Articles From the June 1995 Unification News
Vote for God-centered Family Values
by Alexa Fish Ward
This is the sermon given at the Unification Theological Seminary Open House Ecumenical Service on Sunday, May 7, 1995
You do not have too look very far today to find a discussion of values, especially family values. Family values mean many things to many people. In the political arena, they are strongly espoused by both the left and the right. In the world of social issues, pro-life and pro-choice camps both lay claim to their commitment to family values. Family values are discussed in schools and debated in the media. One can learn a great deal about family values from all these sources.
There is a place, however, where family values have an actual life of their own, and have a natural constituency. This place is the family. Parents and children are both teachers and students. In this arena, the stakes are high. The classes never end. Actions become more important than words. Traditions are made or broken. Adulthood is made secure or left shaky. The quality of future generations is determined. Mrs. Barbara Bush, the wife of the former president, George Bush, said simply in her memoirs, "What happens in your house is more important than what happens in the White House."
I would like to talk about what happens in our house, not because it is special, but because it is where family values begin, and if there is something in our experience which can help another person, then its value increases.
My husband Tom and I have chosen God-centered values to guide our lives. What are God-centered values? Absolute, public, universal, good for all people, high-standard, to name a few. That description could spark a lot of debate. I sense that something is of God because of its purity, because of the way it touches my heart and challenges something deep inside of me to be better. For Tom and me, as members of the Unification Church, we are deeply grateful to Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon for their extraordinary contribution in the areas of man's relationship to God and the nature of a God-centered worldview.
How do you teach God-centered values in a family? You have to live them. The values have to touch you deep inside through experience, and gradually become part of you. These experiences need to be served with a heart of love. This is easy to speak of and so very difficult to live. So much of the public debate on family values is done with anger and finger-pointing. That environment does not support growth and maturity.
Tom and I have four children, ages three to ten. They are all coming into the ages where they can begin to understand value-oriented lessons. Over the years we have made a commitment to several values upon which we base our family life. We talk about them often; however, the lessons, begin as each one of us experiences them personally in our lives.
Give and forget the gift is one value we emphasize. Our children seem to spend a great deal of time negotiating, with us and with each other-I did this, therefore you owe me that. So much is conditional in their young lives. From us and in Sunday School they learn that God is giving, always giving. I like the example of nature, every season giving so much, consistently year after year. However, these words alone do not make this value real in their lives. Several years ago we began to participate in the Adopt-A-Family program at Christmastime here in Dutchess County. Through a social service agency, we were given a family to help at Christmas time. We can assist in several ways: 1) purchase and decorate a Christmas tree, 2) purchase and wrap a gift for each family member, and 3) prepare a Christmas dinner for the family. After consulting with the mother, we chose to contribute the gifts. I involved my children in the process of deciding what to get each person, picking out the gifts, and wrapping them. At some point in this process, the question arose: what were they going to give us? Nothing, I answered. This is our turn to give and not get something back. Oh, said a small voice. Hmm, said another. Give and forget the gift.
This past Christmas we were given a family with four children and one parent. From the mother I learned what each child wanted. The toys were expensive. I had only so much money to spend on Christmas, whether it was spent on our family or beyond. I chose to get what our Christmas family wanted. It meant less for our children from us. We talked about it. I told them that these would be the only gifts under our Christmas family's tree, whereas our children receive from many relatives. This past Christmas began to give meaning to Giving sometimes means giving up.
The value of Putting God first is the building block of a God-centered life. It means many things. It takes on many forms. For our younger children, it begins to become real with the simple prayer before meals, and the brief prayer at the beginning of the day. The challenge of that value becomes greater with age. We do not have sleepovers in our home, because we want that time before bed and at the beginning of the day to be between us and God. Putting God first. Our eldest son gave up soccer on Sunday afternoons in order to attend a Sunday School program. Putting God first and Giving sometimes means giving up.
Putting God first is a natural introduction to a public life. One way to put God first is to put other people first. In our house we do what the guest wants to do. That is not always fun or easy. The guest is served first. We try and have other families over so that we can give to them. We stand on the sidewalk and wave until their car is out of sight. Last year I invited women whom I wanted to get to know, over for lunch, one at a time. Rebecca, our only daughter, age 5 at the time, would help me prepare a simple meal and then serve it. She learned how to sit quietly, sometimes, and how to serve others first. I enjoyed those luncheons. I am involved in several activities in the community-the Building Level Team at the local elementary school, a program committee for the Mid-Hudson Children's Museum, and the City of Poughkeepsie Republican Committee. Whines and groans accompany my departures for meetings or lengthy phone calls. I always explain to the children that I am putting God first by helping other people.
One last value I will mention is that of Respecting and cherishing the members of your family. That sounds so obvious. However, my four children spend quite a bit of time fighting, bossing each other around, and trying to have the final word. More than anything else this sends me to my room to read a good book or simply take a deep breath. We talk about this quite a bit. I try to have them do things for each other. The other day I was walking up to our house with our eldest son and he said, with his voice cracking, how bad he felt about not giving his dad a proper good-bye hug before he left for South America last month. In that moment, putting God first which took dad to South America, giving sometimes means giving up, and cherishing your family members all came together in a way that my words could not achieve.
As I was writing this down, I realized how very easy it is to put into words, and how very difficult it is to live. Each one of these examples is worth their weight in god. However, there are many times when my heart and words are not as they should be and I only pray that my own limitations do not get in the way too much.
In closing, I believe that a life committed to living God-centered values is rich and full, the best possible life, with some of the worst possible moments along the way. With a framework of God-centered values, everyday experiences, as well as struggle and hurt, take on meaning and depth, connecting them to the highest purpose. In the great public debate on family values, I cast my vote with God-centered family values.
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