Tuesday, September 11, 2012

toilet bowl theology: lessons from the throne

One child woke up covered in regurgitated rice. 

Reflecting on what was eaten three hours earlier at the dinner table, the quantity of rice seemed to have multiplied by five in her stomach. 

Her hair was washed, her pajamas changed. 

Every thirty minutes for hours on end she heaved and writhed in pain while we rubbed her back and stifled our gag reflexes of steel like valiant champions, supremely trained for the barf-battle. 

Two hours into bedding changes and hand sanitizing another child dramatically entered our room and flung himself at us in unrelenting turmoil.  

"I prayed seven times asking to not throw up! WHY didn't God listen to me?" he bitterly asked. 

The room grew eerily silent as the parents engaged in an epic game of  "(s)he who speaks last wins". 

"That's not really the way it works son..." his father responded, thereby losing the competition ... 

...And thus began the midnight theology lesson that ended in many more hours of truly remarkable rice multiplication. 

the day after 

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Talking to our children about things like this can be complicated. It becomes more complicated by the fact that we're always parsing out our own theology. As parents we're coming at it from two different upbringings, two different backgrounds, and more than a few misconceptions. Additionally, life in Haiti has us constantly wresting and interacting with evil and injustice in ways that force a harder look at our beloved assumptions and rote answers. 

It can be a bit vexing to face the balderdash of some of our tightly held religious rhetoric in front of our answer-seeking children.

Simply put, "Ask and you shall receive" isn't an uber helpful stand-alone tagline. 

David began Psalm 13 this way: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Ps 13:1-2, NIV). The desperation and pain can be heard in chapter 88, “I cry to you for help, O Lord ...Why, O Lord do you reject me and hide your face from me?” (Ps 88:13-14). 

These words don't bring me much comfort but they do remind me that we're not the first to struggle with this. Noah isn't the only guy to ever ask, "Why didn't you hear my cry?" while violently vomiting his guts out. 

If there is one thing we're hoping to succeed at as parents, it is teaching our children that a total understanding of all things God, faith, and theology isn't the key to a full life with Jesus. (Technically speaking we'd like to succeed at more than one thing but aiming low has been quite fruitful to this point.) We want our children to know that their sufficient certainty and "rightness" is not what saves them.

In fact, the answers and the rightness of said answers too often become the God. 

I recently listened to a sermon. The pastor said:    (paraphrased) 

We have this picture of God sitting in Heaven telling us we have to believe right or die - a God giving us a theology quiz asking us all to pass the test or go to hell ...  if you get the crucial questions wrong you flunk.  He went on to say:  I don't see that picture of God  - it is not consistent with what we learn about God in Jesus Christ.  We should want to believe the "right" beliefs and they are important but in the Biblical model of faith beliefs are not an end in and of themselves. Beliefs are important because they point to and support a relationship with God. The end is what you do with your beliefs. Faith starts where belief ends. The end is the relationship. Biblical faith starts by striving to be faithful regardless of your uncertainty.  

We want these kids to get all of their life from Jesus - to define themselves from an outpouring of that most important relationship - to have space to question without fear - and not to feel like they must have all the right answers in order to have Jesus. 

Questions are welcome. 
Wrestling with them isn't unholy.

We're teaching them these things by not claiming to have perfect and complete ownership of all understanding ourselves. This frees them to safely doubt and question things. In fact, we want them to know that a relationship with the living, loving Jesus does not require them to agree with us or pass any theology test. 

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While he was questioning God's concern for him and miserably clinging to the porcelain throne, we tried to gently point our son to the throne. In the end we comforted our barfing son this way-
"We hate that you're suffering, it is terrible for you right now. Even though it is hard, let's just try to remember that you've been very sick before and that you got better and came through it."

Hear this our precious son: He loves you - He loves you - He loves you ... He is with you He is with you He is with you.