In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with Cindy Wang Brandt about raising spiritual children without trauma as they explore the following questions:
- How do you navigate your personal deconstruction while trying to raise children with some sort of faith?
- How do we teach our kids about the Bible?
- How much of our parenting has to do with the expectations of those around us?
- Why does Cindy Wang Brandt think we should have ‘spiritual child protection policies’?
- At what point are children developmentally ready to know they have the freedom to decide what they believe?
- Why is spiritual security important to children?
- How can we introduce our own faith to our children?
- Why Does Cindy Wang Brandt think it is important to examine our own fears about our children’s faith?
- How do we shape our children’s view of God through our parenting style?
- How do the ways we were raised with faith shape how we raise our kids?
- Are there parts of the Bible we should avoid sharing with our children?
- What can we learn from our children’s perspectives on the Bible?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Cindy Wang Brandt you can share.
- “We have to be aware of our own baggage and understand that our children are not us… they haven’t yet gone through the spiritual trauma.” @cindy_w_brandt
- “When your child sees something totally different in the story than what you see, you realize, ‘Oh, I see it this way because I was taught to read it this way.’” @cindy_w_brandt
- “I think it’s a lot to ask people to read the Bible everyday with their children when they’ve been traumatized by those very words.” @cindy_w_brandt
- “You can teach about Jesus’ love in more ways, it’s just not the Bible that tells you so.” @cindy_w_brandt
- “Pick and chose the [Bible] stories you want to share with your children.” @cindy_w_brandt
- “We have to honor our children’s spiritual autonomy.” @cindy_w_brandt
- “We have to think of the time they spend in our home as a launching pad… they are given tools to be spiritually vibrant and then when they go out into the world they can be even more curious and they can explore and discover and grow in a way that’s intrinsic to themselves.” @cindy_w_brandt
- “I think we underestimate what children can understand, even very young children.” @cindy_w_brandt
- “Let the kids miss the point and just run with whatever point they saw in it.” @cindy_w_brandt
Mentioned in This Episode
- Book: Parenting Forward
- Website: Cindy Wang Brandt
- Website: Raising Children UnFundamentalist
- Podcast: Parenting Forward
- Conference: Parenting Forward Conference
- 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. Serious talk about the sacred book. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.[Jaunty Intro Music]
Jared: Welcome, everyone, to this episode of the Bible for Normal People. Today, our topic is raising children in the faith. I think this is going to be a good conversation. We’re talking with Cindy Wang Brandt. She’s an author, speaker and fellow podcaster.
Pete: Yeah. She has a great book that came out about a year ago and I read it. I’m trying to think exactly when it came out, but I read it this past summer. It’s called Parenting Forward. It’s just a really great book for thinking differently about raising kids and differently than a lot of us that have experienced the evangelical world.
Again, I want to say that in a way that doesn’t sound bashing, but it’s just a reality of what it means to raise children in the evangelical world is oftentimes something that, when people come of age, they wind up really struggling to work through some of the challenges of some ways of thinking about life and scripture and God and things like that.
Cindy has her way of looking at that that will not reproduce those struggles in children.
Jared: I was really excited about this because it’s a question we get a lot and it’s a question I’ve thought through a lot as a parent. How do we raise children with vibrant, healthy spiritual lives, but not having to go the same journey that I went through, which had a lot of pain and heartache and baggage and all these other things? How do we, maybe, go around that and can we go around that? It was a good conversation.
Pete: It was. Jared said it’s something he’s thought about. Cindy’s thought about it. I thought about it more after it was too late. [LAUGHTER] My kids are wonderful. They’re fun. I’m sorry. I wasn’t conscious of it. That’s the thing. I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t intentional about what am I actually doing here. It was more like going along with the way it was understood. The things you would do with children spiritually when they were young that my children at various points in their life have talked with me about how difficult it was to get past certain issues of literalism that they were being taught in church.
It’s kind of consciousness that I wish I had had that Cindy has and that she’s giving us here in this podcast that I wish I had had when I was in my late 20s, when the kids were really young.
I have a granddaughter to experiment on now, so I’ll just be doing that.
Jared: All right. Let’s have this conversation with Cindy.[JAUNTY MUSIC]
Cindy: Being a woman and a woman of color, eventually you’re going to figure out that the system you’re in is not really for you. I was going through thinking that, “I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m being the godly woman that I am.” Then I started realizing, “I’m kind of being treated differently because I don’t have the right genitals and because of the color of my skin.” That was what started my questioning the status quo.
