Nadine offered to do a virtual Sunday school session today for our gr. 2-3 group (which we call “Green class”). Her plan was simple: light a chalice, have time for check-in, read a story, everyone say our unison benediction together. I haven’t yet hear from her how it went.
Nadine’s idea inspired Carol and Ed, two of the teachers of the middle school “Ecojustice Class,” who put together an online session for that group. Carol and Ed planned a half hour session including lighting the chalice, a check-in where kids could talk about what’s going on in their lives, and a virtual tour of the Ecojustice Class garden, rain barrels, and composter.
Three middle schoolers logged in, and two siblings tagged along, for a total of five kids. Here’s a screen shot of Carol lighting the chalice:
Though Carol and Ed expected the session to last only half an hour, the kids were having fun, and ultimately the session went on for about an hour. (Carol has the free version of Zoom with a 40-minute limit on videoconference calls, but at 40 minutes she got a message saying Zoom would extend the videoconference for free; thank you Zoom!) They talked about how coronavirus shows that the non-human world still has a lot of power over humans, and they also talked about how people who are poor or otherwise vulnerable get hit hardest by natural disasters like this pandemic. One of the kids drew boba bunnies (don’t ask me what they are, I’m just telling you what Carol told me), and that led to a discussion of how boba tea tastes good but uses a lot of single-use plastic, and where tapioca comes from, and so on.
From what Carol said, it sounds to me as though there was the typical Sunday school ratio of social interaction to learning — more than half social interaction, plus some learning — and since our primary educational goal is to have fun and build community, this class definitely helped us reach that goal.
Amy Morgenstern, the senior minister, and I have been talking about child dedications recently. As we talked, I realized that one of the results of the social process known as “secularization” (which in the U.S. is more of an adjustment away from communal religious organizations to individualized religious practices) is that fewer and fewer people know that there are established communal practices to welcome babies. Even if they do know about such practices as Unitarian Universalist child dedications, they may find it difficult to understand why they would want to have a communal ceremony, within a religious community, rather than something more individualistic.
This realization has led me to rethink the entire concept of child dedications. After I was born in 1960, I was christened (not dedicated) in a Unitarian church — but what was a Unitarian christening, and was there then a distinctive way of thinking about this naming ceremony? What about Universalist understandings of naming ceremonies? How have Unitarian and Universalist naming ceremonies combined and evolved into Unitarian Universalist naming ceremonies?
I don’t yet have answers to these questions, but I’ve been collecting relevant historical documents. Without further ado, here are documents from the 20th century that relate to Universalist, Unitarian, and Unitarian Universalist naming ceremonies.
While developing a curriculum for middle elementary grades, I found an interesting game, “Patol House,” originally played by Native Americans in New Mexico. I found this game in the book Handbook of American Indian Games by Allan and Paulette Macfarlan (Toronto: General Pub., 1958; reprint, Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Pub., 1985). The Macfarlans are recreating games for use by middle class white kids in summer camps in the 1950s, and no doubt they have modified the rules to this game somewhat. I have further modified the rules, turning this into a board game suitable for use indoors in a multi-racial Sunday school classroom; and I further modified the rules to fill in a gap or two that we found in the Macfarlans’ rules during test play.
Sample game play with adults showed this can be a fun game. It’s supposed to be a game of skill and strategy, not of luck — the skill comes in being able to throw the counting sticks to yield the number you want; the strategy comes in planning your moves to “kill” opponents’ horses. In our sample play, we gained enough skill to throw the desired number maybe one out of ten times, so it was mostly a game of luck for us. But even as a game of luck, it was enjoyable to play.
With no further ado, here’s how to make and play the game:
Making the game: According the the Macfarlans, the Indians used a game board of 40 stones arranged in a circles, with 4 gaps between the stones; the gaps are “rivers.” The design shown in the photo below reproduces this game board on paper; the blue stripes are the “rivers.” I printed the design in halves, on two 11 by 17 inch pieces of cardstock; then gluing the cardstock to foamcore to make a 17 by 17 inch game board. The counting sticks are popsicle sticks that are shortened; the sticks are marked (based on Tiwa Indian designs) as follows: all three sticks have two hatch marks on one side; two are left blank on the reverse side, while one is marked with three hatch marks on the reverse. A flattish stone goes in the center; this is to bounce the counting sticks off. I made two cards showing how to score the throws of the counting sticks. For playing pieces, I found some small stones, as you can see in the photo below; however, these were not very satisfactory, and I have since substituted colored game pawns.
(Notes on making the game: 1. The point of this game is not to try to recreate an utterly authentic Native design, but to make a game that is easily playable. 2. The file for the game board is something like 5400 x 5400 pixels at 300 dpi and too big to post here, so you’ll have to draw your own game board. 3. I’m prototyping the game using the Board Games Maker Web site; when they ship it to me I’ll post a photo on this blog.)
