Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year!

Can you believe it is almost 2008? I remember as a kid thinking that I would be 26 when the year 2000 rolled around and that seemed really old. Now here it is almost 2008. Where does the time go? What have I been doing all these years?!? I know! - In 2000 I had my first child, soon followed by two more. When I look back to 2000, I can hardly believe how far we have come as a family. All the things we have accomplished, how we have grown, all the incredible ups and downs. It really is amazing. What I most notice though, is through all the worry and stress - we are doing great. I am lucky to have such a wonderful family. While I don't really like to do resolutions, this year I have one. I WILL NOT WORRY (so much)! Things seem to turn out OK whether or not I obsess about them. This is a big issue for me, so I think I will limit my resolutions to this one cause. I hope all of you have a wonderful New Year! If you do make resolutions - Good Luck!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Day After

I hope all you who celebrate had a great Christmas. Despite my bah humbugness about Christmas, we really had a wonderful day. The day was completely not overwhelming and the kids recieved a lot of great crafty activities and fun games. We are very fortunate to have the grandparents live across the street from us. They came over to watch the kids open gifts and then we all had (my favorite tradition) French Toast provided by my husband. Later we headed to my aunt/uncle in-laws (who live two houses away) for dinner with all the cousins. Very nice and low key. I hope you all had a warm and loving day!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Getting Old

How do I know I am getting old? My knees are aching! After working just three weeks, part-time, my knees are killing me from helping all the children. Most of their work is done on size appropriate tables or on the floor and my knees are paying the price ;-). I am only 34 - what will it be like when I am 44?!?!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pageants

'Tis the season for Christmas pageants. What is a UU to do? Go with it! We had our annual children's Christmas pageant today. While I am sure quite a few in the audience do not believe in the Christmas miracle, everyone got something from the performance. The children did a wonderful job. I love seeing the kids put their own personalities into the play. Every child from five to eleven has some vital part to play. This year, the town of Bethlehem was not lacking in bakers, flock, and angels! I know it took a lot of courage for some of the kids to get up there and speak and, I, for one, was proud of them. I especially love that baby Jesus was played by two very cute little baby girls (we are an equal opportunity theatre ;-).

I imagine it must be difficult for UU ministers to address Christmas. Just the word Christmas dregs up so many different meanings and experiences for people. How do you provide a service that addresses all the positive and negative aspects of the holiday and make it meaningful? I don't have a good answer. Personally, I think Jesus would be disappointed that his birthday has become such an unbridled spending spree. While I am not a Jesus scholar, everything that I have read seems to indicate that Jesus advocated going out and doing good deeds, not sitting around and overeating and over spending in the name of his birthday*. I often think it would be much more in the spirit of his teachings that if on Christmas everyone went out a did something nice for someone else. Something that went beyond buying. Something that included getting to really know someone in need and working together to make the situation better. I know this is a cliche - but what a great world it would be if this actually happened.

Finally, though, I really like how our pageant ends with the thought that every child that is born is a miracle and that miracle is a wonder onto itself. To me, that is an excellent reason to celebrate Christmas.




* I know that it has been shown December 25th is probably not his actual birthday - but since the powers that be have deigned to use that date, so will I.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Celebrate


Happy Chanukah!

For those of you celebrating this miracle of light - Peace and Joy!


(My apologies for not posting this yesterday but the new job and a head cold has put me a little behind on everything.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Never too Young, Never too Old

My congregation has a wonderful program that pairs sixth graders with an adult mentor. It is a year long program where we meet during Sunday classes and jointly discuss various spiritual topics. Twice during the year we work on a service project. It is a great intergenerational experience that helps the youth connect to more people in the congregation and adults to better understand the youth. I have been fortunate enough to participate in this program for the last three years. Most adults who nervously agree to do this, end the year learning a lot more about their own beliefs and are thoroughly impressed by how much eleven year olds have thought about their own spirituality.

This past Sunday we did an exercise where we stood in the middle of the room and then were asked a question. If you strongly agreed, you moved to the right. Strongly disagree, move to the left. What a visual way to see the vast differences of beliefs in the room. At no point, was everyone in one area. I really felt our UU values in practice. There is no right answer to any of the questions asked - only your beliefs, reached through your own thoughts/study. It is very hard to find many religions where there could be such a diversity of beliefs, yet we still feel connected as a community. After each question and realignment we would have a discussion. It was fascinating to see how people absorbed each others reasoning and maybe readjusted/rethought our beliefs as we reflected on what others said. I found it very important for the youth to realize that even as adults, we are open to experiences and how they may shape our spiritual lives. I hope you never stop looking for your path.


(On a personal note - I am very excited that I will be starting to work part-time in my youngest's Montessori classroom. I don't know how it will work, but I really believe in Montessori education and am excited for the opportunity.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bread Sunday

One of my favorite tradition's at our church is Bread Sunday. It is also one of the most popular! I am not sure if this is a tradition in most UU congregations, but ours has has been participating in it for a number of years.

