A Story for All Ages

This is a story that begins, not once upon a time and far, far, away, but one that takes place in homes all over the world, and right here, right now.

And how does it begin?

>Cup of JoeWith people gathered together and a spark, the striking of a match, a cloud of sulfur, a flame that erupts from nothingness into suddenly being. The candle is lit, the lights are dimmed, and a small, curious voice breaks the solemn silence on this holiest of nights and asks, as children often do, “Why? Why do we light candles tonight?”

The child’s words seemed to hang in the air forever as the adults in the room desperately search their own memories—what is that story again? What words shall we use? What are the most important parts of the story to share with the next generation? And then it occurs to the elders: they don’t remember hearing these stories for the first time, or what words were used, or even who told them.

The stories are just part of them, the stories are in their bones.

Meanwhile, the “why?” still hangs in the air, and this time, perhaps, the silence is of the stunned sort until, finally, perhaps the wisest elder in the room responds, “I don’t know. Why do you think we light the candles?”

The child considers this, then carefully, quietly responds, “Because it is dark?”

Silence.

“…and because it is beautiful.”

Another voice chimes in, “Yes… and, Yes. And, sometimes, we light candles as a prayer.”

Another: “to remember our strength.”

And another still, “for the lessons and stories and people that we carry with us.”

But this story doesn’t end there, because like the spark that brought the candlelight into being, the question has ignited sharing and storytelling that lasts long into the night.

“We light candles to light the way home,” the elders say. “To remind us to open our hearts and homes to others who seek a safe place to stay.”

“We light the candles to bring light into the darkness, and to remember our ancestors; to remember struggles won and lost.We light candles for miracles.”

“We light candles for a star in the sky, to remind us to stop, look and listen, and to celebrate the promise of a newborn child. For peace; in my heart and in the world.”

“For the sun,” the child chimes in. “And for the night, and for longer days ahead.”

The hearts of the elders become full as they begin to remember the stories; they are overcome with child-like wonder and awe: “For those who keep telling our story and for those who listen, for faith and purpose and togetherness.”

“We light candles for dedication and blessings and love and wonder.”

The flame is passed from one candle to the next and the next, as stories are passed from generation to generation; and the room grows brighter in the midst of the deep, dark winter night.

“We light these candles to spread the light, because we seek the light.”

Suddenly, it is clear that the spark that began it all brought not just light into the room, but also somehow managed to fill the room with stories, and miracles, strength and beauty, peace and promises, prayers and ancestors and the promise of newborn babies.

And this story still does not end here; because once upon a time becomes a day in the future when the children will be the elders who search their own memory for the stories and meaning as they strike a match to light a candle, and hear the question, “why?”

This is a story of light; it is a story that never ends.

Finding the Right Teachable Moment

finding the right teachable moment

Submitted By Erin Rockafellow

Back in October the kids and I were sorting pumpkin seeds for roasting that we had brought home from a group carving. The kids and I were having fun being together with slimy hands and all. As we sorted the seeds some of them had started to sprout already.

The big discussion began between my 10 year old daughter and my 8 year old son about what to do with those seeds:

“We should save them and plant them!” says my daughter.

“No just throw them away,” says my son.

“But if we plant the seeds they will grow into new pumpkin plants.”

“Yes, but they aren’t pumpkins yet- so we should just throw them away.”

“We shouldn’t throw them away; it isn’t their fault that they sprouted when they didn’t need to.”

“It’s almost winter. What are we going to do with pumpkin plants? We can’t grow them in the house; we need to throw them away.”

As this conversation went on, my husband and I kept looking at each other. First with amusement about the parallels between this topic and the abortion debate. As the debate wore on, we really started to wonder if we should go ahead and have the big conversation with our kids since they really seemed to have very strong opposing opinions. The kids continued their lines of thought, trying to convince the other that they were right. It was like watching a tennis match.

In my head I was trying so hard to decide what to do: would I be a bad mom if we didn’t have that big talk? Is it really in our best interest to have that discussion with a 10 year old and 8 year old? My husband and I just looked at each other with a slight amount of panic and silently came to a decision to not have that discussion.

We congratulated the kids on having a well debated topic and we told them how proud we were that they never started fighting, but continued to use kind language with each other. Honestly, the kids did a great job of articulating why they thought their opinion was the right one. We helped the kids agree to disagree and explained that sometimes the best thing you can do is hold your opinion and let someone else have theirs too.

