Faith Identity Formation on Social Media

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Looking for a way to deepen people’s understanding of what it means to be a religious community, as well as increase commitment? This may be just the right project for you!

  1. Create an Instagram account for your congregation. Make sure the name you choose represents your congregation well. (Same with Facebook and Twitter.)
  2. Look at either your mission statement or covenant. Which has the most juice or spark for visual embodiment? Go there.  One congregation I work with has is using  “We are…” with the hashtag #WeAre.  They have a list of aspirational aspects of who their congregation is.  It works great for this project.  Another congregation is using “We commit to:” with the hashtag #WeCommitTo.  Their list includes chalice points (formerly bullet points) of their covenant.
  3. Invite congregants to take pictures of those chalice points in action using the specific chalice point as a caption. (Yes, this is faith formation and identity formation — I’m sneaky like that.)
  4. Turn this into a multigenerational activity by pairing people who are well versed in smart phone photo taking and social media with folks who are wondering what social media is. This activity could be an all-congregation scavenger hunt.
  5. Invite people to post pictures with hashtags and captions to Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter.  If they do not have accounts, have them send pictures with captions to a point person.
  6. Identify a point person who is comfortable with social media to coordinate the effort. As per Instagram etiquette and solid social media strategy, spread those pictures out over time, no more than one a day.
  7. Create a movie with all the pictures, cohorting the common captions together. Show it at your stewardship celebration, show it at your end of the year celebration or ingathering, and post on your social media accounts — this is what we create all together!

A note about photo permission and etiquette: Always ask permission to take and use someone’s photo.  For folks under age 18, ask their parents first, then the child or youth.  The UUA has photo release/permission policies I recommend.  For community members under the age of 18, many religious education enrollment forms include a section like this:

I realize that any photos taken of my child during THE EVENT become property of the UUA and may be used in UUA materials. I realize there will be no compensation for the use of these photos. (If you do not want your child’s photo used in UUA materials – meaning that they will NOT be allowed to appear in group photos and will NOT be allowed to have photos taken of them – then initial here. __________)

Some people cannot be featured on social media for very good reasons.  Please be extra careful to honor this. It’s the loving thing to do.

If you really get into Instagram, here are more great ways to use Instagram as a congregation.

Please send me your movie, if you’d like me to post it here for others to enjoy! UUTandi@gmail.com

 

If ever there was a time for UUs to be proactively involved in public education it’s NOW!

Public School
Photo by Ian McKenzie

Unitarian Universalists have the most academic education, second only to the cousins in the Hindu religious tradition.  We love questions, learning, searching. If we love our education so much, wouldn’t we want access to education for everyone as an expression of our Unitarian Universalism?

Trump’s appointment to the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos troubles me deeply. Public school, our country’s most important civic institution, will potentially be gutted, and not in favor of fairness and equality. Trump’s appointment is a call to action and service. What will you and your congregation or Covenanting Community do to protect public education?

  • Can you imagine if every UU congregation ran a member for the local school board as part of their mission?

  • Can you imagine congregations annually commissioning public school teachers and staff in a ceremony of celebration and gratitude?

  • Can you imagine scholarship program run by congregations to fund field trips and extracurricular opportunities as a way to support their local schools?

  • Can you imagine partnering with other groups to offer after-school enrichment programs?

I can imagine this and more.  I can imagine it because it’s part of our heritage.  Horace Mann (Unitarian) started the Common School Movement to ensure that basic education funded by local taxes was available to every child. The idea and movement of universal schooling spread across the new country.  Mann knew that political stability, basic civility, and social harmony are the basis for civilization and universal public schooling is the means to that advancement.

Horace Mann started the public schools, and it’s time we rose up to ensure their protection.

Prayer for Growth

Oh, Holy Life Force that buzzes in every cell of our being and leaps through connections of hands in service and hearts in searching,

 

We give thanks for this opportunity to be together today. What a time to be alive, to create our shared ministries and embody our living faith tradition.

 

Grant us serenity so we may surrender our current expressions of Unitarian Universalism as the one right way. Helps us to understand that we do not own Unitarian Universalist, but rather it owns us.  We belong to this faith. Release us from the fear of change so we may embrace opportunity larger than ourselves, expression beyond our imagination.

