Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This Sunday (2/26) in Faith Development

This Sunday, all of our elementary classes begin stories relating to the UU Sources. The Red, Orange and Yellow classes will do a story about mystery and wonder called "A House for God." Our Green (2nd grade) class will do "The Great Story," which is a slightly more advanced story about mystery and wonder.

Our Blue (3rd grade) class will begin their "Sources" project (a two-week project where they will create some sort of "display" of the UU Sources).

Teachers on schedule:
RED: Carrie (S), Tania (D)
ORANGE: Jen (S), Sersia (D)
YELLOW: Katherine (S), Kelley (D)
GREEN: Phil (S), Kattia (D)
BLUE: Laura (S), Seth (D)

Alison and Henry will lead the 5th grade class in a lesson about King Solomon.

For 6th-7th grade, Christy and Maureen will lead "From Protestors to Pilgrims."

Christina and Fran will lead the workshop "Your God Project" with the Coming of Age (8th grade) youth.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Harvest the Power


Gather the spirit, harvest the power.
Our separate fires will kindle one flame.
Witness the mystery of this hour.
Our trials in this light appear all the same.
~Jim Scott


Our 4th-5th grade class recently studied the story of Moses, the man who God called to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God appeared to Moses as a burning bush, and Moses resisted. He did not want the responsibility of leadership. But he became one of the greatest leaders in the Hebrew scripture.

Leadership at First Unitarian takes many, many forms. A few weeks ago the congregation voted in a full slate of leaders at the annual meeting. Each Sunday eighteen adults are lead children and youth in faith development classes. Some of you lead activities or programs. Many of you lead in quiet ways, just by showing up. Others have not found their role in leadership yet. You are called to be a leader in this community in some way or another.

We want to give you the tools you need to harvest your own power as a leader in this community. Beginning February 26 after church, Laura Kirshenbaum and Jessica Gray will co-facilitate an adult program called “Harvest the Power.” The program is designed to help you grow in spirit as you grow in leadership, within the church and in other aspects of your life. We will offer six sessions based on the themes of “Self” and “Community.” Please join us, even if you are not in an active leadership role. We will meet every other Sunday afternoon from 1-3 pm. We hope you can make it to all six sessions, but we welcome you if you can only attend 4 or 5. Childcare will be available. Sign up by responding to this E-vite or contact Jessica Gray at jgray@firstunitarian.com.

Will you gather your spirit, harvest your power? Will you take up the call to leadership?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Standing on the Side of Love

Sermon by Jessica Gray, 02/12/12

It was just an ordinary Sunday morning in July of 2008. Working as a religious educator, Sunday morning is often my busiest time, so I don’t usually answer the phone. But I do often have my phone, and this morning I got several calls in a row from a friend of mine in Tennessee. He knew I was at work, so I figured it must be important. “There has been a shooting at a UU church in Knoxville,” he told me. And everything stopped. We have friends in Knoxville, and they sometimes attend that church, though they were not there that morning. My friend told me that the church was doing a children’s play, Annie Jr., and this man came in and began shooting people. Over the next few days more news about the shooting was revealed. The man was angry about the church’s stance on homosexuality. The church I served in Baton Rouge had some issues of vandalism for the same reason. When the New Orleans Gay Men’s Chorus was advertised as singing there, someone threw a rock and broke the large window in the sanctuary. A few years later when advertising the same concert, another rock was thrown, breaking the church’s electronic sign. But it was only property damaged. Things could be replaced. The man in Knoxville killed people, and in front of children. Those people would never be replaced. This event sent shock waves through the entire Unitarian Universalist Association.

At the church in Baton Rouge, we held a vigil, along with many churches across the country. In Knoxville there was an outpouring of love and support from people of all denominations and faiths. People from many walks of life were standing together against hatred and fear, standing together on the side of love. Out of something truly horrible, a new vision was born.

