Church in my parenting journey has been a constant preoccupation. I grew up going to a church that, I believe, really did what Jesus did. (DWJD?)
We were a community. We were uplifting and introspective. We had a lot of fun (youth lock-ins were always a raucous and fun time) and it was G-rated, wholesome fun.
Jesus was present, but really as a teacher, an example of kindness. There was no fire and brimstone. Everyone was accepted. There were strong rumors that one of our ministers of a few years was a lesbian. And though she wasn’t out, my family and our close friends didn’t care.
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I’d love for my kids to have the same experience — a community of people rooted in common ethics; an outlet that preaches (pun intended) the difference between right and wrong — assuming it’s a right and wrong with which I agree. Hence, church in my parenting journey is a regular topic of debate with the kiddos.
I’m the Goldilocks of church-going…not too liberal, not too conservative.
During the years before children, my partner and I explored a few churches around NYC’s West Village on Easter. One of my favorite experiences was at a church historic for its role in promoting civil and gay rights. We sat in the church and listened to pretty great music (they drew on the NYC talent pool, for sure). But there was not one mention of Jesus. It was a Christian church and it was Easter, after all. I’m looking for a liberal, welcoming crowd. But that was a bit too liberal.
Church plays a large role in my parenting journey and there are several reasons for this.
1. Reason for the season
If we’re going to celebrate religious holidays, my kids are damn sure going to understand the why behind the holiday before (or at least simultaneously) they draw up long-ass lists of crap they’re demanding for no good reason.
Several of our massive American holidays are centered around religious traditions, no matter how secular and capitalist they’ve become. Though the American retailsphere cashes in on Christmas and Easter to ridiculous degrees, they are holidays that mark the changing of seasons (coincidentally coinciding with ancient pagan holidays honoring changing of seasons). And they arrive at good times for self-reflection (during the doldrums of winter and the beginning of spring.)
2. A moment of forced calm in my week
Church is just about the only place I’m shamed into truly turning off my phone. I know this is a matter of self-discipline. I could meditate more frequently or simply turn my phone off. But church provides a focus for my schizo brain. I can let my mind wander (which it does) or focus on the wisdom from ages past (which it sometimes does). Regardless, after the brain vacation from the every day, the change of pace does it good and I feel more relaxed afterward.
3. Marking extraordinary days
Going through the effort of rituals is important to me. If we don’t make an effort…getting dressed up, don’t take a step outside our casual paradigms, every day is pretty much like the rest (whether or not we’re in a pandemic). Going through the effort of making things mindful, special, reflective, helps us ponder our lives and the world in different ways. Otherwise we’re just trudging through our lives without reflection and without ritual.
4. Second line of defense
In my ideal world, being part of a church community provides a second line of defense for parenting and education. My kids are so tired of hearing me lecture to them about gratitude, morality, justice and behavior. I’m more than happy to have a second-string team to help with that.
5. Cultural education
Finally, church is another form of cultural, intellectual stimulation. Religion has inspired massive upheavals in human history – obviously it’s created sensational architectural projects while also enslaving and killing millions. It’s created the geopolitical map and continues to separate some and unite others. In order to understand more about their place in society and historical context, I want my kids to have some religious education.
In the end, I welcome my kids choosing whatever path works, be it Christian, Buddhist, Islam, Zoroastrianism, or Judaism. I want to give them some foundational context for celebration, mindfulness, and education and hope they’ll search for meaning and the “why’s” of life — hence my commitment to church in my parenting journey.
Oh – and to treat their fellow human with kindness, mercy and maximize their joy in life. That, too.