 

Give us the courage to pick up what is really our work, our own transformation and evolution.  Give us strength and perspective when the road is unknown, and long and uncomfortable and not at all what we expected. Stir in us the commitment to build relationship outside ourselves, out on our margins as if our liberation depended on it, because we know it does.

 

Grant us the wisdom to discern what we can’t change in this generation, this lifetime and what is indeed our work to do.  Grant us the patience and love to sow the seeds of trees under whose shade we will never sit and whose fruits will nourish a people we will never know but love just the same.

 

Help us develop the spiritual discipline of consistently showing up in support of people whose values are close but not quite ours… and lead us into mutual transformation. Help us to develop an ever-widening circle of community as spiritual practice.  Because religious community truly is where we practice being human. 

 

Oh, God, may we become the people we’ve been waiting for and bring you honor and glory.  May we lean that much closer into your beloved community and kingdom of heaven on earth.

 

Amen.

Puppets May Save Us

I have visions of puppets overtaking our chancels. I have visions of Story for All Ages being acted out by huge caricatures of our ancestors. I have visions of General Assembly Banner Parade being shepherded by twenty foot puppets representing our principles and collective story.

So imagine my delight during Friday morning worship at General Assembly when a fleet of puppets burst down the aisles. Bumble bees, crickets, caribou, wolves, loons, and a huge (I mean huge) whale illustrated the sermon. It was joyful and poignant and appropriate for all ages. What a beautiful example.

If your congregation uses puppets in worship and/or religious education, please contact me.

Lilac Ordination

The lilac bush intoxicated us with her heavy blooms.  The world seemed perfect as was the time to share my inner wrestlings with my Gramma.  We were both on our backs staring up at the clouds looking for familiar shapes.  There’s a little hill next to the lilac bush that was perfect for such moments.

“Gramma?  Can a heart burst?”

“Yes, why?”

“Gramma, I’m afraid my heart is going to burst sometimes.  Sometimes it’s too full with love.  And sometimes it’s too full with sadness.”

“Mmm…” She reached out and squeezed my hand. “So, what are you going to do with that?”

She often asked that sort of question.

“I think I’m gonna to be a minister.”

I said it not quite convinced, as the only ministers I knew were male and Christian and I wasn’t either. They had The Answer and I knew there were many. They saved people from their pulpit.  I felt called to heal with actions and  love just in the regular places of my life. … “I think I’m gonna be a minister.”

“What makes you think you aren’t a minister now?”

The sound of the gulls overhead were drown out by the paradigm shift crashing in my skull.  The deep, deep breath of spring air I took in cut through the lilac drunkenness and the colors all around us intensified exponentially.

A minister was born.

Religious Education happens when we are witnessed deeply, and when our safe people believe in us as our own beliefs are taking form.

Spark in the Dark

In honor of all the mothers today…

I was curled up with the boys reading bedtime stories.  We were snuggled up with Spark In the Dark, a creation story with beautiful, simple pictures.  The book begins with the swirling gases of the Universe coming together and forming planet earth. Water forms.  Plants form.  Animals form. Humans evolve.

Four-year-old Owen interrupted and asked "what is that state’s name again?"  Having grown accustomed to his tangential interjections, I didn’t blink an eye.  I named off all the states he’s traveled: Oregon, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Washington.  He shook his head...  I started to name cities he’s been to with notoriety.  Still no satisfaction, and he clearly had a specific place in mind, but the lateness of the evening was wearing on him.  Finally he said rubbing his eyes, "No, the place I was before I was born.  What’s the name of it?"

Clarity took hold of and quieted my confusion. "I’m not sure anyone knows the name of it for sure. Do you remember being there?"

Again, rubbing his eyes and yawning, "Yeah.  I liked it.  When do we go back?"

I didn’t know the answer until it came out of my mouth, "When we die, honey."

Owen, "That’s right.  I’ll meet you there."

And then he snuggled into my arms and went to sleep. I was left holding sweet Owen as he went off to dream land knowing that I was holding one of the greatest teachers I will ever know.

