Monday, January 28, 2019

PBT Techniques #10 – Shallow to Deep

If you'd like to read more posts in this series, simply type "Techniques" in the search box to the right. 
You’ve read my encouragement to use picture books for adult small groups. In case any of you have doubts about this practice, I’d like to tell you about 2 recent lessons with my Sunday school class, a class that can quickly go from shallow silly fun to deep meaningful conversation. 

Recently, a much-loved member of our class died of early-onset Alzheimer’s. I invited the class to explore ideas of loss and being lost via 2 simple picture books. At first glance, these books might be considered shallow stories for children only, but I beg to differ. There is much wisdom in them. They allowed for gentle tiptoeing into deep waters of meaning and opportunities for serious reflection.

In the first lesson, I read Mo Willems' Knuffle BunnyHere’s that PBT post. It comically tells the story of a pre-verbal child leaving her comfort object at the laundry mat. Once read, I invited the class to write a scattering of losses on a page. Since language is an important aspect of this story, I asked them to write words describing their core feelings about their losses. I reminded them of The Pascal Mystery (life, then death, then resurrection) which is a key aspect of Christ's life and teaching. Then we considered how often Jesus dealt with loss. A profound moment occurred when I asked them to imagine a world with no loss. They could not.

For the next lesson, I took these thoughts a step further. First I shared a few Richard Rohr quotes about transformation being tied up with loss and suffering. Then I introduced Walter Brueggemann's cyclical Rhythm of Life (Orientation, Disruption, Disorientation, New Orientation). Before reading Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson, I asked them to listen for the particular wisdom from the 7 animals that the cub encounters. After the reading, it was easy to find biblical connections to some of the animals' suggestions (Sit still and try to listen. Trust yourself. Don't be afraid. Look up. You are not alone.) Then we shared some stories of being lost. Here's my PBT post about Baby Bear. 

I think both lessons were meaningful, thought-provoking, and enjoyable because of the great literary and visual artistry of  Willems and Nelson. Never let it be said that picture books are just for children!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Are All Welcome at Your Church?

Don’t read either of these 3 books to your faith family unless you are prepared to talk honestly about whether your faith community, without judgement and with fears in check, is willing to welcome anyone and everyone.
Picture Book: A Church for All
Author: Gayle E. Pitman
Illustrator: Laure Fournier
Summary: In simple rhyming verse, an inclusive worshiping community is celebrated. This book starts with a panoply of people anticipating a gathering at their church, a church for all. There they find joyful noises, laughing voices, weak and healthy, plain and dressy. All are embracing and "The Spirit is gracing," even the wailers and the wigglers. This church is full of "hearts believing" and "hearts accepting." 
Hanna’s Comments: Inspired by a visit to Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, this picture book is a challenge! Visually it is full of diversity, a loving and active sort of diversity. People who are young, old, gay, straight, physically able and not. Those who have differences are not just included; they are the heart of this godly community of Christ. The sanctuary of the church is shown with posters of progressive messages all over the walls. This is not your grandparent's church!
Original Publisher & Date: Whitman & Co. 2018
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Any scripture in which Jesus crosses societal boundaries such as conversations, meals, and the healing of women, tax collectors, and gentiles.
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of preschoolers and older. Encourage them to consider this vision of church and how your church is similar or different.

Picture Book: All Are Welcome
Author: Alexandra Penfold
Illustrator: Suzanne Kaufman
Summary: This delightful story is about a diverse classroom (not a church classroom) where everyone is welcomed and encouraged to grow. More importantly, it is a place where fears are lost and hope is found. Music, art, and stories are explored and celebrated together. No one is left out. Even bread is served in all its cultural diversity. The text emphasizes that strength is found through diversity so that these children learn from each other and enjoy time together.
Hanna’s Comments: Despite this secular setting, there are many parallels to church, particularly in the text. When we enter a church, what we want are our fears lost and hopes found. We want to sing together and tell some stories – Bible stories and personal stories. Two fun bonuses: The center is a big fold out page that captures the glory of diversity. If purchased new, inside the book jacket you'll find a poster!
Original Publisher & Date: Knopf, 2018
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Do not judge (Matthew 7:1-5)The Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27 & Ephesians 4:16); Show no partiality (James 2: 1)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of elementary-aged children and talk about how your church compares with this classroom and neighborhood.

2022 Update: This author-illustrator duo have 2 more books. More may follow. All 3 have the big foldout at the center of their stories and a poster inside if purchased new. All involve the same young characters. 