Jared: Welcome, Cindy, to the podcast.
Cindy: Thank you so much for having me.
Jared: Absolutely. We want to start with some of your background. How did you grow up in the faith and, maybe even more particularly, how was the Bible taught to you as a child?
Cindy. Sure. I tell people I grew up evangelical. But I was actually born into a non-religious home. I was born in Taiwan, born and raised in Taiwan. My parents sent me to a western school, an American school, that was founded by missionaries.
By the age of 10, I was in sixth grade. I attended a conservative, evangelical school run by missionaries. So, I became a Christian there. I was given the whole, “believe in Jesus, pray the prayer or you’re going to hell.” From then on, I really became committed to the evangelical faith.
That was how I was raised from about sixth grade on.
Then I went to Wheaton College, as many of you may know, is the “Harvard” of evangelicalism. I went to seminary at Fuller. So, I’ve really kind of maintained this path of evangelicalism. But I’ve since deconstructed and I call myself an ex-vangelical or any number of other terms: progressive, post-evangelical. [LAUGHTER]
Now I’m kind of not sure where I’m at right now, but just on the left side of things.
Pete W: You’re not really into labeling yourself at this point—
Pete: You’re just on this path and you’re totally comfortable just being what you are right now.
Cindy: Yeah. I. think those of us who have done a lot of evolving faith. We know, “what’s the point? It’s just going to change.” [LAUGHTER]
Pete: It’s like why make your bed. You just going to unmake it anyway. I got it.
Cindy: Exactly. Yeah. I think also, as a public person, it feels like if you announce anything, you just get labeled and I want to—I don’t feel like I owe people my faith identity—
Pete: Right. Exactly. Yeah.
Pete: As much as they might clamor for it.
Cindy: Yeah. And that’s fine. It doesn’t matter what you say anyway. People are going to have their opinions. If I say, “I’m a Christian.” People will say, “Oh no. You’re not a Christian.” So, whatever. [LAUGHTER]
Pete: Cindy, so you were raised then, sort of as an evangelical in America and you learned all that stuff. But then you mentioned a process of deconstruction. What were one or two things that triggered that for you?
Cindy: I think being a woman and a woman of color—
Pete: That will do it.
Cindy: Eventually, you’re going to figure out that the system you’re in is not really for you. I wouldn’t have had the language to say that about my own experience, but looking back, that’s what happened. I was going through thinking that, “I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m being the godly woman that I am.” Then I started realizing, “I’m kind of being treated differently because I don’t have the right genitals and I’m being treated differently because of the color of my skin.” That was what started my questioning the status quo.
But then, also, sometimes I think it’s funny because I went to Wheaton because it’s kind of known for its academic rigor and critical thinking. I had a brain. [LAUGHTER] I started thinking about the doctrines—
Pete: You actually did what they want you to do. Then it all falls apart.
Cindy: I’m not sure they’d be happy about where I took things. But yes. Yeah. It’s just critical thinking and figuring out that, “Oh. I don’t know what I think about this” and following my curiosity to its conclusion sometimes. Not being afraid of the slippery slope.
I think I did the bulk of my deconstruction in the late 2000s where blogging started being a thing and like so many other people, I was led by a lot by people like Rachel Held Evans who were saying the things that I was thinking, putting words to it and then going down that path of questioning.
Jared: There’s a question here, not to dive too heavy right into our topic, but your story of not wanting to label and also it changes as it goes, I feel like as adults, you get to a place where you’re comfortable of that level of ambiguity and uncertainty, but then you have kids who tend to me more black-and-white or need this structure.
What was some of the process you went through with your own kids as they were getting old enough to understand things? Was that a challenge for you in how to talk to them about faith?
Cindy: Not at first. When my kids were born, I was still very much solemnly in that system. I just did what I’ve always done, which is what I was told to do. I did the Bible verses. We had this book of Catechisms that I would read to them before bedtime. We did the Christmas Tree, the Jesse Tree, all these different traditions.
I just copied other Christian parents.
Pete: What’s a Jesse Tree? I never heard of a Jesse Tree literally—
Cindy: It’s actually kind of cool, where you have 25 ornaments where each ornament symbolizes the path of the Biblical story. It’s actually not that fundamentalist. It’s a nice way to tell the story, the Bible story—
Jared: Yeah. We’ve done that a few years with our kids.
