Monday, April 5, 2010

The "I" in Church

I had a sinking feeling the other day. I started to wonder what Miles had been told about Easter at school. He goes to a Christian preschool, and I suddenly realized this meant that, most likely, the Crucifixion story had been...covered. So one day last week, on the couch being silly, I asked him what he knew about Easter.


Nothing? Didn't they talk about it at school?

Yeah, but I don't want to talk about it.

Oh. Why?

They put nails in his hands and feet in wood and I don't know why he had to do that.

(Long pause while I was think think thinking fast.) I rub his little hand and I say,

Honey, it's okay that you don't understand. I don't think you're supposed to understand because you're four and your brain isn't ready to understand. How about if you try not to worry about it for now and if you have questions, we can always talk about it.

I said this all calm and reassuring like, but to be honest, there was a tornado in my head and heart. An angry tornado.

He is FOUR! He's scared and this will take a long time to undo. Anyone who doesn't believe that needs to take some time to consider the development of a child. Before they are old enough to own who they are, they are asked to give up who they are. That's what Jesus did for you, now you need to give your life to Jesus. But how are they to know what they are giving, or how?

Some think this teaching at a very young age gives roots and a foundation and I can't begrudge or judge that...I need to simply consider what I want to do for my boys.

I want to be so careful about what those roots are buried in, and with what that foundation is made of. Fear? Guilt? Shame? Or hope? Trust? Joy?

When thinking through his relationship to church and God in his book, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes, "Perhaps it was because my Sunday School classes did much to help us memorize the ten commandments and little to teach us who God was and how to relate to Him, or perhaps it was because they did and I wasn't listening."

I'm sure it's much of both in my life. As a child, I wasn't very good at listening. Like most kids, I wasn't ready to sit and soak in things that were, for the most part, above my developmental head. And so, the stories and rules for life fell a bit flat, and then they were heard so many times, they became background noise.

This is my fear. When all that pressure is on, at such a young age, it solidifies what is already true of children...I am the center of the universe. We do that in church. In an effort to teach a person, to get them to take responsibility, to see their sin, we focus focus focus on not only the do's and dont's, but almost soley, in nearly every church I've ever entered, on ourselves and our lives. We sit around trying to perfect our own faith.

It's all about me. Am I getting this right? Am I getting this wrong?

Of course we do need some focus on these things, right and wrong. We need to learn. I'm not saying there's no place for it. I'm saying something else I'm not even sure I can articulate. Maybe simply that we focus on it more than anything else and in my mind that's too much.

After I quit drinking I had an email conversation with some Christian friends of mine. They were not at all judgmental, just curious, when they asked, "As a Christian, how did you keep drinking when you knew it was wrong?" Well, that turned our email conversation into quite a long one. Part of that conversation had to do with being brought up in the church. I told them that one thing I've seen now, after quitting, is that there is more unconditional love in a meeting of drunks than in any church I've ever been in. And beyond even that, there is more holiness, more redemption, and more freedom than anywhere I've ever been in this life. It is just so full of the bigger picture of hope.

I read this today, and it helped to solidify my thought process:

People often ask what makes (this program-12 step meetings) work. One of the answers is that (this program) works because it gets people away from themselves as the center of the universe.

A person cannot sit in these meetings and think much of themselves. It's nearly impossible. It isn't about shame, that's not what I'm saying. It's about telling the truth, exactly as it is, and knowing you're safe. When you witness people doing that, there is no room in your head and heart for yourself. Not in those moments, because the whole truth is full of holiness, and in holiness we experience moments of freedom from ourselves. And then it becomes a practice, a meditation almost. I will just sit here and listen, that is all I will do...and we will find true fellowship in honesty and then we will see the face of God and know Him. In mercy. In acceptance. In forgiveness.

What happens next is what keeps us sober. We listen...and then we help not with 'you must do this' and 'you must do that,' but in sharing what has worked for us. Sometimes we help by simply listening, and then mostly by encouraging. In this moment, you are in the right place. Tomorrow you will think of tomorrow. Yesterday is done, and you are here and that is good. That is enough. Judgment isn't allowed and it doesn't come naturally because no one there is pretending to be anything. We are in a position that forces only one issue: we are all the same.

In short, this experience brings me closer to an understanding of who God is and how to relate to Him. And other than that I don't even know what I'm trying to say. I'm thinking out loud. I'm processing.

What my children's faith is rooted in is extremely important to me. They can turn into good kids who follow the rules and talk the talk and even walk the walk, but if their faith is rooted in self and the fear of that self, it is empty. The road to spiritual maturity will be that much longer, and I know exactly what that's like. I still have so far to go, so far, and I cannot deny that I'm starting to recognize why.

Am I blaming the church? No. Am I recognizing that we have to be careful how and what we teach and when? Yes. We do so many things, teach so many things, from programs, ritual and religion. I am desperate to experience something different and even more, I'm desperate for my children to experience something different. And I don't know what to do.


Have you thought about this? If you grew up being taught in the church, what do you think needs to change? What are the benefits in your mind? If you don't do the church thing and yet you're a believer, why don't you go? Please think along with me and let's refrain from judgment. I'm not looking for concrete answers, but simply, a conversation.

