Rethinking “Faith Like A Child”

My latest for Sojourners

Being a parent is an awesome task. On one hand you have the responsibility of caring for another human being; on the other, children can push the limits of your sanity, sleep habits, and your willpower while you watch the same TV show for the 14th time in a week. Parenting is not easy. Don’t believe me? Google ‘parenting tips’ and watch the advice flow in. Most of it is not worth reading, but every now and then you can find a diamond in the rough. Every person who has ever been a parent (and some who have not) will have an opinion on everything from discipline to feeding schedules and car seat options.

One important task that parents have is passing on values and beliefs to the next generation. Since we are Christian, my wife and I are raising our family in the church. It’s wonderful to see the wheels turning in my daughter’s head as she is learning about the faith that I hold so dear. This past Christmas was especially wonderful because this was the first year that the story of the coming of Christ in the world as a baby in a manger prompted awe and wonder. I have to admit I envy her; she is hearing the stories of God, Jesus, and the disciples for the first time. What I wouldn’t give to be able to listen to what goes on in her mind when she hears about angels singing or God loving humanity without conditions.

We don’t give children enough credit. They are infinitely smarter than we think. Children figure out things that most adults have trouble comprehending. I truly believe that my daughter came out of the womb knowing how to operate an iPad. She gets that finger swiping and she can navigate the world of apps and photos with more precision and understanding that people 20 times her age.

In the Gospel of Mark, we find these words of Jesus: “ I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15–Common English Bible). This verse is referenced when someone speaks that followers of Christ should have “faith like a child.” Generally, this is defined as “simple faith” or “faith without question.” This, however, is a misguided understanding.

My daughter, although she is only 3, understands the notion of the Gospel at basic level. For example, while traversing the aisles of a grocery store, my daughter exclaimed the words every parent has heard: “Daddy I want one of those.” I looked in the direction she was pointing thinking I was going to see a candy display or something with her favorite cartoon character on it. I didn’t see any of those things. I asked for her to clarify and she again pointed to a display of brown paper bags that had been filled with canned goods to be purchased for the local homeless shelter. She said, “I want to get one of those bags for the people who can’t come to the store to buy things.” I learned later that my wife the week previously had explained the bags to her. No matter how she learned about the bags, there was no way in the world I was telling her ‘no.’ What kind of message would that send to a child with a budding faith and curiosity about the world around her? I knew in that moment that my 3-year-old daughter was acting on her faith in a way that most adults never get a glimpse of. She didn’t ask how the people who needed the food got into the situation they were in and neither would Jesus. She didn’t say too many people were receiving handouts and neither would Jesus. She didn’t care about who got the bag of food and neither would Jesus. Simply put, if we are called to be followers of Christ, then we should start doing some Christ-like things.

Children’s faiths are alive and strong, and the church needs to recognize this instead of repeating corny “children’s sermons” that are usually well intentioned but often developmentally inappropriate. The church’s story is being heard and lived out in front of our eyes through the hands and feet of some of the smallest members of the church. Why are we amazed that more children are asking to give money or toys to others instead of receiving for themselves? This is something that should be an extension of our own faith; sometimes it takes the innocence of a child to reorient our thinking about what truly matters.

Having faith like a child does not mean that we take everything at face value, but it does mean that we have the ‘go-get-em’ attitude. Children’s faiths are constantly being shaped and formed by the people around them and by the answers they get to important questions. If we cannot articulate our faith in a way that a child can understand, then we have a failure in communication.

I want to have a child’s faith; I want the stories of the Bible to be more than just words on a page or the same old story. I want to be emboldened in my faith to step out and be the hands and feet of Christ in the world around me. And if I can do that, I know that I will have a partner in ministry with me.

Let’s not lose that sense of wonder that children possess.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan Dolive


I Take Children’s Books Too Seriously

I enjoy a good book.  I’ve liked books from when I was a child reading when I was three.  I didn’t care for the readings that were forced upon me in High School English but after college I learned to enjoy reading again.   I like being caught up in a story, finding a book that you can’t put down and having that sense of accomplishment when I close the book for the final time.  I like to delve into a person’s biography to learn about their development and the reasonings for beginning their life’s calling.  Ever since I attended seminary my list of books on my “to-read” list has been ever growing.  Due to the rise of technology books can go with us with general ease.  I love my Kindle and when I don’t have it I know the Kindle App is right there for me.

But all of that goes out the window when it comes to children’s books.  To be honest, I love children’s books.  It started when I was a kid; my mother is a Kindergarten teacher and I liked to read her latest addition.  I thought they were cute, funny, simplistic and even poignant.

When I became a parent I knew that at some point the daily routine would including reading stories to my child.  I knew the stats about verbal ability and cognition with respect to a child hearing the language.

But that changes when you have to read the same book over and over again before bed with your child.  I, like many parents, have tried the reverse psychology to get out of reading “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” for the 147th time that month, but it never works.  Hiding them never works either; we have to look through the entire bookshelf until the book “magically” reappears.

So whatever the book choice is, I read it, sometimes by memory and sometimes with a smile on my face.  Sometimes as I am reading the book in my head I am adding witty banter and commentary for two reasons: 1) it helps me to stay awake and engaged in the story and 2) the book will be entertaining to me and not a chore.  As hard as I try it can be difficult to be fully present at bedtime readings.

