Dynamically Static.

     A book was just recently published about tough questions kids ask about Christianity. During an interview about the book, the author spoke on how he wanted to help parents not have a “deer in the headlights” look when their kids asked something and they didn’t know the answer. He rushed to say that no one has all the answers, but we should be willing to find the answers with our children.
     I think the entire premise of this book is what is wrong with Christianity today. The book, due to its format, is a static description of what we think the answers are at this moment in our history and culture. While there may be some absolutes (see: “Just Love”) that we should all agree on, there was a time when some of the principles we see as bedrock now, were absolute rubbish; and vice versa. Christ illustrated this throughout scripture when he condemned the pompous and proud Pharisees. They were so sure they had all the answers, they were no longer willing to be wrong. Their answers had become their god, so God could no longer be their answer.
     An alternative to static, rigid, unchanging answers is that, instead, we teach process. However, this manner of education is a double edged sword and we must be aware of this as we wield it. What I suggest is that we discover what the core process(es) of Scripture are. According to Scripture, loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength is the greatest commandment, and the second is like it; love your neighbor as yourself. For all the laws and prophets hinge upon those two commands. Both of those commands hinge on our ability to love. That seems to assume that we should be figuring out what it means to love and how we know when we are being loving. In other words: What do we do and how do we know we’re doing it?
     The laws of Scripture have never been, nor will they ever be, the path to salvation. Scripture says this, not me (Rom. 8:3-6). The process that is at the core of Scripture is to love. If this is the case, then when our children ask about the Trinity, the covenant, politics, abortion, gay marriage, or anything else, why not join them in discovering what the most loving thing is? In order to do this, however, we must be honest with ourselves and brace for the day when we follow this process and it leads us to doubt what we believe to be right or wrong.
     My parents generation fought against racism. Their parents fought against sexism. Their grandparents fought to against slavery. Our generation is fighting for equality. But here’s the thing, and it’s something we must not forget as we age: Each generation thought the previous was backward and needed to change. Each generation thought they were right. And each generation, for the most part, thought the one that came after them was forgetting their values. When we begin to walk this path with ourselves, our children, our parents, we may not always like where it takes us. But if we spend the time to discover what it really means to be loving (something I’ll talk about in my next post), and judge our actions by that standard, we will begin to live out the lives and actions to which Christ called us.  
     What do you think? Is it better to have “the answer” and tell our children what is right, or should we take the chance of them coming to the “wrong” conclusions and being mislead? There are risks to either choice, so which risk is the most severe?

2 Replies to “Dynamically Static.”

  1. (part 1, Paul)

    Recently I've been reading much about the correlation between authoritarianism & cognitive/neurological patterns, which bears direct relevance to this topic.

    I am convinced the authoritarian thought pattern is severely underestimated in our society, yet has a deep & profound impact on our families and culture.

    One symptom of authoritarian thinking is the need to have all answers, or pretend we do, or the need to believe our leaders have the answers (i.e., pastors, government, etc).

    Authoritarianism is a hierarchical belief system, thus in the family, the parents always know more than the child, the man always knows more than the woman, etc etc.

    When (and if) we can take a step back, we can see this an absolutely absurd belief system (& unfortunately, most Christians have adopted it as a corollary to Christianity). My children teach me things & correct me all the time! And my heart melts each & every time, knowing they trust me enough to be vulnerable with their opinions & innermost feelings.

    Further, I know that many people (including family members) will judge me as an unfit parent for saying this, & not "laying down the law". Under authoritarianism, obedience is the primary objective – the need to control behavior *and* thoughts, enforced through shame & manipulation. ("Orthodoxy" literally means "straight thinking" – the goal of orthodoxy is not merely conformity, it is to control your very thoughts and beliefs). The brilliant psychologist Dr Alice Miller calls this "poisonous pedagogy", and this is the dominant model for family & religious systems in the Western world today.

    How many times have I heard, "But *YOU'RE* the parent!", as if having offspring automatically makes you omniscient, and makes your child a submissive slave. Sorry, but I'm raising my children to be leaders, not lemmings. And leaders speak up & speak out (they don't shut up & sit down).

