Category Archives: Religious education

New education blog

Recently, I’ve been having some great conversations about education with Joe Chee. Joe is a teacher educator (he teaches teachers how to teach) at Foothills College, and he’s also doing doctoral study in education. When you have a conversation with Joe, the conversation often turns into interesting conversational byways such as cognition and meta-cognition, the uses of social media in education, learning styles, and more. Conversations with him are always interesting, stimulating, challenging, and fun.

If you don’t live here in Palo Alto, you can’t have a face-to-face conversation with Joe. But now you can read his blog, Thinking, learning, and teaching. The blog is almost as good as having a face-to-face conversation with Joe — one of his posts has already got me thinking.

Water communion, and the interconnectedness of all living beings

Story for water communion service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto:

Each year we do this water communion service. When we share our water in the common bowl, it symbolizes that while we are separate people, we are also part of an interdependent community.

You probably know about the water cycle. When it rains, water falls from clouds onto the ground, and eventually it flows into a river, and all rivers flow down to the ocean. Water evaporates from the ocean and forms clouds, the clouds drift over the land, it rains, and the cycle begins again. You’re in the middle of this cycle because you drink about 2 liters of water every day, and then you sweat or urinate and put water back into the water cycle. So water is constantly on the move.

You probably know that water is made up of molecules, and that each water molecule is made up of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. Water molecules are incredibly tiny, so tiny you cannot see them. If you had 18 grams of water, or a little more than half an ounce, that would be about 6 x 10^23 molecules. The molecular weight of water is approximately 18, and therefore 18 grams of water should have a number of molecules equal to Avogadro’s number, or 6.02 x 10^23.

This is a fairly large number:
602,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules —
which is the same as 6.02 x 10^23 molecules, or we can also say 602 sextillion molecules.

If you’re a child who weighs about 77 pounds, or 35 kilograms, then you have about 20 liters of water in your body (adults, you can multiply up to figure it out for yourselves). That’s approximately 20,000 grams of water, or 6.02 x 10^26, or 602 septillion, molecules of water in your body if you’re a child. And if you drink 2 liters of water a day, you’re replacing about ten percent of that, or 6 x 10^25 molecules, each day. So if you are 3,650 days old (that’s ten years old), about 2.2 x 10^28 water molecules have already passed through your body. And here’s what that number looks like:

22,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules have passed through your body in ten years.

Because water is constantly cycling around, and because every human being has such large numbers of molecules of water cycling through them, there’s a very good chance that each one of us has at least a few molecules of water that were formerly in the body of Socrates, the great philosopher. We each probably have some molecules of water that were once in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and of the Buddha, and any number of great and wise people who lived in the past.

Thus when we say that we are all interconnected, that statement is quite literally true — we are all interconnected through the water cycle, not only with each other, but with all living beings past and present. Jesus, Confucius, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Eliza Tupper Wilkes who was the first Unitarian minister in Palo Alto — you might be literally connected with each of these good and wise people.

Tip of the hat to Steve Hersey for saying something much like this in the Watertown, Mass., UU congregation many years ago.

The punishment of Prometheus

Another in a series of stories I’m writing for liberal religious kids. As always, your comments and criticisms are welcome.

Once upon a time, the immortal god Prometheus stole fire from the other immortal gods and goddesses, and gave it to mortal human beings.

Zeus, who had just become the new ruler over all the other gods and goddesses, was very angry. To punish Prometheus, Zeus commanded him to be nailed to a cliff in Scythia, a distant place at the end of the world. Zeus told two of his henchmen, a demon named Might and another demon named Violence, to take Prometheus to Scythia. Prometheus had taken the fire from Hephaestus, who was the god who made things out of metal for the other gods and goddesses at his forge, so Hephaestus had to go along to make shackles of bronze to hold Prometheus tightly against the rocks.

After traveling many miles, at last they came at last to a high and lonely cliff. Hephaestus began working while Might and Violence watched to make sure Prometheus didn’t get away.

“I don’t have the heart to bind another god in this desolate place,” said Hephaestus to Prometheus, as he hammered bronze nails into the cliff face. “Yet I have to do it because it’s dangerous to ignore the commands of Zeus. Prometheus, I don’t want to do this to you. The sun will scorch you during the day, and the cold will freeze you at night. This is what has happened because you opposed the will of Zeus. This is what you get for giving fire to the human beings.” Hephaestus paused to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “Zeus is a new ruler, and new rulers are harsh.”

“Why are you delaying?” said the demon named Might. “Why do you pity this god who has betrayed all other gods and goddesses by giving such power to mortal beings?” Continue reading

A family story

I’ve been trying to write up the story of Demeter and Persephone for a Sunday school class. It has a very dark side to it, as do so many religious stories; the dark side is one of the things children like best about these stories. They are like Grimm’s fairy tales, filled with all the horrible things that children know exist in the real world but can’t talk about: Hansel and Gretel’s parents deliberately lose them in the woods; Siddartha Gautama abandons his wife and young child; Lot throws his daughters out to the crowd to be ravaged; Jesus is sentenced to a bloody death on trumped-up political charges; Persephone is abducted by the god of death, and in retribution her mother makes innocent human beings die in a massive famine. Sometimes I think that even though we adults try to put some kind of moral gloss on them, what children learn from these stories is that life is essentially amoral.

In any case, as I sat here today sorting through the details of the Persephone story, as presented in the Homeric hymns and in Ovid’s Metapmorphoses, I realized that many of the main characters in the story are closely related. Persephone is the child of Zeus and Demeter; Hades, Demeter, and Zeus are all children of Cronos and Rhea, and grandchildren of Gaia, mother earth. Not only that, but the Homeric hymn makes it clear that Zeus and Gaia (Persephone’s father and grandmother) set up the situation where Hades can abduct Persephone. Talk about a dysfunctional family!

I don’t want to emphasize this aspect of the story in the version for children, and the only way I can get it out of my head is to inflict it on you. So below you will find the dysfunctional family version of the Persephone story….

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Update on faith development Web page

I just revised and updated the “Annotated Bibliography on Human and Faith Development” that has been on my web site since 2003. In particular, I completely revised the section on James Fowler’s Stages of Faith, clarifying my criticisms of this book.

What key books have I left out? Am I right to be so critical of Fowler? Your comments, suggestions, and criticisms of this page will be much appreciated.

Volunteer management for religious education

Today in the New DRE (Director of Religious Education) workshop, one of the topics we addressed was volunteer management, and we focused on volunteer teachers. I said that the way I think about volunteer management is that it is a cycle that begins with supporting your current volunteers, then moves to recognizing volunteers at the end of a semester or year (or for volunteers completing service), then moves to recruiting new volunteers (or recruiting current volunteers to volunteer for another semester or year), then moves to training volunteers beginning service.

I asked workshop participants to brainstorm ideas for ways that we can support, recognize, recruit, and train religious education volunteers (especially volunteer teachers). Below is the list of ideas they generated:

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Outdoor classroom

Here at Ferry Beach Conference Center, the Ferry Beach Ecology School has established an organic garden that also serves as a place to teach children. I’ve uploaded photos of this outdoor classroom to Flickr, with lots of explanatory captions. It’s both attractive, and well-designed for teaching.

Seeing this has really gotten me excited. Now I want to establish something like this for my own congregation!

New DRE workshop

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be leading a workshop for new Directors of Religious Education (DREs). With the thought that this workshop might be useful to others, I’m going to post summaries of what we cover each day. To start off, I’ll post the three key handouts which I’ll hand out at the beginning of the workshop. These three handouts attempt to provide a broad overview of what the DRE job can encompass.

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