Sharing a Deep Gladness and a Gift

This winter, I met with a florist to talk about flowers for my daughter’s wedding. I entered the shop on a cold, windy morning with no idea that when I walked out I would be so uplifted and inspired.

After our conversation about wedding flowers, the florist, Diane, told me about a project that is close to her heart. It’s called “Vermont Recycles Flowers.” Every week, in her shop, floral designers with the help of volunteers busily work on donated arrangements from weddings, funerals, and other events. They refresh, rearrange, and repurpose the flowers to brighten rooms at hospitals, rehab centers, schools, nursing homes, and more. They create recycled arrangements to beautify non-profit events and fundraisers. Diane’s face brimmed with pleasure as she told me about the for gfv florist blog post

What went through my mind were the words of the contemporary Presbyterian theologian, Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” In a shop in Vermont, the deep gladness of creating beauty from recycled flowers meets the deep hunger of those who need a beautiful reminder that others care.

As a Unitarian Universalist religious educator, I am guided by a vision of helping people to discover their callings in life. What gifts, skills, and passions do each of us have that can help us connect with and respond to the needs of the world? How can we support one another in our faith communities as we discern the ways in which our deep gladness can be offered in service?

At its best, faith development engages each person, no matter their age and life circumstances, to discover what gifts they bring to share with the world. Such a discovery can be life-changing. Perhaps what they bring is leadership skills, or a gift for empathy, or an ability to connect people one with another. Perhaps they are artists, musicians, orators, carpenters, or teachers. And maybe, just maybe, one person’s gift for flower design and capacity for kindness can help them discover a way make the world a better place.

Next Steps!

Explore the website of Random Acts of Flowers for more about flower recycling. Does an organization recycle flowers in your community? How can you help?

Make time with your family, your circle of friends, or a small group or committee in your congregation to explore the Buechner quote. To guide your conversation, adapt a UU small group ministry session, Saving and Savoring, by Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull.

Or, spend time in solitude, in prayer or with a journal, contemplating these questions drawn from Saving and Savoring:

  • Today, or maybe even tomorrow, how do you plan to savor the world, to experience your “deep gladness?”
  • Today, or maybe even tomorrow, how do you plan to help save the world, to play a part in meeting the “world’s deep need?”

Talking About Race: Start the Conversation

By Aisha Hauser

I have found that many Unitarian Universalist parents are very proud of how open and honest they are when they talk to their children. However, the eagerness for clear and explicit conversation comes to a screeching halt with regard to race. No, not for every parent, but for an overwhelming majority of white parents, even those who consider themselves informed and concerned about all things social justice.Kristina from morguefile

The white parents who tend to have those conversations are the ones with children of color. They understand that their children are going to be treated differently than their white peers and so they talk about race, because they have to. White parents of white children have the privilege of opting out of the discussion and I am here to ask that you not opt out. I will use my own life as an example of when, how and why it is important to talk about race.

I grew up in New Jersey, on the border of Newark. My friends were mostly Black and Latino. We were the only Egyptian family. My own experience growing up in a neighborhood with racial/ethnic diversity opened my eyes to how racism affects people of color.

By contrast, my children are the products of a multicultural marriage. My children appear white; in fact, my daughter is a blond. My son has brown hair and eyes and his skin is white. I describe them because in the world they are treated like white children. Unless they tell people, no one knows they are half Egyptian.

When my daughter was a sophomore in high school, one day she came home from school and said a guest speaker had lectured about racism. She said that she chooses not to pick a race for herself. We are all the same, after all.

This was jarring for me. I thought that I had always talked openly to my children about racism in this country, but if my daughter was deciding to “opt out” of race, then I had missed something big. Here was my teachable moment. I sat her down and talked to her about the privilege of her position and the fact that people of color wear that identity on their skin; we never get to opt out. We talked about how Trayvon Martin was targeted by a man who made assumptions just based on his skin color. I brought up statistics about how men of color are more likely to be suspected, arrested, and jailed for crimes that white men are not even noticed for doing. It was a difficult conversation because my daughter’s frame of reference is so much different than mine. She has not grown up with brown skin. While she has friends of color, most of her friends are white. This is not a good or bad thing, it just is.

