Monday, November 30, 2015

Faith Without A Label

Yesterday my son asked me what religion we are. I experienced an initial pang of guilt (I was raised Catholic, after all) that he felt we needed to belong to a particular religious group, for why else would he have asked? But then I told him I was raised Catholic and Dad was raised Jewish, but we don't practice any one religion by, say, going to church or synagogue each week. Instead, we live by the most important things each of those religions taught us: kindness, patience, love and acceptance. We acknowledge that there is something bigger out there--a spirit, god or deity--than just us here on Earth and it connects us all to each other. This made him smile.

Of course this has been an ongoing discussion in our children's lives. My husband and I talked about it before we were married. How would we raise the children? What would we teach them? What about rituals and services and milestones like Bar Mitzvahs and Communion? Neither of us had gone to services for years, though I do still enjoy the beauty of church choirs, and not just at Christmas time. We tried Unitarianism, which embraced the ideas we shared and seemed the perfect answer. But we are not ones for ritual, and once we moved, attending services each week some 20 minutes away, especially with babies in tow, quickly fell out of favor.

The news from around the world today is so fraught with fear, violence, tension and hate, often in the name of a god, that the thought of sending my children out into such a climate breaks my heart. I worry that they will be afraid to travel and learn about other cultures and lands. But at the same time, I worry that they *won't* be afraid to travel and learn about other cultures and lands and that, while doing so, they will be harmed. It's a sad and scary time to be a parent, a student, alive. It's hard not to worry all the time.

But there's one thing I don't worry about. Despite my children having no "category" in which to place themselves when asked what religion they are, I'm proud of the young men they've become. They are kind and accepting of everyone. They step in when someone is being bullied. They are willing to look at themselves and their behavior when I tell them they have wronged each other or behaved disrespectfully, discuss it with me and then apologize. Sometimes, I don't even need to step in: more and more, they communicate with each other and work out such issues themselves.

I've decided that the only way to let go as a parent is to consider how much better the world is with our children in it. We must appreciate their gifts, have faith in the lessons we've taught them and then send them out into the world, not despite the state it's in, but because of it. They are our hope for a better future, and they will brighten the world with what they've learned, religious label or not.