It ate at me. For weeks I second guessed my decision to take the easy way out. I knew that when we made the decision it was more about us feeling uneasy and unprepared than it was about anything else. Over breakfast one morning I told a friend about my story. She listened to everything including my own self doubt. Instead of telling me that I chickened out, she reminded me that sometimes situations have more than one teachable moment; my husband and I picked the one that was right for us. The other moment that we had skipped over would be waiting in the back of our minds for when the time was right for that big discussion. We had not lost our moment we just cataloged it away for later; and for us, that was the best we could do in that moment.

What are your tips for approaching challenging teachable moments? Share below! 

Explore this idea through children’s literature: What is most important at any given time? “Being present” in The Three QuestionsBy Jon Muth

Calm, Cool and Collected

Thinking

It finally happened. I have been working with my 3 and 5 year old kids on naming emotions and finding coping mechanisms for anger and frustration from the time that they were wee babes, and wouldn’t you know it, they have gone and thrown it all right back in my face.

“Uhm, mom, I think… maybe you need to find something calm to do. You aren’t being a very Peaceful Piggy.”

Great. That’s all I need. My 5 year old trying to teach me a lesson. I don’t want to slow down. I am sure that everyone within a mile radius of me can feel my intensity today, but I don’t care. I just want to get everything on my to-do list done. Now. Yesterday. And who does that child think she is, anyway?

“Thanks for the reminder,” I am glaring at my 5 year old. “But it is time to get going. Now. Get. Your. Shoes. On.” 

Okay. To be fair, there really is no rush. It is just that I am tired and cranky and we just got back from an emotional trip out of town and there are loads of laundry to do and I desperately need a nap. I am also a fair bit hungry, so getting the kids to put back on the shoes they took off for lord knows what reason and leaving church for the comfort of home sounds oh-so-appealing at this moment. So… let’s get a move on.

“Maaaaayyybbeee try a deep breath. Or play with toys. I like to play with toys when I am angry.” My 5 year old keeps digging deeper as she ever so slowly puts on her shoes. Today’s lesson in church was on meditation and finding ways to calm down when we feel overwhelmed, frustrated or angry. It was about finding a peaceful place in your heart so that you can take on the day, feel powerful, and love yourself and your neighbor. I should know. I put the lesson together myself.

I am growing impatient. “I will give it a try when we get home. But we have to get there first. Now, let’s go!”

“If you feel so mad you can ROAR,” sings my 3 year old son, “Take a deep breath and count to 4! One… Two… Three… Four!” He repeats the lyrics from an episode of the PBS show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood; lyrics that I have sung with him many times as he has come down from tantrums, usually involving not getting his favorite foods for dinner. He doesn’t always love hearing this song and it usually takes a while before he begrudgingly stops stomping his feet long enough to “use his words” and tell me that he is just heartbroken that we can’t have pizza for every meal of every day. Angry stomping feet, it seems, are a lot easier to muster than finding the words to express disappointment. Except right now he has a giant smile on his face; he just put his shoes on all by himself and put his mom in check all at the same time. The kid is over the moon.

By this time I am feeling some weird combination of complete exhaustion, pride, hunger, humility and love. I am beginning to understand why my kids would much rather throw a tantrum than “use their words.” It is like when an annoyingly chipper morning person wakes you up in the morning after you get a terrible night’s sleep. I’m happy for you that you love waking up so early and that you are feeling so refreshed and wonderful. Truly. I am. And I really do realize that my scroogy-ness is the problem and your positive attitude should serve as a reminder for me to open my heart to the possibilities of the new day. But can’t I just be the lesser person for once? It is kind of comfortable down here in the dumps…

But I do it anyway. I take a few deep breaths and try to remember that this state of feeling overwhelmed, stressed and tired is just temporary. I will eventually make it home. I will get to eat some lunch, and I will get to rest. Everything will be okay. It will.

I am now off the ledge just enough to realize that I need to dial my stress back a bit, check my ego and recognize that my children are right.

“You guys are right; I am starting to feel better. Sometimes I get frustrated, tired and angry, too. I think that because I wanted to get home so badly I forgot to be kind and loving with my words. Thank you for reminding me and helping me to find more loving words.” I am saying this to remind myself just as much as I am affirming my children and the lessons I know I want them to hang on to. I am thinking eating a little lunch and resting might help me reset a bit. Can you guys help me do that?”

