Saturday, May 05, 2007

Owl and RE

Stephen Caldwell comments below about my math skills and his belief that OWL is good Religious Education worth the 18% of RE hours that we put into it. OK, I didn't do my math. But the real point is not actually the number of hours spent but the depth of programing and whether it is religious education or simply good education.

I have no problem with the notion that comprehensive sex education takes time, and I am much happier with sex education programs that are outside of Sunday morning, although I have noticed that even when they are, Sunday morning attendance drops off. And I'd agree that there is a subtle but real relationship between one's own body awareness and one's spirituality. But are the kids who take the class made aware of this? Is there any place in OWL that talks about Rumi or the Song of Songs? Do we ever tell them that many people believe (and they might consider believing) that their bodies are sacred or that the love they experience with other humans is for many people a "leg up" to the love they might experience of God? Is there anything in OWL, in short, that could not be a part of a good public school sex education program? (I realize that these are few and far between, but my son was a part of an excellent school sex education unit that was nearly identical to OWL: bodies, health, relationships, good choices, justice, diversity of expression...all good things, but only in the most general terms, religious education.)

It might seem that I'm picking on OWL but I feel the same way about most of our RE curriculum. Just one more example. I happened into an elementary school classroom last Winter. They had all brought in pictures of their pets and were talking about the care they gave their pets. It was a sweet class. But I also thought...nobody ever talked about love. Nobody ever said anything like, "one thing about our pets is that they seem to love us matter what we do. That's how the Universalists thought God loved us. Do you feel like your pet loves you unconditionally? Do you love your pet unconditionally (pause for many wonderful stories of pet misbehavior and owner forgiveness). Many people who believe in God think that God is like that. What do you think?

Now, that would be a piece of spiritual education. Since we don't do anything like that ever, our kids leave our program without a clue as to how the majority of the world's people connect with the divine and not tuned in to how they might do the same.


Anonymous said...

There are such aspects to OWL, especially in the High School curriculm compared to the Junior High. They do talk about the sacredness of the body. They don't talk about spirituality and sex the whole 6 months, or about sex being a "leg up to god". In my case, as an OWL grad, I would have probably stopped going if one of the teachers mentioned that.
And as someone who went through RE, I disagree with your final statement. I can explain the basics of the 5 major religions, the difference between orthodox and catholicism, etc. The high school curriculms that I remember are really diverse in that manner, and there is a curriculm that sends the children to different churches in the congregation's locality and has the children analyze the beliefs (I believe its a middle school curriculm). Most of the YRUUers and former YRUUers I know also have a very wide knowledge of various religions and the religions' beliefs.

Philocrites said...

Christine, are you talking about "our curriculum" in the sense of the curricula in use in your congregation, the curricula promoted by the UUA's Lifespan Faith Development staff, the curricula available through the UUA, or liberal religious ed curricula generally?

I'm not sure.

Christine Robinson said...

Good question, P, and the answer is some of all. I'm only familiar with what we use in my church... that includes all of OWL except the adult module, for instance, something Stephen says is not usual. I'm not actually sure where the other curricula we use come from, except the one written here in Albuquerque, although they are all, somehow, "UU".

Bart's comments make my clumsy case rather well. As a graduate of a UU RE program, he feels he knows a good deal ABOUT world religions, but he'd have walked out on a discussion of the intersection of spirituality and "secular" life. He not only wasn't exposed to such things, he wasn't apparently ever exposed to the idea of being curious or tolerant of such things. He's not alone. I see this in our teens a lot. And I think it is a failure on the part of our curriculum.

A final thought sparked by Stephen's comment. One thing that distinguishes OWL from whatever was being used on the pet class I witnessed is the level of training of adult leaders. If the leaders of that class had gone to a weekend training event, they would have been better prepared to focus on the unique opportunity that and RE class brings to talk about religious and spiritual issues which are, for most adults, just as uncomfortable and private as sexual issues.

Steve Caldwell said...

Christine wrote:
"Is there anything in OWL, in short, that could not be a part of a good public school sex education program?


The OWL program is designed for use in both secular and religious settings.

By itself, the OWL program would make a very good public school or community center sexuality education program. It's not explicitly religious but it implicitly reflects the religious values of the UUA and UCC.

When combined with the explicitly religious supplement Sexuality and Our Faith, one has a comprehensive program that incorporates a UU or UCC perspective. OWL with the religious supplemental materials is quite different from what is offered in public schools because it's explicitly religious. Because of church-state separation issues, I wouldn't want to see the OWL program with the explicitly religious supplements in public schools.

I'll agree that many of our adults are uncomfortable with traditional religious language. When I co-lead OWL training workshops, I incorporate both UU and UCC supplemental materials (songs, readings, etc).

