Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bibles For Children: My Short Guide

The stories we share with our children can shape their imaginations for a lifetime.  The folks who bring together these books make choices, and these choices have changed over time.  Differences are readily apparent in what stories are shared, and how much to tell. 

It is almost impossible to distill scripture into child accessible language without the influence of mature interpretative issues.  These books are also shaped by the demands of publishing houses (and the theological stream of the publishers).  While almost any version is a worthy place to start, there are some that are my favorite recommendations.   As a professional religious educator I look at a few details.  

  • Is there a sense of deep love for God’s word?
  • Do the illustrations reflect the West Asian setting of the Bible? 
  • Are there any good and bad characters with lighter skin for the good and darker for the bad?  
  •  Which stories are included and which are not?
  •  How are passages with doctrinal or sociological importance handled?
  • Does it draw a reader/listener in?
  • Most have sidebars or leading questions.  Do these fit within reasonable standards of interpretation?  
For Young Children 
My top recommendation is always the Lion Bible for Children.  Lion is the name of the English publisher of this tried, true and regularly updated children’s bible.  

  • The illustrations are elegant and intriguing; 
  • The story interpretations are well done, and 
  • It has a considerably high volume of Bible stories.  
  • Rarely available in local American bookstores, it is easy to find online.  
    • They also have a Storyteller’s version which has a smaller selection and is aimed at younger readers and listeners.   Publisher: Lion Hudson Plc (February 1, 2008) ISBN-10: 0745960952
My second recommendation is the Spark Story Bible.  Sparkhouse is producing some of the best contemporary curriculum materials right now.  After several years with this Story Bible, I can tell you that:

  •  The illustrations are engaging and thought provoking.  
  • They can  seem silly to adult eyes, yet this is usually attached to the meaning of the story and truly helps bring a child into the text.  
  • The storytelling is mostly accurate, if occasionally reflecting its Lutheran origins.  
  • The publishers state that they tried to incorporate many of the Revised Common Lectionary lessons (OT and Gospel it seems).  Publisher: Augsburg Fortress (April 2009)

An easy to find suggestion is the Children’s Illustrated Bible from DK Publishing.  Actually all of their children and family Bibles seem to be quite good; so to their information book on Christianity.  I love the factoid sidebars that incorporate contemporary information about the Biblical regions, and it’s people.  These are widely available at large and small bookstores, as well as online.  Publisher: DK CHILDREN (February 21, 2005)  ISBN-10: 0756609356
If you are still looking for something else, take a look at the CHILDREN OF GOD STORYBOOK BIBLE by Desmond Tutu (yes you read that right).  There is a version available with a CD of the Archbishop telling the stories!  A careful selection told with his special love and intentions, this is a nice gift to a young person.  
You could also search for an out-of-print version: Catherine Marshall’s Story Bible.  It is certainly a storytelling version; and it has lovely illustrations made by children.

For older children 
First is another Spark text: THE SPARK BIBLE.   
  • This is a straightforward NRSV Bible, without the Apocyrpha.  
  • NRSV is what we use for Sunday Lessons and is at a high reading level.  
  • However, the text is printed in a manner good for young eye. 
  • Furthermore the sidebars are helpful for learning how to dialogue and reflect with Scripture. 
  • It has nifty marking tabs and is a good complete Bible for an older school age child. 

Second option is a Common English Bible.  
  • This is one of the newest and most well regarded translations.  
  • It has been celebrated for both its translation accuracy and readability.  
  • A version crafted for older children is this one.  
    • I have only been able to look at the sidebars online; but they seem good.
If you haven't added at least one Bible to your children's bookshelf and bedtime reading then it is time to start.  Find a good Bible, spend time with it, and don't be afraid to meet questions with 'I don't know..who can we ask to learn more?'