Inspired by the events following the shooting in Knoxville, in July of 2009 the leadership of the UUA unveiled a public advocacy campaign – Standing on the Side of Love. The goal was to harness love’s power to challenging exclusion, oppression and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, race, religion, or any other identity, to promote respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Some acts of violence and oppression, like this shooting, are so clear, but we encounter exclusion, oppression, and violence in small ways all the time. When the bully at school decides to pick on someone else, do you breathe a sigh of relief and ignore it? When you hear someone make a racist or a sexist joke at work, do you stand by silently? How many of us have been guilty of that? When was the last time you spoke, wrote or texted cruelly or unlovingly to someone or about someone? Even as a joke. You never know who is struggling with something, who may be listening. What about unloving thoughts toward yourself? How much of your own criticism tears you down instead of building you up?

In 2010, a hidden-camera show called What Would You Do? focused on gay parenting and involved a waitress — an actress — saying hateful things to two same-sex couples, also actors and actresses, who were dining with their kids at a café in Texas. Two male customers who overheard the waitress’ statements took bold stance in defense of the couple. One of the men confronted the waitress by asking her if she believed in Jesus and then telling her, “Don’t judge.” When the waitress continued to insult the couple, the man wrote a note to the lesbian couple and delivered it to them at their table. “I know it doesn’t mean much but I love you all,” the note said. “You have a beautiful family and I pray that one person’s judgmental intolerance does not in any way put a damper on your hearts or minds.”

The response from customers was slightly different when a gay male couple was involved — at least initially. No one confronted the waitress when she asked the gay couple to leave, and one patron even gave her the thumbs up. But overall, people did intervene, even when the same-sex couple was male.

In Texas, out of 53 bystanders, 24 voiced their support for the gay parents, about half. When the show did the same setup in 2009 in New York, a more liberal state, fewer than a dozen out of 100 bystanders spoke up.

If you were a bystander in this café, would you speak to the waitress? Would you stand on the side of love? Or would you look the other way?

The concept of “Love” is a fundamental part of spirituality. God is love. When Jesus was asked the greatest commandment, he replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Love God (however you understand God), love your neighbor, love yourself. This reminds me of an acronym I learned in Sunday School: J.O.Y. – Jesus, Others, You. We honor the transcendent and divine. We honor the inherent worth and dignity of each person. And, just as important, we honor our own inherent worth and dignity. This brings us JOY.

From a Buddhist perspective, the Pali word metta means “loving-kindness.” The definition of love in Buddhism is “wanting others to be happy.” This love is unconditional and it requires a lot of courage and acceptance (including self-acceptance). Romantic “love” often relies on self-interest, but metta refers to the unselfish interest in others' welfare. True metta evokes a warm-hearted feeling of fellowship, sympathy and love, which grows boundless with practice and overcomes all social, religious, racial, political and economic barriers. Metta is indeed a universal, unselfish and all-embracing love.

Love is an inspiration to action. Nearly every religion has a version of the “Golden Rule” – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Confucianism: "Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence." Mencius VII.A.4

Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. Mahabharata 5:1517

Humanism: "Don't do things you wouldn't want to have done to you, British Humanist Society.

Islam: "None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." Number 13 of Imam "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths."

Judaism: "...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.", Leviticus 19:18

Taoism: "Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien.

And there are many more.

The purpose of Standing on the Side of Love is to transform our love into action. This action can be personal, speaking up to injustice in our daily lives, or it may be approaching larger issues of injustice. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations have joined together in social justice projects under the banner of Love. For example, some marched in Hartford, CT, demanding action on a transgender anti-discrimination bill. Others served as a calming presence when Nazis held an anti-immigrant march in Phoenix. Some intervened in Framingham, MA and East Lansing, MI and Woodbridge, VA when the hate-mongering Westboro Baptist Church came to intimidate high school students. And these are just a few examples.

This weekend, thirty teens and ten adults from our district joined together at a Youth Conference where we participated in some social action projects as part of Standing on the Side of Love. The Con was called “I Got UU Babe,” a reminder that we are never alone. We’ve got each other’s backs. We stand together in defense of what we know is right.

