Advent at home

Photo by Gabby K from Pexels

Here’s what I want for us, lovies: let’s be gentle with ourselves and others. Let’s take joy where we find it. It’s okay to feel sad and out-of-sorts. This is hard, really hard. Do what you need to do. Listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Have some cookies with that coffee. Put up the tree early, or on December 24th. Please remember: Jesus is coming, is with us now, and will be with us again. We can’t screw that up, no matter what.

If you are looking for some inspiration for the holidays, I am glad to share what I’ve found. Traci Smith’s new book, Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred is brimming over with wonderful, simple ideas, and here’s the best part: you are not supposed to try them all. I promise. Traci suggests choosing three. I’m definitely trying the Hot Chocolate Gratitude Party next weekend, which if my family gets through the college application process intact, we’ll certainly need. We are also looking forward to the Silent Night Star Walk, which might be Christmas Eve or Christmas Night. I am especially thankful for the chapter on Difficult Moments, because even without a worldwide pandemic, these are an inevitable part of our holiday experience, and being able to acknowledge them helps us accept them and honor what they teach us.

You may know from my earlier Advent post that reading one seasonal picture book each night leading up to Christmas Eve is a tradition beloved from Peter’s childhood. Matthew Paul Turner has a new picture book with illustrations by Gillian Gamble, All the Colors of Christmas, with not only the bright familiar red and green, but gold and blue and white and brown–yes, brown: “It’s God within a baby’s skin.” The final color is “…You! It’s your own unique hue.” I love this part best, when Matthew reminds us that through our being and doing, we are “part of the story, the joy and the glory.”

Another sweet picture book is Little Mole’s Christmas Gift, by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Sally Garland, a charming companion to the spring-themed Little Mole Finds Hope. This book, without any religious language at all, carries a message of kindness and generosity that speaks to the heart.

My devotional recommendation for adults and youth is Keep Watch with Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers by Claire Brown and Michael McRay with daily reflections from a wonderfully diverse (in every sense of the word) group of contributors. Each reflection is accompanied by a scripture verse, a prayer and a practice. One of the prayers seems just right for me, and perhaps for you, in this time.

God of the unfolding story, draw us into friendship with our Divine Discontent as a gift of your Spirit. Give us the strength to keep longing for your Kingdom Come, to keep returning to our communities and our peacemaking in gratitude for your guidance toward the world you imagine for your creation. Amen.

Claire Brown, Keep Watch with Me, p. 95

In the practice that follows this prayer, Claire speaks of “the gap between the present moment and the holy imagination” and invites us to “sit with whatever comes.” That I can do. That I will do. With some carols on in the background and my messy life and apartment in the foreground, holding on to the promise and the reality of God-with-us.

Until January 6th, you can download this free family activity pack for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany from Church Publishing, where I am an editor and the formation specialist.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, which makes a swell Christmas gift, perhaps this year in particular.

Martin of Tours, Veterans Day and Advent now

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Photo by Ahmed Aqtai on Pexels


Martin of Tours, one of my most favorite saints, was the son of a soldier in the Roman Army of the fourth century. He first attended church at the age of ten, against his parents’ wishes. When Martin was fifteen, he was required to join the army himself and served in Amiens, France. One winter night, he saw a beggar at the city gates, shivering with cold. Martin had no money to give him, but he took off his heavy cloak and sliced it in half with his sword, giving half to the beggar. That night, Jesus came to Martin in a dream, wrapped in half of Martin’s cloak. Martin’s biographer, who knew him personally, wrote that the next day, Martin “flew to be baptized.” Martin decided that he could not be both a soldier and a follower of Jesus. Eventually, he reluctantly became Bishop of Tours.

The piece of cloak that Martin kept was saved and much later, French kings swore oaths on it and carried it into battle. The words chapel and chaplain both come from the from the French word that means “little cloak,” for the little temporary churches that were used to hold the cloak and for the priest who took care of it. Eventually, all priests who served in the military caring for soldiers were called chaplains, and small churches everywhere became known as chapels.

Today he is remembered as the patron of all those who serve in the military, and the day of his death, November 11, is also Veterans Day, when we honor those who have fought for the protection of others.

 In the Middle Ages, Advent began with the Feast of St. Martin and lasted for forty days until Christmas, just like Lent, the season that prepares us for Easter. In Europe, children still make lanterns on St. Martin’s Day as the night comes early to carry his light and the light of Christ into the world.

This year especially, I want to give us permission to begin Advent NOW. My lovely dinner church, St. Lydia’s, observes a seven-week Advent. This doesn’t change the readings we hear on Sundays, or interfere with Thanksgiving or the celebration of the harvest. It simply means that we can begin preparing, in our hearts and in our homes, for the coming of the Christ Child, in any way that makes sense for us. It’s time to live into the richness and mystery of the dark while waiting for the light to grow and spread.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,

    we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

    and our tongue with shouts of joy;

then it was said among the nations,

    “The Lord has done great things for them.”