I am not at all trying to turn people away from church. I realize it is not about what you get, but what you give, but I do think there can be a tone that stunts that. I want to go. I want my family to go. We go. I know that many good things come from going. But to be honest, I've only attended one church that had me feeling like I belong. It was a life-giving and unconditional place. The diversity had a sameness to it. There was a spirit to the place that I can't describe...something that is missing from any other church I've attended. That's just the honest truth, but maybe it's just me.


kirsten said...

Hey Heather

My thoughts have travelled far & wide on this particular 'highway' in recent weeks. I want to think on this further and come back with a measured response, but for now want to say this: Christ taught us about living the kingdom life, not the church life. The New Testament is all about his radical new way, and part of that radical new way is living as community, breaking bread as community and remembering Who lead us to the table. So 'church' may fail us, but living as Christians, in community? That is central to knowing Christ.

More thoughts to follow in a few hours after bedtime. ;)

kirsten said...

Hey Heather

My thoughts have travelled far & wide on this particular 'highway' in recent weeks. I want to think on this further and come back with a measured response, but for now want to say this: Christ taught us about living the kingdom life, not the church life. The New Testament is all about his radical new way, and part of that radical new way is living as community, breaking bread as community and remembering Who lead us to the table. So 'church' may fail us, but living as Christians, in community? That is central to knowing Christ.

More thoughts to follow in a few hours after bedtime. ;)

Heather said...

I LOVE church, although I don't attend church. My husband doesn't believe and he works many many hours and he is off on Sundays. I could see him growing resentful of the church because he was out working tirelessly for our family and my thanking him was to go to church.

I went because I thought I had to, I was taught that I had to go, my children had to go and that we, in ourselves, couldn't give glory to God on our own. That we needed the guidance. I was also told that I needed to drag my husband in and when people would meet my husband he was asked why he didn't attend and grilled on the spot. It was hard and he became leary of meeting anyone from church for these reasons.

I dived deep into the word and really prayed and sought His counsel about the whole situation and was lead to different scriptures that really spoke to me and told me that I wasn't required to attend church. It was a hard process and I lost a lot of friends who didn't understand what I was doing.

But I believe its relationship, not religion. I know that I can go to the feet of Him anytime I desire and I can study. I fellowship with other believers and I have the Holy Spirit to guide me.

I ignored that 'gut feeling' for years and I have to say that I have never felt as close to God as I do right now.

Talk to your husband and see how he feels. And know above all else that wherever you feel God the most is where you can truly worship Him.

One Crafty Mother said...

I have a lot more thinking to do before answering - or even trying to answer- the questions posed here. I just want to say that I GET IT. I understand. I feel the same way about how my kids are raised in faith, about how I approach my own faith and spirituality. As a bottom line, I want to ask questions - I want my kids to ask questions - I want our faith to be full of questions and be okay that there aren't always answers. I want their relationship to God to feel reciprocal, open, full of light, love, surrender and acceptance. I want them to understand redemption and not fear evil. I don't want it all to be about right and wrong. Life isn't that black and white, and faith isn't either, at least not for me.

Thank you so much for putting this out there so openly and honestly. I'm right there with you, in just about every way possible.


H-Mama said...

It is not just you, my friend. We, too, have shared similar thoughts.

Kristen @ Motherese said...

I think of myself as a person of faith, even though I no longer consider myself religious. Yesterday, on Easter Sunday, it occurred to me that it took my becoming a mother for me to understand what it means to be spiritual.

I also want my experience of faith or religion or spirituality to have a community basis. I want to focus on celebrating the bonds between people and using those bonds to help others. I would love to have a physical space where I feel like people are coming together for that shared purpose and, as much as I enjoy the ritual of many church experiences I've had, I have yet to find a church where I find that sense of community.

Thanks for your honesty here, Heather. I think you've opened the door on many important conversations.

sarasophia said...

It is true---when I sit down and want to tell my children Bible stories, often the gore---and Oh! The humanity! will stop me short.

How can they make sense of this?

How can they process this
when I don't know if I do.

When Jesus said, "Unless you come to me like little children"---I don't think he meant "When your mind is so jaded by stories and rules and legalities and the rhythm of religion that you are just going through the motions---THEN, come to me".

I think He wants us to share with them...His Love. His overwhelming abiding LOVE.

"You know how Mommy loves you? God loves you just like that...only more. Mommy can't even imagine how anyone could love you more than her---but its true."

To me, its not about a verbatim telling of historical events (yes, they shape us---but I'm not telling my children of the Jamestown Massacre JUST YET).
Its more an understanding of the breadth and height of the ocean of love He has for them. That they were not an accident, but wanted and cared for by a Loving Creator, who knew them from the moment of conception.

Its not a dumbing down of beliefs but, like one of your other commenters said---RELATIONSHIP, not religion.

As a parent, you have an understanding of what it means to care for innocence. Sadly so many churches in their zeal to go through the motions of Bible learning---forget that it is
Heavy Stuff.