This game works best with 8 or more players. If you have fewer players, give each player two horses; players take a separate turn for each horse.
Setting up the game:
Put the stone in the center of the game board. The playing pieces, called “horses,” remain off the game board until a player plays them.
Throw the counting sticks to see who goes first:
Hold the three counting sticks in your hand about a foot above the game board. Bring your hand down, and release the sticks about 6 inches above the stone (but no closer). The sticks hit the stone, bounce, and fall with one face or another showing.
The diagram below shows how many points you get, depending on which sides of the counting sticks are showing. The player with the highest number of points goes first.
The first player throws the counting sticks, and, starting from a blue circle nearest to where they are sitting, moves their horse that number of spaces. Players may move either clockwise or counterclockwise as they wish, but once they begin moving in one direction they must keep moving in that direction in subsequent turns. However, if they throw a 10, this would place their horse in a river. Horses may not land in rivers. Whenever a throw lands their horse in a river, the player must throw the counting sticks again until they throw a number that will not land their horse in a river.
The other players may begin from the same river that the first player started from, or from a different river. Again, they may move either clockwise or counterclockwise, but once they begin moving in one direction they must keep moving in that direction.
Player’s horses may pass over other players horses. But if one player’s horse ends up on the space occupied by another player’s horse, the other player’s horse is considered dead and must start over. A player may have to start over several times during the course of a game.
If you start over, you must start in the same river you started in before (that is, in the same blue circle). However, if you start over, you can again choose to go either clockwise or counterclockwise—though again, once you choose a direction you have to keep going in that direction, until you have to start over again.
Winning the game:
The first player whose horse makes it all the way around the circle, back to their starting point or past it, wins the game.
Strategy: For good players, this is a game of skill. A good player can hold the sticks in their hand and bounce them in such a way as to get the number they want. But be sure to release your hold well above where the sticks hit the stone, so you’re not accused of cheating.
I’m in the middle of writing curriculum for middle elementary grades, and here’s a children’s craft project I just developed for this curriculum. These are puppets for acting out the story-within-the-story of the Buddhist Jataka tale “The Little Tree Spirit” (which you can read on my old blog here).
You will need: patterns that you print and cut out ahead of time glue sticks or paste scissors pencils black magic markers paper bags (lunch bag size, 5 x 10 in. folded) paper or card stock in the following colors: —pink (for noses and mouths) —white (for eyes) —dull green (for Little Tree Spirit) —bright green (for Great Tree Spirit) —orange (for Tiger) —yellow (for Lion’s head) —brown (for Lion’s mane)
Let’s start by seeing how the Tiger is made.
(1) Cut out the head, attach it to the paper bag:
Trace the head shape from the patterns or draw it freehand on orange paper, then cut it out. Glue the head to what is the usually bottom of the paper bag.
(2) Add details to the head:
Cut out the nose from pink paper, and two eyes from white paper. Glue on the eyes and nose, and draw pupils in the eyes. Using the black magic marker, draw stripes and whiskers on the tiger as shown above.
(3) Add the mouth:
Cut out the mouth, and fold it at about one third of the way across the diameter (about one inch from the edge). Glue the mouth in the flap formed by the bottom of the paper bag where it’s folded over, as shown in the drawing. You want a little bit of the pink mouth to show below the head of the puppet.
(4) Try your puppet:
Put your hand inside the puppet, and make sure the mouth looks right when you open and close the puppet’s mouth.
(5) Make the other puppets:
The rest of the puppets are made in much the same way. (1) For the Lion: use the same head pattern but cut the head out of yellow paper; then cut a mane out of brown paper and glue the head on the mane. (2) For the Little Tree Spirit: use the tree pattern and cut the tree out of green paper. (3) For the Great Tree Spirit: use the mane pattern, cutting the shape out of green paper for the “head.”
Now you have all the puppets you need to act out the story. They’re kind of crude, but they’re effective.
I’m in the process of writing a curriculum for middle elementary that will include a story from the Kongo religious tradition, “Spider Steals Nzambi Mpungu’s Heavenly Fire.” As a supplementary activity, I’m planning to include instructions for Kisolo, a traditional Congolese game that resembles the well-known Mancala game that’s commercially available in the U.S. So here’s my first pass at Kisolo rules, somewhat simplified for middle elementary grades. (If you play this game, let me know what you think of the rules.)
To make a Kisolo board: Take two egg cartons, and cut their lids off. Tape them together to make a game board with six by four holes. (Most traditional Kisolo boards are four by seven holes in size, but a smaller board is allowable and makes for shorter game play.) You can also use he commercially available Mancala boards — take two of them, place them side by side and ignore the large bins at the ends of the boards.
