rivka: (chalice)
It's Sunday morning, and I don't want to go to church.

Nine years ago, Michael and I made the decision that we are a family that goes to church whether we feel like it or not. That goes double now that we have kids in Religious Education. Church is the way it is. But I'm not feeling it, and I haven't for a while.

Well, I have a toddler. I haven't been able to sit and listen to an entire service in... yeah, it's been a while. Michael does half the Colin duty, but he does it on the weeks that I am occupied during the service teaching Religious Education. (Which by the way, I have not been enjoying at all.) We could have made a push to get Colin comfortable in the nursery, but we haven't. I confess that I don't feel particularly motivated to do it. I don't feel like I've bonded to our new minister, so I guess I've felt less of a drive to get Colin settled so that I can go hear the sermon.

Michael, of course, is hugely involved in church leadership. Hugely. He's the vice-president of the Board of Trustees and the chair of the Stewardship Committee. We're swinging into stewardship season, so church business is about to start taking even more of his time than it already does. And the Nominating Committee has asked him to stand for presidency of the congregation this coming year. They don't really have any other candidates. It's something he is called to do, and he'll be awesome at it, but I'm dreading it.

I kind of feel like, the more that Michael does at church, the less there is there for me. Church starts to feel like an obligation, something that cuts into our family time and demands that I do a lot of extra solo parenting.

I don't know. It's not like my feelings about Unitarian-Universalism have changed at all. And it's not like I don't respect the value of our church as an institution. But I don't feel like going to church is feeding me. It just feels like work.

I know there are people on my friends list who have been committed to a church or another institution for the long term. How do you handle the down cycles? Or don't you have them?
rivka: (chalice)
There have been a few requests to post the entire text of the sermon I gave today. There are changes from the various pieces I posted, but probably nothing earth-shaking.

it's pretty long, y'all. )
rivka: (chalice)

The service went really well. At five minutes before the hour, there were only about 35 people present, and I felt disappointed. But by the time the prelude and call to worship were over every seat was filled and there were a couple of people sitting on the floor. (This was just the Parish Hall, so it was probably about 60-70 people - not the 300 it would take to fill the sanctuary).

I felt as though the readings and hymns I chose worked well. Hymns might actually sound better in the Parish Hall, where they don't get swallowed up by the immense barrel ceiling - but also I tried to choose hymns that were quite familiar so people would be more comfortable singing out. (For fellow UUs: we sang "There's a River Flowin' in My Soul," "Gather the Spirit," "Blessed Spirit of My Life," and "We'll Build a Land.")

I was nervous beforehand, but not at all nervous once I started to give the sermon. Michael only had to signal me to slow down once.

When it was time to introduce visitors, it turned out that the Final Exit Network guy didn't bring anyone to church after all, so all my worries about that were groundless. Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] zeldajean, [livejournal.com profile] selki, and [livejournal.com profile] wcg, who were visitors on my behalf, as well as the home crowd: [livejournal.com profile] curiousangel, [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb, and [livejournal.com profile] telerib. I felt very supported.

After church, a number of people came up to tell me how much they appreciated what I had to say. I talked to someone who had been a hospice chaplain for twelve years and, oh my gosh, a woman whose adult son committed suicide three months ago and who wanted to ask my advice about her grandson. Several people asked me to send them the text. Several other people told me, more neutrally, that I had given them a lot to think about.

In the talkback afterward, Final Exit Guy told the group that, far from thinking he was on opposite sides from me, he thought I sounded just like a representative of his organization. Because - and he had written this down - at one point I said "everyone has a right to make their own decision." That was apparently all he heard.

A range of opinions were represented. For much of the talkback we discussed making choices about when to stop treatment, and personal and medical factors affecting those decisions. We got more into questions of suicide towards the end - maybe because that's such a more vulnerable issue. Interest was expressed in an adult RE class on end-of-life issues, which I think would be excellent.

I don't know if I changed any minds today. I do think that I complicated the issue for some people who thought it wasn't that complicated before, which may be all I can hope for. And I know that it was very helpful for people who were already leaning toward my point of view.
rivka: (chalice)
So. My service is this Sunday. I drove by the church yesterday and my name was on the sign out front, the one with the slide-in letters. Holy cow.

