Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"martin luther king day" or "how to raise a good UU"

"justice is what love looks like in public" ~dr. cornell west

to be honest, i've never really thought much about martin luther king day. it was always "just a day off" for me. i've never thought about it as a day of service, or a time to stop and reflect on the life and legacy of dr. king. i know, i'm a jerk.

but the more time i spend learning about my religion, unitarian universalism, the more and more i am learning to really appreciate not only the holiday, but the man and the movement behind it. as a unitarian universalist, i adhere to the seven UU principles:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

martin luther king day should be, as UU's, our biggest holy day: for in this one day, nearly all of the 7 principles are met! inherent worth and dignity of all people, justice and equity, the use of the democratic process to manifest change, peace and justice for all, respect for every living being... i mean, come on! this is it! and the more i embrace my UU beliefs and values, the more and more i am realizing that this one day is really a very special and sacred and holy day. for on this day, we remember the struggles of those who made these principles possible, and we vow to continue their good fight by serving others and working tirelessly for equality, peace, compassion, and justice.

and, as a good UU mother, i want to raise my daughter to be a good UU too... or, at the very least, i want gracie to appreciate her UU upbringing and the UU values that we cherish in this household. (because, if i'm truly a good UU mom, then i will ultimately embrace whatever path my daughter chooses to connect with the Divine. hence the creation of her "god squad.")

so, today, in honor of the rev. dr. martin luther king, jr, and all that he (and others!) did to make this country and our world a better, safer, more loving place to be, gracie and i took part in some of the many celebrations that were happening in our town today:

after a trip to the gym, where i practiced ahimsa (nonviolence) in my yoga, we joined a group of friends to have a birthday party for dr. king. we made brown-bag lunches of cheese sandwiches, apples, and poundcake (the contents of the nearly 80,000 sack lunches that the people ate when they marched in washington, dc the day that mlk gave his "i have a dream speech"). then we sat on picnic blankets on the floor and read two storybooks: one was about the life of king, and the other one was his entire "i have a dream" speech, with color illustrations. along the way, we'd stop and talk with the kids about the big words in the book: "segregation," "discrimination," "slave." we talked about what it meant to be an upstander, vs being a bystander. we talked about the power of words and how that created a more lasting and powerful change than if people had used fists or guns or called each other bad names. we talked a little about the connection to ghandi, and his nonviolent struggle to end oppression (another big word we talked about). it was wonderful. inspiring. really amazing to see and hear these children, ranging in age from about 2 or 3 on up to 10 or 11, understanding, comprehending, discussing, questioning... absolutely beautiful.

then later today, gracie and i went on a march with about 100 other people, sponsored by a sorority at UNT. we gathered near the student union center, and after a few songs, speeches, and prayers, we walked about 3 miles to the MLK rec center. the weather was beautiful: nearly 60 degrees, sunny, breezy, and lovely, and the people marching were in good spirits. as we passed a park along the way, we seemed to double in size -- maybe people were having events of their own and were waiting for our group to show up? and then, just when i thought i couldn't push that damn stroller with my enormous 3-year-old in it any further, we were there!

when we walked into the MLK center, we were escorted to the gymnasium, which was set up with bleachers and chairs, and was already half full of people. i really had no idea what to expect -- i think was thinking that we'd get there, there'd be a speech or two, and people would say "thanks for coming, here's the bus to take you back to your car." but no, this was a big deal! the news was there, the mayor was there, a councilwoman was there, several ministers were there, people from the NAACP were there, there was the colorguard, a high school dance team, and a gospel choir. a kindergarten teacher gave a moving speech about the itsy bitsy spider and how he didn't give up, even when he kept getting knocked down, and how water can refresh us and sustain us, even when it seems like we're getting pushed around by it. (i'm not doing her justice -- it really was a great speech!) apparently there was going to be a dinner afterwards (i assume that some of the churches coordinated and asked people to contribute to a potluck???), but we left early: i called adam and he brought the car over to bring us home.

on the way home tonight, gracie and i were talking about martin luther king and our day today and what we learned. and though she is not quite 3 years old yet, i do think she understood two very important lessons today: one, that it's not okay to treat people differently, just because they have different skin, or different hair, or different clothes, or a different accent. all people are important and deserve respect and friendship. and two, words are more powerful than guns, fists, or name-calling. as for the rest, i think that we can build on that in years to come. it's a good start, and i'm proud of us for taking part in the events of today. i hope to make this a tradition in our family.

and, as long as i'm at it, where were all the unitarians today? not cool, guys! i didn't see anyone from my church, and i'm disappointed! i hope next year to get a group together (now that i know better what to expect), and possibly get us a banner so we can represent our church and our religion! so consider this your warning: i'm recruiting you for next year's rally! and we should do a service project too! this is an important event that we need to be a part of!

