Friday, February 26, 2010

New UU Parenting Blog!

There's a new blog on the block, one we've really needed for a long time. The blog is written by Michelle Richards, author of a new book about to be released "Tending the Flame: The Art of UU Parenting" and all time favorite in UU churches across the continent "Come Into the Circle".

I first met Michelle at the UUA General Assembly a few years ago. She was giving a workshop about leading worship with children. People kept asking for resources, and Michelle mentioned all kinds of good resources. Finally, I got up and said something like "OK, OK, all good stuff, but the very best resource is your book!"

Michelle is a humble and wise woman who has a great sense of the importance of faith in raising children. And she's my friend!

And oh my is this important stuff!

My children are mostly happy and usually healthy in great part due to my time in the pews and my contact with other parents who were like me. I remember one whole year of sitting in the same seat in church every Sunday, looking out a window, and crying during the hymns, crying during the sermon, crying from prelude to postlude because raising my young children felt like some kind of divine test that I was failing miserably. I knew that being spiritually present was the most important thing my children needed, and it was so so so so hard. I still cry when I hear the line "We laugh, we cry, we live, we die, we dance we sing our song" it takes me straight back to that sleepless time of giving. And that seat in my church.

Then there were the unschooling years with other homeschoolers at my church. Thank goodness for other people who were homeschooling and were like us.

And now I still find my people-in-parenting in church settings. I am usually the old parent around at the church I serve, with the oldest kids. But when I go to professional events, the talk always turns to family. Just last week a colleague told me "it'll be alright, your children will leave but you'll find a new normal" and she said they'll call asking how to boil water and that's when you know you've turned the corner.....they are not really calling to learn how to boil water, but to talk. To their mom.

Unitarian Universalist parenting is a gift, it means being mindful, intentional, it's hugely challenging and it's the best job ever. Ever!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I was on a webinar today. Yes, webinar is a real word, it means you're online with a bunch of people and you're also on the phone and you can message and look at a power point or a website together. It's complicated, but a good way to meet with people in Rochester, and Pittsburgh and San Antonio and Boulder and Denver and Seattle and Boston without having to buy a single carbon offset.

So, I was at my desk looking out over my tiny itty bitty back yard and my hummingbird feeder that all the hummingbirds have snubbed so far, when I got a text message from my middle son. I was on my cell phone for the webinar, getting a text, while trying to follow some deep theological discussion about William Ellery Channing and his view of the divine.

Ahhh! Can you look at an incoming text message and stay on the call you're already on? The text was from my son, I was sure he was waiting for a ride, even though I thought we had this all arranged well in advance. Yep, "can u pic me up aftr 3?"

He's taller than me and stronger than me and certainly smarter than me, but I didn't want to leave him dangling.

The answer is yes, you can look at the text and not drop the call you're already on. In fact you can text back. I know 'cause I tried it. Yep.

It does not mean your child will read the text.

I'm getting used to my children having cell phones, and I'm getting used to the fact that they never, ever, even if they really should, never do they listen to their voice mail. Ever. But I didn't know until today that they don't read their text messages.

They don't.

My son showed up at the house-he'd clearly taken the bus home, I was still on the webinar. He turned to corner and saw me at my desk, he leaped into the air and hollered. Pretty obvious-- he hadn't expected me to be home. If he'd read is text messages.....well, anyway, it's fine, it's all good. Really.

This push-me, pull-you now you're a young adult, now you're a kid, grow-up, stay young. Come. Go. Stay. Fly.

This is going to give me whiplash.

He told me tonight that he's happy to take the bus more often if it is more convenient for me.

"Sure" I said. It's probably a half an hour to school and back with waiting and parking lot navigation time. "But I like picking you up, pretty soon you'll grow-up and move out and then I'll never get to pick you up from school again. It's forced time together, you have to talk to me."

He laughed. But it's true. And it's a treasure. And I don't really care if he forgets to read his text messages, as long as he still smiles when I pick him up.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Y'all did a good job.....

