What a Religious Educator Reads

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The Time of Your Life by Robert L. Randall has not received great reviews (2 stars on Amazon, 3 stars on Goodreads), so I almost skipped it even though it is one of the few books in the “Self-Care” section of the religious education credentialing resource list.  I ended up really glad that I didn’t skip it;  it’s not a Great book, but it has some good stuff in there that I really needed to hear.  Instead of focusing on techniques to try and be more “efficient”, Randall points out that often the problem is fragmentation within your sense of self, so that you are trying to please others and prove something rather than focusing on what is the most effective thing to do right now.  All management – of whatever kind – is built on self-management first.  This was something I needed to hear.
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Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg is a delightful book: part memoir of her own spiritual journey, part Buddhist teaching, and part a model of faith development that could be followed by a person of many different religious traditions.  Here, faith is separated from belief, and becomes something that I find much more compelling – what Tillich called our “alignment with our ultimate concern” and what Salzberg calls “an active, open state that makes us willing to explore”.
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Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time by Marcus Borg was also a delight for me to read.  I haven’t ever really “met” Jesus before, to be honest, so this was more like my first introduction to him.  And I like this Jesus – this “spirit-person” counter-cultural wisdom teacher is a pretty cool dude with some insights I find pretty profound.  I especially was moved by Borg’s comparison of a life lived by “conventional wisdom” to a life lived by the wisdom of compassion.  Compassion rather than judgment, grace rather than striving.  Sounds lovely.

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The Day of the Dead

Helping Children Understand Death

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All living things

have a beginning

and an end;

in between is living.

At some point in every childhood, a child will become aware of death and experience grief.  How do we help them understand?  How do we help them and give them the time they need to grieve?
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There is a new book from the UUA bookstore that I find excellent for explaining death to UU children.  Little Books About Big Stuff: About Death edited by Betsy Williams, Jane Rzepka, Ken Sawyer and Noreen Kimball starts with the death of a pet, which so many children experience as their first loss, and also discusses memorial and funeral services, what happens to bodies after death, and all the euphemisms people use for death.  This is an excellent resource for UU families.  I would also recommend Badger’s Parting Gifts andThe Tenth Good Thing About Barney.  
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In my own children’s encounters with death, I have found it beneficial for them to have a ritual way of saying goodbye.  For pets, a simple burial ritual has helped us through many losses.  When they lost their grandfather recently, we used a ritual with stones and a bowl of water, a copy of what we do at church with Joys and Sorrows, to talk about our memories and feelings.

If you want to create meaningful rituals, from the small to the big, a good resource for you is How to Bury a Goldfish: and other ceremonies and celebrations for everyday life by Virginia Lang and Louise Nayer.  There is a chapter on rituals for death and grief.

Every living thing has a beginning, and an end.

6 Ideas for a Simpler Holiday Season

Deck the Halls! – It’s Not Too Early To Think About Simpler Holidays

In the book The Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben, the author points out that we no longer need the same things that people did in the past from their holidays.  “Since we live with relative abandon all year-round, it’s no wonder that the abandon of Christmas doesn’t excite us as much as it did a medieval serf.  We are – in nearly every sense of the word – stuffed. Saturated.  Trying to cram in a little bit more on December 25 seems kind of pointless.”  If the holiday is meant to provide us with something we lack during our normal life, perhaps a season of quiet and peace would be more special to us.

The Hundred Dollar Holiday and Unplug the Christmas Machine both offer some good advice and ideas about having a simpler Christmas.  And here are six things you can think about now:

(Big Hat Tip to Simple Mom)

1. Budget.  The “Hundred Dollar Holiday” may seem impossible or awesome to you, but we all need to set some kind of budget for our holiday and gift giving.  There is a useful tool here for creating that budget on Simple Mom’s blog.

2.  Cards.  Of all the traditions, one of the most “old-fashioned” now seems to be sending cards in the mail.  And yet, although you may think skipping this is tempting when you are stressed and busy, I find this practice to be one of the most meaningful of the season.  And did you know you can order holiday cards from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee?

