RE News, March 20, 2020

Lauren Strauss, DRE

Dear ones,

Wow, this has been a wild week, hasn’t it?  Last night in RE committee I reflected back and realized it had been only 7 days since the Parish Committee gathered, decided to cancel in-person services for a couple of weeks, and wondered if we were overreacting.

Since that time, we have all been committed to making sure that we stay connected.  We’ll have an online church service this coming Sunday followed by virtual social hour. I’ve been running RE times for the children and youth – we hosted four gatherings on Zoom last week as well as a parent group.  These groups will continue to meet until we can be physically together again!  And there are going to be special collaborative projects available each week as well.

One of these is multigenerational, will be ongoing, and deserves a special call-out.  The First Parish Friends (or Pals… I keep using both) pen pal project is open for business. I’ll continue matching people with pen pals as requests come in, but the first batch will go out today.  Please sign up by clicking this link.  You may also email me ( or call me (774-286-9573) if you have difficulty signing up electronically for any reason. 

The rest of this week’s RE Schedule is as follows (and will go out as a separate mailing on Monday):

Sunday: Please attend worship! Don’t forget to bring a chalice to light at home. At 12:00pm we will gather for Children’s RE for ½ hour.  We will share joys and sorrows and talk about a way to live our faith this week.  For youth – I am going to send out an email today to discern what is the best time for us to gather this week. 

Monday: a day of self-care.  Please do something fun, just for you, on Monday, to recharge yourself for another week of at-home time.  Families, please plan your daily schedules so each family member has scheduled time to do a restorative activity of their choice.

Tuesday: RE gathering at 4:00pm.  I will tell a story just for fun, and we’ll do Joys & Sorrows. 

Wednesday: We will work on our Living Our Values project at home.  8:30pm: Parent Hangout.

Thursday: RE Gathering at 11:00am.  We will talk about Living our Values and we will have fun with a collaborative white board on Zoom.  We’ll also have Joys & Sorrows.

Friday & Saturday: No currently planned gatherings. 

All gatherings except the church service will take place in my Zoom “room”.  You can access them here: / Meeting ID: 708 762 7369.  If you need to call in or have difficulty, please give me a call or email me in advance.

Please continue to let me and Wendy and the rest of the staff know how we can be of service to you during this absurd, ridiculous, utterly unimaginable time.  We remain committed to keeping the church as a place of comfort and connection for everyone.  When we can’t be together in body, we’ll be together in spirit.

Much love,


RE News, February 2020

Lauren Strauss, DRE

Dear friends,

I’m so excited to share all the wonderful things that have been happening among our children and families this month.  Make sure to click through to my blog to see pictures.  We have been having a blast in RE and in church and the pictures prove it.

I’d love to draw your attention to Family Night, coming up on February 28. We’ll be showing a movie, having potluck, and we’ll be inviting adult family members to come together to share their experiences as churchgoing families – both the highlights and the frustrations involved.  We hope people of all ages will join us.  The RE committee will provide pizza, drinks, and fruits & veggies, and you are encouraged to bring a dish to share.  The festivities will start at 5:30 and the movie will begin at 6.

Many of you may have noticed our Hymn of the Month by now – in February it has been “Morning Has Broken” and we have sung it not only in the sanctuary but also downstairs at our gathering circle, where we’ve introduced tiny song books with all the songs we have learned.  The song books are on binder rings, so we can add new songs as we learn them.

The Hymn of the Month at work! (photo credit: C. Dickinson)

Some of you may remember Pew Bear, who was here when I arrived nearly ten years ago but then mysteriously disappeared a couple of years later.  After a long search, a new Pew Bear has presented themself.  Last week we welcomed them in our gathering circle and made them a new name button (because the old Pew Bear’s button disappeared with Pew Bear!).  This Pew Bear uses they/them pronouns, so we added that to their button.  I put my pronouns on my button, too – have you? Adding your pronouns to your name tag – even if you think they are ‘obvious’ to others – welcomes Trans and Nonbinary people to add their pronouns without singling them out.  If everyone has their pronouns on their name tags, it becomes the norm, not just something you do if you’re different.  Some people don’t use pronouns at all – they prefer you just use their name.  Join me and Pew Bear in welcoming everyone to our congregation, won’t you?