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, we invite families to bring bread to the service to share with the rest of the congregation. (It is completely voluntary.) Before the bread is divided up, we each give a little talk on the bread we brought and why it is special to us. This year I brought Swedish Limpe bread. It is one of my absolute favorites and I have a great recipe for it! My family has a very strong German surname, but in fact, one of my Grandpa's was Swedish. I never met him, he died when my mom was sixteen. He was also thirty years older then my grandma. He owned a little land and my grandma was a migrant worker during the depression. They fell in love and had six kids. I once asked my Grandma about him and you could tell thirty years after his death she is still in love with him. She told me she was still mad at him for dying on her! I find that type of love really amazing. I have never heard anything but love and admiration for him. I wish I could have met him. So for him I made the Limpe.

I loved hearing all the family stories about the bread they chose to bring. From the silly to the sentimental. I think as a congregation, it brings us closer as we learn a little bit more about each other and where we come from. I had some great conversation's after the service and the kids couldn't stop talking about all the great "snacks". If your congregation doesn't participate in this, you might think about this next year.

During this service, we also take up a collection for our partner church in Transylvania. That area is really struggling with droughts and just keeping the church going. It was another look on how lucky/fortunate we are and gave us an opportunity to help support fellow UUs. It was a wonderful inter-generational and international service.

I hope you all have a safe, happy, loving Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thank You....

Veterans! I may have mixed feelings about the military, but I do appreciate all your sacrifices. May we all hope and work for peace and never forget the lesson's of the past.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thirsty

I just finished listening to parts of the Diane Rehm show on NPR. Today she covered a topic that has long bothered me - Water. I am often fearful that someday the planet will wither up and die because we have wasted all the water. I know some people think this is a little crazy considering that most of the world is covered in water, but the worry that we will not have enough has plagued me for most of my memorable life. I am sure some of it has to do with growing up in Iowa (I did not actually live on a farm ;-), and daily hearing the crop forecasts and the constant fear that there would be too little/too much/too late/too early rainfall. The amount of water was always a topic of conversation. I, evidently, took it to heart. To this day, I can not stand to water lawns. In fact, "lawns" make me a little uncomfortable because they are so unnatural and need so much water to maintain. Don't even get me started on golf courses. I even have a hard time watering the garden, even though I know it is sometimes necessary. I am hoping by next year we will have a rainwater collection tank that can drip irrigate our garden. I drive over the Mississippi almost every week and every week I take notice on whether it is high or low. I am most relaxed when it is high. I am glad that I live in the Midwest, though, because we are lucky that we do have all the resources we need. If we all tried to live more responsibly, we should have enough water for the long haul.

I am amazed, though, by people who choose to live in places where that is not the case. The southwest is one of the fastest growing places, yet one of the least able to support a larger population. Most of the food and water it needs is brought in. They are already experiencing the increasing battles over water rights. This is something we will all face, but due to their extreme "dryness" and population pressures theirs is imminent and severe. I don't think I could put myself or my family in such a non-people friendly environment. I know it is beautiful, but at what cost are you enjoying that beauty? Why do you choose a place and then put impossible demands on it to support you? People all over the world are already fighting on who owns the water, it scares me to think that someday the cost of water will be so high, only the wealthy can afford it and the rest of us are left to suffer.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Libraries

Evidently, today is Blog Action Day. I am not quite sure what this means, but I believe it has something to do with everyone writing about the environment. Since I am such a follower (yeah right), I thought I would join in on the fun! (Short disclaimer, I have a HORRIBLE head cold so this post might not make the most sense.)

One of the things I most love about our church is its wonderful adult and children's libraries. My family makes prodigious use of them. It is pretty much my kids favorite thing about church. As soon as Sunday school is over, they rush to the library. They are well versed in writing their name and number and where to put the check-out card. I love to spend time perusing all the different titles the adult library has - from the obvious theological tomes to current art books. I know many congregations aren't so lucky, so I try to really respect mine.

Libraries can also be very environmentally friendly. It pretty much epitomizes the "reuse" philosophy. I know people espouse paperless environments, but, to me, I will never be a reader of books online. One, it kills my eyes. Two, I find it very uncomfortable to curl up to a computer, blackberry, etc. Three, you still need to use electricity to power these non-paper books. That is why I feel the library is the best option for me. I can check out as many books as I want and know that I am adding very little additional impact to the environment. I will never not buy a new book, but with a library I can read as many books as I want without increasing the amount of trees lost in the process.

Finally, the obvious benefit is it is a lot cheaper!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Help still Needed

Last week I spent five days in New Orleans. I was there for a leadership conference with the UUSC (Unitarian Universalist Service Committee). I volunteer as a Regional Coordinator and this was our annual get together to see what the UUSC is doing and where we can help. I just started volunteering last January, so this was my first conference. It was very overwhelming and inspiring.

We toured all around New Orleans, seeing both the good and the not-so good. It was not surprising to see that Canal Street, the Riverfront, and French Quarter are almost completely back to normal. There was definitely work in progress, but for the most part, it was very habitable and open for tourists.

Then there is the rest. There is still so much devastation. The major debris has been hauled out, but so many houses are barely standing. Numbers are still on houses marking where people died. Near where the levee broke, there are only driveways. It is hard to see. Almost everyone I met has some sort of horror story of themselves or family barely surviving (or not) the flood. I met people who waded over dead bodies, were turned away from escape at gunpoint, and were separated from their children. I was continually struck by their strength. I don't know if I would have had their inner reserve - especially as I began to better understand all the obstacles residents are facing in trying to get home.

