Monthly Archives: November 2012

This Sunday, December(!) 2nd

Dear church,

It is the first Sunday of Advent! Holy moly…that came quick. It is also the month that we will delve into the topic of prayer together at UU Area Church. Be sure to participate in the really rich discussion in the blog post below (Why I Teach my Children to Pray) about God, prayer, and teaching children to pray. It is fascinating and inspiring to hear what other parents do to nurture their children’s spiritual lives.

Please stay tuned for information about our annual solstice service. I will need young friends to participate in the service with me, and all of you are invited to help. The service is December 23. More information will be forthcoming on this blog as soon as it is available.

This Sunday we have new teachers in our Religious Education classes! Please join me in a resounding chorus of HOORAY! for their ministry to our children. Please also give them a big thank you or a hug or a high five when you see them on Sunday. And communicate with them as early and often as possible about your kids so that they can know how to best care for them in their classrooms.

This Sunday, babies, 2s and 3s and preschool/kindergarteners will begin in their classrooms.

1st-8th graders will begin in the sanctuary before being dismissed to their classrooms.

Coming of Age friends! I missed you last week. There was a hole in my heart the size of twelve 14-year-olds on Sunday. This Sunday, you will come to worship, and you will love it. Then you will come to Coming of Age where your awesome mentors will be yet again. We will be talking about prayer this week since we are launching into a month-long thematic exploration of prayer as a church.

By the way, when we meet in the sanctuary this Sunday, we will be treated to liturgical dance by a nearby spiritual dance company. I’m really looking forward to seeing prayer in its embodied form, a completely un-New England, anti-Puritan, out-of-my-comfort-zone ancient practice that I’m willing make room for it in my heart. I hope you will, too.

So on that note, here’s a completely silly liturgical dance by Religious Education teacher (it’s true! He teaches Sunday School) Stephen Colbert, to help welcome in the season in which we make room in our hearts for all sorts of things–the light as it returns to the earth, the little miracle of oil burning much longer than it is supposed to, and the coming of a king.

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Advent Reflection: Why I Teach My Children to Pray

by Robin Bartlett Barraza

An Advent Prayer

O come, o come Emmanuel,

God-with-us; God-among-us; God-within-us.

You come with the twinkling starlight, reminding us that light returns.

You come with the slow sunlight that beams upon our dark earth in increments of hope,

You come in every human baby, naked, wailing; each and every one born to save.

You come in every evergreen bow and flake of snow.

You are in-dwelling and in every person we meet, and in all of the arching branches of trees,

Ground of our being, You are the ground that will soften when spring’s full light shines down upon our world after the coming winter.

Come, light. Come, peace. Come, Emmanuel.

Amen.

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent, which means “coming”, is my favorite time of year because it marks a time of anticipation–of uncluttering our homes for the coming winter–of making space in our hearts for the coming light as it returns to the earth–of anticipating the coming kin-dom of heaven on earth, where peace and joy and justice reign.

This is also the month that we explore prayer at UU Area Church in Sherborn. This is a good thing for me because this twinkling time of darkness and over-consumption and dysfunctional family gatherings makes me want to pray–for light, for transcending earthly desires, for the healing of past hurts.

Sometimes I hear from my fellow UUs that I “pray too much” for their taste, and that I “say God too much”.  As someone who grew up as a UU atheist, who never prayed a day in her life until adulthood, it never ceases to amaze me that I am thought of as particularly pious among my fellow UU brothers and sisters.

So I’d like to tell you a little bit about my history with prayer, and by extension, with God.

Prayer is a hard-won and difficult practice for me…one that helps tenderize my somewhat hardened and forgetful heart; a discipline that helps me carve out time in my day to remember human suffering, to focus on something greater than myself, and to give thanks for all that I have.

Prayer is fraught for me, as well. I often stop to question who or what I’m praying to. I worry that I am an imposter; that God will know I often don’t believe in God. I worry about what I mean by “God” when I say that name aloud. After all, I use “God” as a symbol to express ultimacy and mystery, knowing full well that any symbol we use to describe ultimate meaning is faulty and flawed by definition. Of course, then there are the inevitable questions about whether or not God hears or answers my prayers; whether God is oriented towards Love; whether God cares about me or any other praying person.

And I stumble and mumble when I pray. As someone raised atheist, it likely makes sense to you that I was never taught how. My mother still finds it surprising that she managed to bring me up without my learning.

