I have had two conversations in the past month that have me thinking about the importance of religion in family life.
The first was with a friend who was sharing a bizarre conversation she had with another mother at the elementary school. The mother shared that her five year old daughter was really into American Girl dolls. (I have heard of them, but pretty much all I know is that they are expensive.) Apparently, this five year old has had American Girl dolls since she was an infant. The details are fuzzy now, but American Girl dolls apparently have birth places listed on them, and if a family is so inclined, they can go take a vacation at the doll's birth place...an American Girl vacation. This New Jersey family went to Williamsburg, VA. For a week. To visit a pretend birthplace. For a doll.
My friends and my husband and I had spent the better part of the previous night talking about religion. So after my friend finished her story, my comment was "this is why people need religion." I am just imagining: what if this family, who has the resources to go on a fantasy vacation for their five year old, went instead on a mission trip together? Perhaps offering Bible school for children, or sharing dolls and crafts and play time with children who don't have such resources. It seems to me that these people are dying to have something worth investing themselves in. I (not so humbly) submit that American Girl dolls don't fit the bill.
Then today, I was talking with someone who has moved to a new place in Pennsylvania. She is becoming a part of a Mom's Club, and volunteered to help coordinate the annual picnic. Because of a schedule conflict and a dead cell phone battery, she was not at the first formal planning meeting. What she thought she was signing up for was...a picnic. She was imagining a park, some grills, some playground time for the kids, perhaps some extra sand toys, and maybe some sidewalk chalk. Maximum investment of about three dollars per family, to cover park rental space and some common supplies, with each family bringing a dish to share. When she was apprised of the plans formed while she was away, she discovered the other three organizers are planning a small festival. They are planning to charge each family ten dollars, comparison shop at BJs and Costco for the best prices, prepare all of the food, rent some moon bounce style entertainment, and generally go entirely overboard... and call it a picnic. If she cannot persuade them to keep things simple, she is going to bow out. She was looking for a picnic.
I asked her, "do these women go to church? If not, they should. I know at my church, I could think of lots of things they could organize effectively... things that matter." I have been thinking all day of the wasted talents of the American Doll family and the picnic families. God has given them all kinds of resources and abilities... think what could be accomplished in love...if only they knew what was possible.
Megan (our youth director) and I were walking out of Union Hospital on Wednesday this week, when a woman standing near the door asked for a ride up the road to Acme. We went and got the car, and it took her several minutes to make her way over to the car, and get in. She can barely walk with a walker. Although she had just been discharged from the hospital, sadly she did not smell as though a bath had been part of her care. She explained that a cab ride for those few blocks would be six dollars, and she didn't have that kind of money. She wanted some sale items at the store. So we offered to drive her to our church food pantry, and then save her the thirteen dollar cab ride to her apartment.
Watching her climb the fourteen steps to her second level apartment was heartbreaking. Even more troubling was the state of her apartment. She is physically incapable of keeping it clean.
I am imagining the American girl and picnic families talents being put into cleaning, laundering, and shopping for this dear soul on a regular basis.
All of this has me thinking about how truly grateful I am for coming (back) to faith in my early twenties. And it has me thinking about how important our faith is in forming our family life. I think about how much our church family shapes the lives of our children, teaching them to be generous, loving, trusting, kind to others. I think about how comforting the routine is for them, to know that they will gather with the same community every week for a special time of fun and celebration, pray familiar prayers every day, and have tools to think through complicated subjects like creation, death, sin, forgiveness. As they get older, we will delve deeper into the questions and complications that surround such things, but for now, it is comforting to have age appropriate responses for such questions.
I think about the common purpose we share, both in our family and in our community of faith. I think about the ways we make decisions about our resources so that we honor God with what we have been given. We try to keep our religious convictions the organizing force in our family. Our hope is that our children will grow to live God-directed lives, living to bless others and honor God, for we know that self centered lives are lousy. Living for others is where blessing rests.
But it is not where profits flow. As Megan, our youth director, noted in Bible study this week, capitalism is not just our economic system, it is our organizing moral principle. People have become commodities, avenues for profit. Religion provides a much different organizing premise, an alternative. And from what I can see, we are more in need of such an alternative with each passing decade.
I fantasize on a fairly regular basis about writing a book on one subject or another. Right now, I am envisioning a book of interviews and stories of how faith forms families. Perhaps it could be a new hit in the child development section...God knows the children of our world need an alternative to materialism.