Speaking as a Humanist UU, I feel that anyone we train should be aware of the full range of UU and UCC materials in the OWL program and the associated Sexuality and Our Faith books. I use both UU and UCC materials in workshops that I lead.

Even if one's congregation is mostly Humanist, it's my job to ensure that everyone is familiar with the full range of materials.

This might come in handy in unexpected ways (e.g. OWL as a cooperative effort with UU and UCC youth, etc).

Recently, a participant objected to the "God" language in a UCC reading because he thought it was inappropriate for us to "proselytize" our youth by using "God" language in the OWL class.

During a break, a participant commented that it's funny how we can talk about anal intercourse (he used a stronger term here) but we can't use the word "God."

I would recommend looking at the Adult OWL curriculum and the associated UU supplement for the Adult OWL curriculum. It covers a wide range of topic of interest to adults (communication, values, spirituality and religion, self-awareness, awareness of others, relationships, justice issues, family, aging, etc) and it explictly connects these topics our UU values.

Anonymous said...

As a graduate of a UU RE program, he feels he knows a good deal ABOUT world religions, but he'd have walked out on a discussion of the intersection of spirituality and "secular" life. He not only wasn't exposed to such things, he wasn't apparently ever exposed to the idea of being curious or tolerant of such things. He's not alone. I see this in our teens a lot. And I think it is a failure on the part of our curriculum.
But is this issue an issue of the RE or of individual preference? I haven't believed in a god for as long as I remember. Is that a symptom of my upbringing, the RE I experienced, or my personal nature? I wouldn't have walked out, as I had a lot of respect for my OWL teachers, I wouldn't just have attended any more because although some people may experience sex spiritually as a relation to 'god' I find that full of assumptions in regards to the nature of god (if there is a god). My aversion to the connection of spirituality and secular life stems from being a college student in an age of fundamentlist humanism and fundamentalist religions. My spirituality is a deeply personal experience that I'm only willing to share with people close to me.
I also went from living in Massachusetts to living in North Carolina, which I feel has affected the way I approach religion and spirituality. It can be hard to be tolerant of people who condemn you to hell every day for the beliefs you express...especially when you are taught by your religion that expressing your beliefs honestly is one of the truest actions you can take.
I must admit that I am biased in this discussion because my mother is an ex-DRE. I'd also like to note that I've had similar conversations with my previous ministers. I think the major difference is a gap in the approach to spritituality between youth and young adults in UUism today and the adults that are supposed to be helping them on their path.

Kelsey Atherton said...

As to the equations of time in RE, high school should either get counted the full two hours for forty-five weeks it is at our church, or it should be set aside, as our YRUU group isn't expressly RE (and bears little resemblance to most religious education programs). Also, camp could be counted, as I think I am not alone in having that time be both religious education and the most affirming aspect of UU religiosity/spirituality that I have ever partaken in. Youth conferences could be counted to, as they are intensive and can have very spiritual elements (though, admittedly, not more than maybe 2-3 hours a con).

As to the nature of RE and OWL and the religious experience of youth, I can agree with the impression of the divine lacking from youth conversations, and I can sympathize with frustrations over being taught ABOUT religions, but not given exposure to the stuff of religion itself.

I cannot recall having a profound religious experience in RE apart from La Amikoj, Coming of Age, and camp. I'm fairly certain that those experiences would have been impossible without the strength of the community that those programs forge, and I don't think I'm mistaken in saying that community is a requisite for many youths to have a truly religious experience. Community in and of itself can be profoundly moving.

It would be nice, though, to have a general consensus among YRUUers that the UU tradition is a valid religious experience, and not just a collection of like-minded coffee drinkers.

And as a last note, I hope the past Sunday did something to affirm a belief in our youth's spirituality.

Good, thought-provoking stuff in your blog, as almost always

Christine Robinson said...

Thanks for your comments, Kelsey,

(Last week three youth did mini-sermons for a proud congregation (not to mention proud parents), and they showed that our youth have passion, depth, poise, a great sense of humor, and yes, spirituality. They were awesome.)

I agree that safety is required for discussions of spirituality, and so glad for us that camp, coming of age, (two programs that we do more or less on our own, here) and YRUU Cons provide that safety. I'm glad that the conversation then bubbles up.

There are ways to engender that sense of safety in shorter programs, actually. The adults do it in their Covenant groups. Kids programs could do it, too.

It is sad, isn't it, that the kids who don't go to camp or participate past Mid-school don't get any profound conversations about faith and spirituality. That could be the reasons many don't participate.

Anonymous said...

I think my new model of explaining existentialism is the idea of trash and treasure. That is, what works for one person, be it learning physics, lit analysis, spirituality, or sex, may be completely intolerable by the person sitting next to person number one. Even the literal translation of Unitarian Universalism, meaning one god who is universal calls to an idea that one god must encompass the entire world and transcends definition in that it is in everything. Are we to define how each member, young or old, recovering catholic or practicing Buddhist, male or female, should pray, worship, or love?

