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Category Archives: Faith Formation Focus

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright


I am very much looking forward to a month of appreciating our UU Ancestors (our church theme for November) because we have some outstanding men and women in our faith whose life stories inspire both young and old. On November 22nd in our Full church service, we are going to invite the spirits of some of these ancestors (via some volunteer impersonators) to come share their story with us, so that will be fun.

This month in our “Parent’s as Spiritual Guides” class we read an article called Generation to Generation that asks the question: What are we handing down to our kids? In the article Bobbie Nelson (the author) lists some things that he hopes we are passing down to the next generation. Namely – heritage and roots, belonging to a family, stories, celebrations for creating rituals, risk, challenge, courage, compassion, honesty and justice. Now there is a list for you. Which of these things are we handing down to our posterity, through our example?

I want to focus for a moment on the importance of stories in our lives. Bobbie describes the importance of “family stories, bedtime stories, stories from great writers, stories from other cultures and traditions. Stories connect us; they bind us together with people everywhere. They rekindle memories. They weave the fabric of our lives together.”

In my communications class in college we learned that there is no better way to give a person a sense of belonging than by sharing family stories. Children always want to know the particulars of the day or night that they came into the world, how their parents met, maybe the history of colorful characters that live on your family tree. If you are sketchy on some of these stories this would be a great month to contact that great aunt that lives back East and ask her to share the family stories that she knows before they are lost.

Last Christmas my dad gave each of his kids a wonderful compilation of his life story as well as the stories that he knows of his parents and grandparents. I will treasure it always. In reading it, I learned a lot of things about him that I hadn’t known before. These memoirs also served to make me feel closer to my grandmother Lena, who died before I was born. I have always been told that we are so much alike both in personality and appearance. Reading the details of her life really gave her to me.

Here is a tradition that has evolved in our family. (I enjoy it so much that the kids humor me – even my college boys.) Whenever the kids have a birthday I look for a quiet time of day to get out the photo album. The birthday person and I then sit down and look at all the pictures that they are in and recount all the good times that we have had. The kids like seeing pictures of themselves growing up, old classmates, remembering vacations and stories of the past. However you choose to pass on family stories to the meaningful people in your life, the reward is great.

Janen Wright, Director of Faith Formation

Faith Formation Focus Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPracticing  Gratitude:  The Antidote to Entitlement

We live in an affluent society and many parents today worry about their kids having an attitude of entitlement instead of being grateful for all that they have been given. Short of refusing to give our children one more good thing or shipping them off to live in the slums of a third world country, what can we as parents do to fight this tendency of entitlement? I have had numerous on-going conversations around this theme with my sisters and other mothers, and we have come to the conclusion that the antidote to the assumption of entitlement has to be the active practice of gratitude.

If we shortchange the practice of gratitude in our lives, so much is at stake! Brene Brown says that in her research she has learned to pair gratitude with joy, because she has never found one without finding the other in a person. She also says, “People were quick to point out the differences between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”

So how do we go about the practice of gratitude? What does that look like? I say make it as concrete as any other practice. Some people keep gratitude journals, do daily gratitude meditations or prayers, go around the table before eating each meal to comment on what they are grateful for that day. In our family we have done all of these things off and on. I also know my children have benefitted greatly from their father’s habit of voicing his gratitude. In the winter months he rarely comes home without acknowledging how cold it is outside and how lucky we are to have a warm house. He is appreciative of good food and quick to point out how fortunate we are to live in a day and age where we have access to such variety and abundance. He calls the kids outside to see a beautiful sunset or a rainbow or a storm- (we have watched many fascinating storms from our front porch wrapped in coats and blankets– they are our favorite.) Likewise there are few winter evenings when we don’t at least walk around the block to realize how good we have it indoors. (That is a spiritual practice that also improves everybody’s mood, I have noticed. ) Because of my husbands’ strong habit of verbalizing his gratitude I have often heard my kids do the same and I have become better at it myself.

I am looking forward to facilitating a parenting class in October called, ‘Parents as Spiritual Guides.’ You are all invited. We will meet from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m., all the Sundays of October (and maybe one in November.) I am keenly interested in offering this program because I have struggled myself with what it means to have a spiritual life. As a parent I know I can’t give what I don’t have, so trying to help my children have a spiritual life is tied up in that sense of struggle. I don’t have all the answers but I do know that a group of people coming together can achieve more than any one of us trying to figure things out on our own. The last class I taught was ‘Build Your Own Theology’ and I guarantee that I came out of that series with a different and stronger theology from being part of a group, than I would have had I just studied the book and done the activities by myself alone in my room.

I am filled with gratitude for being part of this vibrant Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder. Although Howell will always have a special place in my heart, I am also grateful for getting to work alongside Rev. Kelly now and feel of her energy and love and enthusiasm for our people and our faith. I am grateful for all the teachers and all the kids in our R.E. program and all the inspiration they give to me. Indeed we all have so much to be grateful for that the practice of gratitude should come rather easily!

Janen Wright—Lifespan Faith Development Director

Faith Formation Focus “Embracing our UU Identity” – Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis year in Children’s R. E. we get to focus on our faith identity. While preparing for our teacher training I came across a wonderful article by Toni Larson called, “Evangelizing our Children.” In it he talks about how 85% to 90% of UUs today are “come outers”(not raised UU.) He says, “We must be doing something right because people keep coming and replenishing our membership and we never have to recruit our children. Now here’s the part where I’m going to sound like a heretic to some, but I’m going to say it anyway. I think we should be recruiting our children.

Oh, I know, I know. We want our kids to make their own choices. We don’t want to push our beliefs on them. We don’t want to shove our religion down their throats… We want our kids to be free. That’s nice and I agree with it. Our children should make their own religious choices. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give a plug for our religion so they’re more inclined to make the best choice. And while I agree we shouldn’t push our beliefs on our children we can at least share our beliefs with them…Sharing is different than shoving.”

He admonishes parents to tell their children what they believe and why and listen to the beliefs of their children. He says, “Tell them why you belong to a UU congregation and, heresy of heresies- tell them you hope they will be Unitarian Universalists too when they grow up. That’s right. Of course you will love them whether they do or not but this is a good religion and its doing good things. And nothing is wrong with telling our kids we hope they will keep up the good work.

He reminds us that as parents we don’t get a choice about whether our kids learn about sex or religion. Our only choice is whom they hear about it from first. If we aren’t willing to talk about religion there will be many out there who are.

He also talks about what we should be teaching our kids. He says that we should teach our kids how to pronounce our name, for starters. We should also teach our kids how to answer the question “What do UUs believe?” Here is his simple answer and I think it is a good one. Unitarian Universalists believe in–

1) Loving your neighbor as yourself, which includes trying not to steal, lie, kill or hurt people in any other way.
2) Making the world a better place, which includes working for justice peace and freedom for all people
3) Searching for the truth with an open mind

It is my fervent wish that this year we can all work toward instilling in our precious children and teens a proud sense of what it means to be Unitarian Universalist.

Janen Wright, Lifespan Faith Development Director

Faith Formation Focus – Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years, how people would marvel and stare!” Ralph Waldo Emerson I once had an extraordinary experience from watching the passing of an ordinary day. This came about because I signed up for a silent meditation retreat weekend at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, not knowing what I was getting myself into. The day began early, long before the sun came up and ended after dark with breaks only for meals and sleep. And they weren’t joking about the silent part. Participants weren’t even supposed to make eye contact with anyone else, since that is a form of communication, even during mealtime.

