By Aoife Barrington-Haber
Theme: Stories from different perspectives
Not too long ago I joined the growing population of parents who have banned those tween-focused sitcoms on the Disney Channel. Before I even got as far as witnessing the sexism, bullying, exclusion and materialism in these shows that I heard other parents begin to complain about (which could be the subject of another column), I was put off by the complete lack of social values and lessons. I found myself craving family sitcoms of “the good old days,” in particular, a little show called “Punky Brewster.”
If you are not familiar with the show, imagine Silas Marner set in 1980’s Chicago; Henry, a curmudgeonly widower, crosses paths with an adorably precocious little girl in mismatched sneakers who has been abandoned by her mother. The two quickly form a bond, and fight in court to be allowed to be a foster family. The two have to learn to get along in a tiny fixed-income apartment while accepting each other’s quirks and building trust. The plots had simple, true to life crises for an 8 year old, and I yearned to share these simple yet poignant stories with my own daughter.
Thankfully, Santa brought us Season One on DVD! The upbeat theme song still warms my heart. And the writing is… Uh…Hmmmm… Wow. (Was the dialogue really this cheesey when I used to watch this show? I don’t seem to remember the child actors mugging for the camera quite so hard. Judging by the raucous laughter following each bad joke and goofy catchphrase like “Gross-a-roo!!” the audience had to have been canned, paid, or personal friends and relatives of the cast.)
Now, between the waves of embarrassment at my having mis-remembered the artistic quality, I find myself enjoying the unfettered glee on my daughter’s face as she guffaws at the innocent antics. I am also brought back to a simpler time when TV had six channels, phones were attached to cords and you could only talk on them, and kids made their own Halloween costumes. Best of all is when my daughter says, “Mom, thank you so much for introducing me to Punky Brewster!” and I remember my real reason for wanting to rewatch these episodes as an adult.
It hits me that we are experiencing the same show but from completely different perspectives, enjoying it for different reasons, and making our own meaning from it.This understanding is central to the importance of story and ritual in our spiritual lives and religious education. We can hear the Nativity story or participate in Flower Communion year after year, and the significance will be different for each person, and different for you depending on where you are your life’s journey. The value of the source material increases with each repetition, rather than diminishing. The youngest children in church or RE may not engage in the same nuanced reflection as their older friends, but they are taking in the whole experience, the ritual of coming to a place of reverence, the warm smiles that greet them, and the words of love and hope.
So while the early episodes may be cringe-worthy to my sophisticated taste, I will see this journey through for the sake of those genuine giggles. Plus, I think the writing improves in Season Two. Punky and her friends learn the importance of CPR training and the dangers of playing in old refrigerators!
(But just so we’re clear, I will NOT be watching the animated series included on the DVD. Goodness, that show was horrible, even to my 11-year-old self!)
February 8th and 9th I will be taking the UUA’s training in the Philosophy of UU Religious Education. I always return from these trainings buzzing with newfound knowledge and enthusiasm that I cannot wait to contribute to the vision of our RE program. Thank you so much to those of you who have pledged, for without your generosity FUSF would not be able to budget for the professional development funds that allow me to grow my knowledge and skills as a DRE.
If you are interested in playing a part in the shaping of our program and learning more about the methods and philosophies of RE, I encourage you to join the RE Committee! We meet the first Sunday each month after church. Contact me or Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert for more information.
We will also have our Spring Volunteer Orientation on Sunday, Feb 21, 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Spring semester begins in March and there are still a few teachers slots to fill.
February 14 is a holiday weekend. In lieu of regular classes, we will hold a mixed-age Chalice Chapel.