So my kids came bounding out of "Reset," their Wednesday night "small group wrapped in a big group wrapped in an enigma" at their church. They hurled themselves into my car, which literally rocked sideways by the force of their exuberance, oh wait, scratch that, their energetic gleeful annoyance. They relished their anger, diffidence, outrage.
"Mom, Mom. You can't believe what Carl (youth pastor) is making us do! He's soooo mean!"
Laughter, lurching bodies, locking doors, punching radio buttons, zwipped seatbelting ensued.
They were ooc. "Carl is making us love God this week."
Oh the horror.
"He says we can't do ANYTHING that we like. We can't go on Facebook, can't watch TV (even American Idol!), can't play Halo or the Wii, can't use the computer for any entertainment. We have to turn off our cell phones, can't text or IM, or even listen to our iPods (unless it's [here they did the mocking voice of preteens] 'Christian music' which totally sucks because we hate Christian music). This week, we have to give up anything that makes us happy so we can learn to be happy with God only. It SUCKS!"
Not to be stopped (because believe me, by now I was ready to kneecap Carl and give him a supreme noogie on his head for wrecking God by inferring he(sic) hated happy kids), my two wild-haired middlers went on, "We HAVE to do it. If we don't, Carl won't let us come back next week. EVERYONE has to. We don't have a CHOICE!"
My brain worked itself into a tizzy - two contradictory threads of thought:
1) What an idiotic idea - that God is somehow squeezed out of life because you are happily engaged in activities that bring you joy and connect you to other people.
2) My kids LOVE this. They can't wait to suffer!
A delicate balance had to follow. How do I subvert heresy (yes, I get the irony of calling it heresy since I don't subscribe to orthodoxy) while joining in on the fun of exuberant self-flaggellation? Basically I did a lousy job of both, but saved it by singing really loud to Flo Rida's "Right Round" as we got near home.
Kids flopped on the couch once inside to indulge in their last moments of electronic saturation (they had until midnight), literally clicking the remote, setting up the DVR, writing elaborate FB status updates to reflect their newly adopted ascetic zeal.
I asked at one point: "How will you know you're loving God better than you were when you were happy?"
Carl forgot to mention that. They had no idea. I asked if they were supposed to pray more, read the Bible, use their time to serve the needy... They couldn't remember, even between the two of them. Liam said, "I'm pretty sure he does want us to read the Bible, but he never said so." Caitrin rejoined, "I don't pray to their idea of God anyway. I pray to the Universe, to karma, to Buddha." The next thing you know, we were talking about God (what God is, how to define God). I shared about this translation project I'm watching unfold on a e-list where all the God references are being changed to Godde to reflect the divine feminine, not just masculine.
Liam mentioned that God is neither male nor female and we all know that. Caitrin countered, "Yes, but if you say 'God,' your imagination goes straight to the beard." Which is why, currently, she prays to the universe. :)
I found the whole thing a crazy study in how too many people miss the point. If God, if Godde, if Goddess, (invisible, not audible - except perhaps for a few lucky people in history who report otherwise), how else would you experience happiness in the divine than happiness in the fullness of life? Wouldn't joy at singing the lyrics from Rent at the top of your lungs count as connection? Wouldn't chatting eagerly with friends online represent a reaching out to community in love and fondness? Wouldn't time with family in front of a TV count as a happy expression of bondedness? Why do we assume the divine isn't already being loved, felt, honored and known when we are happy?
I don't get how teaching children, especially, to distrust their happiness (to see it as competing with love of God!! What a charge!) is productive spiritually, emotionally or mentally? In fact, I'd say the opposite. It creates that strange split where any time you feel good, you have to call it sin... And that leads to all the stuff we deal with in mid-life. But Carl is too young to know it!
And well, there is a certain happiness to be found in abstaining... we love that at that age.