At many social justice activities, Standing on the Side of Love supporters can be identified by their bright yellow t-shirts, banners, and signs. When the UUA leadership created this campaign, they were surprised at how quickly the symbol connected people as a united group with a clear message. The yellow T-shirts transform individuals into a community standing together. The yellow T-shirts are a visible sign that we are in solidarity with a larger movement. I think the choice of yellow as the color is interesting in itself. In our children’s Spirit Play classes we associate each color with one of the UU Principles or Promises. The yellow promise is symbolized by a flame, and the words are “Yearn to accept and learn about ourselves, others, and the mystery.” In the adult language, the third principle is “Acceptance of One Another and Encouragement to Spiritual Growth.” The flame represents fire, strength, power, and the force of will. It takes strength to stand up for what we know is right. And yet, when we stand together, we are powerful. We provide light in the darkness.

Sometimes we can put our faith in action in creative ways. After the shooting in Knoxville, I was haunted by the fact that this happened in the middle of a children’s play. As a theatre person, I thought, “This show must go on.” The minister and I decided to offer the play, Annie Jr., in place of our Christmas Pageant. We had some deep discussions about tragedy with the children participating, and they exchanged cards, photos, and letters with the children from the church in Knoxville. While this was a full theatrical production with costumes, sets, and props, it was also a worship service and a prayer of hope. I introduced the play by explaining the tragic circumstances and reading a piece of an essay written by the DRE who was at the Knoxville church during the shooting. I gave a short homily before the offering, honoring that we may have been through dark times, but indeed the sun will come out tomorrow. It was one way the children of that congregation practiced standing on the side of love.

We have so many opportunities and ways to stand on the side of love here. Today, the families from the Interfaith Hospitality Network will move into our Sunday School classrooms downstairs. Over the next two weeks, members of this congregation will show their love as they provide food and hospitality to these homeless families. What are some other things we could do as a congregation to stand for love? How could we get more involved in fighting oppression, exclusion, violence? On March 4th we are going to have a special worship service and coffee hour relating to transgender issues, including a message from a transgender member of our congregation. Our Caring Community task force is seeking ways for the congregation to connect to one another, to show love within. Our Hogwarts summer camp is reaching out to the greater community, sharing our message of love beyond these walls. Only half of the people signed up thus far are from this church. But could we do more? How will we show our faith in action as a congregation? How can we affect each other as individuals?

I would like you to think about someone who inspires you, someone whose words and deeds show that they value treating people fairly or being a helpful part of the community. This person could be someone in this congregation or your family, a teacher, a coach, a neighbor. Just like in our story "The Mish-mash Heart,” this person affected your heart. Changed you in some way.

Take a simple paper heart. As you receive it, think about the people who have inspired you. Think about how you can inspire others. We are re-imagining Valentine’s Day. This heart is yours to give away. You can write a note on it, draw a picture, or just give it as it is. You can give it to someone in this sanctuary or someone else in your life. To someone you know needs some extra love. Or to someone you want to thank for the love they have shown to you.

When you face oppression, will you stand for love? Will you make that commitment? In the fellowship hall, we have a banner on which the youth at the Con signed and wrote messages of love. If you are willing to stand for love, there are fabric markers that you can use to add your name, your message. If you want to wear the message of love, we have a few “I got UU Babe” T-shirts available. But these are just symbolic gestures. The real challenge comes when you hear someone at work or school who is hurting someone else with their words. Will you stand up for them? The challenge comes when you catch yourself saying something hurtful. How can you remind yourself to use more respectful words with your peers, and with yourself? An even more difficult challenge comes when someone hurts you. Will you react with anger, or with loving-kindness? Even when it is difficult, will you stand on the side of love?

Friday, February 3, 2012

How do you know you are a girl? or a boy?

By Diane Mandile

How do you know you are a girl? or a boy?

For most of us this might seem like a silly question. You know your sex because you were born with it. It is an integral part of who you are.

For some, it is not that simple. Some people are born feeling that their body does not conform to their internal sense of feeling male, female or something else. Their gender identity does not correspond with their biological sex. They are transgender.

As you might imagine, each transgender person’s narrative will be different. Some may know and express their need to transition at a very young age while others may not share their needs until well into adulthood or even much later in life. What is important is to provide the support necessary to help them along their journey.

