Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.


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Lessons from Repatriation

The snow can't cloak this sign warning of a signal light ahead - Stop-Caution-Go - which will it be?

The snow can’t cloak this sign warning of a signal light ahead – Stop-Caution-Go – which will it be?

I seem to be experiencing a long period of living in between.

We have left Milan. The departure, with all its associated stresses and sorrows, joys and juggling is completed. We are no longer residents of Italy, and although saying goodbye to my beloved city and many dear friends was a wrenching pain, I am glad that the phase of anticipated loss is behind me. Living through an extended goodbye is a kind of exquisite torture – trying to relish all the last moments that I knew I would miss; trying to offer a meaningful arrivederci to all the friends who would never again be part of my weekly life in the same easy way. By the end of the month of leave-taking I was ready to be done: to move out and move on; to establish myself back in New Jersey (despite past experiences of poor welcome); to pick up the threads of daily life and weave for myself and my family a new daily routine that could wrap us in the comforts of home and predictability. There would be an interval of continued flurry, of course. The three-week Christmas holiday with its successive family gatherings and unpacking and repacking of bags, but then we would fly back to New Jersey and we could start to settled down again.

I should have known it would not really be that simple when New Jersey “warmly” greeted us with a very physical flurry less than 48 hours after we arrived. The first snow storm of the new year was not quite the storm of the century to which news outlets in Milan apparently compared it (judging from concerned messages I received from Italian friends and acquaintances), but it disrupted deliveries, closed schools and roads, and reminded me effectively just how much I dislike having cold feet.

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Today we are just on the other side of the second big snow storm, and my hatred of the cold is chilling my mood and making my temper as brittle and jagged as the icicles I kicked off my car’s bumper this afternoon. In fairness to frozen precipitation, however, the snow is not the real problem. I would be a bit emotionally fragile even if, by some miracle, New Jersey had put to doubt all questions about global warming and drawn the Southern California sun across the continent to warm my icy toes. The deeper source of my discontent is the unavoidable fact that in some very important ways, we have not yet arrived. True, we are back in residence in our sending state, but we are still waiting in a holding pattern of “not yet.” Our household goods are stuck in customs (thanks to the holiday, the foul weather backlog, and a random 1% chance screening that will take an undefined amount of time to complete). This means that we are stuck in a temporary furnished rental until crucial items like beds and cooking pots are confirmed to be just that by the hard-working men and women who protect our borders. (I don’t mean that to sound snarky, but – like I said – my temper is not on the most even keel these days). This stasis also means that my future planning is on hold, since my first responsibility is getting our household settled, before I begin the daunting task of seeking gainful employment after three years out of the workforce.

As I type these words I am conscious of just how whining and pretentious they would justifiably sound to the vast majority of the world’s population. Poor Little Rich Girl – you can’t move into the house you own yet, so you have to stay in a perfectly good furnished apartment. You have a whole 40-foot container of household goods that may take customs officials a while to clear. You have to take a few months to settle your home and your family before you start looking for a job that apparently is not required to pay for groceries this weekend. What a rough life!

Fair enough. Once I type it all down like that, I feel a bit petulant and I would really like to just erase the last two paragraphs, but that wouldn’t be very honest. So, I will let them stand and move on to the other way in which I am living in between.

I feel a bit suspended between cultures. I almost wrote stuck, rather than suspended, but that wouldn’t be right. I don’t feel squeezed into a space too small to accommodate me. Rather, I feel tugged in two directions, levitated off of solid footing by the magnetic pull of two places and two ways of being.

It’s not exactly that I am longing to return to Italy and reestablish my life there, but more than as I repatriate to America I am aware of how Italy has changed me.

