CliF Notes

A curriculum for families and small groups

 

June 2018

 

Week One – June 3rd   

Introduction – “Who decides?”

 

Supplies Needed:  Question bowl, Poster with words of centering song.

 

Opening Words and Chalice Lighting:

 

We light this flame for the light of truth, the energy of action and the warmth of love.

or

We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.

or

We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)

This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)

This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)

This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)

This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)

Together we care for our earth

And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)

 

Or, for older kids:

 

In the freedom of truth

and the love of justice

We bring all that we are

to shape what we yet can be.

 

Check-in:

You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.

 

Centering:

Sing #374 in Singing the Living Tradition – to the tune of “Old Hundredth,” which will be familiar to many.

 

Since what we choose is what we are,

And what we love we yet shall be,

The goal may ever shine afar—

The will to win it makes us free.

 

--by William deWitt Hyde

 

See here for the tune.

 

You may wish to take a few minutes before singing to talk about the meaning of the song. It will be easier to sing if you create a poster with the words.

 

Introduction

This month will bring us the last set of sessions on our year-long topic of theology. We’ve been thinking about questions ranging from “What (if anything) is God?” to “What do I owe to other people?” Our final question, which we’ll be taking on this month, is “Who decides?” Some people think that God is in charge of everything, and knows everything before it happens, and so God makes choices for the world as a whole. Other people think that each person makes their own decisions, and is responsible for all of their life choices. Of course, then there are all kinds of questions about how you go about making choices – can you choose anything you want, or just some things? Do you choose just based on yourself, or do you take other people’s opinions and feelings into account?

What questions come for mind to you when you think about the question “Who decides?” We’re going to pass around our question bowl, and as it comes to you please share with us any questions that come to mind for you. (Some sample questions might be: Why do my parents get to make decisions for me? If God decides everything then why do bad things happen?)

 

Story

Our story today is a true story—or at least as true as we can be sure about something that happened more than 1600 years ago. It’s the story of a man who has been condemned across the centuries as a heretic. Have you heard the word heretic before? Do you know what it means? Basically, a heretic is someone who expresses beliefs that go against what the religious authorities say is true. Usually you hear it in a sentence like: “Pelagius was condemned as a heretic.” But it’s worth knowing that the word “heretic” comes from a Greek word that means “to choose.” So maybe “heretic” was a good word to describe Pelagius, who had something to say about human choices.

So our story starts back a long time ago—not right at the beginning of the Christian church, but not long after Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the Christian Church had become one of the most powerful institutions in the world.

We don’t know very much about Pelagius’ early life, although it would be safe to say that he didn’t eat breakfast cereal or ride a bike, since neither cereal nor bikes would be invented for some centuries to come. We’re pretty sure that he grew up in Britain, and that he was a very religious man who believed in living a simple life, without any unnecessary extravagances. So it must have some as quite a shock to his system when he travelled to Rome, which then, as now, was basically the headquarters for the Catholic Church. Of course, back then the Catholic Church was the only kind of Christian church there was. We can imagine that when this simple, holy man from Britain made his pilgrimage to Rome he expected to find a Holy City, an example of the highest morals and cleanest living anywhere. But what he saw when he got there was something quite different. People were indulging themselves in all kinds of luxuries rather than sharing with the poor. They were lying and cheating and doing whatever they thought would get them what they wanted, without much thought to whether they were hurting anyone else. Here, in the capital of Christianity, Christians were hardly following the example of Jesus.

Pelagius came to an interesting conclusion about what the problem with Christian society might be. He read the works of Augustine, the most important Christian philosopher of his day. And what he heard Augustine saying was that because of the original sin of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden apple, all people were born sinful. Furthermore, Augustine said, people really weren’t able to choose to be good. The only way they could be good, and be saved, was through the grace of God. God, and only God (through Christ) could save people from sin and make them good. People, of their own free will, Augustine said, would always be sinful.

