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For my Isaac on his baptism day

isaac BL

March 16, 2014

Dear beautiful baby boy,

Isaac, my blue-eyed, happy little tender snip of a little man: I love you with all my heart. I never imagined you in my life, and now I can’t imagine our life without you. You have built a bridge of grace from the beautiful blue-eyed man I have chosen to spend my life with—a bridge to me and to the two precious girls who have been my heart long before you were all conceived—Cecilia and Eloisa.

Isaac, you’re just a little baby. You can’t even talk. And yet you have helped us all to understand ourselves anew, and in relation to one another. I know that a love beyond all knowing is at work in us when I look at smiling, soft little you–when I look at the five of us, together–because you have completed our recently reconfigured family in a way I never could have imagined years ago when I was dreaming up what my family might look like. You and your father came soon after the deepest sadness our family has experienced: a divorce and a new way of living. You came after a death of an old way of life. And you and your father are my proof that there is life on the other side of heartbreak, that Love conquers even death. You have helped us become whole and healed. I pray that this feels like a gift to you more than it feels like an obligation or a burden. Ultimately, I think we were all born to be a bridge and a healing in the world. That we were all called to live on the borders like you do. That’s God work. You will know what it is to be a border person in a different way than others do by virtue of your birth, and this, too, is a gift. And I’m sure it will sometimes feel hard, and burdensome. Your family isn’t easy all the time, but it is real.

Most important of all, I hope that you know that I love you the way God loves you: for all of who you are, and despite imperfection. Since I am not God, I will sometimes fail at loving you well. I hope that you know that your family will try hard to keep you safe in our imperfect love nonetheless. I hope that we also challenge you to take risks that help you grow.

Isaac, today you are being welcomed into a community of faith with your baptism, into the Church Universal. This isn’t always going to be easy, either. It will sometimes feel hard, because being a preacher’s kid isn’t easy all the time. And it will sometimes feel hard because the Church, just like the world, is full of people and people are not always easy all the time. But I believe this faith, this way of life, is worthy of your attention and intention, or I wouldn’t pass it on to you. I hope that you know that we are baptizing you today so that we might express our intentions to raise you well and in Love, with a lot of help from faithful people and from God who is Love. I pray that this feels more like a gift to you than an obligation or a burden, though I’m sure it will sometimes feel like both. The Church isn’t easy all the time but it is real. And I hope that the Church will love you in the way God loves you: for all of who you are and despite imperfection. Because the Church is not God, they will fail sometimes at loving you well. But I hope the Church feels like a safe place to nurture your spirit, and that it doesn’t feel so safe that it won’t challenge you to take risks that help you grow.

And I hope for you the following things:
I hope that you might know yourself beloved. It’s important to me that you know you don’t need this baptism to prove that you are God’s own beloved, because everyone’s in just by virtue of their birth, baby. I hope that you always remember that, too. Everyone’s in.

I hope that you will live your life as a gift—the gift that you already are–to this broken and beautiful world.

I hope that your inevitable heartbreak and despair will never overcome your sense of joy in living for long. The world is brutal and beautiful, and I hope its beauty continues to dazzle you as it does now.

I hope that you will understand yourself not as a consumer of goods, but as a part of the kingdom of God, no less and no more important than any other human being. There will be so many opportunities to numb yourself to feeling. I pray that you don’t get addicted to any of them, because you’ll miss out on so many opportunities to feel. Feeling is hard but it’s good. I promise.

I hope you know that in my eyes, you are perfect just as you are, and in who you are becoming. That I don’t care about your achievement in school, in sports, on standardized tests, in your ability to get into a good college or get a good high paying job. I just want you to be brave and kind. That’s the only kind of achievement that matters in the end.

I am getting baptized with you today, Isaac. And that is because your birth symbolized my rebirth, by the grace of Love.

With all of my love as long as I live,

Mommy

Check out uuworld.org : the surprising success of lifeboat faith

Doug Muder writes:

“Where the mid-twentieth-century intellectual elite went wrong, I think, was in its assessment of what religion meant to everybody else. Sure, scientific theories like evolution and the Big Bang offer a more compelling interpretation of the evidence than the myths in Genesis. But the core attraction of religion has never been its ability to explain the physical world. Christianity didn’t replace paganism because Noah’s flood story was more compelling than Gilgamesh’s, and today’s fundamentalists aren’t going to switch churches to find a better account of the fossil record.

Far more than explanation, the appeal of religion lies in identity and orientation: Who am I? Who are my people? Why is my life important, and what am I supposed to be doing with it? The rapid change in the modern era has only increased the importance of those perennial questions and raised the value of answers that feel solid and steady.”

