I’m not one to ask for directions very easily, but I do rely heavily on maps. I like to figure out my own way of getting places, and don’t really like admitting when I’m lost. Every once in awhile, though, the road maps have their limitations and the only thing we can do is turn to someone who has prior knowledge of the area to point the way. One way or another, I find some wisdom to help find my destination.
When it comes to parenting right now, it feels like we have neither road-maps nor wise advisors. So much is changing so quickly in our world that there really aren’t any more experienced parents who’ve dealt with many of the issues we’re dealing with. I was a farm girl raised without a television, and now I’m raising city kids in an era in which they have more Facebook friends than were resident in my small town. When I was in high school, to do a computer exercise, you filled out a stack of cards with pencil marks in little circles. (Yes, I really am that old.) The output came in the form of a mile-long paper printout that took 30 minutes to print. Now my kids can take pictures with a computer they hold on their laps and put together elaborate videos and post them for all the world to see. When I was growing up on the farm, we had one phone in the house and we were on a party line. If a neighbour was on the phone, we had to wait our turn. Now my kids can not only send text messages instantly to their friends from the car, the mall, or wherever they are, but they can take pictures of themselves and share those in an instant.
When it comes to areas of faith, it’s not much different. One might say “well, just go to the ancient texts (ie. the Bible, for those of us who are Christian) – they are timeless road maps for all of life, including parenting.” But the problem with that is that the way of interpreting the Bible that my parents used isn’t entirely relevant for me anymore either.
This weekend, I heard Phyllis Tickle talk about The Great Emergence. She believes that every 500 years or so, culture goes through a huge shift, where very little that we believed in the past is relevant anymore. It starts with a shift in science, and with that comes a shift in the way that we approach faith. The last shift was the Reformation, nearly 500 years ago. First it was a discovery that the world was not flat, and then came a realization that if the world is not flat, then heaven and hell cannot be as clearly delineated as “above” and “below”. And if the world is not flat, then perhaps there are other things scientists have not been telling us. Perhaps that means there are things that our spiritual leaders have not been telling us either, so maybe it’s time to educate ourselves in scripture rather than rely on the church’s interpretation. That led to massive growth in the numbers of people who were learning to read, primarily because Luther and his cohorts introduced the idea of turning to scripture as the authority rather than the church. (I realize I’m talking primarily about Christianity, but Tickle suggests that these 500 year shifts are also apparent in Judaism and Islam and perhaps other faiths as well.) Hence the Protestant church was born.
Now, 500 years later, we have been faced with another significant shift in the scientific “truths” that we accept. Things like the theory of relativity, quantum physics, space travel, and the introduction of computer technology have dramatically changed how we view the world and our place in it. With that, says Tickle, comes another shift in the way we approach faith. If a human body is less literal than we once believed it was, and we can break it down even beyond the molecular structure to energy and strands of dna, then perhaps scripture can no longer be interpreted as literally as it once was either. Metaphor and narrative are becoming much more relevant. The “rules” of how we do church and how we interpret the world that many of us were raised with no longer fully apply.
Which brings me to parenting. My faith has shifted significantly since I was a child. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it’s my reality. I just can’t interpret scripture the same way I was taught in Sunday School, and I can’t give my children the same answers I got. Sometimes I wish I could (it would make life easier), but I can’t. It just doesn’t make sense to me to accept traditional teaching on issues such as women in leadership, loving same sex relationships, etc. I don’t even know what to do with “I am the way the truth and the life” and “no one comes to the Father but by me” when I see so much beauty and value and apparent access to a loving God in other faith traditions (not to mention creativity in the way God communicates with people).
That doesn’t mean that I don’t have faith in a triune God – it just means that it’s shifted. When I listen to Phyllis Tickle talk, I recognize that I am not alone in this shift. It’s happening to a significant number of people who are disgruntled with the traditional church and are just waiting for Luther to nail his thesis to the door.
But in the meantime, I need to parent, and parenting means trying to instill wisdom in our children. Sometimes I feel like all I have to add to their questions are more questions instead of answers. I don’t have a road map and I can’t pretend to them that I do. All I can do is muddle through and hope that we all emerge successfully (whatever "success" looks like).
(Note: This is a really rough paraphrase of Phyllis Tickle’s talk – to learn more, you can read the book. If you ever get a chance to hear her talk, do it – she is one of the most brilliant and engaging presenters I have ever heard.)