Virginia Satir wrote a book she called, “PEOPLE MAKING.” It’s about parenting and it’s about families and the importance of how we talk to one another, how we listen to one another, how we forgive one another, and how we continue to learn how to be in loving relationship with one another, not only in our own personal family, but in our friendships and in a community like this one.
She writes about how we learn to accept ourselves as we are; how we become ‘a real person,’ as described by Marjorie Williams who wrote The Velveteen Rabbit, and as the little girl in Friendly’s restaurant said when the waitress took her food order.
Virginia Satir says: “I am convinced that there are no genes to carry the feeling of worth. IT IS LEARNED. And the whole family is where it is learned…Feelings of worth can only flourish in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible—the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family… Since the feeling of worth has been learned, it can be unlearned, and something new can be learned in its place. The possibility for this learning lasts from birth to death, so it is never too late…there is always hope that your life can change because you can always learn new things.”
This is our first commitment to our children – a commitment to create an ‘atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible.”
We don’t tell our children what they are supposed to believe about God, prayer, heaven and hell, sin and salvation – that is, we don’t indoctrinate them, but we have a commitment to provide moral leadership, standards of acceptable behavior, ethical guidelines.
Our moral principles (found at the front of the hymnal, — the page before hymn #1, on the left) – it says that we affirm and promote…let’s read together:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person; Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; Acceptance of one another and encouragement in spiritual growth in our congregation; A free and responsible search for truth and meaning; The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregation and in society at large; The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.; Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
What are the sources we draw upon to achieve this ethic?
- Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
- Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
- Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
- Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
- Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
We don’t have creedal statements or religious dogma, but we certainly have a challenging set of purposes and principles!
Our children are introduced to these purposes and principles and they boiled them down to one word each: respect, kindness, truth, spirit, voice, peace and nature.
Our commitment to our young people is to help them to be informed – to learn about the variety of religions in the world and to think about the traditional religious questions, and to think about their own ideas and beliefs – to consider the ingredients that go into making ‘a good person.’
Our program of religious education engages all of us – the children, of course, and parents, of course (co-op) and the Minister of Music, (Ed Thompson) and the senior minister, (me) and the DRE (Perry Montrose) and the youth group director (Lily Rapaport) and the director of youth outreach (Jamie Forbes) and the director of social justice (David Vita)…
It takes a village…
What’s religious about our religious education program?
Is it a faith system, or just a philosophical discussion – like the one they had when the Unitarians came to a fork in the road that said, ‘this way to heaven, and this way to a discussion about heaven.’
Our DRE, Perry Montrose, wrote a statement about our approach to religious education in which he said, in part, “We are an authentic faith. As Unitarian Universalists, we do not embrace answers without asking the questions first. We value a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Far from leaving us free to believe ‘anything,’ this statement asks us to find what is true in our hearts and minds, while demanding that we are conscious of the consequences of our choices. With freedom comes great responsibility and we embrace our commitment to our own unfolding and the transforming power of love in the world.”
From the very beginning we have emphasized the freedom of each person to have his or her own set of beliefs, and to change your mind, which you will as you grow…
In the early 19th century, in 1819, when Unitarianism was formed into its own religion, Unitarian minister, William Ellery Channing, often referred to as the ‘father of Unitarianism in America,’ said in the early eighteen hundreds, “The great end of religious instruction is not to stamp our minds irresistibly upon the young but to stir up their own [minds].”
That expresses the essence of our commitment to the children.
Our commitment to the children is summarized nicely in our affirmation, our aspiration, when we say, ‘this is our great covenant – to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love and to help one another.’
Our Mission Statement:
Our religious education ministry engages children, youth and adults in experiential learning that explores diverse religious beliefs, promotes a sense of community and interconnectedness and facilitates the practice of our UU values, Principles and Purposes.
In our service of dedication of parents and children we ask parents if they will ‘teach your child by your own example.’
