My daughter came home today with a Thanksgiving plant she’d constructed in her first grade classroom. Little leaves of thanks were attached to twigs via green chenille stems. On each leaf, the teacher had pre-printed “I am thankful for:” and the students were expected to write in their personal thanks, using the leaves to create the overall tree. Here is what my daughter is thankful for:
- Her brother
The first three make me happy. The last two leave me a little ambivalent.
First of all, we don’t have a dog. We are gay cat people! Our family of four humans is rounded out with two cats. The kids treat them like part of the family and they even get little stockings at Christmas. Where did this thanks for a dog come from?!
More concerning is the God issue. I don’t know what to do about it. It’s obviously a touchy subject, and I am absolutely fine with both of my children choosing whatever spiritual path they choose. I just don’t want them to choose a particular path because it is the one most traveled.
With this latest leaf of thanks, she’s certainly not following in either of her dads’ footsteps. My husband considers himself an agnostic, though he was raised Methodist. I was raised by a self-professed “recovering Catholic,” and thus developed a penchant for atheism pretty early on. Of course, my development was augmented by the constant vitriol being spewed at me as a young closeted gay teenager via the nightly news. The anti-gay rhetoric I was regularly subjected to in the media growing up in the 80s and early 90s did far more to create an aversion to God than anything my Catholic-challenged step-father did for me.
I’ve tried to be religious. I joined a Bible study group with some Christian friends in high school, thinking that maybe if I just read the good book I’d be attracted to its content. During the first session, a zealous classmate from school went on and on about Sodom and Gomorrah and how it proves that homosexuality is bad. I didn’t go back to that study group, and it wasn’t until I read the Bible as literature years later that I discovered how narrow that interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah was. I mean this is essentially a story about people raping one another, and a small portion of that assault is homosexual. There’s lots of heterosexual assault going on in Sodom and Gomorrah too, but that doesn’t make for good sound bites.
When we first moved back to the Boston area, my husband took a second job as music director at a United Church of Christ. The people were amazingly lovely, and I made the trip to church with him on special holidays like Christmas and Easter: I even sang with the choir a few times. I remember a conversation with my husband after one of these visits where I said something like, “I just wish I could believe. I just love the sense of community here. They all believe, but I just don’t. I feel like a charlatan forging these relationships when there’s zero chance of me believing in this God of theirs.”
I’m too rational a thinker. I just can’t get all enthused about something that I’ll never know actually factually exists. And of course there is the fact that the anti-gay mud is still being slung in the name of God regularly on the nightly news. It might be more tempered than it was twenty years ago, but it’s still there.
I have so many friends that run the gambit from devoutly religious to culturally pious, and they accept me and my family and provide us the love we so happily return to them. We consider ourselves close friends with some especially faithful churchgoers who speak openly with us about their beliefs and don’t push too hard on us. As my kids get older though and they start to have conversations about God on the playground, which then comes home to the dinner table in the form of a conversation about how the clouds my daughter is studying in first grade science are actually the home of Jesus, I start to question what kind of guidance I’m supposed to give my kids. We’ve talked to them about what we believe and what most people in this country believe and the different things that people believe around the world, but they still have this magnetic pull towards the mainstream. I’m willing to let them give in to that attraction if it’s what they really want, but if it’s merely a desire to be mainstream, I have a problem with it.
They’re still pretty young. When I asked my daughter about the God leaf, she said her teacher used that as an example on her own tree and she didn’t really believe in it. I think she was just telling me what I wanted to hear. She’s got time to figure it out though, and I’ll do my best to support her.
I didn’t ask about the dog. That probably would have been an easier conversation.