Category Archives: Religious education

Religious literacy for Unitarian Universalists

Religious literacy asks: What are the basic things any religiously competent person should know? In his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know — and Doesn’t, Stephen Prothero has a quiz on religious literacy for the average American (see pp. 293 ff.). So I decided to create some quizzes to test your religious literacy when it comes to North American Unitarianism, Universalism, and Unitarian Universalism. Passing scores are pretty low, and I would hope that any Unitarian Universalist kid who grows up in one of our congregations would be abel to pass these quizzes by age 18, and that any Unitarian Universalist adult who serves in a leadership role could pass one of these quizzes as well.

See if you can pass these quizzes without consulting any reference material! Answers posted here.

Universalism religious literacy quiz
Unitarianism religious literacy quiz
Unitarian Universalism religious literacy quiz

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“The Yellow Emperor”

Another story in a series for liberal religious kids, this one from the Taoist tradition.

Thousands of years ago, Huang-ti, the Yellow Emperor, reigned for a hundred years in the country of Ch’i.

For the first fifteen years of his reign, he took great pleasure in his position. He rejoiced that all the people in the Empire looked up to him as their emperor. He took great care of his body. He ate well, and took the time to enjoy beautiful sights and sounds. But in spite of this, he became sad and depressed, and his face looked haggard and ill.

So Huang-ti decided to change his ways. He saw that the Empire faced great trouble and disorder. For the next fifteen years of his reign, he worked night and day to rule the people with wisdom and intelligence. But in spite of all his efforts, he remained sad and depressed and his face still looked haggard and ill.

At the end of this second fifteen year period, Huang-ti sighed heavily. “I was miserable in the first fifteen years of my reign, when I devoted all my attention to myself and my own needs, and paid no attention to the Empire. I was miserable in the second fifteen years of my reign when I devoted all of my time and energy to solving the problems of the Empire and paid no attention to myself.

“I see now that all my efforts have not succeeded in establishing good government,” he said. “I see now that all my efforts have not succeeded in making myself happy. I have only succeeded in ruining my spiritual life.”

So he left beautiful rooms he lived in within the palace and dismissed all his servants and attendants. He went to live in a small building off to one side of the palace. He stopped eating all the rich food they served in the palace, and began to eat just ordinary food. He sat by himself for three months purifying his mind.

Then one day, he took a nap in the middle of the day. Continue reading

“The Sandy Road”

From my teaching notes of 11 April 2010:

Over 20 children, ages 4 through 11, at the 9:30 session; school vacation week for many kids so we expected low attendance and had all the kids together. I had my doubts about having the preschoolers in the class, but thought it was worth a try. C—, one of the older kids, volunteered to light chalice; turns out he had never lit a match before, so I talked him through it while reviewing fire safety for the benefit of all kids.

Read aloud the story “The Sandy Road,” from Ellen Babbit’s retelling of Jataka tales (Appanna Jataka, or Appanaka Jataka, tale no. 1). The children were completely attentive while I was reading.

Then we acted it out. There were enough major roles for all the older children (gr. 4 & 5) who wanted one: the wicked demon and helpers, the foolish merchant, the wise merchant. The children were very inventive in acting the story out: the smallest children were the oxen, and they dragged chairs as their wagons; they were very focused on dragging their chairs. The children were much less attentive while we were getting ready to act the story out, and I did my usual thing and tried to talk over them — this never works well, but I have a big voice and have gotten into the bad habit of relying on it.

Finally we settled down and actually acted the story out. Continue reading

UUism declines for 2nd straight year; RE for 7th straight year, the official news Web site of the Untiarian Universalist Association, reported on Monday that Unitarian Universalism (UUism) has declined in the United States for a second straight year. The actual decline is small: down 267 adult members in 2009, a decline of 0.16 percent. Given that membership numbers are somewhat fictional to begin with, and given that many congregations are determinedly purging their membership rolls in order to reduce their annual Fair Share financial contribution to the denomination, we can console ourselves that perhaps we’re not really declining.

