Much like political affiliations and whether you prefer Target to Wal-Mart, religious beliefs are very much learned and passed down from generation to generation—a precious heirlooms, though treasured, may not be real.
As the mother of an inquisitive 5-year-old, it is now my time to continue the tradition of gifting my daughter with the same religious foundation that was given to me by a mother who held firm in the belief of training “a child in the way he should go.” Only I’ll upgrade my family’s heirloom with a shiny new gem: Jesus, like Santa Claus, is not a white man. Nor is He a convenient chameleon that morphs into whatever ethnicity, race or gender of the person who seeks Him. My understanding and belief is that He is a feeling that cannot be accurately illustrated despite the centuries-long depictions perpetuated on paraphernalia and stained glass windows in places of worship.
My mother, who received the same ideals from her parents, gave my religious beliefs to me, only she didn’t explain to me that the porcelain-skinned brunette on every other page of my Sunday School book was merely an illustration—a single perspective, an image cultivated from the imagination of someone with something to gain from the image, be it money, power, or both. Overlooking the discrepancy between the imaginative physical concept of Jesus and the interpreted directive of the biblical scripture in Deuteronomy 4:16 (NIV): “…so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman…”– caused me a great deal of confusion and severed my prayer life and spiritual connection for many years. My experience with being “churched” in such a way that resulted in my spiritual inadequacy has served as the catalyst for laying all the cards–the ones I hold, at least–on the table and visible for my daughter to see.
At age five, many children still view parents as the apples of their eye. The raggedy robe that I don the moment the day’s work ends and my bra hits the floor, is nothing less than queen’s garb to my daughter. That said, wielding the words and recycled beliefs of her father and I as her shield and armor, my little one will go to battle with anyone. As she is currently enjoying her first fall as a kindergarten student at an Episcopalian school, I keep my phone nearby in anticipation of the day I will receive a call from an insoluble school chaplain telling me that my daughter has started a riot (with Jesus’ birth approaching, I’m expecting that phone call in the upcoming weeks). I imagine my little one waging war on decades of inaccuracies, misinterpretations and traditions. She’s been known to upset an entire pre-school class by telling classmates that McDonald’s fries are poison. Good. Dang, good. But poisonous. Her father–the health and wellness coach–taught her about pesticides and agriculture and that was all she wrote…
So yeah, I’ve practiced my speech, polished up my inflections and rehearsed my facial expressions in preparation of the day that the roles will reverse and I will have to back my daughter’s words up and treat what have become her beliefs as the truth, the gospel and the way.
There are so many horrid examples of what it looks, feels and sounds like to be accused of hating another individual, group of people or sets of beliefs for simply exercising your right to believe, to love, to think, to have a perspective, to just be. If you tout that #blacklivesmatter, that somehow means you hate law enforcement and any person who does not identify as black. If you support, or better yet, if you do not loudly condemn gay marriage you are unequivocally rejecting Christianity and making reservations for a seat in hell. Similarly, if you teach your child that Jesus is not an image meant to be drawn, duplicated and idolized and can instead be felt in your heart, in music, in a flower growing through a crack in the cement, you may be accused of intentionally teaching your child to hate, to cause disruption and confusion.
But alas, the beauty of perception, individuality, freedom of speech and thought, and prayer–much, much prayer–has allowed me to feel at peace with teaching my daughter to question what she is being taught. Question third-hand knowledge and when able, seek the answer for herself. Accepting others’ truth, including the heirloom of truth passed down from generation to generation, is not a pressure she has to suffocate from.
In honor of activism and student activism and not accepting behaviors and traditions because “it’s how it’s been done for years,” I salute the students at the University of Missouri who aren’t afraid to demand change, to confront history and to spark a movement. I salute my daughter, the 5-year-old activist who fearlessly questions “truths” until she finds comfortable resolve.
For now, I await that phone call…