She asked me last year when I was working as a hospital chaplain for the summer if she had ever taught me the Lord’s Prayer. “No,” I told her. “We didn’t say it at church growing up, remember? I actually learned it as an adult. I mean, sure, I had heard it a lot growing up in a culturally Christian country, but I always got it mixed up with other prayers. I’d try to say it and it would come out something like ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Blessed are the fruits of thy womb, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me, for your’s is the kingdom and the power and the glory (I always loved that part) forever and ever. Amen.'”

My mom said. “Huh. Yeah, I guess I never taught you to pray because I didn’t want you to be as disappointed as I was in God when my prayers were never answered.”

You see, my mother’s older sister died at age 6 of meningitus. After her death, my mom had prayed the Lord’s prayer every night, at the end asking for a little brother or sister. Twice, my grandmother got pregnant, and told my mother that her prayers had been answered. Twice, my grandmother lost the baby at 30 weeks. After the second miscarriage, my mom stopped believing in God, and praying the Lord’s Prayer. It felt like another death to her.

My mom eventually found the UU church as a young adult, vowing to raise her children without God and prayer, not wanting her children to suffer the pain of a God who doesn’t listen, or worse, listens and doesn’t care. As a result, my mom spared me from ever being hurt by an all-powerful, all-loving God who also allows babies to die. As a UU atheist kid, I just wasn’t wounded the way my mom was by God, and I am grateful to have escaped that pain.

And yet, I taught myself how to pray as an adult because I needed a way to express my gratitude for un-earned gifts; to decry my brokenness and the brokenness of the world; to ask for mercy; to express my wonder; to have a symbolic working language for ultimacy. I think we all do this in our own way. My mom sings; I speak, reclaiming a symbolic language that was largely foreign to me, and therefore contains mysterious power.

I teach my children to pray, too. We say grace at meals, and we pray at bedtime. I worry that I can’t explain my nuanced, adult version of God to them; that I will damage them the way my mom was damaged. I soldier on anyway, wanting them to have daily expressions of care, empathy, humility and gratitude; and wanting them to have the symbols to reject, and break, and return to when they need them.

This is how we organize our bedtime prayers. We reflect on three things together in bed. 1) What am I sorry for today? 2) Who am I worried about today? and 3) What am I grateful for today? Sometimes we begin our prayers with “Dear God” and sometimes we begin our prayers with nothing at all. We always end with “Amen”, since that is my two-year-old’s favorite word to say emphatically. And yes, we usually conclude with the Lord’s prayer, because I want them to have some rote prayers to say when they don’t know what to pray. They love the “kingdom, power and glory forever and ever” part, too.

Do you pray in your family? Have daily “thankful fors”? Please continue the conversation in the comments; I’d love to hear your reflections on fumbling through parenting faithful kids, or your own journey with prayer.

Many blessings for peace, hope and love this Advent,

Robin

This Sunday, November 25

“Often I have felt that I must praise my world
For what my eyes have seen these many years
And what my heart has loved.
And often I have tried to start my lines:

‘Dear Earth,’ I say, and then I pause
To look once more.

Soon I am bemused
And far away in wonder.

So I never get beyond ‘Dear Earth.’”

Max Kapp

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends. May we praise the world in awe for what our eyes have seen, and may we praise the Love that sustains us through its brokenness. Be gentle with yourselves and your families this week, and know that your church community is grateful for your presence in this beautiful and brutal world.

This Sunday, November 25th is the last Sunday of the fall semester! We will have a regular RE Sunday despite the holiday weekend, which means that babies-kindergarteners will begin in their classrooms. 1st-8th graders will begin in the sanctuary for a “time for all ages” before being dismissed to their classes.

A snapshot of our learning this week:

Babies will be lovingly held in the nursery.

2 and 3 year olds will talk about the different constellations of families and make paper dolls.

Preschool/Kindergarteners will be exploring the meaning of Thanksgiving.

1st and 2nd graders will hear the story “I love you, Sun, I love you Moon”.

3rd and 4th graders will be exploring the meaning of charitable giving.

5th, 6th and 7th graders will be learning about the hymn “Morning Has Broken”.

8th graders will be focusing on integration–processing the experiences of worshipping in the Catholic and Jewish traditions.

There will be no Coming of Age class on Sunday.

Fall semester RE teachers are asked to meet in the Fahs room for a brief teacher de-brief with me and a member of the RE Committee. Hope to see you there!

The following week, December 2nd, new teachers will be in our classrooms! Winter teachers: please attend a brief training at 9:15 am in the Fahs room, followed by a visit to the classroom for “transition training” if you haven’t already done so.

Please join me in thanking this trimester’s religious education teachers for their love, creativity and flexibility in working with our children. They are each a blessing to this church community.