Friday, January 14, 2011

mother-daughter spirituality circle

shortly before my best girlfriend, teresa, got married in 2009, i was invited to a spirituality circle of her mom's. the group had been meeting semi-regularly for years (maybe even decades?), and we young daughters were invited to join in as one of the women was celebrating her crone-ing ceremony. i was so inspired by the group's depth, connection, and divine power, that i decided then and there that i too was going to begin a spirituality circle of my own.

then we moved, and things just got away from me. unpacking three-years' worth of stuff that had previously been in storage in the usa, plus three-years' worth of stuff that we had accumulated while living in the netherlands, plus getting my husband and child settled in to their routines, plus trying to build a business of my own, plus getting to know my new town and make new friends... well, i just didn't have TIME! but i never forgot. i kept tossing it around in my brain and in my heart, quietly discerning what this group would look like, who i would invite, and what our focus was going to be.

all the while, i was making countless friends, most of them with children of their own, many of whom were girls nearly the same age as gracie. and that's when it occurred to me: start a group of mothers with daughters gracie's age. and meet as often as we want/can, to teach our daughters about the divine power within each of them, the power of intention, the importance of service, the importance of ritual.

we've only met a few times thus far:

the first time we met, we gathered on a playground outside the denton unitarian universalist fellowship to celebrate the fall equinox and to meet everyone else who had been invited to the circle (thus far). we introduced our daughters by telling the stories behind their names, and made a tea for the trees using acorns and herbs from our garden. then we offered these libations to the trees and earth, as a way to say thank you for all that they have provided to us in the past year. each daughter got to take home a small bit of tea, which they were encouraged to pour into their gardens, beneath the trees that protect their homes, or somewhere else spiritually significant to them.

the next time we met, it was at my house to celebrate a traditional halloween (samhain), the way that the ancient celts and druids (and many modern-day pagans) celebrate: a feast for the ancestors! we brought items to place on the altar (pictures of the dead, mementoes from our ancestors, keepsakes from our ancestral homelands, family heirlooms, pomegranates, apples sliced along the equator to display the 5-pointed star in the center, and a nice place-setting for the ancestors to eat at). everyone brought a little vegan-friendly potluck item (squash and mushroom soup, salad, gluten-free bread, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and veggies, apple cider, etc), and then each child served the ancestors by placing a small amount of that particular food onto the ancestor-plate on the altar. then we all served ourselves and as we ate, we talked about our ancestors, and remembered especially those who have left us in the last year. the girls all got to decorate pumpkins and gourds with stickers and crayons, and we got out the face paint so our daughters could decorate our faces too!

the most recent gathering was at j's house, on the winter solstice, where we welcomed our newest member (w, a girl who was born at the beginning of november) and literally rang in the new year by welcoming the sun with bells. we were also fortunate that some of OUR mothers were there, so that even the grandmothers were able to partake in the events of the day. the daughters made sun bonnets out of yellow felt and way too much glitter, while we mothers sat and ate and drank coffee and just generally enjoyed the coziness of each other's company. before we left, everyone went outside into the cold, bright sunshine, and rang bells to welcome back the sun. (it gives me a new perspective when i hear an alarm clock now.) :-)

on monday we will gather once again to celebrate martin luther king day. i'm not sure what all it will entail, but it will be guaranteed to be a remarkable, powerful, and spiritually-uplifting event. and i look forward to many future gatherings: learning about other cultures (chinese new year, perhaps?), serving others (as the girls get older, maybe we can volunteer somewhere to give back to our community), becoming politically active (writing letters to amnesty international or taking part in the annual "take back the night" marches across the country), celebrating the seasons (let's dance around a maypole on the summer solstice!), connecting with the earth (camping trip, anyone?), and celebrating the cycles of life (significant birthdays, first menses, graduations, etc). as our daughters grow, i am hopeful that the connection we are building in this circle will grow as well. and as our daughters grow and eventually have daughters of their own, i pray that the lessons we learned together in this group will be passed on to their daughters, and their daughters' daughters, and so on, throughout all the generations.