Support for a successful transition would ideally come from many sources: parents, siblings, family members, friends, churches, schools and organizations. Sadly, the reality is often different.

Recently, some Girl Scout troops have had to decide whether their mission is to serve all girls or only biological girls. The issue began when a transgender girl (this means a child born as a biological boy who has identified as a girl) attempted to gain membership in a Colorado Girl Scout Troop and was denied. The Girl Scouts of Colorado responded by issuing the following statement, “Girl Scouts is an inclusive organization and we accept all girls in Kindergarten through 12th grade as members. If a child identifies as a girl and the child's family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.” This created a maelstrom of controversy including an online effort to organize a boycott of Girl Scout Cookies.

Discrimination against transgender people exists in employment, education, housing, and healthcare. The lack of adequate federal, state, and local laws and strong enforcement fail to provide protection from this discrimination. We honor the Girl Scouts of America for taking this courageous stand in light of strong pressure to conform to the biases of some.

On March 4th we will hold a Girl Scout Cookie coffee hour to draw attention to this important issue and to enact our values as a Welcoming Congregation. Anyone wishing to donate a box or two for this effort, please let me know. In addition, if you would care to support the Girl Scouts by purchasing cookies for your own use we would encourage you to visit www.gscwm.org to locate a cookie booth near you. We would also invite all girl scouts in our congregation to dress in uniform that day if they would like.

For more information and to access “A SUPPORT GUIDE FOR PARENTS, FAMILIES AND FRIENDS OFTRANSGENDER AND GENDERNON-CONFORMING PEOPLE” visit http://community.pflag.org/Document.Doc?id=202

Thursday, February 2, 2012

This Sunday (2/5) in Faith Development

This Sunday we have three different "stories" in our different age groups of Spirit Play.

Our younger classes will share the Violet Promise story "I love you, sun. I love you, moon."
Red: Tania (S), Carrie (D)
Orange: Sersia (S), Shari (D)
Yellow: Gina (S), Hope (D)

Our second grade class will share Violet Promise story "Granddad's Prayers for the Earth."
Green: Kattia (S), Amy (D)

Our third grade advanced class will have their final class on UU Hymns.
Blue: Jen (S) and Gina (D)

Our 4th-5th grade class will be doing a second lesson on Moses with teachers Colleen and Henry.

Our 6th-7th grade class will revisit the Congregational Poll with Mary and Christy.

See you on Sunday!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More details about the Hogwarts Preview Party


This Sunday, 2/5, we have a Hogwarts Preview Party from 2-4 pm. The goal of this event is to give parents and potential staff an opportunity to ask their questions and for kids to have some fun with various activities.

As Headmistress, I am primarily going to be answering questions. There will be a couple of specific Q&A times for different categories of people:

2:05 - Teenagers who are interested in applying to be ELFS, junior staff.
2:30 - Parents Q&A - Answers to all of your questions about safety, fees, schedules, and more.
3:00 - Potential staff? We need Heads of House, professors, guides, floating ghosts, kitchen witches and parking wizards. What do these jobs entail? What about schedules? Are any of the positions paid?
3:30 - Professor Roundtable - Are you interested in teaching a class? Maybe you need some help figuring out what type of class would work best for you? Would you like some ideas on what has been taught in the past?

We will have ongoing kids' activities throughout the entire event, likely including:

* Magic snow
* Costume area
* Catch a snitch
* Harry Potter trivia (with prizes)
* Make marshmallow spiders or pretzel/licorice wands
* Harry Potter game area
* Make a magical creature out of clay
* Slime/putty
* Make paper Divination fortune tellers

All of these areas need adults or youth to help guide the kids in the activities. Are you willing to help for 1 hour? Or both? Let me know if you would prefer to help with an activity for the first hour or the second and if you have a preference about which activity you would like to guide. Instructions and materials will be provided for all activities.

Registration will take place on-line and will open Sunday. As of Saturday, you will find links to student registration, adult staff applications, and youth ELFS (junior staff) applications:

Any questions about the camp are always welcome!