Cautiously Christian?

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My book is now out in the world (!) and I am finding that by far the most frequent question I get is about the subtitle: “A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.” While I wrote with parents in mind, more than that I wanted to write for the cautious Christian, for anyone who struggles with the way “Christian” is defined by popular culture and much of the media, for anyone who doesn’t picture God as an old man with a long white beard, or who maybe doesn’t even think of God as a person at all, for those of us who love Jesus and try to never forget he was a Jew who had no intention of founding another religion.

Cautiously Christian to me means not expecting answers to prayers and praying anyway, because what matters is feeling connected to God. It means reading the Bible critically AND reverently, and sometimes having to throw reverence out the window in order to keep reading. It means that while I follow the Christian path, I believe with my whole heart that there are other equally valid paths to God. It means that because I have faith, I have no need of certitude. My faith is roomy enough for questions, wonder and doubt.

I  am not less of a Christian for being cautious; in fact, I hope that I am at my most Christian when action is called for. That’s where the rubber meets the road. When I am thinking about and talking about and writing about my religion, I am careful and choosy, I take my time, I weigh things carefully. When I am living my Christian identity, I throw caution to the wind. I’m all in.

 

 

My September 11 story

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My September 11th story takes place the following Sunday, when the Gospel we read in church was the same as the Gospel we heard this morning: that God searches for all the lost ones, finds us, and brings us home, rejoicing.

On September 16, 2001, I walked back after lunch to the church where I had begun work only the month before, on the Upper East Side of New York City. As I came through the front door and my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I could see two people sitting in the front pew of the otherwise empty sanctuary: a woman and a young girl. I grabbed a few blank index cards and a fistful of crayons from a basket, walked over and knelt down beside them. I introduced myself and handed the child the crayons and index cards. “This is Annie, and I’m her aunt,” the woman told me. “Annie’s father died on Tuesday, and she is wondering who is keeping her safe now.” I took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, and began.

“Well, Annie, your mother and your aunts and uncles are keeping you safe. So are the firefighters, and the police officers, the mayor and the president.” I paused, and pointed to the paschal candle in front of us, which had been lit and placed in the center of the chancel as soon as we heard the news of the second plane hitting the towers. “Do you see this candle? We sometimes call it the Christ candle, and it’s there to remind us that God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. Jesus is here with us, and we are safe in God’s love.” I don’t remember if I said anything else. What I will never forget is that Annie drew three pictures. The first was of the paschal candle, the second was of the dark church with jewel-bright stained glass windows, and the third was the sun blazing in the sky. Annie knew. I simply reminded her.

                                    Excerpted from Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents

       “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:5

Backpack blessings

School starts tomorrow. Am I the only parent who shops for supplies at the last minute? This year I shopped via Amazon and Peter’s binder arrived, large enough to hold the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica, if a print version still exists. The school sent home a reassuring email saying that eighth graders do not have to bring all their supplies with them in the morning, so I have a brief reprieve. If I am really organized, I could leave the house when he does and go to Target when it opens. (I once had to do this on School Picture Day, when I discovered that there was nothing clean for him to wear.)

Tomorrow we’ll fill his backpack with folders and composition books, pencils and pens, a water bottle, a packed lunch, and a pocket cross. Soon, there will be a blessing of backpacks (well, of the children wearing them) at church, and perhaps this prayer I wrote some years ago will be spoken:

God of Wisdom, we give you thanks for schools and classrooms and for the teachers and students who fill them each day. We thank you for this new beginning, for new books and new ideas. We thank you for sharpened pencils, pointy crayons, and crisp blank pages waiting to be filled. We thank you for the gift of making mistakes and trying again. Help us to remember that asking the right questions is often as important as giving the right answers. Today we give you thanks for these your children, and we ask you to bless them with curiosity, understanding and respect. May their backpacks be a sign to them that they have everything they need to learn and grow this year in school and in Sunday School. May they be guided by your love. All this we ask in the name of Jesus, who as a child in the temple showed his longing to learn about you, and as an adult taught by story and example your great love for us. Amen. 

(From Faith at Home, p. 92)

I pray this for Peter, and for all our children who are lucky enough to attend school. I pray for children who don’t have what they need to learn and grow. May we work together on the serious and timely issue of education equity. As Marian Wright Edelman reminds us, “The future which we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people’s children.” (If you want to read an inspiring story that clarifies some of the issues surrounding education equity, start here.)

And tonight, I will say a special prayer of thanks for teachers and principals everywhere. God bless them!

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(Riding the 2 train in 2013, Peter noticed a kindred spirit with an animal attached to her backpack.  When he asked her what it was, the woman promptly took it off and gave it to him: “He’s been with me 10 years; it’s time for a new adventure!” We do not look gift wombats in the mouth.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On writing a book

As a general rule, I do not recommend getting married, starting a new job, and writing a book in the same year. I also do not recommend writing a book using the hunt-and-peck method, or using a keyboard that looks like this:

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Still, I wrote a book, and in a few weeks people will be reading it. People who do not already know and love me, plus people who know and love me and may very well disagree with me. Peter, my thirteen-year-old son, is grateful that his friends will not be reading the book, that the people reading embarrassing stories about him either know them already or are of an age and disposition to not tease him publicly.

I’m excited and nervous, as you perhaps can tell.  In Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, I am both “the expert” (the field of Christian formation and ministry to children, youth and families is my vocation)  and in the struggle, too: how we live and raise children with a strong Christian identity as well as the ability to think critically and act compassionately in this day and age is a lot of work.

There’s much joy in it, too, and I look forward to hearing from you, readers and potential readers, about what interests, inspires and engages you in this conversation about Christian parenting, cautiously or with abandon or anywhere in between.