New to the practice of meditation, I was not good at it; I struggled to clear my mind at the beginning of each new hour and maybe lasted 10 minutes, if that. The rest of the time I was saved by one thing. The room where we sat to meditate was all windows looking out towards the valley and mountains. Since I had to stay on my mat and be still like all those around me, I began paying attention to the details of the passing of the day. I watched the sun come up and cast a golden hue over everything. It seemed like the heat of the day went on for a full eternity before the shadows lengthened and gradually the night closed in. There was a beautiful tree in my view that I came to know intimately since we shared the same occupation of staying in one spot. To be a witness to the passing of a day was a spiritual experience and I never doubted that I was in the presence of the Holy.

I think humans in general, have a biological urge to be close to nature. Nature has a power to bring balance and harmony into our fragmented and chaotic modern lives. In our family vacationing means camping and now that my kids are older I can see how they have benefitted from their relationship with the great outdoors and will pass that along to their own children. Author Sarah Breathnach says, “Therapists who specialize in ‘ecopsychology’ believe that deepening our emotional ties to nature is as vital to our well-being as the close personal bonds we pursue with family and friends. We might not consciously understand it but we need to reinforce our strand in the web of life. When we honor this ‘holy hunger’ by getting in tune with nature we experience personal harmony.”

This summer my daughter and I spent our last morning in Hawaii playing in the ocean waves instead of going to church with the rest of our group. My daughter commented, “We are at church mom,” and I happily agreed. I look forward to our Full Church Camp at the end of August where all of us will have the opportunity to enjoy the beauties of nature and the beauties of love and friendship at the same time. It was a wonderful experience last year for everyone who was able to attend and I felt blessed to be part of it.

Janen Wright, Director of Faith Formation

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love the 4th of July.  For me it is a celebration that we live in a land where freedom is possible, if not yet rea
lized for many.  Listen to these bold, visionary words penned by our Founding Fathers, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

So where, you might ask, is this domestic tranquility, this more perfect union?  Where is this justice?  Indeed we, as a people, have not yet realized the grandeur of this dream, this dream of securing the blessings of liberty for all, and it will remain a dream until enough of us call upon our powers, the same powers that our Founding Fathers had, to fight for what is right.  More of us have to want equality and freedom for all and work towards that end.

Our founding father’s staked their lives, their property, and their sacred honor on something they could only imagine and they didn’t achieve all these lofty dreams in their lifetimes, but they did plant the seed.  From where they stood I don’t think they could imagine that one hundred years later at the end of an awful war, blacks would be freed from slavery and following that, women would rise up to fight and insist that man and women were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

From where we stand we can’t see the end results of all our efforts toward good either.  Despite all that’s wrong in our country we have to keep going forward, keep doing all in our power to make some a kind of heaven out of this imperfect world.  We have to band together to “stand on the side of love” as Unitarian Universalists.  Our faith is built on the desire for freedom and justice and doing better than we’ve done in the past, both as individuals and as a church community.

All that is corrupt and wrong in our society can be overwhelming, but we can’t give up.  The people that gave birth to our proud nation went up against one of the strongest governments in the world to declare their rights of freedom.  We too need to acknowledge when things are not right and be about making the world a better place- each in our own sphere, and in our own way.  If we can’t change the world overnight at least we can speak up and plant seeds of “rightness” that will bear fruit over time.

It is a great privilege to be a Unitarian Universalist and join with others in our endless quest of creating more love and acceptance and justice in this world.  This year when we sing, “My country, tis of thee, sweet land of liberty,”… let us remember our proud heritage and that now it is our turn to do what we can in order to further the quest of equality and freedom for all.

Janen Wright, Director of Faith Formation

Faith Formation Focus – Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat I love about being a Unitarian Universalist

Starting this fall our Sunday Religious Education program is going to focus on giving our children a strong Unitarian Universalist identity.  There is not much that I love more than this UU faith so I am looking forward to sharing these things, alongside my teachers, with our kids.  Let me share with you now some of the things that I love about being a UU.

I love that as a Unitarian Universalists we try to give people, “not hell but hope and courage,” as John Murray instructed long ago. There is too much hell on this earth and organized religion is responsible for a shamefully large part of it.  In the UU Handbook it says, “Too often in this world religion has been the agent of division and fear.  UUism seeks to heal a fractured world and the broken lines with in it. (How does it do that?)  By calling every one of us to the best that is in us.”  How exciting it is to be part of such a great cause –trying to better our selves in order to be a healing force in the world.

I love that UUism is a religion with a distinct history and culture and with very distinct beliefs that you won’t find in any other religion; such as the belief that the individual is the ultimate source of religious authority.  Again in the handbook it says, “We respect the answers offered by Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and the world’s other great traditions.  We even draw our inspiration and some of our forms of worship from those traditions—but we respect the mystery more.”

I love that we respect the mystery more because my own spiritual journey has given me incredible respect for the mysteries of life -starting with the miracle of existence itself.  I think the only thing that I’m sure of anymore is that we don’t have all the answers.  I used to think I needed the answers but now I honor the mystery.  It is Karen Armstrong who said, “A question is a fine traveling companion, it sharpens your eye for the road.” I have found that to be true.  I like to contemplate the mysteries and complexities of life.  To belong to a faith that does not require that everyone think and feel the same way about the purpose of life and beyond is a huge blessing.

Ever since I found my home in this faith I have loved the opportunity to share the depth dimension of life with other people who have similar values.  I have made so many close relationships in this church and I have been given so many opportunities to try new things and to grow.  These things add so much to the quality of my life.

 I love our faith.  It inspires me. It challenges me.  It brings me great joy and it has freed my soul.  I love the opportunity to work in this congregation as a Director of Religious Education.  For me it’s all about forging new relationships, trying to make a better world and sharing the journey as we learn and grow together.  What a gift it is we have to give our children!

Janen Wright – Director of Lifespan Faith Development

Faith Formation Focus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFaith Formation Focus May 2015

Calling all Superheros and Superheroines!!

It would be interesting to know how many of us, as children, pinned the corner of a towel around our neck and tried to run fast enough to make our “capes” fly out behind us. Or did you achieve the same end, with less effort, by jumping off the steps or a banister? If you are female, do you remember twirling around in circles in order to become Wonder Woman? I do. (Wonder Woman was, incidentally, one of the very first feminist figures–created in the 1940’s, during WWll, to empower women. She was the only female superhero for a long time.)

Superheroes and heroines have abilities that young children can only dream of. They are brave, strong, fast and always able to save the day and help people out –just in the nick of time. Although young people do not start out in life with these kinds of qualities, they do possess strong imaginations, which enable them to pretend that these powers are theirs–and thereby feel good about themselves. Research shows that children can increase their self-esteem through imaginary play and that playing out brave and strong roles, through the use of imagination, helps children feel more in control in the challenges of real life.

The definition of a Superhero, according to author Don M. Winn, “is one who uses his or her extraordinary powers for the betterment of the world. A superhero spreads hope in the world, has a strong moral code he or she lives their life by, believes in good over evil and doesn’t care what other people think of them as much as they care about doing their job and helping people.” That definition coincides with a lot of UU principles that we try to instill in the hearts of our children. As Unitarian Universalists, actually as human beings living on this planet, who among us has not wanted to thwart the forces of evil and be strong in the face of adversity? If only we as adults could keep these ideals alive with the same passion and energy that our kids do when they are being Superheroes.

This year at UUCB Summer Camp during the first week of June ( 3rd 4th and 5th from 9 to 3), we are going to give our kids a chance to decide what kind of Superhero/heroine they are–based on their own Superpowers (gifts, talents and interests) and their own Supervison (ideas and dreams.) We will meet some incredible and amazing UU Superheroes (like King John Sigismund and Clara Barton. And we will talk about real superpowers, such as courageous love and gratitude for all our sidekicks.

I already have a number of teens and Middle School counselors that have stepped forward to lead Super Stations that feature stories, crafts, physical fitness challenges, and big group games (kickball, relays, water parties.) Now all we need are the actual superheroes themselves– children ages 4 to 12. Registration forms are at the office counter and the deadline to register is May The cost is $75 per participant, ($25 for Middle School counselors), daily Super Snacks and capes included. Please let your children join us if you can!!

Janen Wright —Director of Lifespan Faith Formation

Faith Formation Focus


Looking forward to holidays is in my blood. Years of being a stay- at- home mom helped me appreciate the happy focus that an up- coming holiday could provide our family as they came to define the seasons of the year.  I have heard some UUs admit that Easter is a hard event to celebrate with any kind of integrity– given their theology.  This makes total sense but spring, with its miraculous renewal of life, calls for a celebration in my book, more than any other time of year.

Learning the origins of Easter helped me to reclaim this holiday for myself and my family.  My parents always thought the Easter Bunny and egg hunts detracted from the “true meaning” of the holiday but I  have found the opposite to be true.  Easter gets its name from the Goddess of Spring and Dawn (O-star-a). Ostara is sometimes depicted with the head of a hare or as a goddess surrounded by rabbits and birds.  The story goes that children presented eggs to the Goddess as a gift to thank her for bringing spring.  Ostara was so touched she recruited her minions (the rabbits) to return the eggs to the children only now they were brightly colored by her magic.

The Celts dyed eggs red to symbolize the menstrual cycle that gives life. While they were dying the eggs women and children would think about their hopes for the coming year.  They would then bury the red egg alongside a plant to help it grow.  They believed that if the plant grew strong and healthy their hopes and dreams would also take root and come to fruition by the end of the year.

When Christians entered the picture they did not approve of this pagan practice so they encouraged
kids to seek out and dig up these eggs from out of the ground.  When they brought them back to the
church the kids would get a small token for each egg.  This is how the Easter Hunt was born.

Easter is around the Equinox when there is 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night.  The mark on the hot cross buns didn’t start out being a cross.  Rather the two intersecting lines most likely meant the four seasons of the year, the four phases of the moon or the equality between night and day.

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright


I have heard it said that it is the ability to imagine that sets humans apart from other species. It is Henry Thoreau who admonishes us to, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you imagine.” If you feel like your imagination has not had the space to be very active lately there is good news on the horizon.

On the evening of March 18,th author and artist Ruth Gendler is flying in from Berkeley California to offer a workshop that celebrates the immensity, wisdom and beauty of the imagination through looking at an extraordinary collection of children’s art and writing. Her presentation is called, Befriending the Imagination, and is geared towards parents and educators. (See related article for details.)  Then on Saturday the 21st of March, Ruth Gendler is offering a full day Spiritual and Creative Retreat Workshop from 8:30 to 4:00.  (See related article.)  We are looking for three or more people from our congregation to help with putting this on so if this topic appeals to you please contact me (  and I will give your name to Sheila Brown (of BVUUF) who is gathering volunteers.  (The registration forms will be on our website and at the office counter in March.)


Lately sister churches UUCB and BVUUF have started to imagine the benefit of being more united in our efforts to sponsor worthwhile programs for our two congregations and the larger community.  Both these events are a wonderful opportunity to work together and make new UU friends.  There is strength in numbers and those who discover Unitarian Universalism have two congregations, each with our own unique strengths, to choose from in our immediate vicinity.   We are fortunate that this is the case and seek to strengthen our bonds to benefit both of our church families and those who would be one with us.


Sometimes the thought of being imaginative and creative intimidates us.  (At least it does me.)  Let me share with you some words that I love from Jan Philips from her book, Marry Your Muse.“To create is to make something whole from the pieces of our lives and in the process, to become more whole ourselves, seeing with more clarity each of those pieces, understanding where they fit, how they matter.  It is a healing act, a leave taking from the chaos as one moves from the choppy surface toward the stillness of the center…….. Do not doubt that you were born to create.  Do not believe for a moment that the realm of art belongs only to others.  This is blasphemous—it denies the potential to create, which is your birthright.  Find what brings you joy and go there.”



It sounds to me that Ruth Gendler has the experience and heart to help us “go there.” In her book, Notes on the Need for Beauty, Ruth says, “ Beauty builds and makes connections between the senses and the soul, between contemplation and expression, between ourselves and the world.”   I am looking forward to both these events and hope that you are able to make room for them on your calendar as well.


Janen Wright –Faith Development Director

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlessed Are the Children

I am looking forward to our Full Church service this month on Feb. 8th.  It is titled, “Blessed Are the Children.”  Whether or not you have children of your own, I dare say that the majority, if not all of our lives, have been touched and blessed by a child or two that we chose to love.  Another thing that we all have in common is that everyone is now or has once been a child.  Childhood is such a unique season in life and so important in shaping the people we become.  We can learn so much from children because they come naturally knowing so many important life lessons that we tend to forget, as we get older.  Indeed, it sometimes feels like we spend all our adult years trying to get back what we had and were as children.

Some of the lessons that children have to offer, (aside from the practice of patience) are how to live spontaneously, how to be in the moment, how to ask questions and have an open mind, how to imagine and dream big, how to express feelings openly, how to value happiness and play and freely give love and trust. These things tend to come so naturally to kids and if you spend any length of time with them you benefit from the exposure.

Children are not just small adults. We know more now about their developmental stages than we did in the past.   How we treat kids personally and as a society is a good measuring stick of our own health and the health of our culture.  As a society we have not always done so well by our kids.  There were laws in place to protect animals before there were laws to protect children.  However, looking at the big picture, we can be grateful that the Universalists were one of the first churches to insist on the innocence of children in an age that believed that if babies died before baptism they would go straight to hell.

I had a happy childhood and some of my favorite memories of being young lie in the realm of imagination.  As a child I had a severe speech impediment so I didn’t talk to anybody any more than I had to at school.  At recess I always went to a certain corner blocked by the wind and imagined that I was the Queen of Venus. On Venus I had two children, Lena and John, and I was married to Donny Osmond –of all people. (My Uncle was one of his producers so I figured that made him sort of mine.)  It was very exciting being the Queen of Venus because I was a  good queen and that world was very real to me.   I know this because once I lost the ring that I twisted on my finger in order to transport myself to Venus and I remember, acutely, how worried I was about the war and all that was going on in my absence.  (Happy was the day that I found my ring and saved the planet.)

As an adult if I lived in such a fantasy land I would not be a healthy person but I believe that these childhood imaginings empowered me and gave me a positive sense of self in a world where I actually didn’t really fit and had little control. Many children imagine themselves to be Super Heroes and that serves the same purpose.  Blessed are the children! Let’s celebrate the light that children and youth bring into all of our lives and look for ways to allow young people to be a bigger part of our lives if they aren’t already.   I feel very blessed to get to work with the children of UUCB and I know I speak for the teachers as well in thanking the parents of our congregation for sharing them with us.

