Tag Archives: parenting

Are Religious Children Less Generous Than Non-Religious Ones?


Last week The Guardian published the results of a study that claims to demonstrate just that:

Almost 1,200 children, aged between five and 12, in the US, Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa participated in the study. Almost 24% were Christian, 43% Muslim, and 27.6% non-religious. The numbers of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic and other children were too small to be statistically valid.

They were asked to choose stickers and then told there were not enough to go round for all children in their school, to see if they would share. They were also shown film of children pushing and bumping one another to gauge their responses.

The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.

Someone asked me a few days what I thought about the study. I said, “Non-religious people get to feel superior and vindicated in their choices, conservative evangelicals can complain about the liberal media, and progressive religious types can geek out by wondering about sample size and methodology. Something for everyone.”  I can’t speak to the quality of the research, though I’m told it’s a peer reviewed study, which counts for something. On the other hand, Robert tells me that half of all psychological studies are unreplicatable, so…

But assuming this study is accurate, what would account for a lack of generosity in religious children? Not sure. For the record, I don’t think you need to have a religious tradition or belief in God to be a moral person. And at the same time, there is a strain of judgmentalism in some expressions of Christianity, and apparently Islam too, since that was also mentioned in the study.

But I do have one small hypothesis.

For the past several months, our family has been between churches. Since I finished my tenure at Tiny Church, we haven’t found a church to call home. I may preach in 2-3 congregations a month, but many of these are in other cities, so the kids don’t come with me.

During these months without a church, I’ve been keenly aware that it’s my job and Robert’s job–and pretty much ours alone–to teach generosity and kindness as spiritual practices. I say “as spiritual practices” because to some extent they also learn these attributes at school, during team sports and in other activities. But there’s usually no deeper meaning underlying them–it’s just the way you treat people.

Anyway, if this is our job and ours alone, we will want to approach it with great intentionality and care. Whereas parents who are religious may be relying on their faith communities to do a lot of this work. I used to hear this often from parents when I was a pastor–they rarely felt equipped to pass on the tenets of their faith to their children, and really hoped the church would do it instead.

Yet we know from study after study that parents are their children’s most important teachers. Which means that if parents are relying on faith communities to do this work, then the work isn’t getting done nearly as effectively.

What do you make of the study?


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photo credit: lone kid (6 of 8) via photopin (license)

Conversation Can Be Inefficient and Boring. We Need More of It.


I can’t wait to read Sherry Turkle’s latest book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. Dr. Turkle is one of the best thinkers and writers I’ve found on the impact of technology on human life. She’s neither an alarmist nor an apologist for technology, which makes her just the catalyst we need for a nuanced discussion about this stuff.

Here’s Turkle’s latest thesis, according to the New York TimesOur rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-­reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults and put technology in its place.

That sentence hit me hard this morning. I’ve been so disheartened by what passes for intelligent discourse on the Internet lately. I’m not talking about comments on news articles–we all know how those are: sad buffet tables full of deep-fried lizard brain, liberally spiced with references to Hitler and “Obummer.” No, I’m talking about Facebook threads–friends, and friends of friends. So many words. So little reflection and understanding.

From the article:

Conversation is Turkle’s organizing principle because so much of what constitutes humanity is threatened when we replace it with electronic communication. Conversation presupposes solitude, for example, because it’s in solitude that we learn to think for ourselves and develop a stable sense of self, which is essential for taking other people as they are. (If we’re unable to be separated from our smartphones, Turkle says, we consume other people “in bits and pieces; it is as though we use them as spare parts to support our fragile selves.”)

Ouch. [If you haven’t seen Louis CK’s bit about this on Conan’s show, go, do it now. Rated PG13 for mild language and one crude gesture.]

Through the conversational attention of parents, children acquire a sense of enduring connectedness and a habit of talking about their feelings, rather than simply acting on them. (Turkle believes that regular family conversations help “inoculate” children against bullying.)

This is one of the reasons family dinner is so important–and why it’s best if family dinner is a screen-free zone.