To set up the board: Place three “seeds” in each bin. You can use actual bean seeds, or small glass tokens or what-have-you, for seeds. (For a faster game, plant only two seeds per bin.)
Two players sit at the long sides of the game board opposite each other. The twelve bins on your side belong to you, and the twelve bins on your opponent’s side belong to them. Each player has six “outer bins” (the row of bins nearest to them) and six “inner bins” — see the diagram above.
Youngest player starts.
When it is your turn, see if one of your inner bins contains seeds AND your opponent’s inner bin opposite it contains seeds. (If that’s true of more than one of your inner bins, just pick one; OR if you can’t capture any seeds, see below.)
Then remove all the seeds from your inner bin, plus the seeds in the corresponding bin that belongs to your opponent, and any seeds in your opponent’s outer bin that’s next to that inner bin.
Now “sow the seeds,” that is, starting with the inner hole you’ve just emptied, place one seed in each of your holes and continue counterclockwise sowing seeds only into you holes, until you have sown all the seeds.
If your last seed falls in one of your inner holes, then you ALSO get to remove all the seeds from your inner bin, plus the seeds in the corresponding bin that belongs to your opponent, and any seeds in your opponent’s outer bin that’s next to that inner bin. Then you sow the seeds as before—it’s like you get another turn (but after that your turn is over).
IF YOU CANNOT CAPTURE ANY SEEDS, then empty the seeds out of any one of your holes and sow those seeds counterclockwise into your own holes.
To win the game:
Capture all the seeds in your opponent’s INNER holes (doesn’t matter how many seeds are in the OUTER holes).
Note that some games will end in a draw, where neither player can win. If it feels like the game is going nowhere, the players can agree to a draw.
Another in a series of stories for liberal religious kids. This story comes from Charles Fletcher Lummis, Pueblo Indian Folk-Stories (New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1910), pp. 109-116; a book of stories of the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, or Tigua Indians of Texas. I have edited the story for length and clarity.
Long ago there was still a village east of the Eagle-Feather Mountains, where there lived a Hunter. One day, while out hunting, he followed the trail of an antelope until the trail ended in a large lake.
Just then, a fish thrust its head from the water and said, “Friend Hunter, you are on dangerous ground!” and off it went swimming.
Before the Hunter could recover from his surprise, a Lake-Man came up out of the water and said, “How is it that you are here, where no human ever came?”
The Hunter told his story, and the Lake-Man invited him to come in to his house. They entered the house by a trap-door in the roof, and climbed down a ladder. Inside, there were doors to the east, north, west, and south, as well as the door in the roof. Soon the Lake-Man learned that the Hunter had a wife and son at home.
“Why not come live with me?” the Lake-Man said. “I am no hunter, but I have plenty of other food. We could live very well here together.” And he showed the Hunter the four other huge rooms, all filled with corn and dried squash and the like.
“I will come with my wife and son in four days,” said the Hunter, “if the leader of my village will let me.”
So the Hunter went home, and his wife thought very well of the offer. The leader of his village did not want him to go, for he was the best hunter in all the pueblo, but at last gave permission.
So the Hunter and his wife and little boy came to the lake with all their property. The Lake-Man welcomed them, and they settled in. The Hunter went out hunting and brought back great quantities of game, and his wife took charge of the household, as was their custom.
Some time passed very pleasantly. But at last the Lake-Man, who had an evil heart, pushed the Hunter into the East Room, locked the door and left him there to starve. The room was full of the bones of people whom he had tricked in the same way.
The boy was now old enough to hunt small game, and he brought home many rabbits. But the evil-hearted Lake-Man wanted to get him out of the way, too. One morning when the boy was about to start hunting, he heard his mother groaning as if about to die.
“Your mother is in terrible pain,” said the evil Lake-Man, “and the only thing that will cure her is sacred ice from the Lake of the Sun in the east.”
The boy said he would go get the ice, and started off toward the sunrise.
He walked over the brown plains until at last he came to the house of Old-Woman-Mole. She was there all alone, for her husband had gone to hunt. They lived in an old broken-down hut, and she was huddled trying to keep warm by a dying fire. But when the boy knocked, she rose and welcomed him kindly and gave him all there was in the house to eat: a tiny bowl of soup with a patched-up snowbird in it. The boy was very hungry, and picking up the snowbird bit a big piece out of it.
“Oh, my child!” cried the old woman. “You have ruined me! My husband trapped that bird these many years ago, but could never get another, and that is all we have had to eat ever since. So we never bit it, but cooked it over and over and drank the broth. And now not even that is left.” And she wept bitterly.
