Harry Potter

Have I told you lately how much I love Harry Potter?  I remember when the books first came out.  I lived in Columbus, Ohio and worked at a daycare center.  One of the mother’s had set up a booth selling Girl Scout Cookies in the entry way and was reading one of the books in between sales.  I remember thinking it was odd that an adult would be so swept away by a children’s book.

For two more years, everywhere I went it was Harry Potter this and Harry Potter that.  Yet I still refused to read the books.  Finally, I was given a gift certificate from my school for the book fair and I used it to buy the first 4 books.  That was in 2002, I believe.

When we moved to Texas, I was lonely and bored.  There was nothing else to do for the weeks I waited to move into my new classroom, so I picked up the books.  I was hooked immediately.  I wouldn’t and couldn’t put them down.  I read all four in a few weeks.

I didn’t complete the series until 2007, when I finally pushed through book 5 (which I must admit the first 300 pages dragged) and eagerly devoured 6 and 7.  That book series was just amazing, so rich and full of nuggets of wisdom.

I didn’t really get into the movies until the 5th one.  Ironically that one was my least favorite book, but favorite movie.  I have really enjoyed watching those kids grow up on the big screen.  It amazes me that each of the actors stuck with the project til the end.  The most recent movie is just as I expected-great.  When I first saw the movie poster for it (the one pictured above), I swear it brought tears to my eyes, and the movie didn’t disappoint.

Tonight we are having a movie night for our Uniteens at church and we will be watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. On Sunday, we will start a spiritual curriculum called Lumindorf that is based on the Harry Potter series.  My neighbor is letting me borrow her copy of the movie and joked with me about whether I was sure it was safe to show the movie in a church. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a religious person in my life years ago.

I know there are certain fundamental groups that took issue with Harry Potter because of the witches and wizards theme.  At that time, I asked this person, who is Southern Baptist, if she had a problem with it.  Her answer to me was that it wasn’t the magical themes that bothered her but the fact that the kids continuously broke the rules.  At the time that was very logical reasoning to me and to a point I even agreed.  Now all these years later, I think it’s the fact that Harry, Ron, and Hermoine break all those rules that makes them so heroic.  Ultimately they were guided from within, every step of the way.  They were always presented with situations they needed to face head on.  They never disregarded the rules and always felt guilty and readily awaited their punishments.  But the rules they broke needed to be broken and somehow they knew in each of those moments there wasn’t another choice.

I am so happy to be a part of a spiritual community that is willing to find truth in many different sources and doesn’t depend on just one book for all their answers.  I am happy that I can use an imaginative and enjoyable piece of literature to teach these kids about positive living and the many ways Spirit can work in their lives.

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Why My Daughter May Fear Jesus

My Unity church is a small one.  We don’t have a big children’s program so for that reason my youngest daughter, Callee, is almost five but still a “nursery kid.”  Her age group doesn’t yet get spiritual instruction.  Up until September she hadn’t really been introduced to Jesus.  (In our house we pray to God or Spirit not to Jesus.)

In September we (Callee and I) went to NC for my grandmother’s funeral.  In the days leading up to her death, Mema had a vision of Jesus.  It was a given that when she finally passed everyone talked about that vision.  Jesus had come to take her home.

Before the funeral, the family went to privately view Mema’s body.  I really didn’t want to take Callee into the room.  I didn’t think she would understand.  I thought it might scare her or scar her.  In the end, the confusion scared her more.  There was a mysterious room where people walked into and then started weeping.  My brother-in-law did his best to distract her, but ultimately I decided she needed to see what was going on.

When we showed Callee Mema’s body it was explained to her that now Mema was with Jesus in Heaven.  I did not realize then how seriously she was filing that statement away.

It has been two months since the funeral and pretty often Callee still mentions, out of the blue, that Mema is with Jesus.  The other day though she said something that made me realize that this particular way of explaining death to her may have been a mistake.  We had stopped to check the mail when Callee stepped in a huge fire ant nest while wearing flip flops.  She ended up getting eleven ant bites.  When we got in the house she sat down and was furiously scratching the bites.  While doing this she said in her meanest voice “I wish all the fire ants in the world would just go with Jesus to Heaven.”

On one hand, I wanted to crack up laughing but on the other hand, it made me sad.  Now my little girl equates Jesus with dying.  I’m realizing now that although it wouldn’t have been as sweet, it would have been much more productive to have just told her that Mema had died.