You know, its just like how we tell our children that they grew in our tummies without the frightening details of how the heck they got there:P

Everything in its season.

<3 Sara Sophia

Heather of the EO said...

You ladies rock the party.

What you all are saying is TOTALLY what I want IT to be about for my boys. For them to find their worth in all that love.

I'm going round and round about whether or not they will learn that in the evangelical church. I don't know that I did...I think I learned about a lot, a lot that I'm glad to have learned...but the FOCUS on God's love love love love CRAZY love? Notsomuch.

So I'm thinking, do we just try to clear it all up for them, week after week, when we get home? Because it's either that, or stop going. The truth is that the subtle messages I don't want for them are there and I think many of them are more damaging than most of us realize. Just my opinion.

(I'm not asking anyone to answer that question, just continuing to think out loud)



To Think is to Create said...

I know exactly what you mean about church. The disciples brought church to the people (not people to church), and it was all about Jesus and His love. Of course I'm not saying don't invite people or don't go, but the perspective seems to be off in many people. I have felt just "good" at church for years, but never had the experiences I would hear or read about friends having. I didn't understand, why wasn't I feeling the Spirit that way?

We just in the last couple months have found a church that has been life changing in love and faith and Spirit and Truth. I think it's not about "church" in general, but about which church. The Holy Spirit isn't there just because there's a sign outside that says it's a church. I would also say that if we aren't hearing something new each week that adds Truth to our souls, we need to find a new church. (maybe I'm being crazy, but it's probably because I am)

I also think there is usually not enough emphasis on prayer in church. This boggles the mind. This is the first church we've been to that the services are almost guided by prayer. Not just once for 30 seconds before and after the message. But prayer together, for each other, in worship and in thanks.

I don't believe Jesus came to this world to be the social police. I do think He preached about love and love and more love. When we surrender our will and just LOVE the winnowing of our souls turns into the other things like stronger faith and obedience. The do's and don'ts come later as a person CHOOSES them. Chooses them out of love. The digging deep, each level of deepness exposes new things to cut out, to give up, to wash clean.

What we told our boys about Easter was all about the love. Not the details, just the "why". I had to explain something because it bothers me when it's all about the Easter bunny (they know mom and dad are the Easter bunny, but I think it should be a side fun thing, not the whole point by far).

Love you, friend. Sorry for the novel. ::blush:: :)

Kelly Langner Sauer said...

oh. oh my. I think about these things all the time. I feel like such a little kid myself still, still trying to believe how all that gore equals love. I tell my babies God loves them more than we ever could. but Jesus' death was about life, and *I'm* still learning what that means. we're in and out of church; I'm so often with Miles. I don't want to talk about it.

really, really good post.

Mammatalk said...

"As a Christian, why did you continue drinking when you knew it was wrong?"

Maybe b/c you are human and in your errors, you grew spiritually. And, in that maturity, you would never think to ask such a question of someone else. It's all about support, non-judgement and love.

Just my two cents...

Heather of the EO said...


I have to defend my friends on that one. It probably doesn't sound so good out of context...but they are truly unconditional people. They were actually just picking my brain...NOT saying HOW DO CHRISTIANS DRINK? But more like, how do Christians deal with the guilt around being human...because we're largely taught more about behavior than anything else. My friends recognize that and just wanted to know about my thought process.

Probably very confusing out of context. I apologize for that. It led to a very open, honest, unconditional conversation.

Kathleen said...

Brilliant. Naked. I'm 50. I understand. I read Phillip Yancey's Soul Survivor once year without fail because of this very thing.

I want a community to come to our funeral and my children's weddings. And a pastor I know to be the one who performs both. Yet I hate the institution and segregation of children from parents and the stupid, dumbed down curriculum instead of the vibrant Story.

A service is somewhat fractured and fragmented by time constraint, yet corporate prayer and singing and the intimacy of communion together-I love this.

I also need a place to have 2 way influence and the effect of relationships. Where do you find a tribe?

These are real struggles. You are not alone. Knowing God instead of knowing about him is the answer. The institute, agenda and business of 'church' is yuck. Be the one to help change it?

Great conversation Heather.

Sarah@EmergingMummy said...

How did you crawl into my head on this one? I've had a blog post on draft for weeks now about this very thing.

The biggest thing I'm wrestling with here the whole "say a prayer" thing with my kids. I have friends that brag that their kids accepted Jesus into their hearts at 3. And I'm left feeling like a crappy parent because mine haven't done that.

I have so much to say here but I'll stop the flow and just say "thank you."

Lee Vandeman said...

Hey dude. Nice thinking over here. My thoughts on this? Just stop thinking.

Just kidding. :-)

My husband and I have had a lot of chats about this recently as Claire is about to receive her first communion at the end of this month and well, she's been learning some serious stories in school and we're all YIKES! Some of that Bible stuff is harsh. My man was not raised in faith and he and I BOTH are not into any fire and brimstone kind of stuff.

Fear is not where we are at when it comes to faith but there is so much fearful imagery interwoven into so many biblical stories. The crucifixion is an awesome example....bloody feet and hands and people who can be so cruel? That is tough. I mean really who can feel good about kids looking at a man being crucified dying on a cross???? Give me some Barney the purple dinosaur stat!

