Director of Religious Education blog
Blog posts and the latest Religious Education news.
Some thoughts on Religious Education — shared with the congregation last spring on Religious Education Sunday:
Clay Vessels I
Every day each of us is showered with experiences. We taste something sweet or salty. We see something we’ve seen before or something totally new to us. We hear someone familiar speaking to us or we hear a scary unfamiliar sound. We hold someone’s hand. Or we fall down on the ground and skin our knee. Every day, each of us is showered by experiences. Like rain falling on us.
Some of those experiences just wash over us and drip off us and that’s the end of them. Others we may want to hold onto, but they just sort of slip through our fingers and are gone. And some stick with us – somehow there’s something inside of us that holds onto those experiences. Something that makes them containable.
So why is it that some experiences stay with us and some just slip away?
I like to imagine that inside me there are little bowls that catch those raindrops of experience. Little bowls that hold the water of what has happened to me. Little bowls that give a shape to that water. By holding the water, the little bowls let me look back at things that happened to me yesterday or two weeks ago. By holding all these different experiences together, the little bowls help me discover connections among the many different things that have happened to me. And by giving shape to the water, the little bowls help me reflect upon what all those experiences, put together, might mean to me.
Let’s breathe for a moment and try to imagine the little bowls inside each of us. Are they open and ready to catch the raindrops of our experiences? Are they covered up? Let’s breathe, and prepare them to receive what will be shared today.
Clay Vessels II
When I was 9 years old, I got to watch a potter working with clay on a wheel. The clay turned round and round on the wheel. The potter’s touch was so light and gentle, yet the clay changed dramatically with each turn. It was magical.
When I was 29 years old, I took my first pottery class. In each class, the teacher would have us follow the same routine. We would wedge our clay – knead the clay to get rid of the air bubbles. Then we would center our clay on our wheels. The teacher would demonstrate how to make something. He would talk about what he did and tell us about tricks he used to get the clay to move. Then it would be our turn to try to make the same thing ourselves – or at least to try out some of the tricks he had told us about.
As you can imagine, making that bowl was a lot easier for the teacher than it was for us. We weren’t used to working the clay. Sometimes what started out as a bowl would suddenly transform into a strangely warped, yet oddly beautiful piece of modern art. Some days my hands wouldn’t be in “a bowl mood” – try as I might to make bowls, my hands kept producing cups. Sometimes the clay would tear in our fingers. Sometimes we’d use too much water and the clay would get all sloppy. That clay ended up in the clay recycling bin – which, in a few days, would get reprocessed into usable clay. And sometimes, I would make a bowl. The finished bowl would get moved from the wheel to a board on a nearby table.
Imagine that table as it got covered with bowls. First, there was the teacher’s example. And then there were all the bowls that the students made. None of them was exactly the same. But after a while, as more and more bowls were made, you’d see families of bowls – bowls that were clearly related – families of bowls that bore the mark of the person who created them.
Now you make think this is funny, but I see a lot of parallels between that pottery class and the way we do religious education at this church. First of all, the teacher’s goal was to engage students in working with clay. The most important thing was the doing.
Second, the teacher understood that each student had to find their own way of throwing on the wheel. Each person’s way was a little bit different – based on the size of their body, the size and strength of their hands, whether they were right-handed or left-handed. The teacher’s job was to support students in finding their own way of throwing pots, not to show them the one right way to do it.
Third, the teacher expected and affirmed variety. There is no one right way for a bowl to look. Sure there are some things that are not bowls, but there’s a pretty broad range of shapes and sizes that could all be called a bowl.
Fourth, the teacher didn’t expect perfection from students. Not every attempt at a bowl was going to work out. We learn from failures as well as from successes.
The results varied from pot to pot. But over time, a student who kept at it became confident with clay.
Here at church, the teacher’s goal is to encourage children to make connections between their lives and the big fundamental human questions – what is the purpose of my life? How do I lead a good life? Why do we suffer?
The goal here is to help each child become confident in working with the clay that is his or her life – in forming that clay into meaningful shapes and containers that hold and reflect his or her experiences.
We don’t expect perfection. We encourage variety. We know that each person has to find his or her own way. The most important thing is the doing.