Friday, July 12, 2019

PBT Redux #27 No Dogs Allowed

I’m on vacation this week so I'm going with a repeat of a post about a book celebrating the joys of getting away. This story about a fun day trip was one of my favorite discoveries during my first year of PBT. That year I posted about a book every day! You can take this comical story in many serious directions or stay with the fun of it. Spiritual practices that it touches on include hospitality, inclusion, accommodation, rule following, feasting, and being present when someone (or some group) is left out.  

Picture Book: No Dogs Allowed
Author: Sonia Manzano
Illustrator: Jon J. Muth
Summary: This is a story of a New York City family taking a day trip to Enchanted State Park to enjoy the lake. But it is so much more! Iris first introduces us to her family, a cast of caricatures that will have you giggling. Tons of food are prepared, bulging cases of necessities are packed, and a decision is made to bring El Exigente, the dog. Neighbors come along with their many necessities and vibrant personalities. A long line of cars streams out of the city bulging with folks ready to be enchanted. After some car trouble, all arrive and see a sign at the edge of the parking lot, “NO DOGS ALLOWED.” While they “figure out what to do,” they stake their claim along the edge of the parking lot and pull out the food, games, and sunbathing paraphernalia. The humans take turns entertaining El Exigente who dutifully sits in the parking lot. When there is nothing left to eat and the sun is going down, the throng piles back into their cars and heads home, knowing that even El Exigente had an enchanting time at Enchanted State Park.    
Hanna’s Comments: This is such a delightful book, and there is so much more here than the comedy and turmoil of a day trip. You’ll find a spirit of loving acceptance, even for those who are self-centered or peculiar. At the heart of this family is a joyous hospitality and resilience with a determination that all will have fun no matter the circumstances, even if there are NO DOGS ALLOWED. I kept thinking as I read this book, if only our faith communities were this accepting, hospitable, and resilient. If only everyone could be so lovingly attentive and accommodating. Perhaps you can lead your family of faith into such suppositions with the help of this fun picture book and some scripture that ties it all together.   
Original Publisher & Date: Atheneum Books, 2004
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17); on these two commandments (Love the Lord, Your God… and the Golden Rule) depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:34-40); Jesus goes to the bent over woman (Luke 13:10-17); Jesus addresses Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10); a boy shares his loaves and fishes (John 6:5); Jesus does not condemn the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11)
Idea(s) for Application:  Consider using this book to help children understand how Jesus respected the ancient Hebrew Laws, but he sometimes broke them and argued that what God intended for The Law was being ignored by the Pharisees. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Ecological Praise

If like me, you're worried about the future of Earth and you see it as a spiritual issue, then this book about the glories of our Earth is a great tool to begin that conversation with your faith family, particularly your youngest children.

Picture Book: I Love Our Earth
Authors: Bill Martin Jr. & Michael Sampson
Photographer: Dan Lipow
Summary: In this beautiful book, photographs of international children accompany text that declares the gorgeous variety of Earth's environs. 
I love the beaming smiles on these kids' faces, 
the variety of spaces, some your children may not have imagined,  
the diverse faces so that all can find a bit of themselves in the pages,  
and the distinctive textures of Earth. 
The phrase, "I love our Earth," repeats several times
as we see reasons for our gratitude in details  
and wide spaces.  
Surprising aspects of Earth that we don't think to be grateful for are here 
along with more expected images.  
The 4 seasons are mentioned, 
but this is a celebration of year-round Earth!
Hanna’s Comments: Ecology has been a common concern for people of faith throughout the ages. For some religions, such as The Jewish Faith, practices are built on reverence and stewardship. But ecological stewardship is a relatively recent topic for Christians, particularly for those in more conservative churches. 
Check out these links to more PBT books about ecology. There's a book here at PBT called Glory that looks at this issue more theologically (and with very different images). Chris Van Allsburg's classic Just a Dream is such a powerful story! Because environmental concern is growing, you'll find many newly published books (secular and sacred) addressing this topic from various angles. This is a great topic for  engaging teens & young adults who are often more engaged in (and worried about) Earth's future. What a pragmatic faith issue! 
Why this book today? I like the simplicity of the text, especially for toddlers and preschoolers who respond strongly to photographs of other children. They can begin developing an ability to see God in nature. This skill is so important in spiritual formation. If you're looking for adult books about ecological stewardship (I've also heard it called Christian Environmentalism and the spiritual practice referred to as "creation care"), I suggest checking out the books of Matthew Sleeth. Here's his website
Original Publisher & Date: Charlesbridge, 2009
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up 
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Any scripture that praises God's creation of or glory in nature or the beauty of Earth such as Nature Psalms (8, 33, 95, 102...) or  creation verses in Genesis. In an interview with biblical scholar Ellen Davis on On Being, my favorite podcast, Genesis 1:26 is discussed. Dr. Davis explains that the verb in the Hebrew language that has traditionally been translated "to have dominion" actually means "to exercise skilled mastery." She describes this idea as a sort of craft or art in which we are privileged to have responsibility for Earth. [Here's] a link to that interview entitled The Poetry of Creatures. This episode is fascinating and inspiring because along with it you get to hear some of Wendell Berry's beautiful poetry!
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of young children and talk about gratitude and seeing God in nature. Offer a simple gratitude prayer that will begin their understanding of ecological stewardship