Pelagius, heretic that he was, got to thinking. And what he thought was that Augustine was pretty far off base. If only God could choose for good, Pelagius said, then why would people even try to be good? Maybe the reason that the folks in Rome were acting in such immoral ways was that they figured there was nothing they could do, that God would either save them or not, but they might as well have a good time while they were waiting to find out. Pelagius said that people are free to choose, good or bad, and that it is our job, not God’s, to make that choice. Much to Augustine’s disgust, Pelagius published his views, and convinced a lot of people that humans have free choice about their own actions, and must take responsibility for making moral choices.

 

Augustine wrote back, condemning Pelagius, and saying that he should be denounced as a heretic. Pelagius was banished from Rome, and Augustine was canonized as a saint. But there are still people, hundreds of years later, who hold to Pelagius’s belief that people can, and should, choose the good of their own free will. What do you think? Are you a heretic – a person who chooses?

 

Discussion: Have you ever been in a situation when you knew what the right thing was to do, but you chose to do something else anyway? Have you been in a situation where it was hard to do what you knew was right, but you did it anyway? Do you agree with Augustine that people can’t manage to avoid doing bad things of their own free will?  

 

Activity 1—for younger children

Play “Mother May I?”

Play this game with at least three players.

Designate one person as "Mother." Line the players up facing “Mother” about 10 feet away. “Mother” then gives commands to the players one at a time, saying, for example, "Anna, you may take one step forward." “Mother” waits for the player to respond. If she says, "Mother, may I?" the answer is, "Yes, you may" or "No, you may not."

Make sure the player asks the question and follows instructions. If she doesn't, tell the player that she's out of the game. Continue giving commands to the players in any order that you choose. Play until only Mother and one player are left. The last player left in the game is the winner. Take turns being Mother in subsequent games.

 

Or play “Simon Says,” with one person up front giving commands. Players must respond only to commands preceded by “Simon says.” Anyone who moves on a command that isn’t preceded by “Simon says” is out of the game. Rotate leaders.

 

Discussion

Does it bother you only being able to do something if “Mother” or “Simon” says you may?

 

Activity 1, pt. 2

Play “Walking Statues” (also requires at least three people)

 Two teams start from opposite ends of the field. The leader stands in the center of the field. The goal is to reach the leader first. Teams can move only when the leader is facing the other team. If individuals are caught moving, they must go back to the start.

 

Discussion

Did you prefer a game in which you chose when and how you would move, rather than in a way and time that someone else required? What do you think the game would be like if there were no rules and everyone did exactly what they wanted? Would that be more fun or less?

 

Activity 2 – For Older Children

Pelagius and St. Augustine debated each other on paper, but in many cases important points of church doctrine have been decided by oral debate. You can have participants form two teams to debate on the subject of Pelagius’s views versus those of St. Augustine, but it may be more approachable to choose a subject of choice and free will that is closer to home. For instance teams or individuals could take on “Is it right for parents to decide that their child can’t be friends with someone?”, “Should schools require that every student take particular classes in order to graduate?” or “Should people under the age of 18 be allowed to vote?”

 

Closing

Play (and dance to, if you like), the Lindsay Lohan song “I Decide” (available for download from a variety of sources).

 

Or, share this excerpt from Walt Whitman, an American voice of independence:

Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,

healthy, free, the world before me.

Henceforth I ask not good fortune—

I myself and good fortune;

Strong and content, I travel the open road….

Onward! To that which is endless,

As it was beginningless….

To know the universe itself as a road—

as many roads—

as roads for traveling souls.


 

Week Two – June 10th

 

Supplies Needed: Job story below, sheets to make costumes, household items to serve as props as needed, paper and paints/markers/crayons (optional).

 

Opening Words and Chalice Lighting:

 

We light this flame for the light of truth, the energy of action and the warmth of love.

or

We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.

or

We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)

This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)

This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)

This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)

This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)

Together we care for our earth

And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)

 

Or, for older kids:

 

In the freedom of truth

and the love of justice

We bring all that we are

to shape what we yet can be.

 

Check-in:

You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.

