16 Children’s Books For ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ Families

Source: 16 Children’s Books For ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ Families


When Hate Stays in the Closet

One of the best constructed responses to marriage equality opponents. Best thing I have ready today.

The Weekly Sift

answering the most sympathetic and reasonable arguments against same-sex marriage

I found the Marriage Conservation Facebook page when one of my FB friends linked to something “hateful” posted there. And it’s true, you don’t have to read very far to find nasty comments cloaked in self-righteousness.

But that’s not what I found interesting.

In general, I try to discourage my friends from winding themselves up by seeking out other people’s bile. Once in a while I run into some blessedly innocent person who doesn’t understand the depth of irrational hatred in the world, and who (sadly) needs to be disillusioned a little. But I believe that for most of us, the idea that there are crazy, nasty, ugly people on the other side comes to mind far too easily.

What’s harder to hold in mind is all the good, decent, well-meaning people who are trying their best to do the…

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The letter to Santa

One of my responsibilities as the Director of Religious Education at First Parish Church in Taunton is to tell a story or share some thoughts during the worship service.  We call this the “Time for All Ages.”  This past Sunday, I struck  upon a gem.

There once was a 3rd grade teacher – Mrs. Mello – who asked her students to write a letter to Santa with their Christmas Wish List as one of their assignments.  Third graders are learning to write letters and this seemed like a good way to get the kids excited about their lesson.  The children got busy right away.  When the letters were all written, Mrs. Mello collected them and brought them home to correct that evening.

After dinner, she sat in her comfy chair, got out her red pen, and started correcting and grading the letters.  She skimmed through several letters, not really focused on the stream of “Please bring me a new bike…new doll…new action figure…new computer game…”  It wasn’t the content of the letters that was important.  She was looking to make sure that they used capital letters at the beginning of the sentence, punctuation at the end and enough verbs, adjectives and nouns in the middle.  One letter, though, drew her in.

It started off sweetly enough…

Dear Santa,

Thank you for all the wonderful gifts you brought last year.

But then it took an unexpected turn…

This year, could you make sure that me and my family have a warm, dry home.  And could you make sure that my whole family is safe and healthy.  I would really like it if my whole family could be together for Christmas and there is enough food on the table for everyone to get their fill.

I also want a dry pair of boots so my feet don’t get wet when I walk to school and a warm coat so I won’t be cold.

Your friend,


Mrs. Mello was shocked and saddened.  She had no idea that Billy and his family were going through such a hard time.  She picked up her phone and called Billy’s home right away.

When Billy’s mom answered the phone, Mrs. Mello shared with her the contents of Billy’s letter and asked if there were anything that the school could do to help her family.  Billy’s mom replied that she had no idea why Billy would write a letter like that because the family was doing just fine.  They had a warm, dry home.  No one was sick and there was plenty of food.  Billy had nice boots and a warm coat.

Billy’s mom thanked Mrs. Mello for her call and after saying “Goodbye” she went to Billy’s room to ask him about the letter.  “Billy, why would you write a letter asking Santa for a warm, dry home?  Why would you ask for the family to be healthy and well fed?  Why do you want dry boots and a warm coat?  You already have all of those things.”

Billy looked at his Mom with a big smile and said, “Yeah, isn’t that cool.  I already have everything I want.”

Sorry Dr. Channing, I want more

William Ellery Channing

The Unitarian preacher and theologian Dr. William Ellery Channing is often quoted by Unitarian Universalist religious educators:

The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own…to awaken the soul, to excite and cherish spiritual life.”

These words are at the cornerstone of UU religious education.  Sunday schools in UU churches can be quite different from the religious education in other churches.  It is our stated goal not to tell children what to believe or fill their heads with memorizing prayers, scripture and rules.  Instead, in our churches, we encourage children to, as we say in the fourth of our Principles, to undertake a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”  We want our children to develop a spiritual curiosity and a critical mind to embark on a life long adventure with the sacred.

I am totally down with that.  At First Parish Church in Taunton, our Sunday School program gives our children room to explore and experience the sacred in themselves and in the world around them.

With all due respect to Dr. Channing, though, we need to do more.  While his words may well equip our children for the journey ahead, I fear that Dr. Channing has left them without any roots, without an anchor, without a home to base their spiritual journey.  I didn’t grow up to be exactly like my parents, but I have always known who I am, who my family is and where home is.

In addition to the spiritual awakening and curiosity that Dr. Channing wrote about, I have 2 other goals for our children.

