In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Matthew Paul Turner joins Pete and Jared to discuss teaching kids about God and the Bible as they explore the following questions:
- How can we introduce God to our kids in a way that is different from how God was introduced to us?
- How do our changing views on the Bible impact our view on God?
- How should you talk to kids about Bible stories?
- What drives people to seek fresh ways of communicating their faith to their children?
- How can we help our children have a healthy connection to God?
- Do kids have to grow up with a clear black and white idea about God?
- Why is it important that kids have the freedom to ask questions about God ?
- How can we create a space or a culture for children to respect the mystery of God?
- How can churches do a better job educating kids about God?
- Do you have any words of wisdom for parents who are going through a faith transition/shift?
- Why is it important that we deal with our own spiritual baggage?
- How can fear prevent you from exploring an imaginative and creative spirituality?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Matthew Paul Turner you can share.
- “The process of writing children’s books, for me, was rewriting my own narrative or reintroducing God to myself and in the process, introducing God in a beautiful, affirming way to my kids and hopefully to other kids.” @HeyMPT
- “I think that my view of scripture has certainly evolved. I don’t need everything to be spelled out and make sense and fall in line.” @HeyMPT
- “We want our kids to have a connection to God, but we want that connection to be healthy and happy and celebrate their humanity while also honoring some of the traditions that Christianity is known for.” @HeyMPT
- “Kids should not have to recover from how we talk about God to them – God should a good part of their story, a hopeful part of their story, a healing part of their story.” @HeyMPT
- “ We don’t want to tell them exactly what God is like because no one has seen all of God because God is far too big for any one person to see.” @HeyMPT
- “I always make a point to include words that the kids are not going to fully understand because it creates this opportunity to have a conversation, to talk about why that word is important, and what it means to the idea about God that they’re reading.” @HeyMPT
- “If fear is what is driving me to tell the story or to tell the story in this particular way then I think you’re doing a disservice to the story.” @HeyMPT
Mentioned in This Episode
- Podcast: The Bible for Normal People
- Book: What Is God Like?
- Book: When God Made Light
- Book: When God Made You
- Book: When God Made the World
- Patreon: The Bible for Normal People
Powered by RedCircleRead the transcript
Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People – the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.[Jaunty intro music]
Pete: Welcome, everyone, to this episode of The Bible for Normal People, and our topic today is “Teaching God to Your Kids.”
Jared: Yeah, I mean –
Pete: Easy! Easy peasy, and our guest is Matthew Paul Turner, who is a name I hope all of you know or all of you will get to know pretty soon. He just writes the most amazing children’s books, the most recent one of which is What Is God Like?, which is like, the question, I think.
Jared: Right, and partners in that with Rachel Held Evans –
Jared: The late Rachel Held Evans, who had put together some ideas for a children’s book and Matthew, who was close friends with Rachel, agreed to take that on as a project. And so, you know, we’ve been, we all benefit from that collaboration.
Pete: Yes, from that collaboration, right. Yeah, and we’ve gotten to know Matthew a little bit first through the Evolving Faith conference, of course, that Rachel set up. So, it’s just great to have him on because he really, he’s so intentional about what he wants children to try to understand about God that produces joy and healing and not something that can, unwittingly, but it can cause real difficulties for kids when they get older and I’ve seen that many, many times and it’s not good.
Jared: And I would say, even for those of you who are listening who maybe, who don’t have children, I think, for me, one of the impacts of this episode and others that we’ve done has been to even just go back to my own childhood –
Jared: And be able to forgive, frankly, some of those people in my life who did the best they could and maybe didn’t have their resources that we’re having now, but I just think it’s still relevant for everyone to be able to listen to.
Pete: Right, right. And you know, if you want, you know, we have a Patreon, we have a parenting channel in our Slack group that meets and people can talk about this stuff and they do, because it’s a good, safe place for people to say, listen, I’m just tired and I don’t know what to do, and does anybody have any resources or this or that. So, it’s a really good place for people to process the very kinds of things we’re talking about in this particular episode.
