This week’s #2021WritingChallenge is the word order.
My eleven-year-old is reading Bruxy Cavey’s End of Religion right now. It’s a treatise on the toxicity of religion and how it is antithetical to everything Jesus was about. For those unversed in the ways of Bruxy (or unfamiliar with the actual portrayal of Jesus in the Bible), this may come off as antithetical or counterintuitive even – “Heh? Didn’t Jesus come to start a religion? Why would he be opposed to it?” But actually, it’s not. In fact, Bruxy demonstrates over and over again how the gospel stories are really about how this good faithful Jew is envisioning a way forward that transcends his own Jewish heritage and that of the Roman society he was born into.
The book is full of concepts that can really help shape a person’s bruised and battered worldview. I first read it about 10-12 years ago in the midst of some serious soul-digging when much of the Christian worldview I grew up with had begun to collapse already. At the time, End of Religion was a lifesaver on a rope, thrown out to rescue me and proclaim, “Hey! Maybe you had a lot of this wrong all along… but here’s some hope you can cling to. Now grab on and let’s tow you in.” I’ve been re-reading the book as it has been updated and revised and although I still very much enjoy its contents, I have to admit the book is hitting me differently this time.
And this is where order comes in. Because the actual contents of this book isn’t really what I want to focus in on here but rather how these thoughts came at me at a particular junction in my life and whether or not I need to pay attention to that when my kid picks this book up. See, we discuss order in terms of structuring our days and figuring out programs to make life more efficient and so forth. That’s important. I wonder, though, if there isn’t an order that should be observed in light of the concepts that shape and mold us – that contribute to our own worldviews, outlooks, understanding of reality. I’m wondering if we should be more mindful of encountering ideas at particular stages of life, else they have adverse effects in the long run.
Cameron’s 11. All things considered, life has been fairly easy. From a ideological standpoint, there hasn’t been a lot of wrestling. Perhaps because his life to this point has worked out nicely: he’s got a stable home, comforts, lots of love all around him, etc. Although he’s very bright for his age, I’m not sure he’s really had to wrestle deeply with the questions of life we all encounter typically as we get a bit older: Who am I? What’s the point of it all? Who is God, really? and so forth. Until now, he’s more or less just embraced the worldview of his parents. I admit that compared to many peers his age, he’s more of a thinker and does enjoy conversations of substance but, again, relatively speaking, life has fortunately not demanded any sort of existential crisis.
When I was Cam’s age I was reading R.L. Stine’s Fear Street, busy with the joys and concerns that life affords a pre-teen. My foray and interest in spiritual things didn’t really awaken until 15-16 years of age. And I didn’t really start questioning the system and the assumptions I had formed until my early 20s. Books like Bruxy’s came on to my radar at pivotal moments in my journey, providing a perspective needed to process a lot of this. But my point is, a lot of the need for processing in the first place was borne out of intellectual dissonance with my own experience of reality. So what happens if there’s no toil beforehand? Is it necessary? How does it work on us to embrace ideas that resonate without the initial wrestle that leads to the brink?
Put another way, had I encountered such, to me, tide-turning ideas at an early age, where would I be today with my outlook on life? Should there not have been an order in which these ideas came and sat with me for a while before I was ready to move on?
And should that order not be: embrace the worldview of your parents ➡ experience life ➡ read books about elves and orcs ➡ experience a bit more life ➡ reflect on disconnect between the worldview handed you and your experience of reality (i.e. requisite existential crisis) ➡ ENCOUNTER tide-turning ideas presented in books that challenge our assumed worldview ➡ embrace a new way of living ➡ live happily ever after.
Okay, maybe a smidge hyperbolic. Or maybe this is just a simplistic reflection of my own journey so far.
But this is what I’m wondering with Cam. I won’t call it a “concern” but more a curiosity. How will experiencing a different order to receiving these ideas shape his own worldview? Will he become complacent in thinking because “it” already works? Or will he become jaded because he jumped the line and started well ahead of what his own life experience warrants? It’s going to be interesting to see one way or the other.
I do know that wisdom and character are formed best through the fire of struggle. Struggling through the big questions of life is a key part of the human experience and our formation as individuals. Handing someone a nice clean set of ideas to own without them having to go through the work needed to arrive there on their own seems like a form of spoiling. We all know the parents who give their children whatever they want, creating an entitled kid, unable to find satisfaction in life because they’ve never had to struggle to earn it.
I don’t want to spoil my children with a polished worldview they didn’t have to work for but the truth is, what else can we do? Intentionally instill in my kids an incomplete and off-the-mark worldview now and then slowly leave a bread crumb trail of books and ideas until they make it home over the next 20 years? That seems psychologically troubling at best and downright abusive at worst.
The reality is, feeling inauthentic has at times paralyzed us as parents in dealing with harder questions with our kids. Sometimes faith discussions are navigated in such a way as to avoid tackling head on because of an uncertainty on how our own thoughts on a topic (e.g. heaven/hell, origins, the Bible itself, etc.) might adversely impact our kids’ own development and outlook. Parenting out of fear is not the best parenting approach, I know. I’m just being vulnerable here.
I know that at the end of the day, Cam—and his siblings for that matter—will probably wrestle regardless of the order they receive knowledge along the way. And granted the polished worldview we pass down needs a whole lot of work after all. It is a naive assumption that what we’ve arrived at after years of wrestling is “it.” Won’t our children just take our ideas and use them as a springboard for their own growth and change and understanding of the world? Really, this is the way we all work. We take on the worldview handed to us from our parents and then let its edges and inconsistencies work on us over time ‘til we’re able to form our own.
Well, this has been an interesting thought experiment but as I reflect on this I think maybe the order of receiving information may not be isn’t as critical as fostering an inquisitive nature and desire for figuring how where he fits into this whole Grand Narrative. Yeah, let’s go with that.