Monday, January 30, 2006

Song of Songs for Kids? Wrestling 5

There's more. (You might be less confused if you read these 5 posts in order.)

If you look on the web for [Sunday School children Song of Songs], there isn't much there. I did find a Rabbi's translation from the Hebrew which puts Song of Songs doubtlessly back in that sensual category, which left me rethinking yet again whether we should do the simple story with kids or not.

If becoming like children in our faith means receiving the kingdom and maturing in Christ, then we have much to learn from children and how they receive and perceive God, His Word, all that's revealed about Him through His creation. They won't see what we see. And of course, you could always take the more explicit parts out...

Though I really want to see how the kids process the story (G-rated and simply told, not interpreted), it violates something in me to water down the scriptures, change them, or take things out. It seems a mis-handling of the Word which would defeat the purpose of presenting the story, and letting the scriptures speak. . . sigh. . .

I may have to settle for "God made me, God loves me," using all of our senses, looking for words to describe what we see, hear, taste, smell, touch. Those are the words that Solomon used to describe his love and that of his beloved. It would be a good lead-in to Lisa's prayer stations and worship the following Sunday- when they'll learn lots of ways to pray and speak to God of their love for Him.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made, created with a huge multi-sensory capacity for love and communication. In whatever ways we interact with His word and wrestle with His stories His Word will accomplish all that He sends it to accomplish. Still wrestling!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Song of Songs for Kids? Wrestling. . .4

As I read this story over and over, envision different ways to tell it to children, listened to it on tape NIV and try to see and hear it as a child would, a number of things jumped out at me that surprised me.

What surprised me most, is the focus on visual beauty. Isn't our American culture's obsession with visual imagery and outward appearance something that Christians tend to downplay? Samuel at David's annointing? Women adorning themselves with a quiet gentle spirit? So what's with Solomon's obsession with physical beauty? If it were just lust it wouldn't be included in the sacred scriptures, would it? Maybe it's Solomon's acute power of observation, his skillfull ability to capture sensory images with words. Or the beauty of God's creation as seen in man, woman, and the outdoors.

As a writer/creator why did Solomon take the Shulamite's point of view? Was it real? Was it imaginary? Either way, to write about someone loving him like that, does he have not only David's creative gifts but his ego, too?

How is it that in the beginning, the brothers were giving her work in the vineyard, she becomes obsessed with Solomon and at the end these same brothers have a little sister, not spoken for yet... is this a different sister or the same sister? Is she just romanticizing? Is she pretending? Is it not yet time for Israel to stir up or awaken love and become the Bride?

Our fearless pastors have done a lot more research than I have. You can follow the series at the Artisan Church website.

Song of Songs for Kids? Wrestling. . .3

Is Song of Songs, in its simplest form, a children's story? Cinderella is. Snow White is. Why not Song of Songs? Song of Songs was the greatest of King Solomon's songs. It's a story song. Kids relate to story songs. It's about a king and a peasant girl and romance that leads to marriage.

Without ever touching the elements of the story that will wait until kids are older, Song of Songs is amazingly full of real concrete images that adults find so elusive when talking with children (sights, sounds, taste, smell). - some of them Middle Eastern sensory experiences that adult westerners haven't even experienced first hand. (the smell of a Henna blossom)

It's full of "outdoors" imagery. Preschoolers love animals. They visit apple orchards and pick apples. Preschoolers learn body parts. They do sensory- identification and sensory memory activites learning to identify, use, and remember objects using their 5 senses . They learn about siblings and friendship. There's a focus in the story on love leading to marriage. There are lots of potential angles.

We can come at it from any of these angles, so why am I still wrestling?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Song of Songs for Kids? Wrestling . . . 2

How do we use the time when kids are included in worship? We've tried to focus on the most kid-friendly verses that capture the heart of the message and design a kid's talk and activity sheet around that.

