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?”.

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Youth Cons, and Why to Try One

Middle School CON Worship

What is a Con?  Cons, short for Conferences, are gatherings of Unitarian Universalist youth or young adults from many congregations, usually for a weekend of immersion worship, workshops, and crazy fun.  Cons are incredibly important in the faith development of so many of our youth, and are a deeply loved part of UU Religious Education culture.

Why should youth go to a Con?  The main reason I think they are important for our youth is for them to form connections to Unitarian Universalism that are larger than the local congregation.  We can tend to be very isolated in our little congregations, but how likely is it that our youth will stay put in the same community that they grew up in once they are adults?  In all likelihood they will move somewhere else, and if they are to continue in their UU faith they will need to join a new congregation.  That new congregation will be different – perhaps profoundly different – from the one they grew up in.

Cons are also different from the local experience, and the relationships formed at Cons can be bridges for our youth.  I’ve seen graduates of our youth programs who were headed off to another town for college find friends right away because they knew other youth through Cons who were also going to that college.  I’ve also seen that youth who went to a lot of Cons or other immersion Big UU experiences (GA, DA, leadership school, etc) are more likely to connect with the congregation in their new town when they move away from home.

Similarly, the Young Adult groups and Cons can be a vital place of support for young adults who have just moved off on their own and don’t have a support network yet, and can be an important bridge when the culture of their new congregation doesn’t seem very young.

This is why it is a priority for me to get youth to Cons whenever we can – this is why I spent my weekend chaperoning middle schoolers to a Con for the last three days.

But here’s a personal confession: I don’t enjoy Cons, myself.  As a bit of an introvert and a quiet/reflective type (and a morning person who is decidedly NOT a night owl) I can find them overwhelming and exhausting.  There are ways for introverts or morning people like me to adapt and cope (quiet cabins, there being an early and a late worship, etc), but there is an important distinction to be made.  Cons are not Retreats.  I LOVE retreats.  I love the quiet.  I love the slow and intentional pacing that emphasizes lots of time for introspection.   That is not what I experience at a Con.  Cons are great for extroverts and night owls and folks should know that when they are sending their youth.  Not that an introvert can’t have fun at a Con – they can – but the organizers and planners and the chaperones should be thinking about ways for those introverts to connect while still honoring their own need for quiet.

Just as worship will never meet everyone’s needs perfectly all the time, these immersion experiences won’t either.  That’s why we need a mix – a mix in our worship services and a mix in the immersion experiences we offer.  Cons and Retreats, assemblies and demonstrations, witnessing and pilgrimages – we need to offer all of that to our youth (and adults!).  And we need to try things out that aren’t necessarily our perfect cup of tea.  I attend the Cons and take youth to Cons, even though it is not always just right for me.  And I get something really good out of that, both as it stretches me and as I find unexpected moments of fun and connection or even of Grace.  Similarly, extroverts who love Cons should also try the quiet of a Retreat or the sometimes dull-seeming routine of a traditional worship service, because they will experience both growth and possibly surprising moments of enjoyment.

There really is a big world of UUism out there, and youth (and adults) should be experiencing as much of it as possible.

What I Did on Sabbatical

During this last week of my 13 week Sabbatical, it’s time to wrap it up and get ready to return to the regular work of congregational life. The sabbatical was actually something that I got very stressed about as I was preparing for it and imagining how it would go, but now that I’m done I am so grateful for this time that you all gifted me with.

First, the reasons why I felt stress before the sabbatical are a big part of the personal and spiritual development that the sabbatical time gave me. Was I worried about leaving you all with coverage in my absence? Yes, but I also knew that Bonnie and the Family Ministry Team and the Teaching Teams would be fine. No, my real stress was that I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to do with myself during that much time. I was afraid that in the absence of a schedule and a list of things that Must Be Done By This Deadline, I wouldn’t even know who I was – because schedules and To Do Lists are anchors, and they are also distractions.

I had an idea that I would fill this time and “get a lot done”. I did get some good things done (my post on Credentialing will be up next week), but that was not the take-away from my sabbatical time. I actually ended up leaning in to the unscheduled time, and found that I could embrace being a Human Being instead of a Human Doing. This quote from the book The Dance by Oriah nicely captures the idea:

When we avoid the emptiness, when we fill the stillness with too much doing, we are trying to outrun our, sometimes unconscious, conviction that who we are will never be enough. The things we try to hang on to – our work, our relationships, our reputation and perspective – are the things we believe will make us worthy of life and love … If we can simply be with the fear that we are not enough, and with the vastness of what we do not know, we discover an emptiness that is not our failure but is the very source of the fullness of who and what we are.