Of course they will help. Kids love nothing more than to know that they are wise, important and needed; because they really are, and so are we. Sometimes we just need a little reminder.

Here are some great tools to help you and your family become “Peaceful Piggies.” Add your favorite resources in the comments section below:

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on PBS

Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee MacLean 

On Killing Evil

on killing evil

I cried on the day that Saddam Hussein was executed. And, yes, they were tears of sadness. Not because I thought that Hussein was a great, upstanding guy by any stretch of the imagination; he was undoubtedly responsible for the death and suffering of many, many people.

I was upset because his hanging was celebrated in the same manner as we behave when our favorite team wins the Superbowl.

When I see a culture that is not only indifferent about the loss of life, but actually feels pleasure and delight when another being is killed, my heart sinks.

I wonder how I am to teach my children to value peace and non-violence when they are surrounded by the mixed message of “killing is wrong… unless ‘we’ have decided ‘they’ are evil… and then we have a huge party to celebrate your killing.”

The same pit that I had in my stomach in December of 2006 was there again this morning as I read a text from my husband that said, “Turn on the news. Bin Laden is dead.”

As I made my way to the TV, I wondered what the attitude of the reports would be. Perhaps the journalists would be solemn and contemplative; maybe our media would be raising important questions like, “what does Bin Laden’s death mean for us and the rest of the world? His family? Those who lost loved ones on 9/11? Those who lost loved ones fighting the war in Afghanistan?”

Or would the reports be a cheerful? After all, Bin Laden had taken responsibility for killing thousands of American men, women and children on 9/11. I would understand if there was a cheerful undertone.

But the reaction I saw brought me to my knees.

A Party in front of the White House. Seriously?

Relief? Yes.

Contemplation? Yes.

Remembrance of those who have lost their lives because of and in pursuit of this man? Absolutely!

PARTY????? NO!

Why not a candle light vigil? Why not have a discussion on how further loss of life could be avoided without having to murder another human? Heck, why not even have a conversation about why so many of us seem to feel this release of emotion; so much so that we are chanting “USA! USA!” in front of the White House in the middle of the night?

Our media (mind you, the very SAME media that has reported with condemnation in their voices when attacks on America were celebrated in the streets of other “radical” countries) is highlighting these jubilant celebrations and even reporting them with elation. Because the person WE killed was EVIL. So OUR celebrations are clearly justified.

How is it that we live in a world where a death, ANY DEATH, is met with anything less than a heavy heart and a celebration of life? Bin Laden’s death should lead us into a period of meditation, prayer, and wondering. Bin Laden’s death could even lead us to celebrate the lives of those who choose every day NOT to kill in the name of a bastardized faith and those who have made many sacrifices for the greater good.

To me, justice is when the people who promote love and peace dominate the news; celebrating the good decries the destructive ambitions of those who choose to live in a world where “might makes right” and where retribution is a means to that end.

We should be ashamed of ourselves. All of us.

Today instead of celebrating a killing, I will instead light a candle for life and love.

For the lives of all are worthy, and a day when a life is taken in the name of protecting the greater good is truly a sad day.

Redefining “Faith”

Re-imagine faith

I have issues with Faith.

Not the concept, the word.

Let’s face it; there are real gaps in what we can know and prove, and sometimes we all have to make a leap or two so that we can actually make it through the day. If we are being totally honest, we admit that there is no possible way to know, beyond all doubt, that the sun will come up tomorrow. But most of us believe pretty strongly that it will nonetheless; and that is okay. The notion that we can, and sometimes have to, form a belief in the face of incomplete evidence does not trouble me; what I have a problem with is we have named this concept “faith” and made it the ideal.

I take issue with this because I hate that our religious and moral fiber is often determined in direct proportion to how many “leaps of faith” we are willing to make in the name of our religion of choice. Furthermore, it seems that those who maintain a belief, even in the face of a mountain of contrary evidence, are at times even more praise-worthy than those who choose to walk the paths of religious integrity, living their beliefs every day. Why does it seem that in the eyes of religion how little we question is valued more than how intentionally we act?

This means that if you value critical thinking, questioning, and examination, you may feel just a tad alienated by the whole “faith” thing. And it certainly puts us non-creedal, question-loving Unitarian Universalists in an interesting predicament. Are we a people of “faith” or not? If “faith” is defined as the willingness to accept beliefs in the face of lacking or even contrary evidence, then perhaps not. Do we reject “faith” and all that comes with it, or embrace it?