I have had my own walk of faith much we haven't discussed but I have to come to love being in MY church. Mine as in the church that I currently attend in Santa Monica. It's old and beautiful and like Joseph Campbell said in The Power of Myth, I believe, there is something awesome when you walk into a church that does not look like your living room. A place that helps us transcend the everyday look of daily life. Something that physically helps us bring our thoughts to a higher power.

And all churches don't do that for me. I personally can not stand to be in a church that's like a big room with padded folding chairs. It just doesn't do it. For me.

So what does this mean? I have no idea. I just know that different things work for different people and nature, more than anything, more than church even, brings me closer to God. After all that is the real church. For me. At least.

When it comes to my kids, I try to explain that these are stories. Stories that help us navigate our way through this life. But if I felt that too many "scary" images were being given to my kids and it was defeating the purpose of faith? I would pull them out of their school that is supposed to be helping instill faith in their little souls.

Let's chat about this sometime...good stuff Heather...


Kristen@nosmallthing said...

I have sat in church, and felt huge massive stirrings within my heart. Moved to tears at times. But those times are rare. I don't believe that it is necessary to feel that, every week. I don't think that makes or breaks you as a believer. But it would be nice to feel it a little more than I do nowadays. I am like you, my faith comes in waves in normal, everyday moments. In watching my children. In days like today, that were beautiful and sunny.

Two of my children went to a catholic preschool. I was somewhat shocked when you said that your son learned about the crucifixion in pre-k. I hesitate to discuss it with my 8 year old, though I know he is learning of it in religious ed because he will receive first communion this year. For me, it brings up a slew of horrible things...about torture, and killing, and hate and grief, and pain and suffering and all of that stuff that I have tried to shield them from for the last 8 years.

In their pre-k, we focused less on the doctrines of catholicism than on living a good Christian life...on serving the less fortunate...spreading kindness...the corporal works of mercy...etc. I thought it was the perfect way to introduce a child to living a Christian life.

I think teaching children both is important, but we must consider their age and emotional maturity when we introduce subject matter, don't you think?

Sorry for writing such a long comment!

L.T. Elliot said...

I am more centered, happy, and at peace when I take myself out of the equation. Sometimes, in order to do that, I have to ask God to grant me the peace to do the hard things, to forget myself. I know I can't do it alone. I attend church and I have had meaningful experiences but what I always say to people who ask my about my feelings regarding church, I tell them that I beleive in the gospel and not the people. It isn't the location, it isn't the setting, it's the truth and the relationship between God and I. And when I hear Him best? It's when He lets me forget myself and serve and love others.

It took me a long time to find my own way but in the end, it came down to being honest with God. A real relationship. A real friendship that wasn't about verse and hymn--though I found beauty in them--but an honest dialogue where I told it how it is and sought His help. It's a personal thing--deeply personal--but it has been the most freeing thing I've ever experienced.

Jenn @ A Country Girl's Ramblings said...

Heather, I have had similar thoughts. I have similar struggles with the church we attend. Love the people they are a like family, but I just don't often feel spiritually uplifted. Maybe its me. Maybe the church needs a revival. Who knows?

What I HAVE come to know is that my children's knowledge and understanding of our Lord must come from our home. This is so important to me. I want my children to see Jesus in me, so I first of all make sure I am always spending time in my Bible and praying. Next, we memorize verses. Even when my children were 2 they could quote verses. We pray out loud. We praise God out loud. We discuss, discuss, discuss things we read in the Bible. Etc.

I think the key is living our lives each and every day in such a way that others can see Jesus' love in us, especially our children.

Corinne said...

Heather, this brought up SO many of the questions we've been talking about recently. We haven't found a church yet. I want to, it's on my list, but it's really hard. I asked my husband at one point where do we go to just love on Jesus? And where do we go where it's believed that Jesus loves everyone, no matter where they're from, who they love, or if they're *gasp* liberal? :)
I don't know. But I want the community of church for my kids, my family. We'll get there one day.
And I cry at church. I wrote a post about it somewhere. It just happens. I don't know why!
Lovely post, Heather.

Boy Crazy said...

Hey you. I felt the same confusion and hesitation about how to guide my boys in faith and teach them about God and Jesus. I cannot recommend strongly enough The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. I would even go as far as to say it has affected my faith and has spoken to me more powerfully than any other Bible or devotional I've tried for myself. I keep writing more and deleting it -- just go to Barnes and Noble or get on Amazon and pick it up ASAP. It introduces you to Jesus. Again I'm doing the typing and deleting, so I'll sign off with that. ;)

xo elizabeth

Heather of the EO said...

LT- thank you. Yes. I so agree with you and get you. I think I'm struggling with feeling squelched (is that how you spell that?) The one church I talk about where I felt unconditional love and so much more...that was the place where I would cry and just well up with praise. We're having trouble finding that because it's sadly, so rare.

Also, I'm loving the perspectives of everyone.