Last week during our Makerspace, one friend made an airplane for Pew Bear, and two children and a youth created a marble track from paper towel rolls and other recycled materials that worked really well and kept them and some others amused for a long time.

In RE classes, our monthly theme of Identity and Belonging has led us on some very fun journeys.  Our Youth spent the month decorating their room – they have a brand-new rug and some super awesome LED lights that do all kinds of cool things.  You should check it out!

The Dinosaur Airplanes, our Preschool-Kindergarten class, has been learning about our Principles and about being Unitarian Universalists.  They are creating a display board that will someday feature not only the beautiful yarn chalice in the center but rainbow descriptions of each of the Seven Principles.  Right now, we have the First Principle on there (the inherent worth and dignity of every person) along with the chalice.

(Picture of Display Board)

Chalice Display made by our Dinosaur Airplanes class

The Justice Sowers and the Dragon Claws, our 1st-4th and 5th-7th grade classes, have been making wonderful things in class.  Susan Lind-Sinanian has come this month to teach Armenian embroidery to a group of these children and youth (along with a couple of adults who wanted to learn too!).

And the rest of the class has been building peg looms following the design of fiber artist Amy McKnight, who even sent us an Instagram message to tell us she was excited about our learning to make and weave on her looms.

Next month we’re looking forward to building drums and learning some drumming with John Buchanan. 

Watch this space for even more excitement!

RE News January 17, 2020

Dear friends,

It is lovely to hear many of you talking about Rev. Wendy’s sermon about focusing on a word as an intention-setting practice. You may recall that this has been a personal practice of mine for the last 6 years, and that I’ve had a habit of sharing my word with you in my column each year.

I came into 2020 with a desire to nurture my creative side, which seems

to be bursting with ideas and energy. And… well, this is no secret to anyone who’s seen my office… I’m not a big fan of cleaning and organizing. It always seems like such a chore. But the fact was, every time I thought about allowing my creative process to flow, it got stomped out almost immediately. I can’t start that writing project when my desk is so messy, I would think. It became clear very quickly that I needed a new way of looking at cleaning so that doing it would feel less onerous, leaving space clear for creativity.

I thought about words like “Declutter” and “Organize” and “Tidy” and “Clean,” but those words didn’t feel quite right.  I needed my cleaning to be reverent. I need my spaces to be sacred.  So I chose the word HALLOW.  In addition to the bonus Harry Potter reference, Hallow means creating sacred space rather than just ‘cleaning.’  For now it is choosing a space, moving the stuff off it, and re-setting it with objects that create the energy I need (+/- a cat or two, because who doesn’t need a cat between them and the keyboard, am I right?). Once the space is set up, I can maintain it by replacing everything carefully and reverently, and mindfully considering whether any new piece serves the purpose of the space. 

I love my word-of-the-year practice.  I write my word into my planner on monthly and weekly planning pages, and I get a bracelet made from with my word stamped on it each year.  I also check in each month with the group of online friends with whom I started this practice 6 years ago. Having these reminders helps me reset and reframe when I need to do so.

Image: Lauren’s wrist with a bracelet. It is a rose gold washer with the word “HALLOW” stamped on it, and a navy blue macrame band.

The RE program has been following along with our church’s monthly themes.  Last weekend the Dinosaur Airplanes made their own spyglasses, and the older kids began envisioning a project that, in a couple of weeks, we’ll ask all of you to join in!  One of the Visions we hold is that when we all work together, we can make great and powerful things.

In the coming months we’ll be trying new strategies in the sanctuary to help include children and youth and encourage them to participate more deeply. You may have already noticed that on a few select Sundays we have moved the Children’s Worship Table up to the front of the sanctuary. While we will never ever (because of developmental psychology) expect babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and even younger elementary kids to sit perfectly still, moving them to the front lets them see what’s going on in the pulpit — lets them see the musicians, have line of sight with speakers, and for the older kids makes them aware that the minister and DRE are watching them! In addition, it gets them away from the extremely live acoustical spots in the back that project every sound at ten times the volume to the front of the sanctuary.