With every good wish for a bright, blessed and warm holiday weekend,

Robin

Love, like a carefully loaded ship

        We just had our first meeting with mentors and youth in the Coming of Age program after church on Sunday, and we were all struck with how profound the experience was. Twelve youth and twelve adults came together in a room and shared our spiritual autobiographies with one another. Twelve youth and twelve adults were changed from the experience.
       We aren’t used to starting up friendships with people that we have to work really hard to interact with.  Interacting with someone who doesn’t seem much like you requires a lot of effort and translation and awkward silence and empathy and commitment. We all bring our own fears to making connection. “What if she doesn’t like me?” “What if he thinks I’m not cool?” Further, we need to try and understand a new language. The language of youth, the language of the upper class or the lower class, the language of the business or PhD world, the language of another country, the language of hip hop or the evangelical church or the greatest generation. We’ll definitely fail at learning these new languages a few times, and we’ll fumble around with the awkward way it sounds on our tongues, and so we’ll have to try again and again. It’s hard and vulnerable stuff, my siblings in spirit.
       Cross-generational friendships are particularly hard to create and foster. Perhaps your potential new friend wasn’t alive when John Kennedy was shot, or has no concept of what it felt like to be a child when the Twin Towers fell. Perhaps he has dealt with dentures for years and you haven’t even lost all your baby teeth yet. Perhaps your potential new friend loves Justin Bieber and you don’t have any idea who that is. Perhaps you fear that all people over 30 are not to be trusted, or at least that they forget what it was like to be a teenager.
         But these these brave and bold and counter-cultural friendships…these friendships are how we learn about what it means to be a human fully alive. These friendships are how we learn about death, and how it informs our living. These friendships are often our insight into the holy’s movement among us—into how divinity shows up in all people—from the baby to the octogenarian.
        In a culture that seeks to divide us, instead we choose to come together in our church, choosing to make intentional, multi-generational family with people not in our biological family. This is radical stuff, and it is not something we should shrug our shoulders at. As a church, we are stewards of one of the last institutions left that seeks to foster these kinds of relationships, and we must do everything we can to hold up and celebrate the ways in which we do this. We need to shout from the rooftops why extrafamilial cross-generational relationships are so important and life-giving.
        We are a community that seeks to practice what it means to love one another across difference, at our most unloveable, and in our deepest need so that we might be transformed, and can then go out and transform the world. We are practicing building what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Beloved Community. We practice building this beloved community when we give grace to the restless toddler in the pew next to us, or put up with music in worship that isn’t our favorite because we know it matters deeply to someone else; or squirm through a long sermon that we know is really meeting someone where they are right now because we can see the tears in their eyes. We practice when we mentor a youth in the Coming of Age program, teach a Religious Education class, when we bake cookies to bring to our elders who are housebound, or when we offer to babysit for a young family so the parents can go out at night. We practice when we work to make sure our church is accessible to all, sometimes having to forgo our own comfort. We practice when we listen. We practice when we get to know one another as unique messengers of the divine; as storytellers that have a piece of our stories woven into theirs.
       Antoine de St. Exupery reminds us that “in a house which becomes a home one hands down and another takes up the heritage of mind and heart, laughter and tears, musings and deeds. Love, like a carefully loaded ship, crosses the gulf between the generations.”
       May we be like a carefully loaded ship, crossing the gulf that divides us with fear and misunderstanding to meet one another in unity and love on the other side.

This Sunday in Church, November 18th

Dear Church,

Can you believe it is almost Thanksgiving? This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for our fall religious education teachers. The theme of the month at church is sacrfice. We are told that the word “sacrifice” means to “make sacred”, and to give an offering. Our religious education teachers have sacrificed–offered up–their Sundays to make our children’s Sundays sacred this fall. Next week is their last week teaching (on the 25th). I hope you will remember them in your prayers of gratitude.

Winter trimester teachers will have teacher training this Thursday from 7:30 pm-9:00 pm. Please come even if you have been trained in the past!

We also honor Tina Johson’s work with us as she leaves us for a new position at the end of this month. Tina has been the religious education assistant in the office, and has made the work of gathering and providing materials for our children and youth sacred. Tina describes her favorite moments here as when she holds the door at the side of the sanctuary open for the children as they leave for their class. We have all appreciated the warmth of her holding a door open for us. Please join me and the religious education committee in thanking her for her service.

