Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Year in Review, 2022

Have you ever felt bad for not writing a year-end letter like all those put-together families who dependably send an annual year-end card? A card that's filled with beautiful pictures of their family along with a note or letter that shares what's happened in the past year. I have. I have also absolutely delighted in the pictures and the updates from some y'all or friends I'm mostly not in touch with anymore. Some of them are propped up on my desk or stuck to my fridge.

If you've felt the pressure to conform with the Christmas-letter masses, I'm here to release you; sending the letter or card isn't going to make you more worthy or interesting or lovable. You are all those things no matter what. If sharing a family picture and letter gives you joy, yay! Keep it up; your friends appreciate it. If you'd like to try a low-ish pressure letter-writing method that I started a couple of years ago which makes this task feel a less like a chore and more like a Spiritual practice, keep reading.

Real quick, though, here's a hot tip: a "Christmas" letter doesn't have to be at Christmas. I recently received an All-Saints Day letter (by email - a letter also doesn't need to be in the mail) from someone that included both her life update and gratitude to people who were her 'saints' in 2021. And I've sent both a Valentine's Day Letter and a Lunar New Year letter when those were the holidays nearest when I got around to sharing updates to my family and friends.

Okay, here's what I really want to share. I learned it from another family's annual letter. No point keeping secrets - it was Rex and Lenae. They shared (and still share) interesting or eventful or fun things about each month and I wondered how they remembered all the details. Turns out they were keeping track! Simple as that. So I started to keep track too. With no set schedule or routine, just whenever I think of it, I write down events or achievements or things of note that have happened that day or that week. I try to do it at least once a month.

I might take note of the start of school in person, a birthday, a funny thing someone said. Maybe it's getting vaccinated or planting a garden or a new interest someone's getting into. I also try to think about what I've been thankful for each month and to notice what's felt especially hard. No surprise there was a lot of Covid-related and things-we-did-at-home content in my 2021.

At the end of the year (or at Lunar New Year) I take a look back over the notes I've made. Not everything makes it into the letter. I edit things down a bit. But part of the beauty of this way of doing the letter is the opportunity to remember where we were and what we were doing throughout the year and giving thanks. This year especially I was thankful for all we made it through!

You might already be a journaling type and have a place to put these little notes. But a notes app on a phone would probably work pretty well. Last year I set aside a couple pages in a notebook I use for doodles and hand-lettering. The year I just tucked a couple pieces of printer paper into my planner that I'll move along to wherever I am at the moment.

I also include pictures in my letter, which seems slightly redundant in the age of social media, but it does liven up the page a little. May you find grace and blessing in the moments of 2022, whether or not you are writing them down.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

A Wombat, A Nativity and A Mystery

 I've been pulling from my pile of Christmas stories for use in worship during Advent.  In one of my very favorites Australian animals put on a nativity play.  Wombat is eager to try out for a part.  Not only do we learn that a numbat and a bilby are animals (both - no surprise - marsupials), we see these adorable animals comfort poor Wombat when none of the roles is quite right for him.  Until...they all realize that there's one role that's just perfect.  

Oh. My. Goodness.  This book will definitely make your heart grow three sizes.  Pastor Megan read it on Sunday because I was keeping my coughs and sneezes at home.  You can see that portion of worship on our YouTube channel.
Another one of my favorites for Christmas is The Nativity.  This gem takes the King James Bible version of the nativity story (I edit liberally while reading) and adds Juli Vivas' gorgeous illustrations.  I wrote about it a couple years ago and many of our families received one with their Advent materials last year, thanks to the generosity of Rex and Lenae, who also love it.  If your family didn't get one yet, please let me know!

The Christmas Mystery: Gaarder, Jostein: 9781559213950: BooksFinally, I'm currently on Day 7 of The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder.  This one's not a picture book, though it does have lovely chapter illustrations by Rosemary Wells, whose style I recognized immediately from the Max and Ruby and Yoko books. In a little bookshop in Norway, Joachim discovers an old advent calendar label "Magic Advent Calendar." Each day when he opens a door he's thrown into the story of another child - a little girl from 50 year ago.  In the company of an angel, a lamb, a shepherd and likely other characters I haven't learned of yet, a little girl named Elisabeth is running backward in time and space to the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. 