Jen - I think that's it. No matter what, the important thing is that we live it out at home.

And Elizabeth - thank you. We DO have that Bible! I need to get it out :)

Heather of the EO said...

OH! And Kristen, YES. I do think a child's age should definitely be considered. That's one of the biggest issues I have, I guess. I just wish it were, like you said, in pre-K (and even later) all about learning how to love, to be loved, that God loves you madly, being kind and serving and sharing and you get the idea. Yeah. I wish it were only about that at first.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

YES! I struggle with this too, Heather. I long for my children to know the real faith, the deep story. I don't want them to walk the path of modern Christianity that is strewn with idols of knowledge and pride and self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

For a while, I subconsciously avoided talking much about God at all, because I knew they were too young to grasp the depth of it and I didn't want to dumb it down.

But eventually, I came to see that the vacuum will be filled - either by me or someone (or something) else. So now, we talk. We read the "Every Story Whispers His Name" Bible. I've gotten a few ideas for object lessons that can teach my kids spiritual truths in a hands-on way, something like this. (Versus nightly family devotions or something else they would view as equally painful.)

I think this is one of those unspoken questions a lot of parents have. On one hand, I think the path will become more clear as our kids get older; they will be able to reason and understand deeper things then. For now? We flail about and do our best.

The Three 22nds said...

I guess I have a different take on this whole thing than most of the commenters.

One thing I know from working with preschoolers and observing my own kids, is that these kids understand way more than we adults give them credit for.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us."

His death on the Cross demonstrates his love for us! How can I teach my kids about God's love without including his sacrifice? How can he resurrect if he never died?

My kids (6 & 4)happily explained to me just today that Jesus let the men kill him so that WE wouldn't have to die and he chose to do that because WE are his CREATION. (We do a lot of talking and reading Bible Stories at home but they get a lot of their info from Awana and the actual BIBLE verses they learn there.)

They get it, and you could tell by their little faces that it makes them feel important. It makes them feel loved.

I also taught and will continue to teach them about atrocities in history. Not in a huge detail of course, but teaching about slavery, for example, is the perfect opprotunity to teach about heroes on the underground railroad-people who loved despite danger. But most important it gives an opportunity to reiiterate to them that God created and loves ALL people, and we need to do that too.

I don't want to raise my kids with just a vague sense of "love". I want them to see how the love of God AS DEMONSTRATED by the Cross can counteract evil. How it can change people. How it can affect the world.

But it all needs to start with the cross.

Incidently I love the Jesus Storybook too.

And we often laugh at our house because the church preschool curriculum at our church rotates between 3 themes "Jesus is always with you", "Share and be Kind" and "God loves you".

I know this is scattered- just a big brain dump :)

Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus said...

This is profoundly important, right here:

"Before they are old enough to own who they are, they are asked to give up who they are."

I needed that.

Related: My oldest daughter repeatedly prays, "Dear Jesus, thanks for dying on the cross for us; that would have hurt a lot."

She's still trying to figure out the level of pain and the depth of what it all really means. And you know what? So am I.

Whether I find the answer to the depth of Jesus' sacrifice in a pew on Sunday -- or whether I find it while cuddled up next to my daughters on a Tuesday night -- I'm OK with that. I'll bet God is Ok with it, too.

Enjoy your worship right where you find it. It's all holy.

Heather said...

The 3 22nds,
Thank you for your perspective, lady. I always appreciate it. I'm glad your boys are comfortable with the stories. I think part of this issue is, like many other things, an individual one. I'm not saying that we don't talk about God/faith/Jesus because I'm nervous that they won't get it. I'm just saying that there are some aspects of Christianity that are truly hard for some kids to make sense of. My Miles is one of those kids. He's a very sensitive, emotional and thoughtful kid. He asks questions that absolutely blow my mind. He kind of twists things, but with him, being an egocentric child (like them all) means that he takes this on as guilt, not freedom. Shame, really. I can see that in his face like you see pride in your boys' faces. They may understand it in a different way, and maybe we just haven't done as good of a job in presenting it...but really, I think it's just who Miles is.

He's a whole lot like his mom. I absolutely love that Sara Groves song, "baby I'm afraid you're a lot like can't help feeling everything. I can see you trying to hold it in..." And because his little ego is so easily wounded, I worry that the guilt will stick much longer than the appreciation, if that makes sense. Maybe I just worry about that because it's what happened for me.

Even the good things I heard in church became background noise to me. Because I heard "you have to do this right and that right" much more loudly than I heard "God loves you." That is more about the person I am than what a church is doing, how they are teaching.

SO my very long point is that, like I said, this is a pretty individual thing. Some kids may be more resilient, open, unaffected almost. They can get it and I'm glad they do.

I try to talk to Miles about Jesus in such a positive way, why He came, how He loves, etc...He still doesn't get it. He's not slow and I'm not dumbing it down all that much...he just isn't ready. And that's OK too. I know he'll grow up and this will all be a bit easier to navigate.

The End. Sheesh.

MidnightCafe said...

Thank you so much for saying this...all of it.

I am full of responses, but I don't have time to type them out right now.

Blessings & peace to you!