When you speak to people in person, you’re forced to recognize their full human reality, which is where empathy begins. (A recent study shows a steep decline in empathy, as measured by standard psychological tests, among college students of the smartphone generation.) And conversation carries the risk of boredom, the condition that smartphones have taught us most to fear, which is also the condition in which patience and imagination are developed.

I heard Sherry Turkle interviewed on the Note to Self podcast last week, talking about how texting is replacing conversation in ways that can be concerning. We are increasingly rejecting conversation as an outmoded technology because it is so inefficient. It meanders and is sometimes boring. By contrast, texting happens when it’s convenient for us. We can craft our responses so they are “perfect” (her word, quoting numerous people who saw texting as superior to conversation).

I think she’s absolutely right. AND I appreciate that she too is a user of technology–she’s not suggesting we give the whole thing up. (Though seriously with the bad Facebook arguments. I’m about one week and a blood sugar crash away from nuking my account.)

Caroline has been taking an old iPod Touch to school to read Kindle books during her study period. But I also get texts from her sometimes during lunch. She has block scheduling, and on “grey day” she has no friends to sit with. Having someone to reach out to gives her a sense of comfort, and we’ve had some deep interactions through text.

I remember what it was like to be the new kid in the middle school and not have anyone to sit with at lunch. I would have killed for a smartphone! Not only does it give Caroline something to do, it also connects her with her larger tribe, so she can remember there’s more to life than the cliques in the lunchroom. And on “blue days” I’m happy she’s with a group of friends, and I don’t hear a peep from her.

So it’s not an all-or-nothing thing.

That said, conversation is powerful precisely because it’s unscripted. (Improvisational!) I was walking James to school this morning, and he was in a bad mood and complaining about everything. I was tired and bored by his constant carping and just wanted him to stop. I was ignoring him as best I could, then I paused a minute and really listened to him (the most important skill in good conversation–and the one I often forget when I’m being too task-oriented).

He said, “Why does this street have so many leaves on it?!?”

I stopped walking and said, “Seriously? You’re complaining about the leaves??” He put his head down in his sweatshirt. I thought he was pouting, but then I saw he was laughing. So then we made it a game, to see how many ridiculous complaints we could come up with.
“That house is TOO BLUE!”
“That street lamp is labeled 157. That’s my LEAST FAVORITE NUMBER!”
“The sun is so bright on the trees it’s making my EYES HURT!”

By the time we got to school he was in a fantastic mood. And so was I.

I love technology. I’m a heavy user of it. And conversation can be inefficient, tedious, or just plain dull. But it’s also full of unexpected surprises. Much like life. And love.

When You Can’t Have Family Dinner… Plus the Muffin of the Week

It has one of the highest impacts of anything we do as families… and it becomes harder and harder the older the kids get.

It’s dinner as a family.

Study after study talks about the benefits of a family dinner. It’s important physically, emotionally, spiritually, even mentally–according to this article, dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary even more than being read aloud to. As someone whose job used to involve a lot of evening meetings, and now involves travel a couple of times a month, family dinner is a challenge. But it’s also a cherished value for us. It may not be leisurely or gourmet quality, but I’d say we pull it off four or five times a week.

That average just got a lot harder. On Mondays, our kids have choir rehearsals. It’s a single program, but they’re in three different choirs that all start and end at different times. It’s not close enough to our house to drop off and pick up, so we’ve been MacGyvering our way through it with sack dinners, the occasional GoPicnic, and bringing homework along while we wait in what is thankfully a very comfortable space to hang out for three hours.

Wednesday is our other challenge–piano night. We were able to keep all of the kids with the same beloved piano teacher we had before we moved, but the lessons are one after the other during the dinner hour. So again we’re doing the sack dinner thing. I drop the kids off and go somewhere nearby to do some writing, then pick them up when they’re done.


For the last two weeks we’ve tried a new practice. If we can’t have dinner together, we can at least have dessert together. Monday is too hectic to do anything and we get home too late. So on Wednesdays when the kids and I get home, Robert has the table set for something simple: last week it was ice cream, this week it was these pumpkin gingerbread muffins with whipped cream and Trader Joe’s lemon curd.

We use the fancy dessert plates (because it’s no extra effort) and do our customary dinnertime check-in of most favorite and least favorite parts of the day. It’s been a great way to end our day.