....choosing a president for us. I wasn't part of the process, but wow. Today at the PNWD District Assembly I sat in a room with Peter Morales and a whole big group of youth. I thought he engaged the youth, listened to them, shared with them in a really authentic way. He talked to them in a way that I hope every minister sits and talks with the youth of their congregation.

It was beautiful!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pacific Northwest District Assembly!

Oh, I am having so much fun at the District Assembly for the Pacific Northwest District.

I love hanging out with other people who can say "Oh, you know!" and you say "Oh yeah!" and then you both laugh and the other people laugh and you say....

"Yep! This is being a Religious Educator!"

And then, people like the amazing Rev. Julia McKay lead worship in the round with guitar and piano and DANCERS!

I got to sit behind our UUA president, Rev. Dr. Peter Morales. I was SO proud that Julia led such a fabulous worship, and proud to have our new president see how amazing our leaders are in the PNWD! Silly, I had nothing to do with what happened, but still.....proud. WTG PNWD!

And this is the first time I've left my child at a UU event for the evening, and said "well, considering health and safety you should probably be home by midnight" and then....driven away from the event--headed home. Having an 18 year-old is a whole different world. And thankyougodandjesusamen.....he got the acceptance letter from UW today. Other schools might come in--bigger schools with bigger money, but this one that will take his 85 credits at the end of the year wants him and that is really good.

I wish I could bottle up my colleagues and bring them all home with me. But for now, life's good! Love my work, love my faith and can't wait for the morning and Bill Harley.

Thank you. Amen.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Spiritual Parenting

I know that raising children can be one of the most meaningful things we do in our lives. For me, I'd always thought it was the very most important thing I ever did or could do or was in the middle of doing. Because for most of us in this one wild life there's little else we'll do that will impact generation after generation and the future in the same profound way that influencing the development of actual human beings!

And then there were teenagers. Who thought THAT was a good idea? I mean come on, I am now a firm believer in initiation to adulthood rituals that remove your child for weeks and weeks or months and months or, about years!? Or maybe military boarding school? Or at least a mother-led melt down that has the mother of the family living in a lovely little villa someplace warm for months and months on end--with no children in sight. See Anne Morrow-Lindbergh.

OK, OK, OK! Maybe I am over reacting just a little tiny smidge. Being the parent of three teenage boys must be a spiritual practice of some kind. Please, God, let it be. Even if it's just the practice of screwing up over and over and over again. I mean there's gotta be grace in getting up and starting over, right?

I sure as heck hope so. Please. Thank you. Amen.

And yes, that's me, getting up on my feet one more time.

Double Amen.

Do you know how to draw a picture of clean air?

The children of my church do!

And they drew healthy food and fresh air. And peace.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dear Rev. Morales,

Now I know that Rev. Dr. Peter Morales is a good guy. Not only does he understand deeply the position our faith is in right now to either grow or fade away, but he's actually a warm, kind friendly man. He really is a good guy.

But one little tiny thing he said to us when he was with my congregation a few weeks ago just rankled me. I'm not going to remember the exact wording but it was something about how as a movement our religious education programs had made the mistake of focusing on teaching children about being Unitarian Universalists and not giving them the experience of faith.

I wake up in the middle of the night and that little exchange sticks in my mind. What? Really? Would we say that across the movement all of our worship committees are focusing too much on spiritual development of Buddhism or the sermon topics are all too humanist?

Rev. Morales did say that in the church he served before he became the president of the UUA they had tried to have multi generational worship services, but that in tracking attendance and listening to feedback, they could see that these services were unpopular and not well attended by families with children.

So, in an effort to let go of this little sticking point, I am writing a little letter to Rev. Morales. It's something more a kin to a family discussion that happens over coffee after dinner. And maybe there's even pie for dessert. I'm not angry, I just want Peter to understand that the little things he says get picked up by lots of people and they show that little thing to each other and say "well see what the UUA president said?" "Hmmmmm, I DO see that" Be careful, Peter! And remember that whatever you see as our future as a movement, it's already happening out there in churches across the continent.

Dear Rev. Morales,

Just wanted to drop you a note on the topic we chatted about at WSUU a few weeks ago: faith development in our RE programs. I don't think this is true for my church. And here's why:

This week at Westside we're having our regular monthly Chalice Chapel and Service Sunday. This month's focus is on UUSC.