If you're in or near the Baltimore area and you'd like to attend, the service will be held at 10am (not 11, if you've been to our church before) at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore. The church is at the corner of Charles and Franklin Streets, and there is free parking on Sunday mornings in the garage across Franklin Street from the church. The service will actually be held in the Parish Hall, which is on Charles Street behind the main church building.

The service will be followed by coffee hour (the only UU sacrament) and then, at 11:45, by a post-sermon discussion moderated by someone who is not me, in which I fully expect to wind up in a fistfight with members of the Final Exit Network.

My minister said very nice things about the sermon draft, but man am I ever terrified.

I've put the last portion of my argument (following this one) under the cut. This is the part where I try to undercut the false dichotomy which says that we either leave people to suffer under the current broken system of care for the dying, or we help them kill themselves.

Read more... )
rivka: (chalice)
More of my argument about assisted suicide follows. This part is really long, so I'm putting it behind a cut tag. This is also the part that needs the most work, [N.B.: Michael says no, it's the last section (not posted yet) that needs the most work. So watch for something worse than this.] because I'm not used to making religious arguments - there are so few contexts in which they are appropriate. (Of course, a sermon would be one of them.)

Opinions and argument continue to be welcome.

Read more... )


Jun. 8th, 2010 09:46 am
rivka: (chalice)
So you might remember that I am preaching at my church - for the first time ever - on July 11. The monthly newsletter just recently came out with this sermon description:

July 11—“Life or Death Situations”
Rebecca Wald
Rebecca will share lessons she's learned from working with people who are dying and people who want to die - two sometimes-overlapping groups. Is assisted suicide the best we have to offer those among us who are dying?

One of the things that led to me feeling called to preach this sermon is that a member of our congregation, a physician active in the Final Exit Network, was arrested a year or two ago for assisting in a suicide in Georgia. When he came back to church the interim minister lauded him from the pulpit and he got a standing ovation from the congregation. I think that his position has sort of been automatically adopted as the church's position, because, well, he's one of the noisiest members. But I think that many people haven't really thought it through. That's one of the reason why I really, really want people to hear a different perspective.

Well. That member just called my house and spoke to Michael. He told Michael that he wanted to bring a number of people from outside the congregation to hear my sermon, and was that okay? Clearly he means his Final Exit Network/Hemlock Society buddies. Michael said - as, really, what else could he say? - "Come, come, whoever you are..." But shit.

OMFG I am panicking about this. I'm gonna be lynched. Well, probably not. But he's going to pack the audience with people who are hostile to me from the outset. As if this wasn't going to be hard enough already.
rivka: (chalice)
I'm going to be preaching at my church on July 11. In fact, with the help of a Worship Associate (who presumably will know what he or she is doing, one hopes - because I don't), I'll be doing the whole service.

I kind of can't believe I got myself into this.

The title of my sermon is "Life Or Death Situations." I'm going to talk about my experiences working with people who are terminally ill and and people who are suicidal. The scary part, for me, is that I am going to talk about why assisted suicide is problematic and why I believe that endorsement of assisted suicide is contrary to UU religious values. I don't think that will be a popular opinion in my church.

I met with our minister yesterday to talk about it. He is very encouraging, and has promised me any support I need. But it's still going to come down to me writing a sermon and then standing up to deliver it, in front of a whole bunch of people who probably don't want to hear what I have to say.

I know there are several ministers and lay religious leaders who read my LJ; any advice you have would be incredibly helpful.
rivka: (chalice)
On Monday night we went to a Seder hosted by our friends [livejournal.com profile] unodelman and [livejournal.com profile] lynsaurus. I really enjoyed the evening, and I was surprised at how well the kids held up. (Alex did miss school the next day because of excessive sleepiness, but I consider that a small price to pay.)