Jared: Yeah, so if you’re interested in that, you can just go to patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople or just listen to this episode!
Pete: All right, folks, let’s get to it![Music begins]
Matthew: I don’t want my kids to have to recover or go into therapy because of what I told them about God. God should be a good part of their story, a hopeful part of their story, a healing part of their story – we need to stop approaching the stories that we tell our kids with fear. The one thing about parenting that I have learned is that all of my junk eventually comes out in how I parent.[Music ends]
Jared: Well, welcome to the podcast, Matthew, it’s great to have you!
Matthew: I am honored to be here. Thank you for having me.
Jared: Well, to get started, just because of the work you do, I think it’d be great for us to start with just your spiritual biography. Bring us up to speed in your spiritual journey and what’s led you to end up writing books for kids.
Matthew: I’ve gone to church for as long as I can remember, but I went to an Independent Fundamental Baptist church as a kid. My parents helped start the church. I had Barbie’s burned in front me to explain hell and so it was a –
Matthew: You can laugh.
Pete: They really do that?
Matthew: Yeah, they actually do.
Pete: I didn’t know that, okay.
Jared: My background, I’m thinking, I’m sitting here like, “oh, yeah, okay. Mm hmm.” It just went right by me!
Matthew: Yeah. And so like, I spent 14 years growing up in that kind of spiritual environment where everything was, it revolved around, you know, hardcore connection to the King James Version of scripture. I went to the school, which was where all of the things that we learned in church kind of got mandated into rules by teachers and whatnot. And so, I, when I graduated, and I graduated like, I was top of the class and I was also, I got the Pastor’s Award for being the most spiritual.
Pete: Oh wow.
Matthew: Yeah! It was a real thing. And so I went to, you know, went off to college, went away to college and I had my Calvinist, Calvinism experience. You know –
Jared: You graduated. You graduated in a Calvin.
Matthew: Yeah, I did that for a little while, but it really, my spirituality really started to mature when I started going to a USA Presbyterian church in Vienna, Virginia. I’d graduated from college, I had, you know, been out of college for a couple years, and I was managing a faith-based coffee house and I was the first time I got to be in a church experience where the rules were not the same as what I was raised in.
And I started to evolve in the whole idea of becoming comfortable in not, in spirituality not looking exactly how it was, like, outlined for me for so long. And, like, I just had, you know, spiritual, I still had, you know, really vivid spiritual moments and it just, and yet I, the rules weren’t the same. And so, like, it wasn’t rigid. And so, I, eventually moved to Nashville, became an editor of a Christian music magazine, and I did that for three years and I had an absolute blast, I absolutely loved it. And when I left there, one of the things that I realized about myself is that I had, I had a knack for writing, and I could put my personality down on paper pretty easily. And so, I just kind of dove into writing books and for the first ten years, I wrote memoirs and, you know, I wrote books about, you know, spiritual, spiritual topics, that, you know, my spiritual journey. And it wasn’t until I had kids that, you know, when you start talking to them about God, I wanted to, I certainly wanted to introduce them to God in a way that was different than how I was introduced to God. And when you start to –
Pete: You know, Matthew, there are, interrupt briefly, I know there are so many young parents out there who are saying exactly the same thing. They want to find a way to introduce God to their kids that’s very different from how it happened for them. So, anyway, that just resonates, I know, with so, so many people. Anyway, go ahead.
Matthew: Absolutely. I just, I would read books to my kids every night and every time I, you know, I would read something that was spiritual in nature or Christian in nature, I would find myself editing in my head prior to actually reading it out loud where the –
Pete: Like the Bible?
Well, definitely the Bible.[Continued laughter]
I mean, so, I definitely would have those moments where I would, you know, be reading something and it would just, you know, it would have that weird transition where it would go from fun to some sort of theological truth and I’m like, my kid is four and I, just not ready for that.