 The Lord has done great things for us,

    and we rejoiced.

 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,

    like the watercourses in the Negeb.

 May those who sow in tears

    reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping,

    bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy,

    carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 126

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, from which this post is adapted. Resources for Advent 2020 will be posted in the next few weeks, and you may enjoy the Advent ideas found here.

John Lewis walks with our children

Shortly before he died on July 17, John Lewis wrote an essay to be published on the day of his funeral. It appeared in this morning’s New York Times, and in it, the civil rights leader and congressman speaks directly to our children with words of encouragement, guidance and challenge.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

John Lewis

It’s a short, profound read, and after you read it with your kids you may want to listen to President Obama’s stirring eulogy of Mr. Lewis, delivered this afternoon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Your children may be too young for this right now, so you could read them this beautiful picture book, Preaching to the Chickens. Written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E. B. Lewis, this book connects John’s strong faith to his actions, not only as an adult but as a child growing up on a rural Alabama farm. Tweens and teens will find Mr. Lewis’s award-winning graphic novel trilogy, March, a compelling introduction to the Civil Rights movement.

I got to know young Mr. Lewis through the pages of the most riveting non-fiction book I’ve ever read: The Children, by journalist David Halberstam, a chronicle of the young people who took the lessons of Reverend James Lawson’s nonviolence workshops to lunch counters and buses and the Edmund Pettus Bridge at great personal sacrifice, for their children and ours.

President Obama reminded us today that the young people who have filled our nation’s streets this summer, marching for justice, calling on us all to be “better, truer versions of ourselves,” are Mr. Lewis’s children, whether or not they knew they were following his example.

And that’s what John Lewis teaches us. That’s where real courage comes from, not from turning on each other, but by turning towards one another. Not by sowing hatred and division, but by spreading love and truth. Not by avoiding our responsibilities to create a better America and a better world, but by embracing those responsibilities with joy and perseverance and discovering that, in our beloved community, we do not walk alone.

Barack Obama

I am so grateful for the life and witness of John Lewis, and so deeply touched that at the end of his remarkable life, he wanted our children to know he walks with them still.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

John Lewis

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

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Some treats for yet another week in quarantine

Strawberry Spoon Cake from Jerrelle Guy’s easy recipe below

Is this Week 19?? It might be Week 19. My kid is at theological debate camp (yes! It’s a thing!), which means he’s in his room more often than he’s been since school ended last month at this time. We’re grateful that the weeklong camp he’s attended each summer of high school found a way to go virtual this year, giving him the opportunity to connect with friends and exercise his mind. Not only did they send a tee shirt and other merch including a mask printed with a galaxy design, he received a care package that was full of (mostly unhealthy) snacks! That’s really bringing the camp experience home.

I have some treats to share with you. This thoughtful article by New Testament professor and parent Esau McCaulley in the New York Times reframed for me the tension I’ve been feeling about this summer and the choices we’re faced with now. “This mixture of safety and peril and difficult decisions about a child’s freedom to play: It is familiar to me. Covid-19 has given all parents a small taste of what it is like to be a Black parent, ” McCaulley tells us. He and his wife have “drifted to a bias toward joy.”

In that spirit, here’s a lively and fun video of the finale from Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” by the San Francisco Symphony:

Today, at long last, is Opening Day for Major League Baseball. I find comfort in that, as does my dad. Baseball is the language of my childhood, and when I first moved from California to New York City in 1991, I was suddenly less homesick when I found a game to watch, even though it wasn’t “my team” playing. I’m not sure I can talk my family into watching a game with me tonight, but I am happy to know that all over the country, people will be celebrating this rite of summer through the magic of television.

We are in the middle of a heat wave here in Brooklyn, and if this were another time, I’d be eager to spend a couple of hours in a chilly movie theater. Instead, The National Film Board of Canada has made 65 Academy Award winning or nominated animated shorts available for our viewing pleasure.

I might make popcorn, but I’m definitely making Jerrelle Guy’s delicious strawberry spoon cake. She’s the author of Black Girl Baking: Wholesome Recipes Inspired by a Soulful Upbringing, and I love every recipe of her’s I’ve tried.

If you, like I, are getting tired of the view from your own window, try looking through these windows. Perspective is everything, lovies. There is so much beauty, even now.

Special thanks to my mother Deborah Baum for introducing me to the William Tell Overture video, the animated shorts link, and the Window Swap project! She has always made life more fun.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Alexander Hamilton, Independence Day, and me

Hamilton’s tomb at Trinity Church Wall Street, New York City

“Legacy. What is a Legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”

 Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

I haven’t see Hamilton on Broadway, but I will be watching it tonight on Disney Plus, and I can’t wait. I moved to New York City over the July 4th weekend in 1991, and the very first thing I did, good Episcopalian that I am, was to visit Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel, to honor those who fought for the cause of the American Revolution. That’s where I first became acquainted with A. Ham outside of a history book. Years later, while I was working at Trinity Church, I got to know him better, and you can, too, through this video tour and a look at the Trinity archives.