Friday, June 28, 2019

Seed Parables

Picture Book: The Tiny Seed
Author & Illustrator: Eric Carle
Summary: It's autumn and a group of seeds begin their journey via the wind from tree to destiny. Carle asks if the tiniest of them will be able to keep up. 
One seed flies too close to the sun.
 One lands in ice that never melts.
 Another seed falls into the ocean. 
A hot dry desert is too much for one seed. Meanwhile, the tiny seed is pushed on with the others. 
When the seeds fall to the ground, one is eaten, but not the tiny seed. It is so small. It isn't seen. 
The tiny seed also avoids being a mouse lunch. 
It's spring; the seeds transform into plants. 
One plant is trampled.   
One is picked... 
to become a gift.
Amazingly, the tiny seed becomes a tremendous flower, taller than a nearby house - a giant! 
Birds and bees visit all summer. They too are surprised by its size. 
When Autumn returns, the wind blows petals (and seeds) about, continuing the circle of life.  
Hanna’s Comments: I hope you see the direct connections this book has to Jesus' seed parables. Those seeds metaphorically represented the gospel, the church, or The Kingdom of God. In each case, the giant flower offers a nice point of discussion about the growth and influence of these throughout history. A board book is photographed above, but because of the amount of text, this book is better for older children who might not like being read a board book. Instead choose a larger version or the video which is very well done and free if you are an Amazon Prime member. If you’re an Eric Carle fan, find more of his books at PBT [here] and [here.] There are many books here at PBT about seeds. Besides the direct connections to seed parables, they offer aspects of transformation & resurrection and a need for tender care. My 2 favorites which are very different in tone are [here] and [here]. Find a fabulous book about the mustard seed [here]. If you want to see many more books about seeds, use the search word "seeds."
Original Publisher & Date: Little Simon, 2009
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Video
Scripture Connections: The seed parables particularly The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, & Luke 8:4-15) and The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 31-32) Any Bible story about resilience or starting out small. 
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children when studying one or more of the seed parables.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

PBT Stories #7: Spiritual Direction

Spiritual Direction is a type of relationship I learned about a decade or so ago. A spiritual director is trained to listen and encourage as someone shares about their personal spiritual journey, a companion that you meet with regularly. This is not the kind of relationship you'd have with a therapist, pastor, or even close spiritual friend. 

My pastor friends would mention their spiritual directors, and I would be jealous. While participating in the 2 year Academy for Spiritual Formation (which I highly recommend!) I "tasted and saw" that having a spiritual director is a rich and yummy treat (Sorry! Bad metaphor!). Here's a link to a perfect book if you want to know more: Abba, Give Me a Word: The Path of Spiritual Direction. In this very accessible book, Roger Owens, a fabulous speaker at that Academy experience, describes his beginning relationship with his spiritual director. 

