Why We Need Our Whole Lives Everyday

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I had the pleasure of being the substitute teacher for one of our sessions of Kindergarten-1st grade Our Whole Lives (OWL) this last Sunday.  It was a lesson that I’ve taught several times before, about how to enjoy and care for your own body and keep it safe and healthy.  It also tells the story of a young girl who is being sexually molested by an older cousin, asks the kids for ideas of what she could do, and introduces the “No, Go, Tell!” rules.  To conclude, every one of the kids thinks of three people they trust and that they would tell if anyone was hurting them, and they write those three names in their journals.

This is important work to do with kids, but me teaching this one lesson every other year to 10 children at a time is just the start of that.  I think we need to take the lessons of OWL into our everyday interactions with children, youth, and other adults.

After the Steubenville rape trial, there are a lot of people talking about rape and consent and our “rape culture”.  A good sample of this is here.  Although I have found it overwhelming at times in the last few weeks to read all this, and I’m very sorry for the young people involved to have their tragedy become a National Talking Point, it really is time that we as a culture talk about this seriously.  With the horrible stories from India and the recent documentary The Invisible War about sexual assault in our military (which I still haven’t been able to bring myself to watch), we seem to be finally talking about this.

I agree with those who say that our culture has unhealthy messages about sex and sexuality, and I’m really glad we are finally moving beyond the conversation of “safety and responsibility” – a conversation that puts far too much of the burden for maintaining that safety onto girls and women.

Our Whole Lives, in contrast, is built around “The 3 R’s”:

  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Relationships

Responsibility is important, but it can’t solve this by itself.  It’s time for us to really talk about Respect – how everyone deserves it and how you act respectfully toward other human beings. And we need to talk about Relationships, in all their myriad forms, and how to be caring, responsible, and respectful within relationships.

It’s time for us all to keep The 3 R’s in mind in our own lives, the modeling we show to the next generations, and the explicit messages we communicate to others.  Our culture can change, I really believe that.  We can help it change.

Start now:

  1. I found this article at Buzzfeed to have some good ideas broken down by age group.  Read it and try them out.
  2. If your congregation doesn’t already offer OWL, help get it started!
  3. Talk about it.  Join the conversation.
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In church today

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I love all the chalices this child added into this picture of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. 🙂

Today as I stood in the hallway reminding our middle schoolers not to run and be loud in the halls during the worship service, I realized that in the three rooms behind me a kids were talking about: Patriarchy as it is seen in the stories of Women in the Bible (5th-6th grade), the Crusades and the problems of fighting over religion (3rd-4th grade), and the difference between baptism and our UU tradition of Baby Dedications (1st-2nd grade).

I really love doing this kind of work

Unitarianism and Children’s Literature

One of my first tasks upon my return to church after several busy weeks of trainings and classes was to get the overdue library books out of my church office and return them to the public library – and pick up more of course.  My role as a religious educator finds me telling stories in the worship services on Sunday – stories that frequently come from my extensive reading of children’s literature.  Angelina Ballerina, Mike Mulligan, Piglet, and Frog and Toad are just some of the favorites from my own childhood that have appeared in a story in church at some point.  Children’s books and stories also play important roles in the Religious Education classes and summer programs.

So I was very interested that one of the topics in the 2013 Minns Lecture series is “Unitarianism and Children’s Literature”.  You can read the full text here.   The Rev. Andrea Greenwood has done some very interesting historical research into how literature for children came to be separated from just “literature” in the first place, and, after an experience of being evicted from the Children’s section of the library because she is there alone as an adult (a safety concern for the kids, apparently), she warns about this isolation of the age groups:

But we should perhaps be more concerned about splitting people into categories than about openness.  The evidence shows that divided groups become rigid; that instead of flowing easily from one stage to the next, and perhaps moving back again, learning from each other and integrating memories in new ways, we splinter.

Now there is an argument for multigenerational community!

Enough Learning; Time for More Doing

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Through an accident of scheduling (when things were available for me, not necessarily when it would be best for me to do them) I am in my third week in a row of focusing most of my work time on continuing education.  Ren Mods, the 21st Century Faith Formation training, and now a class at Meadville-Lombard!