Oddly, some of the things that I missed the most about the US upon first landing in Italy are now the very things that feel uncomfortable as I try to resettle into my home country. This includes as prosaic an item as food. OK – that’s not such a shock. The food is better in Italy, and I miss it. That much I expected. What I did not expect was my dislike for foods I used to crave. For example:

  • I used to miss Chinese food. There was no palatable Chinese take-out on our side of Milan, and I taught myself to cook wok-seared goodness because my cravings were unbearable. But now the noodles from our favorite take-out place in Hillsborough seem so much greasier than I remember.
  • I used to miss donuts. The Italian corollary (ciambelle) are dense and doughy, with a funky after taste not worth the calories. I literally dreamed about sugary, air-puffed donuts while I was exiled in Italy. But after sampling just one of my old favorite variety (boston cream) I’m disinterested. It felt like a thin veneer of fat covered my tongue and the roof of my mouth after only one bite.
  • I missed my flavored, American coffee. When October brought Facebook posts from American friends celebrating the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, I would weep into my iPhone. I wouldn’t order coffee after 10:00 in the morning, since past mid-morning only tourists order cappuccinos and I just couldn’t imbibe the stronger macciato or caffè (what Americans call espresso). But now, I’m foregoing both Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts in favor of my inexpertly prepared cappuccinos on the machine my lovely husband bought me for Christmas.
This is the half cup of hazelnut coffee that froze in my car because it wasn't appetizing enough to finish.

This is the half cup of hazelnut coffee that froze in my car because it wasn’t appetizing enough to finish.

In point of fact, I have converted to the general European snobbery about American food. So much of it tastes greasy, or over-salted, or just plain fake! The food that it supposed to be my comfort food is no longer comfortable.

Perhaps even more surprising to me has been the shock of reentry to an English-dominant environment. During our 34 expatriate months I felt consistently that the language barrier was one of the hardest things about our Italian residency. I felt awkward and uncertain in social situations; I game-planned conversations that required unfamiliar vocabulary; I had mild anxiety attacks before picking up the phone to make a call in Italian. I expected my final return home to feel like the relaxing exhalation of a breath I had been holding for 3 years, but it has not been quite so simple. For one thing, speaking English is not always a guarantee of effective communication. In various contexts (from discussions with contractors, to requests to have phone numbers updated) communications I didn’t think to worry about have somehow gotten scrambled. I am reluctantly realizing that I still need to pay careful attention and to double-check accurate understanding. Of course, I have those skills after years of painful awareness about my tendency toward confusion, but I had so hoped to let them lie fallow.

On the opposite extreme, some English communication is striking me as far too effective. The Gigglemonster, and to some extent Princess Imagination, have become little recording devices, faithfully playing back a wide range of advertising claims and jingles. There are the toys, of course (I have come to despise the little advertising inserts that come in every set from Playmobil, especially those that line up with the “free” DVD in the package). The Gigglemonster is already making shopping lists for his fifth birthday, which comes at the end of October. The mental invasion, however, it goes beyond items specifically targeted to grab my children’s attention. After a loud and enthusiastic serenade from my youngest, I had to very sternly prohibit any vocalization of the appalling jingle Verizon has taught my four-year-old son (“I want it. I want it. I want it right now!”). He has even absorbed advertising messages meant for me. On a quick trip to the grocery store the other day he grabbed a totally superfluous kitchen implement and waved it excitedly at me saying “Mommy – you need this! The TV said so!” I have often moaned about my children’s reluctance to acquire Italian fluency during our sojourn but I am starting to recognize what a gift that was. For nearly three years we were able to watch English-language television with the kids with virtually no advertising effect. When the far-spaced Italian commercials came on the kids tuned out. It was too much work to try to figure out what the fast-talking announcers were saying, even if the picture on the screen was of a pretty pink princess castle or an exciting loop-de-loop hot wheels track.

