Friday, June 26, 2009

Sophia Fahs Lecture: Rabbi Sandy Sasso

Yesterday morning I attended an excellent lecture given by Rabbi Sandy Sasso. Rabbi Sasso was invited by the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) to give the annual Sophia Fahs lecture, in honor of an early 20th century children's religious educator important to the Unitarian Universalist faith.

Rabbi Sasso is the author of numerous children's books designed to help children engage with their spiritual lives. She is also an excellent speaker particularly in her ability to use stories (both folk tales and real life experiences) to illustrate and expand her points.

The talk was philosophical rather than practical. She said that the two most common reasons adults in our churches shy away from engaging spiritually with children is: a) we think spirituality requires abstract thinking beyond the ability of children, and b) we're afraid that children are going to ask us questions that we don't know the answer to. Sasso pointed out the contradiction in those two fears, and that, therefore, each one actually solves the other. As Fahs herself maintained, Children have spiritual experiences that we need to help them bring out, rather than pushing religious education into them. What they don't have is the capacity for theological reflection. So children have spiritual questions but they aren't looking for theological answers. What they want from teachers is the chance to describe their experiences and what they want in return is not answers but stories of our own spiritual experiences and feelings.

I thought this was an incredibly freeing analysis that would allay the fears of volunteer RE teachers in the classroom. Children want to know what the adult in front of them feels and believes and to hear their story. And instead of limiting our RE curriculum to the black and white kinds of facts that we think children can understand (like memorizing the principles or biographies of famous UUs), we can give them the unique gift of a place where they can bring their questions and feelings about issues that aren't addressed in school work, spiritual issues of loss, and justice and meaning and morality (why did grandpa die? Why are some people wealthy and others poor? How do I know what to do?).

1 comment:

Earthbound Spirit said...

Rabbi Sasso rocks - and I return to her books again and again for "stories for all ages" in worship. Because, here's the deal - our adults have the same questions, and sometimes the same need for communion with others rather than answers. This was a great lecture, and a highlight of my GA experience this year!