How do we use the time when they have their own time? Should we do something totally un-Song of Songs with this time? We can talk about how "God made me special and He loves me." That's not out of character with the story. Should we tell the Biblical story from Song of Songs in a kid friendly way and let the kids interact with the story? Song of Songs uses all five senses to observe and describe. Should we set up stations to use our eyes, ears, nose, fingers, tongue to identify, describe, or remember (What are you touching in the bag? Which item did I take away? What's that sound? What's that smell? What's that taste?) Should we talk about Jesus? Love? Marriage? What about preschoolers who have been through stormy family times? The old song, "His Banner Over Me is Love" hits all the simple kid-friendly elements, right? Jesus loves me.

So instead of wondering how we could justify R-rated Sunday messages (and they aren't R just PG 13) I began to ponder Song of Songs in the NIrV as a story not just for adults, but for children. Here's an opportunity to tell the story and let the kids respond to the story in it's simplest form. A chance to just let the story and the scriptures speak to them.

But because of the nature of the story, this is ground to tread carefully lest we stir up or awaken something before its time. On the other hand, it may be just as wrong to avoid the story and take the easy way out. Will the Song of Solomon stand as a story in it's simplest form and if so, is it child-friendly? I'm wrestling with this.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Song of Songs for Kids? Wrestling. . . 1

I took one long post about working through Song of Songs for kids and divided it into 5 short ones. I've been sitting on it trying to decide whether or not to post. It does perhaps capture one dilemna if you want to include kids in worship every Sunday. Appropriateness of the message for children.

Since Quest and Capax Dei became Artisan Church we've tried to "translate" (for lack of a better word) the text or theme of the adult message into something for kids. As our pastors are pursuing Song of Songs as text for adults during this traditional pre Valentines Day season, the kids will stay in service most Sundays but have a separate time of their own on two of the Sundays.

One of the primary goals at Artisan and for this particular series is to "engage culture." We're engaging, or perhaps challenging, a western culture that embraces the message that love is synonomous with sex - a culture full of sexual/sensual imagery. We are challenging a sensual western culture with God's take on this as expressed through Song of Songs. Many (maybe most) of our congregation are young marrieds and college students in that transitional time when relationships take on new, and potentially permanent, dimensions. (You wouldn't believe what a series like "Sex, Love & God" has done for church attendance, LOL!! Not families with children, however.)

Song of Songs, "the greatest of songs", is included as a part of God's Word. God created us - every facet of our being. He created men and women to marry and enjoy one another. This conflict, this engaging of cultures is significant. It permeates the culture around us from TV to fashion, even children's fashion, but how do we translate this for children?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Tentative: New Community Center

I was going to email my pastors about this but decided to blog instead: for anyone lurking and living in a city.

Last night two teens I know represented a local YMCA teen center at a meeting about opening a new community center in a building owned by the ME church close to Artisan. The church is doing this in memory of kids that have been recently killed in Rochester, one of whom attended their church. They’re trying to involve the neighborhood, and the greater community, not just their own church. They’re hoping to create a safe place where teens and their adults can do things together. There are community centers around the city but this idea, thought originating in a church seems to be generating support from many sectors and might possibly be a faith-based program - not sure.

Those who are interested in this project seem to be crossing religious, socio-economic and racial lines. One of the many people attending last night was a friend of ours who goes to an Episcopalian church in another part of town. Her daughter went to school with one of the students who was killed. I didn’t find out about this until yesterday late afternoon and didn’t realize the scope until I picked the kids up. They're really excited about helping out!

For all the times urban and suburban churches try to start programs for the city, there are lots of organizations with experienced people "living in the neighborhood" and already running programs that have been operating for years. Many are successful. Getting involved in what other people are doing means your church isn't putting out $ or people resources to start something new, gives you an opportunity to learn from the experts and opens opportunities to cross paths and grow relationships with people you might otherwise never meet. It's a wonderful opportunity to love people! It's time you're not "in church" but remember Jesus in the market place.

Swim lessons in city pools are free in the summer to city residents and some of the classes in some of the pools are small. Southside Little League (started by the St. Boniface Men’s Club) and Eastside Little League (also supported by a lot of Catholic families) always need coaches. I think Southside is back in operation. City schools, Y's, community centers are always looking for volunteers. You might need a background check but that's ok.

