The other day, my 5-year-old son and I had a long conversation about church denominations. At one point, he asked me to list as many as I could, so I began to name off denominations that I’ve been around since childhood: Southern Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Cooperative Baptists, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), non-denominational, and many others. I told him I believe I will go wherever God calls me and that I don’t feel tied to a denomination.
He was confused. In one sense, it is beautiful that the diversity of the church can be named in our lives today. But it also shows us how divided we’ve become, and how things like politics, racism, and patriarchy have rooted themselves within the decisions to separate ourselves from one another.
My son wanted a simple answer, and I could not give him one. It is similar to our overall climate today — we want simple answers to our questions, but that’s not always possible, is it?
Humanity is not always simple.
But it is necessary that we see the reality we face for and with our children. The things we teach them today, the way we talk about the world, the church, the political climate — it affects them and shapes their futures.
Without even explicitly saying it, my son gets the idea that everyone belongs to a certain denomination.
Without explicitly saying it, he knows after five years of being alive that people know how to divide themselves and stay divided, and America today has only made it more clear.
So what if we taught our children not to be great, but, as Glennon Doyle-Melton tweeted recently, to be good?
That means that as adults we need to also work at being good.
We need to walk in shalom.
As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, teachers, business owners, neighbors, pastors and lay people, volunteers, we look to our children and see the future in their hands.
Don’t forget Jesus, who turned things inside out the moment he told a group of adults that the kingdom is for the little ones.
Adults, we should still be hearing that today. We’ve got to be willing to learn from them.
Just last year, a group of indigenous youth began to tell the story of a pipeline running near Standing Rock, and it sparked a worldwide revolution against big oil and their willingness to damage poor communities, a revolution calling the world to remember and care for Mother Earth.
For our kids to invest in their own futures, we must be doing the same, and that means for children of every color and class. We invest not just with money, but with honest conversations, with the truth about our nation’s history and the history of the world, with lament on our lips and sincere hope that things can and will get better — because the kingdom belongs to them.
We have to believe in our children, in their vision for this world, in their vision for a better way. In some indigenous tribes including my own, we believe that children and elders are both the closest to God at either ends of life. They help us know more about who Jesus is because they see God from the beginning of life and from the end of it. They know a reality of shalom that we do not always see.
So for those of us who are somewhere in the middle, it is wise to stop and listen to two groups of people who are often ignored or left out of our conversations. If we believe that our children really are the future, we believe that their voices and views of the world matter for the life of our churches, in our political policies, for climate change, and for the future of this world.
Maybe it is our turn to be still and listen, to lead humbly, and to recognize that the questions our children ask matter for tomorrow, whether we have all the answers or not.