Faith at Home, Part 2: The B-I-B-L-E!

I grew up on the Bible. I was in AWANA for 10 years and could quote large swaths of Scripture at one point in my life. I’ve maintained my super church-nerdy party trick of being able to say all the books of the Bible in order… each testament in just one breath.

But in leaving the evangelical church and finding a new home in a mainline denomination, I realized that we mainliners tend to struggle with biblical literacy. 

And I get it. When I started seminary, my kids were 1, 3, and 5 years old. I had already deconstructed my theology to the point that I no longer believed every word of the Bible was inerrant and I no longer claimed to accept a literal interpretation. My new hermeneutic was that that the Bible is true and is an authority, but not that it was historically factual nor the only authority.

photo of child reading holy bible

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

That presented a problem; I wasn’t sure how to teach about the Bible to my kids, whose brains were not developed enough to consider nuance and abstract concepts like “true but not fact.” I remember in my very first Bible class, full of exasperation, I said, “So what do I tell my kids?!?! How can I teach them these Bible stories as true, if they didn’t historically happen? What do I do?!?!”

And my professor, Dr. Jerry Sumney, gently replied, “You still teach them the stories. They’ll understand more as they get older, but your job isn’t to wait. Teach them Scripture now, and nuance will come later.” 

He was right. Just because I don’t believe that David factually, historically killed Goliath with one small pebble doesn’t mean we can’t learn about facing giants that seem too big to defeat.

I heard it once said (by whom, I can’t remember) that some of these Bible stories are “more-than-true.” They aren’t fairy tales or myths, but they also aren’t historical records of fact. They are more-than-true. They embody the great stories of our faith, our God, and our humanity. 

A few years ago I used Sparkhouse’s Echo the Story with the youth group I was leading, and that’s when I started to wrap my mind around this. These stories that are now in our Bible — and particularly Hebrew Scriptures (what we sometimes call the Old Testament) — were verbally passed down from generation to generation, not recorded for hundreds of years. Imagine a family sitting around a fire: a tired mom and dad from a hard day of labor, kids everywhere, and a loving grandmother who spent each night telling bedtime stories, stories of their people and their God. About giants and towers and a talking snake and a great flood. 

Ever since then, I’ve used adapted prompts from the Echo the Story material every time I approach a text, whether for sermon preparation, personal use, or with my own kids:

What does it teach us about God?
What does it teach us about ourselves, individually?
What does it teach us about humanity?
Why was it important enough to write down? 

In the previous Faith at Home post, I wrote about talking to your kids about congregational worship. But what if we took some of those same ideas and practiced them throughout the week?

When my kids learned to read, we gave them each their own Bible (not story Bible). If they can read chapter books, they can read the Bible! Maybe you could even read together as a family – either out loud in the same room, or follow the same reading plan and have one night set aside each week to talk about what you’ve read (using the questions above as a guide) over dinner. 

That said, the Bible is intimidating. It isn’t a story from start to finish; there are dozens of authors and multiple genres. So where to start?

The Gospels – Mark is the shortest and most action-packed; Luke is my favorite because of his emphasis on women. 

Genesis – Why not start at the beginning? The first 11 chapters or so are particularly interesting and full of well-known stories. 

Look up some other stories you already know and read them straight from Scripture! 1 Samuel 17 tells the story of David and Goliath. The book of Jonah (only 4 chapters) tells the whole story of the great fish. The resurrection of Tabitha/Dorcas is found in Acts 9:32-43. Want to know where to find something? Google it!

Compare the same story in different Gospels. For example, Jesus walking on water is in Matthew 14:22-34, Mark 6:45-53, and John 6:15-21. Compare and contrast how the tellings of the story are different. (For a fun activity, think of a memory in your family, of a vacation or special event. Ask everyone to write the story down without talking about it, then take turns reading them out loud. This helps explain why each author includes different details or might have had a different source about it!)

Reread the Sunday School or sermon Scripture throughout the week. No teacher or pastor can talk about everything in the text, so explore it some more as a family! 

Just for Fun… My favorite story that people have no idea is in the Bible is found in Judges 3:12-30. If you have a kid who loves “bathroom humor,” they’ll love this one…

That last one brings me to a point worth mentioning: The Bible is full of violence and vulgarity. As a parent, I am very intentional with what media my kids consume, and let me tell you, there are things in the Bible that are not G-rated! That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to talk with them about what they’ve read, and read along with them — but don’t use that as a reason to avoid Scripture altogether! As an adult, it can even be interesting to read some of the details that Sunday school material conveniently leaves out! (Read Genesis 9:18-28 and try to remember if you were taught that part of Noah and the ark as a kid…)

We can all experience the love of God through Scripture — about a Teacher who gathered children close, about a Spirit of Comfort who is more powerful than our fears, about how we always have hope.