My son’s middle school has 1,400 students and is very diverse. My son has observed that all the kids in the advanced placement program are white or Asian; the kids who are black or Latino are not in advanced classes. He has also noticed that the black children in his school are more likely to get punished for the same infractions he has witnessed white kids do and not get in trouble. So I have had in depth conversations with my son about race.

Children notice when racism happens, when things are not fair for everyone.  It is up to parents to draw out children’s observations and help children process.  Some people who don’t initiate the conversation may be under the impression that their child is not yet aware of racism; they may be hoping to protect their child.  I would suggest that in the age of the Internet, our children are exposed to more than we may be comfortable with. That is all the more reason to initiate the conversation.

Next Steps!

  • If you are white, live in an area that is homogeneous, and have little opportunity to interact with people of color, I would suggest you visit the Teaching Tolerance website for stories you and your family can read and reflect on together.
  • Find opportunities to listen together to news stories about racial disparities and tensions. Talk with children to help them understand and process incidents, including related protests, public debates and the veracity and fairness of the media coverage itself.
  • Familiarize yourself, on the Standing on the Side of Love website, with ways our Unitarian Universalist movement supports the Black Lives Matter movement. Tell children how our religious leaders and communities have been protesting and working toward transformation.
  • Most importantly, talk about what it means to be an ally. Being a white ally means educating yourself about how black people in this country have been and continue to be treated. While the issues are systemic and complex, one step toward transformation is starting the conversation.

About the BloggerAisha head pic

Aisha Hauser holds a Master of Social Work degree and is a Credentialed Religious Educator at the Associate Level who currently serves the East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue, WA as Director of Religious Education. Previously, Aisha served as Director of Religious Education in two East Coast congregations; in one, she also held the position of Urban Community Ministry Coordinator. Most recently Aisha served as Children and Families Program Director for the Unitarian Universalist Association. She chairs the Integrity Team of the Liberal Religious Educators Association. An active member of the Unitarian Universalist community of religious professionals of color, she attends the community’s “Finding Our Way Home” retreat each year.

Beyond the Cliff and the Bridge: Keeping UU Youth Connected

by Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken

“Where have you been all my life?” and “You were here all my life, now where are you?” are two common questions I hear asked about Unitarian Universalism. The first is asked by adult seekers who wish they’d found us sooner. The second is asked by people raised UU who can’t find engaging UU community after aging out of youth programming.800px-Seacliff_Bridge_Pathway

These questions have serious implications for Unitarian Universalists everywhere. How can we become more visible so we can change more lives? How can we make ourselves present to our young adults so they can continue their faith formation?

I think about these questions constantly in my role as Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate. Unitarian Universalism’s statistics for serving emerging adults (18-24) are pretty terrible, as they are today for many religious traditions. To know that we are underserving emerging adults breaks my heart. Tons of transition, the stressors of the economic, social and personal challenges of adulthood, not to mention questions of identity and relationships—they need us. And we need them to make our faith more whole!

So what can we do? Specifically for this blogpost, what can religious educators do about that second question, about making ourselves present to homegrown UU emerging adults?

First, I recommend watching this Prezi, “The cliff, the bridge and beyond in Unitarian Universalism.” It’s a visual presentation; click through by pushing the forward-facing arrow at the bottom of the presentation. (Click slowly if you get dizzy easily!) The Prezi gives lots of tips on how folks can support our emerging adults in staying connected with Unitarian Universalism. If you are a UU religious educator, you very likely have unique opportunities. Can you implement some of the suggestions in the Prezi, and below?

Next Steps! 

Get youth thinking about their UU future and start young. Does your UU faith community have a Coming of Age program for middle-schoolers? This is a great time to remind youth that there are many ways to be UU as an adult. Encourage youth to think about how they might stay connected to UU as they grow older: by keeping in touch with their home congregation; joining virtual UU community; being part of a campus ministry, young adult group, congregation, or other ministry; or serving our faith as an RE teacher, worship leader, or district or even national leader.

