“Bless This Family”

First Parish Unitarian Universalist, Bridgewater, MA
“Bless This Family”
Mothers’ Day, May 8, 2016 – 10:30am
and on YouTube

Thought for Contemplation: We celebrate the many ways that
People create families and become mothers in our communities.
We call for a commitment to make every day Mother’s Day.
~Debra Haffner, The Religious Institute

Reading “Kite Mother”, Meg Barnhouse, First UU of Austin, TX
In my garage there was a tired kite leaning against a wall. More than tired — it
looked depressed. It was blue with a white dove in the foreground flying over a
rainbow. In the 1970s it served as a wall hanging. I was in the low-budget
decorating stage in which record album covers decorated the walls and my only
table was a large wooden spool. When I got to the next decorating stage, in
which I had Da Vinci and Van Gogh prints on the walls and an actual table at
which to eat meals, I put the kite in the garage. It had never flown.
I had a vague picture of flying it one day with my children. The picture was lit
with gold, and it had blurry edges. It was a greeting card view of motherhood,
in which you have small children but you’re not tired or irritable and you have
energy for educational and stimulating activities. The sun shines on these
motherly activities but it’s not hot, and there are no bugs — unless you and the
children are on a bug catching expedition. Then there are colorful, friendly bugs
waiting to be caught and examined with calm delight.
Now, years later, I have actual children. We have a neighbor we called the
kite doctor. He can make a kite out of a red bandana, a shopping bag, a bed sheet, or a Styrofoam plate…. My boys cornered the kite doctor at our house one day and asked him to fix the kite in the garage.
He spent the next forty minutes, cheerfully and with good grace, sewing,
stringing, and testing the kite. During the test runs he would call out to my
six-year-old son, “Run now! Let it go! Stop. Run now …” The kite looped
wildly, ignorant of how to fly.
Finally, the kite doctor decided to attach a longer tail. He unhooked some
six-foot rainbow streamers that were fluttering from our front porch and attached
them to the kite. When my son ran with the kite wearing its new tail, it took
to the sky. My spirits rose with it. My children were having a perfect day, a
day like the ones I had pictured when being a mother was still an abstract
I keep hoping that tomorrow I will wake up and be the mother from the
greeting card picture who has sweetness and creativity and sits for hours with
her children making models of Indian villages and building a real canoe that we
take down the Amazon together as we save the rain forest. I will wake up and
want to bake fresh bread and serve fresh vegetables at every meal and fly kites
with my children.
Some days I reach that ideal. We go on great hikes sometimes, and I like to
draw with them. Maybe tomorrow we can draw a picture of the kite doctor
and his [kites]…. In the picture it will be perfect weather, and there might be a
large colorful bug sitting on one of the [kites]…. You know what, though? Into
that lovely perfect picture my six-year-old son will probably draw flaming
bombs dropping from the lady’s tiny kite. I will laugh and clap for him. He
and his brother are not blurry and golden. They are sharp and tangy and real.
That’s the kind of mother I want to be. Yeah, that’ll fly.
Sermon “Bless this Family” Rev. Paul Sprecher
Women are often not heard or attended to in the stories we tell our
For example, we barely hear the voice of Mama Bear in the Goldilocks
story – what was she thinking?
Foremost in her mind was her terror when the family returned to find the
door to their home ajar. Maybe Papa Bear and Baby Bear were intrigued –
maybe one of them had just forgotten to close the door carefully enough –but
Mama Bear could only imagine the worst: a robber or maybe someone who
would maraud through her beautiful house, wrecking everything.
It was Mother’s Day. The porridge had been made by Papa Bear, who
so rarely cooked that he wasn’t very good at it. He had made the fire way too
hot – which is why they’d had to leave the house in the first place. “If only,”
Mama Bear mused, “if only he did it more often, he’d get much better at it.”
Still, she was touched that he cared enough to at least try on her special day.
And Baby Bear’s broken chair – how many times had she reminded
Papa Bear that gluing the joints should be high on his honey-do list, but there
was always something he thought was more important. Fortunately, it had just
fallen apart and not really broken, and now he would – hopefully! – put it on
the top of his list.
Mama Bear’s first thought when she looked in the bedroom and saw that
the beds were all messed up was that Baby Bear had once again failed to do his
chore of making the beds; though when she realized why they were really
messed up, she hugged her baby and thanked him for (usually) making the beds
after all.
Then, when she saw how terrified Goldi was when the bears found her
there, her heart went out to the poor, frightened little girl – despite the havoc
she had wreaked in the house. When Mrs. Locks showed up, she Mama Bear
recognized that at last she had found a friend to share her own frustrations –
and her joys – and after that the two mothers became fast friends. Finally, after
the crisis was under control, Mama Bear looked around her house with
satisfaction as she reflected on how cozy it was, and how much she had done to
make it just right.
Now, that’s a reading that represents a somewhat sentimental Mothers’
Day take on a “traditional” family – maybe a real mother wouldn’t be that
resentful or that relieved at the end of the story – but she was a bear, after all –
not a Kite Mother!
Still, some of you mothers may have noticed a thought or feeling you
could identify with. But enough about bears.
My family very much fell into the mode of a “traditional” family. My Mom
no more imagined being anything other than a housewife – more accurately, a
farm wife – than my father could have imagined himself as anything other than
farmer. Roles for women were clear and options for many women were very
limited; among the most common jobs were teacher, secretary, waitress – or
There were exceptions, of course, but the 50’s were a time of return to
“tradition.” On the other hand, “traditions” can be slippery things. The Bible
is often cited as a thoroughly patriarchal document that reinforces the
subordination of women – which it mostly does do. But one of the more
famous passages about wives is Proverbs 31, which opens (in the New Revised
Standard Version):
“A worthy woman who can find? Her price is above rubies.”
