Being Present in the New Year

A new year is here with the arrival of January, a month named for the Roman god Janus. Janus, who has no corollary in Greek mythology, is the god of thresholds and transitions, most often shown as a head with two faces: one looking backward and one looking forward. This is a threshold of a sorts in time, and we do traditionally spend some time looking back to the past and also forward to the future. Hence, the tradition of setting “New Year’s Resolutions”. Typical resolutions take the form of something like “Get in Shape”, “Lose 10 lbs”, or “Get the Budget Balanced”. For many of us, these well-intentioned plans to improve ourselves last for a few weeks and then we fall back into our old habits.

These sorts of resolutions are all about changing ourselves, and they fit in with our achievement and consumerist oriented society. I’m not opposed to a bit of self-improvement, but I think we may be overemphasizing that aspect. I’d like to suggest to you, instead, that you could look to this threshold time as a good time to ask yourself the question that poet Mary Oliver posed when she asked how will you spend your one wild and precious life? Instead of making a list of things to achieve, ask yourself how you would live to most truly enjoy the only time you truly have: Now?

There is an urban legend/parable about a businessman on vacation somewhere sunny and warm, who falls into conversation on the beach with a fisherman taking a break. The businessman starts to lay out ambitious plans for how the fisherman could make his business larger, get a bigger boat, hire more men to work, etc. The fisherman politely interrupts to ask why he would want to do all that, and after some thought the businessman says “well, so someday you’ll be rich and able to retire and live on a sunny beach.” At that, the fisherman laughs and says he already has those things, the way he lives now.

The two faces of Janus are missing something, with their focus on the past and the future. They are not looking at Right Now. Remember your past, and plan for your future, but in the meantime, are you living right now the way you want to live it? Can you be like the fisherman, content with your life as it is instead of working toward some future fulfillment?

This might be harder even than “lose 10 lbs”, but I challenge you to think about this deeper life resolution as you stand at this threshold of time.

Happy New Year!

January’s Theme in Religious Education Classes: Open Minds

open mind sign

(image from Flickr, creative commons license)

This month’s theme in our Religious Education classes will be Open Minds.  This will be the final in our series of themes that have followed along with our chalice lighting words:

Light this Chalice (September)

Celebrate Unitarian Universalism (October)

Loving Hearts (November)

Helping Hands (December)

Open Minds (January)

Open Minds ties in very well with our 5th Source of Science and Reason, and we will be discussing how science and religion relate and interact with one another.  Our elementary aged kids will be learning about historical UU’s who had Open Minds: Lewis Latimer ,  Maria MitchellJoseph Priestley,  and Vilhjalmur Stefansson.  The teens will be exploring learning styles, Neil de Grasse Tyson’s “Most Astounding Fact”, the scientific vs. religious world views, and Mary Oliver’s thought provoking poem The Journey. 

It’s going to be a mind-expanding month!

Talking about Race and Racism with our Kids

Today as I was getting dressed and ready for my day I overheard a snippet of conversation from the other room, the kind of conversation that my parenting ear picks up on fast: “well, a choke hold is like this …”.

No, my kids were not about to hurt one another, as my first thought had led me to believe.  Instead, they were trying to understand the news they had heard about the death of Eric Garner.  My daughter asked her father if the police were dangerous, and why they would hurt someone when they are supposed to protect us.

My children and I are white, and as such we carry a great deal of privilege and safety around in this world with us.  We generally feel safe and we don’t evoke fear from others, but I hear the heart-breaking stories of other parents, parents of color but particularly parents of African American boys, having to decide how to teach their children to be safe from the policeThis is just wrong.  And it breaks my heart.

We ALL need to have these conversations with our kids, because the responsibility to face our society as it is does not rest solely with any one group, but particularly not just with the group most adversely affected by it.  We are all in this together, and my children, your children, all of our children will have to grow up with this system, this society, this world.

How can we explain the issues, the history, and the legacy of race and racism in our society?  It’s a long conversation, but here are a few places to start (resources gathered by a wonderful colleague of mine, thanks to Tim Atkins of Morristown Unitarian Fellowship!):

Resource Links:

The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree

Come check out the Giving Tree, in the Commons now through Christmas, and see all the decorations the kids and adults made in our crafting party last month.  The Giving Tree is a fundraising project to raise funds for holiday giving to families who need a bit of help this season and to local homeless services such as our own Out of the Woods shelter or Sidewalk.  Donate anything you are able to give, and please take a lovingly crafted ornament home as a Thank You from the kids!