I propose we say “no” to both.

We have been stuck for far too long debating the use of religious language in our congregations (I am looking at you, UUs who refer to “faith” as the “f-word”). If we are going to move forward as a religious community, we need to look “faith” in the eye and re-claim it once and for all.

“We are the church of the open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands.”

If you have spent any time leading UU children in religious exploration, you know that what we teach our children does not involve telling them to accept ideas and entire moral codes on authority alone. We teach our children and youth that it is what we do that matters, and that we ought to try to do our best to live our Principles every day. This approach to “faith development” suddenly changes the simple act of picking up trash into a faithful one.

We work with our kids to help them ask questions and introduce tools as they explore their very own path. We tell them that it is okay to disagree with yourself and others after learning something new, and that old ideas can and should make way for new information. We let them know that wisdom can be found just about anywhere from anyone if you just leave yourself open to the possibility.

In short, for Unitarian Universalists “faith” should not be a noun; it should be a verb.

We develop our faith by learning to be powerful people of intention and integrity. Unitarian Universalism is a religion with a rich history of people who have acted in faith; not on faith. We are a religion that talks about walking a faithful path, not making leaps of blind faith. We become strong congregations when we gather to search for our paths and provide support to one another as we aspire to walk these paths faithfully.

So why is it in our current climate where more and more are rejecting the practice of blind religious faith in favor of scientific discovery and critical examination, that Unitarian Universalism is not growing? Perhaps it is because we are a people of faith who have not yet told the world “faith” is not about the blind trust of authority, but about building the trust of community by acting in line with reasoned beliefs. We have yet to tell the world that we are Unitarian Universalist and that WE Redefine Faith.

Being UU at Home

Being UU at Home

When I was growing up it was always safe to assume that the only Unitarian Universalist kids attending whatever school I was enrolled in at the time also lived in my house. In other words, UU kids were kind of hard to come by outside of our home and church.

I remember how hard it was for me to know just how to handle conversations about religion when I was really young; I was acutely aware that my church was different from the churches that most of my peers attended, but I was always unsure of how to respond if religion ever happened into a conversation. Generally speaking, my anxiety would result in a giant lump in my little throat and I would hurriedly search for a way to excuse myself from the impending blank stares that were sure to come my way after I revealed the lengthy name of my home church. Religious discussions meant either chiming in and letting my faith be known, or simply keeping my mouth shut and avoiding eye contact in hopes that I would simply disappear.

For most people whose faith traditions are not the cultural norm, conversations like these can take a great deal of energy, no matter how old you are. Like other UU kids, I had experienced the heartbreak of losing a friend because her parents didn’t approve of my family’s faith, and this added yet another dimension to my anxiety. But as I got older, I found I could have religious conversations quite easily and, nine times out of ten, I knew more about the other person’s faith than they did (or ever wanted to). I even started seeking these debates and discussions wherever I could find them; but I still found it very difficult to make friends who could put up with my convictions, my love of debate, and…well… I was kind of on the annoying side.

My peers would innocently ask me what they thought was an incredibly simple question: “What IS Unitarian Universalism?” Of course, they were suddenly blindsided with my awesome religious history lecture as I shared with them more than they ever wanted to know about my faith and the history of the Protestant Reformation.

What I didn’t get at the time is that those who asked me about my faith really didn’t want to me to present a dissertation on the history of Unitarian Universalism (shocker, I know). What they really interested in was, “What does it mean to be a UU and what does this look like in your life?”

They didn’t want to hear about some guy they have never heard of being burned at the stake; they wanted to know if Santa still came to our house. They wanted to know if we said a prayer at dinner, if we went to church every Sunday and if we had a Bible. In short, they wanted to know how my life was different from theirs because of my religion.

I think that the tendency to lecture instead of opening a window into our lives is common amongst Unitarian Universalists. Sometimes we, understandably, get so excited by all knowledge we think we have obtained as a result of our faithful journeys and we forget that what we ought to share with the world is not a list or a lecture, but our passion for exploration and learning. There is always space for lectures and dissertations; they are a necessary element to our faith, but to someone who isn’t on this journey, or even for someone who is, the real power of Unitarian Universalism may just be when a UU kid stands up for someone else who is being bullied because, to him, that is what it means to be a UU. Unitarian Universalism shines when we lift the voices of those who would otherwise go unheard and when we strengthen our own spirits through a practice that fills our hearts. The power of our faith is in what we do every day of our lives. It is in how we celebrate our holidays and how we are with the people we love (and the people we don’t).

