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In "Building Bridges," a Tapestry of Faith program
Participants explore Confucianism through 20 sayings attributed to Confucius. They consider the impact of Westerners encountering Confucian wisdom initially through fortune cookies or jokes. They discuss how the brevity of a message or the context of its delivery might enhance, or detract from, its wisdom. They seek ways to distinguish a religion from a philosophy.
Ask if participants have heard of Confucius. Ask if they have heard someone introduce a saying with the phrase, "Confucius say... " If they have, what was the intent of words follow? Serious, funny, or a combination of both?
Youth may demonstrate or ask about quoting Confucius ungrammatically and with a "Chinese accent." Use the teachable moment; analyze with questions such as:
Tell the group many Westerners first encounter the name and ideas of Confucius through Chinese restaurant fortune cookies, movies, or TV shows. For this reason, the name of Confucius has been a springboard for jokes among non-Chinese. Give this example:
Now, ask the group:
If you have time, use the same questions to examine another fortune cookie example:
Now say, in your own words:
These statements were not written by Confucius, a revered Chinese philosopher who lived over 2,000 years ago. However, Confucius did teach in short sayings like these—aphorisms. An aphorism is a brief statement that expresses an important idea in a memorable way. Confucius never considered his teachings religious. He offered practical advice to help people behave virtuously and conduct harmonious relationships with their parents, spouse, family members, friends, and also their ruler and/or subjects, in the hierarchy of his time and place. People's spiritual beliefs were of no concern to Confucius. That is why many consider Confucianism a philosophy and not a religion.
While there is no formal Confucian religion for people to join today, Confucian ideas are woven into other Eastern faiths that consider a sense of duty, right behavior, and respect for elders and ancestors very important. As Unitarian Universalism, we may also draw from Confucian wisdom.
Distribute the handout and invite youth to read the sampling of Confucian sayings (aphorisms). You may wish to read the sayings aloud, or invite one or more volunteers to read them.
Ask the group for their initial reactions: Which sayings are meaningful to them? Which speak to important principles?
Distribute pencils. Give these directions:
1. Circle aphorisms you agree with.
2. Draw a line under aphorisms that remind you of a teaching from another religion we have studied together or another religion or philosophy you know about.
Allow youth a few minutes to work. Then, lead the group to unpack the wisdom in the sayings. Start by inviting volunteers to share their responses from their handouts. To help the group find parallels between Confucian ideas and ideas of other faiths, suggest:
If you have brought fortune cookies, distribute them as a snack. Invite participants to share the messages they find inside their cookies.
If you have time, before distributing the handout engage the group to distinguish between a philosophy and a religion. Use these questions:
As with any activity that includes a snack, find out in advance about participants' food allergies and restrictions. If anyone might be allergic to an ingredient, skip the fortune cookies.
Be alert to how youth use humor as the activity moves into the Confucian sayings and, if you have them, fortune cookie messages. If necessary, remind youth gently that to seek laughs by delivering a saying in poor or accented English reflects a narrow view of the world's religions and indeed its wisdom, and violates our own first Principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
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Last updated on Wednesday, October 29, 2014.
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