 

Centering:

Close your eyes and allow your body to get still. Quiet your feet and your knees and your elbows and your hands. Allow your eyes to drift shut. Think back to a time when something bad happened to you – a time when your feelings or body were hurt, a time when you felt really rotten. Try to remember how that bad thing happened – was it because of a bad choice, like doing something unkind or unsafe? Was it because someone chose to do something mean to you? Was it something that just happened, through no fault of anyone? Now imagine that a superhero flies in and says that he or she can make your problem all better. What superpowers would they need to have to fix things? Now you have a choice: either ask your superhero to make everything better for you or imagine making things better yourself through your own abilities and choices. Either way, imagine that the problem is solved, the feelings and/or the body whole and healed and happy. Thank your superhero—or yourself—and then open your eyes and return you mind to this room.

 

Introduction

Last week we started talking about the question of “Who decides?” Does God choose everything that happens, and people have no free choice? Does everybody choose everything, or do we have choices about some things, but not others? Do some people get more choices than others? One of the questions related to the issue of choice that people have been struggling with throughout history is this: “If God is in charge of the world, and God chooses, then why do bad things happen? Wouldn’t God just choose for good things to happen, at least for good people?”

 

Story

(Note: this story contains brutal events which may be upsetting for younger children. Adapt as appropriate, making events more generic or less graphic – for instance, “his livestock and servants and children were kidnapped by bandits.” If you say they were kidnapped they can be returned at the end of the story.)

 There’s an ancient story from the Hebrew Bible (sometimes called the Old Testament) about a man named Job, which tries to answer this question. You may or may not agree with the answer that the story gives, but you’ll have a chance to come up with your own story, and your own answers, later.

The story goes something like this: Job was a happy man, the richest man in his country, with acres of land and livestock galore—oxen and donkeys and sheep and camels in herds and people by the dozens working for him and taking care of all those animals. He was happily married and had ten grown children and lots of friends. Job was not only fortunate, he was also kind and generous, sharing his wealth with the people around him who were not so lucky. Every day Job would get down on his knees and thank God for his good fortune. Job loved God, and God loved Job.

But one day the angels came to visit God, including Satan, the tempter. They were hanging out, talking, and God asked Satan what he had been doing.

“Oh,” said Satan, “just walking up and down the earth, checking out everything that’s going on.”

“Hey,” responded God, “did you see my buddy Job? Now there’s a good man! Kind, generous, loving with his family, supportive of his friends, and above all, faithful to me. Yep, I sure know how to pick ‘em.”

“Easy for you to say, God,” Satan replied. “Of course he’s generous—he’s got more than enough to go around. And as for being grateful to you, why wouldn’t he be? He’s got everything he could possibly want. Take that away, and I bet he’d curse your name in a minute!”

“You wanna bet?” said God.

“You’re on.”

“OK,” God declared, “Do whatever you want to him, so long as you don’t actually physically hurt him, and we’ll see what happens.”

“You got it,” Satan replied, “This man will be cursing you in no time.”

A few days later a messenger came to Job and told him that bandits had come and stolen his oxen and his donkeys and killed the servants who were using them to plow the fields. And while that man was still talking another messenger arrived to say that fire had come down from the sky and burned up his sheep and the shepherds who were guarding them. And while that man was speaking, another messenger arrived to say that soldiers, hostile Chaldeans, made a raid and captured all his camels and killed the servants who were with them. And while that man was still speaking another messenger arrived to say that while his seven sons and three daughters were all eating a meal together a huge wind blew in from across the wilderness and knocked down the house on their heads, and that they all died.

Job said nothing to the messengers, but tore his clothing and shaved his head as a sign of his grief, and fell to the ground. But he didn’t curse God. Instead, he cried out “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Once again the angels came by to chat with God. “Satan,” said God, “Did you see my boy Job? All those terrible things happened to him for no reason, and did he curse me? I think not! He’s still just as good as gold. I win!”

“Well, yeah,” said Satan, “Because he, himself, was never touched, just his belongings and the people he cared about. But damage his flesh and it’s gonna be a totally different story.”

“I don’t think so!” responded God. “Do what you like to him, so long as you don’t kill him, and we’ll see what happens.”

And so Satan covered Job with horrible oozing sores all over his body, from his head to his feet.

Once again Job said nothing, but went off to sit on an ash heap and scrape at his itchy, oozy, painful sores with a broken piece of pottery.

His wife asked him, “Why don’t you just curse God for all this misery and hope to die? But Job just replied, “God gave us all of our earlier happiness. Why shouldn’t God give us misery as well.”