Pete: We’ve had chocolate in the calendar, that you open the door. That’s so cool and it tastes good—
Jared: Jesse Tree.
Pete: Not to interrupt, Cindy. Go ahead.
Cindy: At first, it wasn’t difficult at all. I think it was when my own faith started going through a crisis, not only was I was questioning my own faith, I was questioning what I wanted to do for my kids. Yeah. It was hard. That’s why I started this community on Facebook called, “Raising Children Un-fundamentalist.”
It all started with me just saying, “Woah. What am I supposed to do when I’m questioning my own faith and my kids are in that phase of faith-building, faith-fusing, when I’m in the phase of faith-deconstruction?” Right? How do we deal with that parallel at the same time?
That was the question I was grappling and thinking about.
Cindy: Yeah. I’ve learned a lot through being in community with other people and how other parents are handling it and figuring out for myself.
Pete: You’ve been thinking about this stuff for a while. A question I get an awful lot is exactly the question you just uttered is, “I’m having this great time rethinking my faith and deconstructing. I don’t know what to do with my kids.” They ask me and I just say, “Go read Cindy’s book” because I have not thought about at that—I mean, I’ve thought about it, but not really existentially—
Pete: Because these thoughts came to me when my youngest was 18. My kids were into their 20s and it was a different kind of time. You’ve written this book, Parenting Forward, which is such a good resource, Cindy. It’s such a good way—I’ve passed this on to a number of people.
You’re the expert here. This is what’s happening.
Cindy: There’s a couple of things I would say to parents who find themselves—
Pete: Okay. [LAUGHTER]
Cindy: —in this situation. [LAUGHTER]
Pete: Yeah. Right.
Cindy: First of all, you have to understand that those of us who are going through deconstruction or are going through a faith crisis, we have a lot of baggage.
Cindy: Right. We have this baggage of the things that we’ve learned from fundamentalism or evangelicalism. We have the Biblical literalism, all this baggage that we have, so that when we encounter spiritual truths or any religious language, sometimes it triggers that baggage.
When our kids are learning these things from Sunday School or from the wider culture or from whatever, we can be tempted to project our baggage onto them. The thing that I would say is that we have to understand, we have to be aware of our own baggage and understand that our children are not us. They are learning. They are—not a total blank slate, but they are learning all these things for the first time. They haven’t gone through some of the spiritual trauma that some of us have gone through, to kind of balance that.
Some people think that children need to have a container—this is actually Richard Rohr’s language—a first container. They need to learn what it is about faith first and then deconstruct. I don’t love that idea because it just kind of sounds like you have to repeat your own path with your children, like you have to get them to learn faith a certain way, so that they can grow up and deconstruct it.
I’m like, “No. That’s the opposite of what we’re trying to do.” What we want to do is not give them that trauma. [LAUGHTER]
We want to break the cycle of spiritual trauma in our lives, so that they don’t have to go through that. This is not to say that they’re not going to learn and grow and go through that differentiation process of owning whatever faith they have for themselves.
That’s still a normal developmental process, as a human and as a spiritual being—
Cindy: But we don’t have to traumatize them, right, in that process. I think [LAUGHTER]—I could be wrong [LAUGHTER]—but I think that it is possible to raise a spiritual child through the stages of even those like questioning and fusing and questioning and rebuilding—you can do that without trauma.
Pete: Yeah. That’s almost a new thing for people to hear, I think, because what other tools do we have, other than, even subconsciously reproduce our experience in our children. That’s not a healthy thing, you’re saying—
Pete: You have to know yourself well enough not to do that. You know this. This is new. This is a new way for a lot of people to think about it—
Cindy: I’ve been learning from a lot of liberal traditions that they were raised in church and they were raised with religion and they’re not traumatized. When I first started hearing stories like this, I was mind-blown.
I was like, “You were raised knowing about Jesus and go to church and do liturgy, but you don’t have any trauma. You don’t have any baggage.” [LAUGHTER] “You are spiritually healthy.”
That got me thinking. “Okay. How did you do it? How did you raise your children?” Most of the time it’s the same—it’s kind of common sense. You give your children autonomy. Let them question. Give them critical thinking skills. Don’t put doctrine above their well-being. These kinds of things. It was just new to me, given the environment that I grew up in.
Cindy: The one thing, though, that a lot of people who were raised in progressive traditions will tell me is that they didn’t—this is relevant to this podcast—that they didn’t know the Bible very well. They actually feel bad about it. They’re like, “I wish I knew the Bible like Evangelicals do.”
