Friday, May 31, 2019

Darkness & Fear

Picture Book: The Dark
Authors: Lemony Snicket
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Summary: Lazlo is a young boy who is afraid of the dark. The dark is sometimes in Lazlo's closet or behind the shower curtain, but mostly it lives in the basement. 
At night, the dark goes outside and spreads itself against the windows and doors of Lazlo's house. 
Lazlo greets the dark each morning, hoping it will stay in the basement.
But one night, the dark visits Lazlo in his room (the nightlight goes out) and says that it wants to show Lazlo something... 
in the basement. The dark lures Lazlo to a bottom drawer of a chest, all the while explaining why the things Lazlo is afraid of are important, especially the dark. 
"Without the dark, everything would be light, and you would never know you needed a light bulb." 
Lazlo takes the light bulb, says thanks to the dark, and returns to his bedroom. 
When Lazlo visits the dark the next morning, he notices how the open drawer looks like the dark is smiling. 
The dark is never scary to Lazlo after that night. 
Hanna’s Comments: If you know the work of Lemony Snicket, you know he is an expert at dark humor and dark wisdom. Here he plays with concepts of fear and darkness but also courage and perseverance; all are important subjects for people of faith to explore, especially knowing we can have coping strategies and spiritual practices in particular. Recently, I read a beautiful article about the death of writer Rachel Held Evans. At her death, our world lost a great Christian witness, but her 2 young children lost much more. The article mentions that RHE often read this book to her young son. Heartrendingly, his experiences with this book and the conversations they likely had during the reading might help him grieve the loss of his mother. Children are naturally fascinated by fear and darkness. They want to be more resilient during such experiences. Reading books like this one and others are one way to encourage more meaningful spiritual formation. For adults this book could introduce a small group based on Barbara Brown Taylor's excellent book Learning to Walk in the Dark. On Sunday, I plan to teach a lesson to elementary children by reading this book and Caroline Woodward's Singing Away the Dark, another PBT favorite. Then I'll simply guide the children in a conversation comparing and contrasting the two books. Afterwards, I'll tie their ideas to our summer sermon series featuring some OT heroes who all experienced fear and showed courage. 
Original Publisher & Date: Little Brown, 2013
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet, Audio
Scripture Connections: Be strong & courageous... the Lord is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9); Trust in the Lord with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5); …in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33); God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7)
Idea(s) for Application: As described above, this book would be a great tool for exploring darkness and fear with children and adults.

Friday, May 24, 2019

“What Am I Doing to Make Malala Proud?”

Today my daughter Julianna graduates from college. You'll see below in the PBT post from 2015 that I reference how Malala Yousafzai has inspired her. Julianna has had a desire to teach urban children for a very long time. In a few weeks, she leaves her Alabama home to serve with Teach for America in Cleveland, OH. Posting this again serves as a little tribute to Julianna's passion and courage. Also, consider it a bit of gratitude for all who inspire our young people who are determined to make this world better for those living on the margins. More books about Malala have been published since this post. Check them out and choose your favorite to inspire the young people in your faith family.
The title of this post is the question my teenage daughter, Julianna, asked herself the spring before her senior year in high school. Her answer was to pay her way on a mission trip with a group of our church’s adults to teach English to Panamanian children. I think Malala would have been pleased!

When I first heard my daughter’s question, I thought of the WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets that were a fad with teens here in the states for a while. That fad is long gone; those teens have grown up. Ironically, my Christian daughter seems to have found a meaningful role-model in a Pakistani, Muslim girl near her own age. I hope Malala survives the continued threats to her life and lives a long life inspiring my daughter and others.

Malala Yousafzai, advocate for the education of Muslim girls, victim of an assassination attempt, and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner is only a few months younger than Julianna. When the already famous and outspoken 16-year-old Malala was called out and shot on her school bus by the Taliban in Pakistan, she became more famous. Julianna began to read articles about Malala’s advocacy, recovery, and amazing courage to continue speaking publicly for the rights of all girls to be educated. Like Malala, Julianna has a passion for education. She plans to be a teacher and has a heart for urban children. She was quick to read I am Malala, Yousafzai’s best-selling memoir, and we all enjoyed seeing Malala tease John Stewart on The Daily Show. I highly recommend the feature length film about her, He Named Me Malala.   
Above I’ve offered photos of 3 picture books about Malala Yousafzai. You’ll have no problem finding these and other picture books at your local library or on-line. Video content is easily found too. It’s important for young children and teens to have heroes, especially if the heroes are near their age. Your message can be that being a child/teen doesn’t give you an excuse for not doing justice or working for peace. Everyone can do something now.

There are other, less decorated and lesser-known teens and tweens in our world making it more just and loving. A little internet searching and some creativity on your part might lead to some very meaningful programming for the young people in your faith family. Be sure to identify the traits that your children can emulate from the heroes you offer. Point out when their passions are grounded in their faith. 

Your children and teens are going to have heroes. When the substance of their fandom can be about more than beauty, sports, or entertainment, then our world has better opportunities for God's desires. I believe Malala would be very proud of such changes. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Psalms for All Ages #4

This morning I read the following quote in Phileena Heuertz beautiful book Pilgrimage of the Soul, which is about her sabbatical that included a hike on the ancient pilgrim path The Camino de Santiago

Like a good shepherd with her not-so-intelligent sheep, God knew my need before I did. The essence of the spiritual journey is so evident in [Psalm 23]. 

