Category Archives: progressive christianity

Kids know: Sharing and including is way more fun

A surprising lesson from a kids game:

I played musical chairs with my Sunday school kids in two ways. First the traditional version with chairs numbering one less than the players participating arranged, music played, and when the music stopped the children scrambled to claim a chair. One sad-faced child did not find a seat and skulked away, excluded to watch forlornly while the other children played. One more chair removed, and so on.

For the second version, we started out with one less chair at the beginning, same as always, and we removed one chair on each round, same as always. The difference was no child was ever eliminated or excluded. When the music stopped, the children found chairs BUT everyone had to have a place, even if it meant sharing.

What warmed my heart more than anything? The kids shared their chairs even when they didn’t have to.

They didn’t evenly distribute themselves to claim space and only share when there were no more empty chairs. We removed one chair per round and when the music stopped there would be two or three left over. Kids reached out to take other kids by the hand to say, “Sit with me.” They were smiling and laughing and hugging. It was wonderful.

Including everyone was happier than excluding and rejecting. Sharing was more satisfying than staking out space alone.

The first time the kids played they did as they were told and followed the rules of the game. They didn’t question the dog-eat-dog nature of the game. The second time they also followed rules, but they were better thought-out rules, and it was way more fun. Inclusion is important in our affirming church. The kids lived that intuitively when playing a game.

How often do we follow dog-eat-dog rules without question when we could easily change the rules to a much more fun, satisfying option?

We must be careful and mindful of the rules we teach our children. What an awesome responsibility.

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The weight and clutter of beliefs we carry

“When we carry a belief, it has a certain mental weight attached to it . . . The heavier the investment—such as religious loyalty, abortion, politics, patriotism, good versus evil—the heavier the weight of belief.”  —Neil Kramer in The Unfoldment

In my work at a local library hundreds of books pass through my hands every shift. Most times I don’t pay too much attention, except to note where to place the book correctly. Sometimes a book stops me and says, “Made ya look!”

This week it was The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, by Margareta Magnusson. I have not read the book yet (if only I could read every book) but I gather the principle is this: clear out your crap before you die and make someone else clean up your mess.

I’m sure Margareta is more polite about it.

Speaking as someone who has had to clear up some such clutter, I endorse the idea. And I think we can go a step farther and clear out some of our mental and emotional clutter too.

In his book, The Unfoldment, Neil Kramer talks about the cluttery weight of beliefs we carry around with us. Some beliefs weigh more than others depending on how invested we are in them. Casual or lighthearted beliefs, like believing a four-leaf clover might bring us good fortune, are light and don’t bother us much to tote around. If we add on a lot more of those little beliefs (knock three times, don’t turn the calendar page until the new month starts, don’t step on a crack, don’t shave during playoffs, don’t wash your lucky socks . . .) the pack gets lumpy and awkward.

Big problems arise when we lug around sandbag-heavy beliefs. Those become a real burden because, even though carrying the weight is hard work, we don’t want to set those burdens down.

“Strangely, the heftier the belief, the more proudly people will sometimes bear its weight. If someone has carried a belief-anvil for 40 years, she is not going to react too kindly to someone telling her that it’s been totally unnecessary. All that effort and martyrdom would have been for nothing. So people hold fast to their own obstinacy, mentally staggering around under this peculiar encumbrance.  —Neil Kramer in The Unfoldment

And a disbelief can be just as heavy. “Disbeliefs require the same maintenance, egoic investment, and channeled consciousness as their positive counterparts,” Kramer writes. (So that’s why so many atheists look like they are a day past a good bowel movement.)

I think we need to think about death-cleaning our minds, clearing out the clutter of beliefs we shouldn’t pass along for someone else have to deal with.

Lately I have found myself avoiding conversations with certain people on particular topics if I know they carry a heavy belief, or if I know I do: Politics is a mine field, the #metoo movement has pitfalls galore, and even Easter has potential for controversy. I’ve started to think, “I need to lighten up.” The weight is getting heavy.

The benefit of death cleaning, I suspect, is keeping only that which serves life, for the benefit of health and happiness and the good of others. Sounds good to me.

four-leaf-clover

It was fun when my daughter found this four-leaf clover, but I don’t REALLY believe it brings us good fortune.

 

 

En-Joy 2018

The JOY ornament I created at my friend, Diane’s craft party. Diane brings me JOY.

On the third Sunday of Advent we lit the JOY candle at our church.

This year a woman who I greatly admire lit the candle, and she spoke about what JOY means to her. Shirley talked about the many JOYous times her family—now grown—spent together in their back yard and down by the Ottawa River. The husband she’s been married to for 67 years brings her much JOY. She told us how much JOY she derives from volunteering and from the work she does with the church.

Then it came time to talk about her sister.

