Bring On The Hot Mess

Last week, I was lucky enough to be in conversation with many talented, creative, connected Religious Educators. The conversations flowed, and ideas sparked as we moved from naming problems to designing projects to meet the many needs of our world.

This is one of my favorite aspects of professional conferences- the time and space for trust to develop, friendships to bud, and just sit and talk or play together.

There was one especially fruitful conversation, where I was able to overcome my hesitance to share a new project idea with someone who is actually in the position to help make it a reality. I left the circle feeling hopeful and elated. So much so that when I later bumped into this person in passing, I shared my excitement: how energized I felt! That my brain was operating on all cylinders! That the collaboration we were beginning was going to be great because, “I like messes!”

Wait…. What?

mess

“I like messes.” As soon as I walked away, I felt really silly. The person would certainly rethink the wisdom of working with me, an inarticulate moron. The demons of insecurity, never far from me, leapt in like hyenas on a wildebeest carcass.

But after some reflection, and a generous reframe from a close friend who heard my story, I am able to see that exclamation as an asset. I do like messes. Messes are a huge part of any complex project. My work as a Religious Educator involves sorting through innumerable messes, both physical, systemic, and emotional.

I am experienced with untangling mess. I can hold many parts of project at once. I attend to strong personalities in a working group without running away or being intimidated. Complexity and contradictions intrigue me. I am not really thwarted easily. A gift of stubbornness, I guess.

I write this not to pat myself on the shoulder, but to lift up that sometimes we need to see the blessing in the odd parts of our functioning. Also that sometimes, when our thinky brains are busy working on big thoughts, bits of pure heart truth can slip out of our mouth. “I like messes” was a piece of my heart’s truth.

Hearing and understanding this message is helping me discern what sort of work is next for me. While I am not yet ready to proclaim a next move, I do now know that it will be something that uses my gifts – all of them. I will embrace messes with the confidence that I enjoy making order from chaos, finding commonalities in groups of people, and seeing the hope in complicated situations.

And there are plenty of messes for me to work on in this world.

20/20 Vision

future-visionSeveral years ago, our congregation got together in the important work of creating a vision statement – outlining what is the future of our ministry, where we want to “go”, and how we want to get there.  I remember this as a very energetic and collaborative process, which brought all sorts of folks together in the shared view that this community is important to us, and a recognition that we want to be purposeful in creating the next chapter of Channing’s story.

Here is the Vision Statement that came out of that process:

Our Vision Statement
Believing that the true expression of our religion is the way we live our lives – We, the members and friends of Channing Memorial Church, commit to use our diverse gifts in shared ministry as a catalyst for:

  • Creating a wellspring of caring and compassion within a vital and inspirational community of all ages that values individuals throughout their lives,
  • Spiritual growth and intellectual exchange,
  • The honest and responsible use of the democratic process,
  • Stewardship of our historic sacred spaces,
  • Peace, justice, and respect for all people and our planet,
  • Positive change within our community and the world.

Pretty neat, right?

And check this out- we then determined the top actions important to reaching this vision. And look at Number One:

1. We are committed to creating and sustaining a foundation for
our children which fosters their spiritual growth, guides their
search for truth and empowers them to work for justice.

That’s right, we agreed that the first item on our list was an intentional commitment to our children.

I have been attending several workshops lately on “Faith Formation 2020” which I have described in earlier posts. A new way of seeing the work of the church, blending online and face to face programming, seeing the growth of our spirituality throughout the whole week, not just on Sundays, and the work of faith development in people of all ages. It is exciting (if not a bit overwhelming!) and a necessary paradigm shift for our congregation in these changing times.

The “2020” referred to here is the year 2020, a date representing when we need to have changes in place to meet the needs of a new religious culture in America. When the original book “Faith Formation 2020”, by John Roberto was published in 2010, he outlined a plan of action for the next decade to engage people who need a different sort of model for church. The technology and cultural changes are happening even faster than we imagined, and it is vital that we as a congregation begin to make changes, create experiments, and build on our successes – keeping what is working well while renovating areas that need new energy.

In this experimenting and brainstorming we will not lose sight of our Vision, though. The plan created by our congregation is still our guiding force. The values we expressed in our vision statement are central to all that we do and what motivates us in our ministry. Let us move forward with these tenets in the forefront – let us not lose sight of our commitment expressed to “sustaining a foundation for our children which fosters their spiritual growth, guides their search for truth and empowers them to work for justice.” Our multigenerational ministry is precious and powerful. Children and youth are part of our worship, our learning, our social action, our stewardship, and our fun. Let all the work of our congregation reflect this vision.

Has our vision gotten a little fuzzy? What should we do to bring it back into focus?

