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Archive for the ‘Religious Exploration’ Category

sunrise Butterfly asked if we could celebrate the winter solstice this year.  It’s just the kind of thing that speaks to her on a spiritual level — that sense of being part of the cycle of the natural world.  We didn’t quite know how to celebrate it, so we spent some time surfing the web reading pagan/Wiccan websites and being very entertained.  I always knew that a lot of Christmas traditions and symbols were left over from pagan solstice observances, but I didn’t realize how pervasive it is.  It makes sense that efforts to focus on Christ at Christmas have never really caught on — there just isn’t much about it that’s truly Christian in origin.

For our little celebration we turned off all the lights in the house during the afternoon, then once the sun had set, we lit some candles (following the example of the solstice service at church last week, we had four candles, one for each compass direction), read “The Shortest Day” by Susan Cooper, sang “Deck the Halls”, and each opened one of our presents.  That was more than enough for NinjaBoy, who opened his new iPod Touch and hasn’t wanted to talk about anything else since. Butterfly and I made some garlands of popcorn and cranberries, and I frosted the Yule log cake, but Horatio had choir practice and didn’t get home until nearly 11 and I was asleep by then, so we had it for breakfast instead.


In the morning we took a walk in the woods at sunrise and put out nuts for the squirrels, NinjaBoy playing with his iPod all the while, and hung our cranberry/popcorn garlands on a bush in the backyard for the squirrels and chipmunks and birds.  There is evidence the critters have found them — I put some extra popcorn bits and cranberries on the top rail of the fence and it’s all cleaned off now.  Hopefully there won’t be any repercussions of attracting vermin — uh, woodland creatures — to our yard.

Breakfast was a sugar overload.  Not only did we have Yule log cake (with cream cheese frosting), but I couldn’t resist trying out a recipe for Nutella bread pudding. So good! And easy.  My kind of recipe.

Yule log

I’m fairly certain we will celebrate the solstice again next year.  Everybody enjoyed it, even NinjaBoy, and not only because he got to open a present early.  He especially liked the sunrise walk and asked if we could do it again.  I expected it to feel fake or forced — “real” holidays are the ones that you’ve grown up with and that are kind of organic.  Traditions just happen, you can’t manufacture them. But this felt like a real holiday, a cross between Christmas and New Year’s. And actually, it felt much more like an authentic holiday than New Year’s, because it was based in something real occurring in the physical world.  

After spending the morning in the quiet (and swampiness) of the woods and eating sweets with my family, it was interesting to scan through all the posts in my Facebook feed about the horrors of the traffic around the malls and the “Air Jordan” riots and think about how stressed out people are getting ready for the holidays, when I was feeling like it was a holiday.  A day for sitting around “playing with our electronics”, as NinjaBoy said. Christmas almost seems like an afterthought.  Not that the kids would agree with me on that. I hope we have enough presents…


NinjaBoy told me this story about his RE class today:

Once upon a time, the earth had ten suns. They burned the crops so Houyi shot down nine of the suns with his bow.  As a reward he was given a pill that would grant eternal life, but he was supposed to fast for twelve months before taking the pill.  Houyi hid the pill in the rafters, where his wife Chang’e found it and swallowed it.  When Houyi came home, Chang’e started to float and flew up to the moon.  When she got to the moon she spit out the pill and it turned into a jade rabbit.  She built a palace on the moon, and Houyi built a palace on the sun.  Once a year Houyi visits his wife on the full moon.

I don’t know if this is the 100% correct story, but I was impressed that he came up with such a cohesive tale from memory hours later.  It’s like he was listening or something.

There were cookies.  NinjaBoy didn’t try them.  Because the teacher said they were kind of like gingerbread.

Butterfly came to the worship service with me, which was put on by the high schoolers. It was about their take on love, and I think Butterfly particularly enjoyed a skit about how love manifests itself in a typical high school day (ranging from PDAs to donations to Haiti relief), along with music and talks and ending up with “All You Need is Love”.  My favorite bit was where one young man said something to the effect that love is a lot like religion — nobody really knows what they’re doing, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep talking about it.

What I wouldn’t give to hear every religion in the world concede that point.  None of us has all the answers, none of us knows anything with complete certainty, we just need to keep talking and thinking.  What a refreshing idea.

After a 12 day migraine and a so far thoroughly crappy weekend, I had a little trouble getting moving this morning.  Got out of the shower and discovered that it was time to go — right then.  I went out in my bathrobe with my dripping hair and said to the kids, “Will you be heartbroken if we don’t make it to church today?”

Now, based on every other occasion when I’ve suggested skipping church (back when we went to the other church), I expected an enthusiastic “YAY, NO CHURCH!”


NinjaBoy said, “Well, I want to play Playstation, so if we can’t go I guess I could play more. But if we go, that would be good too. What holiday are we doing today?”

Butterfly said, “What if we just get ready as fast as we can, and maybe we’ll be able to still get there for some of it?”

