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A few summers ago my wife Suzanne and I took our son Christopher gem mining in the mountains of North Carolina. We mounded a pile of mud and dirt, got a sifter, and began sifting through the soil in search of treasure.
Liberal religious education is like gem mining. In a Unitarian Universalist Sunday School we endeavor to teach our children discernment. The word discernment comes from the Latin word discernere, which means “to separate,” “to distinguish,” “to sort out.” In other words, we try to teach our children how to be gem miners.
The process of gem mining is simple. You take some dirt, place it into a strainer, run creek water through it, and sift until you find a gem.
Liberal religious gem mining requires the ability to discern what is worth keeping and what should be sifted out and discarded. This can be difficult. Our children have to sift through lots of information in life. They learn values from television, popular music, the Internet, books, magazines, their friends, and many other sources. We can’t even know all the messages they are exposed to on a regular basis.
We cannot shelter our children forever. But we can teach them the process of discernment and the art of gem mining. We can help to awaken the conscience so that they will be able to make responsible choices, to separate things of value from things that have no value. At some point we must open the door and lead our children into the world and speak the words to them that tradition says God spoke to the children of Israel: “I have set before you life and death, a blessing and a curse. Therefore chose life.”