@Fellowship

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Words shared at the annual appreciation luncheon at UUFH on February 28, 2016.


“Faith development is all we do. Unitarian Universalism is all we teach. The congregation is the curriculum.”

Religious Education is one part of the family ministry we do here at UUFH.  The RE Council has focused this year on relationship building.  We’ve been working hard to connect our children, youth, and families to our themed ministry and providing resources to help ensure our parents have the tools they need to be their child’s primary religious educator.  The role of the faith community is to walk alongside one another, to share in the joys and sorrows of the community, to raise the children, and to remember to clean out the fridge.  We’re a family – whether you’ve been here for forty years or you just walked in the door today, our shared covenant, the promises we make about how to be together, compels us to walk alongside you and be in relationship in this way.

What we do in religious education is support families. We educate our children and youth in UU history, heritage, principles, and sources.  We promote faith development in grappling with our monthly themes, exploring what it means to live this UU faith, and writing our credo statements during Coming of Age.  We help families raise their children to be UUs – lifers, because we believe this faith has a healing message for a hurting world.  We help educate our children and youth about sexuality and provide parents support to talk about this normative part of human life in a way that promotes our values of respect, fact based learning, and communication.  We celebrate milestones, having rites of passage to dedicate our children, to acknowledge their transition into young adulthood, and to help them prepare for moving out into the world as a UU young adult beginning their lives word cloud youthseparate from their parents.

We do youth group and young adult ministry because we know that our teens need a relevant faith that gives them guidance to grapple with what life is throwing at them.  We worship together regularly because how else will our children and youth know how we UUs worship and more importantly, how else will they know that they are a member of this tribe – that all of us are in this together as a people of faith who want to see a more just world, and as people who all need a place to come to be held, nurtured, and sometimes challenged.

We know that religious education and faith development doesn’t end when adulthood begins.  We offer monthly journey groups to explore our themes, book discussions, spiritual practice programs, and many opportunities for community building.

Ours is a faith where revelation is not sealed, but is always unfolding.  We are learning together and we are teaching together.

Our biggest achievements this year were around youth ministry.  We created a weekly youth night for both middle and high school students.  This provides a touchstone for our teens midweek to come together for activities and discussions about our UU faith and to worship with one another.  We are also planning the first family retreat this Fellowship has had in many years.  This spring we will be holding visioning meetings with families and all of you who have an interest in family ministry here at the Fellowship.

Remember, everything we do is faith development, all we teach is Unitarian Universalism, the congregation is the curriculum.

 

Through the Rushing Waters

When the Refugees fled Syria they left clutching their children to them, everything they owned on their backs, and took to the sea in rafts filled beyond capacity with desperate people seeking sanctuary from the horrors they had been living through.  Some turned them away and they had to keep going, news stories showed children washed on shores who slipped from their parent’s clutch somewhere in the seas.  We saw footage of people walking across countries; tired and grieving.

I remember hearing people say that they refugees had iPhones and so they must not be in terrible need.  I imagine if I had to flee my home tonight with my child what I would pack, my phone would definitely be on the list. I imagine trying to hold onto someone’s hand while soaked from the sea and the weather.  I cannot bear to think of the loss I would feel if that hand slipped from my own.

Exodus

13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

The crisis of Syria, and so many refugees, reminds me of the Exodus from Egypt.  How must it have felt for famiies who had been living enslaved to the Pharoh to follow Moses?  They packed their unleavened breads, their children, and put their trust in this man to save them from their fate.  When they reached the Red Sea, the Pharoh was chasing them with his army.  A miracle allowed Moses to part the sea for their crossing and theirs alone.

The miracle of parting the sea is very much alive today.  It is unfolding with each of us.  It is alive in the volunteers who work with refugees to provide shelter, food, water, and aid.  It is alive in the people donating to help these people find safe passage to a better life. It is alive every time we take in refugees into our countries, churches, and homes.  The miracle lives in human hands.

