Joy Berry: Can We Grow Up (Without Forgetting the Lessons of Childhood)?

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Remember when you were young enough to say how you’d like to change or grow without feeling embarrassed at all? On the first Sunday in January, the kids in religious education set their intentions for the year, and I was delighted (as usual) with their honesty and their sweetness.

It was a Faith in Action Sunday, so the kids and helping adults were working on our Kids Care! blessing bags. These are ziplock gallon bags stuffed with a handwritten note from a child, personal care items, snacks, socks, gloves, water bottles, and other items meant to help out a person in need that families may encounter in Asheville. The work of creating and sharing these bags also helps families “take it home,” supporting them as they teach our children a valuable lesson about how our faith compels us to “choose to bless the world,” as theologian Rev. Rebecca Parker said. Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper joined our group and shared the story of The Good Samaritan, asking the kids to really consider “who is our neighbor?”

Then kids got to process the story and the Faith in Action activity by considering how they’d like to grow and change in the upcoming year. This is the second time we’ve done this exercise at the New Year, and it amazes me how focused and clear they are in this work. I know that not all of you can join us to experience firsthand how transformative and deep the faith development we do in RE can be (but I encourage more of you to take the time to do so)! In the spirit of bringing more of you into awareness of our work, here is a sample of the kind of faith development our children are doing in RE.

A tree on the wall provided the backdrop for our conversation about growing up from where we are planted, from our roots, and putting out branches, leaves, and fruit. Kids were asked how they want to change and grow in the upcoming year, and here are some of their responses. How many of these are what you would expect to hear from 5-10 year old children? How many are ways you would like to grow in the upcoming year?

  • More play!
  • I want to read more
  • Not to fight with my sisters
  • To help more people
  • I will ‘lern’ more
  • Climb a tree barefooted
  • Smile more
  • Eat less sugar
  • Read more
  • Don’t be mean
  • Stop fighting with my brother
  • I will help more
  • I want to meditate
  • I want to learn something new every day
  • Playing more
  • I want to be nicer
  • I want to play outside more

Are these intentions that would be good for people of all ages?

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Intentions set last year by children in RE. We considered what progress we made this year.

One of my greatest hopes is that we will recognize that children and adults are not nearly as different as we sometimes like to think when it comes to faith development. James Fowler, faith stages researcher and thinker, said that we all move in a spiral through six stages of faith, coming back to the same lessons, stories, parables, challenges again and again as we grow more spiritually mature. Famously, UU Robert Fulghum said, “All I needed to know I learned in kindergarten,” and that’s what I am getting at: our children in RE already face the same spiritual, ethical, and moral issues as adults, in slightly different packaging. The difference, often, is that they are still willing to name how they want to change and grow. They feel safe enough and supported enough and good enough to be vulnerable and honest in their intention-setting. What could we adults learn from their teaching?