Just Because You Can’t See It…

We were in church when he said it, which made it a hundred times worse. Well, not church exactly, but the fabulous little art/craft/secondhand shop connected to my mum’s church, and filled with steel-wool haired ladies bustling around trying to sell us padded coat hangers and antique electric jugs. And, to make matters worse, he’s got the most piercing, piping little voice you’ve ever heard. The kid has a natural stage voice, and can cut through a crowd in a second to make himself heard without even trying.

He’s only four, in his defense, and his big brother had recently lost yet another tooth, so the tooth fairy had made an appearance, she of the shady past and hazy details; she of the “what do YOU believe?” status, showing our kind of reluctance to tell either the truth or the lie to a kid so young. And that may be it, it may be the reason why he said it, because he’s a logical kind of kid and he needs to know black from white, true from TV, and it’s his way of questioning, these bald statements of un-faith in a tone that suggests he’s really fifty and explaining things to his four year old self.

I’m not sure any more why he said, where the conversation stemmed from, even though it was only last week. All I remember is this piercing little voice singing out over the prints of Byzantine icons and small wooden crucifixes, “But Jesus isn’t real…”

We jumped on him with our best theological arguments, all of us, even his brother and sister. “Yes he is!” “He’s just invisible.” “It’s like the wind. Just because you can’t see the wind doesn’t mean it isn’t there. God’s like that too.”

I find it hard with that one. If I tell him Jesus lives in my heart he thinks Jesus is small. And Jesus died on the cross some 2,000 years ago, so what’s he doing in my heart anyway? And if he’s in MY heart, how can he be in anyone else’s? So we explain the Trinity as God in Heaven who has a body but whom we can’t see, Jesus is Heaven who has a body and came to earth, also whom we can’t see, and the Holy Spirit, who doesn’t have a body, who’s the presence of God with us here. He doesn’t really get it. Who would? Theologians with years more experience than me still can’t fully explain the Trinity, or how all three can be one. Why would my four year old understand it either?

But it bothers me sometimes, the times I worry about whether I’m failing my child or my church for not giving him the most complete religious education I can. I try my precious best. I love him for all I’m worth and I pray every night that the reality of the presence of God that I’ve experienced so deeply and so transformatively will one day seep into his consciousness. I think, deep down, he knows that presence. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he probably knows nothing else but that feeling of peace and love. Fortunately. What am I saying? This is a GOOD thing.

I’m trying to quell the guilt. It’s not helpful. And if I believe (as I do) in a God who is big enough to create the universe and create man in his image, then I must believe that God is also big enough to correct my mistakes when I ask him to.

I don’t worry that much. Not anywhere nearly as much as I pray. And play. And bake.

Ohhhh baking. School holidays and new kitchens make for some serious baking going on in our house, and, thanks to my joyous new oven, the baking is gooooooood. I made a pumpkin streusel coffee cake (or, if you prefer, a pumpkin streusel diet Dr. Pepper cake) the other day, from an American recipe I gleaned from my American friend, Sharon. It’s delicious, a total favourite for all our kids, and with very good reason. We sat down at the table with our cake and our jigsaw puzzles and my four year old looked up at me and said “Who made this cake?”

I looked at him, puzzled. “We made it, just now. You licked the beaters, remember?”

“No, who taught us who to make it?”

“You mean who gave us the recipe? It’s from Sharon in America.”

“Ohhhh.” He took a bite, and said in that same slightly patronising voice, like he’s fifty years old and explaining it to his four year old self,

“But Sharon isn’t real, is she.”

Oh son. Just because you can’t see…

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The circle of life

Aside

 

“Son, we eat the antelope…”

And thus begins Mufasa’s soliloquy to Simba on the nature of life in the African Savannah, and why it’s okay to eat animals that worship the ground you walk on, because you’re the Lion King…or something like that. It’s been a while since I watched it, although the fact that the soundtrack has been recently discovered by the children and is now on high rotation (or, more accurately, the only thing they want to listen to) in the car has made me think about it again. It makes me think a lot, on my drives to the supermarket or to after-school lessons, or anywhere really, about why Americans still cast English actors as villains all the time, and why Mufasa obviously grew up in an American school on the African Savannah, whereas his younger brother Scar seems to have gone to an English boarding school (maybe that explains why he’s so peeved). I didn’t know there were English boarding schools in the African Savannah. Perhaps he was forced to move to England. Hmmmm. Now I’m imagining a sulky cartoon lion skulking around the halls of Eton College. Any English people noticed any cartoon characters moping around recently? Watch out, they’ll be dangerous. As is, apparently, anyone with a British accent in the US. They’re a villain, you can tell by the voice. Best to get rid of them now before…

NOW HANG ON A MINUTE!

No, just wait up for a bit, okay? This brings me back to the thing that the Lion King makes me think about, and that is why it’s okay to eat the antelope when they worship the ground you walk on, just because you’re the King. I’m not a vegetarian (and the fact that I’m bad with nuts and dairy means I’m not going to turn vegetarian any time soon), but…I don’t like killing things. I don’t like killing animals, and I certainly don’t agree with the idea (which idiot suggested it?!! Oh, that was me) that Americans should get rid of all people with British accents because they’ll probably be villains. Sometimes people think I have a British accent – even other Australians. I’m about to go to the US, where it’s apparently likely that every second person will mistake me for a Brit. I’ll just have to make extra sure I don’t go out with a black outline around me so nobody thinks I’m a cartoon character (aaaaaand back to the point).