Encourage the congregation to intentionally stay in touch with youth alumni. Sending care packages, hosting reunions, and inviting youth alumni into congregational leadership are great ways to stay connected! If your community has the resources to start a small task force to focus on this type of connection, give them some encouragement!

Be a voice for emerging adult inclusion. Whenever your community is planning events or religious education classes, think about ways to reach out to and include emerging adults. Offering rides, hosting events that are accessible by public transit, and thinking outside the weekday 9-to-5 work schedule are strategies that will not only help emerging adults, but also can be great for low income folks and also for aging members who can benefit from rides and often prefer daytime events.

Pay attention to local campuses, even if you can’t start a group there. Starting a campus ministry can be a wonderful rewarding form of missional work! Some UU communities just don’t have the volunteer and/or financial resources to do that, yet there are many good ways to connect even if you can’t sustain an ongoing campus organization. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore local campuses! Let their office of religious life (or equivalent) know about your UU faith community. Networking with their queer student groups and any other progressive organizations. Use faculty and staff connections in your congregation. Target publicity on or near campus.

Affirm non-congregational ways of being UU. Personally I love UU congregations.  I’ve been involved with seven different congregations in my life and each one has been vital to my professional and faith formation. However, I also know that many folks, especially emerging adults, find UU sustenance outside of congregations: in camps, conferences, virtual communities, informal communities, non-congregational ministries, etc.  It’s important that we who are involved with congregations validate these ways of engaging with our faith so that emerging adults don’t feel like “illegitimate” UUs.

As congregational leaders and as professionals tasked with faith formation, religious educators have a special role to play in making our Unitarian Universalist communities welcoming for emerging adults. Ultimately, however, this work belongs to all of us, of all ages and all roles. To truly change the landscape of Unitarian Universalism into one where youth find the transition to UU young adult life meaningful and do-able we all need to work together, taking small steps wherever we are, whenever we can. Let’s make our faith movement more whole. Let’s try to serve more of our beloved homegrown UUs as they make their way in the world.

Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken

About the Blogger

The Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist from the Midwest who currently serves as the Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate for the Unitarian Universalist Association. She recently moved to Boston with her partner, Lucas, and they have been happily involved with The Sanctuary Boston and, more recently, First Parish Dorchester.

Teaching without Terrifying: A New UU Book about Anne Frank

By Rev. Marti Keller

Memoirist Deborah Feldman, who walked away from her Hasidic upbringing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as a young adult, went on a sojourn to discover herself as a Jewish person now that she had rejected her ultra-Orthodox roots. Her journey took her through Europe, where she retraced her grandmother’s life during the Holocaust, including time in a concentration camp.

At the Holocaust museum in Berlin, Feldman wandered into a room that explained the Nazi death camps: what they were, how they were run. She saw a little boy, around seven, in an audio booth, listening to the description of millions of Jews being transported to and processed for their deaths in the Auschwitz gas chambers.3674

In her book, Exodus, she writes, “‘You shouldn’t be here,’ I wanted to say. ‘You are too young.’” Later, she reflects that a small child may indeed need to learn about those death camps in order to grow into a decent human being. For this reason, after the war, non-Jewish German children received early, explicit teaching on the horrific consequences of ethnic hatred.

Similarly, as Marjorie Ingall wrote in a Tablet magazine column, for contemporary Jewish parents to sidestep the Holocaust (and Jewish suffering across centuries before) because we wish our children to be carefree and happy is simply an impossibility. “Really?” she asks. Jewish history has not been carefree and happy. Our children need to know the darker side of what it has meant to be Jewish for so many years in so many places. If parents fail to educate children about anti-Semitism and genocide, Ingall reminds us, as with sexuality education, someone else will do it for us. By the time our child is eight years old, Ingall suggests, caregivers must share the unpleasant stories in a way that is neither too graphic nor terrifying for caregivers or children.

