Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Chronicles of the Religiously Challenged

Thinking about Havoc's Career Day last year reminded me I had sent my father (=provider of all mythology books) a recap of that day. I wasn't blogging then so I searched through all that old-fashioned stuff (email and gasp, paper!) and found this to share with you (with names changed to protect the innocent or um, yeah, more to fit in with the way I write my blog today) :

Today is career dress up day – and Havoc is dressed up as a Mythology Teacher. He’s wearing jeans, penny loafers, a white oxford, tie, blue blazer and he has a pen in his pocket and four books in his hands: Read Along Celtic Myths and Legends, Greek Myths, Norse Myths, and the King James Bible. (I have to figure out how gently and stealthily to keep the Bible at home. Nothing like begging to be called in for a parent-teacher conference!) Havoc has proclaimed about ten times that he looks REALLY handsome. The whole family has agreed. He is VERY excited to go to school. His career choice sparked an interesting breakfast discussion:

Havoc asked what other gods there were in Christian mythology besides God.
I said,”Well Jesus and the Holy Spirit – but they’re all part of God – so there’s just one.”
“Only one?” he asked incredulously. “But all the other mythologies have lots and lots.”
I said, “Yes and that’s the thing. Not only is there only one God in Christian mythology (around here we should call that Christianity by the way) – but Christians believe that their God is the only one anywhere.”
Havoc said, “But he’s not. There’s Loki, and Zeus, and Odin, and Ra. How can they believe there’s only one?”
I tried to explain that Christians don’t think those were/are gods. Havoc said that that was ridiculous (his word) because some people can’t just say that other people’s gods aren’t gods. Then he demanded to know if we were Christians. (Ummm - this from a boy who goes to a Church of Christ with his father and the Episcopal Church with his mother?) I said that not all Christians were that exclusive – and so that I thought of myself as sort of Christian even though I respected others' gods. Sweet Hubby said he wasn’t Christian.
And Havoc said, “You’re Martian, right?” SH loved it. He gave Havoc a big hug and kiss and said, “Yes, I am a Martian.” *Side note to my lovely internets - the Martian thing is a long running family joke and is NOT to be confused with any earlier-in-the-week references to aliens of the putrid, pulsing scum variety.*
I told Havoc that whether he was a Christian was up to him and that I thought it was really important for him to decide and not to let other people tell him what to believe. It was up to him to decide what he was. He said that today he was really handsome. And then he went upstairs to play video games.

And THAT reminded me of an article I wrote four years ago (when Mayhem was the age that Havoc is now and Havoc was just a baby). I contributed articles from a Christian perspective for a friend's pagan newsletter. This is what I wrote (again, edited slightly with updates and such):

This article is being brought to you LIVE from the National Christian Educator’s Conference which is being held in New Orleans, Louisiana. You may be (laughing and) asking yourself why a very sincere group of women (whose average age is officially “older than dirt”) thought that New Orleans (a city known for booze, breast-baring, and ahem, “alternative spiritual practices”) would be a good place to meet and discuss better ways to raise children to the Christian faith. I have yet to find the answer to that question. In fact, I have a whole slew of questions that I don’t think are going to be answered by workshops on “Professional Development for Christian Educators” or “Working with Liturgical Committees”. Looks like I picked the wrong conference. Rats.

What I am looking for is some guidance on the spiritual formation of young people. Specifically, I need advice on how to raise my children to be Christians. And as much as I love the Pagan community – they are not much help on this topic. Most Pagan parents in America face the huge challenge of raising their children not to be Christian. Especially in the South, some Pagan parents quietly wonder if Christianity isn’t in the water (like fluoride) because someone along the way decided it was good for everyone. Osmosis and peer pressure often sink Christian tendrils into even the earthiest of Pagan children. As Murphy would have it, my children apparently are immune to both spiritual osmosis and religious peer pressure. And this is a problem.

You see, we are a blended family. Very blended. Our exes (one of whom is an ex-Pagan, now Catholic and the other of whom is an ex-Catholic, now atheist (*<--update: this one was a Catholic, an atheist, then a Church of Christer and NOW is a Catholic again) both feel very strongly about raising the children as Christians. And we all feel strongly about raising our children to be thoughtful and tolerant. The plan seemed simple. America provides all the Christianity a body could need, we simply add a dash of our world view, and voila – loving, spiritual children (somewhat Christian but not rabidly so) and happy exes. A year into this delightful experiment and the plan is unraveling!