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADoesn’t 2015 have a certain ring to it? Those numbers in that order represent a new beginning, a clean slate, the birth of a year that has not yet been lived.  I can’t help but think of all the adventures and possibilities that are in store for us this year– both for our church family and for each of us as individuals.  There are big things to experience this year as we continue to pursue the lofty visions that we cherish as Unitarian Universalists.  We might have a new minister before the year is out. Consider all the new people who will walk through our church doors and could become part of our lives.  And there are small pleasures to anticipate as well –like new books to read, new movies to watch, new recipes to try and new places to see…  

A new year always makes me want to be better.  Setting goals gives me a thrilling sense of moving forward. However, one year I realized that the same goals made it on my list every single year. I couldn’t tell one year from the next.  I’ve heard it said that,  “this years’ resolutions are last years’ confessions,” so I don’t think I’m unique in this regard.  I know from experience that at any gym in any city you find a surge of enthusiastic exercisers in January that show up for about three weeks before the class size returns to normal.  We all want to do and be better –but then life crowds in.  I’m not against goal setting, there is a place for it, but I have found a New Year practice that really resonates with me and has the advantage of actually making a difference.  I encourage you to give it a try.

One way to honor the potential of a new year and to honor where you are at the present time in your life is to assign the year a focus.  Deciding what the year is going to be about for you can become a gentle guide in a lot of the choices you make.  Plus, it gives the year a flavor all it’s own.  Think of what you want experience more of in your life and name it in simple terms. You can do this as a family and vote on a joint focus (good luck), or as partners, or on your own.  For example, the year before I moved to Colorado I decided my focus would be “give back” because I felt I had received a lot of support and encouragement from those around me.  That year I trained to be on call as an advocate for domestic violence victims, I volunteered to be a room mother and I even enlisted the help of my kids to provided meals for the homeless shelter now and again.  I also tried my hardest to substitute for other aerobic teachers when they were ill because subs were hard to come by at our gym.  I might have accepted these challenges if “give back” hadn’t been my focus— but I doubt it.  After all, you catch more fish if you actually have a line in the water than if you’re standing on the bank just watching them jump.

What focus would excite you this year?  Obviously if you’re feeling burned out “give back” is not going to have much appeal. Maybe you want to practice being more present in the moment or savoring small pleasures and achievements.  Maybe you would like to be a more playful or a more joyful person.  Maybe you are ready to dare to dream on a bigger scale than you usually do or commit the time it requires to discover a new talent or help someone who is trying to do what you have already accomplished? Maybe you want to be more demonstrative with your affection or more verbal of your appreciation, even to those you don’t know. (One year I wrote to a number of my favorite authors to thank them for the influence they had on my life! That was fun.)  My teen-age daughter told me tonight that her focus this year is going to be ‘act as if you count.’  I am impressed.

The sky is truly the limit when it comes to finding a focus that is worthy of a new year.  (That’s why I am still mulling it over.)  Take some thought.  Decide what focus speaks to your heart.  Your taking a stand will start things in motion and allow you to feel less fragmented, more centered.  And, at the end of the year you can have the pleasure of looking back to see how your focus shaped your experience and added, in a positive way, to your life and the lives of those around you.

Happy New Year!  I am so glad we get to continue on this journey together.

Janen Wright       Lifespan Faith Development Director

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGood Tidings of Comfort and Joy

The first Christmas that I admitted to myself that I was no longer Christian started out being a difficult one for me.  I could no longer be the recipient of  ‘Good Tidings of Comfort or Joy.’  The lie that my fancy nativity set represented made me feel like a hypocrite so I packed it all up and put it back in the garage–feeling pretty sorry for myself.  I felt deep sadness too, that my children would grow up without feeling the magic of the miracle of Christ as their Savior.  I had flashbacks to the Christmas of my childhood –the one when I found out the truth about Santa.  Christmas had fallen very flat for me that year.  Both unwelcome revelations of no Santa and no Savior made me feel like I stood on shaky ground.  What was the next strong belief that I now cherished but was soon going to turn to dust?

Then I read something that hit me like a ton of bricks and forever gave me back an authentic reason to celebrate Christmas. (I have tried to relocate these words in order to quote them here and give credit to the author but I can’t find them.  Maybe Karl Sagan?)  Anyway, the gist of the message was that if you truly stopped to consider the miracle of existence itself, the miracle of the virgin birth seemed negligible in comparison. (I believe the author called it “chump change” in fact.)

Unitarian Universalists express this same idea with the words, “Every night a child is born is a holy night” but I was years away from discovering you folks.  Anyway, at the time I was very glad to realize that I could still feel awe and reverence and the glow of something much bigger than myself if I based Christmas on the miracle of existence itself and tried to appreciate how incredible it is that any of us ever came to walk this earth in the first place.  Happily I decided it was okay to let my nativity set represent the miracle of all our existence and it was restored to its honorary place in our living room.

My Unitarian Universalist ‘Tidings of Comfort and Joy’ that I share with many of you are that the divine resides in each one of us instead of in just one carpenter’s son. Our tidings are the blessing of belonging to a religion where spirituality and science can meet and get along.  Our tidings are that we can search for and assign meaning to all the days of our lives and that our theology can grow and change like any other healthy thing because it isn’t handed to us already carved in ancient stone!

For those of you who have children, or are a child at heart, I look forward to our Family Christmas Service this year which we will hold in the Sky room.  I anticipate sharing with you one of my other favorite Christmas stories that I didn’t get to tell last year. I take special satisfaction in happy holiday UU services because we have such wonderful tidings of Love and Acceptance to offer the world!  Have a very, very Merry Christmas.

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright


Just imagine the intense aroma of a turkey roasting in the oven overnight until it is so tender that the meat drops from the bone, apple and cherry pies cooling on the rack, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes and gravy, savory stuffing and a table set with sparkling crystal and gleaming china.  A feast shared with close friends and family is indeed one of the blessings of life and a great cause to rejoice.  We have so much to be thankful for in this season of plenty.   It is good.  It is very good.

I love to feed people.  I know I get this from my dad.  He was a cook in the army and makes the best soups that I have ever tasted (in vast quantities.)  Even if you’ve just come from a meal he won’t let anybody leave his home until they have eaten something. (I was once visiting him when a couple of Jehovah Witnesses stopped by to proselytize and they preached their message as they ate a bowl of soup.)

My dad always liked to make elaborate late night snacks as well and, as a child, I was always his partner in crime.  Unlike my sisters, I didn’t care if I put on a few pounds because it was our time to be together.  From as early as I can remember I have always associated good food with well-being.  This quote from M. F. K. Fisher expresses exactly how I feel, “It seems to me that our three basic needs for food and security and love are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.”

One of my family’s favorite on-going charities to support is Doctors without Borders and I know some of the money they receive goes for food because food is medicine if one is starving.   In one of their recent articles they had this quote from Mahatma Gandhi that struck me pretty hard. “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.“ How wonderful it would be if we could rid the world of hunger, and supply everyone their three basic needs of security, love and food.

However, since we won’t achieve a perfect world any time soon I suggest the following challenge, if your health permits.  I decided that sometime during the month of November before Thanksgiving Day I am going to give myself and my kids the opportunity to see what it is like to fast for a whole day and to feel what it is to go hungry.  We will end our fast by writing a check to a good End Hunger organization.  The act of fasting means different things to many people but I see it as a character and compassion strengthening exercise.  As a child, after I turned 8 years old, I was required to fast once a month–24 hours without food or drink from lunch to lunch. I must admit I was not sad to leave that tradition behind when I left that church but I do have vivid memories of feeling very grateful for food of any sort after our family fasts.  It isn’t easy to fast for 24 hours but I don’t think there is a quicker way to remind ourselves (and teach our kids) how good we have it here in this country on a real foundational level.   Bless us all and happy Thanksgiving!