“Nay, Grandmother, do not worry,” said the boy, for he saw many snowbirds alighting nearby. Using his long hair, he made sanres and soon caught many snowbirds. Then the Old-Woman-Mole was full of joy. After the boy told her his errand, she said:
“I shall help you. When you come into the house of the True People, they will offer you a seat, but you must not take it. They will try you with smoking the weer, but I will help you.”
With that, the boy started away to the east. At last, he came so near to Sun Lake that medicine men and guards of the True People saw him coming, and went in to tell the True People.
“Let him be brought in,” said the True People; and the guards brought the boy in through a magnificent building, until he stood in the presence of the True People in a vast room: white-colored gods of the East, blue gods of the North, yellow gods of the West, red gods of the South, and rainbow-colored gods of Up, Down, and Center. Beyond them were the sacred animals: the buffalo, the bear, the eagle, the badger, the mountain lion, the rattlesnake, and all the others that are powerful in medicine.
The True People offered the boy a white robe to sit on; but he declined respectfully, saying that he had been taught, when in the presence of his elders, to sit on nothing save what he brought, and he sat upon his blanket and moccasins. Then he told them that he had come for the sacred ice, to save his mother’s life.
The True People gave him a sacred weer, that is, a hollow reed filled with the magical plant pee-en-hleh, from the smoke of which the rain clouds come. The boy took in the unpleasant smoke, but the Old-Woman-Mole dug a hole up to his toes, and the smoke went down through his feet into the hole so that no smoke escaped into the room of the True People.
“Surely he is our child,” said the True People to one another, “but we must test him again.” So they put him into the room of the East with the bear and the mountain lion, but he came out again unhurt. They put him into the room of the North, with the eagle and the hawk; into the room of the West, with the snakes; into the room of the South, with the Apaches and other human enemies of his people. He came forth from each room unhurt.
“Surely he is our child,” said the True People to one another, “but we must test him again.” They had a great pile of logs built up, set the boy on the top of the pile and lighted it. But in the morning, the boy sat there unharmed, saying, “I am cold and would like more fire.”
So the guards brought him inside, and the True People said: “You have proved yourself worthy of us, and now you shall have what you seek.”
They gave him the sacred ice, and he hurried home, stopping only to thank the Old-Woman-Mole.
When the evil Lake-Man saw the boy, he was very angry, for he had never expected him to return with the sacred ice. He pretended he was glad to see the boy, but said he must go to the gods of the South to get sacred ice there.
The boy walked south across the brown plains until he came to a drying lake. There, dying in the mud, was a little fish. Picking it up, the boy put it in his gourd canteen of water. After awhile he came to a good lake, and the fish in his gourd said, “Friend Boy, let me swim while you eat your lunch, for I love the water.”
So he put the fish in the lake; and when he was ready to go on, the fish came to him, and he put it back in his gourd. At three lakes he let the fish swim while he ate; and each time the fish came back to him.
Beyond the third lake began a great forest which stretched clear across the world, and was so dense with thorns and brush that no human being could pass through. The tiny fish changed itself into a great Fish-Animal with hard, strong skin, and bidding the boy mount upon its back, it went plowing through the forest, breaking down big trees like stubble, and bringing him through to the other side without a scratch.
“Now, Friend Boy,” said the Fish-Animal, “you saved my life, and I will help you. When you come to the house of the True People of the South, they will try you as they did in the East. When you have proved yourself, the leader of the True People will bring you his three daughters, from whom to choose you a wife. The two eldest are very beautiful, and the youngest is not; but choose the youngest, for she is good and the beauty of the older sisters does not reach to their hearts.”
The boy thanked the fish and went on. At last he came to the house of the True People of the South. They tried him just as the True People of the East had done. Once again he passed the tests, and they gave him the sacred ice. Then the leader of the True People brought his three daughters, and said, “You are now old enough to have a wife, and I see that you are someone who cares for those around him. Therefore, choose one of my daughters to marry.”
The boy remembered the words of his fish friend, and said, “I choose your youngest daughter.”
The leader of the True People was pleased, and the boy and the youngest daughter were married. They started home, carrying the sacred ice and many presents. With the help of the Fish-Animal, they got through the forest, and walked on.
At last they came in sight of the big lake, and over it were great clouds, with the forked lightning leaping forth. They could see the evil Lake-Man sitting at the top of his ladder, watching to see if the boy would return, and as they watched the lightning of the True People struck him dead.
So the boy and the youngest daughter found the boy’s mother, and the three of them left the house of the evil Lake-Man. They left all the belongings of the evil Lake-Man behind, and when they got to the shore of the lake, the boy stood and prayed to the True People that the lake might be accurst forever. From that day its waters turned salt, and no living thing has drunk therefrom.