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Archive for Saturday, September 6, 2008

How do you answer questions about classmates’ religions?

September 6, 2008

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Treat questions with respect

Charles Gruber, Sufi minister, student of Zen Buddhism and member of the Oread Friends Meeting:

Kids come home from school with colds, homework, heartthrobs and with questions about religion, reproduction, money, relationships, race and politics. Being a parent, I know that my attitude toward these questions will instantly let my child know if I'm a willing participant in their research or a defensive scaredy-cat.

My practice has been to first ask my child what interests her in bringing up the question. Regarding religion or spirituality, I listen carefully for her level of interest and I always treat the subject with respect, as opposed to sarcasm or humor. If it's a question like, "Billy said that all Hindus are bad," then it's easy to say, "What do you think?" If the question is of a more discerning nature, such as, "Why don't Muslims celebrate Christmas?" I feel my child deserves a factually correct, age-appropriate, judgment-free response.

My two favorite ways to find the right response (if it's not in my own knowledge bank) is either to say, "Let's go look it up on Wikipedia together" or, if it's a larger question and there is time, "Let's go ask Rabbi Zalman, or the local Imam, or Zen Teacher Judy or Father John," or someone else who well-versed in that particular religion.

I feel that if my child consistently sees me as respectful of all religions and glad to go after information I don't personally possess, she will grow up with an open, curious attitude about others' religions.

That surely bodes well for a more loving, compassionate approach to this diverse and confusing world.

- Send e-mail to Charles Gruber at cgruber@cgruber.com

Kids benefit from many points of view

Sue Westwind, Prairie Goddess Ministry, Jefferson County:

Should parents shoulder this job alone? Many countries teach the study of religions in public schools. We have our proponents of "religious literacy," coined by Boston University professor Stephen Prothero, who found that few of his students could name the authors of the Christian Gospels, a single Hindu scripture or the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Asks Prothero, "How can citizens understand the war in Iraq without knowing something about Islam?" Yet the Modesto, Calif., school district stands alone in the U.S. for requiring a course in world religions at the high school level.

Unfortunately, such efforts rarely examine traditional native or ancient earth-based worship, full of complex and important ideas that pre-date the simple codifying of vested interests into "The Book." We lose rich heritage by defining religion so narrowly.

In older times, sacred teachings were the vehicle to acquiring intellectual and perceptual skills. My youngest child is educated in a Waldorf school where currently the class looks at the Hebrew legends to integrate language arts, drama, even mathematics. In years to come they will explore Celtic myths, among others, to deploy in the same fashion.

By raising children in the Goddess traditions, a focus on the Divine Feminine embraces cultures worldwide and becomes a de facto course in religious history. But my daughters also have exposure to my meditation practice based in Buddhism and the in-laws with their little Lutheran church on the prairie. I'm confident that when our girls make their own spiritual choices, they'll do so from the deepest heart and a clear, educated mind.

Not from fear of "the other," deemed somehow inferior to "us."

- Send e-mail to Sue Westwind at suewestwind@yahoo.com.

E-mail your questions about faith and spiritual issues for our religious columnists to Sarah Henning at shenning@ljworld.com; or fax to 843-4512.

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