with them?  What will we learn?  What fun will we have?  

I cannot wait.

Cosmic Education

Here’s one of my favorite Symphony of Science videos!

Yesterday I attended the annual Spirit Play conference and got to see a presentation by Jennifer Morgan, the author of the Born with a Bang trilogy of books.  I love these books, and have used them as the spine for a week long Chalice Camp I’ve offered twice for my congregation.  Just meeting an author I admire is exciting enough, but Jennifer was also a very inspirational storyteller and advocate for cosmic education.

What is cosmic education, you ask?  It is an idea that Maria Montessori developed toward the end of her life, to give children the story that science is telling – the context that we exist as a part of an evolving universe.

How does cosmic education fit in with religious education in a Unitarian Universalist context?  Well, for one thing this story of an evolving universe is the story that science is telling us and science, reason, and humanism form one of our Six Sources of inspiration.  And it is an inspiring story, a story that reveals our interconnected relationships not just to all other humans, but to all life on our planet and ultimately to all that forms the universe.  This is a story that calls us to respect all of creation, to see ourselves within a larger context, and to see the big picture of time (which seems to be the foundation of ultimate optimism to me).

I got a great dose of inspiration yesterday, and I am so thrilled that I get to do this work with children!

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