Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Big Bird vs. Goliath

I'm revisiting some thoughts from a few years ago because I still haven't found an answer that is satisfying.

I begin with this question: How do I teach my kids about God? I know that Silvi and Ian will emulate me, which is a terrifying prospect. They'll learn about God first through my example. It's true, I love God deeply but the fact is, I often screw things up. And besides, I don't want my kids to love God as I do: I want them to love Him better than I do.

I've been wandering through the kid's sections of bookstores, looking at the religious books. It's a bit frightening, really. Children's Bible stories with pictures of everyone smiling the same sticky-sweet smile. I mean, come on, when David was walking around town with Goliath's head in his hand, I think more of William Wallace than of Big Bird. Of course, I don't believe that my two-year-old daughter will cuddle up with me at night while I flip through a picture book of Braveheart. And so I have a dilemma. Do I buy the Bible picture books with all the happy smiling prophets and lepers and warriors?

I drive my wife crazy with my penchant for focusing on minutia. But I really do think this matters. A lot. It's taken me a couple of decades to get rid of some of the religious baggage that caused me to walk around like Quasimodo. I know that it is impossible to prevent my kids from having a lot of their own misconceptions about God; it's part of living with limited perspectives. But I don't want to make Silvi and Ian's trek with God more tiring than it has to be. And I have to believe that a childhood of looking at pictures of real people of history like Moses and David and Solomon portrayed with pasted on Crest-white smiles has got to have some kind of an impact.

Maybe I'm making too much of this, or maybe it's "a guy thing." I can't really get into a bunch of smiling vegetables acting out the Last Supper. I did find a few books online at Eerdmans publishing that are at least artistically inspiring. Maybe that's the best I can hope for in a children's story book.


Terri said...

My husband used to get down on the floor with my kids and play with their little castle and play-figures and tell stories to them that way. That seemed to work pretty well. That way you can focus on age appropriate stuff and you can do some really great sound effects too. Of course my husband used this time to tell stories that had nothing to do with the Bible as well and the stories were always morphing and he would involve the kids in the stories.

Here's the thing, Tom: I don't think the Bible is a bunch of "once upon a time" stories...at least not primarily. I think it is alive and we are a part of that story. In my mind I think it's more important, especially in the life of a child, to help them to tell their story well...to see their great significance and dignity. Part of the real joy (and sorrow) of raising children is to help them to see how that holy story is being told in them. What does this story have to do with Silvi and Ian (and you for that matter) here in this place and time? I don't think most children's Bible storybooks will help you with that. At least not very much more than Dr. Seuss (which by the way is a kind of child's holy book.) Your market visits with Silvi, trips to a park, tucking them in bed, all of these are opportunities to reach into the heart of what is most true and real and help your kids to see how they reflect the divine story.

You're an artist with an amazing eye, Tom. Show them.

That's my two cents.

God is Great Beauty Salon said...

Don't think you're putting too much thought into it at all. When we look at the world today, and how people use religion in all sorts of ways, I think it's really important to think twice, even if you're children are at an early stage.

But I think that the fact that you're thinking about it is probably enough, as that shows that you are aware, and will be, when teaching your children.

Many people don't even question or think about things like this, unfortunately... Most people probably see Jesus as a blond lad e.g.. :)

Elbog said...

Terri speaks much wisdom. The answer is that you will, and they will take what you teach them and make their own sense of it. I'm old enough to have seen my own parents' views on some aspects of theology change(I don't think I had anything to do with it, lol), and Dad's a Holy Man. The stories that make up the Scripture are rich and complex - and bring truth on many levels. They mature as you do, if you're still paying attention. The expression of your faith, including your reverence and respect for the Bible will teach as much as the stories will.
"The Devil's in the details" for you at the moment. Get thee behind me, minutiae!

RK said...

There's alot I feel like I want to say, but I am so darn tired, my mind isn't formulating well.

I'll just say this...I started out with the smiley apostles and stories and then transitioned into the "real thing" in reading the Bible as a family every year from grade school on. Kids respond to good news (Jesus loves you, look what God did for these people a long time ago, look how Jesus made this little girl better, etc.) and it sets the foundation for the more gritty stuff as they mature. I appreciate your desire to do it right.

P.s...Ian has been tagged by Braska today.

Tom said...

Terri: Last night, out of the blue, Silvi asked me to tell her the story of Samson. (We have an old picture Bible and she's fascinated by a painting of him pushing down the pillars.)

I totally agree about the Bible being so much more than "once upon a time" stories. And I really appreciate you reminding me of the importance of helping my kids tell their own story well... I think that's a lost art in many contemporary Christian circles.