And those are stories worth hearing, no matter our age. 

 

** My next post will be a list of children’s bibles and translations I recommend. In the meantime, I’ll say that for kids, my favorite translation is the Common English Bible!

Faith at Home, Part 1: Talking about Worship

In this Faith at Home series, I will be sharing some of the ways Jonathan and I have intentionally parented our kids (currently ages 7, 9, and 11) in a way that centers our Christian faith and faith-based values. My philosophy of pastoring and parenting is “That church would be an integral part of the life of the children, and that children would be an integral part of the life of the church.” Each article will focus on one way we strive to embody that philosophy.

Screen Shot 2019-05-15 at 3.49.12 PMI grew up as a pastor’s kid in a family with ritual Sunday dinner: Once everyone washome from church, we would gather at the table with pot roast, potatoes, biscuits, gravy, and all of our stories from the morning to share. I learned life-long lessons around that table, about the flow of worship, about how to handle unexpected things gone wrong while on the platform, about dynamics of church people and church leadership. I learned that I was a participant in church, not a spectator, even from a young age.

While the ritual in our family looks different, we have similar conversations with our own kids, so it is no surprise that they are actively engaged with worship. As a pastor’s family, we discuss openly the ins-and-outs of church life, particularly around the worship service itself. And, when we visit other churches, we do the same thing: we talk about the service and sermon extensively — the things we appreciate… and the things we don’t. (Lest you think we only critique other sermons, my kids are quite quick to tell me if they disagree with something I’ve said!) This also helps the transition out of children’s church into “big church” (more on that in the future!). 

One of the reasons we do this is because, when our kids grow up and leave the house, we want them to be able to visit a church and have the tools to discern whether it is a good fit, based on more than just whether they “liked” it! We would not send our kids out in the world without teaching them how to operate a stove or a washing machine; we would not expect them to ace college statistics without having fourth-grade math to build on. And yet, sometimes that’s what families seem to expect our kids to do with their faith communities: we hope they’ve absorbed what’s important over the years, but we never really check in to see what’s sinking in and how they experience it. Talking about what happens at church on Sunday morning offers our kids a lens to participate in a faith community throughout their lives. 

How do Jonathan and I talk to our kids about church? Here are some practical conversation-starters in our family, that you can use or adapt to integrate into your own family. It’s never too late to start! And though it might seem awkward at first, the more you return to these questions, the more freely the conversation will flow. I’ve also found that, when the kids know they’ll be talking about it later, they engage with the service as it is happening. 

  • Ask open-ended questions about worship. Instead of asking “Did you like it?,” ask “What was one thing that surprised you?” “Was there anything that confused you or you didn’t understand?” “What did you feel when the pastor said _____?” “What did you feel during the special music/anthem?” “What did you learn or hear about God today?” Then — here is the most important part — really listen to their answers! They might surprise you with some of the things they come up with! **
  • Ask them to tell you their Sunday School or Children’s Church Bible story. There is no better way to learn than to teach, so asking them to re-tell you the story they learned is a fantastic way to cement it in their minds… and to open doors to talk about things they might have misheard or misunderstood (like when one of my kids said they needed to get an idol, because the people in their Bible lesson had idols…) .
  • Ask other questions about the morning. These might be the same questions you’d ask after school or other activities:  “What was your favorite song we sang?” “Who did you talk to or play with today?” “What excites you about next week?”
  • Share your own thoughts and experiences! Kids model what we do. Integrating faith into our families is not one-sided; we never have it all figured out and need to share what we learn! Church is a community, where people of all ages are equally important. You might say something like: “You know, when the pastor said ____ I thought/felt/observed that ____.” “I connected with this sermon because ___ has been going on at work recently, and I could see that situation in a different way.” “I disagreed when the pastor said ____” (yes, that’s okay too!). “During communion I wondered about ___.” “I’ve never thought about ____ in that way until this morning.”
  • Connect your own faith story. For example, if you sang a song that you remember from your childhood, share why that song was meaningful for you. If the sermon text was a Scripture that comforted you in a difficult time, tell your kids about that! Do your kids know why your faith matters to you? This is a natural, wonderful way to talk about it.