Pete: Yeah. The Bible—not to put words in your mouth—I’m not trying to be needlessly provocative, but the Bible can be a problem. Let me—let’s shift to that. Let’s talk about this, because most of us – I was not raised this way by my parents, but I was raised this way in an Evangelical culture that you read your Bible with your children every day.
Pete: I remember having a discussion with a young father who has three young kids and he was really very proud of the fact that they’re working through Deuteronomy with six-year-olds [LAUGHTER] and I’m thinking, “let me know how that works out for you.”
But you know—that’s the mentality, but I think, in a way, dealing with that scriptural tradition is the hard part, in my opinion. I know you’ve thought a lot about that. Can you reflect a little bit on how much should we teach our children about the Bible? That’s a heretical thing to ask in some communities.
Pete: I wish I had asked myself that question when my youngest was three and four years old.
Pete: What do you think about that?
Cindy: I think there’s a spectrum, right?! I think about people who have been, again, traumatized by scripture.
LGBTQ people who have been clobbered by the verses in the Bible.
I think it’s a lot to ask people to read the Bible every day with their children when they’ve been traumatized by those very words.
For people like that, I would say you don’t have to. You don’t have to raise your children with something that’s so painful for you. There’s a lot of ways to raise a spiritual child and even a Christian child without involving the Bible so much.
Again, yes, I understand this is heretical to say, but I really believe that. When the children get older, they can explore the Bible for themselves. It’s not too late.
I would say, “Well, you don’t have to.”
Having given people that freedom, I also want to say that, if you do, it can be a beautiful thing. It can be a wonderful thing, because the Bible is an instrument of pain, but it’s also an instrument of liberation. And it has really fun stories, right?
The stories are diverse and they’re gritty and they’re exciting.
When you were asking me about the way I grew up, I wanted to say before I went into that conservative, evangelical school, my parents actually sent me to an Anglican school and that was the first time I was exposed to the Bible.
I still remember. I was in fourth grade, falling in love with the story of Esther. I just remember that. It’s kind of fuzzy, but I remember I read it over and over again and I fell in love with it. I had no other teachings. I didn’t go to Sunday School. I didn’t know anything else about Jesus or Christianity or anything like that, but I loved Esther, because it was a fun story.
Now, after all that I’ve been through, I look back to that time and I think, “Of course I loved it. I’m a strong woman and I love bucking against the status quo.” [LAUGHTER]
That was in me as a child. I resonated with something that was powerful in that story.
I think that introducing the Bible to kids—yeah, it can be a wonderful thing. Now, I have lots of caveats because there’s a lot of violence in the Bible, so you do also have to know your children’s temperament, like if your child is very sensitive to, you know, cutting off heads, shedding foreskins, that kind of stuff, [LAUGHTER] then you have to filter. That’s the thing. Everyone filters. It’s okay to pick and choose [LAUGHTER] the stories that you want to share with your children.
Honestly, I feel like a lot of parents, they just pick the story that’s been published into a children’s Bible or has been made into a Veggie tales—
Cindy: —show to teach that—they’re picking and choosing, but allowing the gatekeepers of Christian publishing to pick and choose for them. That’s fine. I get it. The resources are out there and it’s easier.
Pete: That’s a great point, because there’s always picking and choosing going on.
Pete: It’s just who’s going to do it and on what basis are you going to make those choices—
Cindy: Yeah. It’s interesting that your friend picked Deuteronomy, though. [LAUGHTER] That’s unusual.
Jared: Well, that’s a little bit of our background for you.
Pete: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] Oh well. Alas.
Jared: What I’m hearing you say is it’s not—when we talk about—and this has been my experience with our kids—it’s actually not as much what we’re reading in the Bible or what we’re talking about. It’s really the weight or the emotional heaviness that we bring to it that can be a real challenge—it’s not really that we’re talking about the story. It’s about what’s the pressures or expectations that I’m getting from my parents about what I’m supposed to do with this information. Would that be fair to say?—
Cindy: Yeah. That’s fair to say, but that’s fair to say of everything in parenting. I often talk about the deserted island analogy. When you are parenting your child, picture yourself on a deserted island, would you still parent your child the same way?