We were thrilled to be invited. Two years ago our church held a Seder, and Michael and I have both been disappointed that there hasn't been one at the church since. At the same time, I had some ambivalent feelings about whether we, uh, deserved to be invited. I hasten to say that those feelings have absolutely nothing to do with [livejournal.com profile] lynsaurus and [livejournal.com profile] unodelman and their family members who were present; everyone was incredibly warm and welcoming.

Here's the thing:

I was raised in a mainline Protestant, liberal Christian tradition. I was baptized when I was a toddler. I went to church every week. But I also, when I was a kid, felt a strong sense of connection and affinity for Judaism. At that time in my life, I thought of myself as ethnically "half Jewish." My father was raised in a nonreligious household, but his father was Jewish, the son of immigrant garment workers who lived on the Lower East Side in New York. My father identified as ethnically Jewish. And in Boston in the 1940s and 1950s, other people also identified my father as Jewish.

So I grew up with an interest in Jewish things. I sometimes went to temple with [livejournal.com profile] kcobweb on Friday nights, if I was sleeping over. She tried to teach me a little Hebrew; I can still write my name, but that's about all I ever learned. I read extensively in the children's/YA genre of "heroic Jewish children hide from Nazis." At that time, in the late 70s and early 80s, mainline Protestant churches like mine took a very respectful and interested attitude toward Judaism - not in the skeevy "Jews for Jesus" sense, but in a belief that we had a strong shared heritage and that their history was our history. We sometimes held a Seder at church out of just that sense of shared heritage.

As I grew older, I started to see things in a more complicated light. I realized that by Jewish law, not only was I not "half Jewish," but I wasn't Jewish at all - and neither was my father. Judaism passes through the maternal line. I realized that even if my Jewish ethnic heritage came from my mother's side, my baptism and churchgoing would have made me really not-Jewish. And eventually I came to understand that the idea that Christians and Jews share a substantial common heritage and history, and have significant religious commonalities, is a belief that is much more common and more strongly held among Christians than among Jews. I started to consider my childhood, um, Jewphilia, in the light of cultural appropriation. And I felt awkward.

I'm not a Christian now, but (of course) a Unitarian-Universalist. And UUs have a long tradition of glomming happily onto other people's beliefs and practices and rituals. (Sometimes this is approached thoughtfully and respectfully. Other times, not.) When we found out that there wasn't going to be a Seder at church this year, Michael and I briefly discussed whether it would be okay to have a Seder in our home, for just our family.

We decided that it wouldn't. The thing is, I really like Passover. I love the story and the rituals. I think every religion should have a major holiday focused on oppression and liberation (and wine). But Judaism is not an evangelical, O-hai-let's-share-the-good-news-with-everyone-and-get-them-to-be-like-us religion. Passover is for Jews, not for everyone who thinks Passover is cool. So it was awesome that our friends invited us to share their Seder. It was deeply meaningful to us. But I think that makes us "lucky people who got to share in their tradition," not "people who also have a right to this tradition."
rivka: (chalice)
(I should totally have a chalice-in-a-Santa-hat icon for this post, but I don't. Alas.)

So Garrison Keillor wrote a cranky and mean-spirited column for Salon in which, I guess, he tried to horn in on Bill O'Reilly's lucrative and attention-grabbing "War on Christmas" routine. Except that because Keillor operates in a different cultural millieu than O'Reilly does, he decides to call out Unitarian-Universalists and Jews:
You can blame Ralph Waldo Emerson for the brazen foolishness of the elite. He preached here at the First Church of Cambridge, a Unitarian outfit (where I discovered that "Silent Night" has been cleverly rewritten to make it more about silence and night and not so much about God) [...]

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

Christmas is a Christian holiday -- if you're not in the club, then buzz off.

As they say elsewhere on the web, in a turn of phrase so useful that it quickly became part of my regular vocabulary: "I wish I had a thousand eyes - I'd roll them all." Because let's take a look at the shocking way that UUs have butchered the carol "Silent Night." You might want to send small children out of the room for this one, and pregnant women and people with heart conditions should exercise caution before clicking this link to #251 in the UU hymnal.