What other ideas do you have? What are some of the ways your family discusses and decompresses your Sunday morning worship experiences? Share in the comments! 

 

** The thumbnail photo in this post is a notes-taking sheet for worship services I created – it is suitable for kids but not for kids only! I’m happy to email a .pdf of it to you; leave a message here or email me at revsaranavefisher (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll pass it along! 

Finding Junia

JuniaJunia was the first person in the Bible who lied to me. Well, to be fair, it wasn’t really
Junia
 who lied to me; it was the other people who lied to conceal her from me. 

I had been struggling with the issue of women in ministry for years. I come from a background that not only doesn’t ordain women, but doesn’t allow women deacons and elders, which does not allow women to collect offering or teach men older than 12. When I was in elementary school and people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had an answer all prepared: “A pastor’s wife.”

See, I felt the call to ministry at a young age. I mean, very young. I was four. I have a distinct memory of sitting in the pew during a Sunday evening service, listening to a missionary presentation. I thought, “I want to tell people about Jesus!” From that day until this day, I’ve never questioned that I was called into vocational ministry; I just knew.

But the only way available to me was to be a pastor’s wife, and that’s what I did, by marrying an Army chaplain. I checked the boxes and was living the life to which I was called. 

Except, things are rarely that easy, are they? What followed was a life that didn’t line up with what I thought life would be like. I began seeing the cracks in my theology, in a version of Christianity that said to women: We don’t want to say you’re second-class, but

I knew – I KNEW – all of the biblical reasons why women were created to be helpmeets. I could use my apologetics skills to articulate the role of women to support the headship of men better than most men I knew. I would tell you that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were influential in Timothy’s life only because the men in his life slacked on the job (because, clearly, whenever God uses a woman, it’s always Plan B…). I would tell you about the requirement of elders to be The Husband of One Wife and could explain both sides of the debate about whether single men and/or divorced men were excluded.

I had all the answers…

                   …until I didn’t.

Junia first exposed that maybe, just maybe, some of my answers were flawed.
She is an apostle named in Romans 16:7. Let that sink in. Junia, a woman, is an apostle – an esteemed apostle, at that! The more I read, the more disheartened I was. See, a couple hundred years after Romans was written, church leaders decided that this apostle couldn’t have been a woman (at best; at worst, it was a deliberate deceitful choice…)… so they added an s to her name and made her male. For centuries, the Bible was translated hailing Junias – a man.

The first time I read about Junia, I felt like I had been punched in the gut, as though I was a victim of some 2000-year long conspiracy. My well-read Bible had failed me. How could I have been lied to all this time? How could they get away with literally replacing the name of a woman with the name of a man? I started questioning all the proof texts I “knew” about women in ministry. The more I learned, the more I realized that there was not just one “correct” way to look at any text – particularly those which have been used to oppress populations for centuries.

That’s when I knew I needed to follow my calling, not as the “plus one” on my husband’s ministry, but on my own. 

There was more to my decision than just Junia, of course. But when I saw Junia liberated, without that s that made her someone she wasn’t and kept her from being who she was, I knew that I could be who I was as well. 

May 17, the day I write this, is the Feast of St. Junia, a day we commemorate her contributions to Christianity, this esteemed apostle.

On this day, I remember all the other women whose contributions were erased from history because of their gender – or the women who were never allowed to make contributions because men would not let them. Today, I gather in my living room with women from my church, talking about faith and love, about church and community. I celebrate the young woman who is graduating from high school, who stood in my church’s pulpit two days ago and preached. I continue to work toward ordination and fully am who God has called me to be.

I think Junia would be proud.

Thanksgiving, then and now.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was on TV this morning while I swept the living room in anticipation for our guests. There are few things that take me back to my childhood as much as the smell of turkey and the sound of the parade on TV.

I immediately thought of Grandma McCool. I have never met anyone as blessed with the gift of hospitality as Grandma. She welcomed strangers and family alike into her house, usually with a joke and an offer for snacks. It wasn’t uncommon when I was a kid to have people I had never met at our family Thanksgiving, though they always fell into the comfortable routine that was the McCool Thanksgiving.

Grandma had a way of doing that. Her house was always warm and inviting, regardless of the weather outside. And there were a few things we could plan on every Thanksgiving: Aunt Thelma’s noodles; the men congregating in the living room for football, the women congregating around the dining room table feeding the kids; Aunt Elaine’s cheeseball for afternoon snack; and for more food than we could have ever eaten in one meal.

