Summer Sunday school: Blob Tag and Jataka tales

From my teaching diary; as usual, children’s names are fictitious.

We’ve been getting 8 to 12 children in grades K-6 in our summer Sunday school class — a nice group size that allows children of different ages to get to know each other. Such a small group size makes it easy to change your plans at the last minute, too. At 9:25, five minutes before heading in to the worship service, Edie, my co-teacher, and I revised our plan. We were supposed to take a walk to the nearby city park, but neither one of us felt like dealing with the hassle of getting permission slips signed.

“Let’s stay here,” said Edie. “We can play giant Jenga.” Last winter, the middle school group had made a game based on Jenga (a trademarked game invented by Leslie Scott), using two-by-fours for the blocks. The middle school kids had played this game on the patio during social hour, and the younger kids were fascinated by it.

“Do you want a story?” I said. I had just gotten an old story book, More Jataka Tales by Ellen C. Babbit (1923), and there was one story I wanted to tell to children. Continue reading “Summer Sunday school: Blob Tag and Jataka tales”

A mathematician’s theology

Paul Erdos (pronounced air’ dish), the Hungarian mathematician, had his own private slang. Women were “bosses,” men were “slaves,” children were “epsilons (for the smallest Greek letter), and God was the “Supreme Fascist” or “SF” for short. Erdos was born in Budapest to a nominally Jewish family in 1913, lived through various unstable and authoritarian governments in his home country following the First World War, got out of Hungary before the Nazis invaded, was banned from entering the United States during the McCarthy era because he had corresponded with a mathematician in Communist China, and had problems with Stalinist Russia — he had plenty of experience dealing with authoritarian and fascistic governments. He once laid out the rules for dealing with the SF:

The game of life is to keep the SF’s score low. If you do something bad in life, the SF gets two points. If you don’t do something good that you should have done, the SF gets one point. You never score, so the SF always wins. [Quoted in Paul Hoffman, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, New York: Hyperion, 1998.]

This prompts some interesting reflections. First, is it possible to determine my score in the game of life? (I think the answer is “no,” since some of the good things I should have done but didn’t do, I didn’t do because I wasn’t aware that I should do them; then too, part of the SF’s power is keeping us from knowing exactly how low our score is.) Second, what would constitute a low score? (All I’m looking for is a rough order of magnitude: 1,000? 1,000,000?) Third, is score in the game of life plotted against time? (If not, then early suicide would lead to the lowest possible score, since the worst it could do is add 2 to your score, while living even another day could potentially add dozens to your score.)


I’ve been leading a monthly memoir writing at church. I do the exercises, too, and recently I wrote about something that happened almost exactly thirty years ago this week. So here are my memories of that day. I’ve changed the names, because there’s no reason to give those names to intrusive search engines.

August —, 1982

During the summer, the lumberyard always hired someone extra to help out in the in the yard, and to help out stocking shelves in the store. Summers were busy, and there was always at least a truck driver, or one of the yardmen, or the stock clerk, on vacation. One summer they hired Bud, whose father worked in the building trades, and who lived in one of the streets back in behind the lumberyard. He was a few years younger than I, which means he must have been seventeen or eighteen. If you saw him, you’d describe him immediately as a good guy: he was always smiling and cheerful, he always worked hard and he was in great shape.

Continue reading “Memoir”


While we were away at General Assembly back in June, some of the plants we had growing on our little balcony shriveled up for lack of regular water. So today we went to the little nursery down the street from our apartment and bought a couple of drought tolerant plants — a good-sized lavender, and a small aloe vera. At home, I dug up some garlic chives and put them in a large pot, repotted an aloe vera plant we already had, and planted some nasturtiums in the planter box. It is remarkable how good this made me feel: I find taking care of plants to be enormously satisfying. I am only a few generations removed from a time when most of my ancestors grew or raised or hunted or gathered a significant portion of their food. We did not evolve to be “knowledge workers.”

Whining and complaining post

I need to whine and complain about one of my professional associations, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA). Not everyone likes to read whining, complaining posts; therefore I’m warning you right at the beginning so you can skip this post if you want.

Continue reading “Whining and complaining post”

UU kids and politics

I’m often impressed by Unitarian Universalist kids. They have this tendency to take our values seriously, and actually try to live out our values.

Here’s a video about the presidential election, from a second grader whose family is part of our church here in Palo Alto (her family gave me permission to share this on my blog). Whether or not you share her political opinions, she is articulate, personable, and fun — able to express her views politely and respectfully — just the way we want our UU kids to be. Nor is it surprising that a UU kid would get involved in politics at a young age — after all, we do encourage our kids to live out their values in the real world.

Three steps for getting rid of your rotten minister

Carol pointed me to a wonderful essay in The Lutheran e-newsletter titled “How to get rid of your rotten pastor.” The author gives six steps for getting rid of your rotten pastor.

For those of you who don’t have time to read the original article, I’ll condense it for you. Here are three steps for getting rid of your rotten minister:

(1) Make sure your rotten minister has two days off every week, a day for errands and a day for spiritual reflection and renewal. This will reduce the time your rotten minister is around to annoy you. Get them out of your hair even more by giving your rotten minister sabbatical time, and raising money to send your rotten minister to continuing education events and spiritual retreats. And make sure your rotten minister has a month of vacation and a month of study leave, and that they take it all. Oh, and if an emergency comes up on a day off or during vacation or study leave, make sure they make up the time off.

(2) Take over the tasks your rotten minister does badly. Of course ministers should excel at everything: administration, preaching, youth work, pastoral care, counseling, teaching, spiritual leadership, etc. But your rotten minister is probably rotten at one or more of these tasks. Organize volunteers to take over tasks your minister is rotten at: start a pastoral care team, find more adult religious education teachers, etc. Or if your congregation has enough money, hire staff to take over tasks your minister is rotten at: get a trained Director of Religious Education, hire a qualified business manager, etc. When your rotten minister can concentrate on the few things they actually do well, this will reduce your annoyance considerably.

(3) By now, your rotten minister should have free time to fill up. Encourage your rotten minister to spend more time reading theology, more time on reflection and spiritual practice. If they do more reading, reflection, and spiritual practice, maybe you might actually get a decent sermon out of your rotten minister once in a while, and maybe they might actually turn into a real spiritual leader. And your congregation will be getting great care from the pastoral care team, top-notch administration from the business manager, and so on.

This is how you, too, can get rid of your rotten minister. If you follow these steps, your annoyance will be reduced, you’ll soon be hearing better sermons, your congregation will be thriving, and best of all you won’t have to go through the time and expense of searching for a new minister.