(Sigh) You don’t know what you have until it’s gone…

For all the discomfort that my homecoming is bringing me, however, the pull is not all one-sided. This place is calling me in some ways more strongly than it ever did before we left. When I thought of New Jersey during our Italian adventure it was not with great warmth (except for the few friends I had left behind). Along with the climate, the culture is cold as well – rushed, and intense, and sometimes socially hostile. And yet… on our first morning back at our Flemington church, I almost cried at the enthusiastic welcome. I have never felt more loved and cherished by a church family than by the small congregation at Living Waters Lutheran Church. I sat in my pastor’s office just over a week later, seeking guidance on an unexpected request, and I really did cry as we prayed together – tears of joy and awareness of God’s presence with us as we worked together to seek the path that would best honor the God we both love. If for no other reason than our church, it is so, so good to be home.

But it is not just the church. As I look with eyes that have been opened by all the difference I encountered abroad, I am finding much more to love in this state I always resisted. New friends are eager to know us. New schools fill my children with delight. A new appreciation for the natural beauty of this place, in all its cold starkness, pulses at the periphery of my city-dulled vision. Although a long-term return to California is still a dream (I promise Nanna & Gra’ma – it really is!), I am finding myself wanting to settle here for this present moment. In fact, that is a real part of the difficulty I am enduring during our time of unsettledness. I am eager to dig in to our new life here and make it mine.

And that, perhaps, is the most important lesson I have learned from my experience of repatriating. I am beginning to recognize that all the things I miss about Italy, all the ways that my life there was different, all the ways that my European adventure changed me, all these factors have actually made me MORE able to embrace the adventure waiting for me here. I spent ten years in New Jersey prior to our expatriate assignment and I never really set down roots. It wasn’t where I wanted to stay forever, so it wasn’t where I wanted to stay for now either, at least not fully. The ways in which it wasn’t California dominated my thinking about my temporary home and so I pulled back and complained and cast aspersions on the impenetrable high school cliques of native New Jerseyans, and the horrible weather that is relieved for only a few weeks in spring and autumn, and the frantic pace of work and life that races up and down the northeastern seaboard. I didn’t seek to develop friendships with those whom I wouldn’t have befriended “back home.” I didn’t embrace the rhythmic shifts brought about by clearly demarcated seasons. I didn’t look to relish all the differences in East Coast life that could help me see a new perspective.

It took Milan to teach me how wonderful strange friendships and uncomfortable culture shock and previously unimagined challenges can be. And believe me, they can be truly, blessedly, transformatively wonderful.

I miss Milan, and I will continue to miss it, possibly for the rest of my life.

I still long for California, and unless and until God guides our family back to the Golden State it’s magnet pull will forever disorient the compass of my heart.

But for now, I am in New Jersey. And I am determined that my life here will not be lived as a stop-over, a reluctant in between that must just be gotten through. I have things to do here. I have memories to make here. I have challenges to grow through here. I have people to love here. Thank you, God, for bringing me back a changed woman.


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Are My Children Too Young to Worship?

St. Paul's Cathedral, London

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

My children are young.

They are not so young that I assume every night will involve at least one cry for sustenance that is only available from my body. They are not so young that my wardrobe decisions are ruled by the preemptive value of washable fabrics that will camouflage shoulder spit-up stains. They are not so young that I am forced to carry a diaper bag, as opposed to getting by with a large purse that can accommodate a package of wipes, diverse toys and snacks, and at least one sippy cup. They are not even so young that the high-pitched announcement “I need to go potty” must immediately be followed by a mad dash to the nearest toilet with a grimacing child held out in front of me in the hope of avoiding any accidental leakage onto my clothes.For the most part, I can happily proclaim that those days are behind me. The Gigglemonster just marked the completion of his fourth year outside my womb which probably means that I am really and truly past the tiny tots stage.

