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Mouths of Babes

The other night we took the kids out to look at the neighborhood Christmas lights. Every time we came within three blocks of an outdoor yard display nativity scene, Quinn's head would snap around instantly, neck craning, chest pressed with all his might against the seatbelt straps, saying with frantic energy, "I WANNA SEE THE BABY JESUS, I CAN'T SEE THE BABY JESUS!" At first we didn't think anything about it; he attends pre-school at a church where they've been busy explaining the Christian Christmas Story and he's familiar with the traditional manger scene. But it became a little ridiculous when he could pick out a nativity scene on a street littered with holiday displays that included giant blow-up snowglobes, Santas, snowmen, and light post-sized candy canes. Quinn has always had a knack for finding small details among clutter; his favorite books are the I Spy books (I haven't introduced him to Where's Waldo? yet - I need to mentally prepare for the nightly ritual of "reading" those). During our Christmas Light Tour, whenever he yelled to see the baby Jesus, we had to stop the car and let him gaze out the window, studying every detail of the nativity scene, but primarily baby Jesus; apparently, it's his newest obsession.

I don't identify myself as a Christian, but most of my extended family does, and we live in a region where the majority of the population does, too. I want the kids to have as well-rounded a world view as possible, which doesn't mean that I want to exclude any and all aspects of Christianity from their lives, but it does mean that I also want them to be exposed to other belief systems and traditions. As the years have gone by, John and I haven't exactly written a detailed plan for how we'll accomplish this, and I certainly wasn't planning on doing it in a discussion with a five-year-old, but after all the baby Jesus talk during the Christmas Light Tour, Bryce cornered me last night at bedtime. He lay there on his pillow looking from me to the ceiling to the top of his eyelids, and as always he used his hands to emphasize his deep curiosity and sense of confusion: "How could he be born a baby and then grow up to be a spirit?"

This is exactly how he started the conversation, so I was understandably confused, myself: "Who? What are you talking about?"

He sighed. He gets so tired of always having to explain everything to me. "The baby Jesus! I am asking how he could have been born a little baby and then grown up into a spirit! I just don't understand how that could happen. How did he do that? (Oh, sorry I hit you with my hand when I said that.)"

"Oh. Hmm. Well, let me see. He didn't grow up into a 'spirit,' per se. He was a human, which is why he was born a baby. Christians believe he was the son of God."

"Yeah, God is the same thing as Jesus."

"That's what Christians believe."

"What is a Christian, anyway? Oh, I know! Christians are people in churches who read the bible." and he held his hands up together in front of his face, palms facing him, creating an open book.

"Yes, some of them go to churches. There are also other people who aren't Christians who go to different types of churches and read different books, and believe different things."

"Like who?"

"A couple of them off the top of my head are Muslims and Buddhists. But there are a LOT more in the world than that."

"What do they believe?"

"Uh. That's complicated. And I don't know all the details, but Muslims call God 'Allah' and they don't believe Jesus was the son of God. They believe in a prophet named Mohammed, who taught people how to love God."

"What about the other people you said?"


"Yeah, Buddhists. What do they believe? And I STILL don't know how Jesus grew up into a spirit!"

"I told you he didn't 'grow up into a spirit.' He taught people about God and about how to love each other, and Christians believe he's the son of God, which is probably why you're thinking of him that way."

"But that's not really true."

"Well, that depends on what you believe--"

"Well we don't know if it's true! We don't know what God looks like, or how big he is."

"And we don't know if God is a 'he.'"

"Or a 'she.' Or if God has lips or a crown....well of course he doesn't have lips or a crown!"

Lips or a crown? This is what happens when you have a religious discussion with a five-year-old. I nodded and prepared to leave his room, but on my way out the door, he stopped me again: "How come spirits never die? I mean, I know PEOPLE die, but how do spirits live forever? I don't understand."

"Dude, I have no. Idea. How to answer you."

"Well I know. Spirits are bigger than the sun, which is very big, very bright, and very hot. So that is how they live forever. Right?"

"Can't we just discuss how Santa fits down the chimney like other five-year-olds do with their normal, sane moms? Please?"

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