I love a story within a story. I love a little magical realism.  I love fiction that takes faith seriously. And I love that at this moment there isn't much that interests both my teen and my six-year-old but so far they're both into it!  The chapters are short, fun to read aloud, and I could totally see this becoming an Advent tradition in our household.  One that's way better than chocolate - however fairly traded it is.  I offer gratitude and appreciation to Cindy Spencer for introducing me to this one. 

A blessing on your Advent reading and other activities.  

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Breath and Bones

Our bodies are pretty amazing. It is a marvel to me when I really reflect on it, that these bags of meat and bones become bodies that breathe and balance upright, never mind do all the beautiful things they can do! The text from Ezekiel that we're hearing in worship this week speaks to specifically to the breath of God enlivening dry, dead bones. His experience with the breath of God got me thinking about a favorite craft from when I was a kid: turning my name into a body of bones.

I'm pretty sure we'd have done it on Halloween, but I like connecting it with this story and the prophecy of Ezekiel to the bones: Let these bones live! It's a fun way to introduce the bonkers story of Ezekiel to someone while getting your fingers a little sticky together.

I put the instructions to the bones craft below. Before you jump there, I want to offer you a moment to breathe. Do it now! Take a deep breath. Now, if you want to keep breathing, you can use these words as a prayer:
Breath in: Breathe upon these bones.
Breath out: Let these bones live.
Repeat as necessary.

It's, like, science or something that when we still ourselves and breathe we decrease our heartrates and reduce our stress. Breath makes space. May this prayer make space for the life of the Divine in you and give your weary bones new life. Now onto the craft...

Here's what you need: A piece of colored paper or construction paper, a have sheet of white paper, scissors, glue and a pencil.

Fold the white paper in half the short way and write your name with the bottom of the letters on the fold. Then fatten out the letters, making sure they touch each other.

Cut around the letters and unfold.

Glue down the unfolded letters to make the rib-cage of the living bones, pencil side down. Use strips cut out from the remaining white paper to make legs and arms and an oval for the head.

Voila! May your bones be enlivened by the Spirit of God within you.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Opting Out: Chosing NOT to Register for Selective Service

Thursday is Veteran's Day. Some of our kids might be encountering assignments in school that invite them to write about and celebrate veterans, assemblies that either glorify military or recruitment visits by armed forces representatives. When I was a kid in Canada, we glued crepe paper poppies to construction paper and copied out the poem "In Flanders Fields" by Canadian poet John McRae. It memorializes fallen veterans and invokes the living to "take up our quarrel with the foe." Honestly, I hadn't re-read that poem for many years and yikes!

As peace-making followers of Jesus, who want to encourage our children to encounter calls to militarism or even to remembrance with alternative kinds of activities. In the past, some of our parents have worked with their children on alternatives like researching heroes of peace in their families or communities, or excusing their children from attending Veteran's Day assemblies. We will not take up the quarrel, thank you. But until recently, many families haven't felt like they had an alternative for registering for Selective Service.

The Selective Service System is a program by which young men who have turned18 are required within 30 days to join a registry that names them as eligible for military service in the case of the draft. There is no way to register as a conscientious objector pre-emptively. There are almost no exceptions, though one of the things that is a part of my work with youth in our congregation is returning periodically to a Conscientious Objection registration, which helps young people (of all genders) record their beliefs about war and violence and the call of Jesus to peacemaking. In the case of a draft, those young people would have their beliefs documented should they claim CO status.

There is good news! I learned earlier this year that those who refuse to complete registration to the Selective Service System are no longer excluded from receiving federal financial aid. Until now, failing to register meant that access to FAFSA was barred. This has been one of the major hang-ups of many young people who are trying to decide whether or not to complete the application. Choosing to opt out of adding your name to the list of those willing to be "take up the quarrel" doesn't seem like much of a choice if it means that you then won't have money for higher education.

That doesn't mean there aren't still some consequences: those who are of age "must register to be eligible for state-funded student financial aid in many states, most federal employment, some state employment, security clearance for contractors, [some federal] job training...and U.S. citizenship for immigrant men."