I rather prefer the King James Version: “Who can find a virtuous woman?”
“Virtuous,” according to Webster, means “Having or showing high moral
standards. and (especially of a woman) Chaste.
I did a word study from the Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary in
seminary and found that in the 1600’s when the King James Version was
written, the word “virtuous” – derived from the Latin vir, meaning MAN–
meant instead “strong, capable, and intelligent.”
Note what this “virtuous” woman – more specifically a wife and of course a
mother – actually does:
She feeds and clothes her family of course, and also:
• Buys land and plants a vineyard;
• Makes and sells wares, including fine cloth;
• Opens her palms to the poor, and extends her hands to the wretched;
and she
• Opens her mouth in wisdom, teaching of kindness.
She is not the idealized housewife of the 1950’s – she is the one who
does much of the work in the family! And her husband? He is “famed
at the gates when he sits with the land’s elders!”
So much for the reticent and subordinate wife! Here is a woman who is
truly a blessing to her family.
Since I grew up, and in all of our lifetimes, there has been an enormous
revolution in the roles of women in our society. Very few vocations today are
closed to women – including the armed services. In some professions, women
now predominate.
In 1977, our Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly passed
a resolution on “Women and Religion,” which both recognized changes that
were just beginning and made a commitment to examining how our own
religious tradition has promoted “attitudes that cause women to be overlooked
and undervalued.” One result is that insofar as possible we have adopted
gender inclusive language in our readings, hymnals (sometimes awkwardly),
and sermons. Nor are these changes confined to Unitarian Universalists. The
recent New Revised Standard Version of the Bible was rewritten to use gender neutral
language wherever possible. I was taught in my relatively conservative
theological seminary to avoid identifying God as exclusively male, which
sometimes means simply avoiding the use of pronouns to refer to God
Today, there are more Unitarian Universalist ministers who are women than
men – ours was the first denomination in which this happened – which is quite
remarkable given that women ministers were almost unheard of forty years
Today women earn majority of college degrees, and some think that boys
are now disadvantaged in school, in part because our modes of teaching are are
more aligned with the needs and styles of girls than of boys.
Of course, the revolution in roles has inevitably been exploited for
commercial advantage as well; we all remember the Virginia Slims cigarette
tag line “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” – as though the essence of
feminism were to give women the same rights to lung cancer as men had!
Changes since Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique wrote of “the
problem that has no name” in her critique of the idyllic “traditional” family
roles of the 50’s have meant that women have been able to enter most of the
professions. Women in leadership roles are able to take advantage of
opportunities even as they raise their children. For example, when Marissa
Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo a few years ago, she became the first CEO to
take her job at a major corporation while pregnant; in her exalted role, she was
able to set up nursery next to her office. The benefits she could give herself
were not shared by all the women at Yahoo, alas. In fact, Mayer ended
telecommuting, a move that was hard on employees with families – especially
mothers – who relied on the flexibility allowed by telecommuting.
Working mothers at all levels of income are squeezed between work and
family and have far less flexibility than the few fortunate women who have
become senior executives.
And the revolution has had consequences: E.J. Dione summarized some of
the negatives in the Washington Post:
“In 2010, among families with children,” [a] study notes,
“nearly half (44.8 percent) were headed by two working parents
and another one in four (26.1 percent) were headed by a single
parent. As a result, fewer than one in three (28.7 percent)
children now have a stay-at-home parent, compared to more than
half (52.6 percent) in 1975, only a generation ago.”
And these changes are driven more by economics than by any
of the mommy-war issues that provide so much fodder for
television and radio brawls. “Breadwinning wives are even more
common in families with lower incomes,” according to the CAP
report. “Seven in 10 (69.7 percent) working wives earn as much
or more than their husbands in the bottom 20 percent of income
distribution for all families. And about half (45.3 percent) of
working wives are breadwinners in families in the middle of the
income distribution, up from four in 10 (39.1 percent) in 2007
and only 15.2 percent in 1967.”1
Americans on average work more hours than workers in other advanced
industrial countries. Increasing mobility separates families from grandparents,
who have often taken up some of the child-care responsibilities in extended
We have indeed undergone a revolution in the position of women in our
society in the past half-century. Positively, men and women can both dream of
becoming anything they want to be. It’s likely that our next president will be a
woman, breaking the glass ceiling for the highest office in the land.
AND these positive changes have had consequences, not all of which have
been absorbed and adjusted for. Care for our nation’s children has to include
care for mothers. If our families are to be blessed, we must account for the
needs of mothers. We’re not going to turn back as a society to the 1950’s, but
we also have to be aware of new pressures and burdens, especially for those
not in privileged positions of leadership. So on this Mothers’ Day:
– we are reminded that no one can have it all. Reminded of the need to
make choices, to have clarity of purpose, carefully choosing what is
most worthy of our time and attention.
– As individuals, we need to recognize an ever greater need for
compassion for mothers.
– As congregation, we need to share our stories. To encourage one
another. To create community of mutual support.
The poet Joy Harjo calls on all of us to:
Remember the sky you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
So, then, let us cherish our memories. Let us share our stories. Let us grow in
1 E.J. Dionne, Jr, “Two-paycheck couples, working because they must,” Washington Post,
April 18, 2012, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-04-


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