Knowing the work I do at PBT, my spiritual director recently suggested that at our next session I bring a picture book that best describes my understanding of God. An obvious choice was Our Tree Named Steve, a book I featured my first year of PBT and again for my Grab & Go series
Many times I've said that picture books can be great tools for spiritual direction, but I'd never experienced that myself. Before our next session, I read Zweibel & Catrow's book again with a grocery list pad next to me to list allusions to God as I perceived them. The list was soooo long! 
Highlights follow with illustrations you didn't get to see back when I posted about a book each day for a year: 
The book is in the form of a letter from a father to his children while they are away. I thought of Paul's letters about God. The dad reminds them that they were awe-struck by the unusual tree near the house being built for them many years ago. The youngest child couldn't say "tree" so she declared her love for "Steve" which became the name of this important family "member."
This tree had been a sheltering, presence in the lives of each family member and "the center of our outdoor life."
Like God, Steve was such a facilitator of joy & love in this family. Steve endured everything from swings & jump-ropes 
to laundry & sewer backups in a way that was for me evocative of the kind of unconditional love we all have from God, despite the dirty secrets and unmentionables we share with no one but God. 
Steve also encouraged their neighborly love and was a divine inspiration for play, art, and problem-solving.  
Like God, this peace-giving, place of security became a sort of center of the family's identity. So why the letter? 
In a recent storm, Steve's protection of the family left him broken and lacking the imposing presence they were used to.
For me, Good Friday came to mind.
The dad ends the letter reporting that Steve (like Christ) has been transformed (resurrected?) and will be found in another tree in their yard as a playhouse that will continue Steve's important membership and influence on their family. 
After creating this list, I chose to imagine myself in a tree during my morning meditation. It was a powerful experience that brought me some insight about my relationship with God. My spiritual director guided me through more insight during our session. 

Providentially it seemed, that same day I discovered an adult book that you might also want to explore, especially if you are a tree-lover like I am. In Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us about the Nature of God and His Love for UsMatthew Sleeth explores the many scriptures that include trees or bushes. Sleeth shows that "every major biblical character and every major theological event has a tree marking the spot." 

Yeah! Picture books can lead to imaginative and fertile ground for adult spiritual formation and spiritual direction. Let me know if you want suggestions for other books that might lead toward similarly deep spiritual experiences for you or adults in your church.  

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Pointing Fingers & Name Calling

I'm a little late this week. I’ve moved my daughter to Cleveland to join Teach for America. I’ll be visiting her now and then so if your church or your church-based school is in that general area and interested in a PBT workshop, I’d love to come your way. Teaching is one of my joys and strengths. Contact me to the left, and we’ll work out the details. I’m willing to travel outside of Cleveland too if you’re willing to pay my driving expenses. Today’s book is so fun and profound and very human with lots of scripture connections!
Picture Book: You Are (Not) Small
Authors: Anna King
Illustrator: Christopher Weyant
Summary: This story begins with a pointed finger and judgement...
that quickly rebounds.
Perhaps there is comfort in a crowd, but peers sometimes encourage more arrogance and ignorance and...
Arrogance, ignorance, and aggression. How these very human inclinations change everything. 
What could have started as loving diverse community  
has to get through some violence     
and surprises 
 before understanding is expanded
 and connections are made. 
But these characters don't learn any quicker 
 than humans do.
Hanna’s Comments:  If you are struggling with name-calling and teasing among the children/youth in your church, here's a book for you! Spend some time on the feelings of all parties and invite some story sharing. Make scriptural connections, in a non-judgmental way of course, and then apply to your community, Christianity in general, and even your present political environment. Remind them of the inherent worth of every individual as a child of God, imaged in the divine. Don't want to talk about the nastiness of politics or racism at church? Your kids may be soaking it up already. If they see such attitudes in the church community or spiritual leaders, their confusion is inevitable and their role models may be scarce. Be careful to talk about aspects of respect and love in diverse community without drawing divisive political lines. This may be the first opportunity children/youth experience this. As for adult programming, here's a quick intro to a conversation on The Fruit of the Spirit when in boundary-crossing dialogue. This book is the first in a series that includes That’s (Not) Mine, I Am (Not) Scared, and We Are (Not) Friends. These you can get separately or in a boxed set. There’s even a growth chart, activity guide, and Common Core guide to go with this title!
Original Publisher & Date: Two Lions, 2014
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 2 and up, Toddler and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: All humans are made in God's image (Genesis 1:27); Do not judge so that you will not be judged (Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37); passing judgement on another, you condemn yourselves. (Romans 2:1); There is neither Jew nor Greek... (Romans 3:28); The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23); Do not speak evil against another (James 4:11); ...encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14b)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to any age. Focus on the judgmental nature of humans and how Jesus and the early Christian community warned us against this.