Roots and Wings
The Ambiguity of Religious Education for Children
by Sarah Hyndman
It is often said that the greatest gift that parents can give their children is roots and wings.
Is religious education up to the task? This is the question raised by Sarah Hyndman in the video on the left. She is a graduating senior from Hendrix College in Arkansas, where she majored in Religion, Globalization, and Culture. I offer her video for religious educators.
Sarah's video raises important and unsettling questions for those among us rooted in process theology. We believe that God is a lure toward wholeness within each human being, children much included. And we believe that wholeness is not a static state of affairs in which people are constrained by boundaries, but rather an adventure of the heart in which a person is open to new possibilities for thought, feeling, and action. We know that people need security and a sense of anchorage, too. From a process perspective people need roots and wings, security and adventure, groundedness and openness, neither to the exclusion of the other. Can religious education give roots and wings?
Let “roots” be a metaphor for the security, stability, and balance that people experience when they belong to healthy communities, when they live in hospitable places, when they are nourished by deep cultural traditions, and when the feel loved. The communities can be families, villages, workplaces, regions, ethnic groups, religions, or nations. The places can be natural or humanly-designed landscapes in which people feel at home: the mountains and rivers of a rural village, the parks and neighborhood stores of an urban neighborhood. The traditions can be the practices and customs of a local community, or the cultural treasures of one’s nation, or the wisdom and practices of an inherited religion. When these communities and places and traditions are combined, they form what people call home. Home is a place where a person lives; a community to which one belongs; a tradition in which one is rooted; and a place in the heart. Education at its best must provide a child with a sense of home.
Let“wings” be a metaphor for adventure, creativity, exploration, curiosity, and hope. Even as people benefit from stable relations with others, they also need to enjoy a sense of novelty, a sense of hope, a sense that the future can be different from the past. This need for adventure does not replace the need for stability. Particularly in times of trial, people turn to what is familiar and predictable. But there is also a need for newness, for variety, for differences. This need for newness is encoded within our genes as a product of evolution. Evolution unfolds, not simply through a survival of the most secure, but also through a survival of the curious. Curiosity enables human beings and other organisms to find novel responses to stressful situations. It is evolutionary adaptive. But this need for freshness – for novelty – is not eliminated when things are going smoothly. Even good relationships can grow stale if they do not change over time. Even cultures and religions and civilizations need to grow over time, or they become stagnant. Ultimately
the need for novelty is as powerful as the need for order. People need familiarity, but they also need surprise. They need order, but they need a little chaos, too. They need roots and wings.
Thus we return to the question, can religious education offer roots and wings, neither to the exclusion of the other? Sarah's video raises the question. If we are Jewish or Christian, Muslim or HIndu, Sikh or Jain, Bahai or Buddhist, our need is to provide an answer.