With this in mind I just have to hope that she doesn’t come in contact with someone trying to evangelize to her.  The moment they ask her if she wants to have Jesus in her heart she’s likely to wonder if it’s some kind of death threat!

Why Are We Doing This Anyway?

Mandy's Chapel at Camp Weed where the Uniteen retreat was heldThe first weekend of October, I went on a Uniteen retreat.  Uniteens is the program for middle-schoolers in Unity churches.  My church just got our Uniteen program started up again and I am one of the leaders.  I must admit I had doubts about going on the retreat.  I have been and will be traveling a lot more than I usually do and this trip at moments felt like too much.  I ended up going though and it was AMAZING!!

From the moment we broke out into our “family groups” and I got to know some of these kids I was just in awe.  These kids were the most open, respectful, fun, confident, compassionate, and well-adjusted people (I said people, not kids) that I’d ever encountered.   The weekend was absolutely joyous!  Out of about 70 kids I only noticed a handful that were not completely with the program (which is all about love) and even those few kids had moments of being loving.

When I think back on my own church experience in middle school, I don’t remember this kind of loving atmosphere.  I remember never quite fitting in and moments of wanting to crawl under a rock or out of my skin.  On this retreat, even the kids who “didn’t quite fit in” were thrilled to be there and seemed to love every minute of it.

In Unity we stress the power of making time for meditation and silence.  We also encourage looking for God everywhere and in everyone.  Kids are introduced to meditation in the Unikids program and those practices continue.  With that being said, of course meditation was part of the retreat.  On Saturday night we did something called a Night Walk.  We were instructed to link hands and walk the path through the woods in complete darkness and silence to the chapel.  I was thrilled by this.  I just knew it would be such a powerful spiritual experience.  Instead, I had three kids behind me who just wouldn’t stop chatting.  I shhhed them 3 times before giving up.  I wasn’t going to break my silence to actually talk to them.

As we neared the end of our walk one of them said “why are we doing this anyway?”  It was then that I realized I hadn’t been spending the weekend with miniature enlightened souls, but kids.  The fact is kids are kids and they just want life to be as fun and easy as possible.  True spiritual understanding doesn’t typically come until you’ve been in the game for a very long time.  We can’t expect our children to receive divine revelations during meditation or to even understand the true meaning of scripture.  But we can give them tools that can help them navigate life and perhaps lead to spiritual growth later on.

What I love about Unity kids is that the tools they have been given seem to make them better able to take responsibility for their lives and choose positive ways of living and being.  They carry no guilt, shame or burdens from being told they are miserable sinners.  What they do carry is a divine light within them that they are well aware of.  They know that what they put out into the world comes back to them.  It seems they at least shoot for putting out love.  They know that their thoughts matter and they seem to think in a positive manner.

I often wonder about the relevance of church and Unity in my daughters’ lives.  My girls love to go to church, but is it really necessary?  After attending the retreat, I realized I should and will make it a priority for them.  Mark pointed out that maybe the kids were good because they come from good families (Unity people are pretty awesome).  That is true too.  I could teach all of this stuff to my girls at home but there is something really powerful about being with a group that proves this kind of love, acceptance and positivity really does exist!

A Unity Lesson

I talk about my church, Unity Eastside, a great deal on this blog.  A few people have asked about Unity or made remarks about wishing they could find a church or minister like mine.  There are Unity churches all over the country.  If you visit their website you can see if there is a church near you.  Over the next year I am going to be teaching the kids at my church and Unity lesson plans are going to be on my mind a lot (particularly on Sundays).  I thought it might be nice to share some of those lessons here for anyone who wants to learn more about Unity.  So here goes my first such post…

Sunday morning,  I taught my first real lesson to the 5-8 graders in my group at church.  Our first unit of study is on the Unity Basics.  I find myself getting stumped when I try to explain the beliefs and ideals of my church to people so I am really excited about the opportunity to learn as I teach.  Although I feel that most of the time I live the Unity principles, I couldn’t quote them for you if you asked me.

Yesterday’s lesson was an introduction and overview of the 5 Basic Unity Principles.  They are as follows:

1.  There is only one Presence and one Power active as the universe and as my life.  God the Good.

2.  Our essence is of God, therefore we are inherently good.  This God essence was fully expressed in Jesus, the Christ.

3.  We are co-creators with God, creating reality through thoughts held in mind.

4.  Through prayer and meditation we align our heart-mind with God.  Denials and affirmations are tools we use.

5.  Through thoughts words and actions, we live the Truth we know.

The lesson quoted the scripture Matthew 7:24-27.  This is the section where Jesus talks about building your house on a foundation of rock verses sand.  The house built on rock withstands winds and floods, the house built on sand does not.