Pete: Yeah. So, do you mean like over their head or –
Matthew: Over their head but –
Matthew: For me, problematic. I mean, maybe not for other people. But in the sense of, like, a, you know, my kids didn’t grow up learning the word sinner. Like, my kids didn’t grow up learning that there was this, that God made them to be absolutely, you know, terrible human beings. Like, I’ve sort of kept them from that theology and so, so often children’s books just have this, they lack joy. They lack excitement and, you know, and there are so many, and there are some beautiful children’s books out there. But like, you read, you read some of Max Lucado’s books, and I love Max Lucado, but some of his children’s books are, they are, well, they’ll put you to sleep. And which, I guess is good for you when you’re reading to your kids at bedtime.
Matthew: But like, you know, my kids were way more interested in Llama, Llama and way more interested in, you know, all of the other books that I would read, you know, Where the Wild Things Are and because there was, they were alive and they rhymed or they had rhythm to them. And so, I, you know, in high school I had, I wanted to be a song writer, and so, I would carry around a notebook and I was constantly writing poems and song lyrics and the one thing that I had, you know, a talent for was just, like, putting things down on rhyme and I took, finally took a moment and just decided, you know what, I’m going to see what I can do. Maybe this is a space, maybe children’s books is a space where I could fill a need if given a chance, and I just started writing one day and I, you know, about 6-8 months later, I had one idea. My agent took it to eleven publishers and all eleven of them said no. A couple of them said no twice. And so, I self-published it and ended up selling every single copy of that book, which was called God Made Light. And then one of those publishers came back and said, “Hey, let’s do this.”
Pete: “Sorry! Sorry, can we talk again?” Yeah, okay.
Matthew: Yeah. And so, and my first book When God Made You took off, and it’s connected with people in a way that I hoped, I mean, I hoped it would but I had no idea to what degree people would connect to it.
Matthew: And not just parents of kids, but, like, people in their 20’s who find it and read it to themselves and –
Pete: Yeah, who were kids once.
Matthew: Right. And so, and I realized in that process that I was, the process of writing children’s books, for me, was, you know, I was rewriting my own narrative or reintroducing God to myself and in the process, introducing God in a beautiful, affirming, beautiful way to my kids and hopefully to other kids.
Pete: Well, before we get into the books a little bit more, maybe especially your last one, What is God Like?, it was interesting to me how you were brought up, but then you never spoke to your kids about, you know, being a sinner or things like that. So, what, I mean, you mention a little bit about the PCUSA church, but what happened with you?
Matthew: [Light laughter]
Pete: What brought you to that point where you just decided you needed to parent differently than you were brought up.
Matthew: Oh, I mean, a lot happened, Pete. Like, I mean –[Laughter]
It was, you know, life!
Matthew: Like, you start to go through the, you start to realize –
Pete: Don’t be snooty about it.
Mathew: [Continued laughter]
Pete: It’s just a question.
Matthew: Like, I could talk for a long time about all of the toxic spirituality that I was presented as a kid and how that affected every layer of my life. You know, when you’re inside an independent fundamental Baptist church, it’s not just a church experience, it’s a life experience.
Matthew: It swallows you whole and it’s, you know, I experience this in Maryland, which isn’t known for its fundamentalism exactly, so we stuck out like sore thumbs. Like we, which was just what we wanted to do, like, that’s exactly the goal. And so, I mean, and you don’t realize all of the various layers of, like, the bigotries that you’ve learned within that kind of circle and the terrible, like, theologies that you, just become a part of your life that you just assume are correct. And then you start, then you’ve learned this way of life and then the first time I met a person who didn’t believe in God was in, at a community college my first semester, and I went, like, fanatical on him. Like, I mean, I just was, I could not believe that anyone could possibly not believe in God. Like, even, I mean, you know, they may not believe in the exact God, but like, you know. It was just, it was, I was culturally sheltered. I was, I grew up in a bubble. And so, and you know, in the meantime, every time I would take a step away from these experiences that are from my church experience as a child, it was a dramatic argument. It left my family, my family, you know, they, I remember when I went to Belmont University in Nashville, that was the first time I had, I ever visited a movie theatre. I remember my mom finding out that I had visited a movie theatre, I think my sister told her, and she called me up and she is crying. You would’ve thought that, you know, I had just done something absolutely terrible. And so, and that was, that became a common theme. Every step away was this big dramatic thing that happened.
