Holy Chatter

The first step is chatter.

Dr. Jennifer Harvey begins her book Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by explaining how parents who want to raise anti-racist kids need to abandon promoting “color blindness” and actively teach racial consciousness. Color blindness makes it fearful and painful for white people to talk about race, while a racial consciousness approach makes thinking and talking about race and the effects of racism part of our everyday lives. The very first step from one to the other involves our chatter, that on-going conversation with young children about everything around us: noticing things, wondering about things, defining things, trying out our own interpretations of the world as we experience it. The chatter adds up to confidence for our kids, that adults notice what they have observed too, the differences between people, and that it is safe to process their wondering about those differences with their trusted adults.

It all starts with chatter. Good, because my daughters are 8 and 4, and chatter is my life. But wow, has our chatter changed over time! Our older daughter’s speech developed much later, so at age 3 she would ride in her car seat or swing at a playground, smiling or laughing, but without uttering a word for the longest time. I filled the airtime with songs or lots of exclamations: “Look at the red truck!” “Oooo… birds!” because I desperately wanted her to learn to speak. When our younger daughter was an infant she despised the infant car seat with ferocity. I kept up a running commentary on everything I could manage anytime we drove somewhere not only so my 4-year-old would engage, but to distract the baby from the fact of the Evil Car Seat. Now I am pelted by a regular stream of questions from the back seats, playground equipment or around the dinner table. Their favorites are: “How do people make __________?” and “What does ________ mean?”I tell them “I don’t know” when I truly don’t know, instead of making something up, or give several possibilities and promise we’ll find out more. And no subjects are off limits; I get lots of practice keeping my composure. Often it just feels like we are filling air time, but all the little tidbits are building an affect over time.

This is Dr. Harvey’s premise. When you are chattering about Doc McStuffins, parents might mention how she is a doctor who takes care of her stuffed animals, someone her friends go to for help, a girl, and African-American. Do we know doctors who are women? Our dentist is an African-American woman, isn’t she? Doc McStuffins is very good at observing and solving problems, but also asks for help. When do you ask for help? Racially conscious chatter is just the beginning of raising racially conscious kids. Obviously we cannot stop there (It’s only chapter 2 of Harvey’s book!) but we can certainly start there.

Many mainline Protestant churches need to up our chatter “game” on so many fronts (definitely race, accessibility, loving our neighbors as ourselves), but specifically talking about our faith. This is supposedly the point of a church, but many of us seem so uncomfortable doing it that we’d prefer to be “faith blind.” Evangelism can be one of those ministries that we leave to the extreme extroverts or we cling to the quote attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.”

But if we cannot articulate that our faith is the reason we live where we do, spend our time how we do, vote the way we do, then there is a disconnect for all those who observe us. When someone calls us – or Christians in general – out on not acting as Jesus did, if we’re so unaccustomed to talking about it, we can only stumble around claiming that we are not part of that group, exactly. We need to learn to casually mention our faith while making decisions,discussing political and social realities, making observations about our neighbors, empathizing with what some people are going through, so frequently that it becomes a normal thing we talk about. We are not doing it to convert people, but to define for ourselves and others what it means to live as a person of Christian faith. Perhaps we could practice embedding a catch phrase into half of our conversations at church or use it at least once per committee meeting: “because of our faith.” It would take awhile to not feel forced (as my observations about Doc McStuffins still do occasionally), and to move from awkward to genuine. But that just means we need practice. That phrase would likely evoke more questions we will need to engage: “What do you mean by that?” Perhaps we could substitute “because of our faith” any time we are tempted to think instead: “but it’s too political.”

We need to talk about income inequality (but it’s too political) because of our faith.

Let’s get into it about immigration (but it’s too political) because of our faith.

If we want our children, or any “child of God” declared so by Christ’s resurrection, to become people of genuinely active faith, then we have to start the chatter, and establish that our faith is something we talk about all the time that it’s present, which is all the time.

Photo by Kenny Krosky on Unsplash

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