The point is this: I believe we all have a right to life, that life is sacred, precious, valuable. I do believe that life was given to us by our Creator, and that we are blessed to have it, and we need to respect it. We can’t restore life, or create it, and therefore we should treat the taking of life with some gravity.

And here’s the only problem I have with this: I eat animals. Every night. For dinner. I don’t like stomping on spiders (although I do if they invade my territory), and I hate to see animals mistreated, although I do squash ants and put the cat in front of any mouse that dare enter my kitchen. I represent the paradox of modern living and thought.*

So this is my point: sometimes what we believe doesn’t line up with our actions, and vice versa. Often we believe stuff just because we always have, and often we do stuff just because we always have. It’s so easy to forget that we’re grown-ups now, and we can spring-clean our minds from all kinds of fears and beliefs and judgements and yellowed pictures sticky-taped on the walls of our minds.  

And it’s okay. Like I said, much as I value the sanctity of life I’m still in no hurry to become a vegetarian. I am, however, working on a few other, more personal examples of the paradox. You know, stuff more along the lines of “that person has a British accent and is therefore a villain”. Dumb stuff. Stuff that’s stuck. Sometimes you know it’s just time for a change.

Know what I mean? Ever found yourself believing stuff, or prejudiced about people because of a once-upon-a-time? I’m ripping a few old pictures off the mental walls. Care to join me?

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*I eat cheese mites too. So do you if you eat cheese (although possibly not plastic cheese, and most definitely not that weird American squeezy stuff). Oh I’m mad at the person who first told me about cheese mites! Grrrrr.

 

350 Million Americans Can’t Be Wrong…

When I was a very, very little girl, so little that my mind was super-malleable and everything that I was told I believed, and so little that I still though that the half-hour break in TV programming between Sesame Street and Playschool was endlessly long, something happened to shape my thinking forever.

It wasn’t a bad thing, this isn’t some kind of true-confessional “this-happened-to-me” time, just…a thing. A thing that, because I was so little and my mind so malleable I can’t shake.

Some people came to visit.

I don’t remember their names, and as they’ve never visited since I don’t think I’ll bother dredging them up. There weren’t small children for me to play with so they didn’t interest me too greatly, and if there was a man he in my memory he’s dissolved into the background. There was a woman though, and because I remember looking at the photo in the family album for many years after their non-eventful visit I remember that she had black hair and a blue dress and glasses, and looked a little like a friend of ours, but she wasn’t.

But I remember the accent. Oh the accent! She spoke in a voice that was rich and beautiful, a voice I’d only ever heard on TV before, and because of that voice I wanted to sit on her knee and fall into her and listen to everything she said, because she was obviously famous and wonderful and exciting, and her sheer presence in my house made me, by default, famous, wonderful and exciting as well.

You’ve got to understand, you see, that I’d never heard people talk like that down here in Tasmania. Down here everybody used the same slightly nasally whine and flat, nasally vowels that I’d heard every day, the same stretched-out voice that I had. Not the Blue-dress lady though. She was beautiful. She was from the Television!

I was four. You have to forgive me when I say I was incredibly disappointed when my Mum told me that she wasn’t from the Television at all. She didn’t live on Sesame Street. Sesame Street wasn’t real. The Blue-dress lady was from Canada.

Not America. Canada.

Sesame Street Isn’t Real.

Ten years or more happened before I ever heard that accent again in real life, and by that time I’d got pretty solid on the truth: Sesame Street Isn’t Real. Not America. Canada.

Okay, here’s the true-confessions part. Please don’t laugh. Oh, okay, but laugh quietly, all right?

It was only a couple of years ago that I realized that America-Isn’t-Real-Not-Sesame-Street-Canada had taken root in my brain for more people than just the Blue-dress lady. I’d somehow started applying it to everyone I met with a TV accent. They couldn’t be American. TV isn’t real. I worked for a year with a lovely “Canadian” lady, and…ouch-this-hurts-to-admit…it wasn’t until I reconnected with her via Facebook and read her blog that I realized she wasn’t Canadian at all.

Nor were the nice people who came to the Wednesday night meetings. Nor are the lovely harpist girl and her family, or Susie Finkbeiner.

America IS real. I KNOW this. I am an intelligent woman. I read books. I study history. I watch documentaries, and I do know enough about the US of A to know that yes, it DOES exist. Except…

Except sometimes old thoughts are hard to break, especially when they happen when you’re very young, or particularly vulnerable.

I’m butting up against a few thoughts at the moment, more serious cases when I’ve believed something that someone’s said and then applied it to every area of my life. So here’s my thought of the day:

Not Everything You Believe Is Necessarily True. Sometimes you need other people to help you get some perspective. After all, 350 million Americans can’t all be wrong…

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