Sabbaticals are interpreted in different ways, with probably a unique idea of how that time should be spent in the mind of each person who is blessed with the opportunity. But I think it is very telling that the word sabbatical has the same root as the word Sabbath. In his book, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the Sabbath practice as “building a palace in time”. It elevates to a conscious level the realization that we are temporally bound creatures, or that we exist in the flow of time. In fact, as one time management book that I read once pointed out, how you spend your time is how you spend your life. We say “the time got away from me”, but what if we said “my life got away from me”?

The great gift that I found through taking a Sabbatical was that I was reminded that this is the only time I will ever have to live this one life that I have been blessed with. I do not have to earn the gift of life, or prove myself worthy of it, before I am allowed to enjoy it. While the many things that I do are often worthy and wonderful, they cannot define me. The Sabbatical time let me go deep with this idea, struggle with it a bit, and ultimately find my spiritual development greater because of the time.

The Fallacy of “You Can Believe Whatever You Want”

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I recently allowed my daughter to choose a hair color and dye her hair.  This is one of the things she can choose because I want her to have as much freedom as is reasonable for her age and maturity.  But it got me thinking about what we can change and what we can’t, and how much of our identity is a choice and how much is something deeper from within us.

When children and youth describe Unitarian Universalism, they often say “we get to believe whatever we want to believe”.  This is not true.  Within Unitarian Universalism, you cannot choose to believe in the superiority of one group of people over another group of people.  You cannot choose to believe that you have a right to treat other people poorly.  You cannot choose to believe that the people have a right to exploit or abuse, or that some people are destined for horrible eternal punishment.

And the kids know that.  It’s not really like a silly UU joke I’ve heard:

The children have all been in their Religious Education class and when they come out to coffee hour their parents ask them: “What did you do today?”.  “Oh, nothing … we talked about cannibals.”  The parents are taken aback.  “Cannibals?  What did you learn about cannibals?”  The kids say breezily “Oh, we learned that we have to make up our own minds about cannibals.”

This is the parody, the misconception that I have to work against.

The problem is, I think, a confusion between two types of freedom:

Freedom to be authentic, versus Freedom to choose

We can choose our hair color, our style, and so many other things.  But then there are things we cannot always choose:

  • We cannot always choose who and how we love
  • We cannot always choose who we will truly feel friendship or kinship with
  • We cannot always choose our passions, our callings
  • We cannot choose the belief or faith that comes from deep within us

We have to have the freedom to discover or discern these things about ourselves, not the freedom to choose them.  I explain this to kids and youth like this sometimes:

I used to think, many years ago when I was your age, that I would like to be a really cool and tough woman.  I wanted to ride a motorcycle and kick butt (they like it when I say butt).  I thought I could just choose to be like that.  But it turned out that I didn’t like to ride motorcycles – I didn’t even like to go fast down hill on my bicycle.  I also found that I was happier reading a book in a coffee shop than I was running around being tough.  So, I thought I could make a choice about how to be, but really I found out I actually needed to be true to who I really was, inside.  I needed to be my authentic self.  And what we believe in can be like that.  We can really, really want to believe in a God.  We can try, but discover that we just can’t.  Or we can really, really want to believe there is no God, but keep finding one in our heart anyway.  When I was growing up I had the freedom to either be a tough motorcycle babe or a geeky coffee-loving reader, whichever one I truly was.  And, as UU’s we also have the freedom to believe what we must believe in our hearts of hearts, but it’s not just an idle choice.  It’s the freedom to be our authentic selves, not to make idle choices.

 

This is why (as is noted in the curriculum Articulating Your Faith) it is not that UU’s believe whatever they want to believe, but rather believe what they must.  We are a tradition of free-minds, hearts, and souls, seeking to grow into our own authentic faith in a community of love, hope, and freedom.

To be true to oneself is a far more challenging proposition than the phrase “believe what you want” can ever represent.

 

March Faith Formation Calendar

Happy March!  I’ve been having fun putting together a little faith formation calendar for March.

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March is an interesting balance of partying and praying, of preparing and renewal.  Of course, it is the month that sees us turning the corner into Spring, and as such it is always a balance between the introspection of winter and the outward growth of spring.