We met with various neighborhood organizations. It quickly became evident that they are the ones that are truly bringing people home. The maze that the government has set up to help people return is almost impossible to navigate. If you have access to a computer, you are more likely to get help. Of course, very few people have that luxury. The local government, while claiming to help, has started reinforcing a lawn mowing regulation. If your lawn isn't mowed they can file a lien on your property. The goal is to eventually take over your home. I know if I lost everything, my first thought would be to make sure my lawn is mowed..... Once again neighborhood organizations have stepped up and established groups to go around mowing any lawn that needs it. This is what was inspiring.

There are so many other issues - schools that aren't open or not functioning well, public housing that the city refuses to reopen, no easily accessible medical clinics, few jobs, no daycares - it is almost impossible to know where to help. I was very glad to see that the UUSC had carefully chosen and supported groups that are making a difference. It is sometimes hard to give to an organization and know that what you contribute is going where it is most needed and will be the most effective. I left feeling that we are helping. That our efforts are making a difference.

I would encourage all you to not forget the Gulf Coast. While it has been two years, there is still so much that needs to be done. Please consider giving to a charity of your choice (of course, I would recommend the UUSC). If you are interested in donating directly to one of the groups I met with, please email me and I will send you their address. The UUSC also helps organize volunteer groups to work in the area. You can find out more information at their website - http://www.uusc.org/ or you can go to the UUA's site at http://www.uua.org/ and search for their Gulf Coast Volunteer program.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Covenant

Yesterday was the start of the official church year. It was really nice to see all our church friends after the summer break (discussed in an earlier post). Our congregation has a Book of the Month group. We mostly read books that somehow deal with Unitarian Universalism (UU). They range from the historical to contemporary. I have learned more about our/my faith through this group, then any other class I have taken through the church. We are a small, but dedicated reading bunch. Most of the books we have read are listed in my sidebar.

In an effort to make ourselves know to the larger congregation, we have set up a little book table, selling the books we will be talking about this fall and other applicable books. I was SO EXCITED to see how many people bought books. I know deep down, people are looking for a deeper understanding of UU. I can not even tell you the amount of people I talked to about the various books. Even if they don't come to the book discussion, I hope they read the books. It was also an eye-opening experience in the lack of communication between the activities at our church and people's awareness of them. Almost everyone with whom I talked with, was surprised that we had been meeting for a year! - despite the fact we were in the newsletter at least once a month. It really brought home the fact that if you don't see something in action, it is hard to take note of it.

During the second service, while I was manning the table, I had an interesting discussion with a longtime church member. I asked if he was planning on attending the service. He said that he doesn't anymore. This caught me a little by surprise as he is retired and continues to commit to teaching RE every year. His partner is also very involved in the choir. He stated that the minister doesn't really speak to him and he doesn't get much out of the service. I told him that, even though he doesn't come for the service, I am glad that he still attends the church. We (church) would greatly miss his commitment and help to the congregation.

That is where the conversation took off. He brought up the excellent point (and a point brought up beautifully in "Heretic's Faith), that, traditionally, UU is about a covenant to eachother, not to church doctrine. He is right. That is one of the reason's I was drawn to UU. I liked making a commitment to our community. A community that welcomes all that are willing to commit and support eachother. As I mentioned in my previous post about missing tradition and symbols, you don't get that in a UU church. This member noted that he has seen an increase in the UUA trying to bring about a more streamlined vision of its member congregations. Also, many people who come to UU, come with a religious background that pretty much told you what to believe and how to behave. When they start looking around the UU community, it is hard not to have that available. There is a tendency to feel that we need to develop standardized practices/traditions/beliefs, etc. But that isn't UU at heart. When I meet people who are interested in UU, I always suggest that they visit a few congregations. We all have a different feel, and it is important to find one that meets your needs.

Which brings me back to this congregant and books. While he doesn't feel the sermon's meet his spiritual needs, he has made a covenant to the people of our church (and us to him) and that is what keeps him coming back. I feel the same. But I would also add that only through active learning can we really understand UU and our own belief systems.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tradition & Symbols

This past week our congregation had its annual summer camp. This year we delved into old testament stories and Jewish culture. (We rotate yearly between bible stories, Buddhism, and Native American stories.) I helped in the Discovery section. Our goal was to look deeper into the Jewish faith/culture - beyond the bible story of the day. This necessitated a trip to the local Jewish store for materials. While there, I was once again struck by how greatly our faith is lacking in strong traditions, but beyond that, how we are lacking in cultural symbols. Walking through the store I was surrounded by symbols of Judaism and the rich history it possess. I think the Jewish faith exemplifies the interconnectedness of tradition and symbolism. Of course, I was instantly envious.

