When I was a freshman in college, I was required to take a writing intensive class. Being kind of stupid, I assumed all the classes were the same, so I just picked the one that fit my schedule best. And thus I spent my first semester of college sitting in a classroom with a guy who, in my memory, looks astonishingly like Peter Jackson (before he lost weight), reading Charles Darwin and having an existential crisis of faith.
No one had ever actually talked to me about literary forms in Scripture. No one had ever really addressed the possibility that Adam and Eve were not historical figures but representations. When my teacher (I don’t remember now if he was a TA or a professor) started tossing the word “myth” around in regard to the creation story, I had my first practice at the Mama Bear-claws-out defensive stance, thirteen years before I ever became a mama. The only meaning of the world “myth” I had ever heard was the one that meant “not true.”
(Note: Certain words should not be used, however accurate, because they are front-loaded, back-loaded, and every-other-kind-of-loaded with inflammatory connotations that eclipse the dictionary definition. “Myth” is one of them.)
So I went on a reactionary rampage, listening to Rush Limbaugh and taking the most radical right stand I could find on virtually every issue. And although I moderated over time, it wasn’t until the words “chromosomal abnormality” entered my airspace that my stubborn brain opened to the rather obvious realization that issues are a whole lot more complicated than one party line—or even two party lines—can adequately address.
Last night at dinner–just me and the kids because Christian had to work late—Nicholas said something like this: “Mom, when the first mother, when the first mother, when, how did God, the first human mother, when God, how did the first, was the first mother, how did the first mother, what is God, when human…”
By this point I had a pretty good idea where this question was going, so while he sputtered around trying to figure out how to ask his question, I had some time to think about the age-appropriate response.
Some. Not enough.
See, I had this conversation with Alex, too, and it went pretty well. But I was pretty sure Alex had a couple years’ cognitive development on Nicholas (three, I discovered when I looked up that post). I’m really not crazy about trying to explain the difference between “historical” and “true” to a newly-minted six-year-old kindergartener. KINDERGARTEN.
And yet, the wholesale literal approach to Adam and Eve, even for little kids, has made me uncomfortable ever since I realized we start with that simple understanding, and we never take them beyond it. (Hello, fundamentalism.)
So I talked about Jesus telling parables, and how some stories are meant to tell us a truth in a way that’s easier to understand. And then it was time to load the gang to go to piano lessons, so on the way across town I went through the creation story and the theory of evolution side by side, like I did with Alex, showing how they tell the same story in the same order. It was rather gratifying to have to tamp down Alex’s eagerness to tell the story for me, because it meant he still remembered.
Just like last time, Adam and Eve themselves got a bit of the short shrift. But we’ll save that for the next time, when it’s maybe slightly more age-appropriate.