Another thing we’re going to try, starting this month, is a “Hymn of the Month” during the first hymn slot. Charlyn, Guy, and I have plotted this out for a variety of reasons. Children who can’t read can learn the hymn by rote, and the little ones love to sing when they know the song! Music is a magical order-maintaining device — ask any preschool teacher who knows to pull out “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” when a class gets restless. I once was in a children’s choir of 300 4th-6th graders, and there were three adults in the room — the conductor, the pianist, and one assistant (for a while in high school I was the assistant). All the conductor had to do was get the pianist to play one of the songs we all knew, and suddenly we were all singing. There was no other calling to order, no begging for our attention. The music started, we sang. It works in church too, when the children know the music.

And, I’m going to let Charlyn’s little secret out of the bag, because she also has an ulterior motive… she holds out hope that if adults have heard a song several times, they might put the book down a little and look up and sing with the room a bit more. That’s another magical transformation that happens when people who really know a song sing it together with spirit. It brings people together in a special and spiritual way that just doesn’t happen while we’ve all got our faces buried in the hymnal.

So, this month’s hymn is “When the Heart is in a Holy Place” (1008 in the teal hymnal) and we’ll be singing it downstairs as well as upstairs this month. 

See you around the sanctuary, my friends!


Coming up in RE:

  • January: Vision & Possibility
  • Hymn: When the Heart is in a Holy Place
  • Story: The Spyglass by Paul Evans
  • Project: Yarn

  • February: Identity & Belonging
  • Project: Embroidery with Susan Lind-Sinanian

  • January 19: Maker Sunday. NO OWL
  • January 26: Teacher Breakfast, RE Classes (Yarn & other projects. OWL 4:30-6:30
  • February 2: RE Classes (Embroidery with Susan & other projects). OWL 4:30-6:30
  • February 9: RE Classes (Embroidery with Susan & other projects). OWL 4:30-6:30

RE News December 2019

Lauren wearing a green shirt and gold knit capelet.

Lauren Strauss, DRE

Dear ones,

The Pageant this past Sunday went beautifully, mainly thanks to all the many folks who volunteered to do things that needed doing (or cheerfully allowed themselves to be drafted!). As is my custom, I want to use my space here to acknowledge everyone who made Pageant Sunday go smoothly.

First, the cast of The Dreidel that Wouldn’t Spin:

Peddler: Kai

Shopkeeper: Elena

Parent of Spoiled Child: Rowan

Spoiled Child: Magdalena

Parent of Disrespectful Child: Marcos

Disrespectful Child: Akash

Parent of Poor Child: Ranjan

Poor Child: Joshua

Mother and Baby: Laima, Hattie

Townsfolk: Clara, Talia, Marshall

Prop Girl: Mila

Sheep: Lydia, Adrienne, Emerson

Dreidel sides: Clara, Talia, Magdalena, Laima, Mila

Narrator 1: Marcos

Narrator 2: Kostas

Narrator 3: Rowan

Narrator 4: Nea

Sword Master: Rowan

Sword Dancers: Kai, Kostas, Ranjan, Marcos, Haley

Chalice Lighter: Haley

Closing Reading: Rowan

In addition I’d like to acknowledge the following adults who made rehearsal and the production work:

Kate Hanson Plass (official baby wrangler). Emily Straley, Dia Warren and Suresh Annavarapu, Martha Pedersen, Mae Deluca, Amy Stepsis, Tom Ostfeld (for opening the attic so we could get costumes), Ross Dickson (especially for closing the hatch to the attic so we could safely use the conference room), Sheri Kennedy, Kat Cass.

The RE Committee helped before, during, and after in various capacities: Rachel Jones, chair. Roma Jerome, Lydia Vagts, Kyle Morton, Louise Harrison Lepera, Sarah McSweeney Chamberlain, Sachié Karmacharya.

And a special thanks to Charlyn for helping with song leading, and for helping to lead the Candle Lighting ritual; and to Guy, who made music happen despite a hand injury! and to Carole Berney, who showed up and played hymns when Guy injured his hand! And to Rev. Wendy, who acted as Worship Associate for the morning. And to our sexton, Frank Griggs, who very sweetly hauled all those boxes back to the attic without being asked.

During the pageant I’m often running in 3 different directions at any given time, and sometimes things get blurry. If you helped and I have left your name out of this, I appreciate you! I hope the pageant was as fun for everyone else as it was for me.

Happy December, happy all the holidays, may we all greet the return of the sun in good health and with loving hearts.



RE News, November 2019

Picture of Lauren wearing a brown shawl and green shirt. Her hair is up. She is smiling.

