Breaking the Bubble Wrap

An excerpt from Breaking the Bubble Wrap by Dave Csinos and Brian McLaren in the July 2012 issue of Sojourners. 

Christian parents, grandparents, and educators today need to ask what we and our churches are showing emerging generations about what it means to be followers of Christ. Many of us, whether Catholic, Protestant, or from other backgrounds, live within traditional paradigms that increasingly don’t fit.

Our more pietistic religious paradigm, often found in evangelical churches, focuses on who goes to heaven and who goes to hell; it emphasizes personal relationship with Jesus, but struggles to integrate a radical concern for the poor, for the planet, and for peacemaking. This paradigm’s default assumptions have often (so far at least) kept these churches compliant to the Religious Right. If children don’t adopt conservative political and economic affinities, they often drop out of such churches.

Meanwhile, the more institutional paradigm, often dominant in mainline Protestant churches, focuses on being good people, good members of our denominations, good citizens—all good things. But often the more personal, experiential dimensions of faith remain marginal, while institutional dimensions remain primary. As a result, if kids aren’t natural joiners, they can drift away. Not only that, but they can be left unprepared for situations where Christian convictions call us to stand against the status quo.

In both pietistic and institutional paradigms, traditional churches have worked hard to teach children Bible stories and Christian virtues; many of us wouldn’t be the adults we are today if it weren’t for the great start we got in the churches of our childhood. But in today’s world we need to rethink what it means to, in Paul’s words, raise new generations “in the nurture and instruction of the Lord,” including the social, economic, and political dimensions of that instruction. How can we shape our kids’ characters to help them become Christ-followers who are both contemplative and activist? As we imagine what this might look like, a few questions come to mind.

What would happen if we get children talking about justice and injustice?

Instead of shielding children from the harsh realities of injustice, we need to orient them to our complex world of moral beauty, danger, and opportunity. Gradually, and in age-appropriate ways, we can make justice a matter of daily conversation.

This process often begins with the essential quality of gratitude. For example, the Matthews family, which used to recite a simple prayer before dinner, recently began to extend thanksgivings beyond the food by giving each person a moment to offer additional words of gratitude: “Tonight I am thankful that we feel safe.” “Today I’m thankful that I have a dog to love.” “I’m thankful that I have lots of friends, especially Martin and Chris.” Building on this foundation, the Matthews parents are talking with their children about other families who don’t enjoy those blessings and about the ways society subtly pressures people to seek pleasure or comfort for themselves rather than the common good of all. Now, bedtime prayers often include spontaneous intercession for others in need.

How do you support parents in allowing their children to experience the world as it is?

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