Religious connection, Religious Education started before we were born.  It usually entails simply bringing us back to ourselves, to our Source.

Power of Seven

I used to teach at a school where the attendance rate was dismally spotty at best.  Until Principal Harry came with his camera and his belief in the Power of 7.

At a staff meeting he passed out a roster of all the enrolled kids at school to each of us.  He handed me my packet with a wink.  My name was scrawled at the top and then seven students who were not my own were highlighted.  Each staff member got a packet:  the janitor, the bus driver, the teachers, and teacher’s aides. Everyone on staff.

The instructions were simple.  Be out front first thing in the morning when the bus arrives and greet each of your seven by name.  Welcome them with a smile. Tell them that you’re glad to see them.  At the end of the day be sure to say or wave goodbye and let them know you’ll see them tomorrow.  If you see them in the hall or on the playground or in the cafeteria acknowledge them.  Ask them how their day is going.  Sounds innocuous, right?

We saw positive results that we couldn’t deny almost immediately.  Not only was attendance much more stable, but the morale at school was on a steady incline, as well.  I noticed that staff started taking an interest in the classrooms where their Power of 7 spent their day. As a result staff started collaborating cross-classroom and cross-department more.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  I doubt it.

And another act, simple on the surface, shifted the spirit of the school.  Principle Harry started taking pictures of the kids.  Close-ups of big grins.  And then he’d blow them up to 11×17, laminate them, and hang them in the hall at student level.  Beautiful faces lined the hallways like the finest art gallery. Parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles started visiting the school just to take a look at their students’ pictures.   Kids would proudly point out their portrait.  New photos would go up on the wall and the former pictures would be brought home to grace students’ domestic walls.  The school began to feel like a joyful community center.

I’ve always wondered how this could translate into congregational life. What if the board, Committee On Ministry, Program Council, youth group – whomever you deem as church leadership were to divide you members of all ages up into lists of seven?  Each congregational leader would then be sure to greet their special buddies each Sunday and check in with them. How was their week?  How are they feeling about this religious community?  How is their life going?  And if one of their seven was missing, perhaps an email could be popped their way just letting them know that they were missed on Sunday… I wonder if simple Power of 7 could transform our congregations into joyful community centers.

Please let me know if you try it out.

Religious Education is found in the simple acts that bind us closer together.

The Flowers That Saved My Life

The divorce separated me from my two small children, and the teaching job was more of a calling that I loved with all my being.  I was officially divorced in the morning and served my pink slip that afternoon.  Both identities were painfully stripped away… and the very next day was my birthday. What irony.

I spent weeks in bed.  My best friend would come over after work to make sure I was eating, which I wasn’t. She’d make me get dressed to come eat, but when that didn’t work she brought it in to me. And when that didn’t work she’d leave it on the bedside table to get cold.  It was certainly not one of my finer moments.

After a couple weeks I received a phone call.  It woke me up.  I had to wrestle the covers to actually find the phone hiding in my smelly nest. The gruff voice on the other end said, “Get out of bed, get dressed, brush your teeth, and come let me in.”

“Huh?”

Not getting any more patient, “Get out of bed, get dressed, brush your teeth, and come let me in.”

“Bob? The door is unlocked.  Just come on in.”

“No. You stink.”

“Bob, I don’t care.”

“I do.  Go get dressed and brush your teeth and hurry.  This is getting very heavy.”

Just as he said the word heavy a big truck went whizzing by my window… and at that very same moment I heard a big truck go whizzing by on the phone.  I ran to the window and there was Bob across the street on the pay phone holding a huge, I mean huge, abstract painting of flowers.

This was no ordinary painting. This was the painting that used to hang in the hallway at church. I loved the painting.  It made me happy.  Bright yellows, reds, purples, greens. Evidently the Aesthetics Committee didn’t share in my appreciation.  It got moved to the bathroom. I simply took more bathroom breaks to visit my friend. And eventually it got relegated to the basement.  During a congregational Spring Cleaning I found it in the huge storage closet.  I was so sure the painting was lonely, and I would go gaze at her when I was feeling low. I was oblivious to the fact that Bob knew of my love affair with this painting.  And there he was on a street corner payphone with an armful of abstract flowers.