Lauren Strauss, DRE

In November as we talk about memory, I have many thoughts on how we remember the important things in our lives. Remembering is active — it is something we have to choose to do, and in so doing, we choose to remember certain things and people above others. We may choose the to hold on to the pleasant things that happened on that trip to Estes Park and to let go of the memory of the terrible hotel service. Unitarian Universalists make choices in our stories, songs, and in the shape of our worship services about what we want to remember and what we will let go, and at times it is worth it to look back at what we’ve lost and gained in making those choices.

Some of you may have noticed that last weekend I wasn’t at church. I first of all want to thank Lydia Vagts who stood in for me as DRE for the Day, and also the volunteers who taught and helped set up and clean up and be there with our children and youth in my absence. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in a meaningful professional development experience.

I went to LREDA Fall Con – that’s the Liberal Religious Educators Association Fall Conference – in Baltimore, MD from last Thursday through Sunday. The theme of the weekend was “Theologies of Suffering and Wholeness,” which sounds heavier than it really was. The weekend included keynote presentations by Rev. Sofia Betancourt, assistant professor of theology at Starr King School for the Ministry; Dr. Elias Ortega-Aponte, the president of Meadville Lombard Theological School; and Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, president of Starr King School for the Ministry (and the first woman of color to hold that role). All three of these UU theologians are bright lights in our faith, and spoke hopefully and energetically about how Unitarian Universalism can go even further to meet the spiritual needs of all those who turn to it in difficult times.

I’m still processing what I heard at Fall Con, and also some of what happened. LREDA and religious educators have been quick to respond to calls for change in our faith. For example, in discussing racism and white supremacy in Unitarian Universalism, LREDA has been among the organizations at the front of the pack trying to honor our colleagues of color and dig into how we can create a more just and equitable faith tradition. Yet we still make mistakes. Fall Con includes a set of Caucus Groups that meet daily to reflect on questions of equality. There were caucus groups for those who self-identify as white, those who self-identify as people of color, and a “third caucus” for whom neither of those groups felt right. We were asked to consider abstract questions about race and equity in our congregations and our organization. However, when we learned that some of the choices in the weekend’s programming had hurt people in marginalized groups, we sat with those and talked about how we could be better allies—or better yet, better accomplices. It was uncomfortable in a good way. I had personally noticed and wondered to myself about one of these choices – but my New England protestant good girl upbringing told me to trust in the powers that be and not make a fuss. Turns out, that’s the wrong answer, and I’m having to overcome 50 years of programming to learn to speak up – so that marginalized people don’t have to. Far too often, in order to make justice out of certain messes, the people who have been harmed have to speak up; otherwise no one seems to notice the mess. And by speaking up, people who are already vulnerable have to make themselves more vulnerable. I for one want to be part of the effort to develop trust and equality among all our people in deed as well as in word, and because of this, I am making a decision to remember the problems that arose this weekend as well as the happy parts.

I’m also choosing to hold onto the wisdom that Unitarian Universalism, especially in this troubled time, needs to find ways to connect us to our own souls. All of us have a place within us that longs to be nourished. Many people would turn to church to fill that longing: ritual, confession and repentance, the search for wholeness. I love our intellectual form of worship much of the time. It speaks to me as a lover of books and of history. However, when someone is suffering, when someone is in pain, telling them the uplifting story of Fannie Barrier Williams making her famous speeches to the World’s Parliament of Religions and the World’s Congress of Representative Women is not going to help them heal. When we feel guilty for having done wrong or caused pain, no amount of discussing the 6th Principle and its impact on the world will assuage our guilt or help us remediate our wrongdoing. In times of struggle, pain, suffering, guilt — Unitarian Universalism can sometimes fall a little short in helping us heal.

In his Friday keynote, Dr. Ortiz-Aponte suggested that we all need to work together to create a Unitarian Universalism that brings all the healing-home qualities of the kitchen table into our sanctuaries. Kitchen tables, metaphorically, can hold our rituals — saying grace over a meal, raising a glass to a departed loved one — and our most beloved conversations. When two people hunker down over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table, the comfort of that space can allow them to acknowledge their mistakes, talk over their troubles, and come to new understanding. Dr. Ortiz-Aponte also reminded us that as UUs, it is our conviction that the parent is a child’s primary religious educator, and so he also asked us to consider how to help bring our sanctuaries to our kitchen tables: supporting families in bringing meaningful rituals and conversations into the home, so that we may all not just live our UU values, but also nurture our UU spirits in the wild as well as on Sunday morning. I’m thinking through how to make this a reality, and I’d be glad of a chance to talk about it with anyone who has ideas or thoughts.