And so, and you know, and then, of course, like you go through the time in your life where your spirituality like, becomes mixed with your political point of view and your cultural point of view and then you start to see all those things just fall apart. And for me, like what I was one of those people who, like, fell hook, line, and sinker for like, George W. Bush’s, like, compassionate, conservative. And I was like, wow, what a novel idea to add compassion to conservatism. I mean, it was just awesome in my mind.
Matthew: And so, I fell for that hook, line, and sinker and then Katrina happened, and that changed me.
Matthew: Watching the events unfold, watching the suffering, the people of color who were treated differently in the process of being rescued than the white people that were treated, and seeing how distant and non-compassionate all the things that I thought could be compassionate were, it really started a, it was a, I just, I literally made a pretty vivid switch politically, spiritually, I started going to a different church. I left the church that I was in. And so like, you know, certainly there were other facets that played into it all. But when two or three years later after 2005 was when my first kid came into the world and it’s, children, you have your first baby and like, children tend to make you think about all the things. And so, I just never wanted him to experience the drama and chaos of, that I had experienced and how it related to God.
And so, it has become, it was a passion of mine then and so I didn’t think that I’d ever write children’s books, you know? I mean, as a writer, I think there was, I flirted with the idea of, oh, maybe I’ll write a children’s book one day. But I didn’t have any, I wasn’t, I kind of tripped into this and I have, the idea of writing what I consider to be liturgy for kids and parents and people just needing good words spoken over them, it’s been the most fulfilling writing I’ve ever done and I’m just, I’m honored to do it and I take it very seriously and it’s, I love what I do.
Jared: Well, you know, you talk about this transition that you went through and we, of course, we’re The Bible for Normal People, but I think for a lot of people’s religious experience in America the Bible is sort of central for that. So, how did your views on the Bible change and how does the Bible affect your views on God and how does all that play into, you know, talking about, you know, we were joking earlier about having to translate in your head and I have some of those experiences where it’s like, well, I don’t really want to say this even though it’s there in the Bible to my kids.
Jared: How does all that go together?
Matthew: You know, I, you know, the, when I, as a kid, I thought of the Bible as a history book, a science book, a book that just encompassed everything. You know, we were taught that if there was a question about life, there was going to be an answer in the Bible. So, I was, and we also held the view that there was something spiritually significant about the King James Version and the, and if our Bibles didn’t contain the content AV1611, which stands for authorized version, like if those two things weren’t on our Bibles, they were not real. And because we believed in some fashion that in, you know, when King James commissioned the Bible to be translated into English, that the Holy Spirit came back and reinterpreted it. And I mean, we believed that where, we didn’t even think about the original transcripts, but eventually when I was aware that there were original transcripts, we, where the King James Version differed from those transcripts, it was the transcripts that should’ve been changed is how I was taught.
Matthew: And so, and it took me a long time to ever think about anything in scripture as you know, different than what I had been raised. I mean, I think I had moments where I certainly hoped it was different, because, you know, I just, there were some things in scripture that I didn’t fully understand. And so, I think, you know, I think it’s like you start to meet people, you start to have conversations with people, and people you really spiritually respect, and you find out that they’re okay thinking of Adam and Eve as a, you know, a narrative that wasn’t history.
But it was, it gives us a glimpse of what happens in real life, but it’s not, it doesn’t have to be an Adam and it doesn’t have to be an Eve. And so, you, those little things start to chip away at your rigid, or they started to chip away at my rigid point of view of scripture. And so, you know, I think for me as a parent, it was like, you know, I knew scripture. By the time I was 7 or 8, I mean, I could have recited, I could recite long passages of scripture. I could tell you, if I didn’t know the Bible story, I could give you a pretty close retelling of any Bible story you asked me about. And so, I just remember there was, like, a friend of mine was like, so what are you going to tell your kids about Noah’s ark? And that kind of became the thing that, like, am I, you know, in my head it’s like, I thought about that story being told. Will I, the question in my mind was will I tell that story as a historical event or will I tell that story as an allegory? You know, that it’s true on some level, but it’s not historically, potentially, what happened.