…Ok, this week someone had a meltdown and left the table in a huff. That happens too.

What do you do to make family meals or other special times happen in the midst of your busy life?


adapted from Simply Recipes


  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 Tbsp finely minced candied or fresh ginger (optional)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 Tbsp water


1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare 12 muffin cups or a loaf pan with cooking spray.

2 In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

3 In another bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix together the pumpkin purée, melted butter, sugar, molasses, fresh or candied ginger, eggs, and water.

4 Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Stir only until incorporated.

5 Place the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes (loaf) or 15-20 minutes (muffins), until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then gently run a knife around the edge and remove from pan(s). Let cool on a rack for 30 minutes or longer.

Screen Time in the Summer–What’s a Work-From-Home Mom To Do?

article-2241437-164A0D73000005DC-831_634x637When we first began practicing Sabbath, we weren’t sure what to do about technology: TV, video games, social media and the like. We started out by putting a limit on those activities without banning them outright. Each of the kids received a coin that they could spend whenever they wanted on 30 minutes of screen time, which was usually watching a TV show. Now that the kids are more into MineCraft, Wii and (in Caroline’s case) emailing and texting friends, we’ve expanded that to two 30 minute blocks.

But with Robert and me both working from home this particular summer, we needed something a little more robust. We need the kids to be more self-directed–we can’t be monitoring who’s doing what and for how long. Besides, the girls are reading more and more books on tablets–who wants to keep track of whether they’re reading or watching Netflix?

Enter the Momentum Optimization Project, in which kids can have unlimited screen time, AFTER they have completed ALL the items on a list written by the parents.

Here’s the philosophy behind it:

As a freelancer who makes her own hours,  I’ve learned a few things about personal momentum. I’m a morning person, and my peak productive time is before 10:00am. If I start my day by sitting at the desk at, say, 5:00am, and digging in on actual work, I’ll keep going all day. If I start the day by, say, cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry or phaffing about on the interwebs, I’m in trouble. And if,  God forbid, I sit on the couch and flip on The Today Show, all bets are off; I’m not moving until bedtime.  I think of it as Newton’s Law of Personal Momentum, for I am an object that will either stay at rest or stay in motion, based on where I am at 5:30 am.

My kids are the same way. And because they are youth existing in the 20teens, they are drawn like moths to glowing rectangular screens as soon as they wake up, and given their druthers, would spend the entire day glued to the Interwebs, killing zombies or mining diamonds or whatever. I know all the reasons why that’s a bad idea, but since my kids are growing up, I don’t feel like it should be up to me to find ways to entertain them. At ten and thirteen years old, they should be figuring out what to do with their own time themselves.

Here’s the summertime edition of the MOP.

We were in Dallas over the weekend, so our MOP began in earnest yesterday. Yesterday’s list included:

  • tidying rooms
  • reading for 30 minutes
  • vacuuming basement (James)
  • changing sheets on the top bunk (Margaret)
  • washing and folding one load of laundry (Caroline)

We also took a trip to the library so each kid would have an arsenal of books.

It went pretty well. With morning swim practice, the MOP doesn’t really begin in earnest until 10:30 or 11, making the day more compressed. But I could have given them slightly more to do. So today’s list includes a few of the same things, plus:

  • 45 minutes of reading instead of 30
  • emptying the dishwasher
  • going through the books in their rooms and sorting them into “keep” and “giveaway” piles. (We’re moving at the end of the summer, so I expect each day’s list will include some decluttering task.)
  • doing something creative for at least 30 minutes, e.g. playing music, doing art, Legos, or cooking.

The underlying benefit of the MOP is oftentimes you get immersed in an activity and forget all about screen time. That seems less likely to happen with James, who loooooves his video games, so I need to be mindful of that when I compile his list. But yesterday Margaret ended up inviting a friend over and didn’t have much screen time at all. And Caroline is currently making muffins, which will end up taking longer than 30 minutes.

[pause writing for a quick trip to the grocery store–we were out of eggs. While there I picked up ingredients for Margaret’s “something creative.” Both recipes will be linked below.]