So, I’m reposting one of my favorite posts of these 5 years at PBT. You’ll see why...

Four books are featured today! All of them have as their text the 23rd Psalm. The language is traditional except for the book for preschoolers (listed first below). First I show you a sample of illustrations from all 4 books. Then I give you some details for each book. Applications in ministry are obvious. Consider presenting 2 books and having your audience (adults or children) talk about which illustrations most appeal to them and why. Then connect their ideas to personal spiritual growth.

The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads in paths of righteousness for His name sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me 
all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord 

Here are the 4 books!
Picture Book: Found: Psalm 23
Adaptation: Sally Lloyd-Jones
Illustrator: Jago
Hanna’s Comments: This book for preschoolers is pulled from The Jesus Storybook Bible. If yours is not the Christian tradition, do consider this book about Psalm 23. The Jesus Storybook Bible does refer to Jesus, but this beautiful book does not. Its text is a simple paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm.
Original Publisher & Date: Zonderkidz, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet

Picture Book: Psalm Twenty-Three
Illustrator: Tim Ladwig
Hanna’s Comments: The preface of this book explains that the illustrations are of urban America and highlight a "black family living among urban dangers." A stained glass window of Jesus is a crucial part of the visual story.   
Original Publisher & Date: Eerdmans, 1993
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present

Picture Book: Psalm 23
Illustrator: Richard Jesse Watson
Hanna’s Comments: These illustrations are more magical and dramatic than the others which will appeal to some in your audience. The images are all of children or a lamb. It uses “thy” and “thou” and has "th" endings on some of the verbs (He maketh me to lie down…).
Original Publisher & Date: Zonderkidz, 2013
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet 

Picture Book: Psalm 23
Illustrator: Barry Moser
Hanna’s Comments: Zonderkidz, 2008
Original Publisher & Date: This is my favorite version for older children for it shows the meaning of these words in a context closest to the original psalm. The illustrator explains that his images are inspired by travels in the Caribbean. Here you have a shepherd boy as an image of God as well as other traditional images of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit such as doves, butterflies and a pelican. Have your audience find them.
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: None at present

Friday, May 10, 2019

A Multi-Media Experience

Picture Book: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Authors: William Kamkwamba
Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon
Summary: This is a true story of 14 year old William, whose village in Malawi suffers a crippling drought. It begins with an explanation that William's village is a farming community with no electricity for lights or irrigation. 
But William loves the dark because he can dream of building things from scraps he collects. He does build many things.  
William works in the fields and attends school when his family can afford the fees. 
As the burning sun and lack of ran burns fields to dust,  
William's family has no fees for school.
One meal a day is all they can afford. Others in their village have even less.   
William is a determined learner so he goes to the village library and reads science books, but they are in English. Thanks to an English dictionary, William feeds his desire for learning. 
When he sees a book about how a windmill can produce electricity, creating light and pumping water, 
William imagines the good such a machine can bring his family and village. 
He is determined to build the "electric wheel" with the scraps he finds. Others think he's crazy, 
but his friends soon want to help. 
The windmill is built, 
and electricity is generated, but "Light could not fill empty bellies" so a water pump is built next. 
Later, other windmills are built, once the community sees the "magic" of William's inventions and their power to feed their community and their entire country. 
Hanna’s Comments: Picture books are great resources for all ages, but when you can supplement them with other media experience such as video, the learning will be even more meaningful. I was thrilled to learn that there is a new Netflix film based on this story. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor from the movie 12 Years a Slave. I watched and was very pleased by how closely it corresponds to this book. It was beautifully done, but some death scenes and violence are present so be sure to preview with your audience in mind. Other versions of this story are available as well, one a chapter book for children, another is appropriate for teens and adults, and you'll find a book about William in a series for elementary-aged students called Remarkable Lives Revealed. This last book would likely have many photographs. For both the film and the picture book, you'll need to address the meaning behind the mystical costumed figures. These are ghost dancers, an aspect of William's culture that gives him inspiration and comfort. The power of this story is multi-faceted. Themes such as vocation (William has a scientific mind he seems called to use) and science vs magic vs faith are rich subjects for conversation with teens and young adults in your churches. You can also focus on the wind as a metaphor for God’s power, God’s inspiration, or The Holy Spirit which is inside William giving him agency to change his family’s (and community’s) quality of life. The movie ends with this line: God is as the wind which touches everything. I recently heard a news story about solar panels decreasing in cost and being used all over Africa. More modern versions of evolving tech or updates on William might be included in your program. Anytime you can challenge your audience, no matter their age, to connect their faith with current events, especially global issues, then you’ve added great meaning and potential for spiritual growth.
Original Publisher & Date: Scholastic, 2012
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 6 and up, 1st and up
Formats other than Book: None at present but the other books are available in other formats.
Scripture Connections: Scriptures about wind such as the story of Pentecost in Acts 2, scriptures of prophets leading their communities such as those of Elijah, and Bible stories about young leaders such as in the story of David & Goliath
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of teens and explore the themes above. Beforehand, invite the teens to watch the Netflix movie or watch it together.