How does this relate to the 5 principles?  Well because in Unity, those principles are the rock on which we build our spiritual life.  Basically if we face difficult times in life and we know that at our core we are connected to God, that God is the only real power (Omnipotent), then we will take the time to get quiet and make that connection.  We will listen for the still small voice or the inspired idea that gives us the answers we need.  Another illustration of this is to imagine a lost child in a grocery store.  The child goes into full-on panic mode.  They are running, calling for their mom or dad as tears stream down their face.  But usually the minute an employee or helpful bystander stops them and reminds them their parents are still in the store and they will find them, they calm down.  If your spiritual life is built on the idea that God is always there and all you need to do is be still and experience it, life will run more smoothly and effortlessly.

The other very important aspect of this foundation that Unity offers is the idea of paying attention to your thoughts.  Like I’ve said in here before and it is also a song we sing at church…our thoughts are prayers.  Whatever we give our energy and belief to is created in our life with God’s help.  God is more or less the Super-Conscious.  If we give enough energy to a thought it goes from our conscious or unconscious mind out to God’s and pulls to us, like a magnet, whatever it is we are focused on.  So when your egoic mind (which is as close as you get to a Devil) is thinking crazy thoughts, it is good to say “No that’s not real” and replace the thought with something that brings you feelings of peace and love.

I’d say that the most important of these principles is number 1.  All we really need to know is that.  If that is where our thoughts lie, life will be easy breezy.  Even when things are tough you can get through.  The other principles, in my opinion, reiterate that one and give you tools that help you get to the place where you are living number 1 to its fullest.

I’m Teaching Again…

Over a year into my spiritual endeavors, I got the idea that I wanted to teach what I was learning to teens.  In my own life, I had been presented with Religion as a guiding tool to get you successfully through to your Judgment Day.  Whether it was valid or not my interpretation was everything that I do should be so that when I meet God, Jesus, or whoever one day they’d go through my list and it wouldn’t be so bad and I’d earn my ticket to Heaven.  Nothing I learned in Sunday school was applicable in my actual life.  If I wanted to do the many things teenagers tend to want to do, I was just supposed to NOT do them.  God didn’t want me to.  End of discussion.

What I learned as an adult on a Spiritual journey on my own terms is that God isn’t keeping a score card of my sins.  God isn’t even somewhere far off in Heaven watching over me.  God is actually an energy that moves through me and through everything around me.  If I am connected to and aware of that energy I am led to the best outcome for myself.  Instead of obsessing about what the God “out there” might be thinking of my choices, I simply pay attention to how I feel about my choices.  If I am on the right course I feel at ease, if I am not I feel stressed.  I am learning how to live now.  My spirituality has been the ultimate self-help.  Now, if I feel legitimate guilt I understand it is because I have done something that is not characteristic of who I really am.  I can let it go and remind myself of the goodness within me.

One thing I’ve said since I first found this path is if only I’d known this stuff when I was a teen.  I could have made better grades, been more organized, been better capable of dealing with conflict, and had more self-confidence.  But everything I did as a teen and young adult has brought me to the place I am now.  If I’d meant to “wake up” any earlier, the teacher would have arrived.

So back to the teaching thing.  Over a year ago I volunteered as the teacher’s assistant in the Uniteens (6-8 graders) program at my Unity church.  I did that for several months before the program fizzled due to teacher changes and low attendance.  Last Winter, our Youth Director returned after Maternity Leave and was ready to start a new program.  Again, I felt called to take it on.  I resisted for a while, but eventually stepped up and volunteered to lead the program starting August 15.  Since I made the commitment, I’ve been planning the year with my co-teacher.  During this time I’ve had a lot of feelings of uncertainty and fear.  It reached a peak the other day and I actually dreamed that 24 kids showed up for the class and not one of them was cooperating with me.  I woke up thinking what have I gotten myself into? And then I picked up the book “The Last Lecture” and read the whole thing over the day.  By the time I was finished I was reminded why I had gotten myself into this.  I want to help kids understand how valuable their dreams and ideas are.  I want them to know that they are divinely guided.  I want to give them the spiritual tools that will carry them successfully through middle school, high school, and into adulthood.  I want them to know that “God” isn’t an entity waiting to judge them after death, but a spirit that is within guiding them to live the most joyful and productive life they can.

