Three hundred and thirty seven years ago this week (1683, in case that math takes too long) the first Mennonites arrived in what's now the United States and founded Germantown - now a neighborhood in Philadelphia. After sharing a meal with the local indigenous people (probably Lenape) Francis Daniel Pastorius, a German Mennonite lawyer and teacher wrote, "they have never in their lives heard the teaching of Jesus concerning temperance and contentment, yet they far excel the Christians in carrying it out.”
Anniversaries are natural times to tell stories. We use birthdays to tell our children about when they were born, wedding anniversaries to tell the stories of meeting and getting married, the anniversary of our church to tell stories of its founding and its first families. For some of us white folks, though, telling our immigration stories has become a little cringe-y. Our histories include colonization, enslavement of other humans, intentional and internalized bias based on white supremacist notions. So when I read the quote above on the Salt Project's Theologian's Almanac, and shortly afterward the following quote about those first Mennonites in Jason Reynolds YA book Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You, (a "remix" of Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning) I was psyched!
Mennonites didn't want to leave behind one place of oppression to build another in America, so they circulated an antislavery petition on April, 1688, denouncing oppression due to skin color by equating it with oppression due to religion. Both oppressions were wrong. This petition - the 1688 Germantown Petition Against Slavery - was the first piece of writing that was antiracist among European settlers in colonial America.
Yes! Mennonites recognized as the OG anti-racists! And they did it based on the teaching of Jesus. Patting myself on the back over here for coming from such enlightened and woke white folks. Well, sort of. My own Mennonite ancestors immigrated to Canada in the late 19th century also fleeing oppression in southern Russia, also seeking religious freedom and opportunity to thrive in a new environment. And, of course, using the advantages of whiteness to cheaply purchase land that had been stolen from indigenous people.
The theme this month in spiritual formation is "Making Sense of Our Stories" and our stories are complicated. When we're building our storytelling repertoire, it's really important to be able to understand our story from all perspectives, so that we don't repeat mistakes of oppression and injustice - and so that we can participate in repair. Authors like Jennifer Harvey and Anastasia Higginbotham, who write about talking with white kids about race, talk about the importance for developing a white identity emerging from more than just stories of hate, destruction and oppression. We also need to find stories of ancestors and heroes (Mennonite and otherwise) who were active in interrupting patterns of oppressions like racism and white supremacy. Those are stories we can embrace and seek to identify with.
Reynolds writes about the history of race and racial inequity in Stamped but he's insistent that it isn't a history book. "This book is not history history book, this present book is meant to take you on a race journey from then to now, to show why we feel how we feel, why we live how we live, and why this poison, whether recognizable or unrecognizable, whether it's a scream or a whisper, just won't go away." And then he tells stories - stories of wrongness and stories of people getting in the way of that wrong.
All that to say: tell your stories. Look for the stories that are hidden and find out why. Look for the stories that haven't been told and tell them. Look at the stories of the country and community and think about where and how your people intersected with them. Amplify the stories of justice and learn from them. And may we be the ancestors whose stories our children will tell with pride.
A final note, speaking of stories, here are a couple book related links I've come across recently. Of course, everyone should read Stamped and everything else that Jason Reynolds has written. And that Ibram X. Kendi has written (I'm still working on that myself.) Also, UW Bookstore has created anti-racist book kits for kids and adults of all ages. And The Conscious Kid has a reading list for kids from 0-18 on confronting anti-blackness and on how to support conversations on race, antiracism and resistance.
image: Thones Kunder's house, 5109 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia PA, where the 688 Petition Against Slavery was written
Three years ago I taught the Our Whole Lives curriculum with our high school youth for the first time. OWL is the wholistic sexuality curriculum from the UCC and Unitarian traditions. It's one of the most fun times I've had with teens in our congregation. I was looking forward to having that experience again this year, but COVID got in the way of those plans. However, it's had thinking about teens and sexuality and I thought I'd share some resources for folks with teens or teens-to-be. It's never to early to start conversations about sexuality, bodies and relationships.
In my family we've always been pretty open about talking about sex and bodies with our kids. Sure it leads to slightly embarrassing moments when kids ask openly about body parts or share facts they know about genitals at the wrong time or with the wrong people. But for the most part, the more knowledge, vocabulary and self-awareness a child has the greater their safety and confidence in navigating relationships of all kinds and their ability to protect themself.
Communicating the right names for body parts helps children explain accurately when they've been hurt or are in pain. Communicating without shame or secrecy about body parts can protect children from predators. Communicating the facts about sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and the importance of how to have safer sex helps teens make informed decisions about their own bodies and well-being. Communicating to kids and teens the importance of consent and what it is and isn't, as well as the value and beauty of their bodies, creations of a loving God, we hope will help them see themselves as worthy of care and compassion.
You see how often I used the word 'communicating?' That really indicates how key communication is - in an ongoing way, no just as "the talk." So here are some resources. I tried to include a variety of resources that cover littles and middles and also stuff for teens and parents of teens.
The Birds and the Bees for Little Kids - This one is TOMORROW! so act fast if you're interested. There are also many other resources about talking to kids and teens about sexuality at the Birds and Bees and Kids website. Another very cool site with tips and videos and fun animations to help parents process how to talk about sex with kids is Amaze (older kids) and Amaze Junior (little kids)
NPR's Life Kit podcast has a couple of episodes about kids and sex. How to Talk to Children about Sex addresses conversations with kids before the onset of puberty. My biggest take-away (among many) was be brief, factual and loving when talking about sex with kids. What Your Teen Wishes You Knew About Sex Education is (as the title suggests) about the teens in your life. That one features sex educator and advocate Heather Corinna.
Corinna is the author of a couple of books. One is a graphic non-novel called Wait, What? features a group of friends talking to each other and the audience about bodies, sex and sexuality. She also wrote S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties. I haven't read this one yet, but based on the introduction and table of contents alone I'm looking forward to it. (I linked to Amazon so you can look inside, but I got my copy from bookshop.org)
Since you really don't want your tween or teen googling a sex thing they've heard about, I suggest showing them Scarleteen, the website developed by Corinna. It's very teen friendly with tons of articles and FAQ's on a huge variety of topics. Another good one is Sex Etc. I Wanna Know is another that's not quite as visually fun but does have a section specifically for parents. Honestly, as an old person, these websites are helpful just to keep up with what's important to teens and to see what kinds of questions they're asking.
The Great Conversations series of workshops for parents and their tweens about their changing bodies and what to expect from puberty are in person. But they're offered online for now. I found this really helpful a couple of years ago and I look forward to another round with my second kid. There are other great resources on this site as well.
God loves you and your kids and all of the bodies that God made. Whatever these conversations look like for you, may you experience God's presence with you and your children. Good luck!