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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

little-golden-bookBooks have always been my friends, and the one you see pictured here is a special friend.  I can still hear my mother’s voice reading My Little Golden Book About God.  This little book shaped my understanding of God.  I still believe that “beyond the farthest star, God knows the way,” and that God planned “[this] tiny world your two hands could span.”  I still believe that “God whispers to us in our hearts: ‘Do not fear, I am here, and I love you, my dear.'”

I am always on the lookout for children’s books to share in my ministry with children, and I have found that good children’s books speak to the faith of all God’s children, including those of us that are grownup.

I am dreaming of a book fair to help put some of the best books in the hands of children, youth, and their families.  It would resemble a school book fair, but it would pull together a collection of the very best Bible story books, board books, picture books, and books for young adults on topics such as prayer, worship, service, justice, and life in the church. It would include the best fiction as well as non-fiction.

I have started a list of titles, and I am seeking recommendations.  What titles do you dream of putting in the hands of your children and youth to support their faith formation?  I am especially in need of helpful titles for older elementary children and teens, but welcome all your recommendations.   You can put them in a comment below, or go to the contact page and email me.  Thanks very much for your help!

Meanwhile, here are two web sites for people who love using children’s literature in ministry:

Storypath is a ministry of Union Presbyterian Seminary.  You can find hundreds of book reviews there, plus bibliographies and lesson plans.  Each week they post reviews of books that relate to the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the week.  There is also a scripture index and a theme index.

Picture Book Theology is similar.  The reviews are written and posted by Hanna Schock, an avid reader who finds the presence and wisdom God in picture books especially.  She offers suggestions on how to use picture books in educational ministry.

Here are some of my own reviews from elsewhere on this site:

A Child’s First Book of Prayers, by Lois Rock.

Psalms for Young Children, by Marie Helene Delval.

The People Could Fly:American Black Folktales, by Virginia Hamilton.

Grandad’s Prayers of the Earth, by Douglas Wood.

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narniamapHere are some thoughts about Narnia that my daughter, Laura, wrote while she was in Oxford, England studying C.S. Lewis and other fantasy writers. 

Reflections on My Childhood Love of Narnia

I have realized that the love-even devotion-that I had for C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books as a child has not gone away, even though I now read them as a skeptical adult, and I feel the need to defend them fiercely when people disparage them. The books are part of me.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was especially instrumental in shaping my imagination. Many of my childhood games involved Narnia in one way or another. I had (and still have) a stuffed lion named Aslan. I sent my animals off on the voyage of the Dawn Treader in individual boats crafted from the lids of toy boxes.

I remember vivid dreams of Narnia. The most memorable dream is one that I had around the age of ten or so. I dreamt that I was Lucy, and I was too old to go back to Narnia, but I was still allowed into a corridor that stood between our world and Narnia. In my dream, I could sit in that corridor, a sort of limbo, for hours, and have tea with Aslan. Aslan was the most important part of Narnia. He was strong and wise but soft and gentle, a better cuddler than all my stuffed animals combined. I was not afraid of him at all, but being near him filled me with joy. Underlying that joy, however, was the uneasy feeling that one day, I would be too old even to enter the corridor between the worlds, and I would not be able to see Aslan directly any more.

For me, Aslan was always Christ. I intuitively understood the allegory of the crucifixion and resurrection. Perhaps that was partly because I had a morbid fascination with the passion of the Christ when I was little, but that’s another story. Jadis, the White Witch, was sin or Satan. Aslan chose to die because he cared more about the life of one small, imperfect human than about reigning forever; indeed, when the Pevensie children were crowned, he diminished, allowing them to rule. His self-sacrifice, the defeat of death “by death” (thank you, Rachmaninoff) was and remains one of the most touching displays of love I have seen. Aslan’s death was not about saving Edmund from Aslan’s own wrath, or that of the Emperor-beyond-the-sea, but from the all-consuming power of greed. And what better way to defeat greed than by the sacrifice of the greatest thing that he had to offer? I have always been moved by the rightness of it. That does not mean that my beliefs have not evolved since early childhood. I do not have the simple, unquestioning “child faith” that I used to have, and, in some ways, I am glad. In other ways, I still mourn its loss.