Our children begin worship in the sanctuary with the adults each week, and on the second Sunday they all come straight downstairs to a children's worship that we call "Chalice Chapel". This week we'll enter a darkened space with an altar and a chalice. When we're all sitting in a big circle we'll begin our chant "Gathered here in the mystery of the hour, gathered here in one strong body, gathered here in the struggle and the power, spirit draw near". We all know the words, we all know the hand motions. We know how to sing it, how to whisper it and how to beat the floor hard with a heartbeat rhythm and to yell it loud. Then we'll invite the children into prayer "we breathe in peace, we breathe out love" The children know body prayers, chants, hymns and how to listen to their quiet inner voice.

We will talk a little during our Chalice Chapel about how we are called, as Unitarian Universalists of faith, to work for peace in the world, and that really--peace comes from justice. But then we'll close by singing Rev. Meg Barnhouse's "All Will Be Well". The whole service will take about 7 minutes. Then we will move to our stations of work, the "Service is our prayer" work.

This week we'll make a huge heart with one of our favorite elders and during coffee hour we'll invite the adults to add sticky notes that tell how they are "Standing on the Side of Love". There will be a station for some kids to assemble the boxes for the Guest at Your Table kick off. We'll have a station to make a physical "guest at your table" so we can all visualize the person we're imagining hosting for the next month. We'll have a game to show how hard it is to move water from one spot to the next without spilling it. And we'll have a station showing the videos on youtube that UUSC has posted about human rights. The best thing about these stations is that at each an adult engages with the children who are ages 4-14. There's no formal lesson, but we all learn together.

So, it's not perfect. No. Sometimes kids run around a little. Sometimes people talk about their week instead of water rights. But it's a good thing. Our children all learn how we worship, they learn about what we believe and they get to put those beliefs into action. It makes our faith formation dynamic and real. I have fun. They have fun. We all laugh together. There have been Chalice Chapels, like the pet blessing last October that let us all cry together. We are a community.

Now, during the five services a year when we're all together; all the baby boomers and the millennials and the silent generation and the gen x-ers and the toddlers and the teens and tweens and the elders and the preschoolers, during those services we are finding that we like worshiping together. We're still learning, we've learned that a plastic cup full of legos might be fun, but it's too loud for worship. We've learned that we have to be careful about meeting everyone's needs. But we've learned that part of meeting everyone's needs is to sometimes sit quietly while another group is the focus for a few minutes. And what meets our needs is not always what you'd expect.

So, Rev. Morales, remember that when we talk about Unitarian Universalists we can almost never say "All". All Religious Education programs are not focusing on education alone. Just like you could never say "All ministers are preaching about...." or "All music leaders are forgetting to...." We who work with the children and youth and families are doing so much more than just cranking through lessons. It's happening all over the movement, this dynamic faith formation. And it's really working.

So hey, thanks for stepping up and being our president. I know you get all kinds of passionate people just like me who take issue with one little thing you say. I know one of the people who I eat dinner with every night is not happy with your thoughts about youth and the "hanging out" article. But we appreciate your passion for this faith and we hope that you appreciate ours, too. Together we can be the faith we are meant to be. Thanks. Really, thanks.



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What do we do?

We've been working with a local center for youth struggling with homelessness for a couple of years now. Someone knew someone who came out to our church and told a group of children and youth about what this center does, and we decided to go make dinner. Once.

Then we decided to make dinner every second Tuesday. A couple of years later we know where everything is in the kitchen and we know pretty much how to make the right amount of food, and to have a few vegan portions a lot of vegetarian options and to make it all work at just about the right times. We show up at 5, serve at 6, call seconds at 6:15 and at 6:30 the youth are back out on the street. This isn't a residential center. We stay til about 7 cleaning up. It's two hours a month.

We've been at this for a while now. We started out led by one of the girls who is now a senior; I think the youth who are in AP and IB classes are too busy to breathe much less to do community service work. Now the youth coming are the Jr Youth--sixth, seventh and eighth graders, with a fourth grader or ninth grader coming along, and their parents, too.

