Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Teach Your Children Well

Coincidence of events that seem to be meaningfully related, conceived
in Jungian theory as an explanatory principle on the same order as
I used to complain that God never talked to me.  Well, no more.  Sometimes God practically shouts at me.  This is what happened through the day yesterday and up until about 4 o'clock this morning.  This article came to me then (when I would really have rather been sleeping).  Later this morning, as I thought about it, I thought it really should be two articles.  But, this is the way this lesson was given to me. So, this is how I'm going to give it to you.

The lesson really started on Sunday (I write this on Wednesday morning).  Much to my surprise something from the sermon really leapt out at me.  It was concerning a definition of sin.  The definition is "anything that obscures the grace of God.".  My immediate thought was "What a sin the teaching of eternal conscious torment is".  But, Dave went on to give a couple of examples I thought were excellent.  He said sin is that attitude that keeps us from thinking we need grace or forgiveness.  But, on the other end of the spectrum, sin is the attitude that won't allow us to accept God's grace because we are "unworthy".  
Yesterday, two parallel events happened.  On one of my message boards someone asked the question "Why are you people who believe in Universalism still scared shitless of going to hell?"  This is a valid question. In fact, it's an excellent question.  We were in the process of discussing a book (that's really not about hell) and he just couldn't understand why we would waste our time on that particular book.  This kicked off a lively and telling discussion. On one side, we had two people who had never feared hell.  One was raised Catholic and thought others were going to hell.  But, he never feared it at all for himself. He had his rituals that made him right with God (Confession, Communion, etc.)   On the other hand he pointed out, even if you're Protestant, it's even easier to avoid hell.  Just pray the "Sinner's Prayer".  Bingo.  You're in once and for all.

The event that happened in parallel with that discussion, was I was listening to a podcast about the Spirituality of Parenting on Speaking of Faith (a Podcast I highly recommend you subscribe to).  That discussion was with a Rabbi (Sandy Sasso)  who was talking about how and why we should nurture our children's spirituality as well as teach them how to read and write and compete and be good little consumers.  I actually wasn't going to listen to the Podcast because I am so far behind on my Podcasts and I thought I had this one pretty much nailed down.  But, something told me to listen to it anyway (as I was deleting a bunch of others)

Back to the discussion on the message board.  What it came down to for me was that I was taught (no brainwashed) at an early age some absolutes to me that were unquestionable. These were:

  • I was bad. 
  • My heart
    was evil and deceptive. 
  • I was covered in the Blood of the Lamb (I'm a very visual person so this image was always a ghastly one for me). 
  • Only because I was smeared in this blood could God even bear to look upon me because this blood covered my sins and my inherent evilness).
  • Only because Jesus had protected me from God would God even think of allowing me into His presence.

All of these messages came through loud and clear to me.  There was some "good news" though.  For some reason the good news didn't seem to come through as clearly.  If I asked sincerely enough and lived a good enough life to show I had been sincere in my asking, I could be saved from God's wrath. Notice the subtle difference from salvation by works.  I was still saved by grace.  But, this life of doing right would be evidence I had been sincere and had truly accepted the grace.  Actually, there were a couple of versions of this.  Some believed that I was accepted in.  But, the acceptance was conditional based on living a life without "backsliding".  I had to do the right things and, more importantly, avoid doing the wrong things.   I had to make sure I "repented" of any sins.  That meant not only confessing but stopping the sinning (any habitual sins were a sure sign of backsliding and led to doom).  The second camp seemed to have better news.  "Once saved, always saved".  Your "salvation" could not be taken away or lost.  Just say the right words (with sincerity) and you were sealed for good.  But, even these guys had a loophole I could slip through right into the pit of Hell.  Once saved, backsliding was a sign that I had not really been saved (kind of like a Catholic annulment- you were never really married).  The only true evidence of being saved was speaking in tongues (which I managed to do- once) and living a life without backsliding. So, I lived my whole life hoping I would die before I could backslide and expose the fact I had never really been saved.  I knew how black and dark my heart was.  I knew, deep inside, that I really didn't love God and that He didn't really love me.  He loved Jesus and Jesus had covered me up. I feared God.  Don't get me wrong. I wanted to love Him.  I wanted to badly.  I cried at night because I wanted to so much.  But, how could I love someone who was willing and able to throw me into Eternal Darkness simply for being who He made me to be?  I couldn't as much as I tried to force myself.

One of the things about our discussion yesterday that was so revealing is that there were others on the board who shared my experience (and in some cases even worse).  One woman had an abusive father who made it quite easy for her to relate to this type of God that Tami described so well:

Yes, and that's why I believe Debra, that kids...especially teens from abusive situations
are sucked in. They recognize the kind of parent that's being described in God. Angry, wrathful, but willing to give grace if you behave properly. And all wrapped up in the the shiny lace and bows of unconditional love. Sad.
This all brought back to mind something my counselor had said to me.  I asked her why after so many years of trying to convince myself that God loved me from reading it in books and listening to tapes and whatever, I still couldn't believe it.  She told me that as children images like this strike us at an emotional level. To counteract these images, we have to be reached at an emotional level.  The way I picture it is this, I have stuffed all this head knowledge into my head about God loving me. Theologically and intellectually I can convince myself of it. But, it's stuck in my brain.  To truly feel it, I need for it to move from my head down into my heart.  This is a long slow journey with many false, starts, leaps forward and occasionally stumbling backward.  Early this morning, as I laid in bed trying to get back to sleep, I thought about how broken I still am. But, the thought came to my mind "I'm not broken by sin.".  Then, Dave's definition came to my mind and I realized I am still broken by sin.  The sin that I can't really accept God's grace because I'm just not worthy.  This doesn't mean I'm not in recovery.  I am.  But, it's still a process of recovery.  I'm not completely healed yet.

Back to the second event.  As I was listening to the Podcast yesterday, it was reinforcing what I had already known.  It's very important for me to give my children a great spiritual foundation. Without stifling them and without trying to give them all my "answers", I have to give them the tools they'll need to explore the world of spirituality and religion.  The rabbi gave some great advice on how to do this (which I won't even try to duplicate here). If you have chlidren, please listen to the Podcast Spirituality of Parenting.

This morning around 3:30 my six year old woke up from a bad dream.  When she has one she just wants one of us to come into her room (she's scared to get out of bed) and comfort her for a minute.
She doesn't want to discuss the dream.  That would give power to it.  She just wants the assurance that
everything's OK and then she falls right back to sleep. Normally she calls for her mother.  If my wife
doesn't hear her, she'll resort to calling for me and after a few calls, I'll finally wake up.  I'm a very
sound sleeper and rarely hear her call until she calls out "Daddy" instead of "Mommy". This morning though, I did hear her call Mommy and I got up with her.

As I went back to bed, I could not get to sleep.  Suddenly, the events from the last three days aligned in my head.  I don't know if this has ever happened to you.  But, it's common with me and I've heard there are scientific studies that back it up. When we sleep things get rearranged in our heads and things
we've taken in during the day are processed so that they make sense. This is why the phrase "sleeping on it" is really more insightful than many of us realize.  Suddenly all the events lined up in perfect order and this song from Crosy, Stills, Nash & Young popped into my head:
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,

And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you
would cry, So just look at them and sigh and know they love

And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

Teach your parents well,
Their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked,  the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

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