Kids and Faith: Support for Religiously Ambiguous Families.
When my eldest daughter was 8 years old, I found her kneeling on our window seat waiting to see if a thunderstorm would cause lightening to strike the Space Needle. As I approached her I noticed she had her hand over her heart and was reciting this:
I pledge allegiance
to the thunderstorm,
it gives me laughs
and times to run to the window seat with my sister.
It struck me then, as it does now, that many Christians in America consider the Pledge of Allegiance a prayer in importance second only to the Our Father. And in her moment of contained glee, it did indeed seem that Eden was offering up a prayer of gratitude for the gifts of Mother Nature, and for this holy moment in her every-day life.
Around this time in our family’s life, we had begun the process of pulling away from traditional church in order to create something different. In the midst of this upheaval, this little moment of prayer and gratitude was deeply comforting to me. I’d been nervous about making that move away from the familiar. But seeing my daughter exhibiting an intuitive spirituality—one that was connected to the created order (thunder, lightening, rain) and that included her everyday living (her sister, window seats)—this reassured me that we were on the right track for our family.
As time past we gathered a set of spiritual practices that nurtured us, including several celebrations connected to the Earth: celebrations for Winter and Summer Solstices; little rituals to welcome the Spring and Fall Equinoxes; and a family altar that changed with the seasons. Some of these were celebrated with a local community that had several practicing Neo-Pagans, and as they were the ones who inspired us in this direction, I started referring to these practices as Neo-Pagan (although really, they are probably more neo-Wicca than Pagan.) At the same time we were delving more deeply into Jewish practices like Passover, Sukkoth, and Sabbath keeping. All of which lead to this eye-opening kid conversation.
Me: Girls, it’s time to leave the park now and go home to get the house ready for Shabbat.
Eden: Mama, are we turning Jewish?
Me: Not exactly baby, we are just practicing Sabbath.
Eden: What are we then, Mama?
Me: Well, we are what you might call Judeo-Christian…but we also celebrate Solstice so…um….I guess you can say that we are Interfaith. Yeah, let’s go with Interfaith.
At this point my poor husband shook his head and slapped his forehead – no doubt thinking of the reaction this kind of statement would invoke from his family in the Bible belt!
In many ways our family is not the norm. We are highly spiritual, but we aren’t officially members of any specific religion. We consider ourselves to be followers of the teachings of Jesus, but Christians do not consider us part of the clan. We try to honor our ancestral roots as Jewish descendants, but we’ve never been to Temple. In a family like this, there is no Sunday School, no Confirmation, no Bar or Bat Mitzvahs. We are creating something new. As the Sudanese saying goes, “It’s complicated, but that is all right.”
If your family is in the same boat, know that you are not alone. There are groups of people interested in teaching their children things that will allow them to approach a globalized society with both tolerance and curiosity. Some of these groups are religion-specific, while others, like those below are Interfaith.
- The Baha’i Faith offers interfaith classes which teach basic virtues such as patience, obedience, and service. In this interview from National Public Radio, class member Rachel Galoob-Ortega describes the benefits of the course in this way:
"What I really want for Luka is when he grows up and someone says to him, 'I'm Baha'i' or 'I'm Zoroastrian' — if he doesn't know, for him to say, 'Well, tell me about that,"" Galoob-Ortega says. "I want him to show a level of curiosity, rather thinking, 'Well, that's not Judaism, that's not what I know.' And to me, that would be important to the development of his character."
- Interfaith Jewish-Christian families have long been working out a way for two faiths to live under one roof. Emerging pastor Heather Kirk-Davidoff has been living in an interfaith marriage for more than 15 years, and writes that she “…understood our interfaith marriage as grounded in the fact that the things that united us, the things we shared, were greater than the things that differentiated us.” Out of this united front the Kirk-Davidoff’s have been an ongoing part of the Interfaith Families Project,a community which focuses on helping Interfaith family’s “…we celebrate, explore, question and enjoy both religious traditions equally.”
- For households that include both a Christian and an Atheist, Humanist, or Agnostic parent, this article by Valerie Tarico at The Daily Kos might help you figure out how to talk to your kids about why Mommy (or Daddy) doesn’t go with them to church. Tarico offers sound, practical advice for how to talk to your kids about religious differences or a dramatic shift in beliefs. She closes with these encouraging words for all of us on the seeking path:
"As complicated and awkward as it may feel to find the right words for all of this, it’s worth it. You have the chance to model for your kids what it means to be a lifetime learner -- someone who cultivates the curiosity and humility that can make it actually feel good to realize you were ignorant. Along the way, if you keep asking questions, you will be making some wonderful discoveries, and part of the delight can be sharing them."
What new things are your carving out for your children on this expansive journey? What conversations have you had with your kids about complex beliefs? What resources have you found helpful? Do tell in the comments below!
Rachelle Mee-Chapman is an alt-minister, mom, and writer blogging at Magpie Girl, and now at Food Hero and Twitter . You can find her adventures in building a new kind of faith for her mini-monks here and here.