Janen Wright, Director of Faith Development

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMark your Calendars for a Full Church activity on Wednesday, October 29th (starting at 6:30) and bring your pumpkins with you to carve.  After we have a bunch of jack-o-lanterns we will light them up and watch them glow in the dark.  It would be great if people, young and old, showed up in costume!  How long has it been since you’ve visited the attic to try on great grandma’s wedding dress or donned that rock star wig?  Here is your chance to be a kid again.  Let’s say adults MUST come in costume.  You are also welcome to bring pumpkin bread or a pumpkin dessert (or any fall snack) for our munch table.  (UUCB will provide the hot drinks.)  We will  have fun singing Halloween carols and have a Carnival game or two to reminded us of the good ol’days.  Feel free to invite your friends and join R.E. and Family Matters for a night of community.

Halloween.  Although I love any excuse to celebrate, this holiday has always struck me as a strange one; dressing our children up to go door to door begging the neighbors for candy– especially when children are dressed up as wicked or even gruesome spooks.  This column gave me the opportunity to look farther into the history of Halloween so let me share with you my findings.

The United States adopted this holiday in the early 1900s. The holiday comes down to us from the pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhaim, (pronounced  “sah-win”) held October 31st, the last autumn night before the cold and bleakness of winter.  Halloween is considered the Celtic New Year.  It was believed that on this night the supernatural world drew closer to the physical world allowing humans to be more susceptible to the power and influence of the unseen.  On All Hallows’ Eve magic spells could be cast more easily, divination would be more revealing, and dreams that you have more significant.

Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or to appease them on this night when the dead could arise and maybe wreak havoc.  People left candy on the doorstep to pacify any spooks that might otherwise come inside for refreshment.  When we say “trick or treat” the trick part is a threat to the homeowner or his property if no treat is given.  Who knew?  The festival frequently involved bonfires which was believed to attract insects which in turn attracted the bats, a popular Halloween icon.

I like that Halloween is one of the few non-Christian holidays that we celebrate since Unitarian Universalists respect many different cultures and traditions.  I like that it gives us an excuse to cross onto our neighbors’ porches and at least say “hello”.  When I had young kids some of the older folks in the neighborhood looked forward to their visit and went out of their way to give them special treats.  It gave my kids a bond with those neighbors.  When I was a child there was an old lady on the corner that dressed as a witch and served root beer on dried ice from a black colander.  She was our favorite and I was sure that she was the real thing, albeit a good witch since she was giving out soda instead of worms and frog eyes.  That is a good memory.

If there is a spiritual message to be taken from this holiday maybe it is that we should make room for mystery and awaken to magic more often.  Mystery  and magic is, after all, all around us.  Starhawk (American writer and feminist) explained, “To work magic is to weave the unseen forces into form; to sour beyond sight; to explore the uncharted dream realm of the hidden reality.”  Our powers are always much greater than we realize.  Let’s join together this holiday season to build beloved church community and enjoy the power of fun and unity.

Janen Wright, Lifespan Faith Development Director


Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is harvest time, a time of profuse abundance. My garden is all but bursting with produce and from where I sit I can count 20 peaches on one single branch of my peach tree, small though it is.  The extreme generosity of nature in this season of plenty can remind us all about the need to keep an abundance mentality.  Such rampant produce seems to attest, “there is enough and more to share.”

So how do we cultivate an abundance mentality? The Greek philosopher Epicurus said, “it is not what we have but what we enjoy that constitutes our abundance.”  And a favorite author of mine, Sarah Ban Breathnach says, “Whatever we are waiting for, peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance—it will surely come to us but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.” It is practicing gratitude that allows us to tune in to the abundance in our lives.

I can’t help but wonder how our lives would be different if we spent as much time expressing our gratitude for all our blessings as we do talking about and dwelling on our problems and concerns.  How would our lives be different if we resolved to have so much gratitude that we could regularly give from the abundance of overflow, like nature tends to, instead of scraping the bottom of our bucket and offering up the dregs (like we sometimes tend to)?

Someone once taught me that one way to increase gratitude and acknowledge how much you have is to share it.  Do you feel like there is not enough love in your life?  Give some away.  Do you feel like you are not making enough money?  Give some away.  Not enough validation, appreciation, recognition?  Give it away.  It is hard for something to feel scarce when we are giving it away.   It changes the relationship we have with that thing.  Deepak Chopra (an Indian-American author) expressed this same idea in more eloquent words, “the Universe operates through dynamic exchange…giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the Universe and in our willingness to give that which we seek, we keep the abundance of the Universe circulating in our lives.”

As we go about harvesting the bounty of nature this fall, lets remember to strive ourselves to give from abundance so we can be well-springs of joy, healing and love in the world.   

Janen Wright – Director of Lifespan Faith Development




Faith Formation Focus—The Blessings of Nature

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am so looking forward to both our All-Church camp in August and our Climate Change focus this coming year because, like so many of you, Nature is one of my true loves.  In the kid’s and teen’s Religious Education program our activity days have been changed to “Green Days” starting this fall.  The Climate Change Committee has a division that is heading up some wonderful classes for the kids to help us all appreciate the planet that we live on and understand what a privilege it is to take care of it.   I am looking forward to what this focus will add to our Sunday experience.

There are so many profound lessons we can take from the relationship we have with the earth.  I love these words by John Sous:

To be of the earth is to know

The restlessness of being a seed,

The darkness of being planted,

The struggle toward the light,

The pain of growth into the light,

The joy of bursting and bearing fruit,

The love of being food for someone,

The scattering of your seeds,

The decay of the seasons,

The mystery of death,

And the miracle of birth.

I have found that a reverence for the natural world is very common among people who share the blessings of being part of our liberal faith.  The majesty of mountains, the restless immensity of the ocean, the beauty of wild plants and trees all inspire a much bigger perspective than our day to day existence usually affords.  There is a spirituality (which is the depth dimension of life) and a peace in surrounding oneself with nature that can’t be found anywhere else; a peace that the animal in each of us craves sometimes.

I had the opportunity of exploring our church campsite at Highland Park with Heidi, Jason and Mary a couple of weeks ago.   What a beautiful place it is and what a wonderful time those who attend are going to have!  Make time for it!  We will have delicious catered meals and super cool workshops are lined up– like drumming, sketching, life-skills and meditation.  We will have our Sunday worship in a grove with a lovely view–and when we aren’t in session the outdoors offers great fun and beautiful places to let your spirit be free.  We will make great memories as a church family and come away with the inspiration and rejuvenation that only spending time together in nature can afford.

Janen Wright –Lifespan Faith Development Director       

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATradition!!   Tradition!!

As the 4th of July rolls around (my next favorite holiday to Christmas) I can’t help but think about the importance of having traditions.  I look forward to fireworks all year round—not to mention the barbecues and water fights and the strawberry, blueberry, banana “flag” cake we have every year at my house.  Actually I started really thinking about the importance of traditions after our Teacher Feedback and Visioning meeting in May because the need for more out-side-of-church, yearly traditions was voiced there.  UUCB has some wonderful worship traditions in place already, like the Christmas Eve Services, Flower Communion and the Homecoming service and barbecue but I think we could easily add to these.  I was just going to say that kids, in particular, are comforted by traditions, but actually, I think we all are.  Positive things we can count on happening year after year give meaning and structure to our lives and stand out in the memory when looking back.