It’s just a way to become aware of how much your parenting according to the expectations of the community. Not so say that it’s a bad thing. We’re raising our children in community so we do have to teach them some of that, but I think being able to imagine yourself on that deserted islands helps to discern, “Okay. This is just me wanting to please the people in my community, or this is actually what I care about to give to my child, just between me and my child.”
I think with the Bible, it’s the same thing. If you were on a deserted island, how would you teach your child the Bible? If you didn’t have any expectations from the community that you’re in.
Pete: I’m thinking of what would I do.
Jared: Yeah. I’m actually doing the exercise in my head.
Pete: It is an abstraction, but what would we do if we didn’t have this expectation?
Jared: One thing that we do—I want to just test this with you—I’ve really come to appreciate—the word that comes to mind a lot for us is “provisional.” This is—we give a broader context. Our kids ask us all the time, “What do you believe about this?” They don’t think of it that way. They actually say, “What’s true about this? Did this really happen?” or “What happens when you die?” That’s a big one at our house.
My wife gets really afraid because they now know about reincarnation and my wife thinks that my five-year-old is going to go—my five-year-old thinks of it like a video game. He goes out and gets hit by a car. He can just respawn. My wife’s really afraid of that belief. “No. That’s not how it works. Don’t go play in traffic.”
This idea of—what we often do is set it in a larger context and make it personal or maybe even subjective, saying, “Lots of people believe a lot of different things.”
We situate our Christian belief in a broader context, which would have never occurred to my parents to do. It’s like we’re afraid of choice and we’re afraid of diversity, so we want to shelter people from other beliefs, but I think that can do some damage. What do you think about that?
Cindy: I talk about spiritual child protection. We have child protection policies for children. We have to have two adults in the same room with a child or cameras or whatever. We have all these policies to protect a child from physical harm, but we don’t have spiritual child protection policies. I think we should.
One of the things that I think to do is to not keep your child in an ideological bubble. A lot of people are afraid of confusing children, which I find ludicrous, because children, they love fairy tales. Their imagination is so much more wild and fantastical than ours. We think we are confusing them. They believe in unicorns, right? [LAUGHTER]
Don’t be afraid that you’re going to confuse your children. Let them know that there are lots of different viewpoints. From the time that they start going to school, if you send your child to school, they’re being exposed to all these different kinds of families. I don’t really understand—it’s not even possible to shelter children unless you live in a bunker.
Why not open up conversations and talk about—the more you can tell your child that other people believe this other way, the more you actually have the confidence to say, “This is what I believe.”
The more that you give your child freedom to say, “You get to decide what you believe,” I think that’s a beautiful thing. We want to honor and respect other people. I think this is a very important tool, for our children to live in a pluralist society.
Start when they’re young. [LAUGHTER]. Teach them about other viewpoints. Teach them how you and your partner and your relatives are different.
Then, hopefully, I think this gives them the freedom to feel like they can have their own ideas as well.
24:55[PRODUCER’S GROUP ENDORSEMENT]
Pete: At what point, Cindy—I’m going to guess you’re probably going to say it depends on the child—again, I’m channeling things that I’ve probably felt raising children and what other people have uttered—but at what point is it “okay” to give them the choice or to let them know that the choice is actually theirs to decide what they want to believe, because, maybe younger kids—I don’t know—a four-year-old, an eight-year-old?
When is a developmental stage—it’s really what I’m asking—when are they at a place where that would even make sense for them? What does your experience tell you?
Cindy: I think we should be letting our children have a choice from as young as possible, as young as—when they’re two years old and they’re trying to decide—give them choices. “What food to you want? Which shoes?” Maybe not too many choices to overwhelm the, but “do you want the red shoes or the blue shoes?” Giving them those choices, you’re helping exercise consent and honoring that they get to choose.
When it comes to faith, I think we should always say they have a choice. But the thing is children, they do need some security and boundaries and belonging.
Cindy: I think that’s the key. We can say that—if you are Christians—you can say, “This is what your dad and I,” or “my partner and I”—“we”—“this is our faith. This is our tradition. Listen. You belong and you can have access to everything that we have in our spiritual tradition and you are part of us.”
I think that gives them that sense of security and belonging. But I would always leave a path for them to say, “if you choose something else when you grow up, that’s fine. That’s your choice to make. Or if you want to choose to stay in this tradition, then that’s great too.”[LAUGHTER]
Growing up evangelical, I know a lot of people—they said that, but they always—the underlying thing was “we would be much happier if you chose our tradition.”