When the kids were little we ended up doing more city sponsored or city located activities with our kids and less with our homeschool group or church-sponsored mid-week activities. Leaves your life a little fragmented as far as relationships go, unless you’re doing activities with some of the same people, but you meet so many different people in a supervised situation, as a parent you can hang around and see what's going on, and your family has a positive impact on the city. This is a city of people who respect people who serve, and especially people serving and advocating for children.

This particular situation opening so close to Trinity might be a great place for any one from Artisan who's interested to get involved and it would probably mean all kinds of networking possibilities and potential friendships. I don’t know much about this yet, but if you want to know more as I find out more let me know!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Imagery and Comic Book Novels

This was interesting because we were just talking about images.

I get a regular snail mail newsletter from the Institute of Children's Literature. It focuses on marketing for children's writers with other commentaries. This time my puppies got hold of it before I did. . . sigh . . .

The one article that survived was by Patricia Curtis Pfitsch.* It's about graphic novels. In this context we're talking about graphic novels as stories formatted like comic books and bound like novels - G rated or better. Some graphic novels are X rated and above. That's not what we're talking about. Ms. Pfitsch made some interesting comments about visual story images that I thought rather profound.

Alot of people think of comic book style novels as evidence of society's decay but a librarian from the Children's Cooperative Book Center in Madison WI. named Rudiger (puppies chewed the first name, sorry) says "...sequential art - the communication of story in a series of pictures" has been around literally for ages probably for an audience of all ages. She cited cave paintings, but the stained glass windows in the old cathedrals are another example of images created to communicate story to non-readers.

When a child is struggling to read, almost anything that makes a child read is good news but Ms. Pfitsch says that the potential value of this form of visual story imagery is even greater. She says that reading the story in this format helps kids learn to interpret symbols, connect images, pick up subtle visual nuances and irony, and "see" voice. She says that reading this kind of book actually requires more interpretation and thought from the reader. The reader won't get everything from the text. The reader has to read the pictures and see all the visual clues. If I understand correctly, one of the values of iconography is the opportunity to visually tune in to visual details that illustrate qualities that make godly heros/heroines Christ-like. I'm sensing that, oddly, there's a similarity here.

Pfitsch says that to craft books like this requires an ability to create place, story, character, plot using only limited dialogue and visual imagery. I expect that the value of a book vs movie or TV is the opportunity to really study an image and all that the details tell you.

This, I believe, is her reason for writing about this: " our increasingly visual world, we're constantly bombarded by images. She says that those of us with the skills to interpret those images can better make judgements concerning content" ie. learning to "see" what an advertisement is really saying. She believes that examining and discussing images and story through these comic book novels with our children will help to better "innoculate" them (and us) against the unspoken messages our culture sends." Interesting? I think what she's saying is that we can use these materials to help children "see" beyond the hype, beyond the obvious. Can we find the same level of visual story detail in classical artwork or other visual images? I don't know graphic novel illustration or art well enough to tell you, but I think learning to "see" or "hear" what the cultural images around us are saying and what they aren't saying is important.

I just saw this today so I haven't thought through all the implications but I'm guessing that Ms. Pfitsch's insights are culturally significant for upcoming generations, parents, and teachers. You may not want anything to do with comic books or graphic novels but you might find it interesting to look at detailed pictures together and look at different styles. Ask, "What is it saying?" "What is it not saying?" You might be surprised.

*I couldn't find a website.This is one of two ICL interviews with her about writing another link

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Simple and Profound

I only write down things that surprise me, as opposed to all the good stuff. Sad, isn't it. But we don't always know what things affect our children especially before they can talk.

When my kids were little we didn't really focus on rules and commands. We basically went through the Bible reading the stories, partly for the details (and the stories) they wouldn't get in Sunday school - Job, Caleb and Joshua, David and his Mighty Men.

When my son was around 7 or 8, he was into GI Joes. One day he was sitting in a chair in the living room playing and I asked him if he wanted to be a soldier someday and he looked up at me dead serious and said,

"Mom you forgot something."

I looked at him. What did I forget?

He said. "Thou shalt not kill."

And there was nothing more to say.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Journaling spiritual journeys

The things I was observing during worship could happen at home or in a nursery class. Some people are into scrapbooking and journaling. (I try to write down the things God does.)

