Minister’s comments to children (of all ages) on Hanukkah
Many Jewish holidays commemorate events invested with a combination of history and religion.
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by foreign forces.
The word Hanukkah literally means “dedication.” The temple or synagogue is a Jewish house worship. So the rededication of the temple is meant to be a reminder of what the Jewish religion stands for, which is trying to help to make this a better world.
Most Jews believe they can help make this a better world by having a strong Jewish communityby caring for and about one another, and learning together how to live good, moral, ethical lives.
That’s why the Jewish people have the Ten Commandments, which they say were given to their leader, Moses, by God, when he went up to a mountain all by himself.
So Hanukkah is a reminder to the Jewish people to try to live by those Commandments, their covenant or agreement with God.
We Unitarian Universalists have a covenant: ‘this is our great covenant: to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.’
Sermon: Family and Friends
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 flexiblethe 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.
–“PEOPLE MAKING” Virginia Satir
The annual holiday season has been launched. How will you deal with the leftover turkey? Hot turkey sandwiches? Cold turkey on a Caesar’s salad?
Isn’t it interesting that we use the word turkey in a derogatory way to refer to someone who we think is foolishsomeone, for example, who upset Thanksgiving dinner by forcing an argument at the table–about politics, religion or the best remedy for high cholesterol, or how his sister should discipline her children.
“What a turkey!”
Just as we decide what to do with leftover turkey, we’re sometimes faced with the question of what we do with those other turkeys in our livesfamily from whom we’ve been alienated.
We inherit our family of origin, for better or worse. As children we grow up in an environment we didn’t create. If we’re fortunate, we’re raised by parents who, as we say in our service of dedication of parents and children, ‘are prepared to nurture us with a mature love that combines with wisdom and understanding of our unique needs.’ We also say in that service that ‘those born in other circumstances can be adopted by those who are ready to become loving and caring parents.
Remember Tolstoy’s opening line in Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
We inherit our family of origin. Later, we decide how we will relate to the people who raised us, and in some cases we decide not to relate to them at all. But even in those cases we have to decide how to deal with the memories, with the leftover feelings and unresolved conflicts.
We inherit family–we choose friends. And, if we’re fortunate, one or more of those friends becomes something more akin to family than simply friends. If we’re fortunate–and if we work at it.
Family and friends take work, and it’s a work that requires insight about those folks, and insight about ourselves.
If we’re fortunate, one or more of those in our family of origin becomes a good friend, just as friends become family.
There are lots of benefits to having good friends. One of the most important benefits is that a good friend helps us to learn about ourselves.
A couple of weeks ago in my Dear Friends letter I wrote about that line in Peter Shafer’s play Equus: “He didn’t have one friend, no one to help him to know himself more moderately.”
Those who help us to know ourselves more moderately are people we’ve come to trustand that trust-building process has a discernible pattern or risk-taking, honesty, constructive criticism…a kind of give and take that seems to be a rare commodity.
Someone said that a ‘friend is someone with whom you can let it all out, chaff and grain together, knowing that a friendly hand will take and sift and keep what is worth keeping and with a breath of comfort blow the rest away.”
Someone else summarized that aphorism: “A friend is someone who, when you make a fool out of yourself doesn’t think it’s a permanent condition.”
A good therapist can help us to know ourselves more moderately, but that’s a professional relationshipnot a friendship. There’s a big difference between someone who is friendly versus a friend.
Sometimes it’s necessary to end a friendship, just as it’s sometimes necessary to keep a safe distance from one or more members of our family of origin.
But the termination of a relationship doesn’t end with slamming the phone down or writing an angry letter, or a well-controlled letter that says ‘I don’t want to continue this relationship.’ It doesn’t end there because we carry every relationship with us and if we’re not careful it will impose itself on future relationships. What will you do with that leftover turkey?
I’m often reminded of Mark Twain’s quip about learning from experience, but making sure we don’t learn more from an experience than is in it. He said, “The cat who jumps on a hot stove will never jump on a hot stove again. The problem is that he won’t jump on a cold stove, either. He learned more from that experience than was in it.”