And I’ll tell you, I guess I’m at a place where I’m like, I’m very, I don’t have to have, I don’t have to have every little thing decided upon when it comes to the Bible. I mean, I still read my Bible. There’s something that scripture inspires out of me that I’ve certainly, it’s inspired every single book on some level, some of the stories more than others, and so I just, I think that my view of scripture has certainly evolved. I don’t need everything to be spelled out and make sense and fall in line.
Pete: Yeah, and you want to find a way to model that or communicate that directly or indirectly to your children?
Pete: So, they don’t have to process some of the same difficult things. I mean, you’re talking about the flood story and I’ve gone on and on about this in other podcasts and stuff, but you know, what do you tell your children? Well, you don’t.
Pete: I mean, seriously, and here’s the thing, this is –
Matthew: And I’ve yet to tell that story.[Continued laughter]
Pete: Well, right, because everybody dies.
Pete: It’s chapter 6 of the Bible and God’s out of ideas, right? Now, we can understand that from an ancient Near-Eastern point of view, that story makes a certain amount of sense and you can understand why people would tell that story. But the problem there, I think, is the signals that children will get about what God is like.
Matthew: Mm hmm.
Pete: And, that leads me to –
Pete: To you last book.
Matthew: I thought that was intentional.
Pete: Well, it is intentional. It is intentional, because I think at the end of the day, tell me what you think about this, at the end of the day I think what drives people to seek fresh ways of communicating their faith and the Christian faith to their children is that question of what God is like. That’s the central question. That’s what you want your kids to grow up with thinking in a way that is life-giving and not makes you paranoid.
Matthew: I think I told Jen Hatmaker once that I was like, I just, I want to, I don’t want my kids to have to recover or go into therapy because of what I told them about God. And I think that is, you know, I’m sometimes I feel like I’m just blazing, you know, blazing my own trail because I don’t, and I think a lot of people, a lot of parents in my position feel that way. Like, we want our kids to have a connection to God, but we want that connection to be healthy and happy and celebrate their humanity while also honoring some of the traditions that Christianity is known for and so, I just think that it’s, my hope is that my kids won’t have to write a memoir about their experience of growing up in church.
Jared: Yeah, you know, so, on a recent episode, my wife and I talked a little bit about parenting and we challenged this idea that our kids need to grow up with this clear black and white idea of God or else it’s going to sort of, like, scar them forever. So, there’s this idea that we have to sort of raise our kids fundamentalists and then, you know, we’ll deconstruct with them when they’re teenagers or whatever it is. But I think that’s not helpful at all. But in the, your most recent book What is God Like?, you and Rachel talk a lot about mystery and asking questions. And so, can you talk more about that maybe even in your own parenting or as you are writing this book that gave you this idea of it’s okay for kids to have mystery, and it’s okay for kids to ask questions. That’s not some, like, detrimental part of their development.
