Happy Pride Month

 

 

June is Pride Month, and all around the world there are Pride Parades and celebrations. And, after the shooting in Orlando, it’s even more important for our children and youth to have positive stories lifted up. Celebrate Pride Month with these resources:

My List of Pride Month Picture Books

Advocate’s list of 21 LGBT books every kid should read

Advice from True Colors in the wake of Orlando

Picture Books for Pride Month

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Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen.  This book is more about the jealousy and anxiety a child has when a favorite uncle is going to get married, and the fact that the uncle is marrying another man (male guinea pig actually, since all the characters are shown as guinea pigs) is simply presented without comment or controversy.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant.  A kindergarten age boy likes to wear a tangerine dress.  After being teased and excluded by the other children, he feels bad, but then he makes a painting of his dreams that gives him the courage to return to school, and in the process win over some of the other kids.

Not Every Princess by Jeffrey and Lisa Bone and Valeria Docampo. A simple rhyming depiction of boys and girls engaged in activities that don’t conform exactly to gender stereotypes.

A Tale of Two Daddies by Vanita Oelschlager, Kristin Blackwood, and Mike Blanc.  A little girl is asked about her two daddies, and who does what.  Which dad braids your hair?  Which dad builds a treehouse?

Asha’s Mums by Rosamund Elwin, Michele Paulse, and Dawn Lee.  This book is especially lovely because it shows a family of color with two mothers, and it was the only book I found to depict non-Caucasian gays or lesbians.  It’s important for the kids to not absorb the message that only white people are gay, and that message and idea is out there in our society.  In this book, a young girl’s teacher won’t accept her field trip form because it is signed by two moms, until her mums come to school to talk to her teacher and everything works out in the end.

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman and Laura Cornell.  A new edition of the classic groundbreaking book, and a simple story of a girl’s first day at school explaining to her new classmates that she has two mommies and no daddy.

Mom and Mum are Getting Married! by Ken Setterington and Alice Priestley.  Another lovely story about a young girl finding a way to be part of her mom and mum’s wedding, with the fact that this is a wedding of two women being presented factually with no extra emphasis.

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman and Chris Case.  Very similar to Morris Micklewhite, this is another story of a boy who likes to wear dresses but gets told by other children that boys don’t wear dresses.  In this tale, Jacob’s mother helps him sew a dress and his father says “it’s not what I would wear but you look great”.  He wears his new dress to school and ignores the teasing of other boys.

One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads by Johnny Valentine and Melody Sarecky.  An effort to show that a diversity of types of dads exist and all are great, but I think the “blue dads” (and then there are green dads too) is a bit weird and too silly.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole.  A sweet picture book based on the real story of two male penguins who reared an egg together in a zoo, this book is frequently featured on banned book lists.

In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco.  In classic Polacco style, this is a story brimming with appreciation for family and the coming together of generations.  This family, however, is a lesbian couple and their three internationally adopted children.  A lovely book about family and the places that will always be home.

This Day in June by Gayle Pitman and Kristyna Litten.  A vibrantly illustrated rhyming story about a Gay Pride Parade.

 

In Response to the Police Shooting in Town This Week

I am deeply saddened by the shooting of two unarmed black men that occurred in our town this week, and even more so by the fact that in the larger context the question is “how can this happen again?”  I gathered with community members at Temple Beth Hatfiloh yesterday evening, and was moved by the many citizens who came forward to speak and express their feelings, their sadness, their frustration, their fear.

If this was an isolated incident, it would still be a tragedy.  We would still want to talk to our children about what happened, and my heart would still go out to all involved.

But this is not an isolated incident.  This fits within a pattern of systemic unfairness and racial bias that we have been talking about and seeing all around the country this year.  It is not a new problem, by any means, but is a new face to the old problem of racism and discrimination in this country.

At yesterday’s forum at TBH a 6th grader stood to say she wished for a better world.  A teenage boy spoke about seeing his mother cry as she held his hand and watched the news coverage on this latest shooting, and the moral example she set for him.  College students spoke of their understandings of privilege and systemic racism, and their fears that nothing would change.

As Unitarian Universalists, we often quote Theodore Parker about the moral arc of the universe being long, but it bends toward justice.  It’s a lovely thought, as it can be so discouraging to look at the long arc of history and see that the just world and the beloved community we dream of is still so far away from the reality we live in.  But the only way that arc will bend is if we make it bend.  We must be justice-makers, and we must also raise the next generation of justice-makers if the world will change.

