Cindy Brandt writes about faith and culture at cindywords.com. She is the author of Outside In: Ten Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore. She studied Bible/Theology at Wheaton College and holds a Masters of Arts in Theology from Fuller Seminary. She serves on the board of One Day’s Wages, an organization fighting extreme global poverty. She writes from Taiwan, where she lives with her husband and two children on the 33rd floor of a high rise.
Posts By This Author
Are Religious Kids Meaner? We've Got Work to Do
Working out our salvation and instilling a life of faith in our children isn’t about executing rituals with precision. It isn’t about teaching them to pray eloquently, or to get them to obey without question. It isn’t to give them the letter of the law so they can judge the world with a heavy-handed measuring stick. It is to form and shape their identities into one oriented towards justice and beauty in our world. It is to open their eyes to the realities of oppression and suffering.
In a world where there isn’t enough stickers for everyone in the school, how can we invite the children into the struggle for equality? How do we teach that Jesus wants to give stickers to everyone? If it isn’t good news for everybody, it isn’t good news for anybody. How can we place sticker-sharing to such high priority that it becomes embedded in our children’s psyche, so that kindness is instinctual?
May our children then parallel secular peers in generosity and love. More importantly, may the children of our generation inspire us, the adults, toward greater mercies for the suffering. May love win, justice roll, and the moral arc bend toward the right direction, so we can hold witness to the transformation of communities for good.
I Like Your Christ, I Do Not Like Your Christian Lingo
Within Christian culture, Christian language is essential and sacred to build each other up and nurture shared space. But as soon as you venture outside of that intimate circle, anywhere you begin to speak in a public sphere, Christian lingo turns into an identity marker, a boundary line that can easily alienate those who perceive you as speaking a foreign language.
I see a lot of shouting Christians, online and elsewhere. I think there’s this prevalent idea that boldly proclaiming one’s faith is a virtue and somehow glorifies God. And while I think it is important for each of us, Christian or not, to claim a right to state our convictions, our best hope of compelling others towards Christ is to stop shouting at them. Remember there are many other languages, and we only earn our right to connect with others when we have learned to respect their values, learn their history, appreciate their culture, and speak their mother tongue.
What Motherhood Teaches Me About the Universe
My daughter is in seventh grade, next year she will be in eighth. She tells me this means she will be “the king of middle school.” She will go to a leadership camp and learn what it means to cultivate leadership qualities in order to be a good king for the underlings in sixth and seventh grade.
And then she will graduate middle school and it’s back to the bottom of the pecking order — one minute a king, the next, a lowly high school freshman. Just when you think you’ve learned everything there is to know comes the swift reminder you are only just beginning.
Out here in the real world, things operate similarly. Motherhood certainly took me through the same cruel pattern. After floundering sleeplessly, aimlessly, in a constant panicked state through the first few newborn months, I thought I’d mastered this parenting thing. I could interpret my newborn’s cries, predict when she would go down for her nap within a half hour margin of error, and change a diaper by rote.
Why I Still Believe in the Christian Internet
I think the reason why the Christian Internet is so exasperating is because it is filled with so many people. Sensational click baits trend because we love juicy scandals. We share angry articles and judgmental pieces because it satisfies our human desires to point fingers and be in the right. The Internet has exposed the basest of our human fears and aired out our dirtiest laundry with the lure of anonymity and protection from our screens.
The Christian Internet is all of us with our mess, our flaws, our brokenness, our hurts, our mistakes, and our pains. Which means that as hard as it is for us to see through the hazy noise pollution, behind every instigator of a mean meme is a person made in the image of God. And as long as I believe that is true, you can’t pry me away from the Christian Internet because I am not about to miss the astounding beauty that is sure to rise from the squabbling ashes.
Raising Children Beyond the Bubble
In C.S. Lewis’ beloved Narnia chronicles, the youngest of the four main characters, a little girl named Lucy, encounters Aslan, the lion who is an archetype for God.
She hasn’t seen him for a time, and she remarks, “Aslan, you are bigger.”
Aslan replies, with his strong, gentle voice, “Every year you grow, so shall I.”
As parents we are saddled with some anxiety to make sure we teach our children everything that they need to know within the short eighteen years we have them in our home. But when it comes to our faith, we can breathe easy, because our God is not One who can be limited to eighteen years of instruction. We get to walk with our children in this very beginning of their journey, and watch them dip their toes into just how wide and long and high and deep is the love of God.
