When Your Child’s Christian Homework Freaks You Out

This will be one of my more lighthearted posts. And I know I’m flirting with the blurring of the lines between this blog and my “mom” blog (which, seriously, I haven’t written on in a year). But my kid’s Christian homework yesterday kind of disturbed me. Kind of.

My daughter attends a small Lutheran school in our community. We chose this school because Lutheran education has a reputation for academic excellence and I wanted my child to have a Christian education rooted in grace. We love this school, and our daughter loves it even more. She’ll be attending this school for as long as we can help it.

Yesterday they did a unit on the story of Abraham and Isaac. You know the one — God tells dad to kill his son, but then says “SIKE!” and provides an animal for sacrifice instead. The kids brought home a “story wheel” that they had to illustrate. When my daughter illustrated the near-sacrifice of Isaac, this is what she drew:

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Now go back and look at Abraham.

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Now look at him again.

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Am I the only one who finds this hilariously disturbing? Or disturbingly hilarious?

Abraham has fangs. He has fangs and a maniacal look on his face. By contrast, Isaac is clearly sad — or perhaps already dead. This is creepy. And funny. But creepy. But funny.

I had enough questions that I decided to make sure she understood the story. I asked her how she thought Abraham must have felt at the time. I asked if Isaac was dead in the picture (thankfully, he wasn’t). Basically, I tried to make sure we didn’t need to speak to a therapist in the foreseeable future.

And I totally acknowledge that I have a tendency to  think and over-think all things Bible (because Presbyterians), but it made me wonder, is this an appropriate story for kids?

I know we read it to our kids. I know we teach the story in Sunday school. But is it too heavy for them? Is this story potentially damaging to a young psyche? What if a child starts to wonder if their dad or mom would try to kill them  one day — because God might tell them to!

Or are they just happy that Isaac didn’t die? Maybe they focus on the salvation instead of the macabre.

For me, this was a sobering reminder that the Bible isn’t entirely G-rated, but I also never thought it needed to be. I’m perfectly fine with the messiness of the Bible, and I’ve often resisted attempts to sanitize it. That is, I’ve resisted those attempts for adults. I’m not at all prepared for the Bible’s messiness when it comes to my daughter’s first-grade class. I totally want it to be G-rated in this case!

Maybe I should calm down. Maybe I’m projecting. Maybe I should be glad they’re not doing a unit on Judges 19.

When it comes to kids and the Bible, do you think there are some stories we should stop telling? How do you deal with the “messiness” of the Bible when it comes to children’s education? Are we parents too sensitive about these things? Does my kid think Abraham is a monster, hence the fangs?

black-ish: First Thoughts

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I’m one of the younger members of our Presbytery’s Black Presbyterian Caucus, and as such I often get volunteered for things. I don’t mind at all because the work is exciting and important. I say that to share the latest thing for which I’ve been volunteered: a panel discussion on Touré’s book, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now.  In the book, Touré sets out to take a comprehensive look at what it means to be Black in the 21st century and suggests that, as Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. would put it, “if there are 40 million black Americans, then there are 40 million ways to be black.” I certainly agree.

And I think it’s wonderful happenstance that I was volunteered for this discussion at the same time ABC would premiere its newest sitcom black-ish, which examines the very same themes. In the pilot episode, we have a successful professional who’s trying to reconcile his own idea of blackness with those of his family members — and does so clumsily. I tuned in last night to see how the show would treat the subject and perhaps if it could add anything to our book discussion next month. Here are a few of my immediate thoughts:

    • I thought the show was witty, and I get that the stereotypes/hyperbole had to be “in-your-face” for our first introduction to the Johnson family. However, I hope that tones down in future episodes — or gets smarter.
    • When Andre was essentially made the “black representative” for his co-workers and company, it felt painfully familiar. How many of us have been asked how the Black (or Asian, or Hispanic, or gay, or whatever) community feels about XYZ?

    • The Obama discussion made me realize that my own child has only ever known a black President. Living in a predominantly black neighborhood and having so much exposure to black people of all walks of life, she will likely grow up with the notion that blackness is normative. This was totally not my experience at her age.
    • Speaking of Obama, Andre strutting through his office and greeting the other black folks who worked there totally reminded me of the day after the President’s election.
    • “Andy’s” desire to have a bar mitzvah and change his name reminded me of the time my nephew started telling everyone he was Jewish. When you’re five years old, it’s hard to argue against the merits of getting presents for eight days during Hanukkah.
    • And Andy’s journey reminds all of us that young black people will have to determine for themselves what blackness means to them. Forty million ways…

Overall, I thought it was a good start to the series and I’m hopeful about its development. That a sitcom would unabashedly tackle the issue of race, culture, and changing norms is compelling. Courage and finesse will be required to do it well.

And with that, let me invite you in the DC area (and those who care to travel) to a book discussion!

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Who’s Afraid of Post Blackness?: What it Means to Be Black Now

October 18 –10am to 1pm
Sargent Memorial Presbyterian Church
5109 Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue. N. E.
Washington, DC 20019 ~ 202-396-1710
Speaker—Dr. Gayraud Wilmore
Presenters also are-Rev. Lakesha Bradshaw & Ms. Denise Anderson
RSVP to Rev. Dr. Elenora Giddings Ivory.