A dozen pages of notes, several hours of video to review, hours of meetings and presentations and workshops — I came home very full from Baltimore. What I’ve shared here is only a tiny piece of the experience I had at Fall Con; I hope to bring what I’ve learned to our families in the coming months.

In peace,

Lauren’s signature, first name only


RE News October 2019

Lauren Strauss, CRE
Director of Religious Education

Dear ones,

How is it more than halfway through October? Perhaps it’s all this wind blowing time by quickly!

In our RE programs we’ve been telling stories, singing songs, and making! This month’s theme is “Letting Go,” and we are approaching that theme from a bunch of different angles.  We started out with Harold and the Purple Crayon, teaching us about letting go of expectations – being flexible and finding new ways when the way we thought things would go doesn’t work out.  As part of the practice of flexibility we’re creating with Duct Tape all month, with help from Nick Haddad.  We’ll also be talking about letting go of things – mostly through a conversation about recycling – and at the end of the month we’ll talk about letting go of people and animals when they leave us.

Some of our Duct Tape creations will be available for sale at the RE table at this month’s Art Show. 

In November, the theme will be Memory, and some of our children will be able to make memory pillows with the help of Missy Shay.   It is a wonderful thing to be able to invite members of our congregation who don’t usually get to visit with us into our classrooms to share their skills and expertise.  If you have an idea for a project or a material we might make with, and would like to come share it, please get in touch with me!  Our monthly themes through the end of the year are:

Memory, Hope, Vision & Possibility, Identity & Belonging, Generosity & Abundance, Liberation, Thresholds, and Blessing.

In addition to hoping folks will come share their creative spirit with us, I also have discovered that this year we have need of some extra people to help out in our preschool and nursery classes.  There will always be a teacher who knows the curriculum and lesson plan (though in the nursery the ‘lesson plan’ is mostly to play and have fun!) but in order to be safe we need two adults (or one adult and one youth teacher) in the classroom at all times.  If you would be willing to be on a list of teachers who would occasionally volunteer in our classrooms, please contact me! It really is a lot of fun and our kids love their teachers. 

Last but not least, this Friday is our Multigenerational Pretzel Night and I would love to see YOU there! We’ll be in our Social Hall baking and eating and playing games from 5:30-8:00pm, and we’re hoping that people will attend this event whether or not they have children.

In faith,


RE News September 2019

Image of Lauren wearing a green shirt and brown knitted shawl.
Lauren Strauss, DRE

Dear friends,

Welcome back to church! I missed church life during the summer, even though I worked in my quiet office some of the time and attended several summer services.  There’s a magic on Sunday mornings that just doesn’t happen any other place or time and I’m glad to be back in it.

My summer was pretty quiet. I attended my nephew’s wedding in Maine and went to Ferry Beach RE week, and ended it with a quick trip up to New Hampshire/Vermont to celebrate my dear friend and colleague’s retirement from RE work.  But other than that I spent most of my days reading, writing, working on the church year, knitting, walking my dog, and playing Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Go Ravenclaw! J

A Welcome Square Bear, a small stuffed animal teddy bear created by knitting a garter stitch square, and then sewing clever seams that give the appearance of arms, legs and ears.  This one has a brown head and feet and is wearing a green-and-pink shirt and brown pants, and an orange bow tie. Its face and belt are blue.
Welcome Square Bear

This past Sunday we welcomed our teachers with our annual fall Teacher Breakfast, where we collect paperwork and get everyone organized into teams.  Twenty-five teachers and RE Committee members attended – and many of their children, too.  And we started the church school year strong with 28 children and youth in RE classes. I want to thank RE Committee members Rachel Jones, Roma Jerome, Sachié Karmacharya, Louise Harrison Lepera, Sarah McSweeney Chamberlain, Kyle Morton, Elisabeth Strekalovsky, and Lydia Vagts for working to make the breakfast happen. 