Amber@theRunaMuck said...

OK. SO this is me processing, too, and it's not flowery:

A year or so ago, my firstborn, Isaac, wanted to hear the Bible story about Isaac, so he could hear his own name in the Bible (naturally). As I flipped to the page, I saw Abraham holding a knife up over Isaac's chest, and I saw a ram in the background. I hurried the book shut, and I told him we would wait to read it, but I could tell it to Him, and we could talk about the whys as he asked them.

I think the truth is that kids understand just about as much as we do. Isaac takes it in stride better than I do, actually.

All along, with children or with unbelieving friends, I think the way we present the Gospel is crucial. I think it is true Gospel to suggest that God is the center, and it is true Gospel to live like the church is a whore that needs to be saved.

I call her beautiful because he calls me beautiful, but that's about it. My expectations have to be from God. That is Gospel, too, to let our conversations not be church centered, but rather God-centered. I think we (in how we personally relate to God) must go before the church or school or anyone else with conversations about sacrifice, with conversations about dirty words and sinners, and with conversations about sex.

This is a great post. I love the Honest. Thank you, Heather.

Amy Whitley said...

Hi Heather! So glad you linked me here from your blog. I have struggled with issues of Christianity and church and the way to raise my kids within this framework for as long as I can remember. I agonize over it, truly. And I think you articulated something I could not, for all these years: it's too much about US. It places us at the center, when we should be the piece in the puzzle. I think humankind does this to feel less insignificant, to feel more in control, but it actually makes God seem less powerful, too. Not to put words in your mouth, but that's where you post led me, and it was a revelation for me. Thank you.

deb said...

This is fabulous.
I'd like to write something that hasn't been said.

But really, I am still learning. We all are. My children blow me away with their understanding. They go (went) to Catholic school, which is about living like Jesus .
That is love.
Sitting in our overcrowded church doesn' t always feel like that. We attend sporadically.

But our lives are for seeking seeing and living the holy. Not religion or dogma.

new each morning and in communion with all of our neighbours

Sara Sophia said...

Came back to read all of the thinking...

and to what Amber said,


I am copying her reply out on a post-it so I can go back and read it again some day.

It is Truth. And Frankness.
And non-flowery soul beauty.

I love all of you.
We are the body of whores and beggars who are bare and broken and waiting to be filled up with the waters of redemption.

(and look at us having church on a comment forum:))

Sara Sophia

Brian and Kelly Jo Kallevig said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian and Kelly Jo Kallevig said...

We talk about how we don't want church to be about "us", but then we go on to say...
"I don't like the music, it is too loud."
"I don't like that preacher, he is too brash."
and on and on, and then,
"I don't like this church. I don't FEEL anything when I go there."

Really, what are you suppose to feel?

What do I "feel"? Usually not all that much. I get emotional when I see others worshiping freely, but mostly I am "unmoved."

So why do I go? OBEDIENCE. Numerous times we are told to
1) worship the LORD -and-
2) encourage the body of believers

I go out of obedience to the LORD. I go because He wants me to pray with others (where 2 or 3 or gathered), I go to hear His Words of truth, I go for accountability, I go for fellowship, I go because I go.

Do I get my main teaching and learning there? No. We have a small group of believers that meets regularly and prays together and studies the Word. Is that church? You better believe it is! We have numerous churches (bodies of believers) within our larger church and then we come together weekly to worship corporately. When we haven't had that, then the weekly service is definitely hard.

A church is a community. Hard to describe, but you know when you have it and when you don't!

But you know what? It's still all about personal responsibility-for ourselves first, then our families; to know what we (and they) can handle.
(As an aside, we watched the Passion of Christ with our whole family-from 3 yrs and up. Our children get it-they get the pain He went through for them. Why did God have Moses make a bronze serpent in the Wilderness to save those who were bitten? Because they needed to looked at their sin, they needed to see what they were being saved from.
Fear is the opposite of faith. Can we have faith without looking at what we have without Christ?)

So I am off my point and don't know where I am going.

Oh yes-the "institutionalized" church is NOT about US, it is about a coming together to worship the Lord-whether we get anything out of it or not. The Lord wants our obedience-sometimes it is the only LOVE we can give.

Which I can then ask-what is LOVE? Are we still amazed by His love?

I blog, but I am not good at it, so excuse the not-so-succinct thoughts.

We as a family have also had many, many thoughts and discussions on this.

Heather of the EO said...

Hello Kallevigs! Thank you so much for your thoughts.

And I do understand. My struggle is not so much about whether or not to go to church or about what the reasons for going are. I agree that it's about community and praying together and obedience. My struggle is with my particular child, who was really traumatized by the details he learned. I want him to know about Christ. Indeed! I guess I just struggle with what details he can handle at age 4. I'm not judging those of you who allow the details at an early age. I personally struggle with it because of my own experience and my own child. I don't know that we can be exactly sure how things are internalized in our children and what they carry with them in their hearts from things they learn and hear at a very young age. Since developmentally they are SO black and white, so concrete, so internal. Some personalities may handle that just fine. Mine was not one of them.

