"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Culture Quest

I've written about our lack of religion before. It's come up over the years...the "Who's that guy?" as my 10-year old pointed to a painting of Jesus is among my favorites...but there have been other instances in which our unChristianity has been a topic of conversation around our dinner table. It's never been a source of confusion or negativity for my kids, though. Some of our friends go to church or pray, but we don't. Simple as that.

A few weeks ago, Evan referenced Noah's Ark in a casual conversation about the state of the world over lunch. Molly wasn't sure what he was talking about, so he and Max filled her in: "It's when Noah made a giant boat to save all the animals when God sent the flood to punish everyone," Evan started.

"There were two of each animal so they could reproduce and repopulate the Earth when the flood dried up," Max said.

"And it REALLY happened?!" Molly asked, alarmed.

The boys laughed. "Of course not," Max said. "That's impossible."

"It's just a story that people tell their kids so they'll be good and God won't have to punish them with another flood," Evan said before adding, "but everyone knows that all the floods and fires lately are due to global warming," a bit smugly.

"Don't laugh at it, though," I cautioned. "It's true that a lot of people read parts of the Bible as allegory, or 'just a story.' But some people believe in the Bible as the literal truth. It's not for us to laugh at, even if we think it's impossible. We can just choose to believe in it...or not."

"Do we believe in it?" Molly asked.

"I don't," I answered, "and that's why I'm not Christian."

"Am I?"

"That's for you to figure out."

"I'm not!" said Evan, emphatically.

"Me neither," said Max.

Molly plunked her grilled cheese down on her plate. "Well, I don't know what I am!" she lamented.

"You don't have to know now," I assured her. "Or ever! It's completely up to you."

"I think I'm Buddhist," Max said. "Is that what you are, Mommy?"

"I think there's a lot to admire about how Buddhists live their lives. I think their belief system is fascinating and I do believe in an after-life similar to reincarnation where your life energy remains constant. But no, I'm not Buddhist."

"Oh," he puzzled. "Never mind. Me neither."

Molly returned to her grilled cheese, content with not being forced to answer the question no one had asked her, and Evan sat comfortably in his belief that science and reason are the ways of the universe.

"So, if you're not a Buddhist and you're not a Christian," Max continued, "then what ARE you?"

"I'm nothing. Not part of an organized religion, anyway. You know that I was raised Catholic, which is a Christian religion. I stopped receiving Communion when I was 16 though, because that's when I realized that I didn't believe a lot of what the Catholic priests were teaching us. I started to really wonder what I believed in when I was in college, so I took a bunch of religion classes. I also read a lot of books about religion. I found a lot that I liked but a lot that I didn't. In the end, I decided that I didn't need a religion in order to be a good person."

He wasn't satisfied: "But what do you believe in? WHAT are you?!" He's a label guy, after all.

"Buddy, Compassion is my religion and the Golden Rule is my way of life. If you consider every decision through the lens of kindness and compassion, and if you always treat others as you would want them to treat you, then you'll always make the right choice."

"Compassion?! But that's not like a religion or a belief. THAT'S NOT CULTURE! That's just like....living. We need to find our culture, Mom! We need to go to the library."

So, we went.

He checked out a bunch of the religion books our library had in the kids' non-fiction section...


...and a book about traditional foods from around the world for good measure.

The next night, I was tucking him into bed when I saw the World Religions book on his bedside table.

"Have you started reading this one?" I probed.

"Yeah, a little."

"What do you think? Is it interesting? Are you learning a lot?"

"Yeah..."

"Have you, ya know, picked a new culture yet?" I teased, poking him in the ribs.

He rolled his eyes and answered, "Ugh. Mom, no. It's like, I can't just like pick one. None of them feel like me yet."

"Well, you don't have to decide right now. You also don't need to just 'pick one.' You could do what we do and create your own culture based on family traditions."

"Our culture?" he began, with more than a hint of sass. Then he sighed dramatically as he continued, "If by 'our culture' you mean store-bought cinnamon rolls on Christmas and Easter, then I think we could do better."

Oh, man. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. It's true, we pop a can of Annie's on those "special event" mornings, but they're fresh(ish)ly baked, right? Clearly, he's been holding on to that dig for awhile.

He went on: "Like, where are our parties? Our festivals?!"
"We have a huge family! Every get together is practically a festival!" I countered.
"But it's not like we have special traditional costumes. We don't EVEN have A DANCE!"

So, I did what any good mom of the Fortnite generation would do and, with a hearty, "Oh, yeah? Well what do you call THIS?" I started flossing. Expertly.

He was not amused. I handed him his book, kissed him good night, and wished him luck on his Culture Quest.

It's been about a week and, in the meantime, he's moved on to other summer priorities besides "choosing a culture." He's still reading the books though, so I'll be interested to hear if anything he reads jumps out at him. A friend of mine asked me if I'd take him to Church, if he expressed an interest. The answer is yes. I don't think that's where we're headed...he seems adamant in his belief that Jesus was a teacher, not a savior, but if I'm going to claim to be open-minded, I'll need to practice what I preach.

Lesson Learned:

From what he's saying, it sounds like Max is more interested in choosing new customs rather than beliefs in this Culture Quest.

He's looking for good food, fabulous outfits, and lively dances. In a word, he just wants a party. I don't think he's having a spirituality crisis, he wishes we had a more interesting cultural family background than the generic Anglo-Irish, suburban American thing we have going on. On that count, I couldn't agree with him more. Time to start joining in the local cultural celebrations, I suppose, so we can learn about and enjoy the diverse foods and entertainment that our neighbors have to offer. I think this kid may be my future world traveler. Hope he takes me with him...