Wondering whether Hamilton is appropriate viewing for your children? This article makes the compelling argument that it’s essential viewing right now:

George Washington liked to paraphrase the book of Micah in his correspondence — “Everyone should sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one should make them afraid” — with Miranda adding the line that “they’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made.” That certainly includes children’s ability to safely engage with history in a way that they comprehend just how much the threads of the problems that linger today were extant in our nation over 200 years ago, and that we are still seeking to fulfill our best and most ardent fantasies for the experiment of a republic of free people.

Cat Bowen

Hamilton’s legacy is now inextricably linked with the musical imagination of Lin-Manuel Miranda, and together they inspire us to create, live, and tell stories of freedom and redemption for all.

Don’t have a subscription to Disney Plus? It’s $6.99 a month and you can cancel at any time.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

A short family guide to supporting racial justice now

Photograph by Janet Yieh New York, NY

As I write this, tens of thousands of people have gathered for a tenth straight day from New York City to San Francisco, in every state and at least 11 nations, to protest racism and police brutality. We live in Brooklyn, and daily, protesters of all ages and colors stream down the sidewalk past our apartment with their handmade signs to join in gatherings just a mile from us. At night, we go to sleep to the sounds of police helicopters, because the protests do not end when the citywide curfew begins.

I’ve been taking my son to protests since he was 8. He’s been on a street corner with a handful of people and in a crowd of 500,000 in the nation’s capital. He’s walked out of class for a student-led protest in the middle of the day not sanctioned by the school. (Parents of teens joining protests now will find sound advice here.) I believe protests are a necessary and effective means of enacting social change. For our family, participating in protests and other actions are a natural extension of our Christian faith. From the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures to the life and teachings of Jesus, the religious mandate to stand with and work alongside those seeking justice is clear, and as the Bible and American history both show us, justice and freedom are not always achieved peacefully.

Protests themselves are not civil disobedience; our freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Civil disobedience is often called for at protests, especially to protect the most vulnerable, and right now that means our siblings of color. If you are new to protesting or new to protesting against racial violence, you will need to do some homework before joining in. Educating ourselves is the first step, and that includes identifying local Black-led organizations that are already engaged in racial justice work in our own communities. Google is your friend. One good place to start is with the website WhiteAccomplices.org, which will help you find local organizations, decide whether you are an Actor, an Ally, or an Accomplice, and commit to at least three actions in the next month. This article on what to consider before bringing children to a protest is both practical and reassuring.

Of course, not all kids are new to protests and acts of civil disobedience. Often, they have led them. A 15-year-old girl in Portland Oregon, started a petition called Justice for George Floyd which now has more than 16 million signatures, the most in the history of Change.org. Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison is an excellent picture book about the 1963 Children’s March for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama, appropriate for ages 6 and up. Kids ages 9 and older can watch the riveting Academy Award-winning 2004 short documentary Mighty Times: The Children’s March on Vimeo. Ron’s Big Mission is a picture book (by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden, illustrated by Don Tate) about the courage of astronaut Ron McNair, who at age 9 used civil disobedience to get a library card.

If for any reason you don’t feel safe going out right now, there are many ways you and your family can join in the work of racial justice from home, which is where we always begin. The Brown Bookshelf sponsored an online KitLit4BlackLives Rally with authors Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds, which you can watch here, and respond to their calls for action. If you missed the CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall on racism, it’s also available to watch online.

Parents, our children learn most from what we do, so let’s do this together:

Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.Galatians 6:2

Loving God,

In Jesus you were bullied, beaten and killed.

You are always on the side of those

whose souls or bodies are mistreated;

help us to embrace those who are hurting;

fill us with your Spirit of healing,

and give us the courage to stand beside them,

and the wisdom to prevent violence and abuse from happening again. Amen.

From Common Prayer for Children and Families by Jenifer Gamber and Timothy S.J. Seamans, p. 112

If you are just beginning to talk with young children about race and racism, you may want to start with my earlier post on this subject.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Grief in a time of injustice and COVID-19

Trinity Churchyard, Lower Manhattan

We are all learning to live with grief. Some of us are grieving the death of a loved one, some of us are grieving the loss of a job or the death of a dream or simply grieving the way things used to be. My Black siblings aren’t just grieving, they are traumatized, and the losses they bear are incalculable. How do we mourn, and how do we help those around us who are mourning?