Pete: I’m not looking down on anyone. I’ve experienced this. You’re scared to death if they actually take you up on that.
Cindy: That’s right—
Pete: That’s a hard thing for people because it’s—
Pete: That’s why I think—like you said way at the beginning, Cindy—I think it was a very important point about knowing yourself too and going through your own process and asking yourself the way I’ve asked myself, “What am I actually afraid of?”
“Am I afraid of what it looks like? What am I really, at the end of the day, truly afraid of?”
That’s an important question for parents to ask themselves, but that doesn’t happen unless they see the need to be—to use the trite phrase, “on a journey of faith.”
This isn’t bashing bad parenting or anything, but it’s that model of journey is not one that is really popular in some Christian circles, maybe in an evangelical context. It’s more shoring up the fortress kind of thing.
Pete: But you’re saying that mentality will cause, will promote the need to deconstruct at a later point in time for the children—
Cindy: Yeah. I think we have to honor our children’s spiritual autonomy. That’s a really good point. I think evangelicals tend to think of the first 18 years of a child’s life is that you want to arm them and they actually use this terminology. You want to arm with as much foundation and weapons when they go out into the world.
That’s the binary of the world is scary. The family is safe. That’s not a healthy model because it’s not really true. [LAUGHTER]
Cindy: If we want to parent our children in a way that is spiritually healthy, we have to think of the time that they spend in our home as a launching pad. They are given tools to be spiritually vibrant. When they go out into the world, they can be even more curious and they can explore and discover and grow in a way that’s intrinsic to themselves. I think that’s a much healthier model.
Jared: As we’re talking, it strikes me as an irony I had never thought of. The sense that—one of the big things for me growing up—when we talk about sin or other things, we say, “God respects our autonomy. He respects our free will. We have choice.” The flip side of that, as parents, in that tradition, for me, there wasn’t a lot of autonomy or choice or freedom. That wasn’t actually something that was valued. It just strikes me as that irony. It’s good enough for God, but we have tougher standards around here. [LAUGHTER]
I’d never thought about that. It’s just something to reflect on. What are we saying about God and how are we reflecting that in our own parenting and being that image-bearer of someone who really wants these young people to have their own mind and have free will and have autonomy and really flourish in their own way.
How do we not coerce and how do we not let our fear, to Pete’s point, our own fear and what you were saying about our projections, get in the way of this young person’s flourishing in their own way?
I think a lot of parents are driven by fear and if you are trying to control your children, it’s probably because that’s the way you were treated. You have been in the system that has been controlling. [LAUGHTER]
That’s kind of just the only way that they know how to parent. It’s that self-work, that inner self-work that you have to do better if you want to do better by your children. If you don’t want your children to be controlled the way you were, then you have to address the fears that you have in you.
I don’t say this lightly—I don’t say this like, “Get over yourselves and do better by your kids”—because I know how hard it is to extricate yourself from that fear.
I just want to encourage parents to be brave about confronting those fears. Elizabeth Gilbert says, “We don’t ignore fear. Fear is part of us. Fear is what keeps parents from making sure their children are safe.” We should include fear, but we don’t let it make the decisions. We ask their opinion [LAUGHTER]. We ask fear’s opinions, but we get to make the final one.
Jared: Coming back to the Bible and how we practically connect this with our kids, is there a place that you would recommend parents start. If they’re saying, “I’ve been in this deconstructed phase and I’m in a new place in my own faith. I’m not sure where the Bible fits, but I do want my kids to grow up reading the Bible,” how would you suggest a parent start?
Cindy: It’s just like everyone else. Just pick up a children’s Bible and just start reading. Or go back to the oral tradition [LAUGHTER]. Tell the Bible stories that way that you know it and put your interpretation on it. Just tell your kids that way. That could be an interesting exercise [LAUGHTER], because it will also reveal your own hermeneutical lens, right?
Cindy: Just start sharing the stories that mean a lot. For me, I loved Esther, so that’s one thing—my kids are older now, but if they were young, I think I would start there. It’s a great place to start when it comes to sharing faith is to share what is important and valuable to you, instead of what’s important and valuable—what the system thinks is important. Does that make sense?
Pete: Oh yeah.
Cindy: Start with your personal story.
Pete: What parts of the Bible that you might want to avoid with children? Don’t just go anywhere.
Pete: There might be things that I might really value, but I might value them from—I didn’t have your experience when you were in fourth grade, reading Esther. I didn’t have that. I didn’t have any of those experiences.