Those of us who are self-identified Jewish Unitarian Universalists are more than likely to be aligned with the 73 percent of American Jews recently surveyed by the Pew Research Center who said that remembering the Holocaust is essential to their sense of Jewishness. We need appropriate materials, as do all parents who want to tell the distressing but very real stories of discrimination and annihilation, to teach our kids our history, as Marjorie Ingall proposes, without scarring them for life.

In light of the recent horrendous, hate-triggered events in Pakistan, Paris and Nigeria, it is fortuitous that our own Unitarian Universalist Skinner House Press has just published Anne Frank and the Remembering Tree. This children’s book by a well-known Jewish author, Rabbi Sandy Sasso, with enticing illustrations by Erika Steiskal, uses a clever and effective device to tell about the girl whose diary helped expose the evils of the Holocaust: The story’s narrator is the now famous horse chestnut tree that Anne could see from her family’s attic hiding place in Amsterdam. The tree tells only what it witnessed. So, what happened afterward—Anne’s death from typhus and the obliteration of the others who had hidden in that Secret Annex—is not shared. But the humanity of Anne and her sister Margot, the injustice of their treatment, and the trajectory of hatred are vividly conveyed.

As a parent of three children who are now grown, and as a former UU religious education teacher, I wish this book had been available when my children began to be aware of the Holocaust and other genocides. This is a book to be read with our children or by our children. It is certainly appropriate for group settings where the story of Anne and her family—and of the chestnut tree whose saplings are now planted in so many places, in remembrance and in hope—is unfortunately too much needed today.

Next Steps!

Anne Frank and the Remembering Tree, co-published by Skinner House with the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, is available from the UUA Bookstore.

The Sapling Project of the Anne Frank Center USA brings together diverse communities and educational centers in a shared celebration of Anne, her beloved chestnut tree, her appreciation of nature, and her longing for freedom and justice in the world. Since 2009 the Center has awarded 11 saplings of the Anne Frank Tree to sites across the country.

Watch “Nurturing the Spiritual Imagination of Children,” the Sophia Fahs Lecture given by Rabbi Sandy Sasso at the 2009 UUA General Assembly. More recently, in an interview with the Faith and Leadership online magazine, Rabbi Sasso talked about how stories and art allow children and adults to engage deeply in the sacred.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27, 2015. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has produced a 38-minute film, “The Path to Nazi Genocide,” which you can watch here. (Note: The film is intended for adult viewers; selected segments may be appropriate for younger audiences.)

Explore the Portrait of Jewish Americans provided by the Pew Research Center (2013).

Read the story of Unitarians Martha and Waitstill Sharp, honored posthumously as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel, in the Tapestry of Faith children’s program Toolbox of Faith.

About the Blogger

Rev. Marti Keller is a self-identified, lifelong Jewnitarian. The co-editor of Jewish Voices in Unitarian Universalism (Skinner House, 2014), she is a former president of UUs for Jewish Awareness and a member of the board of the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

A Religious Educator’s Religious Educator

By Judith A. Frediani

[Editors' note: Reverend Dr. Roberta (Bobbie) Nelson died on January 2, 2015.]

In 1997, the UUA’s pioneering sexuality education program, About Your Sexuality (AYS), was under attack on national television. The CBS network had obtained a copy of AYS’s explicit filmstrips. Provocative promos advertised an upcoming “exposé” on Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel. We needed a spokesperson to convince the general public that comprehensive sex education was just plain good sense. Rev. Dr. Roberta (Bobbie) Nelson was the perfect choice. Learned and articulate, confident and wise, Bobbie’s wholesome-as-oatmeal, sensible-shoes demeanor on television helped take the wind out of Gumbel’s sensationalist sails.

For forty years, when Unitarian Universalist religious education needed a voice, Bobbie spoke out. Whenever leadership was called for, Bobbie was called.

