Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Alternate Activity 2: The Virtue of Plainness

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • An array of gaudy costume jewelry, for males and females
  • Garish makeup (preferably new, for health reasons) including eye shadow, blush, and lipstick, and makeup remover towelettes) or a variety of very silly fake noses and stick-on facial hair, for all participants
  • Small mirrors
  • Costume hats, the sillier the better, and academic or choir robes, preferably black but any dark color
  • Handout 3, Child Starvation
  • Camera
  • Copies of Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993)

Preparation for Activity

  • Copy Handout 3, Child Starvation, for all participants.

Description of Activity

Participants experience how externals can distract from things of greater significance.

Without explanation, bring out all the dress-up supplies and invite participants to dress up. Encourage the youth to bedeck themselves. The more extravagant the better!

After a few minutes, say:

The workshop can continue now. Please be seated.

Act normal. Try not to react to their costuming.

Distribute Handout 3, Child Starvation. Invite participants to read the facts presented. Ask for initial reactions.

Invite serious discussion with these questions:

  • Is it a public policy failure to have such food abundance in the United States while more than 12 percent of its children suffer chronic hunger?
  • How much food do you throw away? Do you take measures to buy only what you need, and to throw away less? Would the amount your family throws away keep someone alive? Could you give the money you saved by not wasting food to an organization that feeds the hungry, or helps them feed themselves through help with agriculture, clean water or other necessary assets?
  • In some economically depressed urban areas, over 50 percent of African American and Latino children are chronically hungry and malnourished. Whose job is it to see that these children are fed? Even if we do not live in a community with a large hunger statistic, do we have personal responsibility? How much?

At this point, approximately midway through the discussion, identify two youth at random, ask them to go with a facilitator. Have the co-facilitator leave the meeting space with the youth and help them remove their silly costumes and makeup, put on somber robes, then rejoin the group while discussion continues.

  • Should Americans continue to celebrate bigger portions in restaurants when there is a high national obesity rate, and so much food is already wasted?
  • Impoverished countries do not have the luxury of throwing away more than a quarter of their edible food. Do Americans, enormously wealthy by world standards, have a responsibility to share with those less fortunate?
  • What can you, your family, and your congregation do to alleviate hunger in the world? What are you, your family and your congregation already doing?

After a few more minutes, stop the discussion and process the experience. What did they notice about their reactions to each other? Was it was hard to take each other seriously with the outrageous outer trappings? If they eventually did have a serious discussion, did it take some time and effort to get serious?

Did youth notice a difference in their reactions to youth in crazy costumes and those in robes? Did the youth in robes notice a difference in the way others reacted to them and their ideas after their change of garb?

Share that this was an exercise to reflect on simplicity, or plainness. Quakers value plainness because they believe fashions distract from substance. In the Quaker view, extravagance and stylishness make it harder to see the heart of something or someone, to see God in them. Ask:

  • What do you think of the Quaker idea of simplicity?
  • Style is often thought of as an expression of a person's inner self, but is it possible that your expressions of style might distract people and make it harder for others to perceive your real self?
  • Do you think material possessions and a focus on acquiring and wearing fashionable clothes distracts you from more important values?
  • If you had less, would others who need it have more? How would that happen?

If you have read the book, The Power of Half, you might briefly describe what that family chose to do to simplify and to share in an extraordinary way.

Distribute copies of Singing the Living Tradition and lead the group in singing Hymn 15, "'Tis a Gift to Be Simple." Or, read, or have a volunteer read, the lyrics aloud.

Distribute makeup removal towelettes and involve everyone in clean-up.

Including All Participants

Some youth may refuse to put on costumes or make-up; some of these may join when they see others participating. If a youth refuses, do not push. Offer them a role such as distributing handouts, or helping to facilitate the discussion.