Sometimes, I feel like I am still searching for the corridor that disappeared while I was not looking. But there is one thing for certain: even though I do not see Aslan directly anymore, I know that the spirit of Narnia still lives in me somewhere, like a flame just under the surface of the skin. In my dreams, and sometimes, when I see what I know to be suffering or injustice, I know that I am hearing Aslan’s roar.   Amen.

 

Here is a link to a post I wrote about Narnia:

Lucy’s Healing Cordial

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HPIM0165In his book Bowling Alone, published in 2000, Robert Putnam described the fraying community and social ties in American society, citing declining church attendance; declining voter turnout; and declining participation in labor unions, in civic clubs, in scouting, and in all sorts of community organizations like bowling leagues.  He warned that declining engagement with one another jeopardizes the social connections and social resources that we must have in order to solve community problems.

In a new book entitled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Putnam describes the growing divide between children born into families who are able to give them enriching experiences such as reading to them beginning in babyhood and taking them to music, sports, scouts and other opportunities, and children whose families are struggling simply to survive economically  He stresses that it’s not just material resources that these children lack.  They are missing out on mentoring and the benefits that come from knowing a network of caring adults, and from enriching activities.  Along with a good education and good health care, these blessings help children grow up into strong adults.  Putnam reminds us that all of these children are OUR children, and we are collectively responsible for them.  Faith communities can certainly help address the situation, Putnam notes, especially when it comes to mentoring children. I resonate with Putnam’s call for adults to step forward and be mentors.  There is no substitute for having adults show interest in you and want to spend time with you.

You can read a Washington Post article about this book here, and a review from the New York Times here.

I look forward to reading the whole book.  Growing up I received so many blessings and was loved and mentored by so many caring adults in my family and church.  My husband was similarly blessed.  Thanks to our families and our church, my husband and I were able to pass these blessings on to our daughter.  God has brought to our church’s attention a whole flock of children that we can share these blessings with, and we are seeking ways to do that.  See my recent post on sharing music with little children.

God has also brought to our attention some statistics that cause great concern.  We have learned, for example, that within a seven mile radius of our church’s building 37% of households with children are headed by single mothers, and 8% are headed by single fathers, and that adds up to 45%.  Moreover, 18% of all households within this radius are subsisting on $15,000 a year or less.  It is a varied and challenging community in which to seek God’s call.  However we answer the call, it is going to require an investment of our hearts, making friends and building relationships.

 

 

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Recently I wrote a review for the Presbyterian Outlook of the book Practicing Care in Rural Congregations and Communities.  The authors, Jeanne Hoeft, L. Shannon Jung, and Joretta Marshall, show why the church’s presence is critical in rural communities, and how congregations of God’s people care faithfully for one another and the community around them.  While it’s not an easy read, it is an important read for all who want to be faithful witnesses in a country context, and for all who care about small congregations and God’s work there.

The review starts this way: Practicing Care in Rural Congregations and Communities

I grew up in the 1960s in a dairy farm family and in a tiny rural church where everyone had ties to farming. The congregation shared a pastor with three other small congregations. I remember hearing my father, the clerk of session, report that the pastor thought that all the churches should close and become one large church in a central location, about fifteen miles from our farm. I remember thinking, “He doesn’t understand.” I realized then that the pastor didn’t understand the realities of farm life, and I realize now that he didn’t fully understand the sense of place that shaped our lives and our modes of caring for one another in community.

“Practicing Care in Rural Congregations and Communities” is an essential book for all who want to understand and to care faithfully. The authors challenge the whole church to learn from the wisdom that comes out of rural and small-town communities. Moreover, they issue a powerful reminder of why it is crucial for the body of Christ to maintain a presence and witness there.

Read more here.

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'Christian Aid's Poverty can be eradicated poster' photo (c) 2009, Howard Lake - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Jesus advised his followers to be “wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.”  The commandment to love God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, reminds us that the head, as well as the heart, is engaged when it comes to faithfulness.  So how do we keep head and heart together as we try to serve the poor faithfully?  How do we hold wisdom and compassion together?  What kinds of responses truly manifest justice, kindness, and humility?

I recently read Toxic Charity, a challenging and controversial book by Robert D. Lupton.  (Click the title to go to an excerpt.) The subtitle is How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It).