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

X Factor A2: A Boy, A Bishop and Ubi Caritas

There is a cafe in my new home town.  It is perhaps the best espresso and certainly the closest to the rectory.  TBTG.  I want to share with you a few observations about the cafe.
  • This cafe is contemporary, it has those clean lines and deep neutral tones with bright accents that are so popular with upscale fast casual eateries.  
  • The offerings are artisanal and limited...fine pastries and gelatos/sorbets featuring local fruits, espresso and tea (and one wine and one beer).  
  • The location is in our notable downtown but off of the intoxicating main street.  Yet I am rarely the only guest.  
  • It is not child oriented (no highchairs, no playset); it is perhaps quite 'grown up'.  
  • There are almost always children there (well they do serve yummy sugary stuff, and there is a ballet studio above...but those are not the only reasons.) 
  • Even though I describe the space as grown up, 
      • And sometimes the seats are filled with the more mature,
      • And sometimes the seats are mostly emerging adults (college town).
      • Most often it is a mix of generations. 
      • Children seem perfectly 'at home' and nourished at this grown up and classy cafe.
Maybe you have seen the darling pictures of the young boy onstage with the Bishop of Rome.  Somewhere in that crowd there was probably a parent or a grandparent having a fit...but the boy was quite perfectly at home, and so to it seems, was the venerable Francis.  This moment was brought to you by the letter A: accessibility and attractiveness.
  • The boy was able to easily reach the stage (have security folks been told to 'welcome the children'?)
  • The boy felt drawn to the stage and the company of this pontiff.  
However, maybe some of you noticed who was not there.
  • This was the only child on the stage.  
  • The only child who made his way up to the dais at an event for families and young people.  
  • How many other children or teens saw the access and felt the call ....
  • But were held back by learned propriety, or, well meaning adults?
I have to imagine that people who choose to open a cafe do so out of a desire to feed people.  To share something amazing that meets a need or responds to a desire.  I hope and pray that people continue to be the church do so out of a desire to share Christ and the multitude of ways that life in God's reign can respond to needs and offer nourishment.

Accesibility and attractiveness.  Lets call them X factors A2.  Not Hollywood nonsense attractiveness or ADA accessibility (although that is really important) but instead: are folks drawn to the experience and can folks enter the experience? Across the generations; each as they need to enter, receive and share?  These are crucial factors for church and cafe alike.

A2 isn't just a question about a physical building or a people who are called there.  A2 is also in the digital cloud that surrounds us.  I returned a few weeks ago from a conference on 21st century digital formation networks.  One of the most important inspirations that John Roberto shared was the idea of church evolving:
  • from being connected via media (through the hard material of physical destinations and objects),
  • to being connected via media via media (connected through digital media through a physical 'server'). 
Long before this digital saturation 'effective' congregations have been doing this...being a physical center that thethers discipleship to the work of feeding, healing and reconcillation throughout the community.  A cafe for the work of the world.

Whether in the hard material of wood and bone, or the immaterial of digital media, churches focused on ministering with the whole people of God have several 'cafe' factors to consider.   Let's call both church and cafe 'C'.
  • Can folks of many generations access C: can people find C, enter C and be fed?  
  • Is C attractive: is it something that people are drawn to and welcomed into?
    • Even if they never stop in again??
  • Does C respond to a need or desire or is it performance art?
  • Does C have high or low barriers?  
  • Does C try to get to much milage from
    • Not offending anyone
    • Shocking everyone
    • 'Keeping up with the Jones''?
Whatever flavor C we are committed to, there is that very unfakeable X factor.  A genuine experience of deliciousness: the kind that makes our natural faults in access and attractiveness less important! There are cafes and experiences that are neither classically attractive nor accessible, but we scale the barriers because there is something so unusual or savory in the experience.  The long line outside the funky donut shop; the midnight journey to Graceland Too.

