The Bible, Kids, & Spirituality: A Conversation with Jared Byas
Jared Byas is the co-host of one of my new favorite podcasts, The Bible for Normal People, which he discusses below. I'm grateful to him for taking the time to answer these questions, and I'm confident that many of you will appreciate what he has to say about parenting, spirituality, and yes, the Bible.
I’d like to start by talking about your podcast. For readers who aren’t familiar with it, could you talk a little about what you’re trying to do with The Bible For Normal People and why?
Our mission is to bring the best in biblical scholarship to everyday people. We feel like scholars tend to speak in their ivory towers and use lingo and phrases that are insider-speak and hard for average folks to understand. And if the Bible is a book for everyone to engage in and find meaning, then it's a shame that some of the best thinking about what it is and what we should do with it is so inaccessible. So that's what we do. We bring scholars on to the podcast and ask them to translate their scholarship for us dummies.
A lot of the work you’ve done—particularly as a teaching pastor, a professor, and a podcaster—has been centered around the Bible. For anyone interested in reading/studying the Bible for the first time, it obviously can feel quite daunting. How and where should folks start? Are there particular editions or study bibles that you’d recommend? Is it always better to have someone to talk to about it?
I appreciate how you phrased the question because yes, I think having someone to talk to about the Bible is extremely important because frankly, it's a communal book. It's a tool for relationship and conversation so reading the Bible in community or in relationship is quite healthy. And make sure there's good, healthy, debate and question-asking thrown in for good measure. That's the stuff of personal and spiritual growth in my experience. As for first timers, I think picking up a Study Bible is helpful because there are articles and maps here and there that might help you understand what's going on. One that we often recommend is the HarperCollins Study Bible. Another great way to be introduced is . . . listen to the podcast!
What have you found to be the most authentic ways for parents to share the Bible with their kid(s)?
This might sound cliché, but I've found the most meaningful way to share the Bible is to work hard to live an authentic life that is postured toward love. Sitting kids down week after week to hear lessons about the Bible can't hold a candle to the impact our modeling a life of faith will have on our kids. Secondly, an authentic way to share the Bible is for you as a parent to understand what the Bible is and means for you and then share it as part of who you are. One of my favorite examples of this, although a bit tongue-in-cheek, is the character of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He clearly has a deep love of "Tradition!" and the Bible that seeps out of him at ever corner. Yeah, so, he misquotes it often, and gets things wrong here and there. But it's clear that it's part of him, part of who he is, and how he thinks about life. If it's forced or awkward for you, it'll be forced and awkward for your kids, more than likely. So find your way, find your rhythm, as an individual and as a family, and then just let it be that - nothing more, nothing less.
Do you have any recommendations for parents who do not attend church but would like to raise their kids in an environment that’s conducive to spirituality?
That's a great question. For us, it's been all about friendships and spiritual practices. For example, we practice Sukkot each year. It's a biblical holiday that has a double-meaning: marking the end of the harvest (Exod 34:22) and commemorating the Exodus (Lev. 23:42-43). We celebrate it by building a Sukkah (a little wooden hut) and then inviting friends over to eat dinner in the Sukkah each night. As part of the night we'll read passages about welcoming the stranger and learning to see things from the perspective of the foreigner, the immigrant, and the homeless. We also write prayers for different seasons that our kids read at the dinner table and try to celebrate as many meaningful holidays as we can with new and special traditions that we incorporate each year.
Prayer is pretty difficult for a lot of people, myself included. What does prayer mean to you these days? What would you recommend to parents who would like to teach (or encourage) their children to pray?
I like Jack Caputo's language around prayer: an active response to the destabilizing call of God. For him, "...prayer refers to the act of calling upon and responding to God's call, remembering always that the name of God is the name of trouble . . .So I insist we will get nowhere in theology unless we see how perilous it is to pray . . . how much trouble is stirred up by calling upon the name of God." He goes on, "God is a visitation by a stranger, like a call calling I know not what, or an insistent knock on our door in the middle of the night. That makes prayer an exposure to a projectile, a willingness to stand out in the open in the middle of a storm, where there are projectiles everywhere carried by the wind. . ." (The Insistence of God, 27-28).
I love Caputo's poetic style, but for me, this means that prayer always means an openness. I recall Jesus remarking "All things are possible with God" (Matt 19:26/ Mark 9:27). There is a radical openness to this statement, especially when tied to the scandalous proclamation that "God makes the sun rise on the good and the evil and causes rain to fall on the just and unjust alike" (Matt 5:45). For some this is unsettling but for me it represents an antidote to our common Christian way of praying by treating God like Santa Claus. Ask for stuff and get it.
But the Bible portrays it differently. Prayer is openness to this seemingly capricious God who does not play by the rules of karma, or reward and punishment, but a God for whom "all things are possible," a God from whom you may get what you ask. Or you may not. But growth can come in the not-knowing. Growth can come in the posture of openness that is learned when asking and waiting indefinitely.
Finally, two questions that kinda-sorta get at the same thing: How does parenting affect your spirituality? And how does your spirituality affect your parenting?
The simple answer is parenting literally brings out the worst in me. I thought I was a patient and very compassionate human until I had 3 kids in diapers all needing a million things from me and breaking most of my belongings. I have learned to see myself with softer eyes, to lower my expectations, and that has helped me find grace for others. Again, if by spirituality you mean learning how to live life in a love-leaning posture, then parenting is a spiritual practice in the most profound sense.
Jared Byas is the co-host of the popular podcast The Bible for Normal People and co-author of the book Genesis for Normal People. As a former teaching pastor and professor of Philosophy & Biblical Studies he speaks regularly on the Bible, truth, creativity, wisdom, and the Christian faith. He and his wife Sarah live outside Philadelphia, PA with their four children Augustine (10), Tov (9), Elletheia (7), and Exodus (4).