Relax, It's Just God: Last Call!

Big news! I finished my book!

Relax, It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You're Not Religious is slated for release March 31, 2015 — just in time to not be given out as Christmas gifts. What timing! I'm super excited, and grateful to all of you who have stuck with me all this time. How did four years go by? Jesus Christ. My kid is old now.

I'll be updating you as regularly as I can, but in the meantime, let this serve as last call: If you'd like something specifically to be covered in the book — or have a particularly nagging question or concern — let me know that now! It's not too late, but will be soon.

Don't Freak Out; It's Temporary

Relax, It's Just a TypewriterFirst the good news: Did you guys know this month marks the second anniversary of my blog? Yep, it's true. Twice a week for the last two years I have been writing for and about nonreligious parents. It's been wonderful, and still is, and if you'll have me, I'd like to stay a bit longer. That said, this fall is shaping up to be a very busy time for me, so — AND DON'T FREAK OUT ON ME HERE — for a while I'm going to scale back and post just once a week — on Mondays.

You're not even disappointed, are you?

See now that's just rude.

ANYWAY, those of you who subscribe twice-weekly will receive emails just once a week, and those who have weekly subscriptions will receive them every Monday instead of Thursday. Monthly subscribers, you will see no change. Of course, I may rerun posts once in a while and if I do, those will appear on Thursdays.

IN THE MEANTIME, I'm open to guest posts by any other secular parents out there. First-person posts are most welcome, but I'd consider relevant book reviews, as well. If you're interested in pitching a story or getting some more information on guests posts, you can reach me at wendythomasrussell@gmail.com.

And be sure to track me down on Facebook and/or Twitter, if you're active in those types of places and want to make me feel better about myself.

As always, I can't thank each and every one of you enough for your continued support of my little project. I couldn't do it without you, and I wouldn't want to. See you Monday.

Only Five Religious Books Have Won the Caldecott — Most Before 1963

Noah-s-Ark-9780385094733If you've ever perused the religion books within the children's section of your local library, you're probably aware that it can be a bit underwhelming. Whether you're going for a book about the life of Buddha, the history of Confucianism, or the holiday of Easter, so many of the books are old and outdated, clearly written for religious children, or without much literary merit. It sticks out particularly because there are so many great secular children's books — brilliant, award-winning books that will stick with our kids for the rest of our lives. Sometimes it's hard to skip over those and land on what may turn out to be infinitely forgettable ones. That's why it's fun (for me, at least) to come across religiously themed books that are also (or were once) considered great literature. Which is what happened when my daughter brought home a brochure from school the other day listing all 75 Caldecott Medal winners, dating back to 1938. This year's winner is an outstanding book called This is Not My Hat. And in 2011, the pick was A Sick Day for Amon McGee. And in 1970, it was Sylvester and the Magic Pebble; and in 1964, it was Where the Wild Things Are; and in 1942, it was Make Way for Ducklings.

The point is, those Caldecott people are no dummies.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, very few "religious" books have appeared on the Caldecott list in the last 50 years. Other than Peter Spier's Noah's Ark in 1978 — which I can affirm is a pretty straight telling of the Christian tale and not overtly religious — the books have been almost exclusively secular. Not so, though, before 1963 — when four of the first 25 winners had religious themes, including the very first Caldecott. The first three picks appear to be overtly religious (particularly the second!) but Nine Days to Christmas — about the Mexican holiday of Posada — might be worth checking out. All five, incidentally, are Christian.

1938: Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book

RECS pic 27-61

1945: Prayer for a Child

Prayer for a Child

1960: Nine Days to Christmas: A Story of Mexico

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1961: Baboushka and the Three Kings

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I do think it's important that nonreligious parents set aside their usual standards for literature once in a while in favor of injecting some religious literacy into their kids' lives. But within reason, of course. And this is not to suggest that there aren't some GREAT books out there for those who take the time to look. For some tips on choosing religious picture books appropriate for nonreligious families, click here.

Nonreligious Parents a 'Niche' Market? Not By My Count

NicheWhen I started pitching "Relax, It's Just God" two years ago, I was told, repeatedly, that it was too niche for major publishers. At the time, I assumed this was true. After all, we live in a religious country. If I wanted to appeal to the masses, there were certainly better ways to go. But since then, I've come to strongly disagree with the contention that we of little faith are some hugely specialized market. And, today, I did some number-crunching. Now I'm no statistician, so feel free to check me on this.

I started with some basic Census information:

• 313 million people live in the United States and 83.7 million of them are adults between the ages of 25 and 44.

Then I broke some numbers out by age and gender:

• 21.1 million adults are in the 25-29 range — including 10.5 million women and 10.6 million men

• 62.6 million adults are in the 30-44 range — including 31.5 million women and 31.1 million men

Then I discovered that roughly 74 percent of women and 62 percent of men between the ages and 25 and 44 are parents. I calculated that into this:

•  7.8 million women between the ages of 25 and 29 are moms.

• 6.6 million men between the ages of 25 and 29 are dads.

• 23.3 million women between the ages of 30 to 44 are moms.

• 19.3 million men between the ages of 30 and 44 are dads.

Then I considered this:

• 32 percent of all adults between the ages of 25 and 29 consider themselves "nonreligious" — that is, they don't subscribe to any particular faith.

• 21 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 44 consider themselves nonreligious.

Now, if we can assume that parents and non-parents are equally likely to be religious as they are to be nonreligious, then we should be able to play these numbers against each other. And when we do, we find this:

• 13.3 million American parents between the ages of 25 and 44 are nonreligious.

That's more than one in five parents. And it doesn't even include parents younger than 25 and older than 44. [Nor, as one kind reader pointed out to me, does it include parents who consider themselves "religious" but are looking for advice on raising open-minded children who will not become slaves to any particular belief system.]

