Meeting the midrash
Lunchtime prayers

Our children, our choices

This morning I indulged in my usual Sunday morning pleasure, reading the New York Times Sunday Magazine. I was struck by the magazine's cover story, The Call: What in God's name American evangelicals are doing in Africa, by Daniel Bergner.

As a portrayal of Christianity in Africa, I think the article is necessarily incomplete. It's a poignant personal story (in fact, it would make an interesting contemporary companion piece to Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Poisonwood Bible, which I really enjoyed) but it gives a limited window into Africa's religious makeup. Much of Africa is already Christian (according to the folks at WorldViews, Christians make up a majority of the population in at least seventeen nations; Christian History Institute said that Christianity is now the faith of the majority on the continent as of 2000) and is under the care of ministers who are African, not American. (Though the Christian Science Monitor tells us Islam and Christianity are growing and blending in Nigeria, which is fascinating in a whole other way...)

Anyway, that aside, what interests me about the Times article is its portrait of a family which has chosen a very particular kind of religious lifestyle. Rick and Carrie Maples heard a call from God, and responded by going to a remote part of Kenya to bring the gospel to the Samburu. As a result, their two daughters -- aged four and twelve -- are along for the ride. And though it sounds like both girls are doing their best to rise to the occasion, and the older one takes some real pleasure in the intercultural encounter, it also sounds like the girls are struggling. That has to be a challenge for their parents. How would one begin to gauge whether the good accrued through encountering a radically expanded world -- and, according to their belief system, through working to spread the gospel -- outweighs the profound isolation the girls are wrestling with?

The article got me to thinking about how our religious choices shape the lives of our children. I'm not sure there's a Jewish analogue to the kind of life-change Rick and Carrie Maples have undergone. The closest I can imagine is the religious fervor of becoming ba'al teshuvah (choosing intense Orthodoxy) plus the displacement of making aliyah (moving to Israel). I wonder whether the children of those who take either of those steps (or both) experience any of the same challenges that the Maples' daughters face?

I suspect the children of parents who make these religious leaps share some common ground. And the same may be true for the parents of children who do so. I recently started reading Beyond Teshuva, a group blog written by a variety of people who have become ba'alei teshuvah. One of the contributors -- Rachel, a student at U. Penn -- wrote a post called Parents and Community, about how she "came out" to her parents about her increasing Orthodoxy, and about bridging the gap between her increased observance and their lack thereof. I find myself wondering what it's like to be her parents -- or the parents of Rick and Carrie Maples.

Perhaps some of you have taken religious leaps that were difficult for your children, or your parents, to accept or understand. I would love to hear about what that was like for you, and whether the Times piece about the Maples family resonated with your experience. And/or, I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts on how our religious choices shape our childrens' lives, and how to bear that responsibility wisely and well.

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