A lot of the stuff that jazzes me—I’m not really even sure I can even talk to a child about—story X, Y, Z. Are there any—
Cindy: Which—what sto—
Pete: Where might—
Cindy: Pete, what stories are they? What are the stories that excite you that you don’t think you can talk to your grandchild?
Pete: The faith crisis that Kohelet is having in Ecclesiastes, values what I do. It’s things like that—
Cindy: See. I think you can.
Cindy: I think we underestimate what children can understand, even very young children—
Pete: All right. That’s a good—yeah.
Cindy: —because—you have to translate it in a way that a child can understand.
Cindy: But, you’re like, “You know this person faces a really tough choice. They’re changing their mind on something and they’re having this struggle.” Toddlers know struggle. They struggle with their parents every single day. There are always ways you can talk to children.
I think a lot of times we think teaching children the Bible means we have to dumb it down or we have to make it less interesting. No. Children understand struggle. They understand excitement and plot and climax and they know all those things and they love it. Tell them.
Jared: I would say our daughter also has pretty good boundaries of where she—if she doesn’t understand, she has this phrase—of course, she’s eight and kind of sassy—“I don’t know how I feel—”
Cindy: That’s a great place to chime in and say, “Me neither.”
Jared: That’s helpful. That’s great. That’s great. If I’m trying to explain something from the Bible or anything in life, and she says—she looks at me blankly and says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” then I know, maybe we should just drop it or maybe I’ll try it in a different way. Also, just respecting that—these young people have their own voice. If they’re confused, it’s not that they’re just going to crumble, at least my kids. They say, “I’m confused. I have no idea what you’re talking about.” That’s great. That’s still part of the conversation—
Cindy: Yeah. Sometimes, they miss the point of what you’re trying to say. You tell the story with a certain point—but then, let them run with their point.
Cindy: Because that’s what we all do when we come to a story. How many times have we read a novel or a non-fiction book and we take away from it something the author never intended for us to take away. That’s what we do.
Let the kids miss the point and just run with whatever point that they saw in it. I would also say that children, they’ll say, “I have no idea and I don’t care what you’re talking about.” I have a teenage daughter and she rolls her eyes at me a whole lot, but I know it’s going in. I know she’s listening. Two years down the road, she’ll come back and tell me, “You said this thing and I remember it.” There’s that too.
Pete: What they say is not always what’s going on deep inside. Right? These kids.
Pete: Not to push you too much, here Cindy, but I don’t think I’m going to open up Joshua with my eight-year-old and talk about the Canaanite conquest, “I’m really struggling with this perception of God that commands to—” because I don’t think that happened historically. I think that’s part of the ideology of Biblical writers from the Iron Age. I just feel like I need to avoid that.
Cindy: My friend, Anna, she says that, “The Bible isn’t a children’s book.” It’s not. You can tell me who it’s written for—
Pete: Not children.
Cindy: —but it’s not written for children. I think it’s important to remember that. I’m just thinking of people who want the Bible to be a part of a child’s life. I think it’s okay. There are ways that you can do it. If you feel like your child is too sensitive to a lot of the themes or they’re not ready to explore that, then I think, again, like I said, you pick and choose the things that you think are more appropriate for children.
It’s also important to remember that there’s a lot of children’s books, books that are written for children, that share values that you may—and even spiritual truths, that you may want to teach your children. I think it’s okay to use those books as well.
You don’t have to just think the Bible—the Bible’s not the only source.
I heard on Richard Rohr’s podcast—they had a podcast on parenting and the cohost said that they sing the song, Jesus Loves Me, This I Know, but instead of saying “for the Bible tells me so,” they substitute or they mix –they use different words for “the Bible.” “For my grandparents tell me so.” “For” whatever it is. I thought that was really beautiful, because it kind of shows that you can teach about Jesus’ love in more ways—it’s not just the Bible that tells you so.
Pete: In fact, it’s more often not. It is the context we have as children. Parents. Grandparents. It’s the love we have around us. It’s a good point.
Jared: Yeah. And I—
Cindy: Yeah. I love that idea.
Jared: I’m kind of gathering from everything that you’re saying—these themes that learning to trust that Jesus and Christianity and your spiritual life is bigger than the Bible. There are multiple ways of context for kids—
Jared: —just because you aren’t reading the Bible every day really doesn’t mean that they’re not grasping spiritual truths and values.