Consider journaling the little ways you see your kids encounter God, ways they love people, the times they interact with the world and remember Jesus or a passage of scripture. The date - the child- a sentence here, a sentence there. A kid size spiritual journal or maybe just a memory box. You might want to leave fill-in pages for them to fill in their own memories some day.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Sunday with Samuel

is the place to hear last week's story about the wisemen and see the surprise at the end that I blogged about a week ago. No fair starting at the end.

The time for the kids during worhip yesterday was mostly a reenactment of Samuel's Story. [3 cheers for the Story!] Lots of sleeping mats, a voice on a hidden microphone calling someone's name, a child left and came back with a message. It didn't go quite as planned but nothing catastrophic.

A couple of fun things happened in our couch barricaded foyer. We have 4 regulars: 13 months, 18 months, 2, and 3 1/2. If I have the ages wrong, sorry.

C is learning how to cut and he likes puzzles (alot!) . Cutting a coloring picture of the story in strips makes a perfect puzzle.

Toddlers playing with a doll and a blanket and putting it to sleep may not seem like a tie-in to Samuel because it's so everyday but being put to bed, being spoken to and comforted at night, are elements that are very real to a baby. And they are very real elements to the story.

One of the moms was coloring pictures to cut and paste (a boy, a boy sleeping, an old man waking) with her toddler and he's learning to say new words. I heard him say "nap" and I don't think mom prompted him. His word prompted her to tell him the story. So interesting. We really haven't been expecting anything from bringing toddlers and babies to worship. But something really is happening.

I first began to hear about worship language and vocabulary and faith language when I was talking with Barbara Pettit at Pasadena Covenant about Young Children in Worship and we ended up talking about their mult-generational services. Since then, language seems to be everywhere I open a book, no awkward pun intended. But "nap" and Samuel's story is a very real connection for a toddler. The story of Samuel and putting a doll to sleep is a real connection when you're one or two years old. What are the chances that when a child takes a nap or lays down to sleep at night he or she will think about the story of Samuel? They can't really tell us but the seeds are planted.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


My daughter called tonight from S. Carolina. She's there with some folks from her college working on a Habitat for Humanity project. She was excited about their fund-raiser. She said they went to a church. Restaurants donated soup. Stores and artisans donated bowls. People paid for a bowl and they got to taste lots of different soups and the proceeds went to Habitat.

When I flew to Dulles Va. to meet my husband for the weekend some kids (ok. college aged "kids") were talking about their church youth groups and what they did for Thanksgiving. One said they baked pies and sold them. He said it was really cool.

The other said that she and her family and about 200 people from her church went grocery shopping together and filled the grocery store! Each family took a Thanksgiving dinners to needy families. It was really meaningful to them!

One of the recent Group Publishing catalogues has a book of service activities for Preschoolers but I didn't find it on the website. . . so no link!

What do you think have been your most meaningful service activities?

Religious Images Around the House

Some of you Artisan readers might find JadedCM's January 08, 2006 blog interesting. I found the comments people added about images in their homes growing up especially interesting.

It made me reflect alittle. My parents and grandparents were very Protestant: Presbyterian from Reformed, Lutheran and Methodist backgrounds and very involved in their churches. They had almost no religious images around the house that I remember. I don't remember any artwork to speak of in our home or my grandparents' homes besides a rather dark oil painting my uncle did and a nice watercolor that he painted of our farm. My grandparents had huge intimidating portraits of my great - grandparents staring down at us and an small old family photo of their children. One grandmother framed a magazine portrait of a little girl. My other grandmother had a similar framed magazine picture of a Victorian mother carrying a baby up the stairs, both in old guilded frames. They're hanging on our stairway. One grandfather had one of his trophy deers mounted. We used the hoofs to hang hats and coats on. A hand embroidered sampler of the "Guest's Prayer" hung over the guest bed.

When George's folks passed away (they were artists from Manhattan and a bit Bohemian) he brought home alot of their work. His mom was Russian Orthodox turned Episcopalian. She went off to NYC by herself as a young adult, loved deep sea fishing, loved our kids and the kids she taught and at some point was pretty involved at her church. We have at least one Russian Orthodox icon -type picture from her mom's. His dad grew up Lutheran turned agnostic, I think. He didn't think of himself as religious at all.

