Thursday, December 30, 2004

Faith of Our Fathers 

My older daughter has, of late, displayed a fascination with what is and isn't real. This began when, much to her surprise, she discovered that there really was a Pocahontas and a John Smith and that, while it maybe didn't happen exactly like Disney says, the basic story of culture clash and love was true. As might be expected this developed into a regular grocery list of well-loved stories offered up for factual analysis, leading to a few precious gems ("I know Cinderella is real, except for the Fairy Godmother part"). It has also lead to some near misses, like when she asked me if Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer really happened while I was busily engaged and I absentmindedly answered in the negative (she corrected me, stating that she believed it really did). I have generally dodged the traditional Santa and Tooth Fairy questions with the not-quite-dishonest-but-not-completely-candid tactic of turning the question around ("what do you think, honey?").

So it should have been little surprise, given the season, when she one day asked "is the story about Jesus real?" My daughter attended pre-school at a local church, and so became familiar with many of the stories, even if she's not 100% accurate (she once drew a picture of "Gesis being celd by the cros" that seemed to show it falling on Him like a tree might). We have occasionally attended the same church since and talked a small bit about the teachings. But am I being honest, not just with my daughter but with myself?

I've obliquely referred to my faith issues before, but will provide a little more background here. Like many in America, I had a moderate Christian upbringing (Presbyterian), including Sunday School and Church regularly if not every single week. I grew up with the stories, full of faith and confidence. Sometime after going to college, though, I seemed to drift, questioning myself more than my faith. I had no confidence if I had really believed or if I had just been acting like I believed, fooling even myself. The more I traveled and the more non-Christians I came to know and care for further made me question the teachings. In fact, my wife and her family, whom I love dearly, are not Christian. Is Jesus really "the way, the truth, and the light?" What did he mean when He said "whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven?" Are my friends, family and loved ones to be cast aside because they do not believe? How capricious this sounds.

Before we had children we discussed church and religion and the role it might play in raising our children. Both of us feel that the right church can be a very positive effect, providing much-needed confirmation of our moral teachings outside the home as well as providing a set of peers with similar values. It is much easier for a child to resist temptations we cannot control if they have the moral support of peers and if their values have been reinforced by adults other than their parents. On the other hand, though, I most decidedly never want my children taught "Christians go to Heaven and heathens go to Hell," especially considering that their Mother and half of their family are heathens in this light. Even if not explicitly stated, the underlying assumption of this premise is strong where I live. So, am I just using the church to get what I want from it and being disingenuous in my participation?

Let me be clear. I really wish I had the faith I once seemed to display. I so much want the peace, comfort and security that is promised by the belief in Jesus, his Resurrection and God's promise of eternal life in Him, but cannot in all honesty claim it for myself. Is it possible to give this gift to my children, a gift that is not mine to give and that I don't even have? And at what price? I will never deny the righteousness and worth of my wife and her family, nor would I ever hope my children to do so, even by implication.

And so, when my daughter asks "is the story about Jesus real?" it is easy for me in my mind to reconcile telling her Christmas celebrates His birth and the promise of God's love for us, even if I may have reservations about the virgin birth. But as Easter approaches and the greater mysteries and miracles of Christianity wait to be discussed, what then? How can I, in all honesty, tell her the Resurrection really happened while some part of my heart denies His divinity and His path to the Kingdom of Heaven? Six year-olds look to their fathers for truth, certainty, clarity and strength, not for theological discussions of disparate faiths. When next this question is asked, what will I have to offer in this regard?

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