Three of Job’s friends heard what had happened to him, and went to comfort him. When they saw how terribly he was suffering, they too tore their robes, and then they just sat with him, keeping him company in silence for a whole week. But eventually, they felt they had to speak. “Surely,” said his friend Eliphaz, “there must be something you’ve done to make such terrible things happen to you. Just apologize to God, and maybe God will take pity on and make things better.”

“No,” replied Job, “I didn’t do anything to deserve this. What could I have done to deserve such a horrible fate?”

“Well,” said his friend Eliphaz, “Then maybe one of your kids did something terrible, and you’re being punished for that.”

“Yeah, right,” said Job in his most sarcastic tone of voice.

“I wouldn’t be so snotty if I were you,” declared his friend Zophar. “What do you know compared to the mind of God? I’m sure God knows of something terrible you’ve done. If you just atone for what you’ve done then I’m sure that God will make it right.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!” screamed the anguished Job. “My children didn’t do anything wrong and my parents didn’t do anything wrong and there isn’t any reason I should be punished. Not to mention the fact that you see people who do terrible things every day, and nothing like my suffering happens to them. As far as I can tell, this is all a big mistake. If God wants to tell me that I’ve done something, I’m sitting right here. God can just march right on down here and talk to me!”

And much to everyone’s surprise, a whirlwind appeared before them, and the voice of God came out of the whirlwind: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Can you shout to the clouds and have a flood of water rain down? Do you give the horse his power? Is it because of your wisdom that the hawk soars and the eagle builds his nest on high? Who are you to argue with God?”

“No one, God, I am no one to argue with you.”

“And as for you supposed friends,” continued God, “you guys couldn’t be more wrong. Job isn’t being punished, and you weren’t being any help. So go make a sacrifice and ask Job to pray that you don’t get punished for saying all that stupid stuff. I am God, and I do exactly as I please, and there’s an end of it.”

And so Job prayed for his friends, and God gave Job back twice as much as he had before. He lived a hundred and forty years, long enough to know not only his children, but his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Discussion

What do you think of this story? What do you think of God’s answer to Job?

 

Activity

The story of Job is an ancient and famous one, but not necessarily everyone’s idea of the best way to answer the question “Why do bad things happen?” In the story of Job God is in charge of all decisions, and the answer to “Why do bad things happen?” that God is in charge, and that people are in no place to question. But there could be plenty of other stories that answer the question in a different way. Create your own play, or plays, about someone who has bad things happen to them. Do the bad things happen because of the person’s poor choices? Because sometimes stuff just happens, but nobody is in charge of deciding whether it happens or not? Because they are being punished? Try to figure out what kind of answer to the question “Why do bad things happen?” you want to show before you create the plot and characters of your play. If you don’t agree about the answer, you may want to make up more than one play. (A box of props and costumes may help to stimulate creativity in coming up with what happens in the play.)

 

Alternative/Additional Activity

Come up with the story described above as a group. Instead of/in addition to doing the play, have participants illustrate different scenes from the story, so that it can be told through pictures.

 

Closing

“Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe

even if it is a tree which stands by itself.

Hold on to life even if it is easier letting go.

Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.”

 

-- Nancy Wood (adapted)


 

Week Three—June 17th   

Celebration – Father’s Day and John Adams

 

Supplies Needed: Poster with structure for poem (optional), paper, pencils, markers, light cardboard, glue sticks, materials for decorating, glue or hot glue, magnetic strips

 

Chalice Lighting:

my father moved through dooms of love

through sames of am through haves of give,

singing each morning out of each night

the wrists of twilight would rejoice

 

my father moved through depths of height….

joy was his song and joy so pure

a heart of star by him could steer

and pure so now and now so yes ….

 

and nothing quite so least as truth

--i say though hate were why men breathe--

because my Father lived his soul

love is the whole and more than all

ee cummings

 

or

 

We light this flame for the light of truth, the energy of action and the warmth of love.

or

We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.

or

We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)

This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)

This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)

This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)

This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)

Together we care for our earth

And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)

 

Or, for older kids:

In the freedom of truth

and the love of justice

We bring all that we are

to shape what we yet can be.