The first is that I want our children to love coming to church.  I believe that our children learn best when they are having fun.  While there are lessons in each activity, the kids are busy at Sunday School doing things that are fun – art projects, skits, singing, dancing, getting dirty.  It’s the fun times that families spend together that forge the bonds that carry us through the difficult times.  Happy memories call us home when we get lost.

One parent told me last year that her children had woken her up at 5am, “Is it time to go to Sunday School, yet?”  It was Wednesday.  Winning!

The second is that I want our children to feel that they belong at our church – that we are a part of them and they are a part of us.  One of the first things that children learn is their first and last name and their address.  Their first name tells them who they are.  Their last name tells them to whom they belong.  Their address tells them where home is.  I believe that there is a monumental difference between hearing someone say “I go to a Unitarian Universalist church” and “I am a Unitarian Universalist.  This is my church.”

I agree with Dr. Channing that our children do not need to memorize our seven principles or even know that William Ellery Channing was a Unitarian minister, but I think we can set the bar higher.

My name is Barry Sanders.  I am a Unitarian Universalist.  First Parish Church in Taunton is my spiritual home.

I pray that our kids can say the same.  Except for that first part about my name is Barry Sanders.  That would be weird.

Family fun

The Nurturing Tree

Bravo! I have always been uncomfortable with “The Giving Tree” and this remake is splendid. A few illustrations and it would make a great bed time story for our kids.

Yet another story in the Giving Speaks series–Creating a Giving Culture–One Story at a Time–featuring guest author Dr. Jerry D. Wright*

The Nurturing Tree

Once there was a boy who really enjoyed a tree.

He enjoyed the roughness of its bark when he climbed it.

He enjoyed the springiness of its branches when he swung on them.

He enjoyed the crackle, the smell and the pillowy feeling of its leaves when he gathered them into a big pile and jumped into them, in the fall of the year.

He enjoyed the crunch and tart taste of its apples when he bit into its ripe fruit.

And when the sun was hot, he enjoyed sitting in its shade, leaning against its sturdy trunk, thinking about all the things he hoped to do and have and be as he grew older.

The tree enjoyed the boy, too.

She enjoyed watching him…

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Family – unplugged and connected

Aerial of Bovina, NY (Pop 633)

Last week, my mother, my brother and his wife, my sister, her husband and their 2 kids, my wife and I and our daughter and our combined 4 dogs went on vacation to Bovina, NY.  We rented a large house on a small lake and spent the week unplugged.

The nearest mall was over an hour away in Oneonta.  The nearest grocery store was about 1/2 hour away in Delhi.  There was no cell service in a 10 mile radius of the house.  We did have a dish TV, internet connection, electricity, hot running water and just about every other modern convenience.  I know, “What happened to spending the week unplugged, Barry?”  Did you miss the part about no cell service?

OK, so we weren’t exactly on one of those back-to-nature, cooking-on-the-fire, bathing-in-the-brook camping trips.  The kids and several adults brought their electronic gadgets and several hours of on-line time were logged, especially on the rainy days.  And I did watch the US Women’s Soccer Team in that exquisitely agonizing 123 minute semifinal win over Canada which made the gold medal match with Japan almost anti-climactic.  That’s not the kind of unplugged I meant.

We spent the week unplugged from our routine.  Scheduled music lessons were cancelled and replaced with free-spirited singing and music playing.  Nights spent in front of the TV with our favorite recorded dramas were replaced with nights by the campfire filled with those wonderful stories that always start with, “Remember the time…”  Everyday, well-rehearsed chores and duties were replaced with spontaneous trots to the lake for fishing and boating, long walks past acres of farm land, chasing the dogs, being chased by the dogs, watching the dogs chase each other, or just hours of reading and gazing at the landscape.

And eating.  I think I gained 20 pounds that week.  My family can cook!

It seems like, at home, on a regular day, we wake up and hit that treadmill of our routine, scheduled life.  Sometimes it might feel like our life is running us.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love my life.  I love just about everything I do and just about everyone I do it with.  But there is something to be said for getting out of that routine for a little while.

Blizzard of ’78

When I was a kid, I used to love when a storm would knock the electricity out.  It would be out for hours (unless it was February 1978, then it was out for days).

A night without electricity meant no TV but it also meant the whole family playing board games by candle light.  For me, that was a great night.