To me, our faith means that I never stop looking for new ways to grow and learn. It means that my family lights a chalice at dinner every night and we enjoy each other’s company in a sacred space. It means that I pray on some days and meditate on others and I celebrate holidays that make sense to me and in ways that honor me, my family and my earth home.

We should celebrate the ways in which our faith enriches our lives and the lives of those around us; perhaps even more than we celebrate the theologies we reject. Perhaps it is time to shift our focus: What does our Unitarian Universalist faith mean to you?

Learning Love

Learning love

I remember so clearly the first time my now three-year-old daughter told me that she loved me. The very image of my toddler expressing her love was enough to melt the heart of even the grumpiest scrooge. You know the scene: glowing eyes, the smile that filled her face, her arms reaching to give the biggest hug her little body could possibly manage. Not that I am biased or anything, but there is not a baby mammal or a hamster in a helmet that could possibly compare to this level of cuteness.

It has always amazed me how capable young children are of freely expressing emotions that adults are so apt to keep to themselves. Even babies will offer their comfort items such as pacifiers and bottles to other children who are upset, as if to say, “I know how you feel; I’ve been there.”

Still, even as I anxiously await my 15 month old son’s first proclamation of love, I can’t help but wonder: do kids really “get” love? Do they know what they are saying or are they simply mimicking behavior?

Yes, yes and…Yes!

Kids are expert cultural anthropologists; soaking in every bit of experience every minute of every day. They can sense tension and are astutely aware of happiness. I know this because both of my children are grumpy on my most stress-filled days and will laugh with me at my jokes when no one else will humor me… most of the time.

Kids are cultural anthropologistsSo when a caretaker affectionately whispers “I love you” and then shows it with hugs, understanding, presence, and sacrifice, it forms the child’s very understanding of “love”.

Go ahead; ask a child to define “love”. I am willing to bet that what awaits you is a list a verbs that reflects how love has been shown to them:

“Love is hugging, love is listening, love is helping, love is friendship.”
OR, in the words of a three-year-old:
“Love is when we use our nice hands and we don’t hit our little brothers. No. No.”

How have you loved today?

Beyond the Rhetoric

Pointing fingers

It is hard to think that there might be anything left to share that hasn’t already been said following the events in Tucson last week.

To call this an unthinkable act simply does not give this justice.

In a just a few seconds, the lives of so many have been forever altered, and I fear our democracy may be as well; not just because our representatives may become even more inaccessible to their constituents than they ever were before, but because a country cannot thrive when it is ruled by fear.

Almost immediately following the horrific events on Saturday, Twitter and the blogosphere came alive; first with questions of, “Why?” and “Who?” and very quickly followed with far-fetched assumptions and finger-pointing. As we were all dizzy with a heavy mix of sadness, fear, and confusion, we reached to the only place we knew to go: those people.

So quick were we to wonder about the religious background and reading list of the killer; because surely these would identify the “responsible party.” So quick were we to search every Palin speech and every Beck and Limbaugh broadcast, looking for the one thing that MUST have set-off this would-be assassin. So quick were we then to respond by spending all of our waking hours rummaging for stones to cast back across the isle; because we could not bear to think that any one of us was more responsible than those people. I am ashamed that too much of my time over the past few days has been dedicated to tuning into programs I would not ordinarily support, knowing that my emotions would reach an all-time high.

Maybe I just needed to be angry; or perhaps this is our reaction because deep down we feel that it must be impossible for just one person to create such a large ripple in our pond; especially when this single individual has made this wave by doing something so horrendous.

Over the past days I have been restless as I struggled with my own internal debate about our language, our power of influence, and the responsibilities that come along with those. I was disheartened at the haste with which we assigned blame to others instead of combining our efforts to rise up and lead forward in solidarity. How are we to defeat the violent rhetoric if we give it so much power?

At the same time I was angry at those who have chosen to use their power to spread messages that are disingenuous at best and intentional fear-mongering at worst. But, through all of this I keep coming back to the same question:

How can we use our voices to reveal injustices and, at the same time, not allow our collective voices to give rise to hate and fear, giving those who perpetuate violence more power than they deserve?

Much of the debate that has been raging on in the media reminds me so much of the arguments that happened over ten years ago, as those of us who occupied high school classrooms attempted to wrap our minds around the Columbine Massacre.