For over 40 years Lupton has been living among and working with poor people in the city of Atlanta.  He is a Christian, a Presbyterian, and the founder of a Christian community development organization called FCS Urban Ministries.  FCS stands for “focused community strategies.”  He maintains that some common charitable practices have unintended consequences that diminish people’s lives instead of increasing their experience of the abundant life.  People’s lives are diminished when their own strengths and assets aren’t recognized and called forth; when their viewpoints are not sought, respected and included in the process; when the giving is only one-way; when they are pitied and treated as children and not expected to be responsible; and when there is no authentic relationship or community between the helper and the person being helped.

Lupton agrees that emergency relief certainly is critical, but he maintains that the work should soon transition to long-term development and transformation.  He proposes the following “Oath for Compassionate Service”:

(1) Never do for the poor what they can (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves; (2) Limit one-way giving to emergencies; (3) Empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements; (4) Subordinate the giver’s self-interest to the needs of those being served; (5) Listen closely to those you seek to help; (6) Above all, do no harm.

The author stresses a philosophy of “asset-based community development” (ABCD) that takes seriously what poor people themselves have to offer and emphasizes working with people rather than doing things for people.

This book has generated a lot of controversy.  That he calls into question many of the aid programs and mission trips that people in the church cherish is one point of contention, for example.  Moreover, advocates for the poor worry that Lupton’s book and its principles will reinforce negative stereotypes of the poor, giving ammunition to people who are looking for resons not to engage in this ministry.  Here is a link to a letter from the director of a community kitchen who maintains that all Christian aid should be given without expectation.  Some worry that Lupton wants to ask too much of people who truly are helpless.

I found good food for thought and prayer in this book as I wrestle with these issues.  I appreciated Lupton’s respect for the poor as thinking, feeling, capable human beings.  Moreover, I have long thought that we cannot hope to make a difference in people’s lives if we are not willing to have a genuine relationship with them.  I also appreciated the author’s stress on doing things on a small scale in a limited area. This means that individuals and small groups–including small churches–can truly make a difference.  His own organization works in and with one neighborhood at a time.  He maintains that many small, focused efforts will ultimately work better than a few huge programs that cover huge areas and large numbers of people with problems.

I found some correlations between Lupton’s call for authentic relationships and mutual service and a Presbyterian Church (USA) Policy Paper entitled Presbyterians Do Mission in Partnership.  Click the title to read it online.  The session (church governing body) of  Second Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, used this paper and the Lupton book for a session retreat.  You can read about their experience here.

May the Holy Spirit teach us how to love faithfully, justly, kindly, and humbly.

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Storypath logo

Union Presbyterian Seminary’s fine children’s literature resource has been renamed Storypath: Connecting children’s Literature With Our Faith Story, and it has a new web address: http://storypath.upsem.edu/.   Here you can find book reviews, lists of recommended books, and lesson plans.  You can search for a book by title, by age group, by scripture passage, and by theme.  Click on “lectionary links” and you will find books that correlate with upcoming scripture passages in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Storypath began in October 2009.  It grew out of a seminary class entitled Using Children’s and Adolescents’ Literature in the Church.   Many of the reviews are by students in the class, which is offered periodically, and the contributors also include professors Pamela Mitchell-Legg, and Rebecca Davis, and graduates and friends of Union Seminary.  The site continues to grow.  Click here for a sample list of books.  This one is on the topic of adoption.

Good children’s books are good for God’s people of all ages.  Many thanks to Union and to all the contributors for Storypath.  It is a treasure.

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Child's First Book of PrayersA Child’s First Book of Prayers by Lois Rock and illustrated by Alison Jay, is a collection of 150 prayers that is a rich resource for people of all ages.  It includes classics, such as “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” and the prayer of St. Francis, “Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.”  It also includes original prayers by Lois Rock that touch me deeply.  Here is an example:

“Lord Jesus, who died upon the cross:

You know this world’s suffering,

You know this world’s sorrowing,

You know this world’s dying.

In your name, Lord Jesus, who rose again:

I will work for this world’s healing,

I will work for this world’s rejoicing,

I will work for this world’s living.”

Many of the prayers in this book could be used liturgically with little, if any, adaptation.

Here is another of my favorites:

“God does not neglect the poor

and neither will I;

God does not ignore their suffering

and neither will I;

God does not turn away from them

and neither will I;

God answers them when they call for help

and so will I.”

I commend this beautiful, thoughtfully illustrated book to you.

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