Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Putting my money where my mouth is

My kids made some new friends at a campground recently. The family actually lives here in Rochester. They homeschool and the kids and the parents are all very nice.

We met the other day at a park after school and their kids invited ours to AWANA.

I truly believe that exposing my kids to many religious traditions is a good thing. They have respect for all faiths (or lack thereof) and they understand that we believe that all paths to the divine are valid. So I had no objections to them attending AWANA with their friends.

But tonight, after they came home, excited and chattering and full of enthusiasm, and having been invited back, I am in a quandary.

I want them to understand that there are people who believe that Jesus was perfect and that he died so that their sins would be forgiven. But seeing the little booklets with their explanations of sin and their John 3:16 (which is a little too "Good News Bible" for my Lutheran upbringing) creeps me out. Other people can believe that stuff, but I spent YEARS trying to sort out my feelings from my beliefs from my values from my logical mind and honestly, it simply feels like brainwashing to me. And I'm uncomfortable with that.

On the other hand, the image of God as a loving father and protector is compelling and was very comforting for me as a small child. (Of course, when I started asking questions and thinking about it, it was tougher). But that sense of unconditional love and the idea that someone else is in control and all you have to do is trust, well, that is pretty powerful, and not always a bad thing.

Of course, there is the issue of feeling as though I am imposing on this family and their church. They picked the boys up tonight and dropped them off again, and offered to do so next week (or every week if we wanted). We actually went out for a beer after they left, and it was nice. I cannot begin to express the guilt that comes from sitting in a bar drinking beer when one's children are at a church (not our church) in the care of someone else that we don't know. Oh, the guilt. I joke and say I was raised "Catholic Lite." It isn't so far from the truth. We Lutherans do guilt in ways that rival the Catholics and the Jews. Oy vey.

So what to do? My mom reminded me that as a kid I attended AWANA. (Honestly, I do not remember it ever being called that, but it was a Bible verse memorization thing and I am good at memorizing and loved it and I won a KJV Bible because I am good at memorizing.) I don't object to them knowing the Bible -- I think it's a necessary thing, as so many cultural and literary things are references to the Bible. I think this is a nice family and nice kids and I would like my kids to be able to spend time with them simply because they all get along well and they enjoy each other. I like the mom and I think we could be friends (although I am pretty sure we will agree to disagree on a lot of social issues LOL). But I don't want to take advantage of someone's kindness, and I am completely uncomfortable with the idea of someone drumming that whole, "We are all sinners ..." yada yada yada bullshit into my kids. I mean, part of the reason I decided against the Lutheran Church for my kids was the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness. Hated it. Every week I'm gonna force my kid to say, "I'm a sinner and I'm unworthy" in a lot more words? No, I'm sorry, it just didn't work for me.

I don't know ... I certainly do not mean to insult anyone in all of this. I have a great respect for people of faith who can reconcile it with their actual lives and who set an example for me in how to live. I personally have not been able to reconcile Christianity and my life. This is why the Unitarian Universalist Church is good for me. And it's good for my kids. I have never regretted the decision to join that church and we are a part of the family there. My kids see the social justice work our church does, the commitment to embrace people of all sexual orientations, the recognition that there are all kinds of families, the sense that we are all responsible to and for one another -- every day. They see the diversity of belief in our church; the Christmas Eve service, the Dia de los Muertos celebration, the Maypole dance every spring, the water celebration in the late summer, the recognition of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Diwali, Ramadan, Hanukkah ... they see that, somehow, even though we don't all believe exactly the same thing, we are a community. Just like the world.

What to do? I don't want to disappoint my kids, don't want to seem ungrateful for the kindness they've shown. I don't want to admit that when I read on a message board once that a woman's greatest fear was that her children would reject Christianity as adults my immediate thought was that I sincerely hoped my children would not make the choice to be Christians -- at least, not the kind that she was. If you know what I mean.

So what do you do, when you see your own world view colliding with another and your kids are in the middle? What do you do when you have to face your fear and be the open minded person you like to imagine yourself to be? What do you do when you have to put your money where your mouth is?


  1. I have no answers for you, my friend.

    But I will say this. Since we have started homeschooling, we have been surrounded by the whole "religion" thing, and worse, we are often labled as "religious radicals" simply because we homeschool. And that stuff is the sole reason I went out and formed a new (non-sectarian) homeschool co-op.

    I would say that it's healthy to expose our kids to all of this; it's even healthier to make sure our children look at the experience with a critical mind.

  2. That's a tough one for me, as I have always struggled with my faith. I was raised Catholic and quit CCD in 6th grade because I hated it so mom just couldn't force me to go.

  3. Well, first off, I think you are normal to feel conflicted about this.

    Also, I think you know me well enough and about my own faith well enough, that you'll understand when I say AWANA scares me a bit too and I wouldn't be excited about my kids going to it.

    So....where does that leave us? FWIW, my mother drug my brother and I to church all through our growing up years. Mom is the daughter of Catholicism personified, went to Catholic schools K to college and taught Catholic school for about 30 years. At some point though, there was a divergent moment where my brother walked away and I fell in. We both hated it as preteens, we both punched our cards for confirmation. I sang in the choir because it was more interesting than sitting in the pew (plus I got extra credit at (public) school).

    When I got to college a lot of my dorm mates were Catholic and our church had this informal student service on Thursdays. It was easier to go to that than make Sunday Mass because I was in the marching band and dog tired by Sunday. I got involved with RCIA (look it up) and FINALLY at the age of 21, learned about Catholicism and being Catholic.

    I'm not a perfect Catholic, but I can't imagine being anything else at this point.

    Now my brother...I don't know what happened there. But he doesn't go.

    Same upbringing, same opportunities and yet it's not a part of his life, though he still crosses himself, cause he can't seem to help it! ;)

    Anyway...the point of this long and rambling story is that, no matter what you do and teach your kids now, they will have a moment in their lives where they will, on their own, come to God or turn away. They will pick and choose religion, just like they do their career and while you can guide them, you have to trust them to decide what's best.

    Say for example, one of the boys meets a girl who is very strong in her faith and he decides that he likes what he hears and wants to join. I know you would not stand in his way.

    This is just like's just the very beginnings of it.

    Now, if AWANA makes you nervous, why not talk to the kids' mom and lay it on the line. Tell her, I really like you and want to be friends, but sometimes I really have a hard time with things like this. I am worried that one day our friendship might crumble because of evangelization. I just want you to know that I've done a lot of thinking about where I stand on religion and I don't plan on changing my mind. With that said, can we be friends?

    Because, sadly, I've known people who don't want to be friends anymore when they find out that I'm not into their deal. And it's a shame. Because we CAN all get along. If we want to.

    I guess I'm thinking though, if you really like this family, they are not of the freaky pushy variety, and if you tell her honestly about your fears, it will build your friendship.

    As for the boys, talk to them. Ask them to tell you what they've learned and how that makes them feel.

    Good luck!!

  4. Whew. A tough one. I was never allowed to go to AWANA, because it was a little over the top for us [as you know I am Lutheran too]. My sister now sends her daughter, and I would say they are a little more on the freak side of religion than I would like.

    I think Susan has some amazing points. You did just want she described--you were raisied Lutheran, but didn't feel it was right for you and found your own way. The boys will too because you are raising them to be good and caring people--and those qualities have no "religion."