Reverend Dr. Roberta (Bobbie) Nelson, 1934-2015
Reverend Dr. Roberta (Bobbie) Nelson, 1934-2015

At the heart of Bobbie’s religious education ministry was her respect for, joy in, and responsibility to children—hers and everyone else’s, no exceptions. She understood that to protect and support children, we need to support and resource parents and religious professionals. Bobbie saw that UU parents were often uncomfortable with their children’s religious questions. Afraid to impose their beliefs, parents avoided theological conversations. Hence the curriculum, Parents as Resident Theologians, co-authored with Chris, her beloved husband of 54 years. She wrote, “If you don’t answer your children’s religious questions, someone else will—and you may not like the answers they provide.”

Bobbie was a humanist in touch with spirituality, another concept UU parents struggle with. Bobbie defined spirituality as “a yearning for meaning and purpose, a connection to the rest of humanity and life on earth, a sense of existential wonder and mystery.” Enter the Nelson’s curriculum, Parents as Spiritual Guides.

For Bobbie, religious education and social justice were inseparable. In “Religious Education for Social Justice,” she quoted Victor Frankl: “We are doomed to failure if our goal is to find meaning in being happy. Happiness is the side effect of fulfilling the search for meaning.” For Rev. Nelson, meaning-making was the core of religion, calling us “to put that which I value, prize and cherish into action.” Social justice is “caught” not “taught,” she said. Therefore families and congregations must model both the risks and rewards of justice-seeking—and Bobbie demonstrated how, in the curriculum, Parents as Social Justice Educators.

Judith A. Frediani retired from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 2013 after 28 years as Curriculum Director and Director of Lifespan Faith Development.
Judith A. Frediani retired from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 2013 after 28 years as Curriculum Director and Director of Lifespan Faith Development.

Bobbie, who was way more spicy than oatmeal, served us all as teacher, preacher, trainer, advocate, activist, and denominational leader. She was a religious educator’s religious educator. Like Sophia Fahs, who applied early progressive theorists such as John Dewey to UU religious education, Bobbie Nelson shared with us wisdom from progressives of her time—Parker Palmer, Thomas Groome, James Fowler—enhancing the depth and relevance of UU RE. She knew what liberal religion could and should offer: the stuff of daily life as well as the spirit’s highest aspirations. She modeled living our values with a sense of urgency for the task, but also joy for the journey. I am so grateful for Bobbie’s journey with us.

Next Steps!

Read the Bangor (Maine) Daily News obituary for Rev. Dr. Bobbie M. Nelson.

The UUA provides the Nelsons’ six-workshop curriculum, Parents as Spiritual Guides, in PDF format to download at no charge. The authors wrote, “The family is as important in the development of the child’s faith as it is in their emotional and physical development.”

Bobbie Nelson’s essay, “On Being Religiously Literate,” appears in Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids without Religion, edited by Dale McGowan (AMACOM, 2007).

Transformative Stories: UUs and 12 Step Recovery Programs

Addiction touches many Unitarian Universalist families, congregations, and communities. We know the pain addiction can cause, not only for an individual, but for those around them. We have seen the tenacity required to sustain recovery.

Many of us have heard—or discovered for ourselves—that 12 Step programs offer an important source of recovery support. Recovering addicts and alcoholics testify to a refreshed sense of purpose, healed relationships, and new ability to make space for the holy in their lives. Their parents, partners, children, and siblings speak of supportive community that helps them hold their worry about a loved one, anticipate both the challenges and joys of recovery, and learn to detach as appropriate for self-care. Stories from recovery are stories of transformation, not as a sudden event, but as a long-haul practice. Their power for religious liberals is hard to cover restored to sanity gfv jan2015

However, as a Unitarian Universalist, I have at times struggled with the theology that undergirds 12 Step programs. At first brush, a theology that speaks of brokenness, powerlessness, and surrender to a higher power seems incompatible with our faith that affirms that we are made in the image of God, with worth, dignity, and capacity for goodness as a birthright. Yet, I have known people of many theologies, including humanists and atheists, whose lives have been turned around by 12 Step programs.