Ironically, it was conservatives at that time who were ready to ban Marilyn Manson from stages across our country and who were ready to protest stores that sold his albums. “These musicians influence our feeble-minded children,” the argument went, “so those people are responsible for teaching our kids this violent behavior.”

I don’t remember where I was when I heard about the shooting and I don’t remember much about the news coverage in the days immediately thereafter; however, I do remember feeling sad and confused about what had happened and, above all, I felt anxiety about how our lives were to move forward.  While the media and politicians were busy debating censorship I, WE, had to go back to school. Life did not stop.

For a few days after Columbine, the high school I attended excused students who were not yet ready to return. My brother and I were never really ones for school, but nothing could keep us from going back as soon as the doors had opened. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of pride as we walked to our classes alongside my dad and the few other students, teachers, and parents who stood together with us on those few uncertain days.

Eventually, our lives seemed to get back to normal; although the new “normal” involved school lock-downs and make-up days at the end of the year; not because of weather closings, but because of the incredible amount of bomb threats our schools started to endure. All of these years, and countless debates later, and we still have not discovered the magic formula that lead to that fateful day.

This is not to say that these debates are not important at all; in fact, we need to consider that by focusing our energy on these debates in the midst of a crisis diminishes not only the suffering of those who are mourning, but also lessens the value of the issues at hand. I am not suggesting that we light-heartedly “drop it” until a better time, but that we take a moment to introduce a little bit of level-headedness back into the equation. It is important to deeply consider the consequences of our words and the power of our influence on others, so let’s consider it; deeply and sincerely. We have all said things that do not reflect our peaceful ideals and we ought to afford others the same opportunity to learn and do better.

I am ready for the moment where we walk through those figurative high school doors, proud to stand together in honor of those who suffered the most.

I want us to recognize that we all have a part to play, and that assigning blame is not the same as shining a light on injustice so that we may do better.

I do not want us to slowly, angrily sink back into life as we knew it before this tragedy; I want to intentionally move forward, better, because of it. This can’t happen as long as we are focused on lifting up hate and violence, even if we do so because we think we are speaking out against it. The more time we spend assigning and deflecting blame, the less time is spent tilting the scales back toward love, justice, and healing.

I, for one, am ready to walk through those doors; a new “normal” of our own creation awaits us on the other side. I am ready. Are you?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” –Gandhi

I Confiscated My Kid’s Bed

Jumping on the bedYesterday was a Monday.

The day began… well, actually, the day never really actually began, per se, because it really just kind of flowed into the day before.  The funny kind of math that you never fully grasp until you are in the midst of your parenting “glory days,” goes a little something like this:

1 teething one-year-old
+ 1 three-year-old asserting her independence
——————————————————–
= 0 sleep

0 sleep
+ 1 teething one-year-old
+ 1 three year-old asserting her independence
+ To-do list a mile long (pressure!!!)
——————————————————
= 1 day for the record books

All things considered, I think that I should get some sort of award for patience; for most of the day, anyway.  I was doing great until bedtime when I confiscated my three-year-old daughter’s bed.
That’s right- you read that correctly.  I confiscated her bed.  The whole bed; frame and all.

In my defense, she was jumping on the bed rather than actually sleeping in it.  And she had spent the whole day climbing chairs, couches, my leg, and anything else that resembled any sort of climbable structure.  I was at the absolute limit of what my body would physically and emotionally allow.  I could not sit her down on her bed, calmly talk to her about listening ears and helping hands, or sing “no more monkeys jumping on the bed” one more time.   Confiscating the bed felt… right.  And, as a nice fringe benefit of my moment of possible insanity, I get to forever hold on to what the casual onlooker might have observed as I summoned up what little strength I had left to storm out of her room, angrily pushing the poor, dumb-founded kid’s bed into the hallway.

I was done.  I felt like I had wasted an entire day doing nothing but reminding:  reminding a three-year-old over and over…and OVER again about “The Rules.”

I guess we all have our limits; and the pressures that come along with that mile-long to-do list can easily turn into an incredible perspective-devouring monster.  As I (eventually) cooled down from my bed-stealing frenzy, I thought about everything I had said and done that day.

“The couch is for sitting, not for jumping.”
“Don’t hit your brother”
“That was a great hug!”
“Thanks for using your nice words!”
“Please don’t flush the toilet three times in a row; you are going to break it.”

