Lately I've been thinking about words that were presented to me as a child that now in adulthood sound strange. Words that made perfect sense within the context of my innocent and boundless imagination. They were more than words, they were life, they were routine, they were home. A few weeks ago a friend posted a picture of her kids in the kitchen with the caption: "Sunday morning cleaning, baking, and worshipping." Reading and saying it aloud several times make the word look and sound strange. A quick dictionary search gave me a better worded definition than I could muster: reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.
Growing up worship was relegated mostly to Sunday mornings at my father's church and it had a very formal expression chock full of systems and traditions. Worship was pipe organs, hymnals, Bibles, and welcoming envelopes. It was words recited in unison, closed eyed prayers, and the passing of plates. It was silent collective reflection on our shortcomings, the impact of our words, the impact of our thoughts. It was the active imagining of what sort of pain and suffering Jesus endured on our behalf. But it was also the smell of Ms. Wilder's perfume, Mr. Zaidi's firm handshake, Roger's peculiar smell and his laugh that tried to make everything he said sound like a joke. It was seeing my dad, the Pastor, in front of everyone weaving words and illuminating 'The Word' the best he could. It was Mom's choir robe and knowing eye watching to make sure I was where I needed to be. It was my grey dress shoes that clicked and clacked through the hallway, the blaring red of poinsettias at Christmas, and the smell of lilies at Easter. As hopefully you can tell, Sunday morning worship as a child is a whole world of sensory stimulation, much of which has almost nothing to do with 'reverent honor and homage paid to God.' It's the lifeworld of childhood that we simply absorb, it is the normal we grow within.
Now as an adult I question much of that world, perhaps sometimes to a detrimental degree I admit. It's a rabbit hole that once both feet are committed is impossible to keep from tumbling deeper into. In the punk cultured music I've listened to for most of my life now there runs a common theme, 'no gods, no masters.' While it sounds harsh and anarchic, the goal from there is to analyze who we give control over to. Be it a something or a someone, what or whom do we relinquish our minds and bodies to? What is the normal we inhabit that is at odds with those around us? What is the normal we're taught that puts us at odds with ourselves?
I was listening to a conversation between Sam Harris and Dan Carlin on Harris' podcast in which they discussed America's inclination to police countries that seem to be oppressing their people through anti-liberal (as they put it) ideologies. North Korea was discussed and they both wondered what it would look like if Kim Jong-un were to suddenly relinquish control and hold a free and open election. Would the people vote against the regime or would the brain-washing (here, and here, just in case) imposed by generations of Kims be too potent to break? Similarly, Harris and Carlin discuss anti-liberal ideologies in Islamic countries. Carlin recounts a time when he spoke against the wearing of burkas and received an email from a Western living Muslim woman who explained that where she was raised the girls are taught burkas are a right of passage and the Western idea that it is an imposition to them simply doesn't register. Of course many of us, if not most of us, here in the States automatically equate this kind of conservatism with oppression, but for many, it is simply their normal.
My feelings around normality in regards to worship started breaking down just after college. Too many questions without answers, or too many answers that stretched too far to answer their question. So I take the beauty in my childhood memories of Sunday morning worship and sift out the murkiness that came to light as I experienced more of life and became more aware of the world's ideas about life.
I once asked a friend if he felt that sharing his faith with his children was indoctrination. He replied that all of parenting, for better or worse, is indoctrination, and so sharing his faith is sharing his viewpoint on life. I can't argue with that. Another friend echoed this in a way as she explained that introducing faith-ideas to children is similar to peeling an onion. The five year old version of faith we present is different than the seven year old version, which is different than the ten year old version, and ultimately very different from the full and ongoing attempt at understanding it in adulthood.
In this moment I'm reminded of the phrase "they did the best they could with what they had." Follow me here for a second. . . I'm wondering if, given the conclusion (for now) I've come to as an adult (that the faith I was raised in doesn't ring true to my current, horribly complicated understanding of what can be true), if it would've been better not to be exposed to it as the way, truth, and light, in the first place, particularly in its simplified and beautiful five year old version? Is it right to paint the sun-shiny five year old picture of "yes, Jesus loves me" when what eventually follows are the deep waters of Apocrypha, Common Grace, Predetermination, Compatibilism, Immutability, Omniscience, and other high concept Theological terms that Theologians still debate found here, oh and lest we forget, Hell.
Also, we have to consider the murky history of human attempts to understand the world and how these attempts factored into the perpetuation of some ideas and the quelling of others. Can faith even be proposed without this human muddiness? Detractors would say absolutely not, while the faithful might say all that can be overlooked to find the heart of the message; but the heart of the message is arguably debatable given the human element instrumental in passing along what we perceive to be the heart of the message. Is that a Catch-22?
All of this leads me to a standstill with how I communicate to my beloved five year old how to think and live, indoctrinating her with my understanding of the world intentionally and unintentionally. Hopefully some day she can sift through the murkiness of my reservations around ways, truths, and lights, and hold onto the beauty and simplicity that is hopefully her eventual understanding of her five year old world. After all, we're only doing the best we can with what we have.
(image stolen from here)