Tuesday, February 18, 2014

parenting as a post-evangelical



My son is young.  18 months, in fact.  He's just moved out of the nursery and into the toddler class at church.  Each week when we pick him up, we now receive a coloring sheet that coordinates with the lesson from that morning.  Never mind that our son actually doesn't color much, his sheet always come back with a few scribbles.  (I have a suspicion that a kind teacher is the one responsible for those scribbles!  And to that I say, God bless our ever-patient teachers who works with a room full of busy toddlers!)

Perhaps it's silly, but those coloring sheets represent one of my struggles with parenting: what do I teach my son about God?

I was raised in a world of Awana, Adventures in Odyssey, Veggie Tales, sword drills, and elaborate VBS programs.  I learned isolated verses and isolated stories.  I was told that this (very confusing) book was actually God's love letter to me.  I sang about being "a C, a C-H, a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N" and about "O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E" being the very best way to show that I believed.  (side note: speaking for all poor spellers, why did churches require so much spelling in their songs??)

I didn't just learn these things: I taught them too.  I spent two years in a Christian ministry teaching little ones about things like instant obedience and the umbrella of protection.  And, at that time, I really believed that I was teaching them truth.

Before I go further, perhaps I should clarify: this isn't a criticism of my parents, Sunday school teachers, or VBS leaders**.  I know that they all had the best of intentions.  But as my faith has evolved, I have realized that I am no longer comfortable receiving the pat answers and equally uncomfortable giving them.

Here's the problem, those pat answers, those cliches and platitudes, they are the script I know.  I am fluent in Christian-ese, but even more so in childhood Christian-ese.  I know the songs (complete with hand motions), I know the verses about obedience, I know the overly simplistic applications from stories like Jonah and the not-whale.  These are comfortable and familiar for me.

It's one thing to change my own views and wrestle with my faith.  It's quite another to figure out what to teach my son.

Right now, the best way I know how to teach my son about God is to live out my faith honestly in front of him.

I want my son to love God.  And I want him to have a big, big picture of God and of what He is doing in the world.  I want to teach him about hermeneutics, that there is more than one way to interpret a verse and that that's okay.  I want him to know that we can disagree with denominations and yet still be united in Christ.  I want him to see that my husband and I have a growing, questioning faith, and that we disagree about some theology, but that it doesn't make the other one "less than".

I don't want to shy away from hard questions or give trite answers to things that I totally don't understand (which seems to be a lot of things).  I want to tell him that I don't understand many parts of the Bible and that it doesn't mean I am having a crisis of faith.  And I don't want to shut down discussions by concluding that "God's ways are higher than our ways" so we just shouldn't worry about it.

Lately, faith for me has been getting down in the figurative mud and wrestling.  It hasn't been pretty or clean or dignified.  But it has been honest and sincere.  I want so badly for my son to see this in my life.

I know this isn't comfortable to read.  I know that some people will read this and think I am a horrible, God-forsaking parent.  But I timidly would like to speak up for myself and say that I am not.  I'm studying and seeking and trying to do the very best to teach my son a full picture of God.  I'm just not sure I can tell him pat answers to things I don't even understand and teach him verses hijacked from their context.

This parenting thing is HARD.

This Christianity thing is HARD.

Put those two really-hard-things together?

Whew!  I think, in the most sincere sense, I could use some prayers.




**It IS a criticism of youth groups because to this day I get the heebie-jeebies thinking about church youth groups.  To anyone stuck in a youth group now, I have one message: IT GETS BETTER.


6 comments:

  1. Hmm... I'm pretty sure we lived the same childhood!! Seriously wrestling with the same issues over here... directly across the street from you. Yeah I've been creeping on your blog for awhile before I realized you were my neighbor. The cold winter kind of made me anti-social. Anyways... I would love to hang out with you sometime! I'm always home :)

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    1. Victoria! Find me on FB! I'd love to connect with you and get together - I'm home a lot of the time too! :) And don't worry, I think this winter makes everyone anti-social!

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  2. As a mother who raised her children much the same way you were raised, I can tell you that I have struggled with the same things. My younger children are not being raised the same way my older ones were- much to the confusion of my oldest daughter. Parenting IS hard! I raised my kids in a time when there were only a few places to turn to for guidance and direction. Wanting to do the right thing by our children, we listened and we followed. Many of us were not raised in "Christian" homes, we were doing the homeschooling thing when the only curriculum available was Bob Jones or ABEKA ( Lord have mercy!) , and we desperately wanted to make sure our children were taught the right things in the right environment. We liked things simple- the Roman's road, the four spiritual laws, a Bible verse for every situation. Now, as a 54 year old with two children still at home, I am no longer evangelical, I am Eastern Orthodox. I have learned that I can't put God in a box- I will never completely understand Him, yet I find joy in the attempt. While my journey should never be undertaken alone, I alone am responsible for MY sin and not the sins of others. I am called to live a life of humility and repentance, of loving God with all my heart and soul, and loving my neighbor as myself. That is all I know for sure. As St. Francis of Assisi said "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."

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    1. Mrs. Parsons, thanks so much for the thoughtful comment! I really appreciate what you had to say. You mentioned how many evangelicals like things to be simple and straightforward and it reminded me of a conversation I had with my husband recently. We were discussing certain denominations who have unwavering doctrine on very complicated, confusing texts. He said that those denominations believe that God doesn't change therefore their doctrine shouldn't change either. But, to me, it seems horribly bold (arrogant, perhaps) to believe that we have God completely figured out. It sounds like you are in a similar place.

      I also loved this: "While my journey should never be undertaken alone, I alone am responsible for MY sin and not the sins of others". Yes, yes, yes.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to comment!

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  3. Oh...yes! Yes, I feel the exact same way. (About the youth group too! I stopped going to church for awhile simply to avoid having to go to youth group!)

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    1. Catherine, I'm beginning to believe that having a GOOD youth group experience is the anomaly, instead of the norm!

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