Dr. Mary Lamb Shelden, Director of Lifespan Religious Education

Included below are the monthly newsletter columns written by our Director of Lifespan Religious Education.


  • From Our Director of Lifespan Religious Education (DLRE)

    November 2022

    In this season of All Souls, my parents have been on my heart. It’s been 57 years now since they signed the membership book for this congregation. They started coming in the wake of the events of Selma, which we’ve been discussing in worship and in our White Lies discussion series. They tried some things at that point in their lives to fight racism, under the auspices of our congregation, partnering with Jesse Jackson’s Operation Breadbasket, and with the Community Renewal Society (CRS). They connected through a CRS program with a ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Leaf Lessons

    This past weekend, my beloved and I attended my high school class’s 40th reunion and, for me, it was a joyful event. It was gratifying and affirming to see again people I’ve been out of touch with for long years, but still hold so much love for in my heart, and see how glad they were to see me, us, too. And I found myself in the role, this year, of bringing people who couldn’t be with us – because they were traveling abroad, or had to work, or to be at a daughter’s wedding – into the ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Rising

    Aug 31, 2022

    “And I dreamed I was flying . . . I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly, and looking back down at me smiled reassuringly.”

    Back in July, after the Highland Park parade shooting, I stumbled into a Facebook post from longtime WXRT DJ, Terri Hemmert. She talked about the gut punch of that day – about how since 9/11 they’d kept a TV in the studio with the news on and the sound down, just in case, and how 15 minutes into her show that day of ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Through

    August 1, 2022

    I’m pretty sure I’m the kind of person who, if I had a life-threatening illness, would say, “Give it to me straight, Doc.” So I trust you’ll forgive my bluntness here in saying: it’s been another tough year, after a series of tough years. No getting around it, in my estimation. For individuals (myself included), for families (including mine), for our congregation, for our faith movement, for our nation, for our planet. We have been in a time turned upside-down, where institutions and resources and practices we used to count on ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Midsummer

    July 2022

    Happy Midsummer, Dear Ones! It is good to be back in the States and, by the time you read this, I will be back among you – though not quite as soon as anticipated. My beloved and I have been on a journey of the spirit in ancestral homelands. As Margie and I both descend from the people of the British Isles, we elected for our 25th anniversary to travel to Great Britain, spending time in England, Wales, and Scotland, visiting centuries-old Unitarian churches – Frenchay, Hen-Dy-Cwrdd, Gellionnen – and much more ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Breather

    June 2022

    The annual Congregational Meeting is behind us, the two-year, pandemic-era Coming-of-Age youth are back from Boston (thanks to awesome coordinators, Chris Smith and Linda Berry!), and Flower Communion is set for this coming Sunday. In some ways, the rhythms of the year are familiar – but we can also feel, surely, that this is more than the usual turn of the year. Saturday we will honor and celebrate Rev. Hilary’s 14 years of service to our congregation; Sunday will be her last in our pulpit. I’ve only gotten three years with Hilary ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Something of the Beautiful

    May 2022

    On April 23, I spent the day at Busse Woods Nature Preserve with around 20 youth and some of their advisors, mentors, and other grownups, from five Chicago-area UU congregations. Nothing special – just a picnic and games, plus a group hike and a visit from a therapy dog and his human. The most complicated thing about the day is that the burgers were slow to cook, so we never got to the s’mores. At our opening circle, we had a youth from each congregation introduce the rest of their party. After ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Re-Awakening

    April 2022

    Just three weeks ago, I carried the lantern and led the children from worship to religious exploration at church. It had been a full two years since anyone had done that, and I’ve gotta say: it felt great. So marvelous to hear once again the laughter of our young people ringing down our hallways. Some of our kiddos met us once we got to the classroom, via Zoom – and that also felt great. I spent some time observing in one of our classrooms, watching Chris Smith, one of our skilled facilitators, ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Spring Renewal

    March 2022

    Yesterday the sun was out, and the air felt balmy and humane, and Marg and I took an afternoon walk in our neighborhood. The birds were back, chirruping in the brush and shrubbery around us, and though it was still February, it was the kind of day when you can feel the imminence of spring. We turned the corner and, suddenly, we heard the purring of cranes – a sedge of 8, and then another sedge of 10 overhead, who heard us calling to them in excitement and strayed from their flight trajectory ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Imbolc

    February 2022

    By the time you read this, Imbolc will have arrived. One of the cross-quarter Gaelic pagan holidays, Imbolc – also known as St. Brigid’s Day (or, more recently, Groundhog’s Day) – sits mid-way between Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox on the calendar. It is a feast day for which we take stock of and eat down our pantries: foods featuring nuts, dried fruits, seeds, and preserves are traditional (think Bilbo’s seedcakes), along with soups, stews, and soda breads. It is also a time for planning the garden for the year of ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Lag Time

