First Universalist Society in Franklin

Commitment Statement–The Most Important Lessons to Teach Your Child (2-19-17)

My mother loves books.

She just retired from a twenty-year career as the reference librarian for the Belvedere-Tiburon Public Library in California. But when I was born, she was a stay-at-home mom, trying to answer the same question every new parent faces: what are the most important lessons to teach your child?

She knew that she wanted me to share her love of reading. So she took me to the library every week. I would dig through the bins of picture books and select all my favorites, and once we got home, she would read them to me.

One week, we got home from the library, and I grabbed the stack of books and brought them to my mother. “Sorry, honey,” she said. “It’s time for me to make dinner. Maybe you could read them yourself!”

“But I can’t read!” I wailed.

Gotcha, she thought. She knew I was hooked, and she knew I wouldn’t let anything stand in my way of learning how to read as quickly as possible.

When my son, Nathaniel, was born, I had to take a close look at myself. I knew I only had a few short years to model the behavior that I wanted to see in him. So I read to him every night. Now he rarely goes anywhere without a book. We listen to WERS together—All A Cappella and Standing Room Only. I bring him with me when I vote. When he was old enough, I took him to join the Cub Scouts, and now he’s in the Boy Scouts. I didn’t present it as a choice; more like, “this is just what you do when you start first grade.” I wanted him to learn what it feels like to be part of a team, working towards a shared goal, and so he can see how much smoother and more rewarding it is when everyone does their part.

FUSF is the same type of thing for us: this is just what you do on Sunday mornings. I want him to feel what it’s like to be a part of a community that shares our family’s worldview, to sing together, to eat together, to clean up together; to work together for justice and compassion.

I also give him an allowance, because I want him to learn the value of a dollar, and what it feels like to save up for something you want—how you have to prioritize your spending, and maybe defer some of your short-term wants so you can afford something bigger, later on.

I have him set aside fifteen per cent every week for long-term savings, and ten percent for charity. He decides what to spend his money on, even the charities. After Hurricane Sandy, he sent diapers to the survivors; after the most recent presidential election, another disaster, he donated to the ACLU and the NAACP.

When we passed the plate for the February giveaway to Crossroads Clubhouse, he leaned over to whisper in my ear. “Can I draw some of my allowance to put in the collection each week?”


Sandy and I have a monthly budget meeting, where we review our priorities and track our progress towards our goals. We’ve been catching up on some deferred maintenance on the house, so a large part of our budget goes to renovations. We have a pretty good idea of how much we spend on groceries and utilities every month, and there’s even a forecast section where we can see what our mortgage will look like on any future date.

So when we joined FUSF, I added our monthly pledge to the family budget. We’re still throwing a thousand bucks a month at the house, so our pledge isn’t as much as we’d like, but it’s enough for us to feel like we’re part of the team, helping our spiritual home to succeed. This year, with the search for a new minister, we’ve added a bullet point to the monthly budget meeting agenda, to talk about how much we can bump up our FUSF pledge without putting ourselves into the red.

Consider the words liberal and conservative. These days, I’m afraid they mostly get used as epithets. In my mind, they’re both part of the same spectrum… a measure of where you draw the line between who is “us” and who is “them.” If you believe that we are all “us,” and there is no “them,” I would place you towards the liberal end of that spectrum.

But those two words have many meanings. For instance, conservative can be used to mean cautious, as in “a conservative estimate.” And liberal can be used to mean generous, as in “a liberal helping of ice cream.”

I encourage you all to give liberally.

Thank you.

-February 19, 2017

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