Monday, March 31, 2008

Theology lessons from the back of the car

Heard from the backseat of my car, as we are pulling up to a friend's house for a playdate: "Mama, you know, sometimes I think my brother is everywhere." This from a kid who not so long ago (also from a backseat) declared that she thinks people made up God, since people say that God is in the sky and we know there is nothing in the sky but clouds, and planets, and stars, and comets.

What could I do but hug and kiss her after we got out of the car? She seems happy for the validation, and if I know her, she has been working on this thought for a while before deciding to voice it today. She talked a bit more about it on the way home, and then at home to JD. She is planning to tell her teachers tomorrow. The last bit is probably because after we mentioned her budding atheism to her teachers at the parent-teacher conference (in the context of asking how and what she is interested in doing during their class religious activities), the teachers encouraged us to encourage her to bring stuff like that up in school so they could start a discussion.*



*Before you ask, no, it's not so they can indoctrinate her. The school is Jewish, but intentionally pluralistic, and they take that seriously. When Monkey asked her teacher early in the year what God was, the teacher told her it was an important question that she couldn't answer for her. The school respects families and family beliefs and practices very much, something that was extremely important to us when deciding to send Monkey there. Inside Kindergarten they have created this inherently respectful atmosphere where kids feel safe and genuinely care for each other. So we trust them to have a classroom discussion of a weighty subject like that that won't put anyone down and can only lead to kids thinking in new and deeper ways. Yes, I am talking about six year olds. Some of them are still five, actually.

17 comments:

janis said...

Children have such wisdom. And, that sounds like an AWESOME school. Hugs to you. Think of you often.

Caro said...

Wow what a great school.

niobe said...

This is so interesting, since, of course, this is exactly the kind of discussion that a public school (or even most non-religious private schools) would almost certainly avoid.

Karen said...

I'm just starting to understand my 8 year old spirituality - it is more complicated than I expected it to be. I challenged him to pray something new one night (not for sweet dreams) just to see what came out - since then it has been a flood of concerns about world hunger, human trafficking (doesn't know the word, but knows it is out there), the war, the war, please God let there be no more war & global warming. I didn't know he was "there" with God, but he is & that's fine.

Tash said...

Lovely child, lovely school. We're still working on death here. We'll leave God for another day, perhaps when she graduates to sharp scissors.

christina(apronstrings) said...

i commend you for letting her discover her beliefs. this scenario would have freaked my dear mother out. we were not allowed to question.
so kudos to you. and could monkey be anymore delicious?

Aurelia said...

Actually, good theology does believe that God is everywhere.
Smart little kid, eh?

Julia said...

Niobe: true, true. But they are teaching tradition and custom. So I figure they might as well tackle the big questions as well. There is too much mindless practice in the world already, IMHO, so if she learns how to do things I would rather she also decided why she would or wouldn't do them.

Karen, that is so interesting. These windows are so very fascinating.

Tash, hm... maybe I should surrender my sharp scissors, since I don't necessarily feel up to defining God myself, at least not every day.

Christina, see... I ask myself that question almost every day. And the next day she does something else to blow my mind. Not that I am bragging or anything...

Aurelia, not sure whether that's necessarily good theology in the sense that theologies that don't believe that are bad. A movement in Judaism called Reconstructionism believes that explicitly, for example. But the trick is that with some marked exceptions, most of Judaism does not concern itself too heavily with questions like that and concentrates instead on good deeds, or Tikkun Olam, i.e. healing the world. Atheism, for example, in the sense of there being nothing on the other side, is also a valid theology within Judaism, and one that does nothing to relieve our Tikkun Olam obligation. Handy that, ha?

c. said...

Sounds like a wonderful school.

As for Monkey, Wow! Wow, again!

Anonymous said...

Wow. (Got here from Julia at hippogriffs.)Your writing is beautiful and thought-provoking.

Your daughter sounds so aware of everything. I love that her school is willing to support that. Some children have the most wonderful insights into the world, when not stifled. You must be an awesome parent.

-Miss Kitti

Lori said...

I think the best teachers are those that are willing to say, "I don't know" or "Hmm... good question, what do you think?" It sounds like Monkey is in a wonderful learning environment. I am praying my boys will find that same kind of spiritual support in their new school (if they get in).

I envy Monkey. I wish I felt like Molly and Joseph are everywhere. Most of the time, it feels like they only exist in my memories. It's not that I don't believe they still exist in some form, I just don't feel it. I can't tell you how much I wish I did.

Beth said...

Sounds like a great school.

And that daughter of yours, she's going to be okay, you know?

I know I've told you this before, that I was five and a half when my baby brother died. I still think of him. My memories of my mother's pregnancy, his birth, and his death are precious to me. I am glad that I was old enough to remember.

Lisa b said...

That sounds like such an amazing school. I really cannot stand how everything is dumbed down for my daughter's class when many of them are bright and could handle deeper or more open ended conversations.

The Town Criers said...

Your daughter is not only brilliant but also quite thoughtful.

Missing said...

this is so fascinating! thanks for sharing!

Ahuva Batya said...

I learn more from your daughter than I learn all day at work. She is amazing, and I am happy that you are letting her explore her budding beliefs. Her school sounds wonderful.

Antigone said...

What an amazing school. I was 6 when I began to pronounce my atheism at Catholic school. The nun's hit me with the ruler. No discussions.