I know I’m just an iniquitous heathen doomed to be consigned to
eternal hellfire and all, but this advice strikes me as part of the
reason so many young people are falling away from USian Christianity:
It reeks of privilege and cynicism to suggest that the average
Christian can, and should—after spending the first sixteen (or however
many) years of your kid’s lifenot living a life that suggests
“how Christians live” is by making radical sacrifices—pick up and take
off to work for a summer in Bolivia.(And why Bolivia, and not Detroit? I think we all know the answer to that, and it isn’t very Christian, ahem.)The entire concept of doing something “radical” in order to
get your kids excited about their faith is so contrived; I’ve no doubt
that seeing one’s parents be radically generous because altruism is a
centerpiece of their faith can be inspiring to kids being raised in
religious households, but not when their parents are putting on a show
just to convince their kids to be god-believers.
Call me kooky, but I don’t think eternal principles are meant to
be conveyed with the same transparent impetuousness as getting dragged
to a museum after Mom gets a bug up her ass that we all need more
culture in this house, dammit!
and consumer show-off Religion Lite, and how totally useless it is both
as religion and as its closest cousin, therapy, but getting into who’s
a Real Person of Faith has its own pitfalls. Better building houses in
Bolivia than buying Purpose-Driven Life tchotchkes, I guess, and really
whatever keeps you out of trouble is okay with me.
But the idea that you’re going to flail around desperately
trying to prove your faith to your children all of a sudden, with some
grand glorious major gesture, I mean, I dunno, are kids that stupid? My parents’ passions in life have changed over the years, but there are some constants, through all of them, it’s not like suddenly Mom came home one day and declared this Shakespeare fellow really had something going on. (She likes the comedies, whereas my taste tends toward the bloody histories. How I love the Henries.)
Faith, though, that’s where it’s hard to say what’s radical. Taking a summer vacation and going to Bolivia? I guess that is radical. Is it more radical than, say, getting up every day and caring for an ailing relative? Is it more radical than spending six months, a year sitting around a table every week with other members of one’s parish trying to figure out how to keep the doors open? Is it more radical than the simple act of praying over dinner every night, hell or high water, such that it becomes a touchstone and a grounding moment in your children’s lives?
Is it more radical to make a grand gesture or to be there, in the day to day? I can tell you which way I come down, and it’s the same thing that makes me hate, hate, hate romantic comedies: The grand gesture, the stereotypically radical act, that’s easy. It was all over for Jesus in three days, so don’t talk to me about the cross. It’s easy to stand up when the fanfare’s sounding and the banners are blowing in the wind on the castle walls. It’s easy to be the center of attention, to be the Hero in the story being told. Hold the boombox over your head in the early morning light, look at me, showing you and the world how much I love you. How big my feelings are. Look at me.
So much harder, so very much harder, to just get up every day and try to be decent. So much less immediately rewarding. So grinding and slow, and it takes years for anybody to even NOTICE what you’re doing. A million little things are just a million little things, one by one, day by day: Baking cookies, shaking people’s hands, being unfailingly kind in a world that rewards bitchery and self-indulgence. A million little things don’t look like anything, except from above. Then they form a pattern, they tell a story, from end to end, and it’s the story of a radical life.
That’s a harder lesson to teach than throwing all your stuff overboard and building houses in Bolivia, but it’s the kind of lesson in faith that lasts.