Nevertheless, and despite my weepy birthday moments of exclaiming over how fast they are growing up, my children are still very young. And, what it more, I am discovering that my children’s passage though the indeterminate border region that divides “he/she’s too young to know better” from “she/he is old enough to understand that different rules of behavior apply to different situations” makes for some really challenging parenting moments. What is more, the younger one’s maturation process into a genuine playmate has somehow transformed the older one into a partner worthy of his happy-tornado personality. The sweet, shy, quiet little girl who has previously generated parenting angst only in concern about helping her engage more socially is rapidly morphing into an explosive ball of irrepressible energy who can’t seem to understand why I don’t appreciate her use of her own head as a battering ram to forcibly connect to the more sensitive parts of my anatomy, and who is suddenly resistant to my pleas to be a good example for her little brother in calming down when the situation calls for a bit more reserve. I love both my children to distraction, and no day could be perfect if they were not a major part of it, but Good Grief! I am desperate for someone in our family to identify some mechanism to moderate the wild, destructive energy that is pulsing through our lives and seems ready to pounce at me from around the corner of every parenting decision.

One such particularly mauling pounce occurred last week toward the end of our family’s 5-day whirlwind tour of London. To be fair to the kiddos, we asked a lot of them and didn’t trouble ourselves to request their input too much in the itinerary planning. To be fair to me, I did cut out all possible museum visits and tried to weight each day’s activities with child-friendly options. The Gigglemonster got to attend both a Manchester United match and an American football game (at both of which his team dominated, Go 9ers!). Princess Imagination got to decree that our visit to the Tower of London focused on the historical reenactment of famous female prisoners at the tower, which she found utterly fascinating. The only moments spent in the purse sections of Harrods were those we spent walking through in order to get to the chocolate room and the Christmas shop, and we ate lunch upstairs at the Disney Café. All in all the trip was really designed to please young children as much as possible, especially considering that this was not their first cultural tourist trek and they have given me good cause to expect that they will behave themselves well as long as they get regular snacks and don’t have to walk too much.

Cheering for the 9ers! (with his first foam finger)

Cheering for the 49ers! (with his first foam finger)

The Disney Café had a life-sized Rapunzel!

The Disney Café had a life-sized Rapunzel!

Unfortunately, the font of squirmy energy that has recently begun receiving fresh underground supplies from an unknown source chose a particularly inauspicious moment in our tour to erupt. That moment was Evensong at Westminster Cathedral.

My wonderful mother-in-law (Nanna as the kids call her) was along for the trip and stayed with me and the kids after Tyler had to return to work in Milan. She had never seen the famous and beautiful cathedral and we had decided together that a lovely way to experience Westminster would be the nightly Evensong service. The timing was theoretically perfect. The service was at 5:00, so we could give the  children a little snack beforehand and they wouldn’t be frantic for dinner until well after the service concluded around 6:00. The participation in the service was open to all interested people (no age limit was expressed in any of the descriptions), and it would offer the chance for our experience in the historic church to have more spiritual depth, rather than feeling like another tourism moment. Princess Imagination had participated two days earlier in a communion service at St. Paul’s (while the Gigglemonster was in Manchester with Daddy), and while the service wasn’t without incident it had been the highlight of the trip so far for both Nanna and I. We were both really looking forward to the hour of music and prayer.

If I had known how disastrous it was going to be, I would have found a nearby place to park with the kids while Joan went alone.

Just before we went into Westminster Cathedral. They look so sweet and well-behaved...

Just before we went into Westminster Cathedral. They look so sweet and well-behaved…

It all started well. We entered quietly and the kids stopped to light a candle and say a prayer (the part of Cathedral visits they always find most exciting). They needed a couple of reminders to keep their voices low, but they weren’t unusually energetic. As we approached the congregational seating area a priest ushered us to an aisle where he promptly removed a chair to make space for our stroller and I remember thinking how kind and accommodating he was. Oh the irony!

As we seated ourselves the Gigglemonster squirmed out of the stroller and decreed a sitting arrangement that left me on one end next to him, while Princess Imagination was on the far side of Nanna. It wasn’t ideal, but the room was unnaturally quiet in the minutes of pre-service meditation, despite the hundred or so other worshiper, so I felt it was wisest to just sit down as quickly and quietly as possible. I leaned close to the small, pink ear of my smallest child to whisper a few calm reminders about needing to be quiet and listen in church so that we don’t disturb all the other nice people who are here to worship God too. He nodded agreement and I didn’t notice any tell-tale gleam of resistance in his sparkling brown eyes.

