Reading on the internet a question about how anyone might approach the topic of religion with their kids, I was reminded again of a time when my youngest son, then perhaps 9, came to me an said, "Papa, I want to build a gun."
I knew what he meant. He did not mean he wanted to build a gun so that he could become a neighborhood serial killer. He meant he was fascinated by exactly how a piece of machinery -- especially one so powerful -- was put together ... literally.
I used the occasion to pile all the kids (one girl, two boys) in the car and make a 20-mile drive to a Smith & Wesson plant where the gunmaker had a firing range. Going down, the kids were pretty excited and there was a lot of chatter laced with swagger and wonder.
But when we got there, the tone changed and exactly what I wanted to happen, happened. First there was the selecting of weapons. I picked a .22 revolver for starters, something without too much kick. When we went onto the range itself, I grabbed the range officer and told him to look after the kids ... to make sure they got things right. Then I stood aside: No kid listens to a parent the way s/he might listen to an expert.
The range officer laid down the law: Always point the pistol down-range. Keep the safety on until ready to fire. Here's how to hold the revolver, etc. The kids paid attention and one by one took a turn shooting at a paper target, reloading and then shooting again. The gun had weight. It had noise. It had palpable power. There was nothing flashy about it. It was all business.
After the .22, we returned to the gun case and I asked for a pistol that shot the most commonly used ammunition, whatever that might be. The salesman gave us a 9mm pistol and a box of bullets. We returned to the range and the range master. The clip was hard to load. It took time and energy. The gun was heavier. The kick was larger. The noise more insistent. If the .22 had be serious, this was s-e-r-i-o-u-s. It was harder to hit the target anywhere near the bulls-eye.
When we walked out, the conversation was still excited and proud and a bit macho, but now it was laced with an experience that spoke from within. This was not TV or some detective movie. This was not simply kool. This was business and each of the kids knew something about business instead of the excitement of a faith depicted on celluloid with its attendant woo-hoos and swagger and cardboard retributions.
It was a good experiment, I always thought. You want to play guns? Here, try a gun. It's part of the world we live in and you should know something about what a gun is and isn't, what it can do and can't.
And I guess I feel somewhat the same about spiritual life. It's part of the scenery so you should know something about it. But it's not enough to run celluloid hosannahs and haloed hoorahs. That's the glitz. It has no heft, it carries no challenge, its stories are not its truth.
So I kind of hope that at some point my kids will rent a religion and investigate its ins and outs in the care of something more than an idiotic range master. No need to find the perfect and complete answer or bias ... just pick it up, feel the heft, pull a trigger or two, enjoy the bang ... and just know it's out there, awaiting your actual-factual pleasure or dismay.
It's part of the landscape so....