From my seven years as a UU (admittedly not very long) I have noticed a divide within the faith (a word I use hesitantly). If there are any other UUs reading this, please feel free to disagree, this is just my own limited observations. There is the older generation that is strongly humanist. They pretty much don't want anything that resembles religion/church/synagogue. Some folks I have met bristle at the use of the word God and anything that resembles the UU history of Christianity. They tend to embrace a strong congregational way of coming together and do not feel the need to be part of the UUA. The newer group of people coming to UU, tend to be younger (there is obviously overlap between the groups) and while are turning away from the rigidity and strict beliefs of their previous religion or are seeking a community to belong to, want something that makes them feel part of something larger. I have seen my peers, myself included, wanting more then just a meeting on Sundays. I miss the sense of history of my Catholic upbringing and the traditional and symbolic events throughout the year. While I could never consider myself Catholic again, I do miss the incense ;-)

UUs do have some symbols, most notably the Chalice. I have great respect for it, but how many people do you know, if asked, know what it means? It does not have the stature of the Cross, Star of David, or even the ying/yang sign. We don't have a book like the Koran, Bible or Torah. Instead, we state that we draw from all these sources. This makes it very difficult for a UU household to have one easy source of their beliefs. Instead, I have collected quite a few books on "explaining our faith". Our traditions are largely congregational and based on personal choices. Some celebrate Christmas, others don't. We often acknowledge other religious holy days - blowing the shofar, celebrating the solstices, etc.

This isn't necessarily bad. I think we try to respect all religions and draw upon their positives. I have learned a great deal about other faiths which has helped me to better understand my own beliefs. I like that my children are growing up aware of the larger world and how there are so many more similarities then differences. But.... I miss having something uniquely our own faith. Unitarian Universalism comes out of the Christian faith, but most UUs would not claim to be Christian - my family included. If looked on that way, we come from lots of traditions and symbols, unfortunately they just aren't applicable anymore to most UUs.

Therein is the problem. We are such a diverse group. Could we ever standardize our traditions and symbols? Would the larger membership even want that? Could we ever agree? At its heart, UU is still congregational not hierarchical. I don't envision this happening. While I long for more, I think I will have to settle for what we have and focus on all the other things UU has to offer.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Taking the Summer Off

One of the most surprising things I learned about our (and many other) UU church is that it takes the summer off. Church doesn't close, but the ministers are pretty much gone for six weeks. Lay leaders perform the services. Why is that? My husband I and both come from traditional faith backgrounds and it was very surprising to learn of this tradition. I don't know where it stems from, but it is pretty much universally accepted in the UU faith. As such, we take the summer off. While there are great lay lead services, many of them feel very disjointed and, frankly, it is a crap shoot as to whether or not it was worth it to go. Therefore, we don't.

I have wavered back and forth on whether or not a summer break is a good idea. Part of me really enjoys taking some time off. We are both very active in the congregation and it is nice to be able to focus on other activities, sleep in, and recharge. I find that I come back energized for the new year and excited to reconnect with friends I only see on Sunday. I do feel that ministers also need down time. An exhausted, burned out minister is never what a congregation needs. Parishioners put a lot of expectations on ministers that can quickly lead to this if they are not given time to recoup.

A stronger part of me feels that it is a disservice to the faith. Many other traditions slow down for the summer (which I think is very apropos), but the minister is still present in the church. How can we present ourselves to the larger community as a "real" faith when we don't honor it enough to keep the ministers around? As I mentioned above, I do think minister's need a break - but not for six straight weeks every summer. I don't know of any other profession where that is the norm. While some might say they are paid little for the job they do, I would disagree. I have seen our minister's salaries and they are well compensated. While I agree that it is nice to give congregates the chance for lay ministry, it should be done sporadically throughout the year - not in one long chain.

When I do attend summer services and see a new face, I am always anxious that they will not come back. The summer services are often thrown together with no real form. Some are so much better then others. I find myself apologizing to visitors and asking them to come back in the fall, when the ministers return. And that is what really gets me. I think our ministers do a fantastic job with their sermons. For many people who visit the church, it took a lot of nerve for them to walk through the door. I feel that our church community has so much to offer, that I want our best foot forward when new people attend. Who wants to come back if the service was haphazard? Or the ministers are no where to be found? Or the lay sermon was meandering, without a point? Not many. I hope that visitor give us a try over many Sundays, but first impressions mean so much. My husband and I were lucky that the first time we attended was in the fall, the sermon was what we were looking for, and the music was great.

I think Unitarians need to really look into whether summer breaks are the best for their community. It might be. Or, maybe, we are missing more then we are gaining.

Monday, July 9, 2007

$1,000 Miracle

Recently, I was visiting my mother who has cable TV. Since I rarely get to see any shows on cable, I was clicking though the hundreds of channels when I happened upon a Sunday morning televangelist show. What caught my eye (besides his blindingly dyed black hair and beard) was his impassioned plea for the audience to send in $1,000, ASAP. At first I thought I had heard wrong. He couldn't be blatantly, out-right asking people to send in $1,000 checks - could he? He was. What was so amazing/sad was the fact that he gave every impression that if you wanted something good to happen in your life, you would sacrifice and "send in that check!". The camera panned the nodding audience. To my very cynical mind I could not comprehend that people were really believing this. To put icing on the cake, there was an actual disclaimer on the TV screen stating that sending money would not guarantee and miracle occurring. Yet, I have no doubt there were many people out there (in need of real help) writing out a check for $1,000 hoping that the miracle they desperately need will occur. I don't know how that preacher could ethically stand on that stage and make those claims.