Shirley’s sister had passed away in mid-December and the celebration of her life had been held a few days before.  Tears came to my friend’s eyes and she took a moment to collect herself.

I thought, “She’s crying during a talk about JOY!”

As she went on to talk about their close relationship and the smiles and laughs the sisters shared over many years, tears did not seem incongruous at all. Deep down at the heart of the grief over the loss of her sister was JOY. Happy memories.

I thought, “She’s en-JOYing her grief.” Actively choosing to see the JOY below the surface during a difficult time. Injecting JOY into the moment.

En-JOY 2018. May you choose to let the JOY that is at the heart of any sorrow bubble up.

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
. . . When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.”

—Kahlil Gibran On Joy and Sorrow

 

Christmas: Because we all have the Light

At the Christmas Eve service at my church, I read this short piece before I lit the Christ candle in the Advent Wreath. This is what Christmas is all about for me.


We all have the Light

Christmas is a birthday party.

We celebrate the birth of a man who, because he knew the light of God‑ness shines in all people, inspired us to live with compassion and to pursue justice.

Through stories of shepherds, Samaritans, widows, lepers, prodigal sons and mustard seeds, he embodied the idea that regardless of how we look, where we were born or whom we love, we all have the same shining Light—from the same Source—within.

Christmas Eve is also a birthday party for our daughter. She was the one who reminded me of this Light when she was born 23 years ago today. At the time of her birth I had dismissed God from my life as unnecessary, a figment of the imagination. We are all just atoms and molecules, I thought. And then she came to us with her individuality, her spark, her vibrant spirit, her Light, and I had to re-evaluate. And then our son came along—so different from our daughter—and yet shining with the same Light.

The Christ candle represents how beautiful and perfect and valuable we all are and how, because of that, compassionate justice is the only answer.

We light the Christ candle because more than two thousand years ago a man was born who showed us that deep in our hearts we have a common vision, purpose, longing and goal. Deep in our hearts we have the Light.

 

Yellow submarine: Faith in what we cannot see

For the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed my evening cup of hot herbal tea in a yellow submarine mug.

The submarine windows remain dark and wave-splashed when the mug is cold.

Yellow submarine mug with darkened windows.

But when I pour in boiling water, Paul McCartney miraculously appears and waves at me.

Yellow submarine mug with Paul McCartney

John, George and Ringo also make their presence known in other windows.

Yellow submarine mug with Ringo Starr

The Beatles stay hidden until I choose to create the right conditions to see them, and then I have to choose to celebrate and appreciate them.

The mug reminds me:

  • If I can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
  • When there is something to be revealed, the conditions have to be right.
  • Sometimes I have to make a choice to take action to make those conditions right.
  • And then I have to choose to notice, celebrate and appreciate.
  • I have to trust in what I can’t see as much as what I can.

Faith, hope, peace, joy, love surround me. If they begin to feel distant or elusive, I can pour some warmth on them and notice how they miraculously appear.

 

Real Bethlehem, Story Bethlehem

Last year I gathered the a group of young Sunday school children into class. We sat in a circle on the floor on big cushy pillows and talked about the two stories of Christmas—the Luke version and the Matthew version. The kids ranged in age from 5 to 7, so we didn’t delve into deep philosophical discussions, but we talked about how two very different stories get smooshed into one. We told each one separately, and we told them as they are usually woven together.

Inevitably, our road led us to Bethlehem.

“Is Bethlehem a real place?” a girl asked.

“Yes, it is.”

Gobsmacked, she rocked back on her pillow. Her mouth dropped open. Other eyes around the room also regarded me curiously.

“What do people do there?”

“Well, they do a lot of the same things we do,” I said. “They get up, wash themselves, eat food, go to school if they’re lucky . . .”

The children digested this information. In the brief period of silence that followed, I watched a transition on their faces. Before the girl asked the question and I answered, we’d been living wholeheartedly in the land of story. Before she asked and I answered, we’d been thinking about what the stories meant.

Then we crashed to earth. The minute I told them Bethlehem was real, their brains began to tick. They moved from the teaching wonder of story to literal dissection. “If Bethlehem is real,” they were thinking, “then how could all that other stuff really have happened?”

Inwardly I sighed. One second we’d been pondering possibilities and thinking about how two stories from thousands of years ago could help us live our lives today, and then—boom—we stumbled into analysis.

It’s not my place to tell them what to believe or not believe. My job is to present them with the stories handed down to us and start the discussion so they can work through it themselves over the course of their lives. I couldn’t (and most certainly wouldn’t) tell them that two different, often contradictory stories, are factually true. I couldn’t (and most certainly wouldn’t) tell them those same stories aren’t true in their own way.

“Oh yes, Bethlehem is real,” I carried on, “but let’s talk about what we can learn from these stories.”

Real Bethlehem, Story Bethlehem. Starting points for contemplation.

Story Bethlehem

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