The RE Program started the new year by observing the UU holiday of Chalica, and as that comes to a close we’ll reflect on some different approaches to teach our kids about the UU Principles. Specifically, by challenging ourselves to put kids at the center of our principles.
I’m going to just start this by saying: I am new in this job. I am learning as I go, and I’m sure I’m screwing some things up. I had never taught a Sunday school class before last year, during the couple of weeks we were physically gathered. Outside of being a lifelong UU and part of this church family, you might wonder how I am even qualified to be doing this work. At times, so do I.
So just some quick background on me, in case you wanted to know. I have worked with kids ever since I have worked. I started coaching speech and debate at the age of 18. For a time while I was doing that I also worked as an instructional aide in the special education program at DeKalb High School. I loved that job, but I couldn’t afford to live on what I was making – so I left that work in 2012. Since then, I have worked for and with several different non-profit organizations in preventing and responding to the problem of domestic and sexual violence. I’m both sorry and proud to say that this work has involved working with young people as well, because 1) these are problems kids witness and experience themselves and 2) young people are also miraculously positioned to prevent violence in the future, when given good tools to do so. I have worked on both sides of this and borne witness to the incredible, transformational power of kids.
But even before I started working for money, I felt a calling to advocate for kids. Even when I was one. As a youth member of this church, I was on the RE Committee. I was a youth rep on the planning committee for LGSA (now known as MUUSA). And in my bedroom growing up, I had a plaque on my wall that I inherited from my gigi (my mom’s mother) that read: “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” People might have thought this was strange, because I was a child when I had this on my wall. Maybe it was? Still, it resonated with me.
I’m turning 36 this year. I can now say I have spent over half of my life serving young people and helping them build safe communities, here’s what I have learned, and what I hope to share with you today.
We all share the responsibility of teaching our kids their power and helping them learn how to use it. Not all of us signed up for this responsibility on purpose, but I’m here to tell you – you still have it. As the kids say, #SorryNotSorry. Whether you realize it or not, you are influencing the lives of young people in this community everyday. In fact, I see my role here at UUCE, at least for now, as empowering the adults in this church be intentional and proactive about how we raise our kids in faith.
Quick note about language, I’m going to use the terms “kids” and “young people” to mean anyone who hasn’t reached the age when they can vote, a rite of personal and societal self-determination important both in our culture and in our faith. And I’m going to say “our” kids, though I have no biological children myself. For me, one of the magical things about not having my own children is that ALL the kids are my kids – a beloved belief I learned from our faith tradition.
We UUs don’t have a lot of rituals, but a tradition of Unitarian Universalism that I have always loved is that instead of baptisms or christenings, rituals that dedicate the life of a child to a faith, we do Child Dedications, which we heard about in today’s reading. Dedications are rituals where we dedicate our community to the life of a child. I am so proud of our faith for this ritual. I find it compelling that we have made a practice of saying out loud, in covenant with one another, that raising our kids is a responsibility we all share. It’s beautiful, and it makes me so proud to be a UU. It’s also consistent with how I remember being raised in this community.
In the beginning of this year, the families in our RE program got some at-home kits to observe the new-ish UU holiday of Chalica. Chalica invites us to focus our attention on each of the 7 principles, in turn, and our kits gave families some ideas about how they might intentionally build practices into their everyday lives that embody our principles.
I hope this exercise has been as enlightening and enriching for our families as it has been for me. I’m going to give you a quick report on how my Chalica has gone.
I had BIG PLANS for week one, principle one: the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I was going to pray for people I struggle to get along with and meditate on how I can treat them with more kindness – I was going be a BETTER PERSON in 2022. Perhaps you won’t be shocked to hear this because everyone has some version of this story, but my husband and I were exposed to COVID on NYE, so I had to quickly reframe. As I tried (and failed) to get my hands on some rapid tests, and dealt with the logistics of working remotely – bogged down in frustrating tiny details – my focus for week one shifted. I would just have to honor the worth of every life by choosing to stay home and hopefully prevent the further spread of this god-awful virus. I’m happy to say, we were very lucky and we didn’t get sick, and the people who accidentally exposed us – some of our dearest friends – are all okay.
The second principle Justice Equity and Compassion in all Human relationships – coincided with the week I dropped the ball and forgot to write something for the church newsletter, and I am so grateful for Mila’s kindness and compassion in dealing with my mistake. During this week, I also judged a high school speech tournament for the first time in a long time. I love the opportunity to help kids find their voice, but writing helpful and productive feedback, for me, is a constant exercise in grounding myself in compassion and aiming for justice. When I lose sight of the goal – helping young people learn how to be effective advocates for good ideas – my critique sheets for them get petty and unhelpful. I was pretty out of practice, so that was a day spent re-grounding myself in compassion.
Principle 3 – Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. I gotta tell you – I don’t think I met my goal for this principle this week. I am pretty proud of the story I found for Time for All Ages for MLK day, and I hope some folks found some acceptance and encouragement in that, but on the whole that feels kinda weak for an effort, if I’m being totally honest. I guess we don’t always live up to our principles – but we keep trying. Having said that, Sarah’s sermon that week and the conversations we had during fellowship time called me to further spiritual growth as we contemplated King’s teachings and how we honor his memory.
Principle 4 – a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. This was great – I helped lead a training session at my other job about a topic I know a lot about and most of my colleagues don’t. I helped expand our practices and provide guidance to my colleagues who do really challenging work in support of survivors. This was a good week.