I know not everyone is as fortunate as we are to be able to take a week off from work and stay in such a beautiful place.  I am profoundly grateful that we are able to do this together each year.  It’s so wonderful to be able to unplug from our routines and take time to re-connect with each other.

We’ve been back for a few days now and, for me at least, I am plugged back in to much of my routine.  Maybe there will be a storm soon.  I have some candles and a board game at the ready.

Ice cream with Dad

I had ice cream with my father in April for his birthday and again on Father’s Day.  It was nice.  They were both beautiful days.  The sun was shining.  It meant alot to me.

I started this little tradition a couple of years ago.  I take a few minutes out of my day to visit my Dad.  I sit quietly, eat ice cream and tidy up his grave site a bit.  You see, my father died 3 years ago.  Cancer.

My Dad really liked ice cream.  He and my mother would have ice cream at night pretty regularly.  He’d say, “I’m pouring, do you want some?”  It’s an inside joke and an expression that my family still uses occasionally when someone offers to spoon out some ice cream after dinner.

While I was standing at my father’s headstone, enjoying the warm sun and the cold, sweet ice cream; it occurred to me how very present my father continues to be in my life.  I think about him all the time and, because I think I look a bit like him, I see his face when I look in the mirror and hear his voice when I open my mouth.  I don’t need to go to the cemetery to feel close to him, but taking some time to make this short trip a few times a year feels good.

Explaining death to children can be unsettling and emotional especially when our kids start asking questions about family membrs who have recently died.  We are uncomfortable with the topic ourselves and may be still hurting.  When I talk to children about loved ones who have died, I try to keep a few things in mind.

Tell the truth and be honest.

I see these as different.  I believe in telling the truth about death.  Whatever your beliefs, children need to have the facts.  When someone we love dies, it means their body stopped working.  We won’t be seeing them anymore.   Keep it simple.  Answer their questions.  I am not a big fan of  telling children things like “God needed him in heaven” or “She went to sleep for a long time.”  Children are very concrete.  We don’t want our kids to be mad at God or be afraid to fall asleep.

Be honest about how you feel and what you believe.  It is important for children to learn to grieve and they learn it from us.  When someone dies it hurts and its sad.  Talk about what you believe happens after someone dies.   Remember, keep it simple.  Children will ask questions that they are ready to have answered.

Keeping people who have died present in our lives can be an important thing for kids and adults.  Keep pictures of deceased loved ones.  Talk about them and your memories of them.  Develop traditions that can help keep these connections real and meaningful.  Like having ice cream at the cemetary.

Learning from the kids


 Ask any child what they want to be when they grow up and every one of them will give you some kind of answer.  Firemen, princesses, soldiers, teachers and some pretty unexpected things as well.  Sometimes the answer is, “I don’t know.”   The answer you will never get…never is such a big word but I’ll go with it this time…The answer you will probably never get is “I want to be a 1st grader forever.”

Ask an adult the same question and all but the most clever will probably look at you funny and say, “I’m already grown up.  I am already who I am going to be.”

This should come as no surprise.  Kids spend pretty much every waking moment exploring, asking, learning and growing.  It’s their job and they know it.

This is where kids are smarter than we adults are.  They know that they are not finished.  They are still works in progress.  The truth is…we all are.  Sometimes we adults forget that.

The need to learn and grow and explore is never more true than in our spiritual growth.  The sacred is so mysterious and grand that none of us can really feel that we have finished growing spiritually.  We feel it at our core.  Sometimes we recognize it.  Sometimes it just feels like something is missing.

Spiritual growth is like growing a rare and delicate flower.  It requires work and attention and some special conditions.  You can’t nurture your spirit behind the wheel of your car while you are racing down the highway, late for a meeting.  You can’t nurture your spirit at the drive-thru.

Church is one of those places that is ideally suited for nurturing your spirit.  It’s why we go to church.  We often talk about coming to church because we like to see our friends or we like the music or we like to feel a part of something.  You can get those things pretty much anywhere.  I believe that, whether we are aware of it or not, we come to church to grow spiritually.  We know we can’t do that just anywhere.

We come to church to explore the Great Mystery, to ask big questions, to learn about the many ways to experience the sacred and to grow spiritually.  Like that rare flower that needs just the right amount of water, light, soil conditions, elevation…our spirit needs a special environment to grow.  At church…at First Parish Church in Taunton…is just such a place.

Watch the kids embrace their not-knowing and their curiosity.  We can learn a lot from the kids.

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