Matthew: Well, first off, I want to acknowledge that this book was Rachel’s book, Rachel Held Evans put these ideas for children, the last ideas that Rachel put together before she became sick was a handful of ideas for children. And I remember Dan telling me in the hospital when we were with Rachel telling me about these books, and how they had, and at that point we were, you know, thinking that, okay, like, it’s only going to be like, you know, within a few weeks she’ll be home again. And I remember him telling me that she was planning on calling me and asking if she could get some advice on how to write a children’s book and after she passed away, I guess like three months, two months after she passed away I was asked to, if I would consider taking these books and finishing them. And so, with this book the one thing that Dan said that Rachel would be adamant about is that every phrase, every big and small message have some sort of connection, some sort of theological connection to scripture. And so, this idea is certainly the most outlined of the ideas that she had put down, but I guess I just took Rachel’s concept and tried to stay as true to her ideas as I possibly could. And I certainly, I colored in the phrasings and I, but every word that she wrote, I could, you know, the one thing, and I know it’s weird, maybe, I just wanted to make sure that every word she wrote for this book actually remained in the book.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Matthew: And so, that was my goal, to ensure, I added a whole bunch of words, but every single word she wrote, that she thought up, every idea, I made sure they were present in this book and the only thing I changed is the title, because she had just a working title. And so, to answer your question, Rachel’s whole writing career, in the first book she wrote when I first met her, it was about being free, getting free to ask questions. And I think that if she had been given the opportunity as a child to ask those questions, I feel like she, I mean, I think that she would’ve simply wanted and loved to have had the chance, the freedom, to color outside the lines as a kid, to ask questions, to explore concepts that were not rigid and dogmatic and put in their presentation. And so, our hope was, again, in our effort to offer parents a theological storybook that gives you a glimpse of God, but also encourages you to search and ask questions.
Like, I think that is a very beautiful and healthy concept because, I mean, asking questions is something that is so many of people in scripture do. They ask lots of questions and they’re directed right to God and to encourage that, I know in my own life, I wish I had had the freedom to ask questions. I would’ve had a much healthier upbringing. I would’ve been a lot happier of a young adult if I had been given the freedom and felt okay asking questions because, for me, every single question I asked was something, it was a hurdle that I had to get over.
Pete: Yes, yes.
Matthew: And, you know, it was like, I just, again, I, kids should not have to recover from how we talk about God to them. God should be a part of the, a good part of their story, a hopeful part of their story, a healing part of their story.
Pete: Yeah, I think, what I’m hearing is this – that at least part of the goal of the book is to sort of create a space or a culture for children to respect the mystery of God.
Pete: And not have the quick answers that parents sometimes think children need in order to not go down a straight path or something like that, because there’s a lot of fear, right? I mean, I’m sure you know this too, I think what a parent doesn’t, there is fear sometimes, involved in, “I’m gonna screw up my kids. So, I’d better give them these clear boundaries about God, because we don’t want them going to hell.”
Pete: I’d laugh, but it’s not a funny thing because people are really terrified about that. And, of course, once you take hell off the table theologically, it loosens things up a little bit to talk about. But just respecting the mystery, I think, is a really big, you know, it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it, Matthew, to respect the mystery of God because God is infinite? Right? It does make sense.
Matthew: Well, to engage, to actually be okay in the mystery. Like, when I think about how people that we read about in scripture engage God, they didn’t have all the concordance and the study Bibles and all these things and all they had was the mystery. All they had was the thing that, the echo of the story that had been passed down. And I think that’s the glimpse of God that we’re hoping to give kids. I want kids to, and I know Rachel would too, I want hope that they feel comforted, that they feel loved, that they, but that they don’t feel like we are, we don’t want to tell them exactly what God is like because in the beginning of the book we say because no one has seen all of God because God is far too big for any one person to see and I think that is, I just think that’s a beautiful way of presenting that concept.
Matthew: I think that this will, this will engage the imagination, this book will engage the imagination, the curiosity, the beauty and give parents conversation, a conversation piece to engage in really beautiful conversations about how to talk about God and what to, what we believe about God and how those ideas shift sometimes and that’s okay. Because I think that sometimes, you know, especially parents who have come, they’ve started to maybe deconstruct in a later in their parenting years and there’s this big, there’s a guilt trip that they put themselves through because they have already told them, told their kids about this one, you know, this evangelical, this fundamentalism God and that making the shift is the big thing and I think this kind of a book is even beautiful in that respect because it is so theological, it is so progressive in its approach, and yet it’s also really simple. Like, there’s simplicity to it and I think that’s what is so easy for me and it was just, it’s easy book for people to connect to, I think.