3.   Decorations.  Sure, decorations and lights can really cheer up this dark time of year.  But you don’t have to decorate or do anything that doesn’t give you real joy – what decorations really matter to you?  An example: I realized that the lights really do help me feel more cheerful.  But I don’t need tons of lights, so now I focus on the areas that will matter most to me when I’m coming and going from my house … the path from my car to my front door.  The rest isn’t necessary for me.

4.   Traditions. There are so many traditions around the winter holidays, and then there is the fact that anything you’ve done twice is now a “tradition”.  Sometimes traditions are the anchors that matter a great deal for a holiday – the connections to your family, your past, your heritage, or your values.  But sometimes a tradition is just a habit you haven’t thought-through and could really let go of.  Stop now and think of your holiday traditions.  Which bring you and your family the most joy?  Which just stress you out?  Choose and be intentional, and go ahead and put the things you really want to do on your calendar, now, so you save time to do them.

5.  Shopping.  The dreaded trip to the mall during this time of year can be just awful.  And you don’t have to do it!  There are many ways to avoid shopping for the holidays: just give fewer gifts, give handmade, give experiences instead of stuff, give a donation to a favorite cause, utilize an alternative shopping venue (such as Duck the Malls or other events put on locally), or plan one shopping day and shop at local businesses.  And of course there is also shopping on the internet.  My husband and I do a “drop and shop” where we drop the kids off with their grandparents one day and then go spend a day together walking around downtown, shopping and having lunch together, and anything we can’t find that day we just do certificates for experiences or handmade items.  That one day together is lovely and non-stressful, whereas a bunch of shopping trips would get tiring.

6.  The Meaning.  And why and what are you celebrating this time of year?  Talk about the meaning, and celebrate thatinstead of stuff and busyness.

 

Being Fed

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I was handed an apple this week, not by a child, but by a fellow religious educator at the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) Fall Conference.  My colleague in this work did a lovely little worship element for the rest of us participating in a training before the main conference, presenting the background of why children gave apples to teachers (literally to feed them) and a nice story about an apple tree that wanted a star of its own, and reached and reached for one, only to discover that it was already full of stars – the center of each apple contains a star (if you didn’t know this, cut your apple in half along its equator and check it out).  And then she gave each and every one of us apples.

I have been fed this week.  So often, I am the one doing the feeding of others, both literally and metaphorically.  Although my congregation loves me and treats me very well, and although I am nourished by children’s smiles and hugs from elders, it is my role in this system to care for them: in body, mind, heart, and soul; to bring them inspiration; to call forth transformation; and then to clean up afterward.

And so what joy it is to be on the receiving end, and to sit and listen as another tells a story, to be lead in song, to be inspired, to be cared for, to feel transformed … and then to know that someone else is cleaning it all up afterward.  I have been literally and metaphorically fed.

Thank you so much, LREDA, the volunteers who stepped up to make this conference work, the speakers and musicians and organizers and teachers and tech folks and probably some invisible labor that went on behind the scenes and I couldn’t see.  It is a blessing indeed to be sent home fed, refueled for the labors, re-inspired for the work, and re-energized to give back to the world.

Blog Action Day

Oh dear, it’s Blog Action Day.  I had meant to write a lovely post about the theme this year – Human Rights – and how we address issues of human rights in the religious education program at our Unitarian Universalist congregation.  It was going to be an awesome post, in my head.

But now here I am, away from home at a conference, realizing that I should have worked on this before if I was going to accomplish that awesome post, and realizing I don’t have time now.  Argh.  I thought I might just blow the whole thing off, but I do want to post one thing.

 

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is awesome (their tagline is “advancing human rights is the work of many hands”).  They don’t just do good work around the world, they also do a great job of creating opportunities for the children and youth in local congregations to learn more about the issues and to connect at a local or larger level.  They do fun and easy projects like the Guest at Your Table box, which has become an annual tradition in my (and many other) UU congregation(s).  And they have the new UU College of Social Justice, which I really hope to be able to take a trip with sometime soon.  It looks amazing.

So check them out!

