Thursday, December 16, 2010

She says Jesus, I say...

When I was growing up, there were three adults in my home: my mom and dad, and my Kuma (my dad’s older sister). My mom's Hindu, my dad's an atheist and my Kuma was a Buddhist who also prayed to our ancestors. And thanks to the influence of another aunt who was the only Christian in my family, I went to church. It started with the Sunday school down the street from us at the local YMCA. At the same time, I also attended a Methodist Girls’ School, so I frequented Christian fellowship meetings, met more Christian friends and followed them to Sunday service occasionally. By the time I was 20, I’d attended services at Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Mormon churches. I’ve also prayed at Hindu and Buddhist temples as well as to my ancestors at home. The gods in my head were a motley crew, but none better than the other. Just different. And equally revered.

My parents had no qualms about my church-going activities, and in return, I happily followed my elders to the house of worship of their preference. To me, these sacred places brought me peace and serenity. And I had faith in all of them. After all, weren’t they all there to teach us to be good and kind? However, the older I got, the more I identified myself as a Christian, perhaps because services were conducted in the language in which I was most comfortable - English.

However, all that fell apart after the death of my Kuma. It didn’t happen overnight – it was a couple of years down the road when I was told that only the ones who accept Christ as their Savior would go to heaven. I thought about my Kuma, the woman with a kind and gentle soul, and it absolutely sickened me that someone like her couldn’t be in that same heaven just because her beliefs were different, not because she’s cruel or that she’d been a terrible person. It seemed so wrong to me for a God to be so merciful yet so…
petty. That was the beginning of the end.

I thought,
Really? You’d rather accept a murderer who asked for forgiveness into your kingdom, but not one who has been decent and kind all her life who just happens to believe in some other kind of good and not you? That was the first of many questions that followed. Soon, there were more questions than answers. Eventually, I began to look elsewhere. And I haven’t looked back since.

Fast forward many, many years later

The mural along the school hallway

At the school secretary’s office this past summer:
“We have about 15 minutes of Jesus time each day”
“Jesus time, where we share stories about Jesus. And they also go to chapel every Wednesday.”
“I see.”

I stifled a smile. An agnostic and an atheist with a daughter in a Lutheran preschool - what did we expect? It was a matter of time before Little Miss came home with little bits and pieces Jesus. They sent home the coloring paper she was working on one day, and it was a mass of red and blue crayon over the nativity scene. One day I asked Little Miss, “What did you learn in school today?” and my two-year-old paused to think before responding with “Amen.”

I was a little surprised, even though I knew they prayed in school. I personally have no issue with her exposure to Christianity (or any religion) at this age. My Guy and I both think that right now, it’s akin to her learning about Santa and the Tooth Fairy, which are fairly innocuous, except the atheist in him thinks someday “she’ll know the truth” about Jesus. I know what he meant, but I don’t share his sentiment.

Whatever that truth may be, I think it’s important that it’s one that resonates with her. I would love for her to explore the world with her own curiosity and questions, the way I was allowed to by my parents. What they gave me was more than just the gift of religious freedom – they gave me the capacity to observe without judgment, to understand multiple perspectives and most of all, to respect and tolerate the differences in beliefs and opinions. And I am grateful.

Because of my own upbringing, I’d like to encourage my kids to find their own paths as long as they know not to put down those who choose to walk another. That is more important to me than trying to indoctrinate them with my own beliefs, because I just don’t think it’s fair. We are all different people – even if we’re related – and choice is a very personal matter. The same way none of my parents’ beliefs were imposed on me but merely shared, I hope to accomplish the same with my own children.

So it starts with a little Jesus time at a Lutheran preschool, which we happened to choose because it’s a great school and they had a spot available for her. Someday someone will offer to take Little Miss to a temple where she will open her eyes to the beauty of the Hindu gods. And perhaps her ears will perk up to the teachings of Buddha. It doesn’t matter to me.

As long as her ears and eyes are open, there will be little room for blind faith and more for questions. I hope that it’s her quest for answers that leads her to her beliefs, whatever they may be, and not because someone says she so.

As for me, I may not have all the answers myself - in fact, I have none - but my eyes are wide open and I’m willing to listen. Always.

* * *

Religion is always a sticky topic, so I have no prompts for you today. Share with me any viewpoints you like - whether it's about your own life, how you intend to raise your kids, or what you think about what I said here.