 

Check-in:

You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.

 

 

Centering:

Sing “Gathered Here” -- #389 in Singing the Living Tradition

 

Gathered here in the mystery of the hour,

Gathered here in one strong body,

Gathered here in the struggle and the power,

Spirit, draw near.

 

See here for tune.

 

 Introduction:

Today we celebrate Father’s Day, and honor the role of fatherhood. Not every family has a dad in it, but there are things that we think of as being part of a father’s job that grandfathers or Scout masters or coaches or uncles or moms can do as well. What things do you think of as something a father would do?

 

Story

One of the phrases that people in the United States use that involves fatherhood is “father of our country.” Since some of the activities that we tend to associate with fathers include leadership and setting rules and figuring out how to do things, it kind of makes sense that the men who were the early leaders who created the American democracy might be called fathers of the country. So on Father’s Day it seems only right to talk about a Unitarian who was one of these fathers – John Adams. John Adams was the second president of the United States. As it turns out, he was also the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, so I guess he was the father of a father of the country as well!

However, John Adams’s “father of the country” contribution happened largely before there was any such thing as a president of the United States. He was the one who suggested in 1775 that what were then known as “The Colonies” should have a Declaration of Independence from England. And it was John Adams who suggested that his friend Thomas Jefferson should write it. But once the colonies had declared their independence from England, and won the Revolutionary War, they still needed to figure out how to be a country. They knew they didn’t want to be a monarchy with a king, the way it was in England. But it was a long, painful process to come up with the democratic system of government that the US has now. It was a brand new way of governing a country, and there were lots of different ideas about how voting would work – and who got to vote.

John Adams knew that slavery was wrong—and he also knew that it would be almost impossible to get the constitution approved by everyone involved if they outlawed slavery or gave African-Americans the right to vote. And his wife Abigail, who helped and advised him throughout his political life, begged him to “remember the ladies” in this new system of government. Abigail was certainly an example of a woman whose vote would be far more intelligent and informed than that of most men. Abigail Adams was a strong, smart and educated woman who knew that she, and other women like her, were quite capable of sharing the responsibilities of deciding matters of importance to the country along with men. But again, John was stuck between a rock and a hard place. If he insisted that women be given the right to vote, the whole process of building this new government, which had consumed his life for so long, might come to nothing. He knew that most of the men he was working with would never allow women or African-Americans the right to vote. One of the terrible things about having the freedom to choose on such an important matter is that all too often your choices are limited by circumstances you can’t control.

John Adams allowed the constitution to go forward with only white men who owned property having the right to vote. African-American men didn’t get the right to vote for almost another 100 years, and women had to wait another 50 years after that to have their vote counted. Perhaps John Adams should have fought harder for the equality of all people. Or maybe he was right to understand that it was better to have a constitution that wasn’t perfect than to sit around and argue about it forever, with nothing actually getting done. That’s the thing about making decisions—you never know for sure how things might have turned out if you chose differently. But one thing we know for sure: we all owe a lot to not only the Fathers of the Country who created American democracy, but also to fathers of families all over the world who have to make hard decisions of their own every day.

 Discussion

Do you think John Adams made the right choice to allow the constitution to go forward with only a very limited group of people being allowed to vote? What’s the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make?

 

Activity:

One of the difficult things about being a parent is that your kids often get mad at you for making choices that you know are for the best. Can you think of any decisions that your parents have made that you didn’t like? (For instance, choice to move, rules about bedtime or homework, people or toys they aren’t allowed to play with.) Today we’re going to make Father’s Day presents that I think will mean a lot. We’re going to each create and decorate a poem that will show some understanding about those hard choices that parents make. If your family is such that it doesn’t make sense to do this for a dad, you can just as well do it for your mom, your guardian…anyone who makes decisions that affect your life.