 

Check out uuworld.org : the surprising success of lifeboat faith

Congregational Polity

Dear friends,

I am reading the Cambridge Platform for my UU Polity class, a document written a signed in 1648 by our Puritan forebears here in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A response to the Westminster Confession written in the same time period, the document established our congregations as separate bodies, governed by themselves–by the laity–to covenant together to walk in the ways of love with one another and with God. Their devotion to the Bible, and the laity’s insistence that we read and interpret the biblical text without the intervention of church hierarchy was their inspiration for the creation of this document. And the Cambridge Platform established from that day forward what is referred to as congregational polity.

It was entirely democratic; this form of church governance, and it is still the form of governance we use in our UU churches in 2013.

And friends, it was some radical stuff. It was seriously progressive. And make no mistake about it: there was nothing remotely liberal or progressive about the Puritans except their polity. These were the people who established blue laws in Massachusetts–who believed in the total depravity of humanity–who believed that some were elected and some were going to burn in the fiery pits of hell, and we would know who the elected were by their works. These people didn’t play instruments in church. They didn’t dance. They didn’t celebrate Christmas–it was too joyful and would lead to drinking and carousing.

And yet, the Puritans’ radical way in which they insisted on governing their churches would pave the way for the theological diversity we have today within Unitarian Universalism. I’m sure they are turning over in their graves at the thought, but it is true.

Because we have decided to govern our churches from the bottom up–because we use the democratic process–because we can hire and fire our ministers–because our ministers have freedom of the pulpit–and because we can create together our own promises to one another to walk in the ways of love–THIS is how we got to where we are today; a still creedless religion that has allowed for more than one path to truth in our congregations. Our polity has become the center of our theolog(ies). As I have written in an earlier blog post, our Puritan method of doing church became our message.

Covenant is at the heart of that message. We famously tell people we are not a creedal faith. We have no creedal test to pass. Sometimes we forget that what we do have is tougher than any creedal test. We have to add our voice to a set of promises–not just to our God or all that is holy, but to one another–to walk together in love, and to support one another on our journeys of faith.

We recite the covenant of this congregation at every worship service:

Love is the spirit of this church
And service its law
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace
To seek the truth in love
and to help one another.

Though our ancestors would cringe at our current day liberal theology, I think they’d be proud of our commitment to establish our own sovereign churches in the bonds of love, seeking the truth, and helping one another on the path.

May we carry on that legacy of freedom from tyranny and oppressive hierarchy, tempered with a healthy dependency on one another and with the holy.

Amen.

Lord, Grant Me The Courage to Parent a Two Year Old

Stars

When explaining why she brings her son to church, Anne Lamott says this:

“The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want–which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy–are people with a deep sense of spirituality . They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians–people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful.” -Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

I bring my kids to church so that they can follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle. But sometimes I have to follow a brighter light than the glimmers of my kids’ candles when I am at the end of my parenting rope. That’s one reason why I bring MYSELF to church. Please never forget that even though you put your kids ahead of you all the time because you love them sacrificially and wholly, your spiritual development is more important than your kids’. If you don’t believe me, you’ll just have to trust me that this is true until you know it deep in your bones. You need to apply your own oxygen masks before you apply your kids’, just like on the plane.

My kids are the lights of my lives, just as your kids are the lights of your’s. I try to remind myself of that after a long day listening to whining about how “boring” the MFA is, and how “I NEED EGGIES/ORANGE JUICE/CRACKERS RIGHT NOW”, even though I know that none of those items will be eaten once they are brought to the table.

Last night, after a complain-y, tantrummy day at the MFA, and many disappointing mealtimes, the lights in our house went out right around bedtime. There was suddenly no power because of a neighborhood snafu in some electrical box somewhere. This was enough to send my kids into an excitedhyperwhineycrying explosion of tired jumpy mess. My two-year old just keeps getting more “two” lately. This power outage was enough to put her “two” into hyper drive.

I lay helplessly and silent on the couch saying to myself, “maybe if I just lie here drinking tea they won’t see me and they will eventually find their way up the dark stairs and put themselves to bed.” I give up on parenting sometimes like this because I can’t summon up the chutzpah. I hide in the dark having a conversation with myself. “Do I have to get up? Maybe they will become more independent if I let them figure out how to find their way upstairs in the dark by themselves.” This justifying and bargaining with myself lasts for 5 minutes or 20, not enough for someone to call CPS to press neglect charges against me or anything, but enough for my sweetie to get significantly annoyed with me.

In those moments, I’m just following the light of my own candle, and its burning at both ends. In those moments, I forget that nobody, not even mommy (especially not mommy), can find their way upstairs in the dark by themselves.

