25 October 2011


Satara (photographer's real name unavailable)
Did you see the news story about the girls named "Unwanted"? I had been vaguely aware that there were places in the world where boys were valued much more than girls, but today I learned that in one region of Maharashtra, India, the ratio of young girls to boys is only 801 to 1000. And what is life like for those 801 girls, the ones not aborted or fatally neglected? Some, especially ones born into a family with several daughters already, get labelled with demoralizing names like Nakusa, which literally means "unwanted". Parents say that they didn't treat these girls badly. But it's tough to imagine being reminded every time someone uses your name that your birth was a disappointment to your parents.

Yesterday I read about Dr Bhagwan Pawar, district health officer in the Maharashtra region of Satara, who came up with the idea of an official re-naming ceremony. Officials visited the homes of over 200 local girls with this or similar names (Nakushi, Nakoshi), and asked what they would prefer to be called. Some chose the names of famous actresses they admire, some chose Hindu goddess names, and some chose names with literal positive meanings, "prosperous", "beautiful", or even "rock hard, very tough".

The ceremony was held last Saturday. (Most news coverage has included a beautiful photograph of some of the girls at the ceremony; there's also at least one news video with interviews).
students in Mumbai, photo by Bernard Gagnon
The girls were given certificates with their new names, which were also published in the state gazette. Schools were notified and asked to use the new names from now on.

Of course this made me think of Hosea's children, the oldest named for a massacre site, the girl named "No Mercy" and the youngest named "Not My People".

My devotional Bible text last night, though, was the story from the Gospel of Luke of a woman crippled for eighteen years by a spirit, so that she was bent over double. Jesus healed her as soon as he saw her, and she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue was indignant. Indignant. Indignant with Jesus. So what did that religious leader do? He began to harangue the crowd (not Jesus, but the congregation), telling them they could perfectly well come to be cured on a weekday. He was shaming this woman in front of the community, criticizing her in her moment of freedom, beating her back down. But Jesus shut him up. He called him a hypocrite and said,
Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”
Satara city, photograph by Mangeshjadhav
Jesus called her a daughter of Abraham. Which when you think about it is the very opposite of "Not My People".

There's so much to think about here, so much to pray about, and this is already a long post. But then, also last night, I read this post by Wanda at KidTrek. She says that 70% of children raised in the church leave it. And she says that one major factor in whether or not churched children keep their faith is whether or not they feel connected to the church community while still a child. And so I want to ask, are the children in your church "Not Our People"? Are any children you know perceiving that they are Unwanted?

[My first source for this news story was a link to USA-Today posted by a Facebook friend. I've since found two Indian newspapers' coverage here and here.]

19 October 2011

learning liturgy

Sunday was Fr R's last service with us before moving away. I didn't want to miss it, and I didn't want the children to miss it. And Fr R is all for having children present, so I decided to try setting up a children's area in the chapel for the day.

Vandriver was a huge help in this: he washed the tarp in advance, and moved all the furniture for me (that's our blue table and chairs - I think I need to suggest to the Dean that the Cathedral could do with a small range of child-sized seating).

While he was re-arranging the chairs, I was finishing up the And also with you -flags, following an idea that I got from The Spiritual Child Network. A good thing about them was that we had plenty, so I was able to give some out to members of the congregation as well as the children. A bad thing was that I'd forgotten to buy materials for them while I was out shopping for the craft materials - so I wound up making them out of our own chopsticks and will have to dis-assemble them the next time we have Chinese food!

Fr R was very pleased with them! He visited the children's area well before the service and spoke to those children who were already present, letting them know that although they did need to try to be quiet during most of the service, when he said The Lord be with you they could be as loud as they wanted in replying, And also with you! And at least once he cued us all - asking if the children were prepared - before giving us our prompt, The Lord be with you! 

From the children's corner I'd say the flags were not an unqualified success. The children were of course most enthusiastic about the flags at the "wrong" moments, and one child made an immediate connection with sports fandom and wanted to cheer for her favorite team. But I take heart from these words (again, from The Spiritual Child Network): 
The children playing during the worship does not mean they are not also engaging with what they are seeing and hearing. They will be making connections between the materials in the area and aspects of the worship and Christian faith they encounter in the service.
I plan to write more about this adventure in another post, but for now I'll close with The Peace. I wish that we didn't have security concerns about displaying children's faces in public websites, because the facial expressions are the real joy of this photo for me. The girl in red is producing a wonderful parody of an earnest adult greeting a child, and the boy in the plaid shirt has thrown his head back and is laughing with delight. 

09 October 2011

children and chat

Today was a tough day at Junior Church in many ways. I'm always hoping for this kind of atmosphere (which, as this photo shows, we do occasionally have):

photo by stf, faces obscured in accordance with parents' wishes
But today the children's desire seemed to be for something like this:

photo by Eden Keller from Mechanicsburg (used by permission)
Because I'm in ministry training now, I've had to ask other adults week by week to take turns leading. We have agreed to try to keep the rough format the same and to set up the focal shelf each week, but that the lessons in their weeks would be told or read from Bible storybooks (we use the Me Too! Bible stories and the Jesus Storybook Bible (which I learned about from Sheila at Explore and Express)). That (and the fact that we don't use the door person system - again due to lack of training and needing to keep the threshold very low for volunteers) has made it harder for our new children to learn what *I* expect of them, particularly during the lessons.  