Yesterday, I had 8 kids show up who are apparently ready to “awaken.”  And I’m going to do my best to teach them how….

Steps…

I have mentioned my goals here before.  I think even in one post I stated how the first time I attended my Unity church and listened to Rev. Jean give the talk a little voice within me whispered “I want to do that.”  When I first started on this journey a few years ago, I seemed to make a lot of progress quickly.  I was ready to shout from the rooftops about all I’d learned and the positive changes I’d made.  I would imagine myself giving talks at church and leading workshops.  Aside from facilitating a book group, no other opportunities arose for me to be a “spiritual teacher.”  And over time, I realized there was a lot I needed to learn.  There still is a lot I need to learn.  In fact, I hope I never stop learning and questioning.

Last week my book group gathered for the last time.  We’d spent seven weeks asking ourselves questions and exploring them through journaling.  I was reminded of what I really want to do, which is be a messenger.  I have answered that calling by starting this blog.  It’s easy for me to share my thoughts and ideas in writing.  I would also like to share them through speaking.  If I take fear and self-consciousness out of the equation…that is what I want to do.

This summer Rev. Jean is taking a sabbatical.  She will be away from church for eight Sundays.  Today she announced that there is a sign up sheet and congregants are invited to volunteer to help out while she is away.  One of the ways you can help is by offering to present a Sunday message.  A part of me responded.  Here’s your chance. It was quickly shot down by the fear voice though.

So what I’d really like to do is overcome the fear.  It seems like this is an opportunity that I can seize or miss.  If I miss it, I’m sure to regret that more than I would anything embarrassing that might happen during my talk.  When I first heard about the sabbatical I’d wondered who would fill in for our minister.  I’d even secretly wished someone would personally ask me.  You see, if I’m personally asked, don’t I have to say yes?

So I’m still not really sure what I’ll do.  Maybe next week, I’ll put my name on the clipboard or maybe I’ll give in to the fear.  If I take this step, it feels as if it is getting me ever closer to where I most want to be…

Church as a Factory

I think for most kids going to church is an excruciating experience.  Sure, Sunday School might be fun (especially if you’re a young child), but sitting through a service is hard.  When I was a kid, I used church time to daydream and clock-watch.  I rarely listened to the sermon.  Attending church was something that was expected of me.  When I was a teen I was allowed to choose the church I attended,  so I went to my sisters’ church and not my parents’.  I had friends there but they usually just stopped in for Sunday school.  I longed to hop in my car and join them at the nearest restaurant, but if I did that I would not be upholding my Sunday obligations.  So I would say goodbye to my friends and envision them driving off with the music cranked and the cigarettes lit (it was the 90’s in NC).

Religious organizations have their structure.  That structure includes a certain number of services per week that its members are expected to attend.  A lot of times the “goodness” of people is measured by how many of those services they are present for.  I remember being very aware that the best members of our church attended on Sunday morning, Sunday night AND Wednesday night.  You were the cream of the crop if you did this.  We lived too far away from the church to do that so we settled for once a week on Sunday morning.  BUT it was every Sunday and we always attended both Sunday School and preaching.

It bugged me that it was such a part of the regimen.  Sometimes, OK most of the time, I just wanted to stay home.  I wanted to feel comfortable and happy and church didn’t make me feel that way.

Now that I have embraced different ideas about God and what a spiritual life looks like, I find that most of the time I WANT to go to church.  My church is not typical.  It is still a church though and it relies on people becoming members and donating their money and time.  One thing I find though is that it is about as close as you can get to church as a factory.

My friend Rob and I had this conversation one day and he made this great analogy.  Church should be like a factory.  You go in and they give you all the tools you need to live a spiritual life.  They teach you methods for prayer and meditation and offer you resources to study.  They build up your confidence and remind you that you are special and unique with talents and gifts to offer the world.  THEN they should say…now go live and be happy!  This process may take longer for different people.  One person may need to attend church weekly and hear these messages over and over for 20 years before it breaks through to their being.  Someone else may only need to hear it for 6 months.  But there should be a point where you can “attend church” within yourself daily or weekly without needing to sit amongst a congregation.  And the great thing is, that if you backslide and feel you’ve forgotten how to use your tools, you can always go back for a refresher.