Here are some ideas I have gleaned so far.  We had so much fun at our Out- of -School Barbeque and Old Fashioned Game night a month ago we decided to make that a new tradition and advertise it earlier (and louder) to the whole church community.  The parents and kids did awesome but wouldn’t it be fun to get some additional muscle on that tug- o- war rope, maybe pit our Wise Elders against our young adults?

How about a Summer Movie Night?  That one is still coming up on July 12th at 7:00- so you haven’t missed it.  (Go ahead and mark your calendar.) One of my teachers had the great suggestion to take it up a notch by making it a Sing-a-Long Movie—Maybe one of Disney’s, with captions in case we have forgotten the words.  (This is an official call to all choir members.  We are going to need your voices.)  This year we will show the movie in the Earth Room where we can link into the big sound system because we don’t have portable outdoor speakers.  (Unless someone out there has such a thing that you could loan to us.)

In October the RE will host a Pumpkin Fest.  We can all bring and carve pumpkins together then turn off all the lights and set them glow —and eat donuts and hot cider (or pumpkin goodies.)  We could even come in costume if we feel so inclined.  (I maintain that it’s good for the spirit to be someone else once a year.)  If we put our heads, (and church organizations) together we could install in our church some great annual events that would bring people of all ages out for a good time.  Maybe a cultural night with foreign food and a show-and-tell session for interesting artifacts.  Maybe a music or talent night because we do have so much talent among us.  Maybe something else we haven’t thought up yet.

As UUs, so often self-appointed to save the world, sometimes we overlook the fact that play is also important.  To have good social times that build relationship is not just the icing on the cake but often the cake itself– and one of the best.  The simple fact is that the stronger we bond as a faith community the more we have to offer those who would be one with us.

If any organization in our church wants to try out a new tradition this year count me in to be an enthusiastic helper.   It fits nicely with my job description to, “develop and sustain a robust and vital Family Ministry” (not to mention the fact that I love a good party.)   Like one of my prospective teachers said, “Religious education isn’t just about giving our kids knowledge, it’s more about giving them an identity; its about the experience they take with them of what it means to belong to a Unitarian Universalist church.”  So talk to your people in your groups and committees.  See what folks in our congregation would like to see happen and lets try out a thing or two which could become a yearly UUCB tradition!!

Janen Wright, Lifespan Faith Development Director     


Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJune 2014–Rediscovering the Bible

I am very excited that, starting in the fall, the kids will be studying timeless themes in the Bible.  I will be the first to admit that, though I read all the bible stories numerous times as a youth, my bible has been gathering dust on the shelf for many years now.  There was a day that I thought I would never willingly open my bible again since Christianity and all it entails seemed a closed chapter in my life.

A couple months ago while I was looking into different curriculum options for our kids I noticed that some great lesson plans were based on bible stories– told with a UU slant.  Because I know our kids love a good story I looked down the title index and was surprised to feel like some of those names stirred my heart like hearing the names of long lost friends.  David (he was always my favorite), Solomon, Samson, Daniel, Bathsheba, Ruth, Martha, Mary, Jesus.  

 I recently came across an article by UUA past president, Rev. John Buehrens.  The title caught my attention.  “Why Bother with the Bible—Interpret or others will do it for you. “  He says, “the influence of the bible remains pervasive in our culture, its language and stories resonate throughout our literature and public rhetoric…. Many of our contentious political debates in our public life- over issues of sexuality, economics, even foreign policy –disguise sharply divergent interpretations of the Bible…. We religious liberals too often simply cede our power to opponents when we leave interpretation of our religious heritage or the meaning of our nation, or authentic “family values” to the reactionaries, the chauvinists, and the bigots.” Strong words and true.

Buehrens also reminded me that UUs are the spiritual beneficiaries of radical reformers who insisted that scriptures should be available to everyone so that all might claim their powers of interpretation and understanding.” On the other hand, UUs also have a heritage of humanists who insist, “the bible is human literature about the divine not divine literature about humans.” So our heritage, when it comes to the Bible, is vast and multi-faceted.

I like how forthright Tom Goldsmith of Salt Lake City is.  He says, ”the Bible is like Santa Clause and sex.  Children hear about it on the playground or on the street, whether or not their parents discuss it with them.”  So let’s discuss it.  Let’s teach our children the rich variety of morals and human issues and experience that is to be found in the bible.  The Bible is foundational to the culture we all live in here in the United States.  We don’t have to interpret these stories in the same way our friends from other faiths might do but I believe the Bible can be a valid guide, along with other sacred text, to living a good life as a Unitarian Universalist and we have a great year awaiting us.  


Janen Wright, Lifespan Faith Development Director

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am happy to announce that on the first day of June we will build beloved community and connection by having a Full Church Service to honor the life transitions of members and friends in our congregation.   It was William James who said, “The community exists to support its members while they fulfill their purpose.  The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual.  The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.” 

On June first we will zoom our communal lens in to focus on individual milestones and for this I need your assistance.  Any positive life transition will be celebrated (and awarded) so let me know not only educational advancements but also new life experiences that you might have had over the past year.  I need names and details, good people, so I can put this program together.  Please let me know if, since last summer, you have:

  • gotten a new job, (what are you now doing?)
  • moved to a new house, (where?)
  • retired, (what are you now looking forward to?)
  • found a life partner (details)
  • recovered from a serious illness?
  • won the lottery
  • became a new grandparent, (who’s the lucky baby?)
  • became a parent to a new child, (when, who?)
  • became a member of  the great church of Unitarian Universalism
  • taken on a major challenge that made you reach beyond your normal capabilities
  • graduated  with an advanced degree (what is it?)
  • graduated from college, high school, middle school or elementary school,
  • learned to read
  • or have any other positive life transition or accomplishment that you would like to share to give us all an excuse to know each other better and celebrate life’s journey.

On June 1st we will also have a Teacher Appreciation ceremony, a Coming of Age ceremony for Allie Burgess and Sophie Hughes, and we will get to view the digital stories that our teens have put together.  Mark the date on your calendar and come build community with us.

Please e-mail me with names and details at or call my cell:  303-775-2462 and leave me a message.

Thank you, 

Janen Wright, Director of Faith Formation

Faith Formation Focus– March 2014 The Courage to Teach—and Summertime Opportunity

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe book by Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach, powerfully reminds us that “the teacher is the curriculum.  It is the teacher at the heart of our programs.”  He says, “I’ve never seen a curriculum so good that a teacher couldn’t ruin it.  I’ve never seen a curriculum so bad that a teacher couldn’t redeem it.”  This book is built on the simple premise that good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.  Although the premise is simple the implications are not.   Parker  says, “in every class I teach my ability to connect with my students, and to connect them with the subject depends less on the methods I use than on the degree to which I know and trust my selfhood—and am willing to make it available and vulnerable in the service of learning.”  (That is where the courage part comes in.) 

Take a moment to reflect on the great teachers in your life.  Although their differences may be vast I think great teachers all share the trait of being genuine.  Their strength comes from their passion for their subject and, hopefully also, for the students that they teach. (One of my favorite teachers liked to say, “I don’t teach English, I teach students English.”  This is important to remember.)  I have observed in my years of teaching that even small children have a sixth sense of whether or not you are “real” when you teach and they respond accordingly.  Good teaching requires heart connection.

