As parents we have such a huge responsibility to raise caring and compassionate children and escort them into adulthood. As adults our thoughts, actions and words are out there in the atmosphere for consumption and believe me, children will hear you. So much of what they learn from us isn’t directly communicated to them. Rather it’s through our exchanges with others, what types of movies and television we watch and even the books that we read. Our kids use all of this to interpret a lot of our attitudes and feelings about their world. That frightens me sometimes. Often I think I’m not doing my job when it comes to what type of messages I’m sending to my kids, but I’m positive that I can not control everything they see and hear. We, all of us, have a responsibility to be thoughtful with our words and actions because their impact can be far-reaching.
My daughter, Thing 1 is currently tackling 3rd grade. If you’re unfamiliar with 3rd grade girls, friendships are a very important part of school. Sometimes more important than everything else (unfortunately). At any rate, Thing 1 and a new friend were working on a research project together, via the internet, and as kids often do they became a bit distracted. The girls decided that they wanted to do research on each of their specific religions. We are Christians and her friend’s family is Muslim. Keeping in mind that the school has internet security and filters in place, the first item that appeared from the search on the Nation of Islam is that “Islam is not a religion of peace.” This young girl read on and began to cry. Thing 1 decided that it was best to change the topic and comforted her friend the best way that she could – she turned off the iPad, gave a hug, told her that obviously the person who wrote that was stupid and offered a piece of candy at lunch. I thought the candy was a good move.
The thing is, the person who made that statement didn’t think about the young, tender hearts who may read it. This child knows her loving, peaceful biological family and the loving support of her religious family. That’s it. She does not identify with the extreme images and narratives in the media and neither do most Muslims. That’s why they’re referred to as extremists. Extremists exist in every religion.
I find it very frustrating to repeatedly see Christians portrayed in the media as religious fanatics. There’s story after story about how we turn out to be child molesters, wife beaters, fear mongerers and irresponsible parents who let their children die instead of seeking medical assistance believing that it’s some test of faith. This is just the short list. Do these descriptions fit some of us? Yes, but not all. In fact the vast majority of us do not do any of this – not even close. We’re pretty normal people. We do believe in modern medicine. We have the same family issues as anyone else and if you care to invite us over, we just may sit down and have a beer with you while watching a football game. I get that normal doesn’t make a very interesting news story and, of course who can resist pointing out blatant hypocrisy. However, what we (Christians) don’t seem to understand is that the same distorted lenses that we are being viewed through is being used to view others. It is my day-to-day interactions with those of the Muslim faith that let me know that they are not inherently violent people.
There’s nothing better than a child to put things into perspective for you. My girl was very sad that her friend’s feelings were hurt by what they read on the internet. They’re not old enough to be discerning, but they are old enough to know when something is plain wrong. I said to her “You do know that is not true, right?”
“I know momma. She’s really a nice girl and not mean or violent at all.”
“As Christians, what did Jesus tell us we are supposed to do?”
“Love each other,” she said.
“Love only other Christians?”
“No. Love EVERYONE! Except sometimes that’s hard because people can do mean or annoying things. Like when….”
Right here, I’m skipping over a whole conversation about how hard it is to love even your sister when she chews with her mouth open and other stuff that’s irritating. You get the picture? Finally, I interrupted by saying “…but does any of that matter to Jesus?”
“No. We have to love them anyway.”
“I think that you handled it beautifully. You keep loving on (your frined) baby girl.”
“I will momma because that’s how you show God’s love. Nobody wants to hear about God if you’re being mean.”
And there it is. Once again, the 8-year-old gets it when so many adults do not.