Wednesday, February 21, 2018

When God Made You

It's hard to find children's picture books about God that don't make me cringe a little or change the language to re-interpret the theology while I'm reading or have pictures that reflect a diversity of people and culture. But recently I found Here Wee Read (@hereweeread) on Instagram. 

The reason I started following Here Wee Read, (which is also a website) is that Charnaie, the creator of the site and all its social media is an 'expert in diversity' and makes excellent suggestions of books that feature people of color or tell stories of black and brown leaders and innovators, and that help to introduce conversations about race even with very young children. I was delighted to learn that her suggestions sometimes also include books about God and/or the Bible.

When God Made You and When God Made Light are now regular reading at bedtime in our household. The illustrations are absolutely delightful and engaging; we pause at almost every page to talk about what's in the pictures because there are new things to notice, or we notice the same beautiful thing again and again. (It can take a long time to read these books because of this.) The lyrical, silly-serious lilt of the writing is fun to read and, as the kids say, gives me all the feels. Plus - and these are actually big ones for me - I never have to edit-as-I-go because the pronouns for God are Capital H He's, language for humanity is exclusive, or there's questionable theology, which I have to do even with the wonderful Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu.

The illustrations are such a celebration of the beauty, creativity and personhood of little black girls that I was surprised to learn in an interview with the author, Mathew Paul Turner, that both the author and the illustrator are white dudes. (Read the interview here with Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families). In the interview Turner talks about his own frustration with reading to his kids. wanting to acknowledge the light of God's creativity and love within his own children and not finding anything that quite fit what he was looking for. So he wrote it himself.

There are some lines I can barely read without busting out crying with the beauty of imagining my child and all our children and each of us in all our belovedness.

"You, you, when God dreams about you,
God dreams aout all that in you will be true.
That you - God's you - will be hopeful and kind,
a giver who live with all heart, soul and mind...
A mover, a shaker, a lover of nature.
A builder of bridges, you the peacemaker...
'Cause when God made you, all of heaven was beaming.
Over YOU, God was smiling and already dreaming."

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Hearts and Ashes

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me." These are the words we hear or sing or recite each Ash Wednesday when we come before God in petition.  When we invite God to make our hearts new, having failed to love God or God's people as fully and wholly as we should.  We are marked with ashes as a reminder of our humanness - that very thing that identifies us as created in Gods image and that causes us to mess up.

Still God is faithful.  God's heart is for us.  As we progress through Lent this year we will hear in worship (or you can follow along yourself here) the story of God's covenant love for all creation and for us in particular.  One of my favorite texts of this season comes near the end. "I will put my law within them," God says, "and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." This is written in Jeremiah to a people longing to feel connected to God again.

This is an intimate kind of law.  It is a law of love that will be known to us because God is within us, loving us from the inside out.  A love so known to us that we cannot help but show it and live it.  A love so strong and so much a part of us that when we don't show it and live it, it will endure because God endures.

People often give something up for Lent.  I have, myself, opted for the classic giving up coffee or chocolate.  I've also fasted from Facebook or other media.  If that's a practice that works for you as a posture of prayer, a way to connect your heart to God's heart, great!  If that's not your gig, or if you're looking for something to practice with others, or with your family, what about some of these:
  • send a handwritten card or note to someone each day (or let's be real: each week)
  • deciding on an amount per ounce of water everyone consumes to donate to a water charity
  • collecting and donating a bag of toys, clothes or clutter, one item each day
  • doing a random act of kindness each day
  • reading through one of the Gospels, (this year it's Mark - the shortest)
  • print out a 'Praying in Color' lent calendar and fill in each day with a doodle or a color that illustrates a prayer (scroll down a little to see the pdf links) or make your own.
  • Create and decorate a donation box and put something in it each day to bring to a local foodbank
  • Create a thanksgiving wall or poster and add a note to it each day. Or go the extra step and make it a tree - by the end, as spring arrives, the tree will be full of leaves
Most of the suggestions above are from the Practicing Families site or my own head, but for more and more detail try Traci Smith's website.  Her book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Spaces at Home has wonderful ways of making room for God in the everyday life of family. 

May your hearts be pliable to God's to the writing of God. 
May God's heart be the heart in which you find home.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Black Lives Matter At School

RESOLVED, that the Seattle School Board declares that the lives of our black students matter, as well as the lives of all of our students of color; and therefore be it further
RESOLVED, that the School Board encourages participation district-wide in the Black Lives Matter At School Week from February 5-9, 2018 through discussions in classrooms and in homes."

I feel grateful to live in a city whose school board encourages its educators to embrace an active role in naming injustice and promoting equality.  One of the reasons I love my neighborhood school in Beacon Hill is that I know that in addition to being majority minority, it's intentional about having a global agenda, identifying inequity, teaching students to think critically and celebrating black lives and the people of color who have been shaped history and culture.