As Unitarian Universalist we have many opportunities to practice courage through teaching.   It is a challenge but also a blessing.  I am grateful for the women, thus far, who have come forward willing to give of themselves in the capacity of being a teacher for our kids and youth and I would like to see more men in our congregation, show this kind of courage to teach.  Strong male role models are just as important for our youth as the strong female role models we now have.   The Adult Religious Education Program, will soon be getting back underway, and will provide even more opportunities for teaching.

A strong and sustainable religious education program is crucial for the health of our congregation and our church.  It is important that we sustain the quality of our education program even through the  summer (which is when people who belong with us will be “shopping” for a religious home.)  This summer I want to give my teachers a well-deserved break and I envision the 10 or so summer Sundays  as affording a  wonderful opportunity for those of you who don’t usually get much time with our kids and youth to come into our classroom and share with us something that you are passionate about or something you can teach us to do from your skill set.  It could be any craft, a lesson on astronomy, a nature walk to teach us names of plants, the sharing of a hobby and how you got into it, or anything else you’d like to offer.   For the many of you who work in numerous other committees  and who don’t usually get a chance to interact with our youth this is a wonderful opportunity to offer our young folks whatever it is you have to offer without having to make a long term commitment. I will be there as an assistant and  I think even as our kids will be blessed from getting to know you, you will be inspired and delighted by the quality of our children and youth in the RE program. (It isn’t too early to save your spot on the calendar or run any idea by me that you might have.)  I am standing between the phone and my computer to fill spots!

Come next fall the model we are using now where teachers teach once or twice a month is hopefully one that works well for the spiritual needs of both our teachers and our kids.   We will replace our teachers with others who are willing to step up to the plate when our teachers deem it necessary but we shouldn’t require a complete “changing of the guards” and the break down that that entails if we meet  needs individually as they arise.  Sustainable strength and quality is the over- arching goal for our religious education program.

Let me leave you with this image, again from The Courage to Teach,  “Mentors and apprentices are partners in an ancient dance- the old empower the young with their experience and the young empower the old with new life, reweaving the fabric of the human community as they touch and turn.”

Janen Wright,   Lifespan Faith Development Director

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomeone once said, “Love, like death, changes everything.”  I have long been a student of love. I have a magnet on my fridge that says, “to love well is to live well,” and I believe it is as simple as that (though far from easy.)  I am comforted by the thought that to learn how to love well is a discipline that can be mastered like any other skill.   I think one of the barriers to loving well is that much about love is not understood– such as the fact that love is not just a feeling but rather a commitment.   In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck says, ”We do not have to love. We choose to love.  Love is as love does… True love is an act of will.  The desire to love is not love itself….. Love is not a feeling. A genuinely loving individual will often take loving and constructive action toward a person he consciously dislikes.  The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love.”

Ethan Fromm, in his book The Art of Loving says, ”Love is an activity, a power of the soul, an attitude, an orientation of character.  Most people believe that love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty.  They believe that all that is necessary for them to love is to find the right object – and everything goes by itself afterwards.  This attitude can be compared to that of a man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims that he has just to wait for the right object, and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it.”

We all know people that seem to love everyone around them with the same ease as they draw breath.  Like anyone who has mastered an art, they make it look so easy.  What an inspiration they are to everybody lucky enough to know them!  There is a real power there that you can feel just by being in the same room with them.

One more thought.  On a quest to be a more loving person we cannot overlook the importance of self- love.  Again Peck writes, “Since I am human and you are human to love humans means to love myself as well as you.  We are incapable of loving another unless we are capable of loving ourselves just as we are incapable of teaching our children self-discipline unless we ourselves are self-disciplined.”

On February 9th our Multi-generational service is dedicated to the importance of loving ourselves.  As Unitarian Universalists our first principle is respect for the inherent worth of souls.  We are getting ahead of ourselves if we think we can extend the kindness of acceptance to others if we cannot give the same to ourselves.  We need to love ourselves with the same commitment that we love any other person in our lives.  And what a privilege it is to love ourselves and others!  If I had to choose between being well-loved or loving well I would choose the latter because of the purpose and joy it brings to my life.  I’ll close with the famous words of Kahil Gibran, “Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.”  May love direct each of our courses now and always.

Janen Wright, Director of Lifespan Faith Development

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘Tis the Season…… To Take Back the Holiday

December’s real gifts, custom and celebration, come to us in cherished memories.  December is the month of miracles.  A time to reflect on the miracle of birth, the miracle of Light coming back after the longest, darkest night of the year, the miracle of our own existence and close relationships.  Charles Dickens was one Unitarian who brought back Christmas when it was going out of style in his writing of,  A Christmas Carol. In it he says why he thought the season was to be valued in these words, “Christmas is a good time, a kind forgiving, charitable, pleasant time, the only time I know of in the long calendar year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut up hearts and to think of other people below them as if they were really fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on their journeys.”

Christmas would not be Christmas without the giving of gifts and I happen to know the best gift out there that you can give your loved ones and yourself this Christmas season.  Ready to hear this?  It is the gift of yourself –fully present in the moment for those you love.  But, you say, December is, hands down, the busiest time of the year!  So allow the miraculous to happen—although, as with all miracles, it is going to take some higher thinking.  To be able to give and receive this gift entails making a conscious effort to cut back and simplify.

I come from a religious culture whose women, especially, were obsessed with creating a Norman Rockwell Christmas, even if it meant wrapping gifts until three o’clock in the morning on Christmas Eve and spending most of December with a splitting head ache (while being witchy to everybody around them.)  They were Santa, they decorated every inch of their homes inside and out, they drained their bank accounts while fighting the crowds to find the “perfect gift” for every friend and relative, they hosted and attended myriads of Christmas parties, pageants and recitals, made elaborate homemade goodie plates for all the neighbors and sent out Christmas cards to everyone they had ever known in this lifetime,—  and all this on top of work,  doctor’s appointments, and other obligations that regular life demands.  These women utterly threw themselves on the altar of sacrifice, taking our materialistic culture to a whole new plane so that their families might enjoy a “perfect Christmas”– that somehow always fell short of expectation. (I know because I talked to many of them after the fall out of battle.)

This is not the kind of giving of self that I am advocating here.  With such examples in my life I came to dread the approaching season when I became a mother and so did my husband.  Then the miracle happened.  We decided if we were going to do Christmas we were going to do Christmas our own way.  Together we took a conscious step back from this crazy three-ring circus and talked about what kind of holiday season we would actually look forward to and want our kids to remember in years to come.  That was an easy question for me to answer.   The kind of Christmas season I wanted then, and still want now, is one that replenishes the soul.  A season that focuses on the important things– like family, love, and generosity of spirit.  So together my husband and I mapped out a plan. (Yours might look a lot different according to what you want to keep and discard but here was our strategy.)

First, we decided we would choose only one or two favorite parties to host or attend during the month so we could spend more time at home with each other and the kids.  Second, we determined to be done with any obligatory Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving. If I found myself in a store with Christmas shopping crowds it would be because I wanted to be there alongside my children in order to help them buy a gift for someone or purchase something for somebody from the angel tree.  We dropped out of all gift exchange circles with our extended families because they stressed us out and choose to buy only for our own kids and parents this time of year.

