Friday, October 22, 2010

The Music We Make Together

By the time you read this I will be in New Orleans, attending the annual conference of Unitarian Universalist professional religious educators from across the United States and Canada. This is my first visit to post-Katrina New Orleans. I am excited to finally see for myself what has been, is being, and still needs to be done there.

This conference is entitled "Transforming the Jericho Road." As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said to Andrew Young, according to John Hope Bryant, "I am tired of picking up people along the Jericho Road. I am tired of seeing people battered and bruised and bloody, injured and jumped on, along the Jericho Roads of life. This road is dangerous. I don't want to pick up anyone else along this Jericho Road. I want to fix...the Jericho Road. I want to pave the Jericho Road, add street lights to the Jericho Road; make the Jericho Road safe (for passage) by everybody."

This is a different conference from the previous ten or so LREDA Fall Conferences I have attended in my tenure as this church's religious educator. We religious educators are not going to sit in a cavernous conference room and soak up the wisdom of a renowned presenter or presenters. No. We are, instead, going to get out into New Orleans and work. We are going to do what we can do together and then reflect on what we have done in a small group of eight to twelve people. Experiential learning. Service Learning. These are terms for this sort of learning. It is my own preferred learning style. It is the learning method used in Clinical Pastoral Education, such as my summer chaplaincy at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. It is what our "Faith in Action" 3rd -5th grade group did this past Sunday when they visited the Ecumenical Storehouse to deliver donations from our church and to stock the shelves. It is religious education at its most authentic and effective.

I plan to bring back to you what I learn. I will have stories. Stories of New Orleans, of inclusivity, of making a difference, of failure and disappointment, of hope. I plan to come back to you changed--someone for whom a veil has been lifted. I plan to bring back to you a stronger vision of how to "weave social action, worship, and learning into a seamless garment, worn by the congregation (church's long range plan)." I plan to come back with ideas that help this congregation grow into our potential. We say we "sing a song of Beloved Community (church's vision statement)", and I say that is true. But I also say we can sing much more loudly, much more boldly, and much more harmoniously--much more in tune with our surroundings and our times. I say there is some "soul music" in us that is yet to be sung. We need to sing out!

Now, I love to sing and I am an okay singer, but I am no soloist...well, maybe in the shower. I suspect that most of you are in a similar singing situation. But that's okay. It's the music we can make TOGETHER that is the real song. I look forward to sharing what I've seen and done and learned that can help us "sing a song of Beloved Community" and "weave social action, worship and learning into a seamless garment." Meanwhile, keep those singing muscles in shape!

My son Sam's 3rd grade teacher closed each school day with "Miss you 'til tomorrow!" I'll piggyback on that-- "Miss you 'til next week!"

In faithful and fruitful partnership,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Thoughts from Tandy Scheffler

“Religion is like sexuality: if you don't teach your children about it, they will learn it on the street.” ~Rev. Dr. Tony Larson, Unitarian Universalist minister

Last Sunday, I circled up with three moms for our first “The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting” Sunday 11 a.m. session. We began by sharing one thing we learned from our parents when we were children and they our primary religious educators (as all parents of children are.) Here is some of what we said. We learned to live by ethical principles--how to be fair and generous people who work for the larger good. We learned the practice of church going--that church is what we do together as a family on Sundays and we go to remind us of who and whose we are. We learned that religion is something we can make up our own mind about. We all agreed that what our parents taught us they taught by who they were and what they did more than by what they said.

In Michelle Richards's book Tending the Flame, she shares a story from family educator Bill Doherty. When Bill's son was seven, he asked what happens to us after we die. Being a former Catholic fleeing dogmatism, Bill feared imposing his own beliefs, so he said, “Well, some people believe that after we die, we go to heaven forever. Other people believe that when we die, our life is over, and we live on through the memories of people who have known and loved us.” The son was not so easily satisfied: “But what do YOU believe, Dad?” After additional sidestepping, Bill finally admitted that he believes we live on in the memories of those who loved us, to which his son replied, “Well, I'll believe what you believe for now, and when I grow up, I'll make up my own mind.”

Children NEED to know what their parents believe. This is a documented developmental step in faith formation. First, we catch our beliefs from our family. Later, we examine those beliefs and form our own conclusions. Sharing beliefs is not indoctrination; it is meeting children where they are developmentally and providing appropriate guidance. Just as we guide our children to make ethical choices, so we provide our children with a foundational understanding of the meaning and mystery of life.

This means that, as parents, we need to get comfortable with what we believe about the big questions of life. What happens when we die? Why is there war? Who was Jesus? Why are there so many different religions? Does God exist? What do we mean by “God”?

This means that we need to get comfortable with intentionally sharing our faith—naming the compass points that guide our lives and give us direction and purpose—that higher good to which we are faithful.

This means that we need to attend to our own faith formation. We need to grow and nurture our own souls.

I invite you to make our “Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting” circle larger by joining us when next we meet at 11 a.m. on Nov. 5. (every first Sunday of the month.) I hope you will attend other faith formation sessions, as you are able. The overarching goal of every gathering is to help each person grow deeper and find their way to a “home” in a church group. It might be in the small group that meets on Thursday evenings. Or possibly in the choir, or on the Adult Faith Formation Team or Memorial Committee. Or a group newly formed to explore spiritual practices together. Whatever group it turns out to be, may that group be comprised of fellow seekers journeying in community—learning together, caring for each other, and being of service to others.

May it be so. Amen and Blessed be.