I'm still frustrated with all the smiling picture books, though. I think it portrays The Story in a Disneyesque way, and although I love Disney movies, they're more Romantic views than Realistic ones.

I think the reason I posted this, in addition to wandering around looking for some books for the kids, is that we get a lot of religious books as gifts for Christmas or B-days... it's not that big of an issue, but is one nonetheless.


GIGBS: What! Are you saying Jesus wasn't a blond-haired, blue-eyed Swede?!

Not too long now before you'll be looking for a kid's copy of de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex." :)

elbog: How's saying go? Faith is more 'caught' than 'taught'?

The same goes for my own parents; I realize it's a journey thing, but what books are in your children's library? (I'm not missing your point, I hope.) I know I get caught up in those pesky details and they hide the forest for the trees (however that goes), but on a practical level, my daughter loves reading books. I need some that won't have her thinking "Elmo died for her sins." :)

RK: I would love to hear the first things that went through your mind as you read this post, not the "nice" things. :) And thanks...

I'm heading over to "play tag."

Anonymous said...

Not a guy thing at all. Myself and a couple girlfriends contemplate this regularly. We even talk of making our own. Why so many animal cartoons as bible stories? We love fairytales here, but the Bible isn't. Having been in Africa, and having a friend with an adopted son from Ethiopia, all the white Jesus' get commented upon, too.

I would sum up my feelings by saying that when we search for Christian books for our kids it is because we want to share with them the holy mystery, the epic sacrifice of the ages, and the grand beauty of it all. And what we find is, in a word, trite.

Like looking for the jewels of England only to be shown a plastic bauble from the bubble gum machine.

Yes, I feel strongly about this. NOW you've got me going.... ;>

bella said...

thank-you for this.
you've written something I've actaully thought a lot about, and feel a great many things about. so no, its not just a guy thing. :)

i have a real problem with the smiling people, the glossiness of the images AND the stories being told. Sometimes I wonder if it is due to our own ambivalence about the stories. For example, toy arks are quite common, with all the cute animals, conveniently leaving out what was a horrendous flood, the killing of so many people. and then we try to "shield" our kids from the reality of a tsunami. Hmmm.

For me, with Leo, I've chosen to tell him the stories orally, as I do many stories and I seek to tell them in an age appropriate way. I have no desire to scare him needlessly. And I also think we sometimes "protect" in a way that is not needed. We no longer even read traditional fairy tales because of their violence. And yet, what all these stories share in common is that speak the fear and truths that they already know and do so in an indirect way. Whether classic legends or stories from the Bible, I believe in the power of myth and story.

oddly enough this makes me think of the Friends episode where Phoebe sings the "inappropriate" songs at the school and is asked to leave and later the kids come find her at the coffee house, come to the lady who tells the truth.

sorry for rambling on so long. you have clearly touched a nerve in me.

let us know where all this takes you. i'm curious to hear more.

Carole said...

Could I just say that is a creepy creepy picture of Jesus. Eeks.

Aunt B said...

Well, you have punched my buttons on this one, Tommy. I hate the modern day caricatures of Bible people, especially the Veggie Tales characters and the "funny" mess up of Scripture. Give me and mine the Old Masters pictures and straight stories. Just tell the truth, the Truth to children and don't make it funny when it isn't. I could go on and on and on, but I won't!

Tom said...

Elsie: I loved your analogy about the jewels... If you ever do get around to making your own books, put me down on your list as a buyer. :)

Isabel: I find it hilarious that this made you think of a Friends episode. :)

I got a bunch of "Bible" kids books at a garage sale and some of them from the 40's and 50's were down right sexist and racist and every other kind of "ist" you can throw in there.

I make up a lot of stories for Silvi; I think she likes those best.

Carole: And I was going to use that image on your next Christmas card.

Aunt B: I don't remember the Old Masters pictures (might if I saw them). I guess what really irks me it just cheapens these stories that have such power. I'm still looking for some books that will stay with Silvi and Ian...

LAE said...

Jesus said, "Allow the little children to come to Me. Do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of God." - Mark 10:15

What is the kingdom of God?

The kingdom of God is not the golden condominium in the sky, the place where we go when we die to collect all our goodies.

No. The kingdom of God is the Savior as the seed of life sown into His children.

Jesus was saying, in effect, that children are like Him, having His mind and spirit. They are perfect.

LAE said...

. . . which really has nothing to do with what you are talking about.

But it was what I was thinking.

Tom said...

LAE: Jesus has a poopy diaper and throws tantrums when it's time for his bedtime...:)

I get what you're saying...