Image of a wooden frame with a number of horizontal strings, onto which colorful index cards have been attached using small, colored clothes pins.
The Index Card Display by Will Twombly

I also want to thank a few people for making magic happen over the summer.  The Building & Grounds committee has been working hard to get our Youth Room back into working order.  Thanks to all of them, the room no longer smells funny, and has been painted and has a new indoor-outdoor carpet.  Beth and Izzy Tappan-deFrees donated a new futon mattress so we could discard the old, stinky one that was on the couch in there.  Izzy also refinished the table we’ve used as an altar piece… please don’t go look at it because it’s so beautiful now I’m worried someone will decide it needs to be someplace other than the youth room!

Will Twombly, in addition to building the beautiful frame on which we hung our index cards after our Water Service (on five days notice!!! We’re all so blessed to have such a Woodworking Wizard here!) also helped significantly with putting all the stuff back into the youth room so we’d have a stuff-free social hall.  Ross Dickson found us some shelves to use.  Missy and Bob Shay also helped put things back.  I’m extremely grateful to all the people who helped make our youth room ready for our youth!

We are still looking for a Youth Coordinator, which is a paid position, 12 hours/week, who helps with Sunday mornings, leads youth group along with our three volunteer advisors, and will help with our OWL programs this year.  If you know someone (age 25 or older who has no children currently in our Youth Group) who might like this opportunity, please ask them to contact me!

I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday, when our preschool-kindergarten class will be wandering our halls looking for treasure on a church scavenger hunt, and the middle grade kids will be knitting and doing woodwork.  We’ll all be building classroom covenants – our Expectations of one another in church school! And creating ways to welcome newcomers – our Invitation to all to join us in worship and fun!

See you all soon!

In faith,

Lauren's signature


RE News June 2019

Lauren Strauss, Director of Religious Education

Dear friends,

I want to start with a quick note about David.  Many people have asked for an update, and I wanted to let everyone know how he’s doing.  The surgery was successful, and David has been healing well.  There is no longer any need for occupational therapy, and when we followed up with the neurosurgery team they were extremely pleased with the progress our child had made! He now has complete use of his right hand, and we are exploring weaning off anti-seizure medication.  We will have to monitor the other two cavernoma throughout his lifetime but for now, anyway, things are looking great.  We all appreciate the love you’ve shown my family these last few months.

And as the year draws to a close, I find myself reflecting back on a wonderful year and looking forward to some rest and recuperation before I dive into planning for September.

First, I would like to thank Rachel Jones, who has not only served as RE chair (and will do so again next year) but has also served this year as our Youth Coordinator.  She is an amazing person who gave selflessly to our youth and also helped explore the parameters of this position so that we can make it attractive to candidates in the future.  She is stepping down as Youth Coordinator, and if anyone around our parish is interested in taking on that role, please contact me for a job description.  It is a wonderful opportunity to get to know our youth and provide them a safe place for personal reflection, growth, and faith development.  And it’s fun!

Last, but not least, I want to say a heartfelt thanks to Mark and Andrea for their ministry.  Both of them provided the right amount of guidance to me when I was brand new to this work to set me on my path, as well as collegial relationship and friendship.  I had the privilege of working with all three of their children, and rest assured it is a distinct privilege to work with those fine young people! As I grew in confidence and experience, Mark has supported me and enabled me to find my feet.  I consider myself very lucky to have worked with both Andrea and Mark, who excel in the craft of ministry as well as being loving, caring, wonderful people.  I’m looking forward with excitement to the future of First Parish, and I have every confidence that this congregation is in excellent shape to move forward, but I’m personally going to miss Andrea and Mark very much.  They have made things easy for me and I have grown and thrived professionally and spiritually as a result, and I’ll always be grateful.

So, y’all, don’t forget your flowers on Sunday, and come ready to clap your hands with the band and eat all the yummy food at the picnic, and we’ll spend our last Sunday together in loving camaraderie before we break for the summer.  If you have a few minutes to spare Tuesday 6/18 from 7-9 I’d be happy to have help cleaning out our Youth Room! If not, I’ll see you all on September 8 for Ingathering, and maybe at Sunday services during the summer (at 9:30! Note the time change!). I’ll be around for the rest of June, off to Ferry Beach the first couple of weeks of July, and then I’ll return on August 1 to plot and plan and ready RE for September!

