Friday, April 20, 2018

Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness

Ironically, the concept of faithfulness is very complex, even though it likely surrounded us our early years if we were cared for by a responsible parent. Such parental devotion serves as an obvious model for God’s faithfulness in the form of attention, promises kept, and needs met. This PBT book offers such a parental metaphor of God, but mine these pages for much more! Faithfulness is what God asks of us too!
Picture Book: I Promise
Author & Illustrator: David McPhail
Summary:This story is deceptively complex. It's child oriented without being childish. The illustrations are simply a mother and baby bear enjoying nature in both bear and human ways.  
After being asked to sing, Mother Bear makes a promise to sing to Baby Bear later. Then she is asked, "What's a promise?" Mother Bear's first answer: "A promise is when you say you will do something and then do your very best to do it." 
If a promise isn't kept, it's a broken promise that may be hard to "fix." It might hurt someone.
Baby Bear wants to know what else Mother Bear will promise. Cloud watching is the next promise she gives. This is a promise of presence. 
Next she promises to listen and to look and to stay when fears are pressing in.  
Beyond providing a sense of security, Mother Bear promises to provide good food. 
When Baby Bear presses for more promises, Mother Bear says she will teach her bear what is needed to be a grown-up bear, but some things Baby Bear will have to learn on his own.
Baby Bear is surprised when his mother confesses she doesn't know everything. 
When Baby Bear asks if she will promise "I will always be happy," wise Mother Bear replies that such a promise can never be made. Being happy will largely be up to Baby Bear.
As they head home, Mother Bear makes one last promise to always love her cub no matter what. Baby Bear is a bit surprised by the "no matter what" part of that promise.  
Baby Bear looks forward to the promise he will keep tomorrow to play with his friend. Mother Bear declares that keeping promises feels really good! 
This story ends with a promise from Baby Bear to be a good bear, most of the time. 
Mother Bear delights in Baby Bear's promise and then sings him to sleep, her first promise kept.
Hanna’s Comments: What makes the idea of faithfulness hard to explore is the question of its direction. Usually, we often think of faithfulness as an attribute of God, but that's not what Paul is talking about in Galatians. The Fruits of the Spirit are not simple. Paul writes about our faithfulness to God, to our family, and to our neighbor. You can expand this idea even more. Talk about faithfulness to work, to ideals, and certainly to a religious institution. It’s also important to distinguish faithfulness from faith. Faith is generally thought of as a set of beliefs, whereas faithfulness is about action, orientation, presence, and commitment. One last reason I love this book? It offers a fabulous example of a deep and meaningful conversation with a very young child. The keys to such conversations are listening carefully, being empathetic to experiences, asking appropriate questions, and offering simple wisdom. Such skills are truly acts of faithfulness and delightful to God. 
Original Publisher & Date: Little, Brown Bks, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 2 and up, Toddler and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: In addition to The Fruit of the Spirit verses in Galatians 5:22-23…If you faithfully obey the voice of God… all these blessings shall come upon you (Deuteronomy 28:68); A faithful person will abound with blessings (Proverbs 28:20); Who then is the faithful and wise manager… (Luke 12:42);  one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much… (Luke 16:10); For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7); If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children or adults and then explore the very complex notion of faithfulness. It would also be a great book to read to a group attending a parenting class.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