I eagerly awaited the recent publication of Restored to Sanity: Essays on the Twelve Steps by Unitarian Universalists (Skinner House, 2014). Edited by Ken and Cathlean (first names only, as is 12 Step practice), it collects deeply personal stories from Unitarian Universalists for whom participating in a 12 Step program is an important spiritual practice. Two different essays delve into each of the twelve steps as each author recounts their own experience. To read the essays is to engage with complex stories of people struggling with addiction; each story is unique in its details and its particular way of lifting up hope, courage, and resilience. Together, the essays illuminate how Unitarian Universalist values and faith work with 12 Step programs to promote wholeness in those who practice.

The book is an extraordinary gift to our faith communities and the religious professionals who serve them, and to our people, both within and beyond UU congregations. May these essays, heartfelt gifts shared by Unitarian Universalists in recovery, help inspire others to be “restored to sanity.”

Next Steps!

Add Restored to Sanity: Essays on the Twelve Steps by Unitarian Universalists to your professional or family library.

Explore resources on the Unitarian Universalist Addictions Ministry website. If you are a religious professional or lay leader in a faith community, the Addiction Ministry Handbook by Denis Meacham offers useful information as well.

In Bringing God Home: A Traveler’s Guide, Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Dr. Forrest Church (St. Martin Press, 2002) tells his story of addiction and recovery. Explore Church’s theology, which was greatly informed by his experiences of addiction and recovery, in Workshop 8 of What Moves Us: Unitarian Universalist Theology, a Tapestry of Faith program for adults.

Peace, War, and Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
     And wild and sweet
     The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

The 19th-century carol “Christmas Bells,” Hymn 240 in Singing the Living Tradition, speaks to us across the ages about the longing for peace and justice in a world marked by violence, war, and pain. The words were penned in 1863, during the Civil War, by Unitarian Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Longfellow was a giant in his time, beloved of the reading public. His uplifting and elegant verses spoke confidently to contemporary issues, and his was a life of fame, position, and wealth. After his first wife died following a miscarriage he had a difficult time, but eight years later he married Fanny Appleton, with whom he had five pixabay PD image

In July 1861, Fanny was using sealing wax to seal packets containing locks of her children’s hair when tragedy struck. A spark landed on the edge of her long, full dress, and she was immediately engulfed in flames. Longfellow tried to put out the flames with his own body and burned himself badly. Fanny died of her injuries the next day, leaving their young children in the care of their heartbroken father.

Two years later, in March 1863, Charley, the eldest child, then 19 years old, ran away to become a private in the Union army, against his father’s wishes. In November, Charley was seriously wounded by a bullet in the back. When his father received the news, he was disconsolate. On Christmas Day, he gave us the familiar lyrics in a poem he called Christmas Bells.

Imagine Longfellow hearing the bells of Christmas while his nation was engulfed in a seemingly endless Civil War, a war which had left his son gravely wounded. Imagine the weight of his son’s injury, after his wife’s horrifying, fatal accident. He longed for peace and comfort, both in his spirit and in his country:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
     “For hate is strong
     And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then imagine Longfellow pulling himself together, affirming his Unitarian belief in the benevolence of God. This is the image that stays with me, whenever I hear the carol sung:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
     The Wrong shall fail,
     The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

At this holiday season, may we find peace within. May we work toward peace and justice in our families, communities, and the world. Blessings of the season!

Next Steps!

Learn to sing or play the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Share its history with others. This video on YouTube, posted by David Amsler, offers narrated history and a choral rendition of the song, with images from Civil War battles and recent wars in Iraq. Although the tune is different from that in our hymnbook, it is lovely.

Explore the website of Longfellow’s House, which is a National Historic site, or make plans to visit if you visit the Boston area.

With family or friends, share your dreams and ideas about peace and justice on earth, and make a New Year’s resolution to work toward this goal. You will find some ideas for giving back and doing good in the Tapestry of Faith Toolkit book, Creating Justice Together by Susan Lawrence.