In my C (church) earnestly loving and welcoming young people and families should be so basic it doesn't need to be said.  It is sadly an X factor; however.... it only takes one to climb the dais!  There is a sort of sacramental quality: a mystery that motivates.  For my C we have an ancient Latin the phrase: ubi caritas.  It is that completely immaterial, but completely tangible flavor of living as Christ's compassion, hope and love.
  • What positive access/attractive factors (x factor a2) have you experienced outside of church/synagouge?
  • What about immaterial/tangible factors in cafes or elsewhere? 
    • Especially the kind of places that are very grown up?
  • What about x factor a2  in churches or other community 'server' organizations?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Awesome became a noun

The word awesome first appears in print in 1598 in England. Its meaning originally held a sense of amazement, possibly with fear and trembling.  If we fast forward to the 20th century and scoot across the pond to our fine shores, it came to mean anything praiseworthy.  Perhaps you think of an excellent wave for surfing, or a green light when you need it.  Perhaps a little voice inside your head tacks on the word 'dude.'  For those of you who like your language firm and unchanging I have some hard news.  Awesome is now also a noun. Awesome is an essence of helpfulness, service, and positivity.  Think of the 'kid president' urging us to ‘create something that will make the world more awesome.’ (I know that isn’t using awesome as a noun, but anyways).  In the 21st century you can be full of awesome.

In our parable today we have this awesome Pharisee. We know he is awesome because his sign tells us so. (A volunteer is holding a sign that says 'I am Awesome'.)  Just for a moment let us consider a common misunderstanding.  This Pharisee is not a storm trooper or a dementor.  He is a foil, but he is not a bad guy.  By the standards and letter of the law, he is very very good.  Praiseworthy.  Evoking awe and possibly fear.  Awesome. 

We need to be careful with how we approach this Pharisee.  The inter-family squabble of Gospel times could not predict the genocides that such portrayals might support.  We also must be careful because there is a lot of Pharisee in all of us.  We want to be honest and faithful, and we want to be safe and free from harm.  Are the motivations of a nameless Pharisee that different?  Is there anyway for us to know?  The motivation for safety and surety in this life and the next is very basic, normal and human.  Following the prescribed directives of the leaders we trust is also, a normal way of living.  We, like many of the biblical characters, protagonists and antagonists, we believe, or we want to believe, that if we color inside the lines all will be well.  It is a simple answer that may not be awesome enough (the fear and trembling type of awesome) for a just life. 

Our tax collector only complicates things further.  This a cardboard-cutout-outcast in an imperial uniform.  He could be an awful brutal fellow, or just a man trying to put food on the table.  Regardless, he is by all standards of Temple era Judaism, not awesome. Nothing in the commonly known traits of tax collectors suggests compassion or devotion to the common good.  Yet his character is so thin… that we know nothing about him. Maybe he was an awful man, and maybe at the end of the day he was overwhelmed with guilt.   Or maybe he was the best tax collector ever.  We don’t know.  We only know that he didn't shout about his goodness, he has no conviction of any personal awesomeness.  We only know that in this brief moment, he is full of humility and devotion.  As the amazing author says, what you think about a person may not be how they actually are. 

The Pharisee could be pretty darn awesome.  Except that his loud prayer declaring how awesome he is, sort of lets the air out of that notion.  It has been said that Francis of Assisi is the most admired and least followed saint.  So much so that some of the outrageousness of his ministry might resemble that notion.  (There is a lacking of humility in walking about town in your birthday suit and preaching to the animals). However, this confusion isn't reserved for the highly regarded; the tension between loud and soft, service and proclamation remains with most of us everyday.  We rarely have simple answers to complex questions such as righteousness and awesomeness.  However one of the most well known phrases from the Franciscan tradition may help us out of this awesome mess.  Proclaim the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words. 

The awesome part of awesome is not needing to shout about it. It is being awesome by thankfulness and generosity; compassion and steadfast service.  It is also using both your actions and your words (as needed) as agents of Christ’s love and compassion.  There once was a man who said such awesome things and did such awesome things that people followed him.  Go forth and do likewise. 

