Monday, April 27, 2009

Things to never tell a child: #5 You're better safe than sorry

I don't think parents too often actually sit a child down and tell them that you're better safe than sorry. I can remember hearing this in the past, as in during my childhood, but I don't think it was a message given by my parents. It was probably something I picked up in my 1.5 years of Cub Scouts or with the ultraconservative Jr. High football coach who bravely lead my team to a zero win season. "Better safe than sorry, Men."

Here's the thing, while I don't have evidence that parents use these words when talking to their children, I do think that Christian parents and the churches of America teach this all the time.

That's why we live in the suburbs by the way. That's why we pay high house prices to live in school districts that are free of the riff raff, gangs and drugs of the inner-city.

In my children's high schools each child is allow 1.5 electives in their course schedule. One day in two they have either gym or health. The other day they can learn art or philosophy or music or something. Now they have another option to take those courses if they desire, but few do. Why? Because you'll be better safe than sorry. Therefore, every school administer, teacher and course book recommends that they take at least 3 years of foreign language.

Now I'm not against foreign languages. I wish I would have learned more. But I can tell you, those courses I took in high school didn't teach me one lick how to communicate to people of other languages. I don't think my kids will be better off either. Both of them are taking German anyhow. The fact is, everyone I've ever known who I'd need to talk to who spoke German, spoke English too.

I'm not against learning German. I'm against the better safe than sorry mentality that directs artistic kids or kids with a scientific bent into the same course schedule. "Why?" I asked the school counselor once. "Because you never know if you are going to apply for a school that demands 3 or 4 years of foreign language for applicants." Hmm. I looked it up, and very few schools actually make that demand. Very few.

Now the church lives this way too. People lived that way in Jesus' day. He called them Pharisees and teachers of the Law. These were people who were so afraid of breaking the Law of God that they made their own laws to protect it.

We do similar things in a different way. We expect that our children should go to college because otherwise there will be closed doors. We send them on safe mission trips to safe regions of the world so that they can have a good experience. We work extra hours in our jobs because we want our kids to have every economic advantage. We tell them to be good strong Christians, but don't act weird. Make sure that you fit into the church group. No weird clothes or strange music that people don't get. We offer program after program so that no child (or adult) will feel left out. We offer services with every kinds of music so that everyone feels they have a place.

Why? Because, we’re better safe than sorry. Don't burn any bridges.

I'm not sure that Jesus lived this way. He burned bridges. Not every bridge, but the safe ones. Not the bridges to the marginalized, but the bridges to the mainstream. He didn't mind making those "religious" people feel left out.

He wasn't safe. No, his behavior cost him his life.

That's drastic. Do we want to put our children in a place where their lives will be in danger? Of course not, but their lives will be shallow unless we allow them to push those limit.

Stef showed me a video this morning where Francis Chan gave a silly analogy of Christians as gymnasts who plays it safe . It’s silly because no Olympic gymnast would cling to a balance beam like he does in this video. In the same way, Christians can't cling to their faith in such a safe way as to not risk "loosing" it. It's God's job to protect the hearts of our children. The Holy Spirit is responsible for working these things into their hearts. All we can do as parents is teach our children is teach to trust, or teach them to fear.

I hope that I'm teaching my children to trust God. That's faith. Fear is a lack of faith. To not have faith is to be an unbeliever. I hope my kids are learning to be believers.

Bono has a line on U2's latest album, No Line on the Horizon. He says, "Stop helping God across the street like a little old lady." It took me a bit to understand this line, but he's talking about being religious folks who are trying to make religion safe rather than a matter of faith.

So, I want parents, teachers and mentors to consider this. Are you helping God across the street or are you helping the children in your life to develop a faith that allows for real risk? If you are then stop!  Take them out of the "better safe than sorry classes and help them to discover faith by trial.

Faith isn’t safe, but, in the end, faith is the only real thing we can have. In the end to live a safe life is to be sorry if we don’t allow our children to develop this real, active faith that is not afraid.