So at the urging of my children, I got ready for church.  And we weren’t even that late.  And I nearly cried at how cool it is that my kids want to go to church, and we feel happy when we’re there, and we talk about what we learned. Together. *sniff*

I never imagined I could love Sundays.

NinjaBoy remembered what holiday they learned about today — Holi.  This is awesome… It’s a Hindu festival where people throw colored powder or colored water at each other.  Music, bonfires, squirt guns, and cannabis milk shakes.  What’s not to like?  (Pot wasn’t mentioned in class, I found that bit on Wikipedia.)  NinjaBoy said little kids get to drink alcohol and then go knock on people doors and throw dye on them.  w00t!  In class they threw confetti at each other, but they only drank water.

Butterfly said her class talked more about beliefs and they pretty much all believed in science and nature.  Sounds like her kind of crowd.

In the worship service the minister talked about mercy as kindness put into action and as compassion practiced.  It hit me that the only source on earth for mercy, compassion and kindness is… us. Me.  I feel completely inadequate to describe the minister’s amazing sermons, but I always leave them with my mind opened and a desire to be better.

After the service Butterfly helped out as a parking lot attendant.  She got to wear a reflective vest and use a walkie-talkie.  That was pretty darn cool.  She did a good job too.

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I was so cranky going to church Sunday morning.  We were probably the only people in the world, I thought, who could have a whole extra hour and still be late.  But it turned out plenty of people were late.  And I learned that the way to get a parking space is to be on time.

And it was raining and it was cold and it was muddy.  As we were walking down the hill to the RE building I was telling my kids about my previous post and how I should be focusing on those little things that make me happy instead of how grumpy I was with the weather and being late.  “At least I’ve got boots on,” I told them.  “At least I’m warm. I’m not wearing a dress and pantyhose.”  “Or carrying a big heavy bag,” my daughter offered.  “And you don’t have to teach a bunch of rowdy kids.”  Okay then. I admitted I was glad to be where I was.

NinjaBoy rushed into his class without saying goodbye or noticing me leave and I went off to the worship service, which was in memory of those who have died in the last year, and was essentially a concert of Fauré’s Requiem.  It made we want to join the choir, or get my flute out (and have it repaired).  Everyone was invited to light a candle for someone who had died, and there were many many candles lit and many tears.

Once again when I went to get NinjaBoy he couldn’t tell me what holiday they learned about.  He said they made patterns with colored powder (or colored rice, in this case) and ate “cow cake,” which Butterfly and I decided, upon sampling NinjaBoy’s leftovers, tasted of butter and coconut.  He also said that for this holiday you clean your house, and if it’s clean enough then the goddess  (he told me a name, but I can’t remember what it was) would ride to your house on an elephant.

Sound familiar to anyone?

Butterfly’s class talked about different religions and philosophies — Christianity, Humanism, Buddhism, and Paganism.  She said the class agreed that humanism sounded plausible, but she felt that if humans are all there is, the world is in REALLY BIG TROUBLE.  She does not have a high opinion of human nature.

I told her my opinion that people are slowly getting better, and if you look at history things are a lot better now than they ever were before.  There may be hope for us yet. I’m not sure she was convinced.

She also said that now she doesn’t have to believe what the LDS church teaches, she’s not sure what she does believe.  I’ve heard it said that kids her age need concrete beliefs, they need the black and white.  So now of course I’m wondering if I’m doing her a disservice by not giving her that.  But to give her a religious belief system beyond right and wrong ways to treat people and behave… Well, I couldn’t do it without lying.  I can’t tell her how the universe works and whether there’s a god and what happens after death because I don’t know and I don’t believe anyone knows.

What I can tell her is that while I don’t believe anyone knows, I think what matters is finding a way of thinking and believing that helps you live a better life, but that it can be different things for different people.  She needs to find what gives her peace and strength and helps her want to be a good person.

I don’t know if it’s enough, but it’s the best I can do and still be honest with her.

I have no idea what the kids learned in RE this last week.

NinjaBoy said that their holiday was “Hundi”.  He spelled it. I think he meant Hindu.  And I think it might have said “Diwali” on the chalkboard when I dropped him off.  They did a kind of puppet show, possibly, and the one he had was Hanuman the Monkey King. There may have been food.  That’s what I can surmise; he remembered nothing.

Honestly, I would think he had some kind of memory impairment if I hadn’t heard him give his friend a detailed plot description –including verbatim quotes — of the Doctor Who episode “Blink” just the other day.  He can remember things, just nothing educational.

Butterfly mumbled that her class was about “tolerance and diversity” and then changed the subject every time I asked for more information.  That’s all I got.  The curiosity is killing me.

Butterfly’s class today talked about helping people.  And one of the boys, whom we’ll call George, was annoying.  George was the one who last week suggested giving beer to the homeless man, and today he said a swastika was a symbol of peace (it didn’t sound like he was talking about the Buddhist symbol either).  Not only that, but as they discussed serving in the military as a way of helping people, George said that the soldiers in Iraq “could do more for their country,” and he didn’t know that we’re using up our natural resources.  Butterfly was quite offended.  She was so hung up on George that she seems to have missed everything else that went on in class because that was all she could remember about it.