And "failure to register with Selective Service is a violation of the Military Selective Service Act. Conviction for such a violation may result in imprisonment for up to five years and/or a fine of not more than $250,000." (More on all that here). However, my understanding about those consequences - particularly the legal implications - is that no one has been prosecuted for decades.

One additional tidbit that I learned is that in some states, any application for a state learner’s permit, driver’s license or renewal, or I.D. card equates consent to have information automatically transferred to Selective Service for registration if you are between the ages of 18-26. But Washington is not one of those states! So that's an additional heads up to look carefully at those forms to make sure you're not opting in when filling out those first forms for learners permits or renewing drivers' licenses.

Folks, however your spending this Veteran's Day, may the peace of Jesus light your way.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

November: Indigenous Heritage Month

With the beginning of November comes the beginning of Indigenous Heritage Month. It's seeds were sown in 1976 when a Cherokee/Osage politician named Jerry C. Elliott-High Eagle authored Native American Awareness Week legislation. Ten years later, in 1986, the first week recognizing the heritage and cultural significance of indigenous peoples was proclaimed by Ronald Reagan who named November 23-20 American Indian Week. Finally in 1990, George W. Bush named November National Native American Heritage Month.
In worship we adults always acknowledge the Duwamish on whose land we gather. We hope that's language that is become internalized for our children who are present as well as for ourselves. But how else can we engage with indigenous culture and heritage in a respectful way? I went into an internet rabbit hole. The article Celebrating Native American Heritage Month: Do's and Don'ts by Ruth Hopkins (Dakota/Lakota Sioux) has some base-line starting places but I have some more specific suggestions.

Locally, we have such a great resource in the Duwamish Longhouse. You could visit the Longhouse for special exhibit The Spirit Returns or for the native art market on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Or explore contemporary and historical indigenous art at The Burke Museum, where you can also treat yourself to some fry bread at Off the Rez Cafe. (For more about fry bread, I definitely recommend Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole). He tells so much history of indigenous people in North American through a fun rhymey book with beautiful illustrations. Follow the link for a video of him reading and talking about it).

Looking for other literature for youth and children I rediscovered the American Indians in Children's Literature blog. Not only does Dr. Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo), author of the blog, post her 'Highly Recommended" books for children, she also shares red flags and things to avoid. Her (very long) list of Thanksgiving books to take off your shelf include some that might seem like beloved chestnuts: eg. Charles Schultz's Peanuts crew, Richard Scarry and the Berenstain Bears. Dr. Reese also offers ways to take action with publishers who are distributing books containing harmful images and ideas and so many other resources and tips for choosing kid lit featuring indigenous people.

A couple of authors that I can recommend are Richard Van Camp (Dene) Julie Flett (Metis) Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muskogee) and Louise Erdrich. All of these authors write both about indigenous people in history and about the lives of indigenous people now - combating the myth that somehow Native folks have disappeared and are a part of our history but not our present.

If you'd like to throw your money at indigenous artists and entrepreneurs, visit 8th Generation to purchase their products or see their guide to Native owned establishments and holiday events around Seattle. Check out the curated gift box of indigenous books and products by Raven Reads (they have a specifically kid-focused box), or the gifts boxes or other products by Sweetgrass Trading Company or the subscription boxes by Indigenous Box (I'm seriously considering this for my sister-in-law for Christmas).

If you have ideas or suggestions or practices that honor and recognize First Nations neighbors or Thanksgiving practices that upend the traditional narrative, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Listen Past the Noise


This week in worship, the text from the narrative lectionary is the story of Elijah, who goes up on Mt Horeb to encounter God. He experiences an earthquake and a fierce wind and great fire. God isn't in any of those noisy and mighty phenomena. Instead, God come to Elijah in a "still, small voice" (KJV) or "a sound. Thin. Quiet" (CEB) or "the sound of sheer silence." (NRSV) While each of these versions translates the experience differently, it's clear that though sometimes God does who up with great force, this time Elijah needed to listen very closely and careful to hear God speaking.