Children's Sermon (and then some)
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington
October 27, 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Swing and a Tree..a virtual life together

What part of our life as church is tree and what part is swing, or branch or leaf, or guest creature? 
This week I am at an ecumenical western Christian educators and youth workers event.  We are way on top of the Sierras, looking out over Lake Tahoe.  The speaker, leader, teacher mentor is John Roberto from Lifelong Faith Associates.  He is leading folks on a tree climb, inviting emergence from a gutenberg ministry to a digital and networked ministry.  There is a good deal of this that I already do casually. However it raises deep questions about what is tree and what is the neighborhood of the tree and what is the tree. 
Anyways...thinking about a blended model of fleshly and digital for my encouragement of faith and families in Walla Walla.

What digital resources and connectedness would help you grow in your feeling competent to practice baptismal living as a family? 
What incarnate ocasions should tie into this digital tree?
How do we then root it in the congregational life?

Made with #Pixlr # -

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Walla Walla Walk in the Rain

Today there are raindrops on roses, so here is a list of some of my favorite Walla Walla things (so far):
  • Drivers pause for folks crossing the street, even if you are not in a crosswalk!
  • Walla Walla Roastery pulls a world class espresso.
  • The book shop always seems to be playing Sci-fi and fantasy soundtracks.  Yes, yes.. I linger longer if the BSG soundtrack is playing.
  • The library is closer to my home than the taproom.
  • The Patisserie.  Eat melon sorbet with the farmer who grew the melons.  And drink true macchiatos.  It makes my hippie hipster heart smile.
  • Walks in the rain.  I might get to the point where rain no longer excites me.  Maybe.
  • Watching wine tourists.
  • Walking to fetch milk, or pillows, or furniture, or cash, or toys, or kitchenware, or baked goods, or...
  • The multitude of lovely old homes in stellar condition.  Some are for sale.
  • The many trees, of many kinds, some apparently champion.
  • Friendly, helpful people.  Not everyone of course, but many.
  • The young pianist at St. Paul's who plays not-churchy postludes.
  • The abundance of people on foot and bicycle.
  • The wind turbines.
  • A few emails led to more canned craft beer on the grocery shelves. Go team beer!
  • Learning about wine making, wheat and garbanzo harvests.
What are your favorite things about where you live?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Communion out of Time: Nick and Lucy 2012

Traditions have to start somewhere.  A tradition is a habit that you cannot remember living without.  It may have begun last year, but now, it is a tradition.  You won’t find a Celebration of Nick and Lucy anywhere else. Tradition’s have to start somewhere! Today we celebrate and welcome Nicholas of Myra and Lucia of Syracuse: Nick and Lucy.  (For readers who were not in attendance: we had our guest ‘celebrities’ in the liturgy.  Nick in miter (even though that is very inaccurate historically) and Lucy in a crown of electric candles.  Thanks to Shannon and Stephen for their willingness to play along!) Nick and Lucy lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries, both along the shores of the Mediterranean sea. He in modern day Turkey and she on the island you and I know as Sicily. As far as we know they never met; at least not on this side of eternal rest. Nick and Lucy sounds like the title of a children’s book. Two unlikely friends and their holy adventures in late antiquity!  Rescue sailors, aid the poor! Defy common sense by wearing lit candles on top of your head!

A Celebration of Nick and Lucy is my own innovation, no wait, tradition. And I must admit that it began in the middle of one of my ‘bah humbug’ phases. Not a ‘bah humbug’ out of Scrooge like coldness, or because of personal loss.  No, it was a bout of that December fundamentalism that strikes some of us from time to time.  Where I want to divide and conquer, where I am so appalled by some of the habits of the modern holiday season, that I that I want to take the season back. As if a season were the claim of any particular group.  Truth is that winter solstice celebrations are nearly universal across cultures and time. It is cold and dark.  Let’s get together and have a party; ‘because if you really hold me tight, all the way home I will be warm.’

