Every Sunday and most Thursdays we go to church for a service or choir practice or some other activity. One could assume my churchy children know what it means to sin or who the devil is ... the Devil. Nope. Not here. Not on this church's watch, as I've recently discovered.
This religious ignorance all came to light when my daughter chose an angel/devil-girl costume for Halloween. (Ironically, she won the Most Original award at the church party.) So, who is this devil, she wondered? My other daughter jumped hysterically. "I know, I know!! A devil is the guy in the red holding that pointy thing! Right?" Cue husband quietly, yet cheerfully, humming Charlie Daniels in the background.
And sin? "It's something you do to go to heaven." I shrink in my Sunday best. All those Sunday mornings racing through breakfast and getting out the door instead of brunching, sleeping, hiking. And for what? My children don't even know the Devil, supposedly, lives in hell, and you'll go there, supposedly, if you sin. I wonder if our post-modern, neo-Christian, progressive church is shortchanging the Christian religion. Is this cause for a sit-down with the pastor, a committee, national church leadership? If they're not learning about sins and the Devil, it was certainly time to discover what the heck is going on in those Sunday school classes and activities.
I'm first challenged by my eldest: "I've been waiting so long for this Bible study! I mean, how do we know this stuff is the truth?" No one can argue that fostering intellectual inquiry about the history and true meaning of religion isn't worthwhile. (I do, however, question my sanity in giving her the opportunity to question truthfulness: isn't this a pre-cursor to questioning authority?)
They've certainly taken to heart the church's lessons about love. Jesus loved everybody, so it's OK to love Gracie K. (Only an older sister can sanction, with help from our Savior, a younger brother's crush.) Love's counterpart, compassion, is always practiced and respected at our church so they can't help but take notice. It's not that we don't practice compassion in our home, but, well, come on: It just works better at church. My daughter's favorite part of Vacation Bible School is assembling the food bags and making blankets for the homeless. There could be worse favorite activities.
By all accounts, it's good for them to be part of a small community especially living in a large, fragmented city. On more than one occasion, my daughter has remarked, "Church is kinda like a different home." They can easily qualify, quantify and give voice to another type of family, one that links all age and socio-economic groups from infants to seniors -- a difficult group to amass in a large urban city. There is a certain, special comfort in belonging to such an extended family.
My kids can't seem to tolerate each other at home, but they know the church doors are open to every single person. Period. It's not simply a message of acceptance, but one of diversity. The homeless are not judged except when it comes to the last cookie. But even then, "He needs it more than me." They are consistently challenged by the diverse view, both literally and figuratively, at church; one that they are not exposed to even at their public school.
And if I had to choose between them learning about the devil and sin or being filled with hope, why not the latter? "I know everything is going to be alright." The selfish part of me wants to believe that parents are the first and best conveyor of this important message, but I threaten too much. So their sense of undying hope in the world and themselves is the sweet mixture of innocence and their church experience: Dare I say their religion? No, probably not. Religion is too broad, too bantered, too castigated, too used and too important to try and unravel for them. It's simply church -- the building, the people, the activities, the message. This message, at what I believe is a critical time in their spiritual development, turns out to be a pretty positive one.
So, I guess I can parent without the Devil and sin in my back pocket, which is probably good because I certainly don't live with them there. I'll continue to herd them into the minivan every Sunday morning and Thursday evening for a good dose of intellectual inquiry, love, compassion, diversity, tolerance and hope. And I'm sure one day we'll pass, moving in the opposite direction, the Devil and sin.