It makes me so sad thinking of all those people who feel that random bad luck is their fault. Lost your job due to downsizing? - you were not giving enough! Horrible illness? - you must have let the collection plate pass you too many times! Obviously, this type of quid-pro-quo has been going on for ages. But, where does that leave the people who have given all that they can give and they still are jobless/sick/lonely, etc.? Empty.

One of the things I love about the UU faith is that every one is welcome. While you are encouraged to give to help keep the church going, it is never a requirement. There is never the thought that your good fortunes are directly related to how much you give - or vice/verso. Church is a place to rely on. A place of community that when you need help, it (and all its people) are there for you. I give what I can. I give because I want to help our church continue all its great programming. I and my community benefit from what it has to offer. I don't give because I expect a miracle to happen.

Six

How did baby #2 get to be SIX so fast ;-) !!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Expectations?

I am part of the ministers review committee for my church. Last night we had our final review with them for the year. It was tough. I like both of our ministers, which makes reviewing their performance very tricky. I don't know how many of you out there are ministers or participate in a minister review process, but it is a fine line. How do you set concrete goals, when the job can change daily? How do you review a person's people skills when a lot of their work is confidential? There aren't any strict Unitarian minister "guidelines". We are congregationaly based, so they job/responsibilities can vary greatly. Each minister signs a covenant with the congregation when they begin their call. This outlines the congregations expectations of them, and their expectations of the congregation. Unfortunately, they tend to be very generalized. Thus, very difficult to review.

As part of the committee, I try really hard to gauge what the congregation is feeling about our ministers. Some of it is great, some of it not. How do you balance that? What do you say when 80% of the congregation is feeling satisfied with the ministers, but the core 20% are not? Does that constitute and ministerial problem? Are expectations too high? Can we really expect the ministers to be everywhere all the time? Is that humanly possible?

I have spent a lot of time lately trying to figure out what I would want from my minister. I know I would want someone who generally seems to care about me and my family. I would want someone who can create a community where other people want to belong to and participate in. This doesn't seem too hard. Now multiply that by 500 (the number of people in our congregation), and now it doesn't seem too easy. Being a minister is a hard job, but, to me, as long as they appeared to be listening and trying, then I will cut them a little more slack.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Seven

How did my little baby get to be SEVEN so fast?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Evangelizing Our Children

I have just read this fascinating essay by Tony A. Larsen (compiled in: "Salted with Fire", Scott W. Alexander, ed.). In the essay, he discusses the various reasons why Unitarian parents are reluctant to "push" their Unitarian faith on their children. He lays out a curriculum plan to help them understand the faith and other world religions. Finally, he talks about what a disservice it is to our faith not to relate to our children that no matter what spiritual path they end up taking, they are always welcome back.

As many Unitarian will attest, we are, as a group, very reluctant to talk about our faith. I tend to feel that this is due to that fact that many of us are not exactly sure what we believe. Some of us came from very structured religions that pretty much told you exactly what the "religion" believes - therefore, that is what you believe. Unitarians are a diverse group. We come from lots of backgrounds with lots of different ideas about God/divine one/spirit. We can't even agree on what words we should use! Thus, as parents, we don't have the convenience of saying (for example), "Well, the church believes in an all-forgiving God - therefore, that is what I believe". To be a Unitarian requires a lot of thought on our part. Some of us are more comfortable with definite ideas, but not everyone. I really would encourage all Unitarians, especially parents, to read various spiritual literature (my side bar has a lot of great Unitarian author listings) to help them develop their beliefs. It is much easier to talk to your children when you have spent the time delving into your own beliefs.

As T. Larsen points out, we should share our beliefs. This is different from pushing them. How can we foster a strong spiritual community, if we don't, at least, let our children know why we come together? In my own congregation, I have found it very interesting how receptive parents are to teaching their children about other religions (which I do think is important), but spend very little time at home talking about our religion - in particular, what they receive from Unitarianism. Why are they Unitarians? What beliefs do they have about the greater world and Spirituality? How does that fit in with being a UU? I thought my household was doing a decent job of this, but I was wrong. After I read this essay, I asked my almost 7 y/o "what religion are we?" A very innocent (and easy) question. Not so. After hemming and hawing, she was struggling with the name. My almost 6 y/o finally piped up and said "that Uniiiittttar.... one?" How many other main stream religions do you know where, if the children are going to Sunday school (or the equivalent) every week, as we do, would not know the name of the religion? I can pretty much guarantee every 7 y/o Lutheran, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. would easily answer it correctly. Whose fault is this? I would say mine. My husband and I are very involved in the church. Obviously we need to bring it home. Religious education only at church can not be expected to fill in the gaps.

