April 27, 2009
So yes, this weekend was all about Relay for Life. And in addition to the tired and the proud and the giggles I brought home with me, I brought some thoughts that keep swirling through my brain.
First, I should make clear: we relay because some of our kids feel very strongly about this cause. One of them has been relaying every year since he lost his mom to cancer. A couple more wanted to get involved when their grandmother was diagnosed. So we relay as a team because they asked: not because the grown ups thought it was a swell idea.
But that's not what my note is about. My note is about who my community is, who our kids are, and how sick I am of being told by mainstream so-called moral leaders that religious or political liberalism means the death of a moral society.
The Relay kicks off with a ceremony. The Boy Scouts raise the flag, followed by the pledge of allegiance and the singing of the national anthem. Then there's a prayer.
My kids are in a church group, yes. But some of them (most, maybe) have difficulty with identifying themselves as "religious", for many of the same reasons that liberal adults do. "Religion", unfortunately, is a word with baggage. It carries with it notions of dogma and conformity and unreason. It brings visions of group-think and bigotry and mob mentality. It carries an idea of "God" that many are uncomfortable with.
So we try to talk a lot about what it means to be us- to be a part of a liberal religion, where we are encouraged to figure it all out according to our own conscience, and to support each other on our paths. We talk of religion as a joining together, rather than as a school of thought.
So a local minister offered a prayer on Saturday morning.
He began rather beautifully. He asked for God to be with us as we recall the people we've lost, as we celebrate the people who're still fighting, to recognize and be with us in our pain. I'm a Universalist at heart, and so it's reflexive for me to translate certain words so that they work for my own spirituality. I don't have to picture or to speak to that minister's idea of God, and I don't ask for direct intercession while I hear and internalize his words. That's not part of my world.
And this is the kind of prayer I am comfortable discussing with the kids. How we can take the prayer and make it meaningful to ourselves, appreciate the love that the minister is trying to communicate, respect the fact that he has a very different path than we do.
Ah, but then he went on.
He began to speak to his God about the sins of our society, the things we do, the policies we embrace, which are against God and which doom us to things like cancer.
He went on to decry the removal of prayer from schools, and how we're raising successive generations of Americans without a moral compass.
At that point, I checked out. Literally. I left the stands and went on a supply run, thinking all the way out, speak for yourself, asshole.
Because my kids- and especially my son- do not lack a "moral compass". They somehow do not need engraved tablets to tell them how to behave in a civilized society. They somehow have developed empathy and compassion and respect without prayer in school, or, for that matter, in church.
They have these things because they are each brilliant and deep and they are encouraged to think about what they believe, about what responsible action means, about what they want the world to look like and what their place is in that world. They have these inherent qualities because they are surrounded with family and community who care about them and who model right behavior, and who demand the same from them.
My kids weren't tramping around making noise and talking loudly during the Luminaria ceremony and the reading of the names. My kids weren't stealing food and making disgusting messes that no one cleaned up. My kids weren't yelling "GIMME THAT, YOU QUEER!" at each other in the middle of the night. My kids are silly and passionate, and held forth on neuroscience and male/female differences and ageism and a host of other topics all night, challenging the adults when they didn't agree with us.
My kids weren't unchaperoned. While the majority of the teen teams were completely without responsible traditional Christian adults all night, my kids had crazy liberal grown ups sitting with them in camp, and they put up with my nagging (and usually reassure me that it's ok when I nag like the middle aged mom that I am).
My kids, in short, rock. And they're the people that I want to create society as they grow. They're the ones who give me hope that the world will not only go on, but will become a better place, in small ways and large, as they take charge.
So stop telling me that liberalism is the scourge of morality.
And no, my son doesn't need your prayer in his school. He'd only question it afterward, anyway, and I doubt the faculties of the local middle and high schools posses the background in theology you'd need to argue with him or answer his questions.