He lasted about 5 minutes. First he was not content that I be holding the order of worship as we rose for the first hymn. I should be holding him instead. That was fine, but he expressed his desire by ripping the card out of my hand and throwing it on the ground. Normally, that kind of unnecessary aggression would have elicited a firm redirection from me, but the shroud of absolute silence that seemed to envelope all participants in the service other than the official voices muffled my tongue. I let it be and cuddled him close, hoping that this affection would meet his needs and infuse him with some of the calm the service was supposed to impart. Ever curious, however, he next started with questions: about where the voices floating out from the quire were coming from, about what the archaic language of the service meant, about why it was dark outside, about any little thing he could think of.

In almost any other context we have worshipped in, his behavior wouldn’t have been exceptional – he was whispering softly and his wriggling body was at least confined to the two seats he and I had taken. Here, however, in the vaulted halls of Westminster, his violation of the unwritten rule of absolute silence echoed loudly. I felt my own tension rising to fill the huge, stone-arched space. I desperately tried to whisper answers with the barest breath of sound; I tried to shush him and remind him that he was distracting other worshippers; I tried to distract him with a small pen and pad of paper, but then he insisted in sprawling on the floor to do his “coloring” and I had a panicked foreshadowing of my attempts to apologize to the priests for a smeared line of blue ink across the storied marble tiles. Princess Imagination then entered the fray by shuffling down from her seat and making an effort to worm her ever-lengthening body onto my lap. That, of course, immediately precipitated a sibling squabble. I was near tears and perhaps farther away for a worshipful attitude than I had ever been in a church before that moment. I tried to shoo my daughter back to her assigned seat, but she stubbornly wriggled in resistance. The repressive atmosphere must have registered with her as well because at least she kept her voice low as she whined in my ear “but I want to sit on your lap.”

I snapped. “I want” is a phrase we have been talking about a lot in our family recently. It comes out of both our children’s mouth with a frequency that drives me up a wall, and we have discussed ad nauseam the importance of understanding that being a family is about cooperating. It is not wrong to have wants or to express them, but it is not OK to just stubbornly insist on them when your want is hurting someone else in the family. If you phrase your repeated expression of a desire for a given thing in our family with “but I want…” you are probably not going to like the result. Princess Imagination knows this very well. “I don’t care what you want,” I hissed into her ear “go back to your seat right now.” It wasn’t my finest parenting moment and I was ashamed of myself as soon as I said it, but she slunk sulkily back to her seat. In that tension-filled moment I was prepared to take an ugly win.

The Gigglemonster, of course, immediately jumped into the space his sister had vacated (as his right, given his original sitting position in the seat next to mine). It calmed him for about 30 seconds. Then he felt in my back pocket and whispered into me ear. “Can I have the iphone?” I jumped at the solution. I slid the sound function to silent and opened up the Feed Me game. Then I breathed. This was good, he settled down happily, his little face inches from the 4 1/2 inch screen, and began finger-dragging objects with intense concentration to appropriately match the shining color prompts. Miraculously, Princess Imagination joined him and they crouched soundlessly and cooperatively in front of the magical device to play together. We were half way through the service. Perhaps I would still have a chance to quiet my heart beat and still my mind to encounter the great God who had inspired such soaring beauty.

I was almost there. I had almost released all my frustration and angst and begun to rest in the meditative prayer of the service when our “accommodating” priest was suddenly bustling toward us with a reproving, even angry expression. “Please turn that off immediately.” “Please” was technically how he began the sentence, but it was not a request. I assumed he was worried about the potential for noise in the sacrosanct silence of the church. “It’s on silent…” I began in a conciliatory whisper, but he cut through my explanation. “Just turn it off now.”