That said, having a child in a school like mine let's me off the hook a little.  Or rather, I let myself off the hook by leaning on the great stuff the school is already doing and not getting too involved in the day to day.  I pay the PTA membership and I show up to the occasional event, but I've never gone to a meeting.  I'm busy with all the things and its hard to think about adding one more.  I know I'm not alone.

Then I read this article on the SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) website: "Act In" Where You Already Are.  The author talks about finding allies in the activities and organizations in which we're already a part and advocating and agitating for racial justice there.  "Racism is everywhere," she says, "We don't have to go to a special meeting to take action for racial justice. As families, we engage with a lot of people outside of “activist world” and can bring them into racial justice work through the mutual interest of raising kids in a world without racism."

So I don't go to PTA meetings.  But I do have several other involvements (including this church gig with all of you) where I can think about putting anti-racism energy.  Maybe you do go to the PTA meetings (I know some of you definitely do) and you can find allies in inviting a guest speaker or panel to talk about raising race-conscious kids.  Maybe you go to a library storytime that would entertain the question of using more people of color in books (and drawing attention to it).  Maybe you're in a book club that would choose to read books by people of color.  Maybe you work in a workplace that would be willing to support systemic anti-racism training like this one. I don't know...but you might!  And there are some concrete suggestions in the article and all over the SURJ website.

Last week a flyer got sent home in the backpacks of the kids in our school saying a little bit about what was going to be happening in school this week and suggestions for follow up.  But I know that using the curriculum is voluntary.  So I hope you're able to find way to advocate for justice in your communities and with your kids.

And a couple more resources to end on:
If you are interested in a workshop on how to be a better ally, check on the White Ally Toolkit this Saturday hosted by Valley and Mountain, The Well, and Kids4Peace Seattle.
Second, I've always got you with the book suggestions.  I just discovered a new Instagramer to follow: @hereweeread is a 'diversity and inclusion expert' and her Instagram features books (mostly for kids but some for adults as well) that celebrate black lives and accomplishments. Below are a couple of screen caps from her good!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

My Patronus is a Snow Leopard

This weekend in our congregation we are going to host an event in which we hear the story of the relationship between Lakota folks and white descendants of settlers in Minnesota.  A part of that will include the story of land return and will challenge us in the Northwest consider what our responsibility is to the First Nations of Washington.  For us in Seattle, that means the Duwamish.  The elementary children will have the opportunity to learn from a Duwamish teacher, experiencing songs, stories and even learning to dance. It's going to be pretty great. 

Even after living in Seattle for more than a decade, I've had few opportunities (largely because I haven't gone out of my way to find them) to learn about or expose myself to local indigenous culture.  I want to change that. I'm noticing that, like the cultural shift in awareness of the way white folks are blind to our privilege with respect to black folks, there's an increased understanding that we can easily commit micro-aggressions even in some common english expressions.

For example, consider, "So and so is the low man on the totem pole," or "let's pow-pow" or "such and such is my spirit animal." These take cultural, possibly sacred, images, appropriate them and trivialize them.  A totem poll has no hierarchy; there is no 'bottom'.  A pow-wow is a social and ceremonial gathering not a quick meeting in the break-room. And isn't it just so much cooler to say "My patronus is a snow leopard"? (Actually my patronus is probably a house cat.  Anyway, you can read more here, here and here).

It's exciting to me that our congregation want to be challenged to examine our whiteness - including the kind of language we use about and originating in indigenous culture - and I've go a few more resources for adults and children to help us learn and become more culturally sensitive.

The Seattle Public Library has great recommendations for books from toddler through Young Adult.  Also, at the Central Library location there is currently an exhibit of photography highlighting local First Nations.  I always find going to the downtown library a fun outing.  Another local resource with permanent exhibits highlighting indigenous culture is the Burke Museum.  Go for the dinosaurs stay for the basketry, beading and kayaks.  And finally, a built-in opportunity to be hosted in a Duwamish space is the Sunday afternoon portion of our event at their longhouse.
Photo: Haida bentwood chest. Burke Museum cat. no. #2291.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Since We Were Babies

The picture above was taken just over a decade ago.  It's still one of my favorites.  In part because it very much captures the personalities of the kids in the picture, even to this day.  And also because I love being reminded of a very unique thing about bringing children into church community: these children are not related to each other, they aren't  close - although they are friends - but they have been know and loved and cared for by this family of faith since the days they crawled around on the floor.  Like cousins or siblings in a for-real family they have this experience of church community - their family of faith - that only they and their peers share.