I dashed to throw on clothes. I tried to grab ones from the heap that weren’t too offensive to the olfactory system.  I rushed to the bathroom to brush my teeth – it felt soooo good!  As I was coming out of the bathroom Bob was barging into my bedroom.  He traipsed across my bed with muddy shoes.

“Oops.” He said flatly. “I guess you’re going to have to wash that bedding.”

He leaned the immense painting against the wall and pounded a handful of nails one by one into the wall above my headboard.  He balanced the painting on the cluster and stepped back to admire his work.

“There.”  He turned to me. “Kiddo.  I know you’re hurting.  You’ve been through a lot. But we need you.  We’re waiting.  The world is waiting.  There is work to be done.”

My eyes teared up.  I nodded.

“Tandi, every morning, look up at this painting.  And remember.  The world is waiting.  We need you.”

I broke down and sobbed like I had not been able to do.  Bob held me and rocked me until I was ready to come back.

By this time you’re probably wondering who Bob is.  Bob is the church curmudgeon.  All churches have at least one.  For most of his church career Bob has been the soul person on the building committee.  He was kind of pokey and contrary.  And there he was rocking me while I learned to cry.  I knew he was uncomfortable with this he’d just stepped into.  We were both practicing being human at this very sacred moment.

That is the kind of Religious Education I am all about.  The greatest thing we can give each other is our love, ourselves, and our presence. These are among the most potent curriculums.  Church is where we practice being human.

No matter where I live that painting will be prominently placed so it is among the first things I see each morning.  It is part of my morning prayers and spiritual practice.

Once my basic needs of being seen, heard, and loved were met I could rejoin the land of the living and get about my business of finding my calling and living my personal mission.  Sometimes I wonder where I’d be if Bob hadn’t noticed I was gone and tracked me done.  Who is missing from this religious community?

Religious Education teaches us to be present to each other.  Religious Education is community that sees us at our most vulnerable, loves us anyway, and calls us to our higher selves.

Request: This Sunday look around and notice who is not there. Please check in with them just to make sure they’re okay and to let them know that you noticed their absence.   And if they’ve been gone awhile, let them know they’ve been missed.  There are a myriad of reasons we each can slip away.  There is a main reason to reach out:  we are interconnected in love.

Cheese Fries

The previous year our youth group had 18 teens who made a joyful presence in our congregation.  16 graduated and there were no 8th graders moving up.  What to do?  Do two people make up a youth group?

Our congregation made a bold decision.  They funded the two-member youth group as if they were the rowdy 18.

And I have to say, that while the previous year was fun and eventful. It was the year of Ben and Justin that I found to be the most profound and worthwhile.

Justin was the popular, likable Prom King.  Ben was from a newly divorced family, in a new school, and had just gotten word that his father had seriously ill.  When I asked them each what they wanted out of youth group, Justin, said, “I just want to be myself without the stress.”  Ben said, “I want to do what normal kids do.”

“Ben, what do normal kids do?” He hesitated… “I think they hang out at Denny’s and eat cheese fries.”   

And that is what we did most of the year.  We hung out at Denny’s and ate cheese fries and just talked. And tried to grasp a sense of normalcy.

One night we hung out in the youth group room painting our toe nails (because we could) and someone had the idea of paining a nail polish chalice on the stereo.  We declared the stereo a Unitarian Universalist Only Zone (pronounced ooze) and our ritual became debating the UU appropriateness of current musical lyrics.  What could we play that upheld our faith tradition and principles?  Which songs would be tossed, at least while in the sanctuary of our black-light lit youth room?  Such conversations were continued at Denny’s over cheese fries.  Rarely have opportunities arisen to go that deep theologically for any of us. Ben, Justin and I were forever changed.

I’m still in contact with both Justin and Ben, who are in their mid-20s now. They look back at our youth group year with just the three of us and are grateful that the congregation saw them as legitimate and worthy of the effort.

Religious Education is implicit in the decisions we make as a congregation, including fiscal decisions. Religious Education is nestled in those leaps of faith and small actions that say, “We see you.  We need you. You are worthy.”