At first, I think my six-year old stepdaughter (*aka Ninja Princessa) will be the easy one. She is sweet, smart, listens respectfully, and (bonus) already considers herself to be a Christian. No problem. Just keep up the good work, eh? She is the only child I trust to say an appropriate blessing at the table when company is over. “Let us pray,” she says in her most reverent voice. After an elbow in the ribs to her brother who forgot to put his hands together, she continues solemnly, “Buddha, Buddha. Thanks for the food-a.” Later she informs me that no one should have laughed. She explains that she is a Christian Buddhist Native American and that everyone was disrespectful.

My oldest child (*aka Chaos) may or may not be Christian. I do not know. He refuses to talk about it. He will sit in contemplative prayer silently with my mother for up to an hour (which, since he’s nine, qualifies as a miracle). But he says very little about what matters spiritually to him. When taken to church, he trembles before God. Literally. He shakes. I do not know why this is so. I have been next to him for every minute he has ever been in a church – and I will swear that nothing outwardly traumatic has happened to him. Well, there was that time at the communion rail where not only did he not want the priest to give him communion, but he didn’t even want the priest to see him. So he ran behind me, lifted up my skirt, and hid underneath my dress (exposing my backside to the entire congregation in the process.) However, I’m pretty sure that that was more traumatic for me than for him.

My middle son (*aka Havoc) loves church. He loves communion. “Mom, look! I have GOD in my mouth!” And later, “Can I have seconds?” This child is sad when Sunday school is over. He shows me the prayer card he has made; he sings the new hymn he learned; he tells me he wants to be a priest. Then on the way home he asks, “Hey mom. Is it okay if I believe in Zeus instead of God?” “What do you mean?” I ask, wondering if he has asked his Sunday school teacher this same question. “Well, you know how God is Jesus’ father?” “Yes,” I answer carefully. “You see, Zeus is Hercules’ father,” he explains “And Hercules is WAY cooler than Jesus – so I just thought I’d believe in Zeus instead.” “I thought you wanted to be a priest.” I remind him. “Can’t I be a priest of Zeus? They used to do that you know. Are we Greek? Maybe my great-great-great-great-GREAT grandfather was Greek and then it would be ok. Or maybe we could MOVE to Greek. How ‘bout that, Mom? Except I really want to live in China. Think Zeus would mind if I was a Greek priest in China?” You can see that theological discussions at our house are rather circuitous. Getting back on track a little I try telling him that Zeus was a god of the ancient Greeks and that it wasn’t quite the way the cartoon movies portray life back then. “Mom, I just want to believe in Zeus anyway. Not God.” “Why is that exactly?” I press him. “Hercules had a sword, Mom, and Jesus didn’t. And I like swords. I really like swords.” I talk to him about the miracles Jesus performed without a sword. He’s not impressed. In fact, he’s not listening. He wants to know what’s for lunch. At bedtime, he prays “Dear God… I mean, Zeus….”

My last little guy (*aka Mayhem) is only three. And he, too, likes Sunday school, but it doesn’t count because all they do is play with toys while “Christian Children’s Music” plays in the background. He also loves to take his turn saying the blessing (when we don’t have company.) He looks angelic. “Hold hands, please,” he instructs with a smile. He bows his little blond head. “Lettuce, grapes, amen” he chants rather mysteriously. My mother offers her theory. “He’s probably heard everyone say ‘Let us pray’ and ‘Grace’ and he’s mimicking that.” This explanation worked for me until he began to add “forks” to the list.

The more I think about it, the more I really don’t want my children to be “saved”. I think they are doing fine. They know that there is a good and loving force out there that is bigger than they can imagine – and yet they seem determined to make a personal connection with that divine force in their own unique ways. God is mysterious and religion is strange. I’ve found some peace about all this, here in New Orleans even without attending any of the optional focus groups. I think maybe I’ll send my ex to next year’s conference – it’s in Kansas.

And that, my dear internets, is a little (ok, more than a little - a lot, probably even whole gobs too much) back story on that crazy little thing called religion in our household. I think we've been holding pretty steady for a while. Of course that all may change soon. My ex called last night and said he's signed the older boys up for their first communion in the Catholic church next month. I'll let you know how THAT goes. If it happens. If my ex doesn't convert to Islam before then.

No comments: