Can I share something with you?
Over the course of the day--today--I have felt an overwhelming surge of love and hope for our beloved progressive and liberal church. I don't just mean my own, little tiny church in suburban Boston...but all of them. Those of you who know me know this state of being isn't in my nature for long, so bear with me...we are on untraveled ground...
I was talking to my intern, Tara Humphries this morning over Zoom. She--rightly--is not permitted by her seminary in Connecticut to travel to her internship site but she has been a wonder and support to us at the church nonetheless.
We were discussing how her time with us has changed...
...Oh how it has...
Like good church folks, we gave some thought to the division of the psalms into ones of Orientation, Disorientation, and Re-Oientation (a conversation made easier by having the same Hebrew Scripture professor...albeit 20 years apart) and about how the first part of the year was the first and now we are in the second. We also talked about the third phase, still unseen for the most part, when we reorient to the new world and sing songs of thanksgiving again, not for a return to the old ways, but the approach of the blessed and good new ways, informed by the old but honed through tragedy, fear, chaos and despair to suit the new just, peaceful, and healthy world we seek to build.
That image kept with me today as I picked my way around the eerie emptiness of my almost 200 year-old church building. It stuck with me as I stood before my computer for email after email and meeting after meeting with my back turned to the chaos of my living room that circumstance has morphed into a recording studio, virtual pulpit, and classroom for me as well as an office for an 8th grader and a college Freshman.
And as the day went on...
As I "talked" to my staff and congregants and colleagues planning whatever we think might work for Easter and for future church programming...
As we figured out how to be safe and together and how to do normal things in the "new normal"...
...I realized how lucky I am...
In spite of all the darkness around us...
I am fortunate at least in this one way...
I have realized that the church--the liberal and mainline church--will survive this time and emerge changed and reoriented. It will grow.
The new thing is happening now, you see, and we are finally off our asses.
We are doing it! We. Are. Ready. I can see it...and I never ever really thought I would...
Lets be clear. I never thought I would still be active in the professional ministry when the new thing appeared. I have done my best for mentees and anyone else who I thought might be the ones to see it. The old ways aren't working. We know that. I thought I knew, though, that it wasn't for me to see what came next...except maybe in a pew, supporting my pastor in retirement.
It was my lot--I thought--to pave the way, wading through dubious advice and programming promoted by men (almost all men, right?) too old for the skinny jeans and tight T-shirts they sported; people who wouldn't last a day as the leaders of my church. I knew my place temperamentally and generationally. I would hold the door open for others to walk through.
"John the Baptizer I am. Be ready.....all will be well in time..."
Will you look at us now? I see you my friends. When I get "home" from my virtual worship service and get a chance to breathe, I check in on you. Lots of shaky cams and bad lighting and sound that cuts in and out? Can't get the hang of visiting your people over the darkened tube of...well...what we used to call "the tube"? Yeah, me too. It is overwhelming.
Guess what, though? Seth Meyers and Jon Oliver? Their sound stinks too these days but they are still heard aren't they? When I see you on the screen I do not feel the need or urge to mock or laugh. I see you being strong and getting it done. I love, love, love what I see!
Don't be self-conscious. What I see are clergy and lay people putting it all out there for each other. DIY-ing with the best. Use that iPad or cell phone or whatever. Screw with your background or not. Duct tape that sheet or camera or poster to the wall. It is beautiful. You are inspiring. You--we--are getting it done with love, grace, and authenticity. I couldn't be more proud to be a church person today. I couldn't be more proud to be part of this great profession...
Do we have hard times ahead? Yeah we do. Are there reasons to be sad and lonely and frustrated? Yes...yes...yes. There is death and illness all around. We are struggling to be there when we cannot actually be physically there. It hurts, we are frustrated. Everyone is and with good reason.
Compounding this are failures of leadership that abound in government and elsewhere, including the church. Don't think I have forgotten the grand-standers jeopardizing their flocks by opening their buildings instead of learning something new! I live in the same disoriented and disorienting world you do.
Yeah, I see this hard time we are in. I am afraid, too. Still...I didn't think I would see the new church and now I see just a little bit and that makes me so so happy. I want to see more. Take the party where you can, right? That is Palm Sunday. That is Easter, too.
Tara took this picture of our coffee hour on Sunday and sent it to me. Each of those faces are of people I love. Some are recent faces, but many I have known for years. The other pictures are from among our congregation, figuring it out, taking chances on this new world even in the current chaos. Colleagues (and future colleagues) you are doing great. Church leaders, you are too.
Let's stick together and see this new day. As hard as the journey may be right now...deliverance will come.
Then Palms of Victory, I declare.
A couple weeks ago, when this all started, I wrote a FB post about unschooling. Really, that is what many parents are finding themselves having to do. "Homeschooling" is the term that I hear and see on FB, which evokes images of projects and curricula and parents having to work way outside their comfort zones. However, "unschooling" is what many of us are really doing. On a very basic level it just means letting go and letting the kids explore their interests.