Finally, I do want my children to fully explore their spirituality. If this means leaving Unitarian Universalism, then that is ok. I will always let them know, though, that they will be welcome back. As a faith, I feel we need to do a better job of reaching out to young adults. We need to tell our children that they are valued members of the congregation. I feel that in doing this, when they look back on their days in the UU church, they will have positive feelings and wherever their path takes them, they will have come from a solid foundation.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Faith in Politics

Although it is hard to believe, there has already been two presidential debates. (I find this mind boggling, as the election is well over a year away.) A key point in both the Republican and Democratic debate was each of the candidates view/reliance on their faith. This always gets my hackles up. One part of me wants to scream "What about separation of church and state? Why is this even asked?" You wouldn't ask someone in a job interview what their religion is (or isn't). In fact, it would constitute a lawsuit. Another part wants to say "I don't care. As long as you seem reasonably ethical, that is fine." But that isn't completely true. I find it very unnerving when politicians talk about how their faith guides them.

First, it is very exclusionary. I know that many of them feel that they are appealing to the larger audience, reassuring people that they are answering to a higher power - not just their own human mind. The larger audience, though, are not all Christians. Most are not born-again. As a Unitarian, I find no comfort in the fact that they are calling to a higher power (Jesus) that I do not believe is my Savior. I have a feeling that atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, etc. also find this less then reassuring. Additionally, it resonates with other non-Christian countries as Christendom's continual tries for domination. It makes it very hard for them to find common ground with which to work for peace and acceptance.

Second, I find it is a way for political leaders to absolve themselves of responsibility. It is much easier to justify the deaths of innocent civilians and soldiers when you claim that there is a higher reason for your war. Obviously, our own president is an excellent example of this. How many political or religious leaders have "fallen" only to ask for forgiveness for their human nature? As if their humanity was to blame - not their own, very real, decision making.

Finally, as a Unitarian, I am very uncomfortable using the word faith - especially in regards to political decision making. One of the main reasons I am drawn to Unitarian Universalism is the emphasis it puts on the ability for humankind to be rational, ethical people. I truly believe this. I don't feel you have to have faith to make responsible, appropriate decisions. I believe in the ability of the human mind to reason, without the need for "divine" intervention. I do think there is room in politics for people of all beliefs, but it should not be the driving force in their political campaign. As UUs know, actions speak a whole lot louder then words.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Enough is Enough

Recently a news report came out stating that US economic growth is the lowest it has been in years. Somewhere around 2%. There is also non-stop talk about the decline in the housing market - especially in housing starts. Yesterday, a local company announced it is being bought out by a much larger institution - allowing it even greater growth. Last fall, I was saddened to see Burt's Bees and The Body Shop sold, also to allow them greater "growth".

I am not against growth, I am just frustrated by the great emphasis put on it. Of course, there needs to be a certain amount of growth . Companies need to be able to cover their expenses, support themselves and their employees, and allow for innovation. But, when is enough enough? Obviously some people would say, "the sky's the limit. Why would we even consider limiting our growth? That is antithetical to our entrepreneurial values." But where does it really get you?

I would posit that, in the end, you lose a lot. There is a loss of quality and connectedness with the customer, employee satisfaction often diminishes thus product output decreases, and there becomes a disconnect between the corporation goals and the actual needs of society. I am most disappointed with companies that started out with an ethical and sustainable vision and, in the end - to "reach a greater audience" -have sold themselves to large conglomerates. What is wrong with staying at the level you are at? Why is there always a strong push for more? We are so wrapped up in the bottom line, we fail to see the bigger picture.

This obviously spills into the rest of our lives. The whole phrase "keeping up with the Jones'" pervades advertising. People are confronted constantly with the need to have more. Somehow having more will make your life better. There is little talk of the downside to having more: higher mortgages, more clutter, more debt, more reponsibilities, less time to enjoy life, questionable values, depletion of natural resources and, finally, exhaustion! I am very encouraged by the growing simplicity and taking back childhood movements. I would also add responsible consumerism. Shop local, buy from the farmer's market and CSA, make a difference in your community. I feel grateful that I have friends that have similar values and we try the best we can. Plus, it is a lot of fun to get out there and see what our community has to offer!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Remember

It seems that evey year Memorial Day becomes more of shopping/BBQ holiday than an actual rememberence for all those people who have died fighting for our nation. While I have very strong opinions about our current war with Iraq, that is not what this post is about. I come from a family that benefitted from all the positives that a career with the military has to offer. My father was fortunate to have joined the Navy as the Vietnam War was ending and only served in Spain. After putting in five years, he then put in fifteen more with the Reserves. Dutifully serving every other weekend and four weeks every year. The places he served? Hawaii, Philippines, and Japan. Not too bad- at least from the pictures. I even worked as a camp counselor on an Air Force base. Our family was lucky. I mention this because I have seen the advantages a military career can bring.

