Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Can you define Religious Education?

The mourning period for the loss of my dog has turned the corner into the long tunnel of a very foul mood. I hope I've done a good job raising children and creating good, authentic relationships in my life that can survive my bleak presence. I am wicked crabby! I know that I am an annoyingly eternal optimist. I'm sure this will pass. Already I'm contemplating fostering dogs for people who are deployed overseas and may have to give up their beloved pet if no one will take them for a year or more. But at this moment? Yeah, cloud over my head with it's own personal gloominess.

But at least I can work again. A sweet friend asked me some questions about Religious Education. So, while I am working on schedules and planning lessons and even a bit of budget stuff, I took a few minutes to think about what I do. It's like if you're looking at the work we do on google earth and you're zoomed in so close that you can pick out people's wood piles in their back yards, but then you scroll back and out and up until you can see the whole planet. This is the whole planet.

To me, the ministry that I push and pull and drag and launch and dance with in the work I do has three distinct branches:

The first branch is Religious Education; learning about being a Unitarian Universalist, our history, our practices, what we are called to do when we are in covenant with other UUs and our faith and our own very personal identity as Unitarian Universalist. Religious Education also includes learning about religion itself, why there are religions, why people practice religions and also some basic knowledge and understanding of a few other religions.

The second branch is Spiritual Practice; how people find ways to be in touch with the deepest part of their soul. This includes learning how to meditate a few different ways each year, spending time in nature, how to be in community in a mindful way thru children's worship, music, prayer as a group and joyful group activities like chanting, dancing and body prayer. We do learn different ways to pray, and we practice praying individually as they choose join in. It's our job to ready our children and youth with ways to deal with the things life brings us, and spiritual practice is vital to a healthy response to joy and sorrow.

The third branch is Social Action: taking our faith to our work and our work to our faith and being mindful Unitarian Universalist in action both with social and environmental issues. Children are extremely capable in taking their faith to work, and nothing teaches that we are called to do good work in the world like actually doing that good work. Monthly service projects with all ages working together makes this possible right within our ministry and our rickety old building.

So, I define Religious Education as the process of incorporating these three branches of action into a dynamic program that invites children and youth to participate.

The transformative power of Religious Education in fruition comes in when we open the heart and soul of a child or youth to their own power. When they are given the tools to become who they already really, truly are.


But, not easy.


Lizard Eater said...

Have you had a pity party? I am not being facetious. I am a big proponent of pity parties. I prefer them alone, but some will invite a trusted friend. Have: good food, good drink, a big box of kleenex, a sad movie, old photos ...

Cry and cry hard.

Okay, done being bossy. I'm sorry for your loss. How those critters steal our hearts.

Diana said...

2 thoughts:
There's really nothing for your good friends to "withstand". How you are as you are grieving is how you are and we love you no matter what that looks like.

And then there's this: That you can have this sort of clarity and eloquence in the midst of your grieving is mind-boggling! The way you put it makes it seem so simple...but that simplicity really just reveals your commitment and thoughtfulness.

Thank you for sharing.

boston unitarian said...

May you find light at the end of your "long tunnel" soon. Thank you for the thoughts on Religious Education. I would just add this from William Ellery Channing's address, "The Sunday-School"
"The noblest work on earth is to act with an elevating power on the human spirit...Whoever, in the humblest sphere, imparts God's truth to one human spirit, partakes their glory. He labors on an immortal nature. He is laying the foundation of imperishable excellene and happiness. His work, if he succeed, will outlive empires and the stars."
Blessings BU

David G. Markham said...

Hi Kari:

Grieving is hard and it often makes us irritable. In psychotherapy we say, "You can either be mad or sad" and sometimes it is easier to be mad because it doesn't hurt quite so much.

Your outline of the functions of Religious Education is excellent. I like it a lot. I, quickly, would suggest too other things: good religious education is very infuential in identity development an formation - What kind of a person am I and where to I belong, fit in in this world. and secondly, the provision of an emotional support system as individuals go about developing their identities. Identity development has a lot to do with identifying one's own values, preferences, hopes, dreams, and aspiriations. In Narrative Therapy, we lump these ideas together in the idea of one's life as "the social construction of preferred futures."

Self understanding, and ensivioning a future which we can place our faith in, is powerful stuff.

God bless you and your important work.

All the best,

David Markham

P.S. I will be bold and just say to you, Fuck fostering pets, get yourself another canine life companion. You deserve it.

Kari said...

Thank you, all.

I think I need to go on a Mediterranean cruise to heal the pain, and think deeply about ministry to families.....and the Greek Isles, I should go to the Greek Isles, too.


Now that would be a pity party!

Maybe I'll put one dog bed away today. Or maybe not.