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.

Strong At The Broken Places

“The world breaks and afterward some are strong at the broken places.”

~Ernest Hemingway

This September marks the tenth anniversary of the airplane attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11th.  Rev. Nichols and I are planning a special multigenerational service for this anniversary which falls on our traditional Ingathering Sunday.  You may have read John’s announcement asking for reflections from the congregation on what we have learned and how the events of that day have changed you personally…if not, here it is:

“I’d like to ask you a question and shape our worship service on that Sunday with your answers.  How has what has happened in the last ten years altered the way you look at things?    You can confine your response to two or three paragraphs and send them as an email to me at minister@channingchurch.org.

Since this is an intergenerational service there will be children present and we hope everyone can keep that in mind.  We are not looking for abstract socio-political analyses but for your own thinking about whether or how your outlook on life has changed.  You can append your name or not. I will respect your wish for anonymity if you request it.

I welcome reflections from all ages: children, youth and adults. Each generation has a unique view of the impact of the past decade. Depending on the volume of response we may not have time to read what everyone has written, but all will help to shape the service. Thank you for thinking of this. Please consider LABOR DAY WEEKEND as the deadline.

We will conclude the service, as Channing Church has in the past, with a water ceremony. Please bring a vile of water from some place that was important to you this summer.”

It would be meaningful to have a variety of voices represented in the service, so please ask your youth or older child if they would like to participate and send Rev. Nichols the reflections.

"There's a crack in everything, that's how the Light gets in." ~ Leonard Cohen

Religious Education According To Ms. Frizzle

An invigorating day at Murray grove Heritage Week!

Today we spent time learning about the first era of religious education for Universalists and Unitarians up to 1900.  Part of our learning was using a lesson from a period catechism.  My group spent time with Judith Sargent Murray’s 1782 catechism, which is a question and answer format lesson which would have been taught in the home by the head of the house.

Judith Sargent Murray

It is so interesting to notice how different the approach to learning was in this early period from our present day Sunday classes!

A most notable difference is that students of the 18th century were not allowed to ask questions about the lesson or interpretations of theology. The focus was memorization and transmission of concepts without individual exploration.

This makes me incredibly thankful that I am a religious educator of the present day!  One of the most dear values of our program is that children, youth and adults are ENCOURAGED to ask questions, mull over the material and consider what has resonance in how to live their lives.

I remember once at age 4 or so being told by a patient mother to stop asking “so many questions1” to which I replied, “But, Mom, how am I going to find out anything if I don’t ask questions??” Most of my greatest understandings of faith have come when I reach out and question.

Let’s explore together!  History, faith development, theology, how to be together…all these topics and more…

Maybe our motto can be (as they say on The Magic Schoolbus):

Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!