Monday, April 23, 2018

Fruit of the Spirit: Love

The amazing power of love, the first fruit listed in Paul's Fruits of the Spirit, is explored in the book below. I confess, I'm not crazy about this book. It's a little too saccharine for my taste and some illustrations don't meet the standards of most PBT books. I also apologize for the damage to the book that you'll see in the photos. Despite all these, I love the idea at the center of this story! It has such potential for ministry to folks of all ages and would offer important reassurance to children. Exploring the facets and power of love is always a good idea for families of faith so consider using it as a resource book for creative ideas if, like me, this book's shortcomings bother you. If you like the book, fabulous! Read it to those you love! 
Picture Book: The Invisible String
Author: Patrice Karst 
Illustrator: Geoff Stevenson
Summary: The story begins with twins frightened by a thunderstorm.
They rush to their mother, needing comfort. She encourages them to go back to their beds. 
The siblings want to stay close to their mom, but she reassures them that they are together even if rooms separate them. The children wonder how this can be. 
Their mom explains that her own mother told her about "The Invisible String" when she was a child. It seems that "people who love each other are always connected by a very special String made of love." 
The children are intrigued and ask how they can know the invisible string is there if it can't be seen. Mom explains that there's a tug you feel that is the love in your heart. 
When the twins are at school, the love between the three of them is still strong thanks to that Invisible String between them across the distance. Their love comes to her from school. 
Her love comes to them from home. 
The kids want to know if their cat has a string. "Sure," their mother explains. 

Best friends do too. Then a profound question comes: "How far can the Invisible Threat reach?"  
Their mom explains that this kind of string is unlimited. Her son tests that idea with distances to the bottom of an ocean.
A mountain top?

On animal adventures? 
And aboard a spaceship?
Her daughter asks about performing in France. In all situations, the children are assured that The Invisible String of love will connect them no matter the distance or situation. 
The last question is offered by the son who remembers Uncle Brian in heaven. Does his string reach that far? "Yes, even there," his mother answers. 
Then their mom considers the future. She explains that even when they are older and arguing about what to watch on a screen 
or who gets to sit in the front seat of the car, The Invisible String is still there, connecting them with love. 
Reassured and no longer so afraid of the storm, the children are hustled back to bed.   

Soon they were dreaming of all The Invisible Strings that connect them to their many friends

The story ends with the comforting message that no one is ever alone. 
Hanna’s Comments: This story is an important message of the connections we have with those we love and the transcendent power of love. Notice that the author chooses to capitalize the words The Invisible String, perhaps a subtle hint of the sacredness of such love. God's love is not mentioned, but it is between every line and page. One other criticism of this story: There's some gender bias here. Notice that the son tests the limits of The Invisible String in more varied and adventurous ways (a submarine, a spaceship, a mountain top). In contrast, the daughter is seen performing on stage in Paris. Parents and folks in ministry should pay attention to subtle ways female roles are limited and male roles are elevated. We don't want our girls ambitions to be stifled. 
Original Publisher & Date: Devorss & Co., 2000
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 consider this simple but profound verse: Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:8). Also, there are Bible stories that emphasize human to human connections despite distance. Here are some familiar possibilities: David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20), Jesus separated from his parents (Luke 2:41-52), Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), and Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:41-32, 49-56).  
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book or present this intriguing idea to a group of children or teens who are exploring being connected despite distance thanks to the power of love. 

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.