RE Corner April 2013
“Identity in America is complicated but it's also simple: it's about whom you identify with and who identifies with you.”
Unitarian Universalist Identity. What is it? In the Religious Education Program we espouse that we intend to foster our children and youth with learning about their UU Identity. But, what does that really mean?
This past week I attended a Renaissance Module, a 15 hour training in a UUA approved topic area for religious educators. There are 10 approved Renaissance Modules and they are a major component of the credentialing program for religious educators. The topic was Unitarian Universalist Identity.
Reverend Jude Geiger, Minister of Religious Education in Brooklyn, NY, writes, “Unitarian Universalism often gets chided as “Theological Switzerland” or “they can believe whatever they want to believe.” This criticism also has aspects that resonate with our reality while missing the point of a liberal faith. Plurality of belief reflects the world we actually live in. Our theology, liberal theology, is seeking ways to speak to this truth.” So, when we talk about UU Identity, what are we really talking about? How do we define UU Identity?
Our Principles are paradoxical: the rights and responsibilities of the individual on one side and the responsibilities of the whole interdependent community on the other. In between those two, there are the other five Principles that struggle to find ways to balance this community and individuality. Identity could be about the way to learn who we are, how we relate to one another, what we can expect from one another, what we must try to hold onto no matter what and what we are willing to give up for the common good. Historically, there have been watch words for Unitarian Universalists. Words like freedom, tolerance and reason. Today, UUs have added the words: spirit, grace and love.
Our history, heritage and identity are vital parts of describing who we are and how we see ourselves. It can be the definition we give to ourselves and maybe to others. We learn about our identity in many ways. The RE program is the most prominent way our children and youth learn about who we are. I know several RE leaders who say they’ve learned more about Unitarian Universalism teaching an RE class than they ever learned at services. RE leaders also foster identity by modeling their UU values for our younger ones. They teach and lead by example. Children and youth also learn from retreats, camps and conferences. The extended time together, in a UU like-minded community, allows them to realize they are part of something bigger. The freedom to be away from the building and in an intentionally intimate setting encourages growth and learning.
Another way our children and youth learn about their UU Identity is through symbols and concrete visualizations. There are bulletin boards, books, music, rituals and rites of passage, covenants and chalices just to name a few. The chalice alone can be seen on cookies, books, tattoos, stickers, jewelry even on “pin the flame on the chalice” games. Our Seven Principles are up in every classroom and we know all of the children know our Seven Principle song. We have a younger version of the Seven Principles (that we use in the song) so that children can relate to our Principles in a way they can understand. I expect more children can cite the Principles than adults.
One parent of a five year old recently told me a story. She was relating a story about helping an elderly person with her groceries at the supermarket to her young son. Her son listened to the story and said, “That’s great, Mom. That’s number 2!” She had no idea what he was talking about. When she asked him to explain, he said “Number 2. Our second Principle. Be Kind. You are living our UU Principles, Mom!” The mother said to me, “He’s getting it. You are doing something right!” It isn’t hard to instill these Principles to our children and youth. We do it every Sunday in the classroom and you can strengthen that learning at home.
~ Gretta Johnson-Sally, DRE