Peter Mayer’s song Holy Now reminds us that miracles are everywhere – our very existence is a miracle.  The Catholic folk song, Go Make a Difference (found here) tells us we are the face of God and the hands of Christ to make a difference in the world.  We humans are the ones to bring about the miracles on earth. It is up to us to care deeply for one another.
What will you do as you walk the desert, as you wade the waters, as you cross the seas? Whose hand are you reaching for? Where can you make a difference?

To sign up to receive weekly emails throughout the Lenten season with more UU reflections, practices, and reflections on scripture click here.

Into the Wild

Journeys into the wilderness have been a part of spiritual preparation across cultures and throughout history.  Just thinking about the wilderness conjures images of the shaman: alone in the woods fasting, meditating, perhaps singing or praying.  This time set aside for spiritual purification or divine revelation while existing in shamanic traditions is more likely familiar to us because of novels, movies, and television. I can easily recall the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy is sent to the desert to commune with her spirit guide, meets the first slayer, and learns the origins of her power.

In the Bible, we are told Jesus went to John to be baptized, after which the heavens opened up to him and he then spent 40 days and nights alone in the wilderness fasting and praying. Matthew 12 tells us the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness. This story is rich – he approaches John for baptism, but John wishes to turn him away insisting instead that Jesus should be the one to baptize him. In this moment, Jesus is empower John in his ministry.  He is demonstrating the power of shared ministry. What can we learn from this as we work together in religious community?

Jesus goes to the wilderness to fast and pray.  He is compelled by the Spirit to spend 40 days wandering.  Where are the wild places that Spirit has sent you?  What did you find there?

In part, the fasting during Lent likens ourselves to Jesus wandering in the wilderness; 40 days of fasting and prayer. As we make room for the holy, consider the wild places in your life.  Are you wandering in the wild of a forest or the barren desert? What temptations do you encounter during this intentional journey toward the Holy?

As we continue to walk with one another on this journey, I hope you will consider these questions for your own time in the wilderness.  What is the call your spirit has?  Where are you compelled to go?  What challenges await you there?  What gifts?

 

Matthew

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 
13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

To sign up to receive weekly emails throughout the Lenten season with more UU reflections, practices, and reflections on scripture click here.

Render Your Heart in the Ashes

We are living in a new wave of the civil rights movement.  We hear public calls for a ban on certain immigrants. We see water poisoned for profit.  We know many people face winter living on the streets.  We know in some states it is easier to buy a gun than register to vote.  My spirit has felt like there has been a house fire and we are all still trying to hold afternoon tea amidst the ashes.

If we are to welcome the Holy into our lives, we must remember first where it dwells.  We must be willing to cry out, even now, and render our heart fully to our lived Unitarian Universalist faith.

The Holy looks like justice to me. The Holy looks like compassion between people, the grace found in quiet moments of witness with one another, and the deep and profound call to action we feel when we encounter suffering in our world. Now and again, we drift away from the Holy. The good news is, we can always call ourselves back to that compassionate grace and abounding love. It dwells within.

What if the Holy is the divine spark, the inherent worth and dignity we speak about, the very place of original good that our Universalist ancestors knew to exist within each of us. This living experience of the best, most sacredness, of our humanity.

As we begin our Lenten practice together, I encourage you to spend time reflecting on where the meaning lies for you within the biblical scripture and practices of Lent.  For some this practice will be directly tied to their concept of the Holy, or God.  For others, the concepts may more directly connect to our UU principles or the way we individually commit to the work of justice and living lives of faith.

 

Joel

12 “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” 
13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. 
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God

To sign up to receive weekly emails throughout the Lenten season with more UU reflections, practices, and reflections on scripture click here.

Most Unitarian Universalists do not observe Lent.  I started observing Lent in 2012 and have found it to be a powerful practice to connect me to the Holy, immerse myself the teachings of Jesus, and dive deeply into recognizing the God within as I peel back the layers that work as barriers to the Holy.

This year I am offering a weekly email ministry to share in observing Lent as Unitarian Universalists.  If you are interested you can sign up here.  To view the email sent out earlier today which contains the following blog post along with other information, click here.