Obviously, there is another side. One that has thousands of soldiers losing their lives. These are men and women who have families, that are grieving everyday for their loss. I currently have extended family overseas. I hope everyday that they make it home safely. I also grieve for all the innocent civilians caught up in the politics of their country, that lose their lives daily. I will never completley understand why "civilized" countries have to go to war. I will, though, remember the people who fought for what they believed, or, frankly, were doing their job to the best of their abilities. I will also remember the people who, through no fault of their own, died on the battlefield. Finally, I will hope and work for peace.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bunny Update

I checked the bunny nest today and they are all snuggled together. They are so tiny and cute (now that they have fur). While the rabbits are my garden's nemisis, it is hard not to admire their babies!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Baby Birds

Everywhere I look, there are baby birds! A whole cadre a siblings were cheeping on the ground looking for their mommy and/or food. One part of me felt sorry for them and I wanted to dig up a big mess of earthworms to feed them, then the more rational side said "this is how nature intended it to be, and they will be fine". It is hard to see little ones so desperate for something and not be able to help. I was happy to see the next day that they had all found their way home. I just wish all babies could have such luck.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Pro-Family

Today I was reading one of the many articles discussing Jerry Falwell's ministry. While I disagree with many things he stands for, the article's mention of his pro-family platform really irritated me. (Disclaimer - due to a very unsatisfying meeting today, I am a little cranky.) I have a lot of issues with the conservative right exclusively claiming that they are "pro-family". How did this happen?! Just because I am not Christian, does not mean that I am not pro-family. If fact, most of my liberal religious friends are very much pro-family. Of course, the conservative religious right (and I do know I am making great generalizations) will argue that they believe in the man/women/child family not the inclusiveness that the religious left would claim. To me, a family will always be a group of people who love and are there for eachother. Why does it matter so much how that is arranged? Do we really want to spend what little time we have on earth supressing the love we have for eachother as a family just because it doesn't fit traditional molds?

Why, as religious liberals, did we let them take this word? Why do they get to be "pro-family", while we are considered to be "tearing down the family structure"? How do we get it back? A minister I really admire has often talked about reclaiming words. I think as Unitarians we really shy away from using words that have such strong connotations. Many of us come from backgrounds heavily influenced by these "words" and it is not easy to see them in a new light. I would love to see more (and I have seen a few out there) bumper stickers declaring "Pro-Family Unitarian". The more we use this vocabulary, the more comfortable we will be with it. We can't let other people monopolize words that actually, also, apply to us.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Surprise!

I spent most of the day weeding our garden. Due to a lot of rain (and my own lack of attention) the garden had become overrun with them. I had also started tomatoes inside and they were desperate to get in the ground. It turned out to be a very relaxing time. I started in one corner and slowly worked my way across the garden. I planted nine tomato plants (my first year of heirlooms!), peppers, and my first jalepeno plant. Due to a very hungry bunny, our lettuce and spinach have not been as prolific as usual. It was very satisfying to see the asparagus stand tall and the potatoes really taking off. I can not express enough how great it is to have a garden. As has been mentioned in many books (most recently Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver), it is so important for us and our children to realize where food comes from (not the supermarket). There is no better way to connect to the earth and nature then to actual work with it. It saddens me to realize that children think cheetos are a "real" food. I also think that people will respect the environment a whole lot more when they can actual see, feel, and taste the important things it produces. There is no greater joy then seeing my children harvest the fruits of their labor.

The surprise today was finding a little bunny nest! I literally screamed (not because I am afraid of bunnies ;-), but b/c it was so totally unexpected. They were obviously newborn as they had no fur. I really believe that animals just aren't as cute when they don't have their "coats". The quandry is - what to do?! The nest is next to the garden wall, in the actual garden. Now I know why that bunny was so hungry. Obviously I will not kill them, but I am planning an elaborate fence structure to somehow lead them out of the garden and on their way. Anyone have any other suggestions?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Lucky & Grateful

Today is my birthday. It is not some major "mile marker" birthday - just a further progression of my thirties. I didn't sleep very well, mostly because of my very childish excitment that it is MY special day! The thing is, though, I did wake up feeling very lucky and grateful. I am grateful to have such a wonderful group of family and friends. I don't know how I got so lucky to have them, but I am thankful everyday for them. I think of all the people who are truly suffering, through no fault of their own, and don't know why I am so fortunate. The most I can do is express to the people in my life how much I love them and work towards making the world a better/safer/kinder place for those who can't.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Teaching Bad Behavior

I am currently reading "Blessing the World - What Can Save Us Now" by Rebecca Ann Parker. It is a compilation of essays discussing ways religious liberals can make sense of and come to terms with the cruetly and devestation that the world is facing. So far it has been an interesting read. She has already got me really thinking about the way I, as a liberal, am processing such horrendous human behavior. How do we make sense of the cruetly so many humans are enduring, the crisis the environment is facing, and our own uncertain futures?

She posits that we don't spend enough time dealing with the violent/bad side of human nature. The Christian's have Lent to remind themselves of Jesus' very violent and humiliating death. The Jews have Yom Kippur to reflect upon their own failings and ask for forgiveness. The Muslims fast during Ramadan trying to reach a better self-awareness of their very human natures. What, as Unitarians, do we do? Not much.

Our religious education spends most of its time discussing the positive side of humans. We are told that there is good in everyone, that there is hope for the future, that we can make a difference. All this I really do believe. I don't feel that there is anything wrong in this, but are we depriving ourselves a true understanding of the human condition by not spending time discussing our "bad" side? I even hesitate to use this word, as it can mean so many different things. We, and our children, are not blind to the horrible things going on around us. But how do I explain to myself and my children why these things happen? We aren't doing ourselves any favors by not acknowledging that there is a dark side to humans. All of us have thoughts that we aren't proud of. No matter how "good" we are, we aren't perfect. I wish Unitarians had a tradition (Christian UU's do) of a period of time to reflect on this "other" side of human nature. Once we delve into it, we can begin the process of how to acknowledge and work with it. In doing this, we will be stronger as a community and better able to handle the next crisis that comes our way.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Eternal Families

Last night I watched Part Two of an interesting PBS documentary about Mormons. I have always found this religion a tad fascinating as I know I could never believe in Joseph Smith's revelations, but so many people do. I am not judging them, though, because no matter what your religion, you have to have "faith" that the unexplainable did occur or will happen.