In Defense of Using Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah 29:11 has been stalking me. It is the theme scripture for a women’s prayer brunch at which I’ll be preaching later this fall. Jeremiah 29:4-14 was the focus passage for this year’s NEXT Church gathering in Minneapolis. My friend, the Reverend Casey Wait Fitzgerald at Faith and Wonder, who is a gifted biblical storyteller, produced a video for the conference in which she enlisted a slew of folks to tell the story of that passage. Guess which verse Yours Truly was given to recite. Actually, go ahead and look for yourself:

It’s a favorite and heavily-quoted passage of scripture, but not everyone is happy about how popular it is.

Many have rightfully and cogently encouraged readers of the Bible to consider the context of this passage before quoting it all willy nilly. In an article published in Relevant Magazine. Thomas Turner of International Justice Mission reminds us that the passage must be understood in the context of community. In other words, God isn’t speaking about the journey of an individual, but of an entire community. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that pesky 70 years detail mentioned in verse 10. Things might turn out alright, but it would be seven decades before that happened.

The use of Jeremiah 29:11 has even been criticized in internet memes. A few of my favorites:

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Listen, I get it. As someone who highly values sound biblical exegesis, I totally understand that, for many serious students of the Bible, hearing Jeremiah 29:11 quoted to speak to everything from a job loss to an unexpected illness is like the sound of nails on a chalkboard. I honor the call to contextualization. As a student of Dr. Cain Hope Felder, I’ll be the first to tell you that “Text without context is pretext.” But I’m also not convinced that this passage can’t faithfully be used to encourage someone through a personal (or communal) rough patch.

People who read the Bible for answers, comfort, or reassurance often read it with the intent of seeing into the heart and character of God. What is God like? What would God care about? Would a loving God be concerned about what I’m going through? What situations in the Bible would suggest that God cares?

Reading Jeremiah 29:11 in its context gives you insight not just into the setting of the passage, but into the character of the God who is speaking. It is our tendency to judge future behavior by past behavior. Even as the community in the text was in exile, and even as they would remain in exile for a long time, and even as this exile was largely their own fault, God’s intentions toward them were still for good. Perhaps what this suggests to the casual or careful reader is that if God’s ultimate plans in that difficulty were for good, then maybe God’s ultimate plans their own difficulties and uncomfortable places are for the same. If this is the same God we’re talking about, hopefully that same propensity toward restoration is present.

If reading Jeremiah 29:11 helps strengthen you in the face of a recent cancer diagnosis, or it helps you hold onto hope as you face foreclosure, then perhaps that’s not the time for me to regurgitate what I learned in Hebrew Bible classes. Perhaps the text is already working as it should. If given the choice between being pastoral and being pedantic in these cases, guess which one I’m going to choose.

Brothers, Are You With Us?

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You wouldn’t know it from this blog, but I’m a huge football fan. I’m one of those who get the shakes right after the Superbowl because of withdrawal. I was angry when they moved the Probowl because it meant the Superbowl really was the “end”  of the season (and it no longer fell on my birthday weekend). The preseason for me is like that first swig of wine you take after a long day at work. All of that excitement has been muted this season.

I haven’t been able to reconcile my love of the game with the message the NFL has sent to women in its two-game suspension of Ray Rice, after it came to light that he knocked his then-fiance unconscious. Yesterday new video of the incident from inside the elevator surfaced, and confronted with the brutality of it, the Ravens have cut Rice and the NFL has suspended him indefinitely.

From the beginning, many of us decried the two game suspension as a slap on the wrist, especially compared with longer suspensions that have been handed down for everything from substance abuse, DUIs, and dog fighting. Knocking a woman unconscious apparently isn’t as egregious an offense. I hope you hear my sarcasm.

Coupled with that paltry penalty had been the re-victimization of Rice’s now wife. Many male friends and colleagues (and, to a lesser extent, female ones) were asking what she could have possibly done to have provoked her own abuse. Speculation abounded as to what happened before, even though we had Rice’s own confession of what happened, as well as the video from outside the elevator showing him carrying her unconscious body. Even that wasn’t enough for a unilateral rebuke of what he did or a tougher sanction from his employer. We had to ask what she said to “make” him do it. We had to ask why she stayed. We had to make her guilty, too.

I’m tired of fighting this fight. I’m tired of explaining why victims shouldn’t be victimized. I’m tired of explaining why it isn’t their fault. I’m tired of having to rationalize why a young black teen shouldn’t have to pay with his life for walking in the middle of a street. I’m tired of having to explain why it’s not okay for a group of boys to sexually assault an inebriated teen girl at a party (and to document the whole thing on social media). I’m tired of having to explain that under no circumstances is it ever okay to knock your  loved one unconscious.

Brothers, what is it going to take for you to be on our side?

What is it going to take for you to understand how frustrating it is for us to have to relive these stories of women in the overbearing shadows of their abusers time and time again? Where is the widespread outcry among the fraternal organizations on issues of domestic violence? When will you educate others on the 40-years-worth of research we’ve had on battered person syndrome instead of using this woman’s allegiance to this man as an excuse for his violence toward her? When will I see male support of these issues the way I see the sisters rally around the families and communities of young black men who are killed simply for being young black men?

Christian brothers, when will you start challenging the Bible’s assertion that you are to have dominion over my body — that it is yours? When are you going to be sensitized to the patriarchal Sitz im Leben from which these texts came and hold them to the light of spiritual revelation and good ol’ common sense? I know you can do it, because you’ve done it when the Bible seemed to condone slavery. When is that same scrutiny going to apply to us?

Brothers, are you with us? Because right now, it sure doesn’t feel like it.