I had decided to do the Circle of the Holy Eucharist lesson with them this week, despite not feeling that they were really ready for it yet, because next week we will all be in the big church for Father R's last service with us. It was a mistake. The lesson (or my telling of my version of it) was too long, not engaging enough, too factual, not numinous enough. By the time I was ready to come home I really felt like a failure. 

But on the other hand, as I sat at supper and talked through with Vandriver some of what had gone on today, I realized that the children raised a lot of interesting points and topics today. And thinking over some of my experiences with them over the past several months, it occurs to me that the time we spend chatting is clearly very important to (at least most of) them. 

We always chat for a bit at the beginning of Junior Church, especially if we're waiting for others to arrive. Today we didn't have to wait for anyone, but it felt as though they'd have liked just to carry on talking forever. My trainers told us, Sometimes all you do for the whole session is form the circle. Perhaps I should not have been so fixated on my plan to do the Eucharist lesson. Perhaps what they needed was just to chat!

Afterwards, during the feast, the children's talk included:
  • God writes people's names either in The Book of Life or The Book of Death.
  • One time on The Simpsons Homer had a dream about God.
  • Can we please start eating now? 
    • (We always wait to begin eating until everyone is ready. But today the talk ran away before we'd even had time to thank God for our food!)
  • Why don't we have Junior Church every day?
  • image by Stannered
  • Another time on The Simpsons God's hand came down right next to Homer!
  • No, that was Ned Flanders.
  • We have to have adults here because children can't be left on their own.
  • My mother says I can travel by airplane all by myself when I'm eight.
  • Why aren't you (Storyteller) here every Sunday anymore?
  • You're going to Priest-Classes? We should go with you. 
  • Fr. R is moving house!
  • (a lot of guesses as to where Fr R might be moving to - Borgå, Sweden, Japan, Africa...)
  • + a couple of answers to my leading question of why it is that we [supposedly?] talk more quietly than usual in Junior Church. 
Maybe one conclusion from today's session is that I need to be more clear and firm about the behavior I want to see in Junior Church. But maybe another is that I should bear in mind the Montessori principle of following the child, and carve out more space for chatting? Maybe we need a children's fellowship group! Certainly I can be thankful for that the children find Junior Church a safe environment in which to talk about things religious, and that they appreciate the attention I pay to them. 

07 October 2011

the parts we don't like

Today's prayer podcast at Pray as You Go made my heart sink with the words of the scripture for meditation from Joel 2Sound the alarm on my holy mountain. Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble. For the Day of the Lord is coming. It is near: a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. I had been ready for a more encouraging message today!

But the guidance for meditation asked, What do you think this Day of the Lord that is near is? Is it something to be feared? To be welcomed? and then went on, Joel speaks of alarm, darkness, gloom and clouds. Do you think there is a place for that kind of language when we speak about God? If so, why? If not, why not? And those questions reminded me of Godly Play. do think there is a place for language of darkness and clouds when speaking about God. But I also think it's a very worthwhile exercise to think about the arguments for both answers to that question. 

The Great Day of His Wrath by John Martin (1789-1854)

One of the things that I loved the most when I first experienced Godly Play was the fact that at the end of each Sacred Story we are invited to wonder if there is any part of this story that we could leave out and yet still have all the story we need.

It doesn't even have to be something that we don't like. It could be something we're baffled by, a detail that seems irrelevant, or just an exercise in paring down to the simple essentials (as Jill writes). But what pleases me most about the question is that it gives us room to say, I don't like that part. In fact, I wish it wasn't even part of the story at all.

And it's not just for the sake of children that I love that. Once, my father was reading a Bible story aloud to us as a family and my mother suddenly interrupted and asked him to stop at a certain point. Because I had been (Sunday-)schooled in a very Bible-based church, I knew what was coming in the story. And although I wanted to be sympathetic, I wasn't sure that a request like that was really "allowed". After all, we had been told over and over again that You can't just pick and choose from the Bible. You can't just leave out the parts you don't like.

Well, Godly Play doesn't really say that we can cut those pages out of our Bibles, as it were, but it does give us room to say that we don't like them. And I believe that that's healthy. We belong to a faith that has Sacred Stories about people who bargain with God and people who wrestle with God. And I confess to a certain amount of sympathy for Jonah, who not only got angry with God, but lectured him a bit, sulked, and finally burst out with an endearingly adolescent-sounding, I'm so angry I could die! (Jonah 4

detail from a miniature, Vatican Library

01 October 2011

genius? stupid?

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.

- Albert Einstein
photo by Graham Horn (used by permission)