Days can too easily become a blur of yeses and no’s and the little lessons and sweet, unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime moments can get so lost while we are busy mourning the loss of the time that we needed to “get things done.”  And, perhaps, the most important task we are all charged with is to remind each other… over and over… and OVER again in love.

“Hands are for helping; not for hurting.”
“Use your nice words, please.”
“Do not hurt yourself.”
“We take time to listen to each other.”

My three-year old reminded me on Monday that I need to recognize my limits and take a time-out when I need it.  Perhaps next time she can remind me a little more gently.

Stairs, Elevators, and Empty Bowls of Ice Cream

Unitarian jokes
I love a good Unitarian joke.

My favorite is the one about how the last time “Jesus Christ” was heard in a Unitarian Universalist church was when the janitor fell down the stairs.  For some reason that one just never gets old.

What I love most about UU jokes is that they aren’t just about making each other laugh, they also tell a story about our faith in a way that our silly “elevator speeches” cannot. A good Unitarian joke tells a story about who we are and how we do things; it gives our religion character and puts our faith into context for us and for those who have no clue about who we are.

This is probably why I shamelessly brag every time I hear a well-played Unitarian jab on TV.  Just tune into an occasional episode of “The Simpsons” to see what I mean.  For some reason equating Unitarianism to an empty bowl of ice cream makes me feel so… loved.  I mean, it is one thing for Garrison Keillor to make fun of UUs; you make a Unitarian reference on NPR and it is pretty safe to assume that a good 75% of the listening audience are members of a UU congregation, and the rest probably would be if they absolutely had to join a church.  But if the writers for “The Simpsons” believe that their viewing audience knows enough about our religion and our quirks to actually laugh at us, I’ll take it.  It makes me feel famous. It pleases me to think that we are culturally significant enough for people to make fun of us.  It means we aren’t totally invisible.

In a recent UU World article, Doug Muder addresses the problem of our invisibility as he talks about the difficulties of explaining our faith within the time constraints of an elevator ride.  He points out that, for the most part, our dominate culture has no frame of reference for Unitarian Universalism, and we are left with nothing left to do but to give our listeners a laundry list of religious ideas that we have rejected over time.

The problem with the whole elevator speech idea is that, while this is a great exercise for personal theological reflection, Unitarian Universalism does not and cannot exist in the vacuum of an elevator shaft.  The beauty of who we are is lost if we do not include a glimpse into what our faith means to us and how we are everyday. Our faith has evolved over time and will continue to do so, and explaining Unitarian Universalism should never be the same at any two given moments as told from two different people.  Context is so important to who we are because we are always striving to discover the most “right” thing for us and our world at that time.

If people want to know how to define “Unitarian Universalism,” then they can look it up in a dictionary; but it probably won’t tell them what they want to know.  If someone wants to know what our faith means to you and our world, I suggest taking the stairs and rambling off a few good UU jokes.

Give yourself permission to laugh at the fact that our churches often feel called to involve about three committees and two subcommittees in the decision of how, when, and why to change a light bulb (and those of you who are involved with the Green Sanctuary Program know what I am talking about).  But be sure to take the time to lift up that it is so funny because we really do earnestly recognize the impact of one little light bulb and we do our best to honor the voice of every person that is connected to it.  This says a whole lot about our faith.  I truly believe that it is what we do that leaves a lasting impression on those who don’t know us.  And to most of the world, especially to those who will converse with someone of a different faith during an elevator ride, our theology (or lack thereof) makes no difference.

Our “essence of UU,” or our “UU-ness”, if you will, comes out in our jokes and in the stories of our everyday lives of how we are together at home.  Our faith shines when we share that many of our congregations do not talk about Jesus much, if at all, (even if you do), and that UUs are known to celebrate about 5 different winter holidays.  You may even let it slip that UU communion takes place at coffee hour and our potlucks are second to none, and then find yourself accompanying a guest to your church next Sunday.

Besides that, laughter is a great spiritual practice and it is good to learn to laugh at yourself a bit (and at the quirks of our faith, for that matter).

So if you find yourself getting a little too upset when someone makes a joke about how many UUs it takes to change a light bulb or you start to become a little too overly concerned for that mythical janitor that fell down the stairs, relax and remember that our jokes play a vital role in creating our UU culture and help us share our light, if not our lightheartedness, with the rest of the world.  We have plenty of time to be serious in the name of making change in our world, and if I have to share one thing with someone during a ride on an elevator, it should be a good laugh.

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