The challenge for the “something creative,” clearly, is that I need to make sure they have adequate supplies. Plus they are full of questions. James wanted to know if he could use the old boxes in the garage to make a tunnel. Caroline wasn’t sure which dish to use to melt the butter in the microwave. I’m encouraging them to try to solve the problems themselves first, then ask me if they get stuck.

I’ll report back as the summer goes on, but so far, so good. They are definitely having more screen time than they would with two 30-minute tokens, but I can’t imagine it’s more than I had at that age. I did all the standard childhood-summer-in-the-1970s stuff–swimming pool, playing outside, but I also watched an epic amount of TV. (The above image is from I Dream of Jeannie, which was an indispensable part of my summers, along with Bewitched, My Three Sons, Leave It to Beaver, and of course, The Brady Bunch. And somehow I am not ruined. And the great thing about the MOP is it’s a hybrid of self-direction and parental guidance.

And I get some folded laundry out of the deal.


Margaret’s “something creative”: Creamy Orange Popsicles

Caroline’s “something creative”: Brown Sugar Muffins

Seamless Faith: A Q&A with Author Traci Smith

headshotbwmediumAs I continue to rest in the words of others this Lent, I am pleased to offer this short Q&A with Traci Smith, fellow Chalice Press author, whose book Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life just came out recently. Take it away, Traci!

1. What led you to write this book?
As a Director of Youth Ministries, first, and then a Pastor, I have met many parents and caregivers who want their children to grow up with an understanding of faith and spirituality, but didn’t feel equipped. They worry that they don’t have enough time, or that they’re “doing it wrong” or that they don’t have enough knowledge of the Bible or Theology. I wanted to write a very practical resource to empower and encourage parents. It also helped that my boys, Clayton and Samuel were both under two years old as I was writing this book. It inspired me to imagine the things we could do together as a family. In a very real sense, this book is for my family as much as any family.

2. What will people gain from this book that they won’t get anywhere else?
I think of this book as a type of “recipe book” for a faith-filled home. The book carefully lays out practices that any family can incorporate into daily life. Just like a recipe, each practice lists the ages that its suited for, along with materials, step-by-step instructions and variations. There are many wonderful books about children and family spirituality out there, but none is laid out in quite this same “pick it up and run with it” way of Seamless Faith. It’s incredibly user-friendly.

Seamless_Faith_cover_5th_proof3. Share one idea, quote or section in the book of which you are particularly proud.
One of the chapters is called Ceremonies for Difficult Times and it features practices that are suitable for hard times such as divorce, death, illness and anxiety. It’s a very special chapter to me, because I think we need to remember that every day isn’t a trip to the zoo or a picture perfect moment. We need resources for the hard times too. Writing practices that parents could turn to in a time of grief or crisis was an honor, and it is a great joy to have them out in the world for families to use.

4. How have you changed your own parenting as a result of your work on this book?
One of the things I’ve felt as a mother in the few short years I’ve been one (my oldest isn’t yet three) is that there’s a whole lot of pressure. There are endless blogs and books and resources with advice and tips, and it can be dizzying to keep track of it all. Writing down my ideas about how to incorporate faith into family life reminded me that each parent and caregiver puts his or her own stamp on parenting. It’s not “Dr. So and So’s” way or “Expert Fancypants’s” way, it’s “my way.” This is one of the things that most excites me about the book — each practice offers many ways for parents and caregivers to make it their own, no matter how old their children are, no matter what their family’s style is.

5. As an author, I know that the book keeps “working on you” even after the manuscript is done and turned in. Are there ideas you’ve begun to think about differently, or new content you wish you’d included? Another way of asking the question: what will be included in the sequel? :-)
Along the lines of the previous question, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how parents need large doses of encouragement and respite. I think the sequel might include a lot of prayers and practices for parents who need to recharge and recenter in their busy lives. Then again… that’s what Sabbath is for, and there’s already a great resource about that!

Aww, thanks Traci!

All right folks, let’s give Traci the Blue Room bump! Seamless Faith is available at Chalice Press, Amazon, etc. What a good resource for churches to share with families. What a perfect gift for a friend who’s a new parent. What a great thing to have on your own bookshelf. Thank you for the fine book, Traci.