The question we need to ask when our children leave home is not, "Have you learned everything there is to know about God?"
But, "Are you ready to get started?"
Raising Children Without Fear
Aside from Universalists, most Christian traditions contain the doctrine of judgment, although the particulars of how that judgment is carried out varies along a spectrum. Whether it is actual physical torture for all eternity or some sort of separation from God, whether there’s purgatory or a second chance post mortem, there exists a form of judgment within the systems of Christian faith.
Good parenting sensibilities tell us we shouldn’t shy away from difficult truths, and although we try to be age-appropriate, we are obligated to share even the most unpalatable aspect of the Christian faith with our kids. The problem is: children don’t yet have the emotional maturity and logical capability to process a belief in eternal punishment. Their budding minds can’t reason through the theological necessity of judgment in a loving God. So they panic and retreat into fear. In order to coax them out of their distress we comfort them, it’s okay, Jesus will save you, just believe in Jesus.
And so it begins — even as kids develop and eventually learn the nuances of Christian life, they are bearing the invisible baggage of fear that had them gripping for Jesus.
Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist
Here’s the thing: I live in a country that is predominantly Buddhist. Here, little kids are taught to hold incense and kneel and bow at ancestor tablets and a variety of gods. Do you know how cute it is to see a little kid praying with pure devotion to a Buddhist god? It is JUST AS CUTE as the blonde headed little girl singing Jesus Loves Me.
A child’s faith is not a testimony of the power of God to evangelize them. It demonstrates how malleable and impressionable children are to the faith values exposed to them at a young age. Children must trust wholeheartedly in order to survive. Their dependence on adults undergirds their entire worldview. Like it or not, as parents we are entrusted with this enormous responsibility to build the structures of faith in which our children will inevitably live fully into, especially when they are little.
Because of this drastic inequality of power between adults and our dependent children, we must take tender care to wield our tremendous spiritual influence on them in a way that is respectful of their autonomy, that listens to their concerns, that empowers them to grow into wholeness, and to ultimately make their own faith choices. We must always be aware of the power differential even as we act as the portal through which they come to know God.
The Beauty of Deconstruction
There is a plethora of Christian bloggers who are “honest with our doubt.” We are hurt, angry, and cynical, and we are not afraid to talk about it. Predictably, there are some who are made uncomfortable by this negativity. And they respond with something like, >“You don't have to waste your time deconstructing things when you're committed to just building something better.”
I have so many problems with this it’s hard to know where to begin. Deconstructing is not a “waste of time.” Nobody enjoys questioning the ideology that has held their worldview intact. You don’t talk someone off of the ledge of suicide by telling them they’re wasting their time bemoaning what’s wrong with their life. You don’t say people are wasting their time figuring out what is causing them to feel such deep pain. But more importantly, it betrays a certain naivete toward the work of building something better. It assumes that constructing something rises from a vacuum rather than on the fruit of past labors. To believe you are constructing and not deconstructing is to be ignorant of what it is you are choosing.
Culture Wars and Destructive Dialogue
Not too long after being introduced to John 3:16, I was taught Psalm 139:13: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Now that I was a Christian, it was important I understood that Christians are anti-abortion, that life begins at conception, and that terminating life is nothing short of murder. Throughout college, I carried the cause of the pro-life movement in a symbol tacked on my school bag: a miniature pair of feet, a replica of a 10-week old baby in utero, intricately shaped in sterling silver.
I didn’t think about it. I never HAD to think about it, having never carried an unwanted pregnancy. For me, the pro-life movement was simple, uncomplicated, pretty, and as sanitized as a small silver ornament. That is, until I moved to China, a country well known for its high rate of abortions — including forced abortions, particularly of baby girls.
Hearing God Sing
What I am learning is that the new normal is not that I no longer experience God, but that God is meeting me in new ways. The new normal is that I don’t need to hear people play guitar telling me to feel God’s love from a stage. I find God’s love in much less conspicuous places, from the stranger behind me who felt too awkward to shake my hand, to the silly doodles my kids were making on the church bulletin. The new normal is that I no longer find authority in celebrity pastors preaching at me, but I do find it listening to unheard voices of small bloggers and older people who aren’t social media savvy.
The new normal is that I hear the "Roman Road" gospel preached and find it dull and superficial, and yet feel overwhelming conviction in the cross lived out by people who forgive their enemies.
The new normal is that although God has not changed, I have changed. And like a parent who stops cooing in baby talk, God is starting to speak in new, fresh ways to me.