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

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

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Play ball!

Image     Once upon a time, there was a girl named Karen whose parents signed her up to play baseball.  Both of her parents loved baseball and lots of kids in their community played baseball so it seemed like a good idea.

Karen started going to practices and the games.  Some of the kids were nice, but not all of them.  The coach was not.  Most of the time he yelled.  He yelled at Karen and her friends to run faster, swing straighter and stop dropping the ball.  When they didn’t run faster he made them run more.  When they didn’t swing straighter, he kept them late at practice .  When they dropped the ball, he threw it harder.

Karen played baseball for years.  Partly because her parents liked the game and enjoyed watching her play.  Partly because she had some good friends on the team.  Karen played baseball for years.  Karen got yelled at for years.  She ran extra laps, stayed late at practice and tried not to drop the ball.  Karen played baseball for years and learned to hate baseball.  She just felt like she was never good enough.

Eventually, Karen stopped playing baseball.  She stopped watching baseball because it reminded her of how unhappy it had made her feel.  In fact, she pretty much gave up on all sports.  The idea of being on a team with a coach just brought back too many unpleasant memories.  She had friends who played sports – some baseball, others football, soccer, volleyball, but not Karen.  No matter how much they told her about the fun they had, the health benefits, parties afterwards…Karen wanted nothing to do with it.  She had been hurt too much.

Some people’s experience with church has been similar to Karen’s experience with baseball.  They’ve been yelled at.  They’ve been hurt.  They’ve been made to feel like they are no good.  They’ve given up.

For those of us who have discovered that we can love the game again, how do we share that love?  How can we show them that there are coaches who don’t yell and teams where all the kids are nice?  How do we let them know that practice can be fun, not hurtful?

How do we convince those who have given up to give it another try?

How will you use your powers?

How will you use your energy today?
How will you use your talents today?

Will you lift people up or put  them down?
Will you open doors or slam them shut?
Will you reach out or push away?
Will you build up or tear down?
Will you build bridges or widen the divide?
Will you try to understand or close your mind?
Will you heal or will you hurt?

How will you use your powers today?

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

Grandma’s church is dead

When I was a kid, I would visit my grandmother on the weekends.  She would sometimes take me out for errands and shopping.  I didn’t much care for the errands, but I liked stopping at Burger Chef for lunch.  We always stopped at Burger Chef for lunch.  She always bought meat at the same butcher shop.  “What have you got for me today, Arthur?”  “A very nice pork roast, Ma’am.”  “That sounds nice, I’ll take it.”  She always bought fish at the same fish market, too.  She always bought shoes at the same shoe store.  She always got her hair done at the same hairdresser.  It always seemed to go the same way.  “What have you got…I’ll take it.”  On Sunday, we went to the same church her parents went to.

I think a lot of people in my grandmother’s generation were like that.  They went were they always went.  They got what was available.  I imagine there might have been days when they weren’t completely happy with it, but they still came back every week.

Those days are over.  That world is gone.  That boat sank.  That train has left the station.

When my family goes shopping now, we look at the flyers, check the websites, visit several stores, compare prices and if we aren’t happy with the service, we go somewhere else.  Choosing a church was like that, too.  We chose a church that meets our spiritual needs, respects who we are and helps us be the people and the family we want to be.

A few days before I attended the Faith Formations training in Connecticut, I read a story in USA Today entitled “Survey finds 19% without religious affiliation.”  The author of the article begins “Unbelief is on the uptick.”

The article spoke about the increasing number of Americans who are reporting that they have no religious affiliation.  They are the “Nones.”  Anyone involved in church leadership knows this is true because almost all denominations and churches are experiencing declines in attendance and membership.

The Pew researcher who authored the study offered:

 “Young people are resistant to the authority of institutional religion, older people are turned off by the politicization of religion, and people are simply less into theology than ever before.”

My grandmother’s church is dead.

I don’t believe that “Unbelief is on the uptick.”  I believe that a new spiritual and faith-filled world is rising from the ashes of the old world.  As many as a third of Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  This tells me that people still have faith and hunger for a spiritual life.  Some call us “religious tinkerers.”  I call us “spiritual consumers.”  Spiritual consumers are searching for places to grow spiritually that will meet their needs.  We won’t simply take what is being offered.

Faith organizations that will survive in the new world have to be organized around meeting people’s needs.

If you left your church because they stopped meeting your needs, there is good news.  You don’t have to figure it out on your own.  Churches are getting the message.  Go shopping.

Finding spiritual inspiration

Many sources brings a richness to our faith

One of the things about Unitarian Universalism that I really love is our willingness to search for inspiration from a wide variety of sources.   Rather than limiting ourselves to one sacred text or one set of traditions, UUs seek out inspiration from all the world’s religious expressions – Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, pagan and other earth-centerred traditions – as well as Humanism, the words and deeds of inspirational men and women and, of course, our own direct experience of the sacred.

As a religious educator, I see my role as sparking a curiosity about the many religious traditions and spiritual expressions in the world.  At First Parish, our children have learned about Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Paganism, in addition to our own brave and powerful history of committed social justice work.

This past Halloween, I delivered a message entitled “Wisdom from Monsters” at First Parish.  Having a bit of fun, I talked about the diverse sources of spirituality that Unitarian Universalism honors and then pushed the envelope a bit further.  What are your favorite monsters and what can we learn from them?  Do movie monsters like werewolves and Frankenstein’s monster have something to teach us?  Click the link below if you’d like to have a listen.

Wisdom from Monsters 30oct11

Regrettably, I neglected the sixth of our sources – Spiritual teachings of earth-centerred traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.  Now I feel better.

Learning from the kids

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 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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