Maturity in life requires that we understand the part we’ve played in problematic relationshipsit’s very seldom a one-way street.
Maturity also requires that we set a standard for healthy relationships, taking responsibility for determining, to some extent at least, the characteristics of our relationships; that we take responsibility for stopping abuse in a relationship, or leave it.
Most abusive relationships occur in the context of what we call family. Children endure abuse because they have no way out. They develop ways of coping.
There’s a big difference between the innocent victim of abuse and the relationship between so-called consenting adultsan adult who is being abused can usually get out of the abusive relationship, though there are many women trapped in abusive relationships by economics, and many adult survivors of childhood who endure an abusive relationship because they haven’t experienced a healthy one.
That’s why a child who has been abused too often grows up to be an abused and/or abusive adult. The modeling and the coping mechanisms learned as a child interfere with the development of healthy relationships as adults.
A lot of attention has been given to the issue of abusive relationships and the consequences of early abuse. Those who have suffered various kinds abuse as children find it impossible to develop the degree of trust which is the central characteristic of a healthy relationship. Dorothy Nolte summarizes it well in this statement:
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to be shy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with tolerance, they learn to be patient.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with praise, they learn to appreciate.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with acceptance and friendship, they learn to find love in the world.
–Dorothy Law Nolte
I wonder, though, if a child who grows up in such a wonderful, loving, caring, considerate, gentle, approving family will be at a disadvantage in adulthood. Don’t we need to build a tolerance for disapproval and disagreement? Don’t we need experience in being forgiven and offering forgiveness?
As we accommodate ourselves to family and friends we are sometimes faced with the difficult question, “At what point does my accommodating become hypocritical?” At what point does my failure to offer constructive criticism simply perpetuate problems?
The Talmud says, “Love unaccompanied by criticism is not love.”
Listen to this passage in the Babylonian Talmud: “Rabbi Tarfon said: I wonder if there is anyone in this generation capable of accepting reproof.” Rabbi Eliazar responded: “I wonder whether there is anyone in this generation who knows how to reprove (without humiliating the one being criticized).”
There’s the rub, and here’s the point: each of us has a responsibility create healthy relationshipsto change unhealthy relationships or to get out of them.
Emerson offers advice about this in his essay on Self-Reliance. He advises his reader to stop deceiving the people with whom you live and say to them:
O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I shall endeavor to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be the chaste husband of one wife,–but these relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs.
I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints.
If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh today? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.
But so you may give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me, and do the same.
Thomas Gordon, the founder and president of Parent Effectiveness Training, wrote a version of Emerson’s famous declaration of independence:
You and I are in relationship which I value and want to keep. Yet each of us is a separate person with unique needs and the right to meet those needs.
When you are having problems meeting your needs I will listen with genuine acceptance so as to facilitate your finding your own solutions instead of depending on mine. I also will respect your right to choose your own beliefs and develop your own values, different thought they may be from mine.
However, when your behavior interfere with what I must do to get my own needs met, I will tell you openly and honestly how your behavior affects me, trusting that you respect my needs and feelings enough to try to change the behavior that is unacceptable to me. Also, whenever some behavior of mine is unacceptable to you, I hope you will tell me openly and honestly so I can change my behavior.
At those times when one of us cannot change to meet the other’s needs, let us acknowledge that we have a conflict and commit ourselves to resolve each such conflict without either of us restorting to the use of power to win at the expense of the other’s losing. I respect your needs, but I also must respect my own. So let us always strive to search for a solution that will be acceptable to both of us. Your needs will be met, and so will mineneither of us will lose, both will win.
In this way, you can continue to develop as a person through satisfying your needs, and so can I. Thus, ours can be a healthy relationship in which both of us can strive to become what we are capable of being. And we can continue to relate to each other with mutual respect, love and peace.
Relationships…when they’re good, it’s very good; when they’re bad, it’s awful.
This holiday season often puts a strain on family relationships.
Remember: we inherit family. We choose friends…and friends choose us. We want and need to feel appreciated, to feel cherished.