 

Here’s how the poems will go – you’ll fill in the blanks for a series of sentences in this format: “I know it’s hard when ___________________________ but you _________________. Thank you for _______________________________. (It will help to have a poster with this format written on it for participants to look at as they think and write.) For instance, the sentence could be “I know it’s hard when I get mad because I don’t want to eat vegetables, but you said I have to eat them before I have dessert. Thank you for caring about my health.” Or “I know it’s hard when I want you to play with me but you are too busy. Thank you for playing with me on weekends.” You might want to start by thinking about some of the choices that your dad or your parents make that you don’t like. Now, it’s perfectly possible for grown-ups to make bad choices, just like kids sometimes do. Not everything you don’t like is something that was a good choice that you should say thank you for. But if you think for a while, you can probably come up with some choices your parents made that you didn’t like at the time, but that were really made with your good, or the good of the whole family in mind. (You may need to talk with each child individually to help them come up with ideas.)

 

We’re going to write our poems on paper first, and then we’ll glue them onto cardboard (or construction paper) and decorate them. We’ll finish by putting magnetic strips on the back so that our presents can be displayed on the refrigerator and serve as a reminder that we understand that everyone makes tough choices, and parents usually do the best they can.

 

Closing

Read poems aloud.


Week Four—June 24th    

How do we decide?” – Freedom and Responsibility

 

Supplies Needed: Building materials such as Legos, Tinker Toys, craft popsicles sticks, or a variety of recycled items

 

Opening Words and Chalice Lighting:

 

We light this flame for the light of truth, the energy of action and the warmth of love.

or

We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.

or

We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)

This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)

This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)

This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)

This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)

Together we care for our earth

And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)

 

Or, for older kids:

 

In the freedom of truth

and the love of justice

We bring all that we are

to shape what we yet can be.

 

Check-in:

You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.

 

Centering:

Explain that you are going to start humming, and you want everyone else to hum exactly the same note, so that it sounds like just one person is humming. This requires listening very closely, imagining that the group is creating one sound in the middle of the room. When you’ve found that unison note, then invite participants to choose a note that is different than the note you hum – and different than the person next to them. This still requires listening – both to your own note, and to the notes of those around you. You are free to choose whatever note you like, but you can also accept the responsibility of choosing a note that will match nicely with the notes of the others around you.

 

Introduction:

We’ve been talking this month about decisions – who makes them and how. There are a couple of words that are really important to decision-making that we haven’t talked about yet. In fact these words are part of our Unitarian Universalist principles—our fourth principle, to be precise. Our fourth principle says that we promote “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Which two words do you think I am talking about? Truth and meaning are both important words, but the ones that we’re going to talk about today are “free” and “responsible.” You can only make choices if you are free, if you have the ability to choose. But sometimes we are able to choose things that we simply shouldn’t choose. You could choose to turn around and punch the person sitting next to you, but it would be a really bad idea, and the consequences would probably be pretty unpleasant for everyone involved. Freedom means that you are able to make a choice, but responsibility means that you need to think about how that choice will affect others.

 

Story A Palace of Bird Beaks

Here’s a story about freedom and responsibility from Yemen about King Solomon, who was a king of the Jewish people back in ancient times.

 

There once was a king named Solomon, who was known throughout the world for his wisdom. Why, he could command the winds and birds to come whenever he called them. He even knew the language of every bird and animal on earth.

Now it so happened that King Solomon’s wife was soon to have a birthday. The king asked her what gift she would like.

“Oh, I would like something that no other queen on earth has ever had,” she said. “Build me a palace of bird beaks!”

And out of love for his wife, Solomon answered, “You shall have it, my dear. A palace of bird beaks shall be yours.”

Then King Solomon called all the birds in the world and ordered them to come to his palace, prepared to give up their beaks. Before even a day had gone by, thousands of birds filled the sky, beating their wings and swooping down to the palace. All came: the strong eagle, the tiny hummingbird, the bluebird, the mockingbird, and every bird that lived on earth. The birds were not very happy at having to give up their beaks. But what could they do? They were among the smallest creatures in the kingdom. Soon every bird had flocked to the palace except one—the hoopoe—a little bird with colorful feathers and a fine, pointed beak. As time passed and it did not arrive, the king became angry.

“Fetch the hoopoe and bring it here!” he shouted to his servants. “Let it be punished for failing to obey the king!”

At last the hoopoe was brought before the king.

“Where have you been?” King Solomon demanded. “Why have you kept me waiting?”

