On raising heathens

Lately, I’ve been fielding lots of questions about religion from my kids; I’ve bumbled them all. My 4 year old, from the back seat of the car on the school run ‘But why did those people want to kill Jesus?’

And my 7 year old, who’s been combing through a Children’s Bible he got for his first birthday. ‘Jesus couldn’t really walk on water, could he?’ Like his Dad (and unlike me), he is ruled by logic. If it doesn’t make sense, it just doesn’t hold up. Then, after a recent school outing to a Mosque, ‘Am I a Christian or a Muslim?’

We could’ve sent our boys to the secular school across the road (boy, would that have been easier) but instead we schlepp across town so they can go to a traditional school with sound Christian values. I’m not a Christian, and my husband, like most of the people I know, is what I’d call a cultural Christian — born into a Christian family but not necessarily a Christian at heart, or a practicing Christian.

I did go to a Convent primary school and a Christian high school. To this day hymns (particularly those solemn Catholic ones) move me to tears, and I love going to Church. I think Jesus’s message was beautiful, but I’m also drawn to Buddhism. Without knowing why, I’ve always had a statue of the Buddha in my bedroom; it’s only recently, since I’ve delved deeper into Buddhist doctrine, that I understand why. For me, it speaks directly to the pitfalls of our frenzied, modern world, and gives practical tools for finding calm in the storm. The Baha’i Faith, my mom’s religion, has some wonderful beliefs too, like equality of the sexes,  harmony of science and religion, the unity of humankind.

It’s easy to be cynical about organised religion — after all, wars have been fought in its name, and some religions institutions are corrupt and rife with hypocrisy. But religion (or is it faith, I tend to confound the two) is a beautiful way to make sense of an uncertain world. Often it provides solace where nothing else can.  If, in your heart you believe in a particular faith and all its teachings, how comforting that must be.

Beyond being spiritual creatures, humans crave a sense of belonging. Religion, with it’s associated rituals and cultural practices, provides just that. Christmas is a time of family and togetherness, whether you’re thinking about those pressies under the tree or reflecting on the birth of Jesus. Likewise with Easter — for many, it’s as much about holidays and gorging on chocolate and Easter egg hunts than it is about remembering the death of Christ. It can be a sacred time, or one devoid of any religious beliefs; either way, it’s a time for the tribe to gather, and it gives you a sense of your place in the world.

But, back to those questions. What on earth do you teach a curious young soul about religion, if you don’t have one yourself? If, like many people who don’t belong to an organised religion like to say —  you’re ‘spiritual but not religious.’ Kids need guidance, some kind of compass with which to navigate the world, and they like certainty. But maybe it’s okay for them to know that there aren’t any solid answers; religion is a deeply personal journey, one they’ll have to take themselves. Their faith, if they have one, may be continually tested, but that’s part of the unpredictability and beauty of the human experience.

I told my 7 year old he doesn’t have to decide now; there are many religions in the world, and they all teach us important things. I wish I’d have remembered my favourite quote about religion, which beautifully encapsulates what I’d like to teach my kids, whether or not they’re baptised (they’re not), or we go to Church (we don’t):

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.
-Dalai Lama

Notes from a Luddite

If someone had told you, back in the eighties, when we were tearing around (unsupervised) on our BMX’s, that when we were adults, we’d be addicted to hand-held (incessantly beeping) electronic devices that would connect us to each other 24/7, you’d have scarcely believed it. The words digital detox would have been a tough one to wrap your head around.

And yet I’ve just emerged from a 10 day screen hiatus; it was just the re-jig I needed. It’s not so much that I was spending too much time on social media — more that the constant distraction would derail me from whatever I was doing, or meant to be doing.

After mindlessly scrolling through my feeds, I’d be left feeling unsatiated and no richer for having done it (often I’d feel creepy and stalkerish for checking out the posts of people I scarcely knew, or didn’t know at all – the old-school equivalent of reading someone’s diary).

Facebook feeds can also be discombobulating. Scrolling from hot bods in bikinis, to a horrific crime story; cute faces of babies interspersed with pleas to sign petitions. It’s a melange of news/fake news, exhibitionism, trivia, entertainment, political insights and opinions that can boggle the mind.

Also — and perhaps most importantly — I was setting a very bad example for my kids. Monkey see, monkey do right? There are a glut of studies revealing how technology stunts our kids growth and development; the results are bleak. My boys are still young so I haven’t even begun to navigate the real minefield of technology. I hear it gets trickier, and riskier. Social media, gaming and cyber bullying? Lordy!

Steve Jobs was apparently a low-tech parent; he famously commented that he doesn’t let his kids use iPads. I’ve read many tech engineers are similar, sending their children to tech-free schools and restricting their usage at home. The fact that the inventors of those little tyrants in our pockets give them a wide berth surely gives us pause for thought.

The dialogue around technology’s hold over our lives is not likely to subside — it’s here to stay, so we need to find ways to exist peacefully with it. And of course, screens aren’t all bad. Curling up on a winter’s day watching David Attenborough with my kids — bliss. Listening to my husband and boys scream at the screen during rugby matches? Heartwarming. Flicking on Paw Patrol when I desperately need to send an email or am craving some alone time? Sanity saver. iPads on planes and trains? Only fair on the other passengers. And it’s pretty darn fantastic being able to connect with friends, family and like-minded peeps any time of any day.

My approach these days after my (very productive!) detox — dip in and out, every now and then — don’t hover too long or get sucked in too deep. Keep it sporadic rather than regular. Enjoy the modern miracle that is the interweb, but keep it firmly reigned in.