Today, we wrapped up a year of our Unitarian Universalist Neighboring Faiths curriculum which seeks to introduce UU kids to the religious beliefs of their neighbors. In our case this year, this included Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism (Presbyterians, specifically), Hinduism (with smaller discussions of Sikkhism and Buddhism), AME (African Methodist Episcopal, an American black Christian church), nature-based paganism, humanism, a review of UU, and Quakers. We had class activities about different faiths, visiting speakers, field trips, and time for reflection. It was an astounding year and I was so glad to teach it with three other co-teachers.
I think I liked the Jewish, Islam, Hindu, and AME field trips the most, probably because they were least familiar to me. And I liked our Muslim speaker most. The kids least liked the Catholic and Presbyterian services--"too much Bible reading!"
Judaism (field trip):
- historic Torah--Survivors' Scroll for Bar and Bat Bitzvahs was 450 years old, surviving Holocaust in Czechoslavakia
- Ark by Ben Shahn; kids fascinated by Ark (where Torah scrolls are kept)
- MLK dedicated building in 1961
- story of the Menorah hand carved by student
- righteous and most righteous at the time, story of Noah and Abraham, who argued with God in name of justice
- in class, kids learned about Torah (first 5 books of the Hebrew scriptures) and Talmud (commentary); important prophets include Abraham, David, Solomon; minyan, or minimum number for service; kashrut (kosher laws) about pork and shellfish; yarmulke, tfflin; menorah as symbol of Judaism (not just Star of David); various holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, Sukkot, which was occurring when we visited); differences between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, especially as relates to women; a bit of the history of the Jewish diaspora across Europe and into the US;
Catholicism (field trip):
- 8 altar boys
- 2 priests, a deacon, 2 lay ministers
- beautiful 19th-century Gothic Revival church
- lots of incense!
- Wise and Foolish Virgins--all well and good but you must convert and believe now!
- NO girls as altar servers because they can't become priests
- in class, kids had discussed rosary, Trinity, 7 sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Sacrament of the Sick, Marriage, Holy Orders)
- symbol: Crucifix
Presbyterianism (field trip):
- rainbow flag, refugee help, homeless shelter program
- focus on social action, justice, equality
- in-depth textual analysis of Nathaniel story, being known to God and knowing God--answering God's call "come and see"
- beautiful building--recycled telephone poles
- minister saw her stole as the yolk of Christ
- in class, kids heard about Martin Luther and Calvin; economic, political and religious focus of Reformation; stress on individual relationship with God, not through priest or Church; scriptural basis (Catholic church based on scripture AND tradition)
- symbol: cross
Islam (speaker and field trip):
- Belief in God/Allah; Prophets; The Unseen (angels, devils, etc)
- Islam is the religion; Muslim is the follower
- Five Pillars--belief, prayer, fasting, charity, pilgrimmage
- song about the months--Ramadan is holiest month
- Hijab--modesty; covers all but her face and hands; others don't wear headscarves and some wear niqab over entire face, also abaya/robe over close for some (see here); men were kufi/hats
- fasting--also about refraining from sin, not just food
- Prayer--ritual washing, prayer to Allah, bow, prayer to Allah, kneel, "Praise to God" x 3, and repeat from second prayer to Allah--5 times a day facing Mecca
- Hajj--pilgrimmage to Mecca in 12th month; ideally once in lifetime
- Koran--learn/memorize in Arabic, also many translations; Hafiz is person who memorizes it fully
- Service--same prayers for men and women but sit separately; long sermon, short prayer, over in about an hour.
- Bean pie! African-American Muslim traditional food
- symbol: crescent
Hinduism (field trip):
- The four faces of Brahma, and the three main deities Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva
- The oneness and multifaceted aspects of God (which are either believed to really exist or to be symbols of life, nature, etc.)