Big Feelings is about how these children manage responses when things don't go as planned while they renovate a deserted plot in their community. Talking things through, apologizing, and adapting plans are 3 of the many social-emotional skills recommended. So many of these skills are biblical! Feelings are identified throughout the pages. This is such an important skill to teach children! Exploring feelings in church allows you to remind all that God loves and accepts every feeling.

In All Are Neighbors, a newbie to the neighborhood is welcomed. The concept of "community" is explored while the children show their new friend her new neighbors and neighborhood. A repeated sentence is: We all are neighbors here. There is a surprising number of scriptures that encourage the spiritual practice of hospitality! Be sure to have your audience reflect on how hospitable their communities are and your shared faith community.

Picture Book: Everybody’s Welcome
Author: Patricia Hegarty
Illustrator: Greg Abbott
Summary: This story begins with one little mouse who is determined to have a “great big happy house.” The mouse encounters a series of animals in distress and invites them to help build a home they will live in together. Some animals have had homes destroyed. Some have been chased from their homes. One bear just doesn’t fit in anywhere. He scares others because of his great size. A snail arrives very late but is welcomed just the same. All need healing and want a home that is secure. I couldn’t help but think of parallel human stories of folks walking into the doors of a worshiping community. Some of these characters' troubles are directly linked to scripture. Think Jesus healing the woman with the issue of blood (does she have a home or community?) or the man who is mentally ill and living among the tombs. The snail is like the workers in the vineyard who arrive late but are still generously rewarded. Lots of connections here!
Hanna’s Comments: Here you have a metaphor for church or any community where Christ is the center. My favorite aspect of this story is that news of these animals’ work and manner spreads and more animals come to be healed and included. This is what’s happening at my church. Every Sunday I see new faces who have been hurt by the church. They enter with trepidation but are eager for acceptance and longing for love meaning. It feels so good to greet them and tell them they are welcome.
Original Publisher & Date: Little Tiger Press, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood (Matthew 9:20-22); Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16); Jesus heals the man who lives among the tombs (Mark 5:1-20)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children and help them imagine people who are like these animals, longing for a new church home. Then talk about what it looks like when a church community is a place of healing, safety, and stories.

Friday, January 11, 2019

4 Snow Books

It’s a tricky matter to feature books about snow, but such stories are often fun and illustrations are usually striking. Thus is the case for the 4 books featured below. You may not be experiencing snow or even the winter season right now, but it was time for me to spend a little time connecting the joys of snow to faith. Have these books in your wheelhouse for when the flakes fall or when it’s hot outside and thoughts of snow would be particularly refreshing to your faith family. The first book is the story of a child's prayer. The next two books share the title Snow, with one being about patience and the other about snow's variety, beauty, and fun. The last book is about perseverance. All are full of sacred themes. But first, [here's] a PBT post about a "snowy" book that you all know already. 

Picture Book: Before Morning
Author: Joyce Sidman
Illustrator: Beth Krommes
Summary: Upon arriving home, a young girl realizes her airline pilot mom will be leaving soon. She is not happy about this. As she prepares for sleep, she offers an invocation, a prayer of sorts, for a snow day to keep her family together. She gets her wish and love abounds! The joys of a snow day are abundant.
Hanna’s Comments: The text in this book doesn’t occur for several pages so this is a quiet book that demands attention to the illustrations. Be sure to offer it in small groups and explain the illustrations when they are hard to follow. The time and effort are worth it for this gorgeous book is all about familial love and a desire to be present. This would be a great choice for a conversation in your faith family about prayers of petition that are purely selfish. Does God mind them when they are motivated purely by love? Then spend some time talking about the joy of snow days and how they are blessings for some and hardships for others.
Original Publisher & Date: HMH, 2016
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: The psalms are full of petitionary prayers. Some are less selfish than others. 
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children or adults and embark on a discussion about the appropriateness of prayers founded on selfish desires. 

Picture Book: Snow
Author & Illustrator: Sam Usher
Summary: Sam awakes to a blanket of snow, but he must wait for his grandfather to step outside. Eager to be the first to make footprints, he's stands at the door calling for Granddad, but Granddad is slow. Then Sam watches as another child has that privilege. He keeps waiting and waiting, watching more folks and creatures (some ridiculous - the result of Sam’s imagination) walk about having glorious fun. After an agonizing wait, the two step out and join the fun. 
Hanna’s Comments: This book is part of a series called Seasons with Granddad. Other titles are Sun, Rain, and Storm. This would be a perfect book to share with children in a church family that wants to increase and improve  multi-generational interaction. Let it be a catalyst for a discussion about The Fruits of the Spirit (particularly patience, joy, and love) and how these might be needed on both sides of the age spectrum. Recognizing and exploring differences are the best way to eventually celebrate them and reap the benefits of all being respected and affirmed for their part of The Body of Christ.
Original Publisher & Date: Templar, 2015
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: The Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children and talk realistically about how patience is required when interacting with people who are elderly. Then spend time talking about the gifts the older generations have given your church. Have some important stories to share about individuals your children know.