“Please, your Majesty, do not be angry with me,” said the hoopoe. “I have been flying to the ends of the earth. I have seen gardens, forests, oceans, deserts—and from all that I have seen, I have gained much wisdom, so that I may serve you well. Punish me if you must, but first give me a chance to prove that I have not just been flying lazily about. Let me ask you three riddles. If you can answer correctly, then do what you will with me. But if there is even one of them that you cannot answer, then spare my life.”

The other birds gasped. How shocked they were that a bird dared bargain with the king! But King Solomon admired this bold little creature, and he accepted the challenge. “Very well,” he said, “ask your riddles. After all, how wise can you be, be compared to the wisdom of a king?”

So the hoopoe spoke. “This is the first riddle. Tell me, your Majesty, who is it who was never born and has never died?”

The king did not even pause to think. “The Lord of the world,” he said at once. And as he spoke, King Solomon thought, The Lord of the world who created all creatures to be free.

The hoopoe continued. “Here is the second riddle. Tell me, your Majesty, what water never rises from the ground and never falls from the sky?”

King Solomon smiled, for he knew the answer. “The answer is a tear,” he said, “a tear that falls from an eye that cries with sadness.” And as he finished answering, King Solomon looked around and saw all those birds stretched out before him, waiting sadly and helplessly for their beaks to be cut off. The king too was saddened, and a tear came to his eye.

Now a strange thing happened. Although King Solomon was certain that his wisdom was perfect, for just a moment it occurred to him that perhaps he had done a foolish thing in agreeing to build a palace of bird beaks.

Then the hoopoe spoke again, and this time it trembled, for it had only one riddle left—only one more chance to save itself.

“Your Majesty, what is it that is delicate enough to put food in a baby’s mouth, yet strong enough to bore holes in the hardest wood?”

It did not take King Solomon long to reply. “Why, a bird’s beak, of course!” he answered. And looking around at that great gathering of birds, he realized how special those creatures were, and how very precious their beaks were to them.

Meanwhile the hoopoe bowed its head. “Punish me as you will, your Majesty, for you have answered my three riddles.” And it waited in silence to hear the harsh punishment of the king.

But the king was smiling. “Dear hoopoe,” he an­nounced in a loud voice, so that all the birds could hear, “I am known throughout the world for my wisdom, yet you are the one who is truly wise. You have shown me that a king should never be too proud to admit he has made a mistake. I have decided not to build a palace of bird beaks after all!”

At this, all the birds wanted to flap their wings in joy, but they did not dare to interrupt the king.

“For your wisdom you shall be rewarded, not punished,” said King Solomon. He called forth the royal jeweler and told him make the bird a small crown, much like the crown that he himself, the king, wore upon his head. And when the crown was finished, King Solomon placed it upon the head of the hoopoe.

So it is that to this day the hoopoe wears a crown on its forehead, to remind all the birds who see it of the reward of King Solomon and the wisdom of the bird who saved their beaks.

(From The Diamond Tree: Jewish Tales from Around the World, selected and retold by Howard Schwartz and Barbara Rush)

Discussion

Who had the power to decide in this story? Who showed the most responsibility? People have a lot of freedom with regard to the natural world. We can use up resources like water and energy and trees, and we can take habitats where animals live and use them for our own purposes. Can you think of choices that people could make to take more responsibility for how we relate to the natural world? What are some choices you make?

 

Activity:

Well, the queen in the story never did get her new palace, so we’re going to build one. And no, we’re not going to use bird beaks. Here are the rules on how we build the palace: we’re all going to work together to create one palace, using these materials. Everyone has the freedom to add or change anything they want. But we all have to take responsibility for including everyone in the process.

 

Discussion

Is it hard to have to think about how your choices affect other people’s choices? Do you think you get a better building when we emphasize freedom or responsibility?

 

Alternate Activity:

Have each child draw their own palace. Tell them that they have complete freedom to design it as they like, but as they design they should consider their responsibility to nature, and to the other people who live nearby.

 

Discussion

How did thinking about responsibilities change how you designed your palace?

 

Closing

“You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other [person’s] freedom. You can only be free if I am free.”

--Clarence Darrow