Much love,

RE News, May 17 2019

Picture of Lauren wearing a green shirt and brown shawl.
Lauren Strauss, DRE

Practicing Kindness

Dear ones,

This month in RE, our theme is Practicing Kindness, and we’re taking a look at the 6th Principle: the Goal of World Community with Peace, Liberty, and Justice for All.

It’s perhaps the Principle that gets the least airtime — we love to talk about our spiritual growth and the inherent worth and dignity of every person and the interdependent web, and personal kindness gets covered in the Second Principle, and we talk about the democratic process, but… number six kind of gets skipped over a lot.  But when our association set up its values, it actually named World Peace as one of the seven things we just can’t let go.  Not just peace, but peace and justice

I have to wonder whether we minimize the Sixth Principle because it is so huge.  I mean, world peace, right?  How do you even start? This is like saying “clean your room” to a toddler.  The room is huge and messy and “clean” is too big a verb.  You might help a toddler out by saying “Pick up all the blue toys and put them in this bin,” which is a manageable task.  So what are the World Peace toys?  What bin do we put them in? 

Our congregations are the bins, almost certainly.  At least, they’re the first set of bins: the ones we can take care of ourselves.  What metaphorical World Peace and Justice for All toys can we put in our congregational bin?  We start with saying that we welcome everyone.  We hang a rainbow flag (or perhaps we hang Daniel Quasar’s redesign of the rainbow flag which says we consciously welcome trans folk and people of color). We hang a Black Lives Matter banner for the world to see. We add gender-inclusive signage to our bathrooms.  We make sure our buildings are accessible to everyone – wide enough doors, elevators, hearing assistive devices, vision assistive devices.  We carefully label or eliminate food allergens and we provide plenty of hand sanitizer to protect those whose immune systems are compromised. 

But we don’t stop there.  Because once our facilities say they’re welcoming, we then have to actually welcome people.  The next step is making sure our hearts and our congregations are places where every single person feels safe and welcome as they are.  Not tolerated: welcomed intentionally and by design.  Not ‘as long as they conform to look like the majority:’ as they are.  This means changing the way we think; it means changing some of our customs.  It means we cannot assume that the way we do things will meet the needs of every person who walks through the door – and it means we need to do everything we can to anticipate what those needs will be.  It means we who are already inside must make ourselves uncomfortable in order to provide comfort to those who come seeking refuge.

As a religion, Unitarian Universalists have not done everything in our power to hold this in our sights.  If we had actively held up the Sixth Principle as the most important goal for our faith, we would not have a history of our religious professionals of color and our queer and trans professionals being shunted sideways and passed over, and we would have more people of color in our congregations because they would be at home here.  The practice of kindness – intentionally choosing actions that help our members and visitors feel safe and welcome – is the first step on a long, muddy, winding road.

This is something I commit myself to daily, and when I fall short (as I do frequently because I am human) I pick myself up and put myself back on the road.  I hope to see you all there.

RE News April 2019: Joy!

Dear ones,

As many of you already know, my child David has had a bit of a rough spring.  Difficulties using his right hand several weeks ago followed by what doctors think was a mild seizure right after the Talent Show on April 6 led us to Children’s Hospital, a diagnosis of Cavernous Malformations (which Tom, and Tom’s dad and brother, also have) and, because the cavernoma is both fairly close to the surface and causing him to not be able to use his right hand, we have scheduled surgery on April 22, this coming Monday.  He’ll spend one night on the neurological ICU ward where he went on April 6, and then, assuming all goes as planned, he’ll spend one or two more nights on the regular neurological ward.  Yesterday we went to Children’s for pre-op bloodwork and an MRI that will help the surgeon find the proper spot to remove.  There will be an MRI in the surgery room too that they can use if needed. We trust the surgeon; the hospital has been both efficient and friendly; all is going as well as it can be.  And this last couple of weeks has been super hard on all of us, as you can imagine.

So today David is off to Anime Boston with his friends, dressed as a character from a favorite video game.  He has to come home at night rather than spend the night with friends, at least partially because he has to take the anti-seizure medicine that’s keeping his brain from betraying him, and also because the doctor wants him to make sure he gets sleep and hydration and stays as healthy as possible to be ready for Monday.  But no one said, “Don’t go.”  It’s a little risky sending him off with a bunch of teenagers to a crowded convention dressed as a puppy, but the benefits of joy outweigh the risks of worry.