The really depressing news is that religious education enrollment for children and youth has been declining since 2002. And in 2009 it declined a lot: “Religious education enrollment dropped 1,262, for a total of 55,846 children and youth this year. A year ago it dropped 809. In 2002 it was 60,895.”

This is a clear downward trend that cannot be explained away. Considering that we are in the midst of a population surge for children, with birthrates that highest they’ve been since the tail end of the Baby Boom of the early 1960s, this is especially depressing news.

I believe several things are contributing to the decline of our religious education program. Continue reading

New podcast on faith development

There’s a new podcast up on the Palo Alto Religious Education blog, in which Joe Chee and I discuss faith development and chronological age. We address questions like: –what happens when someone who grew up with no religious upbringing decides to join a Unitarian Universalist congregation? –how can we help childen new to church feel welcome?

And Joe has also put up an online index listing all the religious education podcasts we’ve produced thus far.

A story of Guru Nanak from the janamsakhis

Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, grew up as a Hindu in the Punjab in India, where Muslims and Hindus lived side by side. Nanak famously preached that there is no Hindu and there is no Muslim, because there is one God for all religions; and there is neither lower caste nor upper caste, for we are all simply human. The following story about Guru Nanak is probably not historically accurate;1 it comes from one of the janamsakhis, collections of tales about Nanak collected a century or more after his death in 1539. This story may wind up in my growing collection of stories for liberal religious kids.

Once upon a time, on one of his missionary trips or udasi, Nanak camped beside the Tigris River. Nanak had been teaching all day, and in the evening an old woman, a Muslim, came to visit him. Weeping, she bowed down at his feet. Nanak asked her to sit next to him and tell him her problems.

“I have been waiting for you for twelve years,” said the old woman. “It was twelve years ago that my son got onto a ferry boat at this very spot to travel to the other side of the Tigris. He was twenty years old, and he was going across the river to visit his sister. The ferry was well out into the river when it suddenly capsized. I watched in horror, trying to see if my son would be safe. Some of those aboard were able to swim to shore, but many were lost. My son was one of those who did not make it back to land.

“I waited all night by the side of the river to be sure,” said the woman, “and at last went home to sleep. I saw you in my dreams, a holy man who held up his hand so that a light shone upon me and filled me with warmth. I knew that you would come and bring back my son to me.”

“Where has your son been for the last twelve years?” Nanak said.

“He has been with Allah,” said the woman.

“Is he content and happy to be with Allah?” said Nanak.

“Oh, yes,” said the woman, “of course he has found perfect happiness with Allah.”

“Then surely you would not be selfish enough to ask your son to leave that perfect happiness to come back to this world,” said Nanak. “For as you know, in this world happiness is rare, while misery is a constant.”

The old woman was silent.

“And have you really been without your son all these twelve years?” said Nanak. “Has he not lived on in your memory? Can you not remember the way he played as a child, the trouble he got into, all the time you spent with him? He was so much a part of you while he was alive that he can never completely go away from you. You have lost his body, yes; but his soul and spirit will remain with you always.”

So it was that Nanak brought her son back to the old woman; though he had really never left her. She touched his feet and went on her way, her soul at peace at long last.

The source for this story is The First Sikh Spiritual Master: Timeless Wisdom from the Life and Teachings of Guru Nanak, by Harish Dhillon (Mumbai: Indus Source Books, 2005; Woodstock, Vermont: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2006), pp. 166-167. Although the bulk of the book is a popular historical biography of Nanak, Dhillon also retells several stories from the Nanak janamsakhis, stories which his grandmother told him when he was a child.

1 Not historically accurate according to Dhillon, pp. 155-156.

I have been able to identify only one English translation of a janamsakhi, the B40 manuscript in the possession of the British India Office, translated by W. H. McLeod and publsihed in Amritsar c. 1979.