You may be wondering how to talk to your kids about racism, violence, and the Black Lives Matter protests.  Here are some tips to get you started:

1.  Don’t ignore it.  You may think your children are too young, or are sheltered from it all and you don’t want to expose them to it “yet”.  But there are three main reasons I encourage you to talk even to your preschoolers: 1) it’s unlikely they really won’t hear or see something, and it’s better it comes from you than from another child on the playground; 2) there are families of color that have no choice but to talk about racism with their children and if those mothers must talk to their children, then those with the choice should join them in solidarity; 3) in education we talk about the “null curriculum” and that is what the students learn from what we don’t talk about or what is absent, and what do you think your children learn when you avoid a topic?

2) Don’t be colorblind about it.  Yes, it is fair to call this a tragedy, and to speak about “wishing the best for everyone involved”, and it’s true that All Lives Matter.  But there is a racial aspect that we must not ignore.  No one is really colorblind – our children see race and difference and understand it.  Be honest with your children about the reality of racism in this country.

3) Be honest about your own feelings.  If you are sad, mad, afraid, or confused it is fine to show that to your children.  As parents and adults in their lives we need to make them feel safe and secure and like they can rely on us to be the grown-ups in a situation, but we also need to show them that complicated feelings are normal and a grown-up can have complicated feelings and still moves forward anyway. This models for them how they can process their own complicated feelings and how they can be justice-makers without thinking they must first have all the answers or be perfect.

4) Be an “askable” parent.  It’s similar to how we talk about sex or drug use with our kids, in that all difficult or sensitive conversations are not only an opportunity to talk about that subject, but are also part of the ongoing relationship you have with your children.  Each time you are open to their questions or concerns, they are more likely to bring future questions or concerns to you.  If you are asked a question, it’s good to ask “what have you already heard/already know”?  “What do you want to know?” or even “Why are you asking?”  If you bring up the topic and the kids seem indifferent or uncomfortable, you can always leave it as “I’m here to talk more if you have any questions or you want to talk about it”.

5) Talk to your kids about how to interact with law enforcement.  Don’t make them overly afraid of the police, and of course emphasize that the police are there to help us when we have an emergency and that most police are good people who have chosen to serve.  But, be honest that sometimes interactions with the police can be tense and that we must all be careful how we act in those situations in order to stay safe.  This video has good tips for us all: Get Home Safely https://vimeo.com/116706870

Resources:

Lots of resources aimed at teachers here http://sfusd.libguides.com/blacklivesmatter

5 Tips for Talking to Kids About Racism from Parenting Magazine: http://www.parenting.com/article/5-tips-for-talking-about-racism-with-kids

Talking to Our Children about Racism and Diversity from Civilrights.org: http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/talking_to_our_children/

14 Children’s Books Exploring Race and Racism: http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2014/06/26/14-childrens-picture-books-exploring-race-racism/

Racial Justice Resources gathered by the UUA: http://www.uua.org/multiculturalism/new-jim-crow

The Platinum Rule

The story behind Valentine’s Day tells us of a tyrannical Roman Emperor who didn’t want his soldiers to marry and have families, and of a priest who defied the Emperor and performed weddings anyway. For that, he was killed, and became first a martyr and then a saint – Saint Valentine.

There are many Saint Days and many stories of the saint’s lives, so just why did this particular one catch on and become such a secular holiday phenomenon? While some people despise the holiday, there is no denying Valentine’s Day has traction in our culture.

I think the reason we celebrate is that Love is so central to our human lives, and whether we experience romantic love or not we have still at some point loved and been loved or have felt the longing for more love. Love experienced or Love wished for, but Love is clearly a quality or experience that humans desire. I would go farther and say that we need it, in some form or other. Babies who are not held sicken and even die, and humans kept in solitary confinement find the lack of human contact unbearable. We need connection to others.

A major turning point in my own ability to put more Love out into the world came from reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. There are now multiple spin-off versions, including The Five Love Languages of Children. What made the book a turning point for me is the message that different people express and experience love in different ways, so differently in fact that you may be “saying” I Love You through actions that make sense to you in your language, and the other will be experiencing a lack of love because it’s not being “heard” in their language.