And also, I kind of wish I didn't say anything about FEELING in church. It's a very hard thing to articulate. I don't expect to weep every Sunday, to FEEL something spectacular and I'm pretty open and "go with the flow" about the music and all that. What I'm saying is, "why do I SHUT DOWN in church, feel stifled? Feel more empty than when I came in?" I'm thinking out loud. That's what I do with blogging. I ask questions and I don't profess at all to be right about anything...I just process and LOVE the input of everyone.

It's even hard for me to try to make sense in response to comments. God made me to be a thinker, a dreamer. I reason, I question and in doing so I dig deeper.

I love what Amber said. I guess my discussion in my own ruminating mind is kind of irrelevant in the face of that perspective. The bigger picture. I'll stop because I can't articulate that either :)

Amber@theRunaMuck said...

Heather, I think you've articulated beautifully.

The book of the Bible that best helps me understand church is Hosea. That's why I call her beautiful. That's why I call her whore. Often Hosea's response to God's demands of him is our same response as we become family with and love the church.

The point is redemption and grace.

So far as children go, I love how it's been pointed out here that they must learn that they aren't the center. It convicts me, reminds me, to live that out in my home.

Ah. This has been great.

charrette said...

Wonderful, thoughtful post, Heather!

Interestingly, there is no "I" in church. There's a "U" in church. And church always works better for me when I am focused on U (everybody else) and especially "U" who need an extra prayer, an extra hug, some lifting. We had the most amazing congregation in Pasadena where everyone seemed to be outward focused and there was so much love and acceptance and support it was like one big extended family. Where we worship now, the truths taught are the same, but the sense of community is a little different. I have had to stretch myself a little in order to understand how and where I fit in here as opposed to there.

That said, I find that I need both. I need the lessons and the reminders on Sunday. I need to sit side-by-side with others who share my faith and buoy me up. I need to sing in that choir and let my praises reach the rafters. I need to feel both soothing rushes and gentle nudges from the Spirit. I also need to be there to teach and to serve and to love. And when church is a part of my week, I notice that my whole week goes better.

I love to take my children because I know their week goes better too. From the lovely age-appropriate 5-minute lessons from a grandmother in the nursery, to the positive, energetic people who work with our teenagers, I'm grateful my children have a chance, once or twice a week, to hear what I teach them at home reinforced by another adult.

I'm grateful our church is set up with lots of opportunities to share -- where a teacher guides the discussion, but we all tend to teach each other by adding a comment based on our personal experiences, we all take turns at the pulpit now and then, we all teach classes, sing songs, have something to contribute.

Most importantly, I go because I need to sit during the sacrament and quietly contemplate my Relationship with my Redeemer. (I love how many of your readers mentioned Relationship here, because it's all about relationships!) Here is where I can allow myself to focus on "I" as I take a silent moment to ponder my week in retrospect, think about my words and my thoughts and my work and my mothering...and shed a tear over where I felt short, and feel the amazing peace that comes when I offer Him my broken heart.

But that's just a few hours on Sunday. During the rest of the week (amidst all the chaos that is My Life) I still need to rejoice in my beautiful children and every sign of growth they exhibit. I still need to build the "Happily Ever After" that is my marriage. I still need to dig through His Word, marking meaningful passages and pondering simple phrases that can help me do better. I still need to seek Him in quiet, soul-baring prayer...and listen for answers. I need to look for opportunities to serve other people, and give thanks I have something I can share.

I know I need both--the church, and my private reaching toward sanctuary, soul-searching, serving. I am convinced neither experience would be as rich without the other.

charrette said...

Gratefully, too, our church focuses far more attention on the Resurrection than on the Cross. THAT he died is more important than HOW he died. And most important of all is that HE LIVES!

I'm so very sorry Miles was traumatized. Here's a link to our church's Easter lesson for the little ones (age 2-4): And here's another for age 4-6 where they caution the teacher to be sensitive about how they describe the crucifixion as it can be troubling to children that people hurt Jesus:

Hope this helps.

I also love the Brian Wildsmith book about Easter, told from the perspective of the donkey who carried Jesus to Jerusalem.

I know you will be blessed for taking such a sensitive and proactive role in the way your children are taught spiritual things.

Love you!

a Tonggu Momma said...

My daughter recently asked my husband about Passover because of what she learned using our Resurrection Eggs. So my husband pulled out Exodus and began reading about the 10 plagues of Egypt to my six-year-old. A few hours later? She had a nightmare about frogs attacking her.

Ribbit. Ribbit.

My sister is all about her children memorizing Scripture. She takes great pride in that. Yet I... don't feel quite right about it. I'm not against it, but I just feel it's more about a relationship and deep understanding than it is about spouting off Bible stories.

Does my daughter need to learn to read the Bible? Absolutely! It's one way we can grow in our knowledge of Christ. Does she need to be part of a faith community? Yes. It's another way we can grow in our relationship with Christ. But it doesn't have to be in a box. And it doesn't have to look a certain way.

I want my daughter to learn that Jesus loves her more than ANYTHING and that He can see everything she does: the good, the bad and the ugly. And that she can talk to Him about ALL of it. That's what I want her to know.

