The Gift of Leaves

Last Sunday, we celebrated an early Earth Day at Channing. I wanted to share the Palm Sunday Message for All Ages I gave for those who were not able to be there. I hope to see you all on Sunday at our Easter Service!

The morning had dawned clear and bright and Jesus told his friends, “Today we will enter Jerusalem.” Jesus had been out in the hills and villages, spreading his message of love and peace. He was going to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Many people were following Jesus. They, too, wanted to change the world.

As he led them toward the city gates, an amazing thing happened. The crowd around Jesus became bigger and bigger! Hundreds of people poured out of the city to welcome him cheering and shouting. His ride into the city was a welcome fit for a king! Just outside Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of his friends to get a donkey. When they brought it back to him, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey. As Jesus rode the donkey into the city many of the people tore palm branches off of nearby trees and waved the palms for Jesus. Some even spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road as a symbol of respect.
At that time, the people saw Jesus as their king. They were tired of being ruled by the Romans, who were cruel. The people of Jerusalem hoped Jesus was the one who would change their lives for the better and fight off the Romans, but Jesus was not a warrior king. That is why he rode into the city on a donkey instead of a general’s stallion. He was trying to show the people that his was a mission of peace. The donkey was a symbol of peace. Jesus was also trying to send a message to the Romans, that he was not going to fight them with violence, he was committed to using peaceful ways of making change. Jesus understood the power of peace.
There is a lot more to this story, which we will hear next week, but today we celebrate Palm Sunday. Palms are given out in Christian Churches a week before Easter to remember when Jesus came into Jerusalem. But why do we celebrate with leaves? We do this because nature speaks to us in a special way.

Every time we bring greens in for Solstice, water for Ingathering, or daisies for Flower Communion we are honoring the connection between nature and our faith tradition. I remember as a little kid getting a palm leaf at church and feeling so happy that 1) We got a present from church and 2) the leaf showed that church understood what was important to me. Everywhere outside the world was waking up and being green! I identified with the way these long ago people of Jerusalem honored a great person! Did you ever get a palm leaf as a child? Take a moment to think of what it symbolized to you. Does it mean the same thing to you now?

We are not the people of ancient Jerusalem, many of us here are not Christian, some of us are, but we can all celebrate this day and these palms because we see in Jesus a teacher who took the risky and vulnerable road, turned the world upside down, and helped the weak and helpless. Some people think of Jesus as the son of God. Others think of Jesus as a great man who had a peaceful mission of radical non-violence, fairness and equality, and certainly a person with a strong sense of social justice. Jesus was a man of peace who believed that we are all connected in an interdependent web.

We can take a palm today to remember that we need to open our hearts. This leaf is a celebration that there is a non violent way to be powerful, we can make real and permanent change in the world and inside ourselves. I invite all who would like one to come take a palm as the traveling chalice leads the children and youth to classes.

(c) 2012 Luiza Chandy

PS- thank you to Robin Hollow Farm for getting us such gorgeous palm leaves!

No Rehearsal? Really?

On December 18th, we will have our first ever No-Rehearsal Living Nativity Pageant at Channing! Some people have heard about it and joked that it sounds a little wacky, fun and just on the edge of disaster, with the potential to be fantastic– a perfect Channing enterprise!

In all seriousness, it will be fun and gives folks of all ages to participate and celebrate together this season of hope.

I sure hope you will be there and also that you will be one of the many spontaneous players in the familiar story. We will have parts for readers, animals, shepherds and angels- and I bet we can even find some wisepeople to join in!

Here is another silly Nativity scene for you to enjoy!

Making It Up As We Go Along?

Continuing our theme of Creativity, our Chalice Circle last week focused on creative storytelling. It was a simple lesson, but one with much laughter! Using improvisational storytelling, each person in the circle added a few lines to a spontaneous story, making it up as we went along. What began with a girl and her stamp collection, soon turned to exploding pickles and alligators and all sorts of wild elements with two endings.

The concepts I hoped the children took away from this were:

  • connection to their bubbling creativity
  • thinking about storytelling as connected to faith (these two classes are using Bible based curricula this year and learning about Jewish and Christian stories)
  • connection to each other
  • a feeling of safety, as our church is a place to experiment and stretch our ideas together

Did I tell the children that these were my goals? No.

Do I worry that they didn’t “get” the lesson I had in mind? No way!

The circle I was lucky to be a part of last week was totally embodying all these concepts and more! That is the beauty of our Religious Education program. The children, youth and adults are doing church with each interaction, each caring conversation, each ribbon glued, coin collected or bulb planted. Our groups are in constant relationship, interchanging ideas, information and personalities which gives practice for responding to the world as Unitarian Universalists.

SO even when is seems that over in RE, we are just laughing and being silly, there is a whole lot more going on. And it is good.

Creativity in Religious Education

This year, the theme for our Chalice Circle worship is Creativity. Each month, we will explore a new aspect of spirituality and the creative process.  Creativity in music, movement, prayer, art and service. I am inspired to weave together this theme I see in this year’s curricula, You the Creator, Super Heroes Bible People and Bibleodeon. While the theme of Creativity is explicit in You the Creator, the Bible curricula might at first seem less concerned with creativity.

As Unitarian Universalists, we understand the Hebrew and Christian Bibles as a creative response by people to the necessity of making meaning out of their lives. The people who passed down the oral traditions and later wrote the books of the Bible had different needs expressed in each book, some as historical record, others as teaching tools, and still others as poetry. Each trying to stir a response from the reader, furthering the reader’s process of faith. Like those ancient people, we are still making meaning in our lives. Each day begins anew the creative process of living.

In his Tapestry of Faith curricula, “Making Music Live”, musician Nick Page writes,

“We are all creative. Making a shopping list is a creative act. Conversation is a creative act. …  I see creativity from a spiritual perspective. In his epic poem, “No More Secondhand God,” Unitarian Universalist thinker Buckminster Fuller said, “God is a verb, not a noun.” …We normally think the word table describes a noun, but a table is actually made up of billions of whirling atoms in the act of being a table; from this perspective, table is a verb. This concept requires a paradigm shift. You go from seeing the earth as a planet with life on it (in other words, a noun) to seeing the earth as a living planet (a verb). The verb that is the universe is constantly evolving. The universe is creative. We take after our universe, but there’s more. The universe is also compassionate, what scientist Brian Swimme calls “the ultimate compassion.” The act of creativity, the act of making the world a more beautiful place, is a compassionate act. It is our gift to each other. “

If a traditional idea of RE is rote memorization or empty craft projects, please know that’s not what we are about in UU Religious Education. We want to help our children and youth strengthen their own creative powers. This is our gift. We seek to give them ideas, tools and space to experiment, risk and ask questions. We show and tell them what we know, then empower them to build on that base. We support creativity in Religious Education to help children and youth develop their own response human life. These amazing young people will grow up to be the creative thinking adults shaping our world!


I Can’t Live, With or Without SHOES

Last Sunday, I gave a message about the parables Jesus taught- well vaguely the message was about the parables.  Mostly, I spoke about how messages can get changed when they are handed down from generation to generation.

That’s what has happened with the message of Love that Jesus taught.  Somehow, in the centuries between when Jesus was alive and preaching, and when people were able to write down the story of his life and teachings, there were some interpretive changes.  And then over the past couple of thousand years, still more changes and interpretations have happened, spawning the creation of many different variations of Christianity.

I don’t want to write about that here, though…

I want to give you a glimpse at how my thinking went in creating a Message for All Ages this week.  My process is always rather lumpy and circumspect. At first, I began humming a tune from my teen years. Just couldn’t get it out of my mind, but I figured this was not quite right for the Sanctuary. Have a listen (but maybe not with the kids in earshot)

Then, I had the idea to talk about how when we listen to songs, sometimes the lyrics we HEAR are not exactly the ones that the musicians WRITE. Just like sometimes modern people reading the Bible think there is a literal translation, but often Jesus and others spoke in metaphors, or using illustrations from their historical context that don’t have the same meaning today. I spent a while writing down songs I have misheard over the years.  It was funny, but I scrapped that plan because I couldn’t find a resource to use. Today, a friend showed me this:

Do all these youtube videos seem irreverent? I hope not, because we need to have fun- while being respectful- with all our sources. I will go so far to say we need to have more fun, period. I understand why many are timid to embrace Christian sources, but this doesn’t serve our faith development.

Our Unitarian Universalist congregations (on the whole) are nervous about embracing the wisdom in the Bible because of some of the ways Christianity has been and is being misused. Some worry that saying yes to Jesus will make us a partner in the hate crimes we see by extremists. This is silly thinking. I think it is time to recognize that we can appreciate the good, life affirming and loving teachings of Jesus without diminishing our other sources.

Let’s not worry so much!  Let’s sing and laugh and play in church!  We have this wonderful community of accepting friends to play with us!  Let’s have an open and curious mind toward all the sources of our spiritual development. We have nothing to lose, and we might gain some understanding of ourselves along the way.