But maybe through it all I am taking children’s books too seriously.  Have I been jaded by my 30 year old eyes in which I see the world?  Do I see children’s books as more fantasy than reality to which we are propping up our children?  Do I need to learn to relax and enjoy some easy reading?  Maybe…

For example, my daughter has this book about going to the doctor.  It’s a cute book but there are some glaring issues that I see in it.  First, the boy is sick and needs to go to the doctor.  His mother takes him but also takes his friend along with him because she had a tummy ache last week and needed to go back for a check up.  I get what the author is trying to do here; the author is trying to show that sometimes we have to go to doctor even if we feel better to ensure everything is ok.  But that is not what I have an issue with.  First, the two children are holding hands throughout the book.  My first thought was “isn’t the boy sick and won’t that transfer the germs to the girl?”  Secondly, is it legal for the mom to take another person’s child to the doctor?  I used to work in a healthcare setting and my HIPAA alarm was going off.  Finally, the examination room was the size of a small house.  The room had a table, an area to play for the child who wasn’t being seen, a desk with a computer for the doctor and a view of a beautiful landscape.  In what fantasy land does this place exist?  In my experience of exam rooms, they are about the size of a janitor’s closet and have maybe two chairs and several copies of Zoo Books from 1987 in them, with diagrams of the human body and Care Bears adorning the walls.

Maybe my beef with children’s books is that I wish that they could be reality.  In children’s books the world is so much simpler.  Animals talk and walk and in some cases run for President, the doctor is not a scary place to go, there is generally a resolution of conflict is a manner of distributive justice and good moral teaching.  As a father that’s what I want for my daughter, but I know that truly is a fantasy.  I know that the world is not as happy and pretty as the books make it, but maybe that is why we read them in the first place.

Maybe I do take them too seriously from my adult perspective, but for a child I believe that they can be a glimpse of what can be and how humanity can act or even should act.  Books offer an escape from the world around us; they allow us to enter into a place for maybe a moment to find respite and to use the power of our imagination.

I have no plans to stop reading to my children or stop taking them seriously, but I do hope for the idyllic worlds found within the pages of children’s books will come to life in their lives.

Here’s to the dreams that children have, may they come true.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

Let’s Stop Lying to Young People

My latest article for the Orange County Record

The Church for decades, maybe centuries, has been caught in a terrible lie.  For some people it is a lie that is has been so engrained as truth, they believe it as such.  This particular lie is one that when confronted or analyzed, many church goers would vehemently deny.  So what is this lie?  Answer- Children and Young People matter to the church.

I know that is a stout claim but is one that is not without merit.  For too long the church has been a place where those in charge or those who assumed the power set the rules, set the order of worship and set the way that a particular congregation is supposed serve and worship God.  Often this is done by people who have been in the church for sometime (generally all or most of their life) and they feel the need to continue on this tradition that they are used to.

Sadly in many congregations around the country the number of young adults and teenagers attending church services are dropping rapidly.  Sure you can blame parents or video games or being over extended with extracurricular activities, but that is a cop-out.  The real answer which may be hard to hear for some is that the church is unwelcoming to them.

If a child was raised in the church they know the stories of Jesus; they know how he touched people’s lives and how Christ came to show the love of God in the world.  They were taught at young age that God had gifted them with special abilities and talents and passions to be used for the work of the Kingdom.  And as children grow into teenagers, teenagers into young adults, the reality becomes more evident.  To be a participating member of most congregations, you have to be at least 45 years old, have been a member most of your life and you have “waited your turn.”  This is the perception of the church- people ‘punching’ their ticket and waiting until they have ‘paid their dues’ to be a full participating, active member of the church.

Young people are not leaving the church because they have objection with the teachings of Christ, rather they are leaving because they have no place in the church.   Sure churches do a great job with their nursery program, Worship and Wonder program and even youth and college programs, but after that the church has not done too well.  The church has bought into the lie that the late Whitney Houston promoted, that the “children are our future.”  This, my friends, is a bold face lie.

Children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, young adults are not the future of the church, they are the “right now.”

This segment of the population needs to know that their ideas, theologies, concerns, worship styles and missional thoughts are valid.  Too often churches try to squeeze all of this into one Sunday generally know as “Youth Sunday.”  On this particular Sunday the youth are able to read scripture, sing praise songs and even preach.  After that one particular Sunday service it is back to the same routine.  Some churches have a “children’s moment” but even then that has turned into a Sunday morning version of ‘Kid’s Say The Darnest Things’ or a well intentioned person is trying to cram too much theology in a simple metaphor.

In some congregations the children are separated from the rest of the congregation to have their own service of worship.  Many children enjoy and learn from this experience but once you hit age of 10 or so, it’s in the sanctuary with your parents.

There is a huge disconnect.

Matthew 19:14 reads, “Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children. ” (Common English Bible)

For the church to be relevant in society it must meet the needs of those around them.  Churches are losing the young adult population as well as the Baby Boomers, why?  They are tired of waiting to make an impact on the church and the world today.  But for this to happen, people in power and church structures are going to have to change.  It will take time and effort and faith; for the church’s sake I hope we are able to answer that call.

Let’s stop telling the lie.