I’ve never been one who followed blindly. Happy to follow in situations that warrant it but to design your life around a known construct without questioning it, well that’s just not me. Basically I never really grew out of that annoying toddler phase where they just ask why, what, or how 3654 times a day. To compound that, I’m an adult so I really want the real answers when I ask. If I ask you why you do something and your response is flippant or an answer to a slightly different question, I’m going to keep digging. As one would imagine this can really ruffle some feathers when you start questioning and pushing on constructs others have built their lives around.
One very early example of this was in Kindergarten when other kids would want to play house, the dad would go to work and the mom stayed with the kids. When I asked why they’d tell me because moms didn’t work (Yes being a stay at home mom is a ton of work but when you’re 5 you neither have the vocabulary nor the perspective to put this together, so let’s keep moving.). I would ask why again, they would say that she was the mom as if that answered the question. I would ask a lot more questions and they would get extremely frustrated with me and typically decide I could be the baby (a non speaking role) or find a new ‘family’ to play house with. For perspective, when I was small my mom worked outside the home full time and my dad stayed home with my sister and I. We did all sorts of fun things like cut down trees, clean up brush, check trap lines, make endless trips to Fleet Farm etc. Having a stay-at-home parent wasn’t foreign to me but a stay at home mom, and the assumption of what kids did with that parent on the days we weren’t in school, was.
Fast forward a number of years and we have those same kids now asking me to sleep over on Saturday night meaning I’ll be at their house on Sunday morning. The first time I went to church was a result of a sleep over where the mom had forgotten that my friend needed to be in church that weekend so we all packed up and went. Evidently my friend was responsible for lighting all of the candles in the place that day. I was respectful watching everyone respond to the pastor and sing in unison but fairly confused. Then toward the end every single person lined up for juice and a cracker which I did, not because I really felt like I should or wanted to have juice and crackers but because I wanted to be respectful of the church rules, I sang when they did, said amen when they did, and stood when they did, and got in line for juice and crackers when they did. Well, the man handing out said juice and crackers (another friend’s dad who obviously knew this was the first time I’d been in this or any church) gave me a death stare as I took it so I pretty quickly knew my assessment was wrong. This is quite literally my First Communion, me playing along understanding nothing except judgement and being an outsider. Afterward I told my friend my perspective and she rolled on the floor of her bedroom laughing at me. Cool. I asked about a million questions from why do you light the candles, to why do they say certain phrases in the prayers, to what is the juice for if it is so crazy that I drank it (secretly a little worried something would happen to me like the kids drinking potion in Hocus Pocus). Her basic response to all of it was, I don’t know that’s just what you do. Not good enough. So I asked my mom who explained that some people believed in God to make them feel better about things they don’t understand. She likened it to Greek mythology and added that over history many people had died because of people trying to force Christianity upon them. She then told me about her experiences going to church or religion classes with her friends. All of them awkward and funny. I felt better knowing my family had made logical decisions based on information rather than just based on what they’ve always done, I mean hey, at least we could answer basic questions.
My senior year of high school I decided to read the Bible as a book report. It was meant to be a book a month and I hated reading so I figured one book to get me through the year was a good trade. I decided to read the Old Testament first semester and the New Testament in the second. This seemed logical, I mean, how else do you read a book besides cover to cover? I had an interesting combination of responses. My English teacher thought I was inspiring, my friends thought I was crazy, my mom asked if I also planned to read the Quran to look for inconsistencies between them. My science teacher offered me his son’s Bible from middle school to make things easier. My math teacher suggested I start with the book of John rather than reading cover to cover. I told my English teacher and friends to calm down. It felt a little condescending getting a kids Bible but he insisted. I told my mom that everyone seemed to think the Bible was ambitious so I didn’t have time for the Quran. Then I told the math teacher that I only had the one book but if the ‘book of John’ was short, and if I had time when I was done, I’d see if I could find it. The two main themes I remember now from reading, ‘begat’ means you’re in for the long haul of generations and I don’t know why anyone cares. Also, the gospels don’t line up and are inconsistent, this one bugged me for years.
College was when my real rebellion took place. I learned more about the view and teachings of Christ and started developing a personal relationship with him. I still knew nothing of the what or why behind the traditions but I knew his deep true love for all, radical inclusivity, and intense fight for the marginalized and least in the eyes of the world. He worked tirelessly to show people the truth and knowingly did it all as a sacrifice for the very people who killed him. To have been given to die for people who wanted to kill him and to do it all willingly asking for forgiveness of us. Man, was I hooked. As I learned the traditions I mirrored them against what I already knew and while some of them still seem silly to me many were so very moving. I’ll never forget my first Palm Sunday. I asked why we waited with palm branches rather than just walking in. One woman turned around in line and narrowed her eyes, “You’ve never been to Palm Sunday?” (I was in my late 20s in rural Wisconsin, so I can understand her confusion.) “No” I said shaking my head. She didn’t answer my question or continue any further in that conversation, just turned around and continued waiting. Listening to that service brought tears to my eyes, the magnitude of the situation, the symbolism, it was incredible. The gift I had to experience it as an adult with fresh eyes and the wisdom to understand is something I am so grateful for.
Great, amazing, fulfilling things come from questioning and pushing on things. Not everyone will like it. Sometimes you’ll get the non-speaking role or be laughed at for not knowing the do’s and don’ts but that is pretty temporary, you may even be asked to play house again next recess. If you can keep searching, keep asking, and truly listening to the response, to overlay it with your personal values and what you know to be true, you can build constructs that truly serve you. Without the time with my dad I wouldn’t know the value of a strong father daughter relationship or have sweet pictures of laying in a dead beaver line-up. Without my questioning and later in life understanding of Christianity I wouldn’t have the unique opportunity to learn with my kids and encourage their questions to further both of our understandings.
Things I’m reminding myself of
The only things that are toppled by asking questions are the ones that were pretty flimsy to begin with. Those things should probably be knocked down anyway so push on things, push on everything. Ask the question and if someone is questioning you on something you know to be true, give real answers, not lazy ones. If you don’t know the answer, seek it out. You might get the opportunity to deepen your own constructs by better understanding it yourself.
Why is critical, what is important, but don’t lose sight of the how. I had a heart to find the truth as a why, Christianity as a clear what, and the how are the questioning and analytical skills I got from my mom. I wanted answers and she fostered that desire in me. When I asked her questions (from a young age up to current day) she’s held nothing back. I wasn’t getting a balanced picture, because no one on the religious side would or could answer me, so I had to read everything for myself. The values I was taught by both of my parents to try my best and be a good friend (to all) are honestly just a simplified version of the warrior spirit for love and inclusiveness that Jesus taught. Though they didn’t intend it, I wouldn’t have gotten to the what, no matter the strength of my why, without them.