Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


ArtWorks! Comes back. But How Can “Religious Education” Be Religious When We Are Not Talking about “Religion”? –>this is Part 1 of 3

Since 2009, our summer Religious Education (RE) program has been ArtWorks

Artists in our congregation introduce children and youth to their medium and work, and to engage the group in trying out that art form.  These arts include, among other things, painting, fabric, sculpture with mixed media, origami, crafts, music, and acting.

A question has intrigued and challenged me:  Where’s the religion?

What does all this have to do with religious education?

First, I want to say (paraphrasing Dr. Maria Harris):  that the curriculum is the whole life of the church.  The congregation is teaching all the time, in all its program areas and activities.    The congregation teaches by how it worships (and with whom), what it says and what it doesn’t think to say, how it celebrates and mourns,  how its members treat one another, how it relates to music and the other arts, how it responds to the larger culture, and how it reaches out beyond its walls (and whether it does at all).  If we all do these things together, and reflect together on what we are doing and why, we are a community of learners–all of us–and we are providing RE to one another.  Whatever is going on…there is a religious or spiritual lesson there.

So, if all we do here becomes part of  the Religious Education of the whole church, what is our purpose?

What are the intentions behind what we choose to do?

The following explains what is most important in my eyes:

Ours is a fragmented society.   Americans are lonelier than many other cultures, and our loneliness is increasing.   We are more isolated than folks have been in all of human history.   I know the Web connects people in unprecedented ways, but after hours in front of a screen with no in-person contact, I can’t say I feel more connected than I did 20 years ago!

Economic relocation and dislocation interrupt friendships.  Our transience and mobility mean that many do not have strong roots anywhere.   Consumerist individualism does not fill the void of not having people who know us as we truly are.  In light of this, the progressive church’s number one purpose is not the transmission of knowledge, but the practice of community, the rare and real experience of belonging.

Ours is an age-segregated society.   Rare is the household that includes more than parent and child these days, but in years past extended families of three generations often shared a home.   It’s common these days for grandparents and grandchildren to live far from one another, and rare to be in the same town.  In contrast to village culture in other lands, or the days of neighborhood friendships in our own country, today’s children are unlikely to have ongoing relationships with adults who aren’t their parents, school teachers, or (sadly) social workers.  Elders with no grandchildren (or none living nearby) might see a few that come by once a year for Christmas caroling at the retirement home.

What kinds of wisdom and love do our kids miss out on because they don’t grow up around their grandparents?  What joy–and what opportunities for loving and giving–do adults miss out on because they don’t have kids or grand kids of their own, or because they see theirs so infrequently?

Given our larger culture, the most radical and religious thing we can do as a church is to introduce people to one another without regard to the categories and separations imposed on us by secular culture.  The most powerful thing we can do is to build connections!

What I want our children and youth to learn at UUSS is a sense of belonging.  They belong here.  They can develop roots here.   People here love and care for them, are proud of them, are willing to spend time with them.  I also want them to learn that they can be friends with kids who are not in their own narrow age group.  Most schools put kids into segregated classes, and it makes some sense, developmentally.  We have some general age breakdowns too, in some of our RE programming.  Yet we promote and provide activities in which younger kids and older youth can help, watch and learn from one another.

What I want our elders and other adults to learn is that in this community their presence and their talents are life-giving, and their mentoring friendships are formative.  They have much to share, and they have much joy to look forward to.  They can build a legacy here.

The vehicles or programs by which we promote such relationships are important, but what matters more is not the particular input, but the product of our time together:  a sense of relationship, a sense of belonging, the spirit of gratitude and of giving back.

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2 Comments so far
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How we live our lives is our religion–with open eyes, hearts and hands. The enjoyment of our surroundings is growth of the spirit.

Comment by Jeannine Newcum

Roger, you have said so many critically important things here. Maybe it is my age and generation, along with growing up an air force brat, but I feel this sense of isolation and loneliness deeply at times. I have thought maybe I was the only one who felt this way. Things are so dramatically different than when I was a child. Besides teachers and social workers, family doctors have also changed for me. I go to Kaiser and they are definitely trained to act caring, but they don’t know me or my family. I don’t trust them like I used to. Teachers don’t get the privilege of teaching to the “whole child” anymore because they have to be so focused on testing skills. A lot of society is just looking like a mess to me and I have our church at the top of my gratitude list daily. I daydream of moving to a small town in Italy, or France, but then I would have to become a Catholic, which is, of course, out of the question.

Comment by Lauren Davis-Todd




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