I like what Liz James has to say here about the progressive and playful spirit of Unitarian Universalism. How can we adults embrace the play of faith formation? What can our children teach us about how we do church?

Happy Things and Lots of Exclamation Points!!!!!!

Yeah, I, too, have noticed that the communications from people in my line of work often contain a humorous number of exclamation points, smiley faces, and generally excited messages. We are a people passionate about our work- enthusiastic about the truly beautiful opportunities for connection and grace in our programs. Sometimes, it can get a bit out of hand, so today I offer a slightly different tone. Yes, I still want to communicate the amazing, transformative energy of our program, but maybe with more question marks.

muddy-road

Living a faith-full life is challenging. Navigating the decisions of every day amid distractions and disappointments is hard work. Paradoxically, developing our hearts and minds calls us to stay open. Whether we are adults, youth, or children, the complicated business of getting through a day with an intact soul takes all the energy we’ve got. Can our church be not merely a place of refuge, but one of recharge, re-forming, and respect?

Our Unitarian Universalism wants to connect us with the power of Love. Our Unitarian Universalism wants us to build Beloved Community. Connecting with the power takes energy. Building anything stable takes solid materials and tools. What happens when we do not possess these resources? How can we make sure everyone has access to the healing, creative force that our church community can give?

All our congregations are experiencing declines in attendance and membership. Why are we losing ground? Why are the numbers dwindling? Partly it is the culture that surrounds us. Perhaps you have been following the series on NPR about the growth of the “nones” – the people without religious affiliation.  Could it be that we are focused on only one type of growth- numbers? What about developing other kinds of growth in the faith formation of the folks who are already in the pews (or even our members who are staying home on Sunday!)

This big hot mess we are living is you, me, them, and even those folks over there. All of us. When our conversations see the whole crowd and considers each voice as important, then I know our intentions have become reality.

When the experience of the child is considered wisdom for the Board table, then I know that our Principles are more than words.

When the door is held open for the parent, not for a tip, but to give respite from a world of fear and pain, then I see our compassion.

When we learn how to trust from Youth and give them cause to respect us, then I know we understand the chicken and the egg.

How might we imagine a better way? How might we support our people, even if it means we have to make changes? Can we honestly face the reality that changes need to happen, and be ready for something good to be just over the horizon?

This is the part where it helps to have faith. While I don’t know where we are headed or how we will get there, I do believe that the power of Love expands beyond our wildest imaginings. I know that when we tune into the frequency of connection, of caring, of creativity, then it is a tremendous force for life. And I know I don’t want to miss it happening. Woyaya. We are going.

Failing Is The Best Thing I Ever Did

I am no spring chicken.  I have (I hope I have!) a lot more good years ahead of me, but there is no hiding from the many, many moons that have gone into making me who I am.  And why would I want to hide from them, anyway?

Each year that goes by represents the combination of people, sunrises, thoughts, and mistakes that make up my life, and these experiences are all so important to me. Yes, even the mistakes- especially the mistakes!!

stagesA friend of mine recently reminded me that a baby falls thousands of times before learning to walk.  All the really great and scary things we learn to do require “falling” or failing before we get to mastery. Not failing would mean we are not learning. And so it is with Religious Education.

I have been working on some new projects with the RE Committee. We are kind of on fire (in a quiet sort of way.) Our Committee will have a special longer meeting this Saturday to explore the ways we can experiment and learn to bring new energy to our program. Ways to serve our families using new tools. Some of these little projects will be great successes. Others will bomb…big time. All will provide us with information and will be tools for learning. My colleagues call this process “Experilearning.”

path+to+success

And I like that idea. That we are not born knowing everything we will ever need to know. That challenges arise to make us try new things, use our brains and hearts, stretch and grow. These are opportunities to reach out to others for help and inspiration. This is exciting spiritual work!

We are using the guidance of leaders like John Roberto, whose training on Faith Formation Rev. Deacon, Barbara Coppola, and Barbara Russell Willett and I attended last month. His work on adapting religious education is both groundbreaking and a natural next step to the ministry of our church.  He sees faith formation as part of a network (an interdependent web?) serving many ages and stages of people across their life span as they cross milestones, using the new tools available to us in addition to traditional methods. (Check out his website!) He calls this model of doing Religious Education “Faith Formation Networks”.

Lifelong faith

Faith Formation Networks are already in place at Channing, we just can expand them in so many exciting ways. Faith formation is broader than children and youth RE. This is the work of the whole congregation, as we want ALL ages to grow as part of their connection to Channing. Let’s start talking, let’s start generating ideas together, let’s make some big mistakes together…

Experilearn with me!

