Props to First Parish (UU) in Chelmsford!
Today Mrs. Fausto and I took Fausto Jr. to a robotics competition. Fausto Jr. was one of a team of six kids from grades 4-7 in his school to build and program a robot out of Lego pieces. Forty-five such teams met today in a tournament, in which the robots competed in performing certain predetermined tasks. The theme of the tournament, sponsored by the First Lego League (did you know such an organization exists? I didn't!), was "Ocean Odyssey". The robotic tasks all had marine connotations, and the teams also competed in presenting research about various environmental threats to the world's oceans.
Most of the teams, like Fausto Jr.'s, were school-sponsored. There were also a few Girl Scouts and other youth club teams. I was intrigued, however, to see that one particularly eager team, the "Disassembled Droids", was sponsored by the First Parish (UU) in Chelmsford, Mass. In addition to the Droids, other clever team names included the Botkickers, the Squid Squad, the Think Pink (a Girl Scout team dressed in shocking pink T-shirts), the Barnstabots (from Barnstable, Mass.) the Newtonian Mechanics (from Newton, Mass.), and (my favorite) the Upside-Down Bouncing Chipmunks.
The event was billed as "sports for the mind". The First Lego League flyer called the contestants "the next generation of scientists, engineers and visionaries". Some of these kids have been at this for years and were as competitive and focused as any Junior Olympics participants. Both Fausto Jr.'s and Chelmsford's teams were newly organized and, frankly, outclassed by some of the more experienced teams, but they still approached the challenge with determination and zeal.
I have to salute the FP Chelmsford parents for taking the initiative to field a team. Is this a cool thing for UU kids to be involved with, or what? Chelmsford's kids (six boys and one girl) had prepared not only the robotics events but also a well-researched presentation on the inadvertent introduction of invasive species into the environment. They learned about the value of human ingenuity and teamwork, and the sensitivity of the marine ecosystem to human intervention -- both of which are issues that resonate in the historic concerns of our denomination.
Chelmsford's coach, Dave Kaffine, told me that this was not a formal part of their RE program, but merely an idea they had to try to keep their pre-teen boys involved and interested in the church community. To which I say, great -- but why not try to integrate it into RE? This is exactly the age at which we lose many of our boys, and exactly the sort of activity that can capture their imagination. If a program like this also can be presented in a way that teaches something about our spiritual and intellectual identity, isn't that just what our present ministry to this age group, especially boys, lacks?
Although other teams scored higher, in the end the Disassembled Droids won a trophy for "Best Rookie Team of the Year" (much to Fausto Jr.'s and his teammates' chagrin). That's cause enough for plaudits in itself. From the point of view of theological inclusivity and compassionate co-existence, however, it was perhaps even more gratifying to see that both Chelmsford's and Fausto Jr.'s teams finished ahead of the team named "the Lego Crusaders". Today Universalism quieted violent triumphalism, as it always should.