Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Jesus Christmas Story: An Opportunity to Talk to Your Kid about Transracial Adoption?

I was raised as an adoptee in a Christian home and have wondered how different my experience would have been if more discussion about faith stories were viewed through the lens of adoption and opened up conversation between myself and my parents (we did not always know how to talk about the complexity of adoption). I remember learning about how the apostle Paul uses the word "adoption" to talk about humanity being "adopted" by God, but that was about it. Too easy for that one to become simple and pat. Often I did not feel connected to the Christian stories. But there are, in fact, a lot of rich Bible stories that deal with tricky family situations without sugarcoating them (Moses' transracial adoption story is one), and I want to offer some thoughts on how the traditional Christmas story might provide an opening for families touched by transracial adoption who are seeking ways to talk about it.

Even if you don't identify as a person of the Christian faith or believe the narrative, you probably at least know the basic story of the birth of Jesus Christ: Roughly 2,000 years ago a teenage woman in a conservative Jewish community became pregnant. A son of mixed origins--part human, part spirit--was born into poverty, in a stable among stinky animals. The first nativity. The scene is viewed as holy by the church precisely because of those mixed origins, and the poverty, controversy, suffering and social ridicule that Mary--and likely soon Jesus as a growing child--endured. Partly, too, because the ending of the story is known, that this boy would become a prophet, the savior of all the world's people including non-Jews, and die brutally and sacrificially on a cross. He was viewed as by the elite of society as lesser due to dubious place of origin ("Can anything good come out of Nazareth?") People find encouragement in the story because it shows that God does not ignore the "lowly," that God was willing to become human in the first place and then dared to pick a poor family from an oppressed people group as the vessel for a miracle.

I wonder if there are ways that pieces of this Christmas story could link to modern-day adoptees of mixed origin in healthy ways to begin conversation. It would NOT be healthy to communicate that adoptees are valuable only if they "rise above their circumstances" and change the world for the better. Imagine the pressure! And besides, Jesus did not "rise above his circumstances" in terms of wealth, which is part of the point.

Perhaps it would be good to recognize and linger on the troubling narrative threads that were likely not fully resolved. It wouldn't be a stretch to assume that Jesus was teased for being different (and possibly for looking different? He certainly wouldn't have phenotypically taken after his adoptive father), for having questionable origins. I know several transracially adopted adults that can share similar memories.

"Have you ever felt that way?" you could ask.

The story could also open up a conversation recognizing the flaws in our society. Here was a birth mother who chose to keep her child--what would have happened if Mary had decided to discreetly give away her child to a relative to raise? Or to a wealthier stranger family outside the community who wanted a child? The second scenario is more equivalent to what happens today. Not that adoption is all bad, but it IS quite often a result of failings in our society that women aren't able to or don't feel they have enough support to raise their children. You could talk about how situations are complicated and we can't assume, as many do, that adoption is always the best answer.

Continuing the scenario of Jesus raised by a family outside his community... It would not be the same story if he were cut off from his Jewish roots. If his identity were "sealed" as we say today when adoptees' original information is legally concealed via falsified birth certificates. It was important to the story that he remain connected to that Jewish community, and to the lineage of David. Absolutely necessary.

"How is this scenario the same and how is it different than a child being raised outside of his or her culture today? Do you think it's important to know your ethnic/biological history? What do you think about the practice of sealing information in adoption? What kind of struggles might Jesus have endured as part of the minority group in his country? Any of those remain today?"

Just some ideas for opening up conversation. I think it's important to offer children and adolescents who are adopted-- especially cross-culturally-- opportunities to speak their own truth. They may not want to, and that is OK too. But it might feel more safe to talk about if they can see glimmers of a story they can relate to within a dominant narrative that is part of their experienced culture. Particularly in the face of mainstream media's take on adoption that often spins the story AWAY from the adoptee's experience, which can make adoptees feel silenced or that there is not a place for their complex feelings of struggle, being misunderstood, sadness, and loss.