So it was for our ancestors in faith who saw the parallels between the Good News and the passage of this island home around the sun. They started a tradition, they bonded the anticipation of the birth of Christ to the winter solstice. It is striking, and pragmatic.  In my ‘bah humbug’ moments I have to be reminded that divide and conquer is not the example to borrow.  We have two gifts in these overlapping festivals.  First an opportunity to proclaim Good News while hearts are warm to the radical notion of God born in human flesh, in poverty, to a young mother under the thumb of empire.  Second, is a chance to face unafraid the injustice we have made.  Advent is a bumper sticker that says ‘Jesus is coming.  Be Busy.’ The Lord is approaching, and we are supposed to be listening for God’s way to make a new path before it is too late.

A few years ago I introduced Nick and Lucy, made them friends. I invited them to dinner, filled it with music and frivolity and all the winter wonderland the Advent police will allow.  We invite friends and strangers into a memory. We offer all ages an encounter with two saints in linen, two saints who were ordinary people, who heard Jesus say to heal the sick, and feed the hungry, and they did it.  With Nick and Lucy we re-member the life, death and resurrection of God-with-us, we re-imagine it through hospitality and table fellowship in a community of believers. It is a communion of saints in thought, word and deed.

The historical record for Lucia is thin, and rather contradictory. The historical record for Nicholas is thicker, he was after all, a bishop.  However, his legend is also contradictory, and if you include the latter-day appearances attributed to him, well his story is rather mystifying.  By the way, our guests transported via Tardis time machine know nothing beyond their 4th-century lives, and much less do they know of any rumors of Nordic immigrations.

So why do I, and therefore we, offer this fresh tradition of Nick and Lucy? Why bring together two esteemed saints who each have their own days of remembrance? To begin they share so much, both Nicholas and Lucy are remembered for going above and beyond the call of Christian duty.  I will admit that it offers a wonderful gender and ministry balance: male and female, lay and ordained.  However, here is the best reason why. It is because Lucy’s simple story shines light on the life and ministry of Nicholas.  Her story gives back to him his flesh, his heart, his bones.  She gives to Nick his true self, his ordinary, Christ-like humility.  He was after all a servant who did prepare in the desert a highway for the reign of God. And it is his grand presence - both earned and embellished – Nick’s larger than life persona can raise Lucy up, bring her witness into our sights, it can raise the volume of her gentle service with sleigh bells in the snow.  Bringing them together, and bringing them here, we remind all ages that the communion of saints isn’t a once a year remembrance.  The communion of saint’s means that Lucia and Nicholas and hundreds and thousands more walk with us when we seek to do Jesus’ will. 

I am not going to tell you their story, Nick and Lucy are here from out of time to do that themselves at the celebration that follows.  What I will tell you is that they are gospel in a nutshell, they are the good news made plain in life and blood.  Our friends Nick and Lucy are embodiments of what the author of the gospel of Luke does so well: to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in word and action; and to do so clearly and simply, again and again. Salvation, alignment with peace and justice and the blessing of the creator of the universe: this gift is for all.  It is made real by following Christ out into the world.  Our Lucan gospel today assumes that you know that this is what is meant by paths made straight and lofty hills made low. Chapter by chapter Luke shows us again and again what the good news is and our role in it.  Because what if this was the only chapter you heard?  What if the only gospel you ever encountered was in the life of Christ’s followers?

We are ordinary men and women.  Most of us, like our friends Nick and Lucy, are blessed with a multitude of privileges.  And like Nick and Lucy we are ordinary people who are drawn into Christ’s presence, who have chosen to follow him for reasons we may not be able to name.  I invite you to find yourself in their story, fill in the gaps with your own passions, fill your heart with their courage, believe that your faithfulness to Christ need not restrained by anything, not even gravity or common sense.

Be Nick.  Be Lucy.  Go out into the world and make the rough places smooth and the crooked roads straight.  I offer you a simple phrase, for all from 1 to 102.  It has been said many times, and in many ways. Be Lucy.  Be Nick.  Let the tradition begin with you.

Communion with Saints
December 9, 2012
Cathedral of St. John, ABQ
Advent 2B + Lessons borrowed from Nicholas and Lucia Feast Days