Does it mean more screen time? Yeah, probably. Does it mean fewer minutes taken in the pursuit of targeted learning goals? Yep. However, it also means stepping back and letting your child find their own way to learning what they are actually interested in. It also means maintaining your own sanity, which your kids need more than learning shapes and colors or long division.
Here is the basic fact of why I am writing you this. Recently there have been a number of articles about how stressed parents are right now and I get it. I am a parent, too. Still, I feel like my experience might help you let go a bit...
So...my middle child unschooled. He is in college now and on the Dean's List. I am not bringing that up to say "look at my smart kid". Instead I bring it up to let you know that he didn't go to to a structured school for four (4) whole years during what would have been his high school years and he is just fine. He also took 4th grade off...yes 4th grade! He also found his friends during that time. So if that is what you are worried about, please don't be, at least not right away.
We are not talking about 5 years of social isolation. Your child--who is also gifted (as all children are)--will be OK during this period as well. I also taught in an unschooling "learning cooperative" while my son was on his adventure. I have spent quite a bit of time with the "feral children". I have kept in touch with many of them. They have all grown to be responsible curious, brilliant young adults.
So I have some advice for you. You can take it or leave it, but, please...give yourself a break, practice forgiveness, and understand that this freedom--even if it turns out to be lots of boredom and TV--is a gift for you and your child. Even if it seems super weird right now...
FROM YOUR FRIENDLY FORMER (AND CURRENT AGAIN) UNSCHOOL PARENT.
So I was getting my youngest ready for his "Coronavirus School" today and remember that yesterday during virtual coffee hour, there were some questions about how to keep our children learning during this time. For me, I am having to dust off my pedagogical skills of a few years ago when my middle son "unschooled" for high school and part of elementary school. For others, this is new territory so I thought I would just mention a few things that have helped me...
MAKE BOREDOM YOUR FRIEND: Every kid I know was ever so slightly delighted by the extra free time of the past couple weeks. However, over that time...they got bored. Our brains do this to us to make sure we don't stagnate and rot. As they get bored, they will seek out something to fill their time that is more nourishing than video games. They truly will.
LET THEM CHOOSE WHAT TO STUDY: Once they are thoroughly bored they will start looking around for things to do. The temptation as a parent is to be like "Hey! The learning targets for the school say you need to understand linear equations. Go do that!" Instead...ask them what they want to do. What they choose may not sound academic. Who cares? It will be if they delve deeply enough. An interest in crafting can become a dive into the history and use (or science or practical math) of that craft. An interest in baseball covers biology, history, sociology, math, fitness, English (some of the most beautiful prose in our language is devoted to the game), religion, race, class, and so much more. Let them pick and help them get excited.
My unschooled son learned about history by going for walks. After a while he became interested in the Civil War veterans in the local graveyard. He taught himself (yes with my help) how to research a topic. He took out regimental histories from the libraries here and in Boston. In the process he learned how to be a historian and became a expert in the regiments of what we now call Metrowest. When he got tired of that he got into YouTube and wrote and directed two movies and numerous comic sketches. You get the idea.
HELP THEM WHEN THEY ASK: They will come to you with problems. Wait for them or--if you see they are struggling-- check in on them, but it is their project. Often they just need a gentle push toward resources.
SET A TIME FRAME: This is the "structure" part of our unstructured "school". They need to know--particularly at first--that they are expected to work on whatever their project is for a set amount of time per day. This still doesn't need to be a fight. They are bored and you are helping them not be bored. Let them know you are just helping by giving them the space and accountability for what it is THEY (not you) want to do.
Also...it doesn't have to be that much time.
This is important, keep your agenda somewhere else. I know you may be worried about your child's future success. We are often told--in large and small ways--that this sort of free time will doom them to mediocrity. Oh the anxiety of parenting in normal times! Believe me, though, it won't. We are told that so we and they can jump through certain hoops at certain moments to fill a certain slot in the economic engine. Guess what? That engine is being rebuilt. We don't don't know what it will look like. So even if we perceive the goal of education being economic "success" (which is a pretty poor definition of educational goals in my opinion) there are no targets to shoot for. There are no slots to put the kid in for now.
Look, we are not talking about forever here. We are talking about giving their minds a workout so they are still awake and ready when they get back to school--whenever that will be. They will be better for it. If anything, my unschooled son was better prepared for his freshman year because he knew how to take ownership of his education and didn't need to be enculturated to the greater personal autonomy of college. A couple weeks or months of this same approach will help your child feel more confident, too.
Remember: this time is not a compromise. It is an opportunity and an asset. We need to think that way. We need to step back, take care of what we can, and allow our children to grow and learn in their own way as much as we can. Their homeschool is not your job. It is theirs. You are not their supervisor, you are their parent, and their mentor. Give yourself and them a break.
Here is a sermon I preached a couple of years ago about the foundations of this approach. My son's "school" was a community of liberated learners called "Bay State Learning Center". In the sermon I mention their couch, where children sit before they get up and get going to learn and study in the way they determine for themselves. You might want to check out their Facebook page if you want to learn more.