Rob Festenstein discusses how to teach kids the Bible - and it's not that easy!
This past Sunday was most interesting. It was cold, wet, and raining. Not a day that I felt like schlepping around in the car with the kids to go out and have fun. My wife Rachel had to work and I finally had the chance to spend some quality time with my two boys, Noah and Aaron, that only seems to come on the weekends. So we stuck around the house and amused ourselves.
Not wanting to watch the film “Shrek the Third” for the 121st time, I searched for something on TV that would be without sex, bad language, and poor family values. Sadly, my metrics do not leave much to be desired for family TV time. But then, I came across HBO Family. I was intrigued by the fact that the movie “Prince of Egypt” was on at that time and it would eat away a good chunk of time in what was turning out to be a very long afternoon.
I had never seen this film. When it came out in 1998, I was not all that inclined to watch animated films, let alone those which were geared toward children. Rachel and I had just met and I was busy trying to “woo” her with my charming personality and good looks.
We watched the film, and it turned out to be one of the most spiritual and enlightening films that I have seen in quite some time. It was such a beautiful and compelling depiction of the story of Moses and his journey with the Hebrews from oppression to freedom.
Throughout the film, Noah asked me questions about what was happening and I tried to answer them to the best of my knowledge. Aaron just kind of sat on my lap and kept trying to send text messages on his Blackberry.
Noah’s inquiries weren’t so much questions of the obvious, but questions that I could not ever imagine a four-year-old having the intellectual capacity to ask. The things he asked me ranged from:
“Why did the woman put the baby in the river?”
“Why is Pharaoh so mean?”
“Why did the water turn to blood?”
“Where is G-d?”
“What is a slave?”
“Why did the mean people want to hurt the Jews?”
I was stunned that he asked me these questions and even more stunned that I did not feel that I could give him a cogent answer with the salient points that he was seeking. After all, what do I know about the Bible? Having never seen this film, should I assume that it was written as to be historically correct?
As a kid, I can remember that the Cecil B. Deville epic, “The Ten Commandments” was always on television the night of Easter and that it had the memorable scenes of Charlton Heston giving the Ten Commandments and splitting the Red Sea. That was then. Our kids version of this story will include them knowing that Val Kilmer portrayed Moses, Patrick Stewart played the role of Pharaoh and Sandra Bullock depicted Miriam.
This is a huge statement of the generational differences that we have in the cinema and the repertoire of actors with which we are familiar. For some reason, I just cannot ever imagine anyone other than Mr. Heston uttering the immortal words of “let my people go!” It would be just as difficult to imagine anyone ever playing “Borat” other than Sascha Baron Cohen.
While most parents may dread talking to their kids about sex, I would say that I found this to be in the same league. Talking to our son about sex seems easy compared to being asked to explain things that happened thousands of years ago that have gone on to become the living history of the Jewish people. For the first time of many to come in his life, I was challenged to provide answers on difficult subjects. The Bible may pale in comparison to sex, but I was just floored.
I tried to answer the questions as best that I could, choosing to be more abstract than specific. But all in all, it was a learning experience for the both of us that I will always remember. In fact, I was so much moved by this film that I was getting weepy eyed at the end when the Jews had crossed the Red Sea and made it safely to “The Promised Land.” But then, the final scene was the most telling when the animated Moses stands on top of Mt Sinai prepared to deliver the Ten Commandments the thousands of Jews that stood below him. At that point, the screen fades to black and we hear a beautiful closing song by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.
In many ways, I dreaded being stuck in the house for most of the day, but in the end, it was quite an experience for me. I hope that I will continue to help Noah learn, as he has taught me so much about life in his four short years in this world. Let’s hope for more wet and cold Sunday afternoons to be spent with our children in such noble pursuits and informal education.
Rob Festenstein, and his wife Rachel, reside in Wyoming, and are the proud parents of Aaron (age 15 months) and Noah (age 3.5). Rachel and Rob take a hands-on approach to parenting and try their best to lead and teach by example.