The UU blogosphere has been all over this one, of course. I particularly like the thoughtful and comprehensive response by Rev. Cynthia Landrum, which sums it up thusly:
On the other hand, Keillor is falling prey to a major fallacy that says, "the way I remember things from my own childhood is the way things always have been and always should be." His personal history has become the authoritative version of what Christmas should be, and what hymns should be.

But, of course, neither Christmas nor hymnody is like that.

The funny thing is that the version of "Silent Night" Keillor is so vigorously defended is a not-very-faithful English translation of a German carol, "Stille Nacht." A UU musician posted a literal translation of the German carol. The scansion wouldn't work to actually sing it, but it has some beautifully intimate mother-infant imagery:
Silent night, holy night
All is sleeping, alone watches
Only the close, most holy couple.
Blessed boy in curly hair,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

The literal translation from the German also has a fantastic line in the third verse: Son of God, oh how laughs Love out of your divine mouth.

Is Garrison Keillor singing about Love being laughed from the infant Jesus' mouth? No? Then he can shut the hell up about how awful it is when UUs change the words to hymns.

As far as Keillor's anti-Semitism: I don't even know where to start when it comes to those horrible Jews, ruining Christmas for the poor misunderstood outnumbered Christians by, I guess, holding a gun to their heads and forcing them to like "The Christmas Song." No, wait! No Christian likes that song, right? The reason it gets played ad nauseam during the Christmas season is because Jews control the media. Now it becomes clear to me. As I said: I wish I had a thousand eyes - I'd roll them all.
rivka: (chalice)
Under the cut, the full text of the dedication ceremony Colin had at church on Sunday.

Read more... )
rivka: (panda pile)
My parents are visiting this weekend. They came down for two reasons: Colin had his child dedication service at our church this morning, and on Friday my father had an appointment at the National Federation of the Blind to learn about screenreading software from Michael's old colleagues.

It's been a joy of a visit, without the emotional stress that's hung over my relationships with my family for a while. They're just hanging out, enjoying the kids, helping, being good company. The kids adore them. My father has taken Alex to the park two days running now - it's a great partnership; Alex has vision and he has good judgment, so they help each other across the streets.

Colin's child dedication was just beautiful. When Alex was dedicated, our ministers gave us a big booklet of potential liturgy elements and let us choose what to have. This was our new minister's first dedication, so we didn't know what to expect. The only input we had into the ceremony content was asking for Alex to be included, and asking that he not use his favorite child dedication hymn because I hate it. He and [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb put together a lovely service. I'll share the text of the ceremony, and the pictures our friend Adrian took, if/when I can get them.

He was a preturnaturally good baby for the service, too. Saturday he was cranky all day and cried a lot, and I worried that his dedication would be a nightmare. But he went perfectly happily into the minister's arms to be blessed and paraded up and down the church aisles, and afterward he crawled happily around on the floor of the sanctuary, and after that he entertained himself happily for an hour and a half while we entertained a few close friends for his dedication lunch. What a good boy.
rivka: (chalice)
Yesterday afternoon, as we were on the way to the park, we had this conversation with Alex about religion:

Alex: You know what? Some people never ever hurt an animal or even step on an ant. Because that could be your dead relative!
Us: Oh yeah?
Alex: Yeah! Like, Nia [our current nanny, who is a Buddhist and a vegetarian] believes that. But I believe... heaven!
Me: Okay, what you believe is up to you.
Alex: Who believes in hell?
Michael: Some people. Not us.
Alex: But who? What people believe in hell?
Me: Well... Miss Polly did.
Alex: No, she didn't.
Me: She didn't?
Alex: No, she just believed in God and the Devil and God being mad if I didn't say my prayers.
Michael and me: give each other oh-shit-now-what looks, because we haven't heard this particular variation before.
Me (attempting a mild tone of voice): Huh. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Because doesn't God have bigger things to worry about than getting mad about what a little girl does or doesn't say?
Alex: She was NOT a Unitarian.
Michael: No, she wasn't.
Alex: And she was NOT a Universalist, either.
Me: Definitely not a Universalist.
Alex: Miss Polly doesn't go to our church.
Me: Nope. If she did, [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb would tell her that she's wrong.[1]
Alex and Michael: That's right.