Pete: You know, something that’s along those lines, one thing that struck me about the book is the vocabulary. Now, what I don’t know about children’s writing could fill a warehouse, but I do know a little bit about, like, how many words per page and the kinds of words and how many syllables depending on their age and all that kind of stuff. And these books are, what, 4-7 or 3-7 or something like that? Right?
Pete: But I’m seeing words like passionate, unpredictable, persevere.
Matthew: Mm hmm, yup.
Pete: I think those are great words and I think those might challenge some young children, but that’s an opportunity.
Matthew: And you know, I get, that’s one of the critiques that I often get about my own books is that I sometimes include words that are too big for children to understand but my thing is I think that big words offer parents a moment to stop and explain what, this is what this word means. And I think that’s a really important process of reading. I think reading to your kids shouldn’t be a one way thing, I think it should be an interactive thing. And so, I always, I make a point to include words that the kids are not going to fully understand because it creates this opportunity to have a conversation, to talk about why that word is important and what it means to the story that they’re reading or what it means to the idea about God that they’re reading. And I think that we like to dumb down things for kids, but I think that it’s often times, I’ve learned that we don’t always, that that’s not necessary in all things.
Jared: Well, speaking of dumbing down things for kids, I probably shouldn’t say that, but –
Pete: Let’s talk about Pete.
Jared: No, I was going to talk about church. You know, one of the things that we talk about in our house is what our kids learn in Sunday school and there’s some really great things, we go to a great church, but there’s often things that we want to talk about and sort of unpack and say, okay, well, some people believe that but other people believe these other things. How do you feel like churches in general can do a better job about educating kids about God? Because I think that’s something that as we go through these faith transitions, there’s these institutional things that seem to hold back the conversation.
Matthew: Well, I think that we’ve, people who were raised in church in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, we’ve been given this, there are these essentials that we’ve been given that we have continued, many of us, to tie ourselves to. Like, especially when we’re talking to our kids about God. We have a list and if that list, if you know, in order to share a story we want, we want at least two or three of these essentials to be included to get the point across to make, you know, to reiterate that what’s really, when it comes down to it, what really is important and I think that, first, I think that you should get rid of a majority of the essentials or not be so tied or anchored to them. I think that kids can learn about God and learn about how to take care of each other and how to love people who look different than them and all of these things that Jesus spoke over and over again about, like, I think that in order to truly teach those things and teach those things well, that we need to stop being, stop approaching the stories that we tell our kids with fear or with, we guilt trip ourselves because we are so tied. Like, you know, some of us are in our process of deconstructing, we might not even believe all of the essentials but we’re afraid to present God in any other way to our kids because “what if?”
Matthew: You know? And so, I think that it’s, my thing is I have thrown out a lot of the rules that I was, if fear is what is driving me to tell the story or to tell the story in this particular way or if, you know, what other people think is driving, is the driving force of what’s the story you’re telling, if that’s it, then I think you’re doing a disservice to the story.
Pete: Yeah. Okay, so I hope the answer to this question had better be yes. Do you plan on writing some more children’s books?
Pete: Okay, good. Do you have any plans? Here is something that’s personally interesting, do you have any plans on writing books that might introduce Jesus specifically?
Matthew: No, no, no. I really would like to, I would love to write about Jesus. I am, the thing is I, one of the books I know, I think the first book that you read of mine, Pete, was When God Made the World, and that was the first book where I was really taking a story, you know, a story from Genesis or from scripture and shaping it into a rhyme that fits my style, that whatever. And so –
Pete: You read parts of that to me at the first Evolving Faith conference.
Matthew: Yeah, that’s right, now I remember.
Pete: And I was like, I remember listening to it and saying, “this is really, really good.” I mean, you’re weaving all this stuff together is amazing. So, yeah, anyway.
Matthew: Well, I, and so I just, my thing is I, when you get to telling, retelling stories that are very specific, that people know, there is this opportunity for it to become really cheesy or really –
Pete: Yes, yes.