The thing of it is, when we hung their artwork we were both facinated by all the religious imagery. So now my house is filled (a couple of my kids would say "cluttered") with a fair amount of religious artwork! (Not all of it's G-rated either...)

I was thrilled to find a tile of Christ the shepherd with a lamb in his arms that Grandma made and tucked away. I like the face. Haven't hung it up, yet.

My kids will remember renovation, lath, drywall dust and the smell of paint but I wonder what my grandchildren will remember?

If you grew up in a Christian home (or not), what do you remember about the artwork and other things hanging around your house? How did they influence you?

Websites for Some of the Writers We've Been Talking About

If you want to find out more about any of these authors or their work, here's a website for each. They don't all have websites but most are either affiliated with an institution or they've written books. :) I apoligize that some of these are ads but the descriptions of the books may tell you a little about the author. I'll try to remember to do this for the other people I read. Enjoy!

Eugene C. Roehlkepartain
Elizabeth J. Sandell
Wendy Haight

Rebecca Nye

Shelley Campagnola makes some comments in this article about children's ministries in Canada.

Klaus Issler
Jerome Berryman

This is the site that came up for Carolyn Brown that seemed most useful to us.

George A. F. Knight
Walter Wangerin Jr.
Karen Marie Yust
Ivy Beckwith
Katherine Paterson

The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is also an interesting resource.

How is it I keep finding things I wasn't looking for?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Spirituality (Roehlkepartain)

Some quotes from Eugene C. Roehlkepartain*

"Spirituality is like the wind - Though it might be experienced, observed and described, it cannot be 'captured'- we delude ourselves to think otherwise, either in the design of research or in analytical conclusion. (Children's Spirituality p 121)

". . . there is an intrinsic human capacity for spirituality, or transcendence of self toward 'something greater.' " (Children's Spirituality p. 122)

He says that
- "Spiritual development introduces questions about the nature of spiritual change, transformation, growth, or maturation as well as life phases and stages."
- "...spiritual development is imbedded in relationships and experiences, with family as well as peers and adults in neighborhoods, schools, congregations, and other settings. Thus, spirituality is not only an individual quest, but also a communal experience and phenomenon." (Children's Spirituality, p. 124)
- the theology of the church is adult-centered, not child-centered. (Children's Spirituality p. 126)

*Eugene C. Roehlkepartain is senior advisor to the president of the Search Institute and author of The Teaching Church (1993)

weather facts

61 degrees on January 13th in Upstate NY? Nice!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Questioning Religious Traditions

Back to Children's Spirituality. Roehlkepartain is compiling a book that will ask 6 questions of the world's major religious traditions. The intention of the questions and the book, I believe, is to open dialogue between faith traditions, to find common ground, to learn from one another.

These are his questions (Children's Spirituality p. 126). I've changed "a given tradition" or "a tradition" to "my religious tradition".

How does my religious tradition view children and adolescents? What role do they play in my tradition?

How does my religious tradition understand the process of spirituality? How does it change over the first 10 years of life? the second 10 years of life?

What rituals, practices, and celebrations within my religious tradition nurture the inner spiritual lives of children and adolescents?

To whom does my religious tradition assign responsibility for nurturing religious spirituality?

How does my religious tradition view the major social, political, and cultural forces that influence young people's spirituality?

It will probably be interesting to see how different faiths compare, especially Christianity and Judaism. But I'm left wondering if we substitute "the scriptures" for "religious tradition" would our answers be the same?

Eli and the boy Samuel

I'll keep reading Children's Spirituality and blogging about it but I seem to have lost most of my readers. LOL! Either they're still recovering from the holidays or this is boring. :-)

This is something else I've wanted to do with the blog - to take scriptures about kids and make observations and see what the Holy Spirit will reveal. Something I love about the Word, no matter how often I read a passage, there's always more to see.

I revisited the story of God calling Samuel (NIrV) this morning. Having recently read about African-American communities encouraging spirituality in their children, the differences over decision and journey (though I don't know that those are mutually exclusive), the importance of relationships in ministering to children, some things jump out at me. Here are some things to ponder. Just observations.