In the time with children I'll be featuring Gabi Snyder's book Listen, which invites readers to "Listen past the noise." I love the way this book illustrates the practice of mindfulness and attentiveness. From the moment the featured character steps out of her house into the "big, wild world," she's surrounded by noise: barking dogs, honking cars, zooming motorbikes. She closes her eyes. "What if you stop... and listen? Can you hear each sound?" the book asks. She keeps noticing: not just the thump-thump of jump ropes and the crunch of gravel, but words of delight and hurt spoken by friends and classmates.

The care with which Gabi Snyder invites her readers to attend to the world around them reminds me of the mindfulness practice of noticing with the senses. Take a minutes to notice:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can hear
- 3 things you feel
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste.
As I close my eyes now in my office and listen, I hear banging and clanging from the construction site across the parking lot, the click-clack of keys in Lee's office next door and the quiet hum of the florescent light above my head. Slowing down long enough to hear those things also slows and deepens by breathing and helps me be more aware of my own body and heart.

This book does that too. The girl is able to hear many sounds, but she also listens past the noise, and then past the silence. She hears the sounds of her body, the sounds of her feelings. The author asks children to think about what they hear when they listen to the quiet. The whoosh of breath? The voice inside?

In our understanding of the way God speaks, sometimes that tiny voice inside is a hint of God speaking. And until we quiet ourselves enough to hear, we just won't. The still, quiet space we make for ourselves can also make space for God or for our understanding of God within to grow.

You can find this book at the library or buy it from a local bookshop. But a quick cheat is to find it on YouTube and either listen to reader or pause and click through the pages read it yourself. The best one I found for pictures is here. For more book on mindfulness and careful listening I suggest the Susan Verde and Peter Reynolds "I Am..." book series, especially I Am Peace. I also like Breathing Makes it Better: a Book for Sad Days, Mad Days, Glad Days, and All the Feelings In-between. by Christopher Willard and Wendy O'Leary.

I'd love to hear what you heard when you listened. Or what practices help you and your family make space for the still, small voice of God.
Photo by Pelageia Zelenina from Pexels

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

OWL and the Image of God

This week ten youth from SMC and EMC met outside in the rain, sheltering under a beautiful but very soggy canopy tent. We squeezed inside for our first session of Our Whole Lives - a values based human sexuality curriculum that is grounded in justice and inclusivity, responsibility, sexual health and self worth.

Did I speak aloud many synonyms for private parts? Yes. Did I badly draw both an eggplant and peach emoji? Yes. We got all that awkwardness out there so that we can also talk about what makes talking about sex so challenging. And then we made a covenant, committing to respect, confidentiality, openness and tolerance as we explore the vulnerable topic of our sexuality.

As we head into next month, youth will get some of the science-y body-part diagram learning that they may already have encountered in health class. But they'll also begin thinking about body image and how they perceive their own and others' bodies. In OWL, we affirm that each of us is created in God's image. As such, each of us is created good.

Even those of us who have spent years with the idea of our inherent goodness as creatures of God have a hard time remembering that we are made in God's image, that our bodies are something to affirm and love. Teens who are encountering the pressures of social media, and peer expectations are also in the midst of sorting out the feelings and experiences happening in their own brains and bodies. It's a lot.

OWL's approach is to give teens what they need to have both the knowledge about the science-y stuff and the tools to deal with the relational and emotional stuff. Both are important for making healthy, self-affirming choices about sexuality. As a parent I've tried to do those things as my kids are growing: offer the social emotional support and the straightforward facts about bodies without the shame or judgment that often wrapped around anything verging on sexuality. As a pastor I'm grateful to have a curriculum like OWL offer a systematic and comprehensive approach to the topic.

If you are a parent who is looking for resources to talk about sex or bodies or sexuality in an age-appropriate way, you can first check out my MWM from about a year ago on sex, teen and teens to be and scroll the the last half that has some links and suggestions. I'm not an expert, but I so love going down internet rabbit holes, so I welcome that opportunity if you want to be in touch with me and I can help find what's right for your family.
Photo by Tanto Yensen. The rare small species of owl, known locally in Indonesia as the Celepuk owl, are endemic to the island of Java, Indonesia. But I have a hard time believing they are not Muppets. More photos here.