THIS time of year always feels more like New Year than 1 January ever does, mostly because my culturally mixed family celebrates Rosh Hashanah in September. Along with my husband’s Reformed Jewish relatives, we eat apples dipped in honey, wish each other a sweet new year, and send each other photos of our children (snapped at the one moment they kept their kippahs on their heads before pulling them off).
A rabbi once advised me to choose between Christianity and Judaism as the dominant identity for my children, to avoid leaving them in a cultural no-man’s land. I understand the principle, but it’s easier said than done. Besides, a bit of faith-blending will barely scratch the surface for my Generation Z children.
Instead, we’re navigating our way through parallel religious calendars, celebrating Chrismuka, hosting the occasional Friday-night dinner, and having tricky conversations with Christians about cultural appropriation — usually in response to requests for my husband to say a Hebrew blessing over the erroneous pitta bread (it may be flat, but it’s still leavened) on Maundy Thursday.
This year, my “faith-fluid” children had to arrive at the Rosh Hashanah celebrations straight from the church’s harvest festival. “No, sweetheart,” I found myself saying, “Jesus was this morning. . . Now, keep your hat on — that’s it — and smile!”
I LIKE to think that they will have an unusually enriched Trinitarian sense of God. Having just begun a new module on doctrine (part of my second year of ordination studies), I am quickly realising that all my trusted analogies for the Trinity — which I have rolled out for many a Sunday-school class — are actually terrible heresies: ice/water/steam (modalism); sun/light/heat (Arianism); a clover (Partialism); a family (Tritheism).
The set reading on the Trinity reads more like my GSCE triple science textbook, featuring Venn diagrams with arrows and terrible words such as “mutual inter-penetration”, which apparently is a genuine theological term invented — not by women — to describe the relationships within the Trinity.
Fortunately, our new tutor, despite being descended from theology royalty (every time his grandfather’s name appears in our textbooks, we all start giggling as if we’re suddenly in the presence of St Augustine himself), is determined to show how all this theory should be practically outworked, and he usefully concludes every session with a “sermonette” to demonstrate how the complex doctrine could be preached. Something inside me breathes a sigh of relief at this point: I fear that it’s my repressed inner Evangelical, ever keen to measure impact, struggling to get out.
Suffer the children
MOST of the time, I feel almost as spiritually jumbled as my children. An Anglican ordinand with Quaker heritage, I was raised in the Charismatic tradition before learning, in my twenties, to love liturgy and sacramental worship. These days, I just bodge it all together with varying degrees of success.
I was recently asked to introduce an all-age service at church as part of a drive to attract more families with children. In my mind’s eye was an eclectic vision, in which the seriousness with which children are honoured and included in the synagogue, and at places like Taizé, would be mingled with the exuberant, “anything goes” drum-banging I remember from my non-denominational church upbringing.
In practice, it was rather more chaotic: the child on candle-lighting duty gave in to pyromaniacal temptation; another — over-excited at the sight of a loaf of bread rather than the usual wafers — ate the butt of the host while my back was turned; a third took so seriously my attempt to involve the children in liturgy that he shouted a pantomime-style “Save us and help us!” every time I finished a sentence.
To my amazement, the congregation have been asking when the next one will be.
Becoming a yea-sayer
I HAVE a similar pic’n’mix approach to parenting. There are endless books and theories on the subject, covering everything from “attachment” to “evolutionary” to “authoritative” parenting, and I pull out bits from them all — although I draw the line at “paleo parenting”, which involves caveman-style fasting and wild toileting.
I do, however, currently have a large pile of sticks accumulating in the middle of my living room. My two sons are curating an “autumn collection”, and walk home from school every day gathering armfuls of wood and pocketfuls of conkers and cob nuts. It’s the result of a new parenting strategy, as I attempt to say “Yes” to my children more often than I say “No” — not to demands for sweets, or plastic, but to requests where they can safely and responsibly exert a bit more control.
I realised that, over the six years (so far) of learning to be a mother, I have said “no” a lot, mostly because their choices seem unsuitable, or likely to end in hassle. But it was a line in a Sharon Olds poem (poetry turns out to be the best source of parenting advice) which has recently made me re-evaluate my approach. She likens feeling humiliated to the way in which a child experiences their lack of agency in a world run by adults:
Being a child, having to try to behave
While hating the terms of your life.
So now I’m wondering what we might do with sticks and liturgy at the next all-age service. Suggestions on the back of a pitta bread, please. . .
Jemima Thackray is a freelance journalist and part-time ordinand.