Under Construction: Preparation for Lent

Living a life of faith is a never ending, always evolving cycle.  In some ways, we are always under construction.  I have considered that this may even be true in death, that we godjust keep developing as more is revealed.  Of course, there’s no way to know that for certain.  Though, it’s pretty observably true for life.

As we prepare to enter the season of Lent (Ash Wednesday is next week) I am considering how I want to observe this holy period and what I want to give up.  Sacrifice is a major theme of Lent, it reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth as he went to the cross and met his death.  Whether you believe he was crucified as some pre-destined decree by God to grant us salvation or you believe he was a wise teacher and radical for social and political reform, his death holds meaning worth exploring.

Fasting as part of Lent reminds us of our commitment to our Faith, connects us in an embodied manner to the story of Jesus, and makes room for the Holy in our lives.

In years past in lieu of fasting I have embraced practices with writing or photography in an attempt to savor the sweetness of life and be grateful. This year feels like a sacrifice year.  I know I have to give something up, something that blocks the Holy from entering my life.  There are a myriad of ways we numb ourselves to the Holy in an attempt to shut out discomfort and painful emotions.  The problem is we shut out everything. We use television, alcohol, drugs, and sugar to shut down, numb out, escape.

Lent is about more than giving up chocolate.  What is taking up space in your life that prevents you from experiencing the Holy? What behavior has become routine that doesn’t elevate you to your best self?  What do you know, deep in your gut, you need to step away from because it is owning you?

Fasting is one aspect of Lent, but an important one.  Join me in creating change in your life for 40 days.  While Matthew 16-18 encourages us to fast in silence,  I encourage finding a friend or small group of friends to share your experiences throughout Lent.  We know we are stronger in community.  For a more interactive experience, you can leave a comment here. I’d love to hear how your journey goes.

 

Raising Kids, Not Consumers

When my daughter was little I decided to cancel cable television to avoid the constant c25594_373275038869_7427167_nommercials throughout all children’s programming, encouraging them to buy the latest, greatest toy.  I implemented a household policy that at the holidays we would trade out old toys for the new gifts received, donating them to a children’s shelter.  I reminded my 3 year-old each time we went shopping not to ask for anything that was not on the list.  These were all solid techniques for helping my young child avoid consumer culture and not develop the habit of saying “I want” at every aisle in the grocery store.

Recently I’ve noticed more consumer attitudes in our household.  While my daughter still has a strong sense of giving to others and doesn’t ask for many things, the influence of teenage life has shifted more toward the consumer culture we are immersed in.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just an issue for our kids.  I struggle with consumerism as well.  The latest iPhone always gets my attention, even while knowing that precious minerals are mined under horrible circumstances to create the technology and smartphones we so love to buy.  It’s an exercise in balance and it’s a spiritual practice to resist those times when the material things I desire start to control me and alter my lived values.

Raising a teenager, even without the influence of cable television, means watching them become more of a consumer.  In many cases they have their own money from a weekly allowance, chores, or even a part time job.  The influence of friends becomes stronger while at the same time the influence of parents takes a back seat as youth struggle to find their autonomy and express their sense of self, often through purchases to reflect interests.

This is a time when the faith community becomes even more important. Having other adults who share your values and are in community with your kids provides more voices reinforcing shared values to your children and teens.  A strong peer group within the congregation can promote deeper reflection around the struggles our teenagers face as they navigate a new stage of development and new challenges.

Incidentally, it may also be a time when teens no longer want to come each week.  This is where I encourage parents to push, make agreements about regular attendance at the Fellowship.

Programs like Coming of Age help our youth wrestle with a sense of self, grounded in faith identity as a Unitarian Universalist, recognizing that to achieve autonomy they must first demonstrate responsibility.  As they dive into exploring their free and responsible search for truth and meaning in their lives and begin to craft their credo statements of faith, we help them find that balance of expression and enjoyment of life while living lives of faith and UU values.

For more information about the effects of consumerism on empathy in our kids, see this article.