Some of the best ways to learn about God is by teaching your kids to see God in what they like to read and watch. Here are ways to help teach your children about God through the power of stories.
Editor’s Note: Jen Schlameuss-Perry is the author of “Comic Con Christianity” which earned the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval and is available Aug. 7 from Paulist Press. She is the pastoral associate of the Co-Cathedral of St. Robert Bellarmine in Freehold, New Jersey, and is a regular contributor for pbgrace.com and geekdomhouse.com.
by Jen Schlameuss-Perry
The Power of Stories
I was never a naturally good student. It takes me forever to read anything and my reading comprehension is not wonderful. I never put much effort into subjects that I didn’t care about, and I couldn’t memorize anything if my life depended on it. I don’t know if these things remind you of anyone you know *cough* … *kids*… but unless a subject really gripped my attention, I wasn’t wasting my time giving it my full brain power.
My ability to remember scholarly things is directly related to good storytelling on the part of my teachers. For example, I can tell you that Tycho Brahe was an astronomer from Prague whose work greatly influenced Johannes Kepler, the guy who gave us the laws of planetary motion (See! I remember that!).
You know why I remember him? Because he had a gold nose, lived in a castle with his pet moose who got drunk on beer, fell down some stairs and died, and because Tycho’s death involved him possibly exploding during a carriage ride on the way home from a party. That’s memorable stuff right there. And it made me remember science facts.
I also remember that the Arian heresy was debated at the Council of Nicaea because I was told the story about how Santa Claus (St. Nicholas of Myra) punched Arius in the face over it. But if I had to read about heresies and the laws of planetary motion (I was probably supposed to at some point) as straight facts, I never would have remembered them.
God knows that stories are the best way to teach people, too. That’s why we have all those amazing stories in the Bible, why Jesus gave us all those great parables, and why the evangelists gave us our rich theological heritage by telling us the stories of Jesus. John explained the true presence in the Eucharist by giving us the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and then following it up with a conversation between Jesus and the leaders of the Jewish community, not by giving a dissertation on transubstantiation.
Finding God in Common Things
My new book, “Comic Con Christianity,” makes an attempt to do the same thing. It takes the truths of our faith and illustrates them using stories from the Bible and my favorite samples of nerd culture. Besides the Bible, my favorite stories are from sci-fi, superheroes and fantasy stories. Not only are they lots of fun, but they speak the same language as Christian theology — talking about destiny, purpose, sacrifice, justice. Catholic elementary school and my Jesuit graduate training helped me to see God everywhere, and nerd culture is a natural place for me to see God.
Even when I was a little kid, the final scene of “The Return of the Jedi” made me think of the communion of saints. As I wrote in “Comic Con Christianity”:
“They join with us and are present as we enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus that happened 2,000 years ago. We call that ‘memorializing.’ When we memorialize something, it’s not just remembering; it’s entering into the very event as God brings it forward to us. We use their words during Mass to express the unity that we share with those who are already in heaven and those who will be born later, but already exist in their completion in the heart of God. When we sing the Litany of Saints, we call by name our friends and relatives in heaven, asking them to be with us and to help us by their prayers. We believe that they have a keen interest in us, and that they pray for us.
It reminds me of the last scene in ‘Return of the Jedi.’ When the rebels had ﬁnally destroyed the Death Star, all the main characters are at the Ewok village on Endor, enjoying their victory over The Empire. But it wasn’t just their victory — it belonged to others who laid the groundwork. We see (in a sort of ghostly — I’d say resurrected — form) Yoda, Obi- Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker. They’re present at the celebration of their cooperative victory. They stood up to evil and some were killed for it, but now they’re restored; and we get the sense that Anakin, Obi- Wan, and Yoda are more accessible now than they were when they were alive. In fact, we had even heard Ben speak to Luke, reminding him to “use the Force” when he’s ﬂying toward the main reactor to destroy the Death Star. Even in death, Ben helped Luke fulﬁll part of his destiny.”
There are examples of theological principles everywhere in our culture. When my kids were small and watched “Lazy Town,” there was an episode where Stingy did something bad that affected everyone else in the town. Sportacus talked to him about how our actions matter — even things we think will only affect us. I yelled, “Look, kids! That’s the communal nature of sin!” It was a teachable moment. Sometimes when I would see something bad in a show they were watching, I’d use that as a “what not to do” illustration.
Every moment is a teachable moment
I like nerdy things. But whatever your family likes, there are bound to be lessons in your fandoms. Not that you want to ruin life by making everything didactic but getting involved in your kids’ interests and having conversations about them can only be a good thing. Spotting moral, ethical and spiritual themes in them and asking your kids what they think can help them to scrutinize what they take in and find God’s presence in unexpected places.
Ways to Engage the Faith Using Stories
- Read the Bible together! There are so many great stories in the Bible. Get a children’s Bible and read some of the stories together. There are also some pretty nifty comic book style Bibles and Lego has a really fun one (for older kids— check it out first, because they are quite literal on some of the depictions of the stories). Those are two great mash-ups to get kids reading on their own, too.
- Watch the kid’s shows with them. Ask them questions about what they like about them and see if you can pick out some lessons to discuss.
- Show them some of your old favorites (I’m assuming your favorites are awesome movies like Star Wars and Superhero movies). Find themes in them that remind you of your faith. If you need help with that, buy my book! Or check out some of our movie reviews in Bigger On The Inside.
- There are lots of great books that have Christian themes built right in, like the “Chronicles of Narnia,” “Lord of the Rings” and others. Pick and keep a night of the week where you read together for an hour. Talk about what you read.
- Tell the kids stories about when you were young — and if they have grandparents who can share their stories, make sure they do! Remind them that our family stories are important. Link them with the stories in the Bible which are also our family stories.