I'm feeling kind of bad now because recently Alex has sometimes asked to "say my prayers" at bedtime. I figured it came from a book and didn't probe too deeply into her motivation, and so I prompted her through the less-creepy version of "Now I lay me down to sleep." (Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep. May angels guard me through the night and wake me with the morning's light.) But now I'm thinking... I should've asked questions.

The part about "She was NOT a Unitarian" makes me laugh, and also feel proud. Alex asked us a few weeks ago what "Universalist" meant, and together Michael and I were able to give her a pretty good explanation of Universalist theology and why we are Universalists. I would have a harder time explaining Unitarianism as a theological doctrine, because UUs have moved so far from the original or literal meaning of the term. But I do like that Alex has a clear sense of her religious identity, and understands that Polly's teachings are incompatible with our religion.

The bit about Nia is such a great contrast, because it's clear that (a) Nia has deeply held religious beliefs which our family does not share, and (b) she has discussed those beliefs with Alex, but (c) as indicated by Alex's words and cheerful demeanor (and her total love for Nia), she did it without the slightest implication that Alex should share her beliefs or that Alex's behavior is morally wrong.

[1] [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb would do so in a totally loving and nonjudgmental way.
rivka: (chalice)
Every year, our church runs a "Mystery Buddies" program in which kids from the congregation rare matched up with adults. They spend a month (I think it's March) trading notes back and forth, signing their notes with secret code names, until the end when all is revealed at a special breakfast.

Apparently, adults in the congregation have complained that they want their own Mystery Buddies program, because this year the program has been expanded with an adults-only version called the "Big Questions Exchange." Each Sunday in November, those who sign up exchange letters with a person they have been secretly matched to by the Director of Religious Education. At the end of the month, we'll meet our match. Each week, as the program name suggests, the letters are supposed to tackle big religious questions.

[livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb assures me that my secret match doesn't read my LJ, so I'm going to post the letters I write each week.

Here's my first letter, addressing the question 'what happens when we die?' )
rivka: (I love the world)
On Saturday, Alex and I went hiking.

We've done it a few times before, and she asks to go hiking pretty often. But this was the first time we've ever taken the opportunity to leave Colin home and go off to the woods for what Alex refers to as "special girl time." She was very excited.

It was a beautiful day, with temperatures in the low 70s. Perfect for hiking. I decided that Cascade Falls would be a good short-distance, high-reward hike for a four year old, so we headed to Patapsco Valley State Park not far outside the Baltimore city limits.

I hadn't been up that trail in years, and in the interim they had reworked the bottom portion to prevent trail erosion. So I, um, missed the turnoff to the falls. Instead Alex and I climbed to the top of the steep ridge, meandered up and down a hilly path for a while, and then turned around and came back. We found the falls on the second try. Alex had a lot of fun scrambling around on the rocks and was very very proud to be able to cross the stream from rock to rock and climb up to the top of the waterfall. Our hike was made complete when we found a small snake swimming at the base of the falls and got to watch his progress around and between the rocks.

All told, I think we went about a mile. Maybe a bit more. Some of it was quite steep and slippery, so even with the short length it provided plenty of challenge and excitement. I was proud of Alex. I hope we'll be able to do it again soon.

Sunday at church we covenanted with our new minister. Seven leaders from the congregation (including kids representing the Religious Education program) charged Rev. David with leading us in various aspects of our church life, and then he spoke about his goals and intentions, and we all wound up the ceremony by pledging in unison to support each other in the mission and work of the church. It was inspiring. It's exciting to have a new beginning.

Have I said anything about the new minister yet? It's still early days, but I think he's going to be good. The most obvious early change is a vast improvement in congregational singing, which, frankly, was pretty wretched before Rev. David got here. (Q. Why are UUs so bad at congregational singing? A. Because everyone is reading ahead to see if they agree with the next line.)