My personal favorite part of Thanksgiving was Christmas Craft Time. Grandma’s love of family and food at Thanksgiving was eclipsed only by her love of Christmas, and that began as soon as the last plate was cleared from Thanksgiving lunch. She would plot all summer, surprising us on Thanksgiving Day with what craft she had planned. Often it required Grandpa to do some prep work, cutting candy cane shapes out of wood or cutting material to fit the frames of whatever project that year had in store. Even when we grandkids were older – nearly adults – we would roll our eyes when Grandma would say, “Craft time!!”… yet, we always found ourselves, gathering around the dining room table, smiling together as we glued and cut and painted.

So this morning, when Jon noticed some Thanksgiving craft supplies I had stocked away for this afternoon for the kids, my voice caught when I said, “Yes, I have lots of crafts ready for them.”

I am turning into Grandma McCool… and today, I’m thankful for that.

Thanksgiving at my house will never be what it was at hers, at least not for a few decades. Aside from the strangers welcomed in, her house was always full of family who loved each other deeply; my house is usually filled with friends who are in our Army family. This year, we’re literally mid-move; the moving truck is parked in our driveway and our house is decorated with empty walls and brown boxes. But the smell of turkey permeates the air, and our house soon will be filled with guests.

My hope is that, in twenty years when my kids think of what Thanksgiving was like in their childhood, they will remember more than turkey, more than the Macy parade, even more than crafts – that they will remember the friends who filled our house. My hope is that they’ll inherit their great-grandma’s hospitality, kindness, and warmth.

Grandma McCool passed away in 2010. Even on the holidays when Jonathan, the kids and I stay where the Army has placed us – not home with our family – her absence is still palpable.

I imagine, if Grandma were a guest in my house today, she would be wearing a turtleneck with an embroidered Thanksgiving sweatshirt over it. When I called to her, she would say, “Just a jiffy!”.. then she and I would “worsh” the dishes together. And after the clean-up was done, she would find her great-grandkids, say, “Craft time!” – and watch them with all her love while they glue and cut and paint.

Ransom was just a baby when she died; Lenora never met her. But they’ll know her, they’ll know all about her… because they’ll know that we celebrate Thanksgiving the way we do, because of Grandma McCool.

White Privilege and Elementary Thanksgiving

Yesterday I was in the car with my kindergartner and my first grader, driving home from school. They were telling me about what they had learned in school about Native Americans, given the quickly-approaching Thanksgiving holiday.

Ransom, my kindergartner, made a passing comment about how there are no Native Americans around today. I said, “Well, that’s not true. There are Native Americans today. Most of the time they wear clothes like the ones we wear. Sometimes on the reservations they do dress in traditional ways.”

This led to a further conversation about reservations, Native Americans, white people, slavery, and the early days of our country. We talked about how we, as a country, have not always treated people nicely and made good decisions. We talked about how white people made Native Americans leave their land and claimed it as their own.

We pulled into the driveway, and as he was getting out of the car, Ransom said, “I sure am glad I’m… (pause)… not one of those guys… I’m glad I’m not a Native American. Or a slave.”

    He’s glad he’s white. Those are the words he was looking for and couldn’t find.

At first, it caught me off guard. This is the LAST thing I want my kids to think – that, somehow, being white is preferred over being a person of color.

And yet, the truth of that statement struck me as profound. He’s glad he’s white, because – at five years old – he recognizes the position of privilege he has and did nothing to earn.

And when we start to recognize the privilege that we have because of the color of our skin, we acknowledge the ramifications of that privilege on others.

 

We recognize that, when we don’t get pulled over because of the car we drive and the color of our skin, someone else is getting pulled over, because of the car they drive and the color of their skin.

We recognize that, though life isn’t necessarily easy, though there are always obstacles, there are more obstacles in the path of a person of color.

We recognize that we have an inherent trust in police officers and the government based on our experiences, but many people of color do not share those experiences.

We recognize that the system works for us, but the system doesn’t work for everyone.

 

I’m thankful that my five-year-old is glad he’s white, because that gives me hope that, as he gets older, he’ll continue to recognize his privilege and be an advocate, both by using his voice and – even more so – by listening to those with experiences different from his. Pretending every person has the same access to resources and opportunities accomplishes nothing but intensify the access of the privileged. If we continue to do this, today’s 5-year-olds of color will grow up in a world no more welcoming and equal than the world of their parents and grandparents.