- Rama and his story in the Ramayana; Baghavad Gita; Vedas; Upanishads
- Krishna and his incarnations when life on earth is out of balance between good and bad
- Elephant-headed god Ganesh;
- pooja, the ritual offerings;
- the animal spirits associated with the gods (and so there are many vegetarians);
- samsara, or the wheel of suffering;
- karma, which is not some kind of universal scale of justice, but is more about the sum total of your actions (I've heard it described as intention)--so not "karma is a bitch";
- At the temple, we chanted OM , and other chants (shanti, shanti, shanti), plus two cycles of yoga forms (essentially what we would call salutation of the sun, downward facing dog, and others, called the Surya Namaskara);
- laddu, a sweet yellow ball with (usually) chickpea flour, ghee, sugar, nuts (almonds or pistachios), cardamom, and this one had raisins
- symbols: OM,
- Punjabi religion founded in 15th century, not to be confused with Islam or Hinduism
- The 5Ks of Sikkhism--Kesh (uncut long hair); Kangha (small wooden comb); Kara (steel bracelet); Kachera (a type of undergarments); Kirpan (sword or knife); the Kangha and Kirpan are sometimes worn as little amulets in the turban.
- The ten Gurus
- One Creator, social justice, selfless service--they will feed anyone who comes to the temple and often deliver meals in times of crisis
- Siddhartha Gautama: mom dies when he is born; prophecy about becoming powerful warrior or influential guru; hidden from illness, aging, and death; studies to be an aesthete; Enlightenment--"all beings and I awake."
- The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path ("Middle Way")
- Three refuges: Buddha, dharma, sangha
- karma, nirvana (enlightenment), samsara (wheel of suffering), bodhisattvas
- Theravada--focus on Middle Way and nirvana, divided into samatha ("calm") and vipassana ("insight"); Mahayana ("great vehicle")--Pure Land and Zen, focuses on bodhisattvas; Vajrayana--Tibetan
- originally an oral tradition so no main text like the Bible or Quaran. Sutras gathered in nikayas, which are part of the tripitakas ("three baskets," the Pali Canon)
- symbols: lotus, wheel, Buddha (elongated ears, wheels on hands, top knot of wisdom)
AME (field trip):
- African Methodist Episcopal (AME) founded when racism experienced in Methodist church in Philadelphia
- Church we visited formed by ex-slaves is 1818 and is second-oldest AME church in the world;
- Booker T Washington once spoke here;
- near a lookout spot for the Underground Railroad;
- focus on personal/experiential preaching, blending of music and spoken word, physical response to worship (hands raised, dance, movement in the aisles);
- very loud music--one song lasted 15+ minutes ("Way Maker" and "It Could Have Been Me")
- very traditional Apostles' Creed
- Matthew 21:2--about being tied up (by challenges) and let loose by God--what challenges you makes you worthy to be called.
- altar call, with one person saved
- offertory conducted by everyone filing past the box up front
- some women in gorgeous hats
- This is the only class topic that I totally missed because we had just gotten back from Italy.
- An email describing the class: "I opened with brief overview of earth-centered religions, and the kids were pretty astute about why we see the earth as a "mother" and why this would be worthy of worship. "Earth is a Mother" served as a good chalice lighting; 4 kids read a stanza each, and then I re-read it and we discussed its symbols. They identified directions, we read "The Four Directions" while turning appropriately each way - and teacher drove home the point about how out of touch we are in so much of our lives with where we are on the earth. She also spoke to the 7th UU principle, and the 6th source. We used the photos and teacher had photos from the May Day celebration she attends each year, we discussed paganism, Wiccan, why there might be a focus in this domain on the moon rather than on the sun (tides, women's cycles tied to lunar cycles). She talked about her experiences with shamanism, including sharing Tarot cards and some other practice elements. We spent a few minutes outside, came back to the room, made a circle and shared thoughts and blew out the chalice."
- Later, I told the kids about the 8 sabbats and the Law of Three, the individual practice, folklore as a sacred source.
- symbol: pentagram
- Did a silent meditation and encouraged students to share when they felt called to, a la a Quaker meeting;
- Watched two videos about Quakerism, including "What does George Fox Say?" (based on the hit song);
- Speaker compared Quaker meditation, where you ask for insight and listen for the "still, small voice," to Buddhist meditation, where you do not focus on a question or a thought.
- Speaker liked the very long silences
- liberal religious tradition but still very Christian