The younger kids started out with a chapel service again.  The thing that struck me this time was the lack of adults as we went in the room.  I was looking around for the teachers, couldn’t see any, and took it upon myself to interrupt the boy who had another boy in a headlock, and the ones who were tripping each other and sitting on each other.  I think they wondered who in the world I was and why I was telling them to keep their hands to themselves.  Why aren’t the teachers in the chapel with their classes?

The subject of the chapel lesson was redemption.  Apparently it’s what they’re talking about in the adult services too, and I wish I could have heard the sermon because it’s hard for me to separate redemption from sin, and I don’t think you can have sin, exactly, in Unitarian Universalism.  Can you?  For the kids they talked about it in terms of taking a bad thing and making it better — i.e. being honest when you do something wrong and apologizing, learning from your mistakes, etc. It was very age-appropriate.

NinjaBoy's prayer rug

NinjaBoy's prayer rug

The holiday for NinjaBoy’s class was Mawlid al-Nabi, Muhammad’s birthday.  I was only in the room for part of the class, but got to hear Muhammad’s life story.  Later they decorated prayer rugs and learned how to use them — NinjaBoy demonstrated for me at home afterward — and tried jordan almonds.  The teacher mentioned that not all Muslims celebrate Mawlid al-Nabi; there is a concern that it exalts Muhammad too much.

There was poster up front that said something like “Unitarian Universalists believe that religions arise out of people’s needs and longings.”  That’s about what I would say on the subject.  And they are a way to help people in a certain society or culture live together (put up with each other) by adhering to shared values.  What those values are and how they are expressed in a religion depends on the circumstances the group lives in.

I tried to do a little helping people of my own halfway through the class.  My favorite kind of service, the kind where you help other people by reading a book and eating cookies.  Unfortunately, my iron was too low and they wouldn’t let me donate.  Dang it!  I’m taking iron supplements and everything!

Next week I’m hoping to go to the worship service.  Really, I think it’ll happen this time.

I had a lovely talk with Butterfly the other day. She’s 11 and very scientific and serious-minded. It’d surprised me the week before that she commented with such astonishment on how they didn’t tell her what to believe in her RE class. We talked about that some more. I told her that I don’t have all the answers and I know what it’s like to feel guilty about not being able to believe everything I was taught at church, and I want her to hear different points of view and be free to make up her own mind about what she believes.

She thanked me. Not with a casual “Oh, thanks, Mom,” either, but enthusiastically, with sincere gratitude. Thank you for not telling me what to believe! It sounded like it was something she had already thought about. Something that was important to her.

Can that be? She’s eleven.

Then on Sunday I heard some of General Conference, and this statement from Elder D. Todd Christofferson jumped out at me:

I’ve heard a few parents state they don’t want to impose the gospel on their children. They want them to make up their own minds about what they will believe and follow. They think that in this way they are allowing their children to exercise their agency. What they forget is that the intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth, of things as they really are. Without that, young people can hardly be expected to understand and evaluate the alternatives that come before them. Parents should consider how the Adversary approaches their children. He and his followers are not promoting objectivity but are vigorous multimedia advocates of sin and selfishness. Seeking to be neutral about the gospel is in reality to reject the existence of God and his authority. We must rather acknowledge him and his omniscience if we want our children to see life’s choices clearly and to be able to think for themselves. They should not have to learn by sad experience that wickedness never was happiness.

Hm. It was in the context of a talk about moral discipline. Basically, it seems to be saying that you can’t have or teach morality without believing in God.

When mev met with the missionaries this was a topic of the discussion where I saw the mismatch in underlying assumptions. The missionaries said that in order to do what was right, you had to know why you were doing it, which was to follow God’s plan. “Why?” asked mev. Why couldn’t you do good for its own sake? Why couldn’t you want to make the world a better place simply so that the world would be a better place?


Point for the atheist, I thought.

I agree with Elder Christofferson on some things. I think my kids do need to be prepared to evaluate the intelligence and rightness of their possible courses of action. I don’t think they should be left to be influenced purely by the world at large, although I don’t believe they’re being targeted by Satan. I want to raise them to be responsible and compassionate. I would like them to know about their own religious heritage and other people’s too. But I don’t think pretending certainty about the unknowable would help me accomplish those things. And admitting what I don’t know seems to have increased my daughter’s trust in me. We can talk about what we think and believe and don’t believe.

I told her that they said in General Conference that I shouldn’t let her make up her own mind about what to believe. She laughed.

And she said that it didn’t make sense to her for there to be one correct religion, because what you believe depends on where you were born. How could she assume the religion she happened to be born into is the right one when everybody else all over the world thinks the same thing? (This was not something she heard at church. It was because of something she read in a fiction book about how you wouldn’t find Hindus in the Arctic (well, you know, unless they moved there) and she thought it through.)

If I were a Calvinist I would think she was predestined to be a Universalist…