A few months ago I was given the opportunity to accompany my oldest son on a school field trip to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I enlisted myself as a chaperone simply because I adore an excuse to spend a day at a science museum and because I thought it would be fun to hang out with my son and his friends and see the museum through their eyes.
A few days after the original news of the field trip came out, however, the official flyer about the trip came home, and I started to wonder if I should go. The museum tour would be hosted by BC (Biblically Correct) Tours, which meant that the kids would be seeing the museum from a purely biblical standpoint. It didn’t surprise me that the school would choose this tour group because my sons attend a wonderful, non-denominational Christian school where they are taught to see the world from a Christian perspective. While we are a Christian family, we are not as traditionally Christian as many of the families that send their children to Hope Christian Academy. Truth of the matter is that we’re a bit lax with regard to our church attendance. Beyond that, if we had to label ourselves, we would fall firmly into the category of evolutionists.
Our oldest son is an unbelievably curious boy who has asked tough questions about life from an early age. He never stops seeking answers. At the age of five he actually told me, “I’m not all knowing yet, but I am knowing.” To help Joe on his quest to become all knowing, we encouraged him to watch educational DVDs created for the Discovery Channel and the BBC. We sat with him and watched documentaries, pausing to answer his questions. We used the scientific programs he watched as a springboard for discussion about the world. We presented both the creation story and Darwin’s theory of evolution to Joe. Both my husband and I took turns explaining what we believe about how life came to be on this planet. All the while we’ve repeatedly told our sons that they are free to choose whatever they want to believe and that we will actively work to respect their beliefs. More than anything, we want to raise children who are capable of critical thinking and who realize that people don’t always view the world the same way but that our differences are actually useful and not detrimental.
Still, I hemmed and hawed about the field trip for about a week after that flyer came home. I wondered if I could successful practice what I preach during the field trip so that I could hear the tour guide with an open mind and consider a different viewpoint. I have to admit that I was about 50/50 in my confidence in myself. Ultimately, though, I knew I had to go. For starters, my son gets his natural curiosity from me, and I didn’t see how I could miss the opportunity to learn something new. I also knew how he viewed creation versus evolution and I wanted to be there for him if he had questions about what he heard that day. And, beyond that, my greatest fear was that if I didn’t go my scientific son would raise his hand and tell the tour guide that he was wrong and that the dinosaurs actually existed 65 million years ago and not ever at the same time as humans. I was certain I would not want to deal with the aftermath of such antics.
The day of the tour, I tried my very best to put on my open-minded brain. I talked to Joe on the way to school about how he would likely hear some things he had not heard before about the dinosaurs he loved so much and had studied so diligently over the years. I reminded him that he was to listen and respectfully consider what he was hearing just as I would be doing, but I also told him that he was not obligated to change his viewpoint or mimic his classmates if he couldn’t make sense of what was being said. By the time we arrived at the museum and met the tour guide, I was fairly confident that I could follow through on what I requested of my son, and I was relatively secure that he would listen and behave as well.
It wasn’t five minutes into the tour guide’s presentation, however, when I started to struggle. It caught me off guard, actually. I noticed as I was listening that my heart began to race a bit when I heard things I questioned. I scrutinized my son to see if he was struggling, but he sat there quietly, arms crossed, revealing nothing. So far so good. At least he was paying attention. Then, about ten minutes into the tour I noticed that my hands were shaking slightly. I began taking copious notes as a distraction, figuring that I would still be getting the guide’s message but that the act of note taking itself would take me to a zen place. Nope. It didn’t help. I texted a friend for support. So much for paying respectful attention. I was losing it, spiraling out of control into the abyss of closed-minded ignorance. Needless to say, by the time the tour was nearly over I found myself actively not listening as a protective mechanism.
Mildly disgusted with myself, I approached my son and asked him how he was doing. He shrugged. I tried again to get him to open up by asking him what he thought of what he had heard. His reply was a concise: “I understand what he’s saying, but I’m still going to believe in evolution.” In that moment, I realized that my son had succeeded where I had failed. He had done exactly as I asked. He listened. He paid attention. He made up his own mind. I was proud of him. I secretly wished I’d reacted as calmly and intellectually as he had.
Tolerance, I’m learning, is something we achieve through practice, lots of it. We are conditioned early to fight for what we believe in. It is noble to defend what matters most to you, yet I have to wonder what we lose by closing ourselves off to the opinions of others. I don’t claim to have the “right” answer to the evolution versus creation debate, and I’m willing to agree to disagree. It might be idealistic but I believe that everyone has a right to their opinion. I keep this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald with me at all times: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” On that day at the museum, my ability to balance two opposed ideas was challenged, but I’m somewhat proud of myself for knowingly putting myself in an uncomfortable situation for the sake of greater understanding. I figure if I keep working at it, maybe someday I’ll be like Joe; I’m not all knowing yet, but I am knowing.