This Friday we have an interesting opportunity. We are meeting with a group of about 40 Muslim girls at a local Mennonite camp to play together and learn about each other. The Muslim group initiated this. They want to know: what do Mennonites believe?
We've gathered a group of about 12 Mennonite girls, youth, and moms to meet with this group. I offered that we could teach them Giant Dutch Blitz (a rambunctious, active game that will have us stumbling all over each other in the gym). I warned Sultana, one of the leaders, that this won't teach them about our faith - just might show them how competitive Mennonites can be when we're playing games.
Sultana also mentioned that she wants a chance to hear about what we believe. This is the piece I've been pondering for the last few days. How do I summarize our beliefs in a way that 12-15 year old Muslim girls will get something out of it, and that our girls will feel it represents them? How do I boil the complexities down into something simple and palatable?
When I asked my own girls what our church believes, these were their responses:
[9 year old daughter] shrugs shoulders
[6 year old daughter] "What do you even MEAN?"
[me] "I mean what do we believe about God and about us and about the world?"
[6 year old daughter] "What does 'believe' mean?"
[me] "Like what you think about God."
[6 year old daughter] "Doesn't EVERYONE think about God?"
[me] "Maybe. But what do YOU think about God?"
[6 year old daughter] "That God wants us to be nice?"
[me] "OK - anything else?"
[6 year old daughter] "That I can talk to God and God made the world and wants people to get along."
I came away a bit puzzled as to why these questions were so confusing to my daughters. Admittedly, we don't often talk about our beliefs. I believe that actions speak louder than words, and hopefully my children are "hearing" some of our beliefs in action. I hope that they're absorbing faith by osmosis, understanding the gifts of hospitality to both giver and receiver, the importance of being generous with your love and compassion and money, the ways that we can work to bring about a more peace-filled world.
Derek and I pondered this over sushi last night. At what age do we label our thoughts and actions as "beliefs"?
One belief that I'll put on the table right now: that children are born with an innate knowledge of God, and sometimes we squash it out of them.
I want to be careful that I'm not extinguishing my daughters' own unique theological thoughts, connections to God, beliefs - whatever you want to call them - about who God is, and who they are in relation to God. I don’t want to pile on cement-like heavy beliefs so that it’s hard for them to excavate down to the ones they find life-giving. I want to learn from them because I intuitively know that sometimes they're better connected to that Spirit than I am.
I know that my own beliefs have changed over time, and I suspect/hope they’ll keep on changing. But the task at hand for this Friday remains the same: how do I present a group’s beliefs in a way that feels authentic and real?