When the kids were young we had them write their request letters to old St. Nick in November. Then, before Thanksgiving, my husband and I took one day (and one day only) to go Christmas shopping.   We kept lists to keep things as fair as possible, found what we found, didn’t find what we didn’t find, and treated ourselves to a nice lunch in the middle of the day.  After that one shopping day the spending money side of Christmas was over and the kids knew it.  I wrapped the toys when the kids were in bed that evening, put them in a garbage bag, hid it in the garage and that was that.  Half the time we couldn’t even remember what was in those wrapped presents by the time we set them out on Christmas Eve- it certainly wasn’t the focus– but I honestly don’t remember anybody being disappointed.

By sticking to our resolve, as soon as we cleaned up the Thanksgiving dishes, we were free to enjoy the true gifts of the Christmas season.  There was time to bundle up and take chilly walks or drives to admire the neighbor’s Christmas lights. There was time to decorate lavishly (which I love) and have friends over to the house for dinner, (which I also love.)  There was time to warm up by the fire in the evenings and try different hot drinks of our creation.  There was time to read Christmas stories by our lit up tree, to bring out the puzzles and board games, to do some holiday baking for neighbors or just get in our pajamas and watch a movie together.  We came to call the time starting after dinner “tree time” and it is this that we all miss most when Christmas is over because it truly has a magic all its own.

Helen Keller said, “More important than getting what we want, is enjoying what we have.”  It’s more fun as well.  I encourage everybody to write a hefty “Not To Do List” this year, make sure you aren’t trying to “buy” Christmas, and take back the miracle of the season for the sake or your family, your friends and your own spirit.  Here is to a very merry Christmas indeed.

Janen Wright– Lifespan Faith Development Director

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright


One of the things I find myself most grateful for this Thanksgiving season is having the opportunity to make new friends and new connections.  I am grateful to be automatically part of a Unitarian Universalist family in this move so I don’t have to start over at square one. Humans are social animals.  It doesn’t take long in a new place before one yearns to fit into a larger social structure.

I think here in the West it is easy for us to lose sight of our connection with others as we go about our materialistic, independent, often fragmented lives.  People don’t interact face-to-face much anymore.  We text or email, zip around in cars and pull into garages without ever having the opportunity to say hi to our neighbors.   It has been noted that most families don’t really know their next door neighbors anymore but are more apt to make friends with people who share their interests- like other parents on their childrens’ soccer team.  I wonder, do we have to choose between the two or would our lives be richer if we made it a point to meet and know about the lives of the people who physically live around us– some of whom could be lonely and in desperate need of friendship.

Remember the song by Barbara Streisand that went, “People, people who need people….” (What are they?) They are the luckiest people in the world.  I had a friend who was very successful in her career but very unhappy and it was this song that started to haunt her until she made some life changes and started focusing on having better relationships.  Does it surprise you that before she internalized this song it hadn’t really occurred to her that she was missing this human connection and that this was the source of her unhappiness?  Our need for other people is not always obvious to any of us.

German philosopher Habermas says that, “we are not first individuals who then form social groups.  Instead not only do our groups precede us but we become selves in the first instance through the process of social interaction.”  It has always interested me that the word religion comes from the Latin word “religare” and literally means “to bind together.”  If we take that to heart we could say it is impossible to be UU by oneself.  We are all brought into an on-going conversation.  So much of our faith formation relies on our interaction with those around us and those who came before us.

Along these lines, Wade H McCree a UU minister said this, “To me one’s religion is expressed in the manner in which one relates to other human beings.  If one fights relentlessly against injustice, want, hate, and every form of exploitation then one is a religious person.  Religion is not expressed by ritual or ceremony but by loving others.”

Speaking of connection, I am looking forward to our Intergenerational Service this month on the 17th of November.  It will be a Celebration of Being Grateful and will include a Thank You Ceremony for those people who stepped forward to be our Children and Youth R.E. teachers this year.  If we want to be a united and whole community, strong in the connective bonds that make our lives meaningful, it is so important that our kids feel part of the BIG picture and see the adults in their lives modeling that they do indeed value their faith.  It is a UU adage that religion has to be “caught” as well as “taught.”  Our children and youth watch the people they look up to and learn through your attitudes and convictions.

Janen Wright ———Lifespan Faith Development Director

Faith Formation Focus by Janen Wright

I am Janen Wright your new Lifespan Faith Development Director.  Thank you for having me!  I amOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA very happy for this opportunity to honor the salvation that I have found in Unitarian Universalism by working with your children, youth and teachers in this capacity.  It is a calling to me more than a job.  I met some wonderful UUs in our first RE start- up meeting who are willing to give of their time and talent for the training of our youth.  We are in need of more teachers.  If everyone can do what they can to contribute to the training up of our youth we will have a vibrant RE program that can and will make a difference in the lives of the next generation.  It is exciting work and I am happy to be a part of it!

I have many ideas that I want to put into action with the aid of my teachers.  To share a few,  this year we are going to be theme based as we build a rainbow, (out of silk) adding a new color each month that goes along with each of our principles that we will be talking about and celebrating.  We will have a separate Junior Chapel and  Senior Chapel, an on-going “store” where kids can turn in tickets for prizes, and we will embark on The 7 Principles Challenge where the kids will earn a colored bead for each challenge they master on the way to public recognition and, of course, a reward.  (We will send home the particulars about that soon.)

Since I am brand new and you are entrusting me with the treasure that is your children, I feel I should more formally  introduce myself.  I am the mother of five kids, two in college, two in high school and one in elementary, and married to Derek Wright, a man that I have always loved with all my heart.  He is a doctor by profession but more a scholar of life (I’ve never known anyone with such an appetite for learning) and though he is not a member, he has been a huge support to me, as shown by the fact that we moved here so I could go to school and take this job.

It was just over seven years ago that my quest for connection with liberal and like-minded people led me through the doors of a Unitarian Universalist church in Pocatello, Idaho.  I was frankly surprised to find people whose own spiritual journeys had brought them to the same place theologically where I found myself; people who see the world like I do.  I was raised an orthodox Mormon, and only gradually and with much study and introspection (and grief from loss of identity) found my way free of that religion.

I then resolved to be a Christian.  I dragged my children to many different denominations, especially Presbyterian, and professed to be saved but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t saved and that I wasn’t Christian.  (I had to painstakingly substitute the word “Love” for “Jesus” in order to get anything out of worship.) Because of going through this “dark night of the soul” I knew I was home at last from the first UU service that I attended.  When I say I have been saved by this liberal religion I mean it quite literally.  I am UU so I can give people not hell but hope and courage (as John Murray admonishes us.)  There is enough hell in this world.  I feel honored to be a Unitarian Universalist with all the respect for mystery and weight of responsibility that it entails.  I want to be there for others who need what we have, just as others were there for me.

Because I had taught in the school district as a substitute teacher for many years and had young children of my own, my first challenge as a UU member was to revive a children’s program that would inspire our young ones to think for themselves.  I was later asked to be Vice-President and then President of the Board.  When I was Vice-President we hired our first minister after 20 years of being lay-led.  It was then that I caught the vision of what professional ministry can offer the world so I returned to college to finish my bachelors with the ultimate goal of becoming a UU minister.

I have many passions, one of the strongest being a love for children and youth.  The older I get the more I see all of us as being children – all at different stages of growth and development.  I am fascinated by the growth process in myself and others.  I believe that growth entails overcoming fears and learning the many lessons that love has to teach us.  I have also come to believe what author Rachel Remen says best – that blessing life is more about celebrating life than it is about fixing life and that we need to develop an eye for joy.  To me it is all about relationships and I look forward to getting to know each of you your wonderful children.  Sincerely,  Janen Wright –  Lifespan Faith and Development Director


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