Social Media Privacy: It Begins at Home

By Melanie Davis

In the October 5, 2014 New York Times article, We Want Privacy but Can’t Stop Sharing, Kate Murphy writes, “The problem is that if you reveal everything about yourself or it’s discoverable with a Google search, you may be diminished in your capacity for intimacy” because relationships develop through gradual and mutual self-disclosure of increasingly private and sensitive personal information.

Murphy notes that the data mining of social media by advertisers has led many adult users to become more circumspect about how much they share online. She posits that the new trend toward more privacy helps our social relationships.

But how about children whose parents share moments as personal as an ultrasound image of a fetus captioned “We’re having a boy!” or “We’re having a girl!” Or a photo of a toddler using a potty seat? Then there are the bad haircuts, first menstrual periods, questionable clothing choices, first dates, and more. For many parents, the urge to share seems to have usurped any concern over their children’s right to control which stories, and when, to share with friends and future romantic partners.

Do Children Have a Right to Privacy?baby-204185_1280 pixabay

Many people cheered the blogger who wrote about teaching her daughter that masturbation is a private, rather than public, activity. I wasn’t cheering; in fact, I was angry. Yes, parents should teach their children that masturbation is a healthy, normal feel-good activity. And yes, parents need to teach children about social boundaries related to sexual activity. But this child’s behavior, which her mother insisted should remain private, has now been made public. By whom? Her mother!

Masturbation is a harmless, healthy sexual activity, and the little girl’s behavior was completely typical. But let’s mentally fast-forward. In adolescence, when even the most confident, happy young person can be crushed by peer ridicule, how might she feel if someone unearths that old blog post about her young fascination with masturbation? Will she feel that her inherent worth and dignity were respected by the person who published that blog post?

The blogger could have shared her sex ed. advice (which was quite good) without exposing her child’s private behavior. She, like other parents who over-share online, failed to respect and protect her daughter’s privacy.

The Importance of Sexual Privacy Rights

Sexuality encompasses core aspects of our being. As such, it presents endless fodder for anecdotes and photos that were once preserved in baby books and are now shared and stored via social media.

Carefully assess the information you share about your children. If they are old enough to have a reasoned opinion, ask for permission to post about them. If they are younger, err on the side of privacy. Your children are likely to thank you for it later in life. When they are ready to begin slowly sharing personal information with potential relationship partners, they will be grateful you did not beat them to it.

As Murphy notes in her article, “…information about yourself is like currency. The amount you spend on a person signifies how much your value the relationship. And that person compensates you in kind. That’s why it feels like theft when someone tells your secrets or data miners piece together your personal history.”

Protecting children’s sexual rights to privacy is an opportunity for parents to practice justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Children deserve the right to determine which stories they want to share, in their own time.

Next Steps!


Melanie Davis is the Our Whole Lives Program Associate in the Faith Development Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The “OWL” Has Landed! 2nd Edition for Grades 7-9 Now Available

By Melanie Davis

The newly released second edition of Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education for Grades 7-9 is now available from the Unitarian Universalist Association Bookstore. Like the first edition, this sexuality curriculum is comprehensive, inclusive, and justice-oriented. It is filled with new ways to help youth learn about both timeless and contemporary issues. Online, you can read descriptions of the new edition’s units and workshops and then, order the new edition.

The revision process began with a needs assessment that included a nationwide survey of Our Whole Lives facilitators. We engaged Pamela Wilson, author of the earlier edition, to revisit the curriculum, and we cast a wide net for expert contributors on contemporary issues. The new edition also benefits from the input of Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ (UCC) curriculum developers, critical readers, and editors; feedback from congregations that field tested new material; suggestions from OWL trainers; and ideas that emerged from e-list conversations.OWL 7-9 cover

Every workshop in the original program was updated; many offer new approaches, activities, and readings. To respond to the changing context of being an adolescent, we added workshops on body image; sexuality, social media and the Internet; bullying and bystander responsibilities; consent education; communicating with a sexual partner; and self care. We also updated the curriculum’s introductory material, facilitator notes, resources, and handouts.

