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

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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.

 

Picture Book Advent For UU Children

One cool idea for Advent that I have seen is to wrap a picture book for each day of advent, then the kids get to unwrap it and you all read it together.  This made me think that there are so many books to choose from – which are the best ones for a UU type Advent?  One that takes into account the other winter holidays and our UU values?

I had fun sifting through all my favorites, and some that were new to me.  In the end, there were good books I left off this list (but that just leaves me room to do another list next year!).  Here you go:

Picture Book Advent For UU Kids

Nov 30th:       Over the River and Through the Woods by Lydia Maria Child (multiple versions available)

Dec. 1st:         Jingle Bells: How the Holiday Classic Came to Be by John Harris and Adam Gustavson

Dec. 2nd:        How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Dec. 3rd:         Bear Stays Up For Christmas by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman

Dec. 4th:         The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren

Dec. 5th:         The Legend of St. Nicholas by Demi

Dec. 6th:         The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale by by Aaron Shephard and Wendy Edelson

Dec. 7th:         Zen and Bodhi’s Snowy Day by Gina Bates Brown and and Sarah Jane Hinder

Dec. 8th:         Buddha by Demi

Dec. 9th:         Becoming Buddha by Whitney Steward and Sally Rippen

Dec. 10th:      For Every Child by Caroline Castle and John Burningham

Dec. 11th:      The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston and Barbara Cooney

Dec. 12th:      Gifts of the Heart by Patricia Polacco

Dec. 13th:      Lucia, Saint of Light by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Dec. 14th:      The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert and Per Breiehagen

Dec. 15th:      The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund and Feridun Oral

Dec. 16th:      Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko

Dec. 17th:      Light the Lights by Margaret Moorman

Dec. 18th:      The Tree of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco

Dec. 19th:      A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and Brett Helquist

Dec. 20th:      A Solstice Tree for Jenny by Karen Shragg and Heidi Schwabacher

Dec. 21st:       The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer and Jesse Reisch

Dec. 22nd:      The Return of the Light by Carolyn McVickar Edwards

Dec. 23rd:      The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie de Paolo

Dec. 24th:      Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck and Mark Buehner

This work made possible by the support of the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Please consider donating at www.ouuc.org, or if you will buy some of these books we have an Amazon Widget to support OUUC.

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!

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

On Memorial Day, It’s OK to Feel All the Feelings

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How should we as UU parents explain Memorial Day to our children?  Although UU’s are generally pacifistic, as our 6th Principle indicates (in the children’s language): Insist on Peace and Justice Around the World.  However, individual UU’s have and do serve in the military (I did), and there are military families within our UU congregations.

Memorial Day is a day to remember the dead from all the wars our country has fought.  I don’t know about you, but I have very conflicted feelings about much in American history – our country has done many things that were unfair or wrong or even horrible, and we modern Americans are the heirs to that legacy.  Our country also has had many wonderful ideas and ideals and there were brave and courageous men and women who fought – in one way or another, if not always just physically – for those ideals.  And we are the heirs to that legacy also.

And then there are all the lives that were cut short – men and women who had families and were loved and would have rather lived on.  I think it is only right that we pause to remember and honor those lives, for they died in the name of our country whether or not we agreed with the justifications of that war.

My feelings on this day are all mixed up, but mostly I feel sad.  And it is OK for children to feel sad, too – it’s part of life.  As a good parent, you do not need to shield them from these realities.  In fact, you do them a disservice if you don’t allow the full range of feelings.  Feel all the Feelings, and then talk about them.

This is why The Wall by Eve Bunting is the go to book for many teachers on Memorial Day, I think.  It is a simple and lovely story about visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with the emotional poignancy of this day presented in clear and child-friendly terms.

And then, if you have a memorial or a cemetery within visiting distance, take the kids to visit today.  Take flowers to leave there, or make a pinwheel for peace and leave it.  We can remember the dead and wish for peace in the future at the same time – it’s a perfect time to wish for peace, in fact.

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And so, today I don’t wish you a “Happy” Memorial Day, exactly.  I wish you an Emotionally Honest and Reflective Memorial Day.  As I did last year, I’ll be taking my children to the local war memorials, and feeling many complicated feelings myself.