In those moments, I need something. I need to check in with God to come back out of my “Calgon take me away” moments. And God reminds me of my pledge to love my children even at their most unloveable, and to come back into the world. My prayers are not all that gracious and loving. “Lord, grant me the courage to get up off of this couch and shepherd my children to their beds even though they are acting like wild boars, and I have to call the electric company and drink more tea and think about Very Important Adult Things. Parenting is tiring and frustrating and sometimes more boring than the MFA, God.” And God says to me, “Robin, your job is to help provide your children a path and a little light to see by. You are only human and doing your best, and you can do this too. Of course you have to help them ascend a dark staircase with a flashlight. That’s your job.” In these moments, powered only by faith and duty, I get up off the couch and try to raise them in a way that lets them know that even if I check out sometimes with a smart phone or a blank stare or a nap, I am present, and my love is patient and kind.

So, I follow them up the stairs to their room, and my two-year old holds the flash light, screaming at my 6-year-old every time she tries to yank it out of her sister’s hands. And I roll my eyes heavenward at God. But I sing them songs from the 1980s movie “Fame”, and tuck them in anyway.

My two-year old has never been a “normal” blankie stuffed animal type. She likes her transitional objects to be small plastic non-cuddly toys. I don’t know what this says about her development. As a younger toddler, she had to sleep with three pacifiers–one in her mouth and one in each hand. Last night, she wanted to sleep with the hard plastic flashlight. I’m sure the fact that the whole world was dark all of a sudden made her yearn for what little light she could cling to. And we all do that when the world is dark, don’t we; cling to the light?

So we Bartlett Barraza girls FOUGHT OVER THE ONLY LIGHT WE HAD.

We had forgotten for a moment to share it. That we were all in this dark house together.

My 6-year-old, having realized that my 2-year-old was not going to give up the flashlight, gave her three glow-in-the-dark plastic stars to hold while she slept as an alternative. And my 2-year-old was delighted. She would not go to sleep until every star was wedged between her two fists. She was also so grateful for her sister’s kindness. When we said our evening prayers, my 2-year-old began loudly so God could hear, “Dear God, I’m thankful for my stars, and my sister, and my glories, and my powers.”

I cursed those stars all night last night, as they were the source of my sleeplessness. Every time my two-year old woke up in the middle of the night, she screamed incessantly until I came upstairs and found every single one of her plastic stars, so she could ball them back up in her fist and sleep. Once I was awake, I would lie awake in my bed for hours, the song “Stars” from Les Miserables stuck in my head on repeat.

Today, I feel grateful for my oldest child for sharing those stars with her sister. That night, they were my littlest one’s only source of light, her protection and strength. Her sister, her glories, and her powers were all wrapped up in those little plastic choking objects. This is why I bring my kids up religious. So that they have symbols to cling to in the middle of the night when their worlds are dark and scary. So they have little sacred objects that they share with one another to drive fear away. So they will follow a brighter light than the flicker of their own candles with purpose, heart, gratitude and joy.

And I bring myself up religious so I can power through the terrible twos. I bring myself up religious because we are all in this dark house together. I bring myself up religious because I can’t ascend a dark staircase by myself; not without light. I bring myself up religious so I may remember these lessons when I am awake at 3:30 am with a screaming toddler, searching her room for stars.

I spared you from the Russell Crowe version of this song. You’re welcome.

This is a great post on the missional church.

Sunflower Chalice

I am not a fan of the fascination with Church Growth.  Not because there is anything wrong with growing your church or churches in general or even your denomination such as the Unitarian Universalist Association.  What bothers me about the focus on church growth is that I often find the discussion limiting and limited.  Rarely does the conversation leave the topic of numerical growth. How many members? How much money is in the budget?  My concern is one that is at least 40 years old in the Unitarian Universalist Association (see my previous post about Rev. Harry Hoehler’s statement on growth from 1969). The concern is that when we focus on numerical growth, all our mission in the world becomes is to make more of us – more of us in our congregation, more of us in the Unitarian Universalist Association, or more of whatever your faith community…

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A Baby is God’s Opinion that Life Should Go On -Carl Sandburg

newborn baby

My dear friends:

Amidst all this darkness, there is light. Amidst all of this fear, there is goodness. Amidst all this hate, there is love. Amidst all this death, there is life.

That’s the miracle of the Jesus birth story, and that’s the miracle of the birth of each and every one of you; of each and every one of your children.

This Sunday we will have an all ages worship in which we celebrate the ordinary and extraordinary in sacred birth story. We will hear about the birth of Jesus, the birth of Buddha, the birth of Confucius, and the birth of the Bolton (Jonas) twins. The miracle of our community is that children and youth can worship with adults–we can come together as a full community–all generations represented–to celebrate life in story and song. We need each other, don’t we? Join us at 10:30 in the sanctuary at 11 Washington St. Sherborn, Massachusetts. There is childcare for the littlest of the babes. Come! We’ll be waiting for you.

See you in church, beloved whole community.

Robin

A Child is Born
Now out of the night
New as the dawn
into the light
oh this child, this innocent child
soft as a fawn
blessed this morn,
a child is born
one small heart
one pair of eyes
one work of art
here he lies
trusting and warm
blessed this bond,
a child is born