OK. I immediately bent down and took the phone out of the Gigglemonster’s contented hands and turned it off with a murmured “I’m sorry, Honey, it’s the rules.” At this point in the story, I think my 4-year old deserves a round of applause. He could have grabbed for the phone with a loud objection. He could have protested querulously why his quiet, educational entertainment was being taken away. He could have thrown a full-on tantrum on the floor and disrupted the entire service. He did none of these things. He did whisper a “why?” and while I was floundering with my own responsive whisper of “I don’t know honey, the priest just said I have to turn it off” the priest provided a more complete (though to me incomprehensible) answer to Joan. Apparently the church would not tolerate toys of any kind in the service. It wasn’t just electronic devises. Children who came to the church were expected to sit for any hour like miniature adults in total silence.

Huh?

OK. I understand that Westminster Cathedral is not the casual, post-hippy environment of the evangelical church in which I grew up. I didn’t expect them to clear away the chairs at some point in the service so that we could all dance before the Lord like David did. I didn’t even expect them to invite the children forward for a children’s sermon that would have given them some context for understanding all the grown-up talk ,as other Anglican/Episcopal churches often do before the homily. This was an ancient cathedral and it was understandably a more formal environment. But “no toys of any kind”? Really? All worshippers are welcomed to attend, but preschoolers should be prepared to sit for an hour in the evening and listen to choral music, scripture readings from the King James Version, and a chant-like homily with absolutely no distractions? What boggles my mind even more is the fact that all responsible adults are apparently expected to intuitively know this rule and enforce it without intervention. According to Nanna’s recount of the reprimand, this was most certainly the attitude of our stroller-accommodating priest. It wasn’t reasonable for him to have to quietly inform us of this policy before he removed the extra chair, or for a discrete notice to be printed on the service sheet. We should have understood it independently and he was frankly scandalized by our failure to control my phone-wielding children.

Looking back on the incident it is fairly easy to recognize a lot of things I shouldn’t have done. I shouldn’t have depended on a whispered, “now, we have to be quiet during the service” as the sole preparation I gave my children as we entered the hallowed ground of the church. I shouldn’t have let my own anxiety in the situation escalate to a barely controlled tension that couldn’t help but communicate itself to my children and increase their unease. I shouldn’t have snapped angrily into my sweet daughter’s ear that “I didn’t care” about what she wanted, no matter how many times I have explained the inappropriateness of insisting on her own wants without listening to the reasons for why she can’t have them right now. I most certainly shouldn’t have spent the remainder of the service (and significant portions of the following hours and days) stewing in my anger at the rebuking priest who was just doing his job, no matter how ungraciously.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have even gone to the Evensong with my children, or at least I shouldn’t have approached the service with such cavalier expectation of a joyful encounter with God that ignored my responsibility to heavily prepare my children for a very different worship environment and to vigilantly supervise their behavior. The possibility that I just shouldn’t have gone, however, has prompted me to ponder the question that titles this entry. Are my children too young for worship? Are my children really too young to participate in the forms of Christian practice that are most purely reverential and submissive, those forms that require the most rejection of our own immediate sense of self in order to foster a shadowy awareness of God’s otherness and majesty, those forms that are in some ways most worshipful because they emphasize the distance between our natural state and God’s glory?

My own personal journey of faith took many, many steps before really appreciating this aspect of Christian worship. I grew up with a highly approachable God, the Abba/Daddy that Jesus prayed to. This was a God who loved me personally, and I could take anything to him. I didn’t have to worry about “not behaving that way in church” because God saw me all the time, and loved me in every context, and the stiff comportment required by uptight, mainline denominations was “too legalistic” and didn’t reflect our freedom in Christ. At family camp my Pastor actually wore cut-off jean shorts while preaching (gasp!).