We see some of the same youth coming in for dinner at the center from month to month. We see some moving on in their lives; getting clean, getting into school, moving on, coming back. But this is a low barrier center, we also see youth walk in off the street, get a quick read of the rules, a quick registration sign-in and get in line to eat. It takes about three minutes.

Last night was really hard for me. I don't know just exactly why. Did the youth seem older, harder? Where were the young ones, the artists? Are there more youth on the streets and the gentler ones are getting squeezed to some other place? Where? Is it me? Am I getting soft, looking more closely? What?

We made rice krispie treats but we almost forgot to put them out. I took a tray out into the dining room and went from table to table offering them to all the youth and staff. It's the kind of thing I do for my own children. Nice, cozy, it says "I care about you, you matter". And that's how I felt.

And then we watched them all walk by out into the darkness.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Next Decade

I guess I just noticed that it's now 2010. Hey, that's a new decade!

What? I've been busy!

But yeah, this is a chance to look at the next ten years and kind of make a plan. I've lived a lot of years without a plan, just swimming along with what happens and reacting to it. Not that this place here in this life is bad, I mean there's the diver with the bubbles and the sparkly blue castle and everything. It's pretty nice here.

What if I stepped back and looked at what is going to happen in these next ten years? In 2020 I'll be 52, and my children will be fine young adults of 28, 25 and 23. I'll bet I won't need to be around in the afternoons just in case they need a moment of mom support, or at least I pray to all powers in the universe that they'll be launched and happy and successful. My dog will be 12.

And I'll have another 20 years of work life. Yes I will. Something, surely, to think about.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Found Sunday!

I am supposed to be just outside of Washington DC right now, watching the Super Bowl Commercials with the LREDA (Liberal Religious Educators Association) board. Or not watching the Super Bowl Commercials because of the boycott. But, I'm not in DC. Our LREDA Board meeting was called off. Yesterday morning Anne Bancroft, the LREDA president decided that the massive snow storm in the mid-atlantic yesterday made it too dangerous for us all to try to get there.

So, I'm not hanging out with my LREDA peeps. And there will be no visioning discussion and no plan for 2020. At least not until we can reschedule.

But, wait guess what DID happen?!

A Sunday off! A Sunday, and I'm off! No work, on a Sunday!

HOLY SUNDAY Batman, a Sunday off.

I love my job, I love the children and the families I serve and everyone in the congregation. I love when my feet are burning at the end of a Sunday because I was up and down the three flights of stairs a dozen times. I love soup lunch Sundays and the times we have popcorn covering a 20 square feet of floor. I love holding the new babies and playing duplos with the toddlers and leading worship. I love it all.

But a Sunday off is a grand gift.

Guess what I did with my gem, my precious day?

I went to church!

But not my church. I went up to University Unitarian Church, the "high" church in Seattle--at least the high church for UUs. It was the youth Sunday, the week that the youth group puts on the service. Since my oldest son has been going to youth group up there this year, he was a part of the service, and I was going to miss it not only because I work on Sundays but because I had planned to be flying off to DC.

But I got to go to the youth service! And I got to see my son tell the "national" segment of their service about community. He told the story of the Unitarian and Universalist youth and how they joined forces to become LRY, or Liberal Religious Youth, nearly a decade before the official merger of Unitarians and Universalists, and by the way, at the same time that the Unitarian and Universalist Religious Educators joined forces as LREDA.

The youth service was great, lots of readings, a skit, music and of course, dancing with feather boas to "We Are Family" as a postlude. I was certainly spiritually enriched!

Then I went to see my middle son play soccer. We thought that after 11 years of playing soccer that it might be his final game ever, but they won so it looks like they advance in the playoffs and he'll play at least one more game. I may miss his very last game if it happens on a Sunday, but at least I got to see him score a goal in this game.

I'm thankful for the found Sunday and a chance to have a day filled with family and fun. Now we're watching the Super Bowl commercials (a dad from our homeschool school did the commercial with Chevy Chase) and sitting on the couch and just hanging out. It's a good thing, this "day off" thing.

I might just have to try this again, someday...