March 2nd is Dr. Seuss’s Birthday.  Celebrate with green eggs and ham, read your favorite Dr. Seuss book, and talk about the lessons you have learned from Dr. Seuss.  Whether it is those Sneetches being snooty, or the Lorax speaking for the trees, Dr. Seuss’s stories have been a teaching tool for generations of children.
March 4th is Mardi Gras.  This is part of the “partying” theme of this month that I referenced above.  Mardi Gras is french for “Fat Tuesday”, and refers to the practice of making the most of the last day before the fasting of the lenten season begins the next day on Ash Wednesday.  Mardi Gras can be a fun time for all ages.  The following day you may observe some people with ashes on their foreheads.  This is primarily a Catholic practice, for Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent.  Many, including some UU’s, find the practice of lenten fasting (“giving something up for Lent”) to be a rewarding spiritual practice, either with the purpose of reminding one of the sacrifice made by Christ, or of bringing one closer to relationship with God, or of just clearing space in your life for an experience of seasonal renewal.
March 8th is International Womens Day.  Reflect on women’s rights around the world, learn more about a remarkable historical or contemporary woman (March is also Women’s History month!), and learn how you can support women’s equality.
March 16th is Purim.  This Jewish holiday commemorates the events related in The Book Of Esther, and there are some good picture books about Esther, such as Queen Esther Saves Her People by Rita Golden Gelman.  It is also another of those parties in March, as the holiday frequently involves putting on masks and having a big party.
March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day.  Another big party day, but as one of the most prominent “saints days” in our American culture, this could be a good time to talk to your kids about just what is a “saint”?  Saints and devotion to saints is part of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. There are a lot of saints (more than 10,000!) – learn more about an interesting saint today. Of course, the obvious one for the day is St. Patrick, and I am quite fond of Tomie dePaola’s book Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland for learning more about him.
March 20th is the Spring Equinoxor the pagan sabbat Ostara.  Great ways to mark the first day of spring with kids include planting flowers, having the first picnic of the year, or other outdoor activities.  With the arrival of spring, get out in the garden more with your kids with ideas from books such as Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots.
March 22nd is World Water Day.  You could spend all month exploring water issues and water stewardship as a family using the Gather the Spirit curriculum from the UUA, visit the Wet Science Center to learn more about water, or you can just research and support one of the good water organizations around the world.

Download your own pdf of the calendar here: bringingthesacredcalendarMarch 2014

Or as a Word Doc, with hyperlinks: bringingthesacredcalendarMarch 2014

If you find this useful or fun, please let me know.  Enjoy!

Curriculum Review: Amazing Grace

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For our 5th-6th graders in the fall, to meet our goal of UU Identity work, we used the curriculum Amazing GraceThis is another Tapestry of Faith program from the UUA, this one by Richard Kimball.  Kimball is also the author of several Shelter Rock curricula, including one I’ve used before, Bibleodeon. 

Amazing Grace worked out pretty well for us.  It is an engaging look at ethics and some concepts we UU’s usually avoid, namely Sin and Grace and so forth.  Different religious ideas about sin and grace and right and wrong are discussed, and the kids are encouraged to wrestle with their own solutions to age-appropriate ethical dilemmas.

Pros of the Program:

  • “Meaty” material with a lot of depth to it
  • Even with the depth of content, it is still creatively active and has the kids up and moving as much as possible

Cons of the Program:

  • Like all the Tapestry of Faith programs, there is too much material here for an hour long class, much less the 45 minute classes we do.  It’s hard to edit it down to the right size and not overwhelm the teachers.
  • At times the kids and teachers complained that it was dry and boring.

I think the pros outweigh the cons, and we will be doing this program again in the future!

 

Faithiest

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Last week I wrapped up an adult education class discussing the book Faithiest by Chris Stedman.  I wasn’t sure how the book would be received, but I thought the message was good and the title very catchy.  I like to teach my adult education classes during the daytime hours (I already have so many evening meetings, a daytime class means one less evening away from my family), and daytime classes generally attract a crowd of retired folks.  Would this book written by a gay Millenial Humanist speak to my crowd of retired Unitarian Universalists?

Yes, it did.  We had some great discussions (I adapted the discussion guide from here for the class, and I’m absolutely willing to share my class lesson plan if anyone wants to message me for it).

I was also hoping to try out an online book discussion on Google Hang Out, but that option didn’t get any registrations and so I still haven’t tried it.  Does that mean that the whole idea of online classes is a waste of time and effort?  I don’t think so … I think the problem was that I advertised the class in our regular Adult Education catalog and no where else.  Folks who might want something different probably aren’t in the habit of looking in our regular catalog.  Oh well, live and learn – I still want to branch out into virtual learning environments and next time I’ll market it differently.

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.

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!