In my UU Wellspring[1] spiritual development group that I’ve been participating in this year, this week’s topic was “The Theology of Joy.”  We’d been talking about deep and more intense topics in earlier sessions, including a week on ‘the crises of life’ two weeks ago, so joy was a lovely change.  But as happens sometimes, talking about joy brought up some interesting observations about the topic.  We’ve heard a lot – recently from Mark! – about Marie Kondo and her tidying habits, and the catchphrase “spark joy” has come up a lot.  Hold this old sock in your hand.  Does it spark joy? No? throw it out!

But there are cultural things in our puritan American lives that make Kondo’s instruction lose meaning.  There’s the initial problem of translation – ‘spark joy’ both is and is not an accurate translation of what Kondo means when she says it, and I suspect you need to not only speak Japanese but live their culture to really get it.  After the book (which I read at the time!) came out, but before the Netflix series that brought Kondo into the forefront of America, one of my favorite shows, Gilmore Girls, did a reunion show ten years after the series closed.  One of the things that happened in the intervening ten years was the death of actor Edward Herrmann, who played Richard Gilmore – and so much of the show focused on grieving the loss of the iconic husband, father, and grandfather.  At one point in the series, Lorelai comes to her mother’s home to find Emily packing up all her belongings – all the things in a large, regal Hartford home that she has collected through the years – because she had read Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and Kondo said to hold each thing, and if it did not spark joy, you let it go.  So Emily had gone through her house holding every thing she owned, and none of it sparked joy.  Because Gilmore Girls is fast-paced and funny, it almost lets the poignant moment pass unappreciated.  Of course nothing sparks joy when you are grieving, when your life partner of 30 years has passed away and left you alone. 

But there’s another aspect, embedded even deeper in our culture and our lives: we have a problematic relationship with joy.  Dr. Brené Brown, whose work with shame and vulnerability have inspired me for some time, observes that joy is ‘the most terrifying emotion’ for many Americans.  To be truly joyful, at least as adults in our society, we have to leave ourselves vulnerable to fear and worry.  If we let ourselves appreciate the thing that makes us happy, we hold up in front of our faces the fact that we risk losing it.  Brown says the only way to cultivate joy is to cultivate gratitude at the very same time.  Instead of caving in to the fear that the thing we love is going to be taken from us – instead of rehearsing tragedy to protect us from harm – the only way to open ourselves to joy is to be actively grateful for these things.

Little kids are unabashedly joyful.  I noticed this, even from afar, on the day we “flipped church” on April 7.  Reports came in: “Oh, the kids are having so much fun!” “All the adults are helping the kids and so we barely need the teachers!” Somehow, though the day was not intended to be about just the children, much of the joy of creation and making and being silly got channeled through the children.  We’re okay with joy if we do it for our kids, but we’re self-conscious and embarrassed and fearful of it if it’s just for us.  But I mean, look at Martha.  She made an amazing fish and I really hope she had as much fun as she looks like she did!

I have a challenge for you all, if you’ve managed to read on this far.  On April 28, I’m going to invite you all to a moment of joy and silliness in church.  We will be telling a story using our Charles River Critters, and I hope that every one of us, children and adults, can bring their own vulnerability to the table, practice gratitude for being together, and participate joyfully and without reservation in our service.  Make a commitment to have fun that day in church, and explore whether being joyful is a spiritual practice for you.

Martha Pedersen stands in the social hall holding a fish made of cardboard and decorated with strands of sequins.  She looks joyful.
Doesn’t Martha look joyful!?

At the end of the Gilmore Girls reboot, Emily Gilmore sells her house full of memories and moves to Nantucket, where she begins working at the whaling museum telling beautifully dramatic stories of whaling adventures.

In a completely organic way, she did what Kondo suggested and let go of the things that kept her stuck in the past, and moved into a life full of love and joy and gratitude.  I’ll be practicing gratitude and joy too, as the days pass and I worry about my family.  I’m grateful to know all of you and to be held in such light by my church family, and to have work I cherish, and to have a loving and supportive family to walk with.

In peace and joy,

[1] UU Wellspring is available both online and in person.  I have found it extremely helpful and wonderful.  If you’re interested in participating or in cultivating a group here at church, contact me!