Again, Virginia Satir says it well:
I want to love you without clutching, appreciate you without judging; join you without invading; invite you without demanding; leave you without guilt; criticize you without blaming and help you without insulting. If I can have the same from you then we can truly meet and enrich each other.
The American Law Institute just released recommendations on family law, reflecting the changes in our society’s approach to marriage and family during the past 30 years.
Their recommendations represent ten years of research into the question of how to make family law ‘more predictable and more consistent’ across the country, or even within a given state.
The recommendations are far-reaching. For example, the report says that a parent’s sexual orientation should not be a factor in child custody decisions.
It also says that domestic partners should be treated like married couples when they break up, in terms of child custody and child support questions, division of property and alimony.
Religious conservatives are appalled, of course. They want all marriages and families to be like those in the Bible…which is sort of strange, when you stop to think of it.
Adam and Eve were the first couple, but they were never married. So all those couples who have been living together without the benefit of clergy, so to speak, have the original couple as their model…the Biblical example.
They had an interesting family lifethe first case of fratricide; Cain, in a fit of jealousy, killed his only brother, Abel.
God himself was rather disappointed in His creation so he decided to destroy it allexcept for Noah and his sons, Sham, Ham and Japheth. Take another look at that story: as soon as the boat came onto dry land Noah got completely drunk. The Bible says that his son Ham looked at his nakedness, so Noah punished him by making him a servant to his brothers, thus introducing the vile practice of human slavery.
Abraham married Sarah who couldn’t conceive, so he had child a child with Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar. The child’s name is Ishmael whose descendents make up the Muslim religion. Then Sarah had her first child, Isaac, when she was 90 years old, so Ishmael and his mother were sent hiking.
Just as Isaac is about to grow up Abraham is told by God to sacrifice him on an altar, which he goes about doing without question or complaint, until his hand is staid by God.
Then there’s Esau and Jacob, twin sons of Isaac. You remember that Biblical family, right? Isaac favors Esau but his wife Rebekah favors Jacob, so she helps him trick his father into giving him the blessing, which rightfully belongs to Esau. Esau starts hanging wanted-dead-or-alive posters all over town, swearing vengeance.
Oh for a return to the good old Biblical family values!
Jacob, you recall, proceeds to have 12 sons with four different women, two of whom he’s married to, and the other two are maidservants to his wives…thus we get the twelve tribes of Israel.
Jacob favors his son Joseph because he is the child of the one woman of the four whom he loves, so he gives him the famous coat of many colors, and in a rage of jealousy his brothers beat him and throw him in a ditch and sell him as a slave.
Good, old-fashioned family values. Right?
Skipping up to the New Testament there are more stories of troubled and feuding families, including Jesus’s family. You remember the story in the Gospel of Matthew: “While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.’
Ah, yes. Family values. There’s nothing new under the sun. The next time one of those ‘I’ve-got-all-the-answers’ family members or friends holds up a Bible and talks about so-called ‘family values,’ you might ask them to point to one, at least, from Scripture.
Yes, we affirm ‘family values,’ and include gay and lesbian families and blended families with couples who have been divorced and remarried; we include all loving families, reminded that it is, indeed, love that makes a family, not laws, not admonitions, not chastising.
It seems appropriate to conclude with a smile, so I offer some tidbits from the classroom of a nun who asked her third-grade class to write notes to God. I include those from her collection which relate to family and friends:
Maybe Cain and Abel would not have killed each other so much if they had their own rooms. That’s what my Mom did for me and my brother.
I bet it is very hard for You to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I’m having a hard time loving all of them.
Is it true my father won’t get in Heaven if he uses his bowling words in the house?
Did You really mean “do unto others as they do unto you”? Because if You did, then I’m going to get my brother good.
My brother told me about being born, but it doesn’t sound right. They’re just kidding, aren’t they?
Please send me a pony. I never asked for anything before. You can look it up.
I want to be just like my Daddy when I get big, but not with so much hair all over.
Thank You for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.
We need to be reminded to lighten up a bit, especially during the holidays which can feel so pressured. So, enjoy! Amen