Providing An Authentic (And Inclusive) Christian Education

Let me tell you a story.

A Spanish missionary was visiting an island when he came across three Aztec Priests.

"How do you pray?" the missionary asked.

"We only have one prayer," answered one of the Aztecs.

"We say, God, you are three, we are three. Have pity on us."

"A beautiful prayer," said the missionary. "But it is not exactly the one that God heeds. I'm going to teach you one that's much better." The padre taught them a Catholic prayer and then continued on his path of evangelism.

Years later, when he was returning to Spain, his ship stopped again at the island. From the deck, the missionary saw the three priests on the shore and waved to them.

Just then, the three men began to walk across the water toward him.

"Padre! Padre!" one of them called, approaching the ship.

"Teach us again that prayer that God heeds. We've forgotten how it goes."

"It doesn't matter," responded the missionary, witnessing the miracle.

And he promptly asked God's forgiveness for failing to recognize that God speaks all languages, in all ways, to all people.

Too many Christians today are afraid of new language, new metaphors and new stories. It is time to evolve. It is time to shift. This is our challenge. This is what we are being called to do today. We can't speak to our children in a language that is no longer relevant. We can't expect them to relate to a culture and period of history they don't belong to. We can't expect them to memorize Bible verses and be able to connect that to their own lives, in a way that is meaningful to them. That is, simply, not enough. Christianity must rise up to this challenge or we will be leaving our children with no foundation on which to build their beliefs.

Children in most churches today hear a mythical story of a man, a hero born to save them, and half the world says it is the one and only truth and the other half is so confused, disparate and quiet that it really has very little to say. Should children reject this belief all together then? Should they chalk it up to the craziness of the older generations? What happens when their friends begin telling them they will go to Hell (and burn for all eternity) if don't believe what they believe? What happens when, with access to all of the world's information, they begin to question the myth? How does a child make sense of the Bible and its stories when they begin to learn about the mysteries of the universe, the unknowns, the billions of people with different beliefs? What happens when they learn that these beliefs cause the majority of the wars fought? What happens when they turn to their community and look there for answers and their pastor stands up each Sunday and reads from the Bible -- but is afraid to say what she or he really believes? What happens, is that they are left with nothing but a blank confusion or, worse, a deep seeded fear.

Where Christianity IS evolving, its children's curriculum is lagging far behind. Within the progressive Christian field, for example, we are long past the debate of whether god is a he or a she. People in today's field are talking about the vastness of this universe and the miracle of how humans evolved to be. We are talking about string theory, multiple dimensions, and how interconnected all beings are. The majority of children's curriculum in faith communities today is still totally Bible centered, using little to no other myths, stories, or wisdom traditions. Most of them treat the Bible as history and talk about God as a powerful deity that has human qualities, using such words as: wants, hears, listens, needs, gives, receives, asks, does.

I understand why this is. We can intellectualize Christianity, but talking about it with our children is another story altogether. For how do you explain that which is unknown? How do you talk about who or what God is when no one could ever give anyone an answer to that question?

We must remember that Jesus did not give his followers the answers to the day, he gave them a way of being. He offered an experience of life, a door to the kingdom of god. He wasn't talking about Heaven or Hell, he was talking about the day to day life. Love your neighbors! Love your enemies! God is within!

Therefore, in order to teach our children about the path of Jesus, from an educated Christian point of view, we need to create curriculum that is focused on a way of being, a curriculum that is relevant and intelligent. A curriculum for today's world must be one that doesn't contradict the scientific knowledge of our time. A curriculum for today's world needs to be radical -- just as the teachings of Jesus were radical for his time.

It is my belief that if we don't give our children an alternative to the two major extremes in the world- fundamentalism or secularism -- and when we don't rise to the challenge to offer them guidance that is valuable and meaningful, we are making the biggest mistake we can make as thinking and compassionate human beings. It is crucial that we guide children into this world and, as they forge their own beliefs and ideas, support them in that exploration. It is my belief that teaching our children to think for themselves and to follow a path of compassion is by far the most important responsibility we have as human beings.