In the high school youth Sunday school class exploring baptism and belonging we are heading in a couple weeks into a session on the story of The Church and specifically of Our Church.  We will talk about the stories and values and culture that we have in our congregation.  We'll talk about  what it means to follow Jesus as a community in this time and place, and what it has meant for the last 50 years. Many of these same young people were at camp this past weekend.  I saw them being community to each other, laughing and enjoying being each other around a card table, and I saw them being embraced into the community of our church of all ages as they - yes - played games and also cared for smaller children and made meals together and played ping-pong and skied and sledded.

Some of those teens also crawled around with each other on the floor and some have only been here a little while.  But being in this family of faith is unique thing that only they share in the world.  I pray that the little ones in the picture will in a few years be the teens competing at Rook, that the children who have recently joined our community, and babies yet to be born will be folded into this cloud of witnesses.  It is precious to me to observe that that even long after the children of this faith family are grown, the love that they have known here continues to be a connection to each other and to the love of God.

In a recent conversation with my child in the picture, she confirmed that I still had it on my bulletin board.  I nodded and she went on a little incredulous, "So we've know each other since we were babies?"  Yup.  They have been known to each other and known to their church and known and loved by their Creator.  Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Darkness in Light of MLK

After my rambling thoughts on how darkness isn't all bad last week, there's this quote by Dr. King:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness.
Only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate.
Only love can do that."
       -Dr. Martin Luther King Junior

One of my very favorite stories about a child learning about Martin Luther King is in an old episode of this American Life called 'Kid Logic'.  It's one of those mouths-of-babes stories where a child somehow cuts to the center of the message of love and justice that King preached as a follower of Jesus.  And the devastating consequences of that message of love.  I found the episode here. The story starts at  minute 13:10 in Act One of the show but the whole episode is a really great piece of radio storytelling.  Be warned though, if you're anything like me you will cry your eyes out EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. you listen to it.

I don't have any other deep thoughts to offer on the subject of kids and race this year.  I have often suggested books to read to kids on racial justice and building equality.  This time around I'll let the experts make the suggestions.  The Seattle Public Library has a couple of excellent lists for children across the age spectrum: "Race and Social Justice Books for kids K-5" I think is has a few books that look suitable for younger ones as well. "Reading and Talking to Kids about Race" also has both picture books and chapter books, as does "Reading Race: Fiction for Kids."  There's in the content of their lists but it seems like a great place to start to me and to test out books that you might want to have on your own shelves.
It's a good quote for a chaotic time. 

On our bookshelves at home I try to be intentional with the picture books we purchase that the illustrations feature a diversity of characters, whether or not the stories are explicitly about race.  One of the picture books favorites for the toddler right now (one of the few that's not about animals) is Up Up Down by Canadian author Robert Munsch (maybe most famous for The Paperbag Princess  and Love you Forever) about a little girl obsessed with climbing.  Because Munsch uses real kids in almost every one of his books (including his own kids, who are black) a lot of his books feature kids of color.  We also like Something Good, which is about Munsch and his daughter.

Whatever you do this weekend, may you find rest and connection in family and community (recognizing that sometimes 'rest' and 'connection' are mutually exclusive).

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Darkness is as Light to You

Psalm 139 is a beloved text for me, as for many. It names the intimacy and thoroughness with which God knows and loves us. "For it was you who formed my inmost parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." The author continues, naming the distant places they could go. There would be nowhere where God was not, including the grave, including the dark cover of night. In these dark places, still God is there.

It is Epiphany Sunday this week, the Sunday when we are called to "Rise! Shine! For your light has come!" Beautiful words from Isaiah 60 but am often troubled with the way we use lightness as a stand in for good and darkness for bad. The Psalmist knows that God is in the darkness.

There is a richness of language that we are missing when we forget about the goodness of the dark. The words of the hymn "Joyful is the dark" capture the magisterial grandeur or darkness: "Joyful is the dark, holy, hidden God, rolling cloud of night beyond all naming...Joyful is the dark depth of love divine, roaring, looming thundercloud of glory."

In these words is a vast and beautifully energetic darkness. But the dark is also intimate and close and fertile. In dark, warm soil grow buried seeds. In the dark bedchamber lovers caress. In the dark nursery we hold our little ones and sing them to sleep. In the dark we feel our way, are gentle.

There are indeed times when it feels like we are flailing in dark nothingness. That feeling of being alone and un-seeing can certainly feel like all dark is. But nothing is darkness to God. There is nowhere we can go that God does not hold us firmly and gently in hand.

May your darkness be blessed.
May it be the soil in which love is rooted and grows.
May it be the ocean over which the Spirit hovers.
May it be the holy place where you are met by God.