So my question is this: What's so niche about that?

Research Shows Baby Jesus Crazy Popular

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For the last few weeks, I've been prepping for the first edition of Relax, It's Just God's Shopping Guide, which, if all goes according to plan, will appear here on Thursday — just in time for the Christian and Jewish month of giving. (See how I timed that? Aren't I clever?) The guide will give reviews and buying information about my favorite "props" — including toys, books, movies and music — all of which are intended to help parents talk to kids about religion without confusing them, scaring them or boring them to tears. Feel free to let me know if you have favorite books or movies you'd recommend — and be sure to point out any of your favorite science-centered resources, as well. As interesting as it is for kids to hear how world religions answer the Big Questions of the universe, it's just as interesting (and even more important) to hear about how science has gone about answering those same questions.

One thing I thought would make a great prop — particularly for "cultural Christians" who are celebrating Christmas in their homes this year — is a nativity set. There are not a lot of things better for the under-10 community than little figurines that can be "played with," and nativity sets certainly lend themselves to that. I even went online a couple of weeks ago to see if I could find one for Maxine. I figured I'd store it with the other "special holiday toys" that only come out at Christmas time. Just to be clear: The nativity set wouldn't be a decoration in our home, but rather an educational toy that is kept in Maxine's room for one month out of the year. Anyway, I went online thinking I ought to be able to find something that would suit, and was quickly and completely overwhelmed by the options. Apparently, and I say this as a result of my tireless research into this area, this country loves itself some Baby Jesus.

On Amazon alone, I found a little something for everyone. Here is a tiny fraction of what you can find.

For those with toddlers...

 For those with a puppet theater...

For those loyal to Playmobil...

For those loyal to Lego...

 

 

For those on a budget...

 

For those not on a budget...

 

For those short on storage...

For those who love vintage...

 

For those who love handmade...

And for those prone to nostalgia...

The question is: Which one do I buy?

75 Reasons to Share the Bible with Kids (Even if You Don't Believe Any of It)

Tower of Bible

If we want our children to be religiously literate — and who among us doesn't, honestly? — then it behooves us to talk about the Bible in respectful terms, even if we don't think much of it is true. When parents call the Bible "a book of fairy tales" (direct quote from my survey for nonreligious parents), it makes the whole thing seem silly and unimportant. And not just unimportant in a religious way, but unimportant in a universal way. I grew up with parents who talked about William Shakespeare like he was THE MAN (with Mark Twain and Louis Armstrong placed only slightly lower on the totem pole of MAN-NESS.) From a pretty early age, I just knew that culturally well-rounded human beings had devoted some serious time to William Shakespeare. As a result, it never crossed my mind not to read him or be interested in him. How different it would have been, though, had all I heard about Shakespeare was that he was really hard to read, really hard to understand, very outdated, not at all realistic and completely irrelevant to modern times.

Religious literacy comes down to 60 percent Bible literacy and 40 percent* other stuff. So talking about it like it's an annoying book that makes people do irrational things REALLY, REALLY, REALLY defeats the purpose here. Plain and simple: If you don't find the Bible interesting, your kid won't either. You are their model in this.

And it's not just the stories — The Garden of Eden, Noah's Ark, David and Goliath — that are worth knowing. It's the context to all the idioms and expressions we hear and use on a daily basis. (You'd be surprised how many there are — and how many people use wrong!) In fact, each one of these expressions is a very good reason to encourage your child to get to know the Bible** in some form or another.

Here are a mere 75 of them!

1. Forbidden fruit

2. Good Samaritan

3. No room at the inn

4. Raising Cain

5. Old as the hills

6. Throw the first stone

7. Salt of the earth

8. Eye for an eye

9. Rise and shine!

10. Am I my brother's keeper?

11. Out of the mouths of babes

12. At my wit's end

13. Babble (as in baby babble)

14. Be that as it may

15. Bear with me

16. Beside myself

17. Blind leading the blind

18. Crystal clear

19. Nothing new under the sun

20. Eat drink and be merry

21. Face to face

22. Head and shoulders above the rest

23. How the mighty have fallen

24. Kiss of death

25. Lambs to the slaughter

26. Left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing

27. Man cannot live on bread alone

28. Many are called, but few are chosen

29. No rest for the wicked

30. So to speak

31. Such and such

32. The truth shall set you free

33. Two heads are better than one

34. Who do you think you are?

35. Wolf in sheep's clothing

36. Woe is me

37. Written in stone

38. You reap what you sow

39. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

40. A broken heart

41. Cross to bear

42. Drop in the bucket

43. Fly in the ointment

44. Labor of love

45. Man after his own heart

46. Peace offering

47. Sign of the times

48. Two-edged sword

49. As old as Methuselah

50. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust

51. White as snow

52. Spare the rod, spoil the child

53. Bite the dust

54. By the skin of your teeth

55. Can a leopard change its spots?

56. Cast the first stone

57. Coat of many colors

58. Fall from grace

59. Forgive them for they know not what they do

60. Get thee behind me Satan! (Not to be confused with "Get the too a nunnery!")

61. Harden your heart

62. Alpha and Omega

63. It's better to give than to receive

64. Land of Nod

65. Twinkling of an eye

66. Oh ye of little faith

67. Den of thieves

68. Patience of Job

69. Pearls before swine

70. Put your house in order

71. Wisdom of Solomon

72. Ends of the Earth

73. Powers that be

74. Straight and narrow

75. Sour grapes

* I made up those percentages. They are utterly meaningless.

** My very favorite so far is the DK Children's Illustrated Bible. Do check it out if you're in the market.