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 Kang
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. 

Friday, June 7, 2019

PBT Grab & Go #16 - Extra Yarn

Here’s another gem in the PBT series I call Grab & Go in which I feature again secular books that are extremely easy to use in sacred settings. I don’t recommend this, but you could literally grab one of these books and go to your audience. The rich sacred connections will easily rise to the surface. Your job is simply to encourage your listeners as they find a godly character, spiritual practice, holy idea, or scripture connection. The book below is a favorite! In fact, I sell a lesson for elementary-aged kiddos connecting this book to the story in Acts of Dorcas/Tabitha’s resurrection. Contact me (see left column) if you’re interested in purchasing for just $4!
Picture Book: Extra Yarn
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Summary: In a colorless world, Annabelle finds a box filled with multi-colored yarn and begins knitting for herself and others. Miraculously, the yarn never runs out. As Annabelle faces criticism for her knitted pieces, she knits for the one who is criticizing and all are converted to the beauty and transformational nature of her work. When a rich archduke wants to purchase the extraordinary yarn and Annabelle refuses, he steals the box. Once in his castle, he opens the box to find it empty. Angrily he throws the box out into the ocean where it floats back to Annabelle so that she can continue her knitting.
Hanna’s Comments: This metaphor of how a young girl’s loving creativity can transform a community is beautifully intriguing. I especially like the way the illustrator shows yarn attaching a character to another character, demonstrating the loving bonds Annabelle is creating with her generosity.
Original Publisher & Date: Balzer + Bray, 2012
Age and Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Available in Spanish? Yes
Scripture Connections: Jesus’ healing power, Tabitha’s good works (Acts 9:36-42), Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12); Gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8-10)
Idea(s) for Application: This book offers a beautiful metaphor for spreading love with your giftedness. Use it with a lesson on the transformational & healing power of generosity and good works. Tie it to the work of knitting or sewing ministries.