 

What it Means to Be a Teacher

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Tomorrow (May 6th) is National Teachers Day, so it’s a wonderful time to reflect on teaching, especially in my context as a liberal religious educator.  Last week I read Teaching from the Heart: Theology and Educational Method by Mary Elizabeth Mullino Moore.   Moore, a professor of Theology and Christian Education, also wrote Teaching as a Sacramental Act (which is on my TBR list, for sure).

Moore’s book stands out among the reading I have done, because it takes both theology and pedagogy (teaching method and theory) seriously and puts them into dialogue with each other.  She raises the point that too often practice and theory are divorced or distant from one another, and that theory in particular is often deaf to the voice of practical experience.  Moore puts one theology (process theology) into dialogue with five different educational methods (case study method, gestalt method, phenomenological method, narrative method, and conscientizing method), and proposes how the theology and the methods would alter each other.

The book, published in 1991, is dated – these aren’t the current “it” theologies or methods – but I think it is still of immense value to the religious educator, placing our work in perspective.  What Moore is really pointing out is that the ordinary, real experience right in front of us can be attended to with care and attention and can influence our entire understanding of everything (our theology). For me, this has always meant that when I work with real people – children, youth, adults – I am open to new understandings of who they are and how they can grow, and that understanding of how to be human is deeply informative to my theology.  I find my truth in the people right in front of me, and in the real experiences I have with them.

That is what it is to be a teacher, seeing the real people in front of you with deep compassion while also seeing the possibilities and holding a passion for growth.  A teacher is a midwife, a supportive building scaffold, and most of all a bridge between the concrete now of experience and the possibility of ideas and future.  In Moore’s words:

The many and various educators share the common vocation of humanization – the vocation of supporting human life and the quality of that life.”

This is the gift of a teacher – to revere the ordinary so much that it becomes extraordinarily ordinary.”  

 

In many ways, everyone is a teacher, whether they mean to be or not.  We cannot help but influence one another, and be influenced in return.  But for those who consciously choose this vocation, may it always be a work of the heart.

Religious Education Lessons Remembered

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As I am on Sabbatical from the congregation right now, and headed out to Boston to UUA headquarters for the final interview of the religious education credentialing process, I’ve chosen to take the time for an Epic Road Trip Adventure with my two kids.  One of our stops recently was here, at Walden Pond and the replica of Thoreau’s little cabin.

At first, when I told the kids we were going to Walden Pond, they had no idea what the connection was.  But when they saw the little cabin, they remembered what they had learned about Thoreau in their religious education classes over the years.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they remembered the story Henry Builds a Cabin  by D.B. Johnson, which has been told in a worship service, read to several classes, and made into a Spirit Play story.  The book series by D. B. Johnson is charming and he tells the story of the cabin very well.

But the real thrill for me was that as my son sat in that cabin he dredged up a memory from a lesson that I created for a mixed grade class at church in 2009, when he would have been only 6 years old.  He said “didn’t we once have a class where you gave us a bunch of blocks and the challenge was to build a tiny cabin with the fewest blocks you could?”  Yes!  We did do that, and I’m actually delighted that it made enough of an impression for him to remember it five years later.

Of course, just remembering some random activity doesn’t mean that he really understands Thoreau’s philosophy, let alone that his life will be changed or transformed in any way.  But it is touching to me that our children and youth remember things later as being profound or meaningful that at the time we may not notice as such, and that the weekly RE lesson or activity may truly become one of their defining moments in hindsight.  When youth stand up and give their credo speeches in church, I have heard such moments remembered: that time we did a pie sale and it was the first time I ever got to help in a kitchen, it meant so much to me; when we were all talking to the minister and he said X, that really stuck with me; just being here and playing games with people who accept me for myself, that saved my life when I was depressed and lonely.

In the moment, we don’t know if it will be remembered, if it makes a difference, or if it’s even worth doing.  The fruits of educational labor aren’t always seen right away – they may take years to manifest.  And that is why this is a work of profound faith and hope, sowing seeds that we hope will grow but that we may never see.  It’s a wonderful gift when we do get to see it – when a child has an obvious Aha! moment or when a youth looks back and remembers, but we may never see those things.  Teachers move forward in faith and hope, so thank you for all those days when you showed up even though it didn’t seem to make a difference, or you worked so hard on an activity and then when the kids were asked what they did in class they said “nothing really”, or you lead a discussion that felt like pulling teeth.  Those might have been profoundly meaningful to a child or a youth.  Hold onto that.

 

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.