Cindy: Oh my goodness. Yeah. There’s so many—nature—there’s so much out in the world—yeah—that they can experience love and belonging and acceptance and kindness and all those things that every parent wants for their children.
Jared: But if you want to find it in the Bible, there are ways, as long as you can be really mindful of your own baggage and projections and some of that trauma that you’d experienced and some of the bad experiences that you’ve had and making sure that you’re not imposing them or maybe overly sensitive with your kids.
Cindy: What’s really important to me is letting a child into the interpretative task of reading the Bible. When you do read the Bible with your children, or share stories, really make a lot of space for them to put their spin on it. That’s one way that will reveal your bias—reveal your context, because when your child sees something totally different in the story, you realize, “I see it this way because I was taught to read it this way. But here, my five-year-old has never been exposed to that, and they see this.”
This is what’s wonderful about having children. They kind of reveal your baggage and show how contextualized your view of the Bible or faith or anything else is.
When we do share these stories with the kids, get into that dance with them. Say, “This is what I think about the story. What do you think?” Then they bring their perspective and then build off that. Talk about it. Discuss it. Find new interpretations. That’s what reading the Bible should be about, right?
Pete: Well, it’s always been about that. That’s the thing—
Pete: That’s what the Church and Jews have done. There are multiple interpretations to the Bible.
Cindy: I think we should include children in that.
Pete: That’s an interesting point. To include the children in that. That’s not a catechetical approach to raising children. That is a personal encounter, engagement with God via scripture, so to speak, where they’re actually a part of it. That’s bringing—they’re not just objects that we have to teach to come up with the right answer, so to speak. They’re learning about themselves. I think they’re learning about God is the process.
Cindy: We can learn so much from them, because they’re learning things that we don’t know—
Cindy: Our children are learning things that we do not know. They have a totally different life experience than we do. For example, I heard someone say that they think Moses was autistic, because he has trouble speaking in public. That’s something that—people understand autism more. We have more information about things and children and teenagers, they have more information about the world and science and all these things. They’re going to bring to the Bible what they know. That’s something that we don’t have access to as adults, right?
Think about how much that’s going to open up our interpretation and the stories of the Bible to make it that much richer.
Pete: That’s fascinating, Cindy. Unfortunately, we’re coming near the close of our time here and I really feel like we’re hitting on some things that people are going to be wanting to think about more and more.
Can you tell us where people can find you out there on social media? I know you hang out there. Maybe if you’re working on any other projects and any other things that you want to let the people know where they can find you.
Cindy: I think the best thing to do is go to my blog. It’s cindywongbrandt.com. I have all the resources that I have available there. You can link to my social media from there. You can see my book and my Facebook group. It’s all on there.
Pete: Any other projects you’re working on at this point?
I know we mentioned Parenting Forward, but anything else you’re working on at this point?
Cindy: You were in my Parenting Forward conference that I ran in September. I am hopefully planning the next one. I’m not sure yet when that will be. In September, I ran a conference that hosted 20+ parents, parenting experts and people in the progressive faith niche—
Pete: Or me, non-experts like myself. Yeah. Go ahead.
Cindy: All of my work is focused on the intersection of parenting and progressive faith, because I feel like there’s a real vacuum that I’m trying to fill. The conference is a conversation for that.
I have a podcast, Parenting Forward podcast. We do the same things there.
Jared: Thanks so much, Cindy. It’s been very great to talk to you.
Pete: Thank you, Cindy. See ya.
Cindy: Bye.[Jaunty Exit Music]
Pete: Hey everybody. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Bible for Normal People.
Jared: One thing we haven’t talked about in a little bit is the fact that Pete and I are pretty active on social media, so we’d love to have conversations with you there. You can look us up, Pete or Jared, at Facebook. We have our own pages as well, as on Twitter and Instagram.
Pete; I, for one, love arguing with anonymous people incessantly over things that don’t really matter.
Jared: Facebook definitely the place for some of that. Twitter. Instagram. I think we have pictures—
Pete: We do the Instagram thing.
Jared: Books that we read and fam—a lot of kid pictures.
Pete: 10,000 pictures of my granddaughter daily.
Jared: A lot of granddaughters from you and a lot of kids from me. That’s what we do. Check it out. It is a different dimension and part of what we want to do is build this community. We’d love to have conversations with you there as well. Check it out and we’ll see you next time.
Pete: Thank you. See you folks.