Rev. David has a beautiful voice, and he leaves his mike on for the hymns so he can act as songleader. Also he asked the church to buy the new UUA hymnal supplement, which includes more contemporary and world music, and he's having us sing the same songs several weeks in a row to improve people's comfort and familiarity. Those changes are making a huge difference in how well the congregation sings, and since singing is one of my favorite parts of church it's making me very happy.
rivka: (I hate myself)
Alex had an epic tantrum tonight. As has been the pattern lately, it happened because - gasp! - I dared to impose some discipline.

She likes to help me cook. Rule #1 for being in the kitchen when I'm cooking is that she has to do what I say. This is in part a safety rule (hot pans, knives, etc.) and in part a protect-the-menu-from-random-additions rule. It's been in place for a long time. Violation means banishment from the kitchen.

Well, tonight I found her holding the refrigerator door wide open. "What are you doing?" "I'm letting the cold air out." I told her to close it. Once. Twice. It wasn't until I walked towards her that she closed it and scampered away.

I reminded her of the rule and expelled her from the kitchen. She stood in the dining room door and started to cry. I reminded her of the rule again. And then, oh, the variety of tactics that she tried...

Bargaining: "I'm going to listen to what you say! I really am! I'm telling the truth!"

Self-justification: "I was cooling off the house! I was doing something good!"

Blame: "You're not being very nice to me!"

Guilt, Part I: "I was having a good day, until you made me have a tantrum!"

Excuse: "But I didn't HEAR you tell me to shut the fridge!"

Rage: She went into the living room, stood about two feet away from Michael, who was holding a sleeping Colin, and screamed.

Guilt, Part II: Back in the kitchen doorway, she informed me, "You even made COLIN cry!" "Colin didn't cry because you yelled and woke him up?" "No! Colin is crying because you made ME cry!"

Atonement: "I'm really sorry! I'm really really ashamed of what I did!"

Shame: "YOU should feel ashamed of what you did!"

Guilt, Part III: "Well, you're not ACTING like you love me!"

Piteousness: When I asked if she wanted to wipe down the table, "That's a really big job for just one little girl!"

Eventually she calmed down. I had her come out to the garden and help me pick herbs for dinner, and that seemed to help. I spent some time cuddling her and holding her on my lap... outside the kitchen.

She wasn't totally done, though. After dinner she picked a leaflet off the bookshelf and handed it to Michael. "Dad, let's read this." It was a children's brochure from church, and it included a children's version of the Seven Principles. After he read that part, she marched over to me.

"Mom, did you hear that? 'All people should be treated fairly and with kindness!'" she lectured.

"Did you have something you wanted to say to me about that?"

"You didn't treat me kindly!"

I told her that there are times that I don't treat her kindly - that I yell or lose my temper, that I shouldn't do that, and that I try not to. And then I explained, carefully, that the application of mild and reasonable discipline does not constitute unkind treatment. I'm not sure she bought it.

But... wow. She remembered what was in that leaflet and arranged to have it read aloud in my hearing as an object lesson. So that I would remember to apply the Seven Principles to my treatment of her. If you put aside the ridiculous drama, that's... actually a remarkably sophisticated way of addressing the situation.

We are so doomed, you guys.
rivka: (alex age 3.5)
I'm sorry to totally spam you guys with Alex today, but she's really in full flower. I can't resist reporting this conversation with my daughter:

Alex: (singing) Jordan River is big and wide, Alleluia. Milk and honey on the other side, Alleluia. (speaking) Who put the milk and honey on the other side?
Me: (sifts through a bunch of potential allegorical answers and then picks the chickening-out one) I don't know.
Alex: Well, who do you *think* it was?
Me: I think in the song, it's supposed to be God.
Alex: I think it was pirates.
Me: Pirates?
Alex: Yeah, pirates. I think they stole the milk and honey from someone.
rivka: (smite)
We have to fire our nanny. We have to fire our nanny right now.

She's been great with Colin, but at the beginning of June when Alex started to come home at lunchtime to spend the afternoon with the nanny, there were immediate problems. Alex didn't like her. She cried when Michael dropped her off. She complained to me that Polly told lies. When I asked her for examples, she told me about something that was transparently a case of joking around. So I talked to Polly, in Alex's presence, about cutting out the joking until Alex knew her well enough to tell that she was kidding. But Alex still said she didn't like her.