In many ways, Unitarian Universalism, in doctrine, perhaps, rather than in actual practice, is akin to the way many Americans view the paradigm their forefathers were trying to achieve. That is, the idea that each individual shall be free from spiritual chains, free to march or dance or shuffle down which ever path he or she so chooses. Unfortunately, like America, the Unitarian Universalist alleged agenda of spiritual freedom has been somewhat silenced in the face of reality.

For a liberal religious practitioner to impose a credo, belief system, or style of worship on an individual strikes a person as fairly inconsistent and borderline ironic. Rather than condemn another person’s style of worship or spirituality practice, we may decide instead to indulge every corner of our realm of experience and see for ourselves what those we find “wayward” see in the activity we deem unspiritual. A Jew, a Christian, a Muslim and Buddhist are all considered people of faith by most of the world. A “good” UU would never dream of telling one of these men or women that he or she is not practicing correctly. In that same vain of logic, we might take a look at criticizing those within our own “faith”.

There is a faction of people within our congregations that engage in weekend long conferences, once weekly religious education classes, or week long continental youth programming. To those who did not participate in these activities as youth or have been far removed from them by time and space, may not see ultimate frisbee, pant sewing workshops or prison reform discussions as “spiritual”. Whether it seems to one person that this sort of activity fulfills his or her own personal spiritual growth is, by our very own principles, irrelevant. We each must decide for ourselves what pushes our buttons, turns us on, or brings us to higher ground. To do anything else is to act in what Sartre calls “bad faith”.
One of my favorite calls to faith, or calls to search, if you will, comes from a legendary man my the name of Ralph. A New England man and a spiritual man, Ralph was invited to speak to the Harvard Divinity Seniors June 15, 1838. As he stood in front of a room full of future “spiritual” leaders, he delivered a biting criticism of the church walls as they stood. The passage below accurately speaks to my sentiment regarding the current criticism of “out of stream” worship:
“My friends, in these two errors, I think, I find the causes of a decaying church and a wasting unbelief. And what greater calamity can fall upon a nation, than the loss of worship? Then all things go to decay. Genius leaves the temple, to haunt the senate, or the market. Literature becomes frivolous. Science is cold. The eye of youth is not lighted by the hope of other worlds, and age is without honor. Society lives to trifles, and when men die, we do not mention them.”
The idea that we may limit or thrust out of our walls those who do not practice exactly how we practice is to do ourselves a great disservice. We as Unitarian Universalists of all ages ought to follow that which we preach. That is, we ought to promote, rather than detract from the idea of each individual moving along his or her own spiritual path. If we do not hold fast to that which allows us freedom and liberty, our very soul and being may be dissolved.

Anonymous said...

One of the first and most important things we are taught as Unitarian Universalist youth are the 7 Principles, which are guidelines for how we live and grow in our faith. For those of you who are unfamiliar, those 7 Principles are:

1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
2. Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.
3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and society at large.
6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

In taking these into consideration, there are many parts of life that are viewed as spiritual and important, not just those parts of life in which we are deliberately 'communing with God' or the Creator or the spiritual nothingness or meditating or whatever your preference is.

Deliberate worship in the traditional sense is often thought of as Sunday morning church services and the parts of that which are usually included in most Christian churches: singing, reading from a book, sermons, lighting of candles, and a call and response reading pattern, as well as, of course, the collection. However, there are many other types of worship, both deliberate and fortuitous, which include everything from tradtional spiritual acts to things others might consider mundane and ordinary.

Growing up in the Unitarian Universalist church made me appreciate everything in life, and being a part of 'circle worship' at conferences often led to opportunities for new and surprising styles and forms of worship. One of the things we did at the Spirituality Development Conference was talked about different themes to use for worship. Some of them were completely deviant from normal subjects, while other elements of worship used traditional scaffolding while changing details. For instance, the subject of one service was 'youth' and we read Dr. Suess literature and had a milk and cookie communion before bedtime. It was a chance to bring the spiritual into the everyday and the everyday into the spiritual.

In my household, one of the most spiritual things I can think of was nothing more or less than eating dinner with my parents each night at the dinner table and sharing thoughts and ideas about our everyday lives. At church, learning about the history of our Unitarian Universalist faith, as well as learning traditions and rituals of other religions were highly spiritual for me. We did some learning about other religions, but we also learned about other religions by practicing our own and learning the practices and history of other religions. And in Unitarian Universalism, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning and acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth are both extremely important. Based on those two principles, or guidelines, every person should have the right to worship and define worship as he or she so chooses.