    Another brilliant psychologist, Dr Ann Wilson Schaef, says the need to have your theology "just right" and completely "figured out" is actually a sickness. And recent brain mapping technology supports her opinion…

    The work by Dr Amen (and others) shows that children raised in authoritarian systems have measurable disfigurements in their brains, & blood flow is sometimes completely choked off to certain areas of the brain, such as the moral reasoning center. They exhibit problems thinking clearly, have difficulties with problem-solving, and it often gets medicated or misdiagnosed (as ADHD, etc). The overwhelming majority of serial criminals who were studied were raised authoritarian.

    On the other hand, children who embrace the wonders & mysteries of the world, who have a broad range of questions, & whose parents express wonder, uncertainty and curiosity about the universe, have extremely healthy brain scans. (Think magical realism vs dogmatism).

    With the recent heat wave & a busy work schedule, I've missed some outdoor play time with my kids. So last night we did something we don't normally do – nighttime playground!

    I expected the kids simply to do all their daytime activities – slide, swing, run, play, etc. But instead they soaked up the nighttime environment. They counted stars. They looked for airplanes & satellites in the sky (yes, they can tell the difference between a star and a satellite – how brilliant is that!). They looked for bats & birds (yes, they can tell the difference between bats & birds – again, how brilliant is that!).

    So my point is 2-fold. First, their awe & wonder with the mysteries of the world runs counter to authoritarian thinking (where reality is defined *for* you, not mysteries to be discovered and pondered). Second, we "broke the rules" by going out at night, and whaddya know, nobody died! Rules serve us, we do NOT serve the rules (i.e., rules are not god).

  2. (part 2, Paul H.)

    Bruce Bawer articulates the difference between "Church of Laws" and "Church of Love" in his wonderful book "Stealing Jesus". My dear & recently deceased friend Dr. John Macauley, an Episcopal minister, absolutely loved this book. It argued that the mainstream interpretation of Christianity has replaced the Greatest Commandment (Love, Matthew-Mark-Luke) with a list of laws (primarily, what you should consume – music, clothes, movies, hair cuts, etc).

    Many of my progressive-thinking friends get confused, and think the "opposite" of authoritarianism is democracy. I know this sounds so nice & politically correct, but children need to witness the process of adult decision-making & examples of leadership, and not abdicate their responsibilities as parents.

    Further, in democracy, the minority gets outvoted & ignored – and in our family, our goal is do our best to meet everyone's needs, no matter how small, how young, how old, etc.

    A "democratic" approach to the family is destructive and I don't believe in it. Children have an enormous capacity to lead & make intelligent, creative decisions. But many issues (safety, nutrition, finance, etc) will put undue stress on their lives. And from what I witness, it's all pretense anyway – the child is made to think they have input, but "important" decisions are still made by parents.

    I've heard a million times: "We let our children decide for themselves" … (on matters of religion, politics, education, etc). This is abdicating the pimary parental responsibilities – to inform, protect, and advocate. Equality means equal consideration, it does not always mean an equal vote (people accidentally & unintentionally vote against their own health & well-being all the time).

    Again, recent brain mapping technology has demonstrated that children who are asked to participate in adult topics & decisions suffer from overloaded brains, stress, & increased risk later in life of neurological disorders like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, dementia, etc. Certainly children should practice leadership & make decisions, but they need safe boundaries to practice their leadership & decision-making. Everyone in the family can take turns practicing leadership.

    Even very young children can lead in a multitude of things, which can stretch their brains without causing undue stress. They can pick out clothes (not just for themselves, but for everyone!). They can be in charge of important things, like keys. They can pay at the store.

    Our family does not blindly follow laws. First we practice love. We make exceptions on the basis of love. Next we have values, which guide all our decisions. For example, we practice nonviolence. We practice leadership. We respect each other. We create a family that works for everyone. Lastly, we have boundaries, which are always born from love & values (i.e., running in the street is off limits, etc).

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