Here’s another newly published book that directly relates to one of The Fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians. This story mostly takes place in a classroom so elementary age children will especially relate and see ways they can become more kind.
Picture Book: Be Kind
Author: Pat Zietlow
Illustrator: Jen Hill
Summary: This story begins with Tanisha's accident.
Then the unnamed narrator's words of compassion are misunderstood. 
Empathy for Tanisha builds thanks to the illustrator. The narrator struggles with what to do. 
She paints a purple picture for Tanisha but is afraid she will hurt her again so she imaginatively explores what kindness looks like.
She considers spilling her own juice, just to be more helpful. 
What is it to be kind? Cookies for a neighbor? 
Passing on some outgrown shoes?
Helping at home? 
Caring for the class pet? 
Perhaps just paying attention to her classmates with affirmation 
or invitation. 
Listening can even be an act of kindness, especially when you've heard the stories before. 
She believes being kind should be easily done throughout that day. 
And her mom suggests that using someone's name is especially kind. 
Kindness sometimes requires a lot of patience. 
The hardest (and scariest) of kindness is sticking up for a friend. Now, back to Tanisha. 
She decides that she can't solve Tanisha's problem (such great insight!), but she can offer her gift knowing that Tanisha likes purple too. 
Then her insight becomes broader. She realizes that her small gesture can grow just as she imagines how a kindness to a grandmother 
spreads to a granddaughter and then to a granddaughter's friend. 
Kindness can spread throughout her community, 
her country, 
and her whole world 
while still helping Tanisha experience kindness 
and helping her learn to be kind again and again. 
Hanna’s Comments: This is a great PBT book for lots of reasons. The narrator is authentically exploring ways to be kind. She is a wonderful model for that growing edge of spiritual formation. Be Kind offers so many relevant situations in which children can directly see kindness put into action. Many examples are tucked into the illustrations so point these out. Also, this book captures how simple acts of kindness can grow and positively affect a whole community in time. Lastly, this book highlights the spiritual practice of imagination. In just a few moments at her art desk, this narrator has some amazing insight. Consider offering new scenarios of potential kindness to your children after reading the book, but be sure to address (as this book does) when kindness is hard. Be Kind could be read to adults if you quickly translate the situations into adult contexts. Surely adults need to be talking about kindness, particularly in such politically divided and uncivil times.
Original Publisher & Date: Roaring Brook Press, 2018
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: In addition to The Fruit of the Spirit verses in Galatians 5:22-23…One who is kind is benefitted (Proverbs 11:17); She opens her mouth with wisdom; the teaching of kindness is on her tongue (Proverbs 31:26); Love is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4); Be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32); Put on then… compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…(Colossians 3:12)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to group of elementary-aged children and help them see ways they can build their kindness skills and why this is pleasing to God.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Fruit of the Spirit: Love

Picture Book: Love
Author: Matt de la Pena
Illustrator: Loren Long
Summary: This beautiful new book begins with the birth of a child, but the story is about several children. The word "you" refers to each of them. This allows the images and ideas to more easily apply to the reader as well. In your case, your audience.
Sounds, smells and other sensory experiences of these children's lives are celebrated as evidence of love, as in this urban scene and...
the sky above a trailer home. 
The delight of an urban summer day and playing with the big kids is one of many examples of love here! But these moments are not all joyful. Love comes at hard times too.
When fire alarms interrupt your sleep, a neighbor reassures you that stars shine with love long after the flames die out. 
Sometimes love is harder to find such as when there's violence in your home 
or when there's violence on the TV and no one will explain. 
You might go to bed and face bad dreams, but then 
awake to find loving arms to hold you. Then you hear, "It's okay. It's okay." That's love. 
Some love gets unappreciated like the love of a parent who is at work in the morning but leaves breakfast to share. 
Love is in each deep crevice of the face of a granddad who will fish with a grandchild. 
Love is in a young girl's daydreams 
your uncle's stories, 
and the love songs of the man who sings on the street. 
Most importantly, love is in the face you see in the bathroom mirror. 
And then one day, you'll be off on your own, surrounded by family wishing you good luck, 
but it won't be luck you'll have.  Instead you'll have the love they've given you all along. Love. Love. Love.
Hanna’s Comments: This book is a celebration of the universal bonds of love, across cultures, diverse family situations, and various milestones. This is not a straightforward book. I suggest you read each double-page spread and then discuss that situation. Begin by simply asking, "Where's the love?"  You might have to start with, "What are the feelings being experienced?" Help your audience expand the sources of love from human to divine. Consider talking about God's hope or Jesus's examples and how those might apply. Ask: "Where's The Holy Spirit?" in each situation. "What are people being called to do? Why?" Try to encourage as much connection with your audiences as they will allow. This will build meaning and perhaps lead to transformation. 
This author's last publication was so impressive that it won the prestigious Newbery Award for 2016. This is unusual for a picture book. Like today's feature book, Last Stop on Market Street is all about a loving relationships but via a soup kitchen and a child's first exposure to poverty. [Here's] my post featuring that book.
Original Publisher & Date: Putnam’s Sons, 2018
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: In addition to The Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: ... love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18); A new commandment I give you that you love one another (John 13:34); The Love Chapter (1 Corinthians 13); Let all you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14); Above all these, put on love which binds everything together (Colossians 3:14); Above all, keep loving one another earnestly (1 Peter 4:8)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of new parents or those who are anticipating parenthood. OR Read this book during a lesson series for elementary children on The Fruit of the Spirit.