Matthew: You can, because especially for a rhyming children’s book, and so I’m really mindful of that. And so, I want to cover Jesus and write about Jesus in a way that, I know one of the ideas, one of the book ideas that Rachel started was a book that was specifically about Jesus. And so, I think that that will certainly become something that we explore potentially. And so, I definitely want to do that. It’s not my next book, but maybe it’s the next one after that.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: Well –
Matthew: Now that I…
Jared: Thinking about, thinking about that as we wrap up our time here, just any thoughts, I mean, you have a unique perspective in that not only do you write kids books about God, but you are a parent. For people who are going through these faith shifts and faith transitions, what words of wisdom might you be able to offer for people who are figuring this stuff out kind of as they go? Anything that you’ve learned that’s been helpful to you?
Matthew: Therapy. Like, deal with your spiritual stuff with a therapist. I have become a better parent, a better spiritual parent, a better praying parent because I have walked through a whole bunch of stuff and junk with a therapist who, somebody who has just helped me navigate my story. And some people’s stories are less chaotic than mine, and some of them are more, some of them involve extreme abuse and some of them, so, some of them involve really, really awful theology or really, really, this great amount of fear. All of those things, the one thing about parenting that I have learned is that all of my junk eventually comes out in how I parent. No matter how much I try to hide it or try to keep it under wraps or whatever, so, the biggest thing when it comes to the spirituality that you want your kids to see is you dealing with the stuff that is in your own narrative. And you find that healthy balance between what we tell our kids and what we keep from our kids, and then you let go of the fear because for a long time, it was fear of what my parents would think, fear of what, you know, what God might think or fear, all the things. It was fear that sort of prevented me from just exploring an imaginative and creative spirituality and a love for God that was full of curiosity and life and affirmation and hope. And I, my kids are, you know, so far I see such beauty through the ups and downs of my spirituality, their spirituality has just been a representation of hope. Not having to unteach anything is such a powerful, beautiful, healthy thing.
Jared: That’s excellent. I think those are great parting words for everyone to hear because I do know, you know, there’s just a lot of uncertainty and probably fear around how to go through these things, again, things that often happen without us even wanting them to happen. You know, questions come. We don’t always invite them, they are just there. And so, I appreciate those words of wisdom. So, thanks so much, Matthew, for taking some time and coming on the podcast with us and walking us through some of this.
Matthew: Thank you so much, like, I am honored.
Pete: Great to be with you Matt.
Matthew: Absolutely, thank you.
Jared: Well, keep writing and we’ll hopefully see you in the future.
Matthew: Absolutely.[Music begins]
Megan: Alright everyone, that’s it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening and supporting our show, we hope you enjoyed this episode. A big shout out to our Producer’s Group who support us over on Patreon. They’re the reason we’re able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. If you would like to help support the podcast, head over to https://www.patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where for as little as $3 a month, you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.
Dave: Thanks, as always, to our team: Executive Producer, Megan Cammack; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marketing Wizard, Reed Lively; transcriber and Community Champion, Stephanie Speight; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. From Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team, thanks for listening.[Music ends] [Outtakes] [Beep]
Jared: Children sounds fine.
Pete: Children sounds more spiritual.
Jared: I don’t care. I just feel like kids is more vernacular, but –
Jared: It doesn’t seem so haughty.[In terrible British accent]
To our children, father, mother, father. Mother, father, children.
Pete: [In a marginally better British accent]
I’ll retire to the nursery now.[Beep]
Jared: Yeah, let’s do a quick intro. We’re just doing Patreon and that’s the only promo.
Pete: In the beginning.
Jared: Yup, in the beginning, that’s it. Okay, so, nothing too hairy here.
Pete: Patreon, ugh.
Jared: It’s good for Patrons to hear, we need you to hear that. Ugghhh.
Pete: [In a melodramatic exasperated tone]
I guess we gotta do this.
Jared: [Laughter] [Beep]
Pete: Well, your next one if you need an artist, I can do clip art.
Matthew: I will keep you in mind for that.
Pete: Yeah, I can use PowerPoint really well and do stuff, so if you need –
Jared: Oh man, he’s a tech genius.
Matthew: [Laughter] [End of recorded material]