I suddenly had a lightening realization that expecting the rest of the world to conform to my emotional experience of reality was unrealistic. I know – duh! – but it was an important realization for me. I could not just “do unto others as I would have them do unto me”, because that Golden Rule (as lovely as it is) still presumes that I can use myself as the measuring stick for “normal”. Using what has been called “The Platinum Rule”, Treat Others the Way They Would Like to Be Treated, instead has made a world of difference in my interpersonal relationships and in how I am able to extend unconditional love to others.

The trick, however, is that you need to know what makes you feel loved (and how to ask for that) and you need to know how to ask other people what they want and practice deeper understanding of others.

So in this month that the stores are full of chocolates and cards, why not take a little time to ponder these two questions: “What makes me feel loved?” and “How can I use the platinum rule more in my interactions with others?”.

Junior Greeters

Junior Greeters at Church

Our amazing sewing ministry folks just dropped off these lovely stoles for our junior greeters to wear as they help welcome folks and hand out the orders of service before worship!  Aren’t these cool?  I’m so excited to have the kids look just as official as the grown-ups as we share in this ministry of hospitality together.

Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice

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Our congregation’s leadership team is using this inspiring little (really little – short enough that everyone has time to read it) book as a group study guide.  Serving with Grace: Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice by Erik Walker Wikstrom is written for the general lay leadership of Unitarian Universalist congregations, and he uses the term lay leadership very broadly.  This is a book for the Board, but also the program council, the committees, the RE teachers, the Ushers and Greeters, the Hospitality Hosts, and anyone else engaged in teh work of the congregation.  And then he suggests that the point is not the work, the budget, or attendance numbers, but is instead the possibility for personal and communal spiritual growth and wholeness.  

We’ve had our first group discussion about the book, and it generated some good ideas about how this flip would benefit us, and where we would also feel some resistance to this.  I’m interested to see where we go with it.

Looking Back, Looking Forward – It’s Our Turn to Have a Dream

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So we have tomorrow off school and work, for a holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.  What will you do with that day?  Catch up on chores or sleep?  Go see a movie?

What is the point of the day?  I believe the point is in this quote above by MLK – What are you doing for others?  King had a dream, and he made things better for all Americans (and beyond) as he worked for his dream.  But while the arc of the universe may be bending toward justice, we are not there yet, and there are more dreams to be dreamed and more work to be done.  We cannot sit back and congratulate ourselves on how it’s all better now.  There is work to be done.

It’s not much, but one day of service is a start.  My family will be planting trees tomorrow.  Check your local UnitedWay websites, to find a family-friendly service project of your own.

And as a family, talk about the legacy and the calling.  The past, and the future. Do you have members of your family who were engaged with civil rights during the 1960′s? Interview them and ask what they remember from those days. Think about what civil rights look like today.  Talk about human rights, economic justice, equal access, and beloved community.  Ask yourself what you have done to effect change. Talk as a family about what you could do in the future to effect change.

In these ways we can honor the legacy, and truly celebrate this holiday.

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!

Water Communion

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Many Unitarian Universalist congregations mark the late summer/early fall with a Water Communion service, which invites everyone to bring water from their summer (travels/journeys/adventures) and pour their water together into a communal bowl.  The symbolism is easy: every drop is important, our individual life streams flow into the life of one community, water is in a constant dance around the world and connects us all, water is the essence of life and without it we would not exist.

I really like the Water Communion, but I also recognize that it is not without its difficulties.  A good argument for how it can be classist was written here.  The congregation I serve has (partly) overcome the travelogue by calling people up as though they are coming (symbolically) from one of the four directions or the center.  The music director sings a little “Spirit of the East” call, the celebrant describes the characteristics of that direction (East is the direction of new beginnings , etc.), and anyone who feels they are coming from that direction comes forward and takes their turn pouring their water in and saying a little bit about it.  This encourages folks to mark other things besides world travel: the last water I took from the tap of my home before I sold it to another family, the water from the bottom of my fishing boat, etc.

There is still an element of travelogue, which can be very classist (and it can be long and boring when people ramble, one after another.)  And there is also a note of assumption that we have been “gone” all summer – when in fact our summer services remain well-attended and we even stay at two services per Sunday all through the summer now – but the ritual is from a time when people didn’t come to church in the summer.

 

And yet, despite those difficulties, I still like the water communion. (Perhaps because it’s one of the only worship services I get to attend all year?)

 

Like a drop of water, joining a stream and flowing to the ocean, we come together to join our lives in community.