I’m not used to this anymore, since I’ve been out of school for 7 years now.  And I’m seeing it to be getting to a point that is counterproductive, to put this much cool stuff into my head but not have any time to follow through on the praxis and get to doing something with it.  

I need to stop learning, brainstorming, and being inspired (for now) and take this learning, these ideas, and this inspiration and get back to church and make something real happen.  It’s a good reminder that balance is good.  Next time I’m sick and tired of only doing and not learning I’ll remember that the reverse can also be true. 🙂

The Transient and the Permanent

“Everyone plays the philosopher out of the small treasures of his own fancy… the heresy of one age is the orthodox belief and ‘only infallible rule’ of the next.”

Theodore Parker, The Transient and Permanent in Christianity 

I’m here in Meadville-Lombard this week (one of our UU theological schools) studying Liberal Theology.  And one thing keeps peeping out at me from the history of liberal theological thought: each new thinker and generation is in some way reacting to what came before, and we have a tendency to swing back and forth as we note what was wrong with the ideas of those who came before us.

The cyclical nature of generations is fascinating, but I can’t believe that big “T” “Truth” changes in that same cyclical way.  So maybe we are always reacting to those who came before, but where is the kernel of truth – the permanent – that carries through from generation to generation?

What will my children believe?  What of my beliefs will they react against?  Will they agree with anything I think is true?

Dreaming

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The congregation I serve is doing a project at the moment called “Dreaming Bigger Than Ourselves”, the purpose of which is to choose a focus area or a community group that we can partner with, to truly live out our mission in the world.

To involve everyone in choosing our focus (which we expect to maintain for two or three years) we’ve been asking questions that highlight certain parts of our mission statement.  The adults in the congregation have been filling out little slips of paper and dropping them in a suggestion box – but I wanted to bring the project to the kids as well.  We put up seven posters with our seven questions, and the kids all wrote their ideas on the posters.

All their ideas have been added to the adult ideas – now will “give everyone a unicorn” actually end up coming up for a vote?  No.  But to give the team putting this thing together full credit for taking kids seriously, the ideas that are possible are going to be given weight as we make our choice.

I love doing projects like this with the kids!  It’s such great work to have.

Into the 21st Century we go, like it or not

A few highlights from Day 1 (yesterday) a very interesting training I’m taking this week, 21st Century Faith Formation.  It’s a very content rich website, you should check it out.

Some quotes from the conversation I just had to jot down as the presenter said them:

“We have become accustomed that in church the only metric that counts is how many bodies showed up, not what was accomplished.”

“The fact that every church in the country doesn’t have a content-rich, exciting website is a sin.”

“The issue is control – and face it, we don’t have it.  Don’t think for a minute we’re going to control this conversation – this ship has sailed.”

My UU Identity

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These are the “souvenirs” of my weekend at a UU Identity Renaissance Module.  (Ren Mods are the continuing education courses designed for religious educators that the UUA has published).  The stones were on the altar for our closing worship, with the little chalices on the bottoms hidden away, and we were all asked to come up and say what we had brought with us and what we were taking away, and then choose a stone to keep.  The surprise of the little chalice painted on it seemed to delight people when they noticed it on their stones.  The wooden knob was what I selected from a basket of odds and ends to represent my UU identity – because it’s what helps me get a handle on the meaning of my life.  Yes, I got punny with it, but what was I supposed to do when faced with a basket full of things like paper clips, plastic flowers, stones, dice, and Duplo men?

This module is all about the UU Identity: whether there is one or a core identity to being a UU, the stages of UU Identity formation, how we experience our own identity as UU’s, and how we as religious educators foster UU identity formation in others.  One of the exercises had us sort ourselves into a line from the newest UU to those with the most years as a UU.  I’ve been a UU for 20 years now, which actually came as a surprise to me when I did the math.  20 years!

All in all, it was a useful training and a fun weekend of sharing with colleagues.  We don’t get nearly enough time to spend with one another, and as we are all somewhat isolated in the churches we serve because of our role as staff, this is where we can actually experience the sort of religious community most people get in their congregations.