Samuel is given into Eli's charge but God is going to judge the man for the way he raised his own sons. It appears that he was too lenient. He let them mock God. He didn't stop them. Yet we've been taught that Samuel came to Eli as an obedient child. Eli hadn't trained his own sons to be obedient children, so I wonder if Samuel came to Eli more out of relationship than out of obedience.

vs. 7 "Samuel didn't know the Lord yet. That's because the Lord still hadn't given him a message." I wonder if teaching children to "hear" God (to listen for Him and to respond to His words) is crucial to their knowing Him and growing in faith.

vs 18 "So Samuel told him everything. He didn't hide anything from him." I wonder if it was training that made him do this or whether it was relational. I wonder. Maybe there is no either/or.

When Samuel came to Eli hearing voices and Eli sent him back to listen again and to respond to the Lord, Eli was taking a chance. It turned out that Samuel came back with something Eli probably didn't want to hear. Maybe it was something he already knew, he was a priest. Yet Eli received God's message from the child saying, "He is the Lord. Let him do what he thinks is best. " vs. 18

Then the scriptures say, vs 19 - 20 "As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him. He made everything Samuel said come true." I wonder. . . what if Eli hadn't taken the boy seriously. What if Eli hadn't listened?

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Surprise!

Yesterday was the Sunday to talk about the 3 wise men.

Saturday we had an interesting meeting about what was working and what wasn't. I found this interesting and it was a problem. When the older kids come back into the foyer to play, the younger preschoolers are usually still very engaged in the story activity they were doing with their parent and the migration disrupts their worship. But the younger elementary kids need to get up and move. (Our services run about an hour and a half.)

We've made a deliberate effort to keep most toys out of the foyer worship space so it stays a worship space and not a nursery/play space.

I've not yet read the materials about Godly Play but we did this. We brought in a big sheet full of stuff tied up with a bow with a spangly star on a stick sticking out and put it in the corner of the foyer to save for the sanctuary migration. I had at least one curious young lady teasing me to open it from the moment she saw me walk through the door but I insisted it was a surprise for later.

This week when our kids migrated from the sanctuary our preschoolers were done and we openned the bag. We had dress up clothes so they could dress up like wise men, gold ribbon to tie around their heads like crowns. Someone carried the star on the stick. They ran their hands through the box of sand and turned the sheet into a tent. We never got to the gifts or the baby in the cow's food bowl...they were off and running. And they were ready to head right back into the sanctuary. :)

I watched kids light up. I watched their parents light up. I even think the people in the sanctuary lit up and it was cool! Very cool! I think they were engaged!

What's happening at Artisan?

There are photos and interesting things on the Artisan website. We've been including all the kids in service every Sunday since the middle of the summer.

We have

-a food table in the back of the room available for anyone at anytime during service

-an overhead with visuals and candles and different decorating elements each week

-signage with simple ways to include your child in worship

-rhythm instruments available during congregation singing and room for kids to move within arms length of their parents

-we've arranged the chairs and 2 couches in the foyer outside the sanctuary doors to make an enclosure for toddlers and young preschoolers with parents and helpers. There are small tables, chairs from the nursery, and art materials in an old TV cabinet on wheels. Parents bring their own toys. Our hope is to tell people next week's scripture/theme so parents can bring playthings that tie into worship.

-a time when kids come up front for a kid friendly tie in to the theme.

-a craft table with handout: one focus verse, a pre-school, younger, and older elementary school activity suggestion, something to do over the course of the week. Kids also have the freedom to just use the materials in a creative way to respond to the message.

-this week we introduced a surprise.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Research, Science, and Children's ministry

I've been sitting on this one.

Scientists observe.
I think of science as observing what God has created. Sometimes scientists affirm what we already know. They see the same things we see.

Sometimes they discover new things.
They see things that we didn't know were there, maybe because they have tools (microscopes, telescopes, labs) that we don't have. Maybe only because we're not looking. Maybe we're distracted by things that are more important to us. Or maybe we're looking in the wrong places.

Sometimes the things scholars and scientists see aren't really new. They've been there all along. But no one thought they were important.

Sometimes scientists talk about things we think we know but we begin to develop language that enables us to share what we know in a way that benefits others.