Including youth with special needs in an Our Whole Lives program can pose challenges, not only in terms of classroom management but also because these participants may have particular sexual health issues and risks. The new edition has a chapter that describes how the curriculum can support youth who have a variety of cognitive or psycho-social disabilities; it also helps facilitators anticipate and address the learning needs of youth with autism spectrum or attention-related disorders. The chapter explains how Our Whole Lives can help prepare them to navigate the physical changes of puberty and the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and communication, while helping to reduce their vulnerability to unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual abuse.

In short, the new edition of Our Whole Lives for Grades 7-9 is an excellent investment because it includes:

  • Updated language and discussion related to gender identity, sexual orientation, and anatomy
  • New workshops related to contemporary youth needs and interests
  • Enhanced focus on justice and inclusivity
  • More multimedia suggestions (however, Internet access is not essential to workshops)
  • Many alternate activities, so facilitators can tailor the workshops to their group’s interests and learning styles
  • Special Needs Implementation Guide

As you can tell from this post, you will notice many changes. However, you’ll also find that the new edition feels familiar—that it embodies the same values and assumptions, has the same workshop format, and includes many facilitators’ and participants’ favorite activities from the first edition.

We anticipate that every OWL facilitator and religious educator will have an opinion about the revised edition. We encourage you to experience the curriculum. We welcome questions and hope you will offer feedback, because we all have the same goal: to create a world full of sexually healthy human beings.

Next Steps!

  • Unfamiliar with Our Whole Lives? The program for grades 7-9 is one component of a lifespan sexuality education curriculum serving age groups from children to adult. Find out more on the UUA website.
  • The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SEICUS) published Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten–12th Grade, which helped shape the Our Whole Lives curriculum.
  • Looking for an Our Whole Lives program provided by a UU congregation near you? Use the Find a Congregation search tool on the UUA website.
  • Are you currently providing or considering an Our Whole Lives curriculum for your congregation? Use the publicity tools provide on the UUA website. “Sexuality is Honored Here” is a brochure to help congregants and visitors understand why Our Whole Lives is appropriate for use in the congregation. This page provides flyers you can print to promote your Our Whole Lives program.
  • Interested in becoming an Our Whole Lives facilitator? Locate a training event here.

Melanie DavisMelanie Davis is the Our Whole Lives Program Associate in the Faith Development Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Happy 25th Birthday?

I remember my 25th birthday—a quarter of a century! It felt like a major accomplishment. It has been just as significant celebrating each of my daughters’ 25th birthdays, with pride in them both and accompanying gratitude. Somehow a 25th birthday feels like a really special milestone that deserves song and rejoicing.PK11 graphic in paint

Another 25th birthday has just crept up, without much fanfare, and somehow asking you to join me in a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” won’t do it. Imagine receiving a beautifully wrapped present, with a gift card that speaks of the great significance of what lies within…

…but when you open this lovely gift, the box is empty.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on November 20, 1989. It was ratified by more countries than any other human rights treaty in history. Only two countries have not ratified this treaty: Somalia (which has no recognized government) and the United States.

I would have missed the CRC quarter-century milestone had I not seen the post, “Children’s Rights are Human Rights,” submitted by Scott Hirschfeld on the Teaching Tolerance blog site. Hirschfeld is Director of Education at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund).

And then I remembered reading about an organization committed to advocating for U.S. ratification of the treaty—the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I was very pleased to see that the Unitarian Universalist Association is a partner organization. It’s too late to celebrate this birthday with the CRC, but let’s work together to make sure that the gift box contains a ratified treaty before another 25 years go by.

Next Steps!

The Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the CRC offers resources online to help you:

Find a child-friendly version of the CRC here (“Article 19: You have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, in body or mind.”). The full, official text is posted on the website of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The goals of the CRC are promoted by these children’s books: For Every Child, by Caroline Castle (2001) and I Have the Right to Be a Child, by Alain Serres (2012).

Websites with more information include Teaching Tolerance and Teach UNICEF.

Unitarian Universalists have a long history of working with the United Nations. The UU United Nations Office began more than 50 years ago, in 1962, and can be reached here.