Right now? We are focusing on teaching her (by word and deed) the fruits of the spirit. Because those? Are much harder to tackle than having her memorize Scripture.

Tessa said...

As a person who is very much interested in Jesus heart, as well as the heart of others, I have never been much for keeping up appearances. This keeping up appearances had, unfortunately, been my church experience. I actually abandoned church and Christianity for over 10 years because of the overall "keeping up with the Jones's" attitude in the small town Minnesota church I grew up in. When I finally went back, I was actually amazed at the message of love, not fear, that was being spoken. I didn't expect it and was pleasantly surprised. I do try to attend open, more mystical (I'm really into mystical Christianity) churches, which can be hard to find. I wholeheartedly agree that we should teach our children about God's love, not his wrath.
My 4 year old doesn't really grip a lot of it and I'm not in the least worried. He will get it eventually, and I keep it real simple for now. My 9 year old is really getting it all, and it's easy for me to decipher what he learns at church into a message of love. There are so many ways to perceive the word, and Gods message,and I certainly don't agree with all the perceptions out there, even in some of the (gasp!) Bible. It's our right to filter our children's perception until they are old enough to decipher for themselves(which is often not at age 4).

LutherLiz said...

I haven't read all the comments yet, but I wanted to write out some thoughts.

Firstly, I just want to acknowledge that I work for a church, in children's ministry, and that my particular denomination doesn't express a goal of the church as "giving up your life to Jesus" rather an accepting of God's grace freely given.

Getting that out of the way, I routinely teach kids in Sunday school about the crucifixion but I NEVER teach it without simultaneously teaching about the Easter story. Without the Easter resurrection the crucifixion is too scary and it always needs to be connected at the same time, particularly with kids younger than say 8 or 9.

So the message becomes Jesus died, but he was brought back to life. When he died he opened the door of heaven so that death is NEVER the end, but we all get to live forever.

Perfect? Probably not. An attempt at making the most important story in the Bible accessible while minimizing the fear factor? I hope so.

Ultimately the message of the church for children needs to be first and foremost God's love and care for them. Then showing others the same love God shows us. And maybe then we get to sin in the "I didn't listen to mom, pushed my sister, and didn't to my chores" sense.

Those are my initial thoughts...I'll have to think more.

DeNae said...

Oh, so many thoughts! These are in no particular order, nor should there be any implication that I think I've reached the end of this journey. My kids are nearly grown, and in many ways I feel like I'm still just getting started.

I do believe that there is one advantage to the 'center of the universe' perspective little ones have, and that is we can teach them enormous truths using very tiny examples.

Want to teach your child about a Heavenly Father who loves them no matter what? Love your child, forgive him, teach him, be patient with him - no matter what.

Want a child to know that it is possible to love someone so much you would do anything for them, even something as big and incomprehensible as dying? Let them see you sacrifice for, serve, and love them.

Want them to understand the power of repentance, and the marvelous gift of the Atonement effected by Jesus over that terrible, glorious weekend? Ask for forgiveness, show your weakness (within appropriate boundaries, of course), admit to being wrong, demonstrate your gratitude when their big hearts open and say, "It's all right, Mommy. The important thing is that we love each other."

If these elements are present in our homes, it is so much easier for children to transfer their trust and understanding to these bigger truths.

And never underestimate your power to un-teach something that someone else has said!! The words may linger, but their power to hurt can be wiped away with your intervention! I mean this from the bottom of my heart, and I'm not just talking about little ones. When they talk about this or that, and they love and trust you, you really can change the message, bring peace to their confusion, give them hope and the tools to know how to process any future messages like those.

Which, when you think about it, is exactly what Christ does for all of us.

DeNae said...

As for church, my friend said to me at the end of a particularly hectic Sunday, "Some folks are buckets, and some folks are wells. DeNae, I think you and I are meant to be wells."

Which means, I usually spend a lot of time on Sundays teaching and propping up those around me. And I fill up in other ways. Personal study, prayer, conversations with uplifting, thoughtful people, and healthy relationships.

Once I accepted that "church" was where I gave back a portion of what the Lord has blessed me with, it was a much easier place to be.

I'm not suggesting that this is how it should be for everyone. It's just given me a much-needed measure of peace and perspective.

Michelle said...

Hi Heather. I don't have anything to add to the thoughtful responses, but this conversation has made me think of the recently released song by Amy Grant, "Better than a Hallelujah"

God loves a lulluby
In a mother's tears at night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

God loves the drunkard's cry
The soldier's plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

The woman holding on for life
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

The tears of shame for what's been done
The silence when the words won't come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

Better than a church bell ringing
Better than a choir singing out, singing out

We pour out out miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

I'm late joining in this conversation, but I just wanted to say that I agree with your philosophy Heather that the most important thing that a church can do is help you to have a personal relationship with God; to know Him. And even though it seems a little counterproductive to the "aims" of organized religion, it's greatest accomplishment is to make us spiritually independent-- able to receive and respond to personal revelation.

Related Posts with Thumbnails