Tuesday, November 9, 2010

God or not, these are things the world needs.

Phdinparenting wrote in her post today, Approaching Heaven, Mummies, and Infinity,

I think that not having a religion and not believing in God makes our job as parents both easier and more difficult. It is more difficult because we can’t explain difficult things away with “Jesus loves you”, promises of Heaven, or threats of Hell. We can’t write things off as sins and leave it as that, a more nuanced conversation is required. But at the same time, it is easier, because I don’t have to explain why a good God would allow so many injustices in the world and because I feel like there is more nuance and more flexibility in building an evolving set of personal values that are not necessarily better or worse than someone else’s.
 Go read the post.  Seriously.  Go.  I'll wait.   While you're at it, read the post she's responding to, Just Like Heaven.  And yea, I know, I'm asking a lot, but read the sin post that phdinparenting references in today's post.

Done reading?  Ok, here we go.  First off, let me applaud these women.  Let me applaud these writers and mothers for asking hard questions, lifting up really important values, and opening the dialogue both with their children (as age-appropriately as possible) and their blog readers.  I truly admire and respect any person, but especially any parent, who wrestles with these issues and what impact their beliefs and the things they teach their children will have on their family, their community, and the greater world.

Second, let's talk about where I come at this from.  I am a Christian.  I am an ELCA Lutheran.  I am the wife of an ELCA pastor.  I have an undergraduate degree in world religion and a masters degree from a Lutheran seminary in theology.  I have a shirt that has a hand with the the pointer and middle fingers crossed over each other that says "Me and God are Like This".  Yes, it's a joke, but it's kind of how I approach things.  It's not that God and I are "like this" opposed to God and you or anyone else being "like this" because my relationship with God doesn't impose itself on other people's relationships with God.  Its about me and, well, God.

I agree with so much of what these women said in their posts, and yet I have to respond some ideas about Christians.  In the quote above, Annie says that maybe parenting from an atheist perspective is harder.  I can assure Annie, I don't rely on threats of hell, promises of heaven, or 'Jesus Loves You' statements when it comes to the tough stuff, or at all.  And I agree that my personal beliefs and values are not better or more 'right' than anyone else's. 

Emma wrote in her post, Just Like Heaven,

When anyone speaks about their religious beliefs, I really don’t know what to say.  I can understand the comfort of a belief in a benevolent higher power, the sense of community that comes from attending church or mosque or shul. I can’t understand a God that would ‘create’ people and think some of them lesser than others, or anyone killing in the name of.  I respect your beliefs. I just don’t share them. At all.

I have my own beliefs. More like values. I believe in evolution, human kindness, in free will, in social justice, in equality. Real equality. Seriously, I mean everyone. I’m a bit of a commie/socialist. 
 I can't understand that God either, the one that would create people and think lesser of some.  I can't imagine a God that would encourage killing in his/her name.  I'm not sure I can even respect those beliefs, so Emma is one step ahead of me.  I broke into a grin as Emma mentioned her beliefs.  I believe in those things too, and I have also been called that dirty word (ahem, cough, socialist, cough, cough).

But I guess I come from a pretty unique place, a unique church.  I was just listening to someone from the Churchwide office speak about the changes and trends in the ELCA and the greater religious community.  He remarked that the ELCA is probably the only, and certainly the largest, mainline protestant denomination that is not exclusivist.  That's right.  We do not assert that we are completely and totally correct and that everyone else must be wrong.  We do not tell others they are going to hell if they do not come to believe and practice those beliefs in the way we do.  The ELCA is known, and disliked by many Christians, for its true passion for social justice, welcoming diversity, and lifting up the absolute unconditional love God gives, a love that we cannot choose or dictate whom is eligible to receive.  It's not up to us!  We have no place for judgment or exclusion, because it's not about us, it's about God.