    January 2022

    As I write this, it is Solstice – the darkest time of the year in our hemisphere, as the arc of the sun’s daily path dips low into the southernmost part of our sky, but also, the moment of turning, when our days will become longer and brighter each day, from now until mid-June. Though the sun begins as of now to return, though, there is always a lag between sunlight and temperature. As climate is cumulative, there will be a period of waiting now for the warming we know will inevitably ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Darkness and Light*

    As we pass through the season of Advent, and the darkest part of the year for our part of the planet, I find I’m in need of reminding – that I, that we, not only have reason and permission to be hopeful, but that hope is a requirement for humans. For going on two years now, I’m aware, I have seen it as my role to serve primarily as a voice of caution in order to protect (especially our youngest) congregants from Covid infection – and the pandemic is still very much with us, mutating and evolving and, ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Giving Thanks

    November 2021

    As I write to you in anticipation of All Souls’ Day tomorrow, I’m reminded once again of Mother Jones’s admonishment to “pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”

    It appears that, by the time I return from retreat on November 8, vaccinations will be widely available for children age 5-11; according to an NPR story, the Biden administration’s plan is to get “vaccines into places that parents already take their children for health care: pediatricians and family doctors, children’s hospitals, and neighborhood pharmacies. There will ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Seeding the Ground

    October 2021

    As the wheel of the year turns to Autumn, I’m reminded that while many associate this time of the year with harvest (as we bring home apples from the orchard and pumpkins from the farmstand), it is also a season for planting. This time last year, I planted in the earth, near our old townhouse, a milkweed start – a gift from a young congregant left over from his eagle scout project. This morning, I went and plucked some pods from its descendants for the gardens at our new home. (Though we ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Waiting

    September 2021

    I had a dear friend from Virginia, Bonnie, come out for a brief stay last week. We were colleagues at Virginia Commonwealth University, on the faculty there together, and came to be dear friends over those ten years. Though we still talk by phone with fair regularity, it had been four years since I’d laid eyes on her, one-and-a-half of them Covid years. We’d kept up with the details of one another’s sheltering in: the passing of Margie’s father, our respective teach-from-home lives, the return home of her grown son. Now the ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: The Twisties

    I was going to talk about religious education here, but I’m distracted by a national conversation unfolding right now on the subject of mental health. Maybe it’s captured your attention, as it has mine. It’s happening because a black woman, a highly decorated Olympian with a large platform, had the audacity to engage in mental self-care while in the middle of the spotlight. “In front of God and everybody,” as my mother used to say. And right on cue, the trolls lined up to take their shots – because:

    • Women, especially black women, are not ...
    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Reprieve

    July 2021

    Deep breath in . . . hold . . . deep breath out . . .

    I am just back from two weeks of spiritual retreat, dear ones – thank you for sending me. While I was away, I attended (virtually) the Professional Days conference for my professional association, LREDA, and the annual General Assembly for the continental organization for our faith movement (aka, UUA GA). At LREDA Pro Days, we talked a lot about recovering from burnout, as outlined in the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Safe to Play

    June 2021

    When I was a kid, play was easy – or at least it seems that way, looking back on it now. We lived in a neighborhood full of kids. We played along the street and in one another’s yards all the time. Hopscotch, jump rope, jacks, bikes, water balloons, bubbles, Frisbee, HORSE. Every once in a while, Red Rover, hide-and-go-seek, sardines. And every kind of Pretend. Though our parents were all at least passingly acquainted, going inside another kid’s house for a snack, or to play with their toys, was like visiting ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Taking a Breath

    May 2021

    Two crabapples stand outside our townhouse front door, just now bursting into bloom – one white and soft pink, the other magenta. A glory of blossoms. Last year, neither bloomed at all. I know they’re likely just alternate-year bloomers – we saw them in bloom when we first looked at the townhouse two years ago, deciding to rent here. Still, the change last year to this can’t help but feel emblematic of pandemic life. Last year, especially looking back, feels barren in many ways. We’ve gone barely anywhere – the grocery story, a ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Becoming

    April 2021

    Events of recent days – in Atlanta, in Boulder – as with the events of 1/6, have shaken my sense of country once again. They lead me, again, to ask: What have we become? And then to remind myself, again, of what we have always been. On the one hand, such violence is utterly predictable, given that racial hatred, long a fixture of American life, continues to grow, and that we have done nothing to change our firearms policies at a national level. On the other hand, consider how ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Living the Pledge

    March 2021

    Some years ago, when I was first undertaking the Pledge to End Racism workshop series as a participant, I was asked to consider other pledges, other commitments, I had made in my life, and what it was like to make them. Others in the group talked about marriage, or adoption. What sprang to mind for me was the commitment that Margie and I had made – some years prior even at that point – to stop using plastic bags. I’ve heard it said that, when you make a firm commitment to something, ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Pandemic Family Lessons

    Feb 2021

    When we heal ourselves, we help to heal our families, our communities, and the world.