 

Being Okay With the Mystery

Sometimes the answers are really clear: What happens if I stay up too late? (Answer: I will be tired the next day.) Sometimes the answers are more vague: What is your favorite kind of ice cream? (Hmmm…depends on the day, if I had to pick one- probably peppermint stick.) And sometimes there just really isn’t any answer: What happens to us when we die?

This would be one of the Great Mysteries. We Unitarian Universalists have many Great Mysteries. It comes from being people who are evolving in our beliefs, searching for truth.

It is the last question that I have been pondering a lot lately, and I am not alone. None of us knows for sure what happens when we die. Does any part of us- the essence of us- keep going on? Is there a heaven? Is there reincarnation? Is there nothing at all? Will our loved ones remember us?

It can be very confusing and tiring to hold all these questions. To know that we do not have definitive answers. To be certain only that there will always be Great Mysteries. I guess it is part of being part of a thinking and progressive religion. Today, I had the realization that I have a better response to these Mysteries when I have taken care of myself, when I feed my spirit, when I keep my “batteries charged”.

Fourth Principle

Fourth Principle

Being okay with the Mystery  begins when I stay connected to my spiritual practices, practice deep conversation with my friends, and drink enough coffee. I am not kidding. I’m not prescribing that this is the recipe for everyone’s spirit, but I am asking all of us to figure out what are the practices that help YOU feel balanced and healthy, stable and grounded, so that you are more resilient when the Mysteries raise their big question mark selves and DO them regularly. (Because Mysteries usually show up at inconvenient times!)

Seems like the major reason we keep a regular connection together. Whether you practice through Sunday worship, classes, small groups, reading, yoga, coffee house singing, meditation, journaling, etc., the what doesn’t really matter. The act of practicing is the key. The regular development of your faith is what makes us ready for the Mystery – whenever it arrives.

What a blessing that we have a community of like minded people who embrace our evolving faith. We can talk together about our searching, our new ideas, and our fragile thoughts. We can find friends of all ages to share their experiences and ideas. We know that muddling through our own questions is more fruitful and powerful than being given someone else’s answers all tied up in a neat package.

As for the Mystery I am currently pondering- What is left of us after we die? I am no closer to any answers, but that’s okay. I am very grateful for my UU faith, my friends, and a nice cup of coffee- all which keep me company while I ponder. I’ll leave you with a clip from the BBC TV show “Rev.” which helps me think about all sorts of Mysteries- while he is describing one idea of heaven, I like the idea of relationship, of memory and connection among all of us that is strong in the story.

My Spirituality Is…

My Spirituality Is:
Openhanded compassion- Embracing my love- Struggling- Nurturing within family- Generosity of spirit- Love in action- Openness of heart- Lost and Found- Search for connection- Connecting to nature- Coming home- Om- Musical- Ancestral- Friendship-Transformation- Comfort- A gentling of the fire- Blessed and grateful surrender- Peace and Justice- Poetry in motion- Creativity of love- Climbing trees- Playing in the stream- Mother Earth’s beauty- All beings as one love- Self reliance- Blessing of stars- Liberation of all-

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.

The Fountain of Youth, And Why We Need It Back!

>No – I don’t have a secret to end aging…this post is about our young Channing folks, the junior and senior high age Youth.  Quite often I am asked, “Where are the high school kids at Channing?”  That’s a complicated question to answer…

I hear stories about a vibrant senior high group, YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists) at Channing.  I hear anecdotes about how some years the group has been bigger than others, but always some Youth were around and gathering.  Right now we don’t have a senior high group.  Is there still a place for Youth at Channing?

Our Youth are living in a hard world.   Life is even more fast paced for teens than it is for adults! Youth need time to connect face to face, comforting each other and celebrating each other.  Youth group at its best provides spiritual sustenance, community and fun.  And for youth who might not fit society’s norms, having a safe place to be yourself is essential.

The many suicides of boys and young men around the country this fall has made me realize more than ever that we need to build our youth group at Channing because it will save lives.  A strong youth group of caring peers will counteract brutal bullying that causes our young people to give up hope.  Yes, especially for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth a loving environment is healing, but really all youth benefit from affirming company.

Here’s what Rev. Meg Riley says about our calling to make the world better:

Whatever the reason for the decline of Youth Group at Channing, we have a chance to rebuild our  program and make it stronger than ever!

Now is the time to spend extra energy building the connection of the junior high group of Youth.  These 5th, 6th and 7th graders are excited about Channing and more so about each other.  These junior high youth are ready to spend time together, so let’s give them what they want BEFORE they lose interest!

It is going to take some commitment from parents.  The effort you put in, helping with a social night or driving will be well worth the gains in leadership, friendship and reinforcement of UU values that Youth Group provides.  In just one night a month we can lay the groundwork for a rocking youth group!

I am excited to see what develops!