Picture Book: Snow
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Lauren Stringer
Summary: In this beautiful book of rhythmic prose, this prize-winning writer evokes all sorts of feelings from a variety of snow experiences thanks to a young girl who greets snow like a friend. She tells us that snow is best enjoyed WITH a friend too. Snow gives us permission to be happy! Delicate snow is lightly described, but sometimes snow is a heavy burden. This entire book is a child’s wisdom (they do experience snow better than us adults!) to savor snow and the experiences it offers for “nothing lasts forever except memories.”
Hanna’s Comments: Anytime you earnestly consider the beauty and treasure of one of God’s gifts in nature, you are engaged in contemplative prayer. This is certainly something children do already so label it as a spiritual practice and encourage more of it. Because this book is full of gratitude, you could read it in a lesson on the spiritual practice of gratitude. Share some scientific findings about how this orientation inclines us toward health and joy. Then encourage a gratitude journal. [Here] at PBT, I featured Cynthia Rylant and mentioned a few of her many books. She is a treasure that I am grateful for!
Original Publisher & Date: Harcourt, 2008
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: In the perfection of beauty, God shines forth (Psalm 50:2); To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1); God has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11); How great is God’s goodness and how great is God’s beauty! (Zachariah 9:17)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children who are learning about how to pray contemplatively or who are writing gratitude journals.  

Picture Book: Blizzard
Author & Illustrator: John Rocco
Summary: The author shares a story from his Rhode Island childhood about the blizzard of 1978. From the first flakes to the first snowplow many days later, Rocco’s family rises to the challenges of the deep snow. On day 6, their food has run out. Hot cocoa made from water has its limits. John is the lightest (and he’s the only one who has read a survival guide), so he sets out on top of the deep snow trudging toward the neighborhood store. Comically, he meets and helps neighbors along the way while taking their requests from the store. Finally, he arrives at the store and piles the supplies onto his sled. Racing against the sun, he delivers the requests to his grateful neighbors and returns home with groceries – a hero to all.
Hanna’s Comments: The themes of this fun story are hard work, kindness, perseverance, and being oriented to the needs of the community as a whole. Kids become heroes with such biblical values and such stories help them see the connections between real life and scripture, faith and action, love and work, service and joy.
Original Publisher & Date: Hyperion, 2014
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Scriptures about heroes such as Young David in 1 Samuel 17 and the boy who shares his lunch in John 6.
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children and talk about attributes of heroes and what motivates them to do good.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Baptism Sunday

At worship this Sunday, many churches will remember the Baptism of Jesus and encourage attendees to remember their own baptism. It’s a great time to talk with your children about reasons for baptism and your memories of their own baptism if they were baptized previously. The book (and song!) featured below offers a simple introduction to this important church ritual.
Picture Book: Welcome Child of God
Author: Anne Ylvisaker
Illustrator: Claudia McGehee
Summary: In simple poetic verse, baptism is beautifully presented for very young children. Hospitality is a theme here as this ritual is described as a welcoming to the one who will receive tending and guiding from their family of faith. When talking about baptism, be sure to share your own memories from your baptism or ones of those you love. Add your theological perspective on baptism. Concrete examples will help children understand this important rite of passage. Consider having an activity involving a simple sensory experience with water.
Hanna’s Comments: This is a perfect gift for a church to give a family when a child is born or baptized as an infant. Even if your church doesn’t practice infant baptism, the song which is the text of the book, can be learned and sung to the child or used in the baptism ritual at your church. The musical score is included.
Original Publisher & Date: Augsburg Fortress, 2011
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 2 and up, Toddler and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Scriptures about the baptism of Jesus and others by John the Baptist such as those in the gospels of Matthew (3), Mark (1), (Luke (3), and John (1) or scriptures about the disciples baptizing others. Many are found in Acts. There are also many scriptures about the theology surrounding baptism in The Epistles.
Idea(s) for Application: Give this book to a family at the event of their child’s birth or baptism or read it to a group of children learning about baptism.