 

Religious Education can be Messy

Last Sunday I got a bit flustered.  So much so that at one point the minister said I looked “beleaguered”.  Here’s a hint for you all: it’s not good when the minister says you look beleaguered on Sunday morning. 🙂

Why was I flustered?  Well, we were a bit messy on Sunday.  RE can be a messy affair at times.  And then there was going to be a Dinner.  A BIG dinner – and apparently volunteers had been lined up to take all the folding tables from the church building to the rental space where the dinner would be, and they wanted to grab those tables right after church.

Wonderful, sweet volunteers wanted to carry furniture out of the church and load it into their cars, and then go unload it and set it up with pretty table cloths and flowers and get ready to feed 200 people dinner.

And they were coming up against a problem – our kids had made a big mess on those tables.  A big, fun, amazing mess.

Between the Rock and the Hard Place I Was.  And for a little there, I lost my cool a bit.  Whew, here’s a lesson – sometimes it gets messy, and maybe I shouldn’t have planned three messy lessons all on the same day (and the same days a BIG dinner).  But, whatever, sometimes life just is like that. 🙂  Sometimes things all happen at once.  And sometimes the So Muchness of a big, intergenerational, dynamic, active religious community overwhelms me.

I got over my fluster pretty fast.  Embrace the messy bits.  They can be the fun parts, too.  They show the LIFE going on here.

What was our Messy Stuff?  Here it is:

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1st-2nd Graders doing an Egg Drop.  Fun!  Bubble wrap!  Eggs!  Smashing Eggs!  Eating Eggs Afterward!
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(Most of the eggs were hardboiled to reduce mess, but I also had some raw eggs there and some of those were thrown – hard.  Outside.)
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Meanwhile … the 3rd-4th Graders were making cinnamon heart ornaments, which involved gooey (but wonderful smelling) mess.  Not to eat!
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And the third mess was … the 5th-6th Graders were doing some art about Good and Bad with pastels … pastel dust everywhere!
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Wonderful, messy, goodness.

Immersion Experiences

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In her marvelous book, Full Circle: Fifteen Ways to Grow LifeLong UU’sKate Tweedie Erslev lists one of the fifteen ways as “Sweep Youth into Immersion Experiences”.

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What, exactly, does that mean?

Well, Immersion is defined as “the state of being deeply engaged or involved; absorbed”.  So an immersion experience will be one that completely absorbs the youth, such that they are fully engaged within it and almost “forget” their everyday selves and lives.  I don’t think this can be accomplished in 45 minutes of religious education class on Sunday morning, or even during a lock-in overnight at church.  An immersion experience almost always means we go away somewhere, somewhere special and different, and that we spend a lot of time there.  Conferences, camps, assemblies, and retreats can all be immersion experiences.

I’ve just returned from one of these experiences – a Friday evening to Sunday afternoon Middle School Conference at a camp, with about 70 middle school youth from congregations all around the Puget Sound area of Washington State.  Friday evening the youth were shy, mostly clustered in their congregational groups or with youth they already knew from past years’ Cons, and by Sunday most of them were hanging out with youth from other congregations, fully engaged with the whole group, and now part of a community they weren’t part of before this weekend.  The experience of being there at camp was a time apart from normal life, a time to experience themselves as Unitarian Universalists in a whole new way.

And not only is this an immersion experience, but it is also a cross-congregational experience.

In an era in which most people do not live their whole lives in the same town they were born in, it is unlikely that our youth will grow up and stay in our congregation.  If they are going to stay Unitarian Universalists, they will probably be joining another congregation somewhere.  Establishing relationships with youth (and adults) from other congregations now helps our youth to broaden their understanding of our denomination and to realize that there are other congregations out there that they could seek out someday.

A week ago, when the students arrived at the college in my town, one of the new Freshmen attending our church service approached me and said “don’t I know you from CON?”.  She had attended a CON that I attended as a sponsor for our youth, and just that one previous experience helped build a bridge that made it easier to welcome her into our congregation.

So, in this season of Fall CONS, it’s time to “sweep our youth into immersion experiences”. Enjoy!