Junior Youth Group Friday, November 16 (from Chris, Marco and Tim)
There will be a Junior Youth Group event this Friday, Nov. 16…our Winter Walk!
Time:  7pm-9pm
Where:  Chris and Marco’s house.  See email for directions.
What to bring: We will walk for over an hour in Elm Bank in Wellesley/Dover, just down the street.  Kids need to have warm clothes, even if they don’t want to wear them. They can’t attend without having a hat, warm jacket and gloves in a bag. If it’s slightly misty/light drizzle, we will still walk, so they should also bring a windbreaker. We will have s’mores in the backyard afterwards.
[Rain Plan: If it’s really rainy, we will meet at the church and have some kind of snack and play games.  Please look for an email Thurs. night/Fri. a.m. to confirm the evening’s location.]
Please let us know by Wednesday a.m. if your child will be attending (bobcatschell@aol.com).

This Sunday in RE
This Sunday in church we will return to our regularly scheduled religious education classes after a teacher break for children’s church this week. Babies, the 2s and 3s class, and preschoolers/kindergarteners will go directly to their classrooms this Sunday. 1st-8th graders will begin in the sanctuary before being dismissed to their classes.

Coming of Age this Sunday is MEET YOUR MENTOR Sunday!! This is a long-awaited, much-anticipated moment of awesomeness. Please, mentors and youth…if you will not be in attendance, let your mentor/mentee know. Even if your mentor will not be in attendance, you are expected to be there. Our Coming of Age kids have already figured out what they believe about God, morality and sin, so mentors have a lot to catch up with us on.

Friends, I am looking forward to seeing you in church.

Bright blessings on your week,

Robin

The Whole World is Your Neighbor

Last Monday, I saw a picture posted on one of my friend’s facebook pages. It was of two next door neighbors’ yards in Ohio. One lawn had a Romney yard sign displayed prominently, and the neighbor next door had an Obama yard sign, proudly placed on the edge for all to see. There were additional large signs with arrows pointing to each other’s houses that said, “And we’re still friends.” That “we’re still friends” sign was a sign of relief for me last week; a moment of sanity; a gift of love. We spent so much time dehumanizing each other in the name of politics this season, it was a breath of fresh air to see that sign.

We’re still friends. It’s over, we are taking our yard signs down, and we are getting back to the business of being neighborly. Our world depends on it. This post-election week, I am feeling privileged to be in a church where we remember first and foremost that we belong to each other, and that we are more alike than different. What separates us is less important than what binds us together.

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Our children are good teachers and reminders of why these principles matter. This Sunday in Children’s Church, the children in preschool-8th grade heard the story of the Good Samaritan. They reflected on a contentious political season that often got mean, and wondered aloud what it might be like if we always took Jesus’ commandment seriously to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” We did that by reflecting both on “how do I want to be loved?” and “who is my neighbor?” The children took paper hearts and wrote one way that they had loved others in the past month, and how they want to be loved. Below are some of their responses:

Ways I want to be loved:

“I would like to be treated fairly and nicely.”

“I want to be loved as much as anyone else.”

“I want my dad to read Harry Potter to me.”

“My sister to stop being mean to me.”

“I would like to be appreciated more.”

“Accept me.”

“Especially today…send me energy.”

“I want to be loved as a friend.”

“I want to be loved nicely and kindly.”

“I want to be loved all the time.”

“I want someone to love me sooooooo much. And I want to help poor people.”

“I want to be treated with respect because I treat other people with respect.”

“Hugs.”

Here are some of the ways our kids were loving to others this week:

“with gifts.”

“at school this week my best friend was being annoyed by a bully at school. She was following her around even after she asked her to stop. So I went over and talk to the bully and tolder to stop.”

“I stopped a bully stop bullying someone.”

“I cleaned my room without being asked.”

“my neighbor is my mom because I help her with leaves.”

“I let my friend use my coat on a cold day.”

“I was a neighbor to my friend when I helped her with a problem.”

“I have helped my dad wrap my mom’s birthday presents.”

“I prayed for Grandma.”

“I went to my cousin’s play and they did great!”

“I gave my mom candy and she is taking me to the movies today.”

“I shared love and rubbed my mother’s back without her asking.”

“I did chores for my mom and dad.”

“I helped my mom water the plants.”

“I gave my friend m&ms.”

“I helped someone feel better after someone else said something hurtful to them.”

“One way I helped someone was when I helped my friend with her homework!”

At the end of children’s church today, I watched as everyone carefully whisked away our chairs, altar and piano like little elves, and within minutes had set up the hall as a young childrens’ play space. Family Promise is staying at the church this week, and the people of this church–elders, adults, youth, children–quickly transformed our space into a loving place for homeless kids to play and live. I marveled at how during a month marked by political rancor and division, we can come together and do the work of church–loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love is a verb, and we carry it out in action.

May it always and ever be so.

Robin