Dealing With The Family Album or Is It Time To Bury Sunday School pt. 6

Those of you who know me in real life know my pet peeves when it comes to UUs knowledge (or lack thereof) of their own history. Oh sure, most of us know the names Francis David and Michael Servetus, John Murray and Hosea Ballou. But how much do we really deal with them? In our very real and well-meaning desire to be multi-faith, have we disconnected ourselves from whence we came?

How many kids, after coming through UU religious education programs, would know what story The Red Tent is based on? If they are asked to read Absalom,Absalom! in an English class, would they know who the original Absalom was? Do any of them know the story that we get the phrase “split the baby” from?

How much more would they get from Moby Dick if, when they read “call me Ishmael”, they actually knew who Ishmael was?

If you haven’t figured out where I’m going here friends, I’ll put it in really simple language…we need to deal with our family album. And as much as I know it pains some of you to acknowledge it, we are “people of the book.”

Look at the list of people that we venerate…Parker…Murray…Channing…Ballou…Starr King…JLA…they are all people who had an intimate knowledge of the foundational book of our faith. (lest anyone forget…we are the only denomination that is named for two Christian theologies)

Wanna know why UUism is an insignificant religious voice in the larger world (for all our talk of the contrary)? It’s because we don’t the language (or at least we don’t talk it). It’s all well and good to say that we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person…it’s another thing to say that grace and mercy fall on the just and the unjust (I know…not exactly parallel) and since we don’t really know who the just and unjust are, we must act as if all are just.

So how are we dealing with the family album in our religious education programs? Or are we dealing with it at all?

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2 thoughts on “Dealing With The Family Album or Is It Time To Bury Sunday School pt. 6

  1. I agree that we need grounding in our own story – though it beats me how that grounding is practicable if children (and adults) are not sufficiently often present (as we heard in the comments to previous posts) to engage the material according to whatever philosophy of RE a congregation follows.

    I disagree with you about Red Tent, et al, and English class. It is not and never has been the proper function of the church qua church to prepare children for English class. It is, rather, the job of schools to provide students with cultural literacy necessary to read assigned cultural products whose content is outside the experience or prior education of the students – just as my high school’s junior English class, the year focused on American literature, spent a unit teaching the fundamentals of New England Puritanism so the assigned reading would be intelligible.

    Many Christian churches are concerned with teaching Bible in order that the lectionary readings and scripturally based sermons would be intelligible. That is not where most UU churches are now or want to be. Teaching Bible only makes sense to me in a UU setting if we are making a switch back to a Bible-based liturgy. Or as a supplementary unit to prepare people of whatever age to understand the issues in the upcoming UU history “unit” – and that is helpful only in a theological topic-specific unit rather than in a comprehensive survey of Biblical narratives.

    There is a subset of American society that uses (Christian) religious language to shape its discussions. But the Pew polls, et al, in no way lead me to believe that these people’s rhetoric is representative. America’s contemporary religious language is the language of consumerism, globalism, entertainment, capitalism, and unsustainable growth. To the extent that we may be “an insignificant religious voice in the larger world” it is because we do not sufficiently engage and challenge the language and mythology of that corrupt system of meaning and value.

  2. Paul says: <>

    I absolutely disagree with this. We need to understand interpretations of, and stories of, the Bible, because we live in a Judeo-Christian culture, and it has a context that effects our political sphere, our multicultural and global economies and interactions, and even family dynamics. Our faith has changed so much in the last 50 years and has become muddled with very little clear language. It is one thing to come to UUism out of rejection of another religion and things that we cannot ethically stand for, but we still need to be able to answer the “So What?” question for the people in our congregations. That starts with kids. And learning Bible stories and the context of our culture is important for kids and adults to understand that living a life of faith is not just about doing good deeds and social justice. Even staunch atheists and humanists have moral authority – where do we get it from? How can we have a common language with other faiths and work together if we have no idea what we’re talking about? I’m not saying we have to BE Christians, but having religious education that clues us into Abrahamic beliefs would go a long way toward creating healthy pluralism, not just for UUs, but for all faiths.

    I rambled a bit there, but I hope you see my point. I have seen RE work with kids and adults to help them engage their own moral authority and spirituality in ways that are meaningful. That doesn’t always happen in the worship service. RE is an opportunity to have communication that is more than one-way. It can be done well, or it can be done badly. I think the point is to figure out what a congregation needs, and to give it to them.

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