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.

How dinner church changed my life

Next week, Emily M.D. Scott‘s book, For All Who Hunger will be out in the world, and I haven’t been more excited about a book birthday since my own. In it, Emily tells the story of founding and pastoring St. Lydia’s, a dinner church in Brooklyn. You need this book as much as you need fresh warm bread or a glass of wine or the company of a good friend right now.

The first time we went to St. Lydia’s, my son and I had already spent six hours in church–me, because I was the director of children, youth and family ministries, and my son Peter, almost 9, because he was a chorister, at a large and formal Episcopal church in midtown Manhattan.

By Sunday evening, I was tired, and so was my kid, but our friend Donald invited us, and so we went. From the moment we walked in the door, St. Lydia’s felt like home. The entire liturgy is set within the context of a meal, and those who gather for it make the dinner, set the tables, light the candles, sing the prayers. For the next five years, St. Lydia’s fed us when we were hungry, held us when we were sad, strengthened us when we faltered, emboldened us when we hesitated, brought us joy and laughter and so many good people. It was messy and beautiful and holy.

We didn’t need more church in our lives; we needed more people in our lives, people with whom we could sit and eat. You get to know people at a different level around the table, especially when they’re not people you yourself invited. This is how strangers become friends. I met my husband at dinner church.

Emily says that in the breaking of the bread something happens: we catch a glimpse of Jesus in the stranger next to us at the table. “In that moment, heaven and earth overlap and God builds a bridge between the world as it is and the world as it should be.” The meals we share, the conversations we have, give us what we need to strengthen that bridge, to confront our own prejudices, to fight injustice and inequality, to work for a greener, more peaceful neighborhood and planet.

I am so grateful to Emily, for the sacred stories she tells and the sacred spaces she creates, for helping me be a better bridge-builder, and for helping to build my family.

Emily Scott and I had a wonderful conversation about liturgy as formation at the Rooted in Jesus conference in January. You can watch it here.

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

Doing good at home

Some families on their social-distancing walks look for hearts or rainbows.

Every night at 7 pm, New York City erupts into two full minutes of cheering, bell ringing, pot-banging clamor in support of all who are working on the front lines: health care professionals, delivery people, grocery store employees. It makes me teary just writing about it. Briefly, we are connected to our neighbors in a heartfelt expression of gratitude for those who are working to keep us healthy and safe.

Some of us, maybe most of us, are busy and tired right now, balancing work, our children’s remote learning, and household chores in ways we didn’t even imagine two months ago. Let me be clear: you do not need to do more. Really, truly, you don’t. I promise. You are, in fact, already doing good at home. You can stop reading right now. If, however, you find some time and energy, there are ways you and your kids can make a difference in the lives of others from your kitchen table.

Doing Good Together is a national non-profit founded in 2004 “on the belief that when parents engage with their children in community service, they pass along [to them] the spirit of giving and goodness, strengthen their families, and create a new generation of volunteers, philanthropists, and kind, caring adults.” As a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, they have all kinds of ideas and activities for families to reach out to others and to volunteer from a distance, to share from our abundance, and to advocate for justice.

We can only do so much. But as long as you’re still reading, science and experience show that helping others helps us. Strengthening bonds with family, friends and neighbors, renewing our sense of purpose, and looking to that which is bigger than ourselves actually can reduce anxiety and stress. It’s also how we join with God in helping bring about the realm of God, with one small act of kindness at a time.

Please read Catherine Newman’s exquisite post about the transformative power of these small acts. It’s the most true thing I’ve read in a long while.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents. One of the chapters relevant to this topic explores the importance of Meeting God in Others.

Sacred space at home

Then my people will live in a peaceful dwelling, in secure homes, in carefree resting places.

Isaiah 32:18

For your child, home is already holy, and you are the one who makes it so. You are modeling God’s love and care by making your child feel safe and secure, nurtured and supported. Everything else is just window dressing. The rhythms of the day, the year, and the seasons of our lives are full of opportunities to find and create sacred moments, ways of making meaning and memories, and all of them can be simple.