There's a lot in Annie's post on sinners that I would love to comment on, but I could write a book.  Theses are the conversations that should be had over a few bottles of good red wine.  The values she holds up for her family are those that I hold up as well, and they are ones that my church lifts up.  Of course, the church is an organization made up of people and anyone can identify with it and do some terrible things.  However, the things we teach and we strive to embody are acceptance, valuing diversity, practicing inclusivity.  It's all about grace, yes God's grace, but grace means truly welcoming all into the community, respecting people for who they are and what they believe, and seeking to learn from each other as we live and work alongside each other.  God's grace is about forgiveness, of ourselves and others, when we fall short, because none of us are perfect, we mess up even with the best of intentions (and sometimes the not so best).  Grace is about tolerance, openness, and love. 

Annie wrote :
This is a concept that is emphasized over and over again in Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting. He explains that children need to know that they will be accepted even if they screw up or fall short. I know that Christians say that God loves everyone unconditionally, but when he calls them “sinners” it is certainly a different message that gets conveyed. Kohn explains in his book that if you tell your child that you love him unconditionally, but then tell him he is bad for doing X, Y or Z, you are sending a mixed message.
For me, God is the absolute picture of unconditional parenting.  There is nothing I can do to be cast away from God's amazing love and graciousness.  There is nothing I can do that God will not forgive.  Lutherans talk a lot about being both sinner and saint.  Yea, we screw up, who doesn't?  But we are still saints.  It's one of the reasons I feel so strongly about attached and unconditional parenting.

I, of course, respect that both Annie and Emma and many others do not believe in God at all.  I'm not trying to say that they should because we do it without so many of the negatives they've said.  I want to be sure this does not come across as me saying, "that's nice and all, but you should believe because hey we do, and we're pretty cool."  It's not that.  It's mostly just saying "Hey, we believe in God, we believe in Jesus, and we're not like that."   We lift up so many of the same values as you.

I am working to teach my children critical thinking, integrity, love, respect, and so much more.  We should work together, because God or not, these are things the world needs.  And in the end all of our children will make their own decisions, but I hope and believe, that with the skills we are modeling and cultivating in and with them, they are going to make this world a better place regardless of what they think about religion.


  1. *Thank you* for your thoughtful post. I, a non-Christian as well, often feel berated by "Christians" who are not Christians (as in walk in the path of Christ) but those who give themselves the label. Those who judge. Those who condemn.

    Thank you for seeing, understanding that it's different schools of thought that make this world go 'round. Thank you for respectfully disagreeing.

    And thank you for walking in the path of Christ - rather than just labeling yourself a Christian.

  2. Thanks for the post.

    I think there are people in all camps/religions who will have more extreme views than others. I've had some interesting and, truthfully, saddening comments from religious parents on some of my past posts and I do try hard not to let their views affect the way I feel about anyone who shares some of the same beliefs that they do.

    Thank you again for writing this.

  3. Great post Jamie. I myself have stopped identifying as Christian and am more comfortable with an agnostic label. I think that all parents have it hard. Whether Christian, Jewish, or atheist. Just the way parenting is.

  4. What a wonderful post. I believe that church can be so much more than it is in many cases, and yours looks like a wonderful place. Respect and understanding of one another should be expected, not the exception. In this time of extremism, I am so happy to see that on all sides of religion.

  5. So glad I came across your blog (thanks to your twitter handle - who can resist a "hippypastorwife"?) Religion for me is something I have stopped trying to analyze - I take my kids to church because I like some of the core values, but I can't actually bring myself to cross the bridge and "believe." So I wuss out and ignore my own contradictions, but still like reading about different view points. Maybe one day I'll be up to tackling it head on.

  6. I like this post a lot - as you know, I don't share your beliefs in a higher power, but it's great to know we're on the same page on the rest. Makes me hopeful, you know? Glad the posts spurred to you write, as well.

  7. Thanks everyone. I can't emphasize enough that I completely and totally respect those of you that don't believe in God. And, I think that asking and figuring out how to respond to tough questions with integrity, honesty, and respect is something every parent should do. It is very upsetting that some (both God-believing and not God-believing) don't.

    @Annie - I am unfortunately not surprised that you've received those kinds of responses from parents on your religion posts. I've had many bad experiences with "those" Christians. They don't discriminate on whether you say you believe in God or not. For the most part, we're all going to hell and should be told as such. (insert eye roll).


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