    I grew up in a family full of traumatized people. For much of my growing up, I don’t think they understood this. Maybe they never did. I don’t really know much about my dad’s childhood, but my mother was an adult child of a raging alcoholic, a man still in and out of sobriety – mostly out – during the time that my parents attended Countryside. My parents had each had deeply troubled first ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Time-Travel

    Jan 4, 2021

    All travel is time-travel. Indeed, we could sit perfectly still for the rest of our lives and still be time-traveling. There is no way to avoid it, really, hurtling as we are through space at 1,000 miles per hour around Earth’s axis, at 67,000 miles per hour around the sun, at 490,000 miles per hour around the center of our galaxy. What’s crazy, discombobulating, is that we don’t always feel it, all this speeding through time and space. I’ve said for many years now that I feel like I’m slipping through ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Pandemic Time

    Dec 1, 2020

    For my birthday this year in March, just as the pandemic had us sheltering in, Margie got me a Fitbit – a wristwatch that counts steps for me pretty nearly every day (i.e., all the days I remember to wear it). Let me just say, I am not a natural wiz at accumulating steps. (Likely if I were, I wouldn’t need the watch.) But I’m thankful that my new device just faithfully counts and doesn’t judge. Indeed, it offers only praise – though at first I didn’t know this, as I ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Wired for Struggle

    Nov 1, 2020

    When my mother was in her late twenties, seeing that her life was at stake, with two small children in tow, she left her abusive first husband. It had taken her four years to decide to do this thing, she said later, largely because “it was hard to admit how stupid I’d been, marrying that man.” She moved back to her little hometown – Atchison, Kansas – and proceeded to embarrass her parents, who disapproved of the divorce, by capturing the attention of the town’s ineligible men, including my father. Then, ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Our Pandemic Story

    Oct 1, 2020

    When Nancy Combs-Morgan visited with some of our RE stakeholders back in August, she asked us to think about what we would say about this strange pandemic time looking back on it three years from now – and it got my gears going. Then a few days ago, Politico published a forecast piece (https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/09/25/how-covid-19-pandemic-ends-421122) based on expert testimony about how the pandemic era will eventually draw to a close, and I’ve been writing this story in my head since then about what we will tell the babies and children who ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Maladjustment

    Sept 2, 2020

    In the span of 24 hours this week, I observed two different cases where young women I know, both already leaders and solid, caring contributors in their communities—one White, one Black—faced harassment and gaslighting online from members of their own families for standing up against racism. It’s been hard to witness. In truth, in the wake of what we all witnessed in the People’s House this past week, it felt—to them and to me—like a gut punch. They each, separately and unbeknownst to one another, used the word exhausting. Witnessing the ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Old Growth

    Aug 5, 2020

    We live in an end unit, on top of a hill, overlooking a grove of trees, a golf course, and what remains of Cary Woods. Doubtless Cary Woods Circle is a billionth example of naming suburban locations for what “development” has razed and paved over – at best, a euphemism. Still, our hillside trees and those in our townhouse subdivision are a managed mini-arboretum – oak and maple and beech and ash and locust and willow and crabapple and gingko. It is a half-mile walk past these trees around our circuit ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Jackson, Lee, and Me

    July 6, 2020

    Last week, they took down Stonewall Jackson’s monument in Richmond. Though the statue of Robert E. Lee, as of this writing, remains, its days are surely numbered.

    Thirteen years and some months ago, I traveled to Richmond, Virginia for the first time. Virginia Commonwealth University was interviewing me for a faculty position. I was a diversity hire – I was out on my resume and in my interview – and I expressly asked about whether their spousal placement program would apply to my female partner who, then, of ...

    read more…
  • From Our DLRE: Pandemic Abnormal

    June 3, 2020

    Beloveds, it’s gotten to the point where the phrase “uncertain times” makes my skin crawl a bit. For some time now, this phraseology has felt like banal euphemism. Is it somehow more polite if we pretend we are not in the midst of a global pandemic, where hundreds of thousands are dying from a deadly virus? Then we learned that the virus was killing black and brown people in hugely outsized numbers. Then the president of the U.S. encouraged states to re-open prematurely. Then Breonna Taylor was killed in her own ...

    read more…