We thought it was adjustment. We thought it was too many changes too quickly. We thought it was having to get used to Michael picking her up at school and then immediately dropping her off again instead of staying home to be with her. We weren't crazy about how Polly interacted with Alex in our presence, but it didn't seem actively objectionable.

We were wrong.

Yesterday afternoon Polly called me at work. She told me a rambling story about Alex's behavior: she had suggested they go to the park, Alex didn't want to, she persisted, Alex said she was being mean. I was nonplussed that an experienced nanny would call the mother about something like this, but I listened, and it was a good thing I did. Because in the course of her explanation of what she said to Alex and what Alex said to her, she came to this:

Polly: You made me feel sad when you said those things to me.
Alex: Well, you should treat others the way you want to be treated.
Polly: Where did you hear that?
Alex: In a book.
Polly: Well, you know, God doesn't like it when you say mean things to someone.


I listened to the rest of her story and then brought the topic back to God. I told her that she. Could. NEVER. Tell our child what God wouldn't like or what God would do. And she said, essentially, "okay, fine, now I know that's how you feel."

I came home and told Michael that we needed a new nanny. I simply didn't trust the judgment of someone who would think that was a good thing to say to a child. We decided that the best thing to do would be to line someone else up as quickly as possible and then give Polly abrupt notice and two weeks' severance pay. He called and left a message for the person who had been the runner-up for the job, in case she hadn't found anything better by now. And this morning I explained again, firmly, to Polly that she may never mention God in any kind of monitoring or punitive context. I walked her through the methods we use when Alex is difficult or oppositional. And they seemed to have gotten through the afternoon okay. Read more... )
rivka: (chalice)
I don't know that I have anything profound to say about it, but I wanted to copy and preserve this bit from a sermon by my friend the Rev. Lyn Cox.

One of my professors in seminary, Rosemary Chinnici, told us that we come to a time when we realize the faith we have inherited is inadequate for what we are facing. She called this religious impasse. I don’t think she meant that everyone changes religious affiliation when hitting a rough spot, I think she meant that we have to change how we relate to our faith.

Another of my professors, Rebecca Parker, writes what she learned from Professor Chinnici about running into religious impasse. “[A]t such moments we have three choices: We can hold to our religious beliefs and deny our experience, we can hold our experience and walk away from our religious tradition, or we can become theologians.” Parker and Chinnici both recommend the third option.

I worry most about people who make the first choice, both for the sake of the effects it has on them and for the sake of the people around them, whose experience they must often loudly deny as well. I remember the woman who came onto a miscarriage support board to share a story about her near-certain miscarriage which was miraculously stopped by prayer - complete with quoted testimony from the Christian ER doctor, who said it had happened in many other cases that he had seen. It never occurred to her, I guess, to follow her particular version of faith all the way through to the end and see what it implied about every other woman on the board.

I know plenty of the second kind of person as well, of course, people who were once taught a cardboard set of beliefs and found that they didn't hold up very well to the weather. I don't worry about most of them. I may find it annoying to listen to the ones who say that they're atheists because it's stupid to believe in an old white man in a long nightgown sitting up on a cloud somewhere and peering into people's bedrooms with disapproval, but they're entitled to exclude the middle if they want to, and most people who have walked away from their religious traditions are more thoughtful than that anyway.

In Unitarian-Universalist churches, and I'd guess probably among some Pagan groups and other minority religions-of-choice as well, people of the second kind can pose a problem for the spiritual life of the community as a whole. What they want from religion is Not-Christianity, and it's hard to define something positive solely in terms of what it isn't.

I think the third option, "becoming a theologian," is what people are sneering at when they talk about "cafeteria Catholics" or make fun of people who pick and choose what parts of the Bible to believe. That's supposed to be taking the easy way out, but in my experience it's a hell of a lot more complicated and difficult to work things out for yourself.

Okay, I'm rambling. I'm tempted to just delete everything here but the quote, but I'll go ahead and post it. And then I'm going to bed.


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April 2017



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