Start tonight, with dinner. Can you all sit down together? What you’re eating isn’t important. Light candles. Hold hands around the table and let the youngest child choose when to squeeze. No cellphones, no television. Music might be nice, without lyrics.

I aspire to cloth napkins every night, but that adds to the laundry load. My father remembers that his grandfather insisted on cloth napkins for every meal. There were silver napkin rings for special occasions and wooden clothespins with people’s names on them, even guests, for everyday use, so the napkins could be reused. This led to my family collecting napkin rings. Whoever set the table on Friday could choose the napkin rings, and we had lots of fun choices: olive wood from Jerusalem, a hand-painted folk art set from Austria, enameled ones from India. If you don’t have any, your kids can twist pipe cleaners into circles. If they want to get fancy, cut a cardboard tube into pieces and let them wrap each ring in a different color ribbon, one for each member of the family.

Do you have a bit more time? Ask your kids to find an object with meaning to set on a small plate and use as a centerpiece. It could be a baseball, or a baby cup, or a postcard from Nana. Let them tell about why they chose it. You can be directive: bring something that makes you feel proud, something that reminds you of when you were tiny, or something that’s beautiful.

What will you talk about tonight? Conversation cards are fun. Make your own. Ask questions you’d like to respond to yourself, or ones you don’t know the answer to: What is your favorite memory? If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world? Describe your perfect day. Tell about an act of kindness you saw or heard about today. How would you spend $100 (or $100,000) on other people? Throw in a God question, maybe not right away: When do you feel closest to God?

Homes are as holy as churches. Some families have a table or a shelf that’s set apart as sacred space, with a cross, candles, a Bible, a prayer book, fresh flowers or a small green plant. Place photos of loved ones here, or prayers you’ve written or drawn on scraps of paper and tucked inside a small box or jar.

We live in a Brooklyn apartment: three full-sized human beings and a double bass in approximately 650 square feet. Instead of a home altar, we have a blessing bowl. You could make something like this yourself. Choose any bowl you really like, although a shallow one will display the items you choose to put in it well. Then, collect some small items to put in it. We use a small beautiful bowl painted gold on the inside that was a wedding present from Peter’s godparents. Here is what is in our bowl right now:

•           a marble painted like the earth, for travel, for those we love who are far from us, for being mindful of world events

•           a heart-shaped stone, for acts of love and generosity

•           an acorn, for growth

•           a shell, to remind us of our baptisms

•           an angel token, for acts of caring and kindness

•           a LEGO piece, for play, fun and creativity

•           a silk rainbow ribbon for promises made and kept

•           a pottery pebble that says “peace”, for when we find it or need it

•           an olive wood cross, to notice where Jesus has been with us that day

These tiny treasures are meant to spark meaningful conversation, prayers, remembrances, and gratitude.

“We don’t remember days, we remember moments,” says the Italian poet Cesare Pavese. Parents know this best.  The warmth and love we create in our families may not be something that feels consistently present, but it is what we hope our children carry with them and learn to create for themselves and others. These moments of sacred connection can sustain us for a lifetime.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, from which this post is adapted.

How to have Holy Week and Easter at home

In my previous life directing formation programs for children, youth and families at Episcopal churches, this has long been my busiest time of year, with countless hours spent preparing for the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter and all the special activities that go along with them. Even though I knew this year would be different, having left parish ministry at the beginning of March, I did not understand how different this Holy Week and Easter would be, for all of us.

To that end, I’ve written a series of posts with some ideas for households with or without children, with simple ideas for the next week. In spite of everything, and just when we need it most, the stone will be rolled away from the tomb, Easter will come, and it is possible, perhaps even likely, that this year we will feel the mystery of the resurrection even more powerfully.

Maundy Thursday, with a simple foot-washing service

Good Friday, with some good theology and a recipe for hot cross buns

Holy Saturday, with ideas for the waiting

Easter, with butterflies and an invitation to new life

May we know that God is with us in this holy and tender time.

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

Family resources for Holy Week are available as a free download from Church Publishing.