One of the major commitments we make to our children is to be aware of the ways we are modeling, showing them, by what we say and do, how to be in the world, how to be in the family, how to be in the quiet of one’s own heart.
They see or hear about examples of human behavior that is hurtful and destructive – they see and hear about examples of bullying, making fun of someone because of their appearance or their ethnicity or their race or religion, or their sexual orientation.
They need to see and hear examples of human kindness and sensitivity, caring and compassion – the essential ingredients of the best in human beings.
Those examples are the building blocks of what Virginia Satir called ‘people making.’ We don’t arrive like cars at the end of the assembly line, all finished and ready for the road.
We’re never finished…until we’re finished!
Our commitment to our children involves helping them to respect ‘the inherent worth and dignity’ of every person, and to feel it in themselves.
That doesn’t mean that we should accept every behavior, that we should put up with inappropriate behavior without calling them on it. Permissive parenting sometimes goes overboard.
They need us to guide them to establish appropriate standards of behavior both by setting boundaries on their behavior when they are young, and by modeling appropriate behavior at every age.
I remember Bill Steiger’s comment when, as an older man who was diagnosed with a terminal illness, who said about his adult children, “Now I have to show them how to die.”
It’s not only children who learn and grow and develop. Parents do too, and so do teachers and ministers and Supreme Court Justices.
Our children are keen observers – they are watching to see what we are doing with our lives; how we talk to one another, how we listen to one another, what we say about people when they’re not in the room.
Robert Fulgham, who wrote the book Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, said, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always (listening and) watching you.”
They watch us make mistakes and they wait to see how we’re going to handle it – one of our commitments to our children is to help them learn how to fail well.
Learning how to fail is one of the most important lessons – it means we get up, dust ourselves off as the old song says, and start all over again.
It means we learn how to apologize. A good apology requires that we acknowledge what we did or said that we wished we had not done or said, and that we express genuine regret with the implication that our intention is to avoid doing it again.
A poor apology says, “I’m sorry you felt offended.” That just puts the blame on the one who was offended!
It’s not easy being a person. We’re all fallible. We need to develop a tolerance for our own limits and fallibility.
The four-year old nursery school class in the Westport-Weston Coop that meets during the week downstairs was upset that some of their work had been taken down from the wall and they wrote me a note, so I went down to them and asked them to tell me what had happened, and how they felt about it.
I sat on their meeting rug with them, I listened and I let them know I understood, and then I was able to apologize.
Then I asked if anyone had any questions and one four year old raised her hand and very sensitively, but very directly, asked, “Why is your hand shaking?”
I forget that people can see my hand shaking. It’s not that I don’t realize it, it’s just that I usually don’t think about it.
I briefly explained Parkinson’s disease in a matter-of-fact way. Then I recited a poem and thanked them for meeting with me.
I went back to my office and remembered my friend Sara Campbell’s responsive reading: “Give us the spirit of the child … who is not afraid to ask why my hand is shaking…the child who trusts, the child who imagines, the child who sings.”
Give us the vulnerability of the child…who is sympathetic to the suffering of others…who is suddenly silent.
Our commitment to the children is what motivated the development of the OWL (Our Whole Lives) curriculum with its open and honest and forthright human sexuality material for our young people who are coming of age.
Our commitment to the children is what motivates us to provide a youth room and a Youth Program Director, Lily Rapaport.
Our commitment to the children motivated us to fund a Youth Outreach Coordinator, Jamie Forbes, who gets the young people to get out of Fairfield County to participate in programs to help rebuild New Orleans, to participate in programs in Washington, D.C. to feed the homeless and to participate in programs in Kenya to get water into remote villages.
We must keep that commitment going when Jamie leaves at the end of this church year.
This commitment to our young people is not new – we heard what William Ellery Channing said about ‘not stamping our minds on them but to stir up their own minds.’
Today we celebrated a service of dedication of parents and children, in which commitment was expressed and promises were made. May we each find ways to keep those promises in the days and years to come.