This God is utterly biblical and much easier to explain to young children than the more distant and holy images of God that are also portrayed in the pages of the Bible (not to mention the violent and vengeful passages that, frankly, a lot of adult Christians are not emotionally and spiritually ready to acknowledge). Given the large swath of Christendom that shies away from the God Rudolf Otto describes as Wholly Other, it is hardly fair of me to expect my children’s young faith to relish the spiritual encounter with majesty in the context of grandiose silence.

And yet… One of the many wonderful blessings I have enjoyed during our European sojourn is the chance to experience spiritual growth through the medium of Europe’s grand Cathedrals. A slightly disdainful discomfort with the opulence and expense that these monuments represent has slowly been moderated by an appreciation for how they direct my mind to the transcendence and grandeur of God. Awe and reverence can frankly be hard to grasp when God is the buddy you carry around in your heart so you can pour out your troubles in any time and place that suits you with a quick “Dear Jesus” prayer. Much easier to really sink into an appreciation of just how great Christ’s choice to humble himself was, when I have to crane my neck back uncomfortably to gaze up at a broken body hanging from a cross in a context of glittering, awe-inspiring beauty. This enhanced awareness of God’s greatness and glory has truly deepened the power of my faith in my life, and I want that power for my children’s faith as well. I want to expose them not just to the casual, accessible God, but also to the God so far above us that we can never reach God on our own.

But how do I find that balance? It’s not just a curmudgeonly priest at Westminster Cathedral that I have to overcome. On our earlier visit to St. Paul’s my most docile child had struggled to comport herself in a manner that shows any understanding of the duty of reverence.

Our family on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral, before the boys took off for the game.

Our family on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, before the boys took off for the game.

The national cathedral is an equally beautiful and awe-inspiring building that offered an entirely more open experience of worship (the priest kept inviting us to sit or stand or sing with the phrase “perhaps you will…”). Nevertheless, when the time came for interested congregants to come forward for communion, she threw a mini fit. I reminded her as we processed up the line that she would receive a blessing rather than communion, since she hasn’t yet been baptized. She got upset. Perhaps she was hungry and eager for a little snack. Perhaps she didn’t want an unfamiliar old man putting his hand on her head. Whatever the reason, she was not interested, and she angrily demanded that I leave the line to go back to our seats with her. I didn’t think it was appropriate to give in to this imperious order and I calmly said no. She didn’t actually throw a tantrum, but she nearly tore my arm out of its socket as she clung to my hand and retreated behind my back with an angry glare as the priest attempted to offer her the blessing. When we talked later about how rude that had been she could grudgingly apologize for ignoring my instructions and insisting that I forgo the communion, but she expressed no sense that such behavior was irreverent in a context of worship, a sense that had made my own experience of the incident much more mortifying.

Obviously, I made a lot of parenting errors in London churches and I am painfully aware that my own embarrassment when my children act out in public is far too acute. Nevertheless, I feel like I must be missing something in the way I am teaching my children about what it means to worship in church. I lack a language and a teaching context for helping my children to encounter reverence in worship. I want my children to know God as close, and loving, and intimate, but not at the expense of any sense that God deserves our deepest respect. Obviously, it’s not all on me. God has a stake in my children’s spiritual growth as well and God’s Spirit is the only one who had ultimately call forth faith. But I still feel heavily the responsibility to teach my children well.

So, I turn to you, my readers. What do you think? Is faith a journey of discovery in which we can present just one aspect of God early on until children are ready for more? Should we teach them about being quiet and respectful in church at the risk of an association between God and repression? Should we try to expose them to different contexts for worship or just abstain from opportunities to worship with other branches of the faith “until the kids are old enough?” Are my kids just spoiled brats that can’t handle rules because I’m too soft on them? OK, that last one in tongue-in-cheek, but I really am interested in your opinions.

What guidelines would you recommend for a Christian mom trying to teach her children how to worship of a God who is both near and loving and transcendent and glorious?