What I want to write about is their interesting concept of Eternal Families. From what I understand, families go through a "sealing" process. This ensures that their families will be together for eternity - in this life and the next. It is an interesting concept and one I have never really thought about. As a parent, I can't imagine not always being with my family. I have no idea what happens after death, but I just assumed that if there is some sort of afterlife, of course my children would be there. It seems odd that you need an actual ceremony. But, the peace of mind that it brought these families was pretty amazing. They gave an example where a daughter (around 20) was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. The one thing giving her comfort was that even though she would not get to see and experience all that her ten brother and sisters would, she would get to be with them again in the next life. The families they portrayed seemed very strong and committed to each other.

As Unitarians, we don't have the luxury of such concrete notions. There are no definate ideas of families and "the beyond". While each of us may or may not have a solid idea of where we are headed, there is no certainty. Unitarianism puts emphasis on the here and now and making this life the best it can be. I agree with that, but sometimes think we don't allow ourselves enough time to reflect on what physical death means. Obviously we can't ever know, but I like to think somehow we will all come together as one (whether or not we have been sealed). Until that time, I will continue to work towards the best life possible right now.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

DIY

I am particularly excited about the growing Do-It-Yourself movement. This falls into so many of my values. I feel that we have become such an immediate gratification, throw it out culture that we miss the intrinsic value in creating/doing something for ourselves, families, and communitites. In addition the environmental and economical benefits are very rewarding. Of course, we can't do everything ourselves and some of us have greater strengths is one area than another - but that is where community comes in. I happen to love sewing and have made it a goal of mine to sew as much of my clothing as possible (I am very inspiried by the Wardrobe Refashion site). My husband chooses to do as much improving around the house as he can. This includes consciously trying to use as much recycled and reused materials in building our garden, herb boxes, and future rainwater collection site. Instead of throwing away our "old" things, we donate to local groups that try, inturn, to reuse them.

What I am trying to say, in a very roundabout way, is in DIY, you have control over how much you impact the environment. It also forces (in a fun way) you to think about what really needs to be purchased and what you can do. I love learning new skills and knowing that I don't have to always depend on someone else to do it for me. I also want my children to become conscientious consumers and really value the work they try to do. I am passionate about raising self-sufficient children - not afraid to try. Plus, when you do it yourself, it can be as fun and crazy as you want it to be!

I don't want to leave the topic without mentioning how important it is to donate back your services to your community, no matter how small the effort. I find the more I help other people, the more they help me with things I can't do or just am ridiculously bad at (such as getting my computer to do what I would like - thanks Kelly & Juliette). Having a community also keeps me inspired and encourages me to keep trying, no matter how frustrated I get.

FYI - this just the beginning of my thoughts on the environment!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Call to Action

Today the UUSC (UU Service Committee) is asking people to call the White House to ask President Bush to increase diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in Darfur. We are hoping to have a critical mass of people call the President on Monday to really make our voices heard. Their campaign - Drumbeat for Darfur - is working towards ending the genocide. If you get a chance, please call the White House today at 202.456.1111. Ask President Bush to help increase diplomatic pressure on the Sudanese government and that the UN send Peacekeeping troups.

I feel as Unitarians, we are called to help all people. The Darfurians are suffering unimaginable cruelties. Their voices are not being heard. It is up to us to make the call for them.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Valuing the older Generation

I was recently at a UU women't retreat. It was a wonderful gathering of women of all ages and beliefs. It was a great chance to really talk with people that aren't in my usual "group". I was reminded of how important it is to reach out to people not my age. There were women in their seventies and eighties still trying to "fight the fight". It was fascinating to see how liberal they still are. I looked at them and hoped that I still feel that passionately when I am their age. Two older women in particular were at very different ends of self-reflection. One felt that all her work had amounted to nothing. Another felt there is still hope for the world as long as we keep trying. Amongst the women we had a good and lively discussion. I like to think that the younger of us helped the older women see that whether or not world peace comes in their lifetime they have inspired the rest of to continue the work.

If you get a chance today - give someone who inspires you a call and maybe the feeling will be mutual.

The Principles

Unitarians are often asked "so what do you believe, anyway?". This answer can (and usually will be) different for almost every Unitarian. In fact, my answer might be different from one day to the next. While Unitarian Universalism (UU) doesn't subscribe to any one creed, they do follow what they call The Seven Prinicples. This blog is my and my husband's attempt in this very busy, crazy world to live our values based upon the seven principles. They are as follows:

1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person

2. Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations

4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning

5. The right and conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large

6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all

7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

I must say that I personally feel that these are great principles to live by no matter what your spiritual or non-spiritual practices.