Principle 5 – The Right of Conscience and the use of the democratic process – I spent this week preparing to bring our youth into conversation with our social justice work as a community. I’m incredibly proud of how service-minded our youth are in this church. Y’all have some really cool kids. I’m also happy to tell you some of them are considering participating in the process of choosing our community partners for Share the Plate going forward. Expanding the circle of voices involved in this process makes it more democratic, and I’m excited to see the wisdom our youth can bring to the table, and how they can add to the good work the church does in the world.
Principle 6 – goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all – I would like to think the work of this principle is actually the work of my career. After all, my other job is ALL ABOUT peace, liberty, and justice for all. Legal aid for victims of DV and SA? C’mon! Just to earn some bonus points, and try to hit the “world community” part, I also donated some money to the UUA office at the UN, a non-governmental organization in association with the United Nations Department of Global Communications and in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. They do some really cool work on enacting the 6th principle all over the world, and bringing UUs into that effort.
Principle 7 – that’s this week! Respect for the interdependent web. On my never ending quest to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in my life, and as I prepare for a vacation, I’m going to be mindful to pack and use products in re-useable containers and bags – keeping things in use and out of landfills for as long as possible.
I love the notion behind Chalica. It’s a good reminder that our Unitarian Universalist principles aren’t just beliefs. They are everyday practices. And they are HARD. I love the idea of helping our kids learn how to live our principles in their day-to-day lives. I love being intentional about these practices and having a holiday to celebrate the principles. If this is a holiday our families enjoy, it’s one we can continue to celebrate in the years to come, and it’s possible in the coming years that we’ll be celebrating an additional 8th principle! Which is exciting to think about.
Teaching the Principles
Another of the things I love about Chalica is seeing all the ways people re-word our principles to try to make them more kid-friendly. In the past, our church has taught them as the “Rainbow Principles” with a Roy G. Biv mnemonic device, like the Rainbow:
- Respect the importance of all beings
- Offer fair and kind treatment to all
- Yearn to learn throughout life
- Grow by exploring ideas and values together
- Believe in your ideas and act on them
- Insist on peace, freedom, and justice for all
- Value our interdependence with nature
Or even more simply:
- Each person is important
- Be kind in all you do
- We’re free to learn together
- And search for what is true
- Everyone deserves a voice
- Build a fair and peaceful world
- Care for the earth that we share
I think these are great. They’re like gateway principles. It’s an impressive exercise to take the (it must be said) very complicated ideas embodied in our principles, and try to make them accessible for kids.
Reframing Our Adult Principles
But as Chalica comes to a close, I want to ask us to reframe our thinking about how we teach our principles to our kids. After all, one of the most powerful ways that kids learn is by watching the example set by the adults in their lives. Keeping this in mind, I want us to think about how we “grownups” might re-learn our principles FOR our kids. Let me tell you what I mean:
In the many roles I have played in the lives of kids, I have seen up close and firsthand, how quick and easy it is for many of us to ignore their needs, their desires, their comforts, and wishes, or to think of kids’ perspectives as less important than our grownup schedule or agenda. We don’t always listen with a present mind and heart. We don’t always take kids seriously. I know I am guilty of this. We tend to think of kids as not-quite-yet-whole people, so we undervalue their humanity.
Sometimes this phenomenon seems kind of trivial, and simply a matter of convenience and conformity. Like when I used to sometimes rush my special ed students through their lunch because they were so easily distracted and we really needed to stick to the bell schedule. Never mind that their disabilities are a valid, real part of who they are, and a part of what was happening for them in that moment. In my mind, we just needed to get to class soon!
Sometimes it’s rude or dismissive, like when we make light of a break up and tell a young person they’ll soon be over their heartbreak and onto a new relationship without acknowledging the very real pain of losing first love and being present to help them grieve.
And sometimes it’s straight up dehumanizing and dangerous, like when my many young sexual assault survivor clients have been shamed or punished by the adults in their lives for what happened to them, rather than believed and protected.
We adults really do think we know what is best for kids and we are quick to act on that belief. We are often right, but not always. And as is often the case with beliefs, I think we should treat our own certainty with some healthy skepticism.
With that in mind, I have created a new version of the principles. I call them the 7 UU Principles for Kids… For Adults. I’m going to read through them now, and I ask you to listen with a present heart and mind and think about how you might live this version of our principles.
We covenant to affirm and promote:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every child.
- Justice, equity, and compassion in all human relations – so that our children may know love and safety
- Acceptance of the people our children are, and encouragement in becoming their whole selves
- Empowering a lifelong journey of learning
- Communities where the voices of children are heard, believed, and honored
- The goal of a more peaceful and just world tomorrow for our children, even if we won’t benefit from it ourselves
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence, and a safe planet for our children to live on long into the future.
I was raised in faith by this community. I was a lucky kid. This church is where I learned that kids are a vital part of a church, just as much as their parents are. This church is where I learned I have a voice that deserves to be heard. Where I learned that, even before I could pay membership pledges, I had something to contribute.
We all have a part to play in teaching our kids their power and helping them learn to use it. This is a huge responsibility – and we didn’t all sign up for it on purpose. The good news is that our principles are also incredibly powerful. They can show us how to raise our kids in faith. More importantly though, if we can learn to put kids at the center of our principles, we can raise powerful kids who will make our community, and our world, a better place.