Here’s what I know from my own experience:

  • The best thing you can do for someone who is grieving is to show up and keep showing up. In these days of physical distancing, that’s hard but not impossible. Call, text, write an old-fashioned letter. Send food. Check in, just as a reminder: I’m here for you. De-center yourself. Do not require a response of any kind.
  • Showing up for our Black siblings means educating ourselves about racism, both structural and casual, and then actually doing something about it. Call it out when you see it. Understand what is meant by White privilege and White fragility. Follow and support Black leadership. Vote, and make sure everyone else can, too.

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has joined with other faith leaders to ask us to observe a National Day of Mourning and Lament on Monday, June 1, as we pass the terrible milestone of more than 100,000 lives lost in the Coronavirus pandemic.  

Here are three recent articles about grief. The first, from Vox, is about the profound grief of Black mothers. This article, from The Atlantic, explores grief in the time of Coronavirus. And this article in the New York Times is aimed at helping children who are grieving.

This downloadable toolkit from the National Alliance for Grieving Children is designed to help families navigate change and loss as a result of the pandemic. As is so often the case, the tools here designed for young people will help adults, too.

Lutherans and Episcopalians around the country have committed to praying this prayer for the next three months:

A Prayer for the Power of the Spirit Among the People of God

God of all power and love,
we give thanks for your unfailing presence
and the hope you provide in times of uncertainty and loss.
Send your Holy Spirit to enkindle in us your holy fire.
Revive us to live as Christ’s body in the world:
a people who pray, worship, learn,
break bread, share life, heal neighbors,
bear good news, seek justice, rest and grow in the Spirit.
Wherever and however we gather,
unite us in common prayer and send us in common mission,
that we and the whole creation might be restored and renewed,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May it be as we have spoken and acted.

If you are ready to do something, Justice for George Floyd has identified some ways you can help right now.

If you are wanting to talk with your children about race and racism, I have just updated this post, which I originally wrote right after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Pentecost at home

Photo by Caterina Berger on Unsplash

Pentecost, the birthday of the church, is Sunday, May 31, 2020. At least part of what I wrote about Pentecost last year is even more true this year: The church isn’t a building; it never has been—it’s the people of God, filled with the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism… bringing light to dark places, mending and making, healing and helping, one conversation or small act of love at a time.

There are two terrific new picture books that help us to remember that even when we can’t go to church, we are the church. This is the Church by Sarah Raymond Cunningham and illustrated by Ariel Landy shows the rich and wide variety of contexts in which God’s people come together to do God’s work in the world. We Gather at This Table by Anna V. Ostenso Moore, illustrated by Peter Kreuger, will help children make the connection between the altar and the table, the church and the neighborhood, and how each are holy.

My friend Juniper has some great ideas for celebrating Pentecost at home. If you decide to take their suggestion and celebrate the birthday of the church with cake, I posted a recipe last week that you probably have all the ingredients for already. Another idea from Juniper is to make a “tongues of flame hat” and adorably, my husband made one last year and models it on video.

I have a feeling that when we are together again in our beautiful, beloved places of worship, we’ll continue to imagine all kinds of new ways to be the church. Until then, take a deep breath. What we need is here.

“What we need is here” is a line from Wendell Berry’s poem “The Wild Geese.” It has been made into this simple and lovely song by Episcopal priest Amy McCreath.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

5 good things

I am not a relentlessly cheerful person, but I was born on a sunny day and that has generally helped my outlook. However, these are trying times for all of us, so what I can offer this week are 5 good things:

Remember that God is with us, lovies. Wash your hands and wear a mask. Amen.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Strength and comfort for another week in quarantine

Friends, here in New York City we are on Week 9, with no end in sight. On the other hand, the maple tree outside my kitchen window is now in full leaf, and I was able to order in two healthy houseplants, since we are on the second floor without garden access, which is a cheery thing.

Virtual visits have been life-giving. Every Saturday we have video chats with my mother, who lives across the country from us. We might have had video chats with her before quarantine, but now she’s actually home and has time for an hour-long call and no time to be self-conscious about the camera. We spend much of it laughing.

This week, we also had virtual dinner church, which was food for my soul. What is dinner church? Funny you should ask. My friend Emily’s book telling the story of her dinner church (and mine) comes out on Tuesday. It will feed you, too.

My friend Daneen is hosting a weekly online story time highlighting Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints from her wonderful book of the same title. This week, in honor of Ramadan, she features the Persian poet Rumi, whose words really resonate in this present moment, even though he lived 800 years ago. My favorite poem of Rumi’s is called “The Guest House” and it’s also perfect for right now.

Another friend, Ana, shared reassuring words from Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” with this promise from Indian novelist Arundhati Roy: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing” in this lovely song. In fact, you should get the whole album. It was Julian’s feast day last Friday, and my friend Bob wrote a reflection on her words that give me hope.

Green and growing things, connecting with family and friends, good words, and good music—that’s what I wish for you.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.