I think research is probably most helpful when it helps us see that what we're doing (or not doing) would benefit children more if we turn this way or that way. Or maybe we should spend more time on this and a little less time on that. Or it appears that these things over here may be more important than we thought.
Scientists will tell you that research can be manipulated but even so, someone invested a lot of time to make a point.

In our denomination Children's Ministry stands under the umbrella of Christian formation. That makes sense to me. I guess it surprised me that in the wider church, recognizing a child's inherent spirituality is such a hard thing. It surprised me that Christian social scientists had to prove that spirituality is a facet of childhood and it's important. It surprised me that many in Children's Ministry think about Children's Ministry without thinking about the spirit of a child, spiritual formation, how things affect children, how children interact differently with their world at different ages and that they respond differently than adults do. I don't know why it surprised me but it did. Maybe because I'm new at this.

Science and faith conflict because faith is evidence of what we can't see, observe and measure. Science focuses on what we can see. Science has a tendancy to answer and explain. Faith is content to be awestruck by the mysteries of God. Maybe spirituality falls in that between land or maybe it's really at the heart of life in such a way that neither science nor faith adequately explain.

I think we can take comfort from the fact that even if we turn to science for certain answers (
observing what God has created), that all the things His hands have made will ultimately point us back to Him. Could God show us the same things if we faithfully searched the scriptures? I expect so.

If we need research to confirm our choices, at Artisan in particular, I think we're headed in the right direction.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Another book

Here's another book for your resource list: Including Children In Worship: A Planning Guide for Congregations by Elizabeth J. Sandell, Published by Augsburgh Fortress 1991 Minneapolis MN.

It's only 80 pages. It's very user friendly! You can use it to examine your thinking, implement ideas to include children in worship, and it works as a small group study guide. It's especially useful as a guide for Worship Committees but there's alot in here for parents, Christian educators and church leadership. She includes practical, creative ideas, a nice bibliography, and lots of questions. :)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Social - cultural context pt. 2

Remember that in each chapter of Children's Spirituality there's more treasure to be had than just the things I'm blogging about.

"...[C]hildren's religious beliefs affect and are affected by their families, religious background and other aspects of the sociocultural context...These conceptualizations of children's spiritual development as profoundly social are consistent with recent sociocultural theory and research in developmental psychology, which emphasizes that children are born into relationships, families, and communities that shape and are shaped by his/her development." (CS p. 110) . Sometimes "social" in worship or religious ed is considered disruptive. How can we make this work for us, not against us?

Children are also born into a cultural, "social, and historical context" (CS p. 111) She says that "religion and spirituality may illuminate the mysterious quality of 'resilience (Garmezy, 1985)" Historically, African-American faith has made them a "resilient" people, a people "able to find meaning in their lives even in the face of extraordinary hardship." Other people groups are also wonderful examples of this. (CS p. 109) What is the historic/cultural/social context that your children have been born into? Why is it significant?

She concludes saying "Even in early childhood, youngsters combine fragments of stories and images given by their cultures into their own interpretations of God and the sacred. The question of how children develop their spirituality 'in conversation' with others - both adults and children, during everyday routines and special activies deserves serious consideration from Christian educators, parents, and scholars." (CS p. 117) Another intriguing question. Remember that passage in Deuteronomy "as you rise up and as you sit down and as you walk along the way" ?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Social - cultural context pt. 1

Dividing these just makes them shorter. I don't get a whole lot of comments on epic posts but blogging is helping me wade through this book ...

Wendy Haight* is specifically focusing on the affects of social - cultural context on children's spirituality - another rope pulling to hold the tent up (not the best metaphor perhaps but until I can think of a better one…)

Studies show that spirituality, even in children, is something that is highly valued in African- American faith communities. Children are encouraged to share their personal spiritual experiences and adults affirm to their children that these are significant and very real. (CS p. 114) Think of a time when a child shared with you a very real, very personal spiritual experience? Did it sound childish or impossible? How did you respond?

Haight describes "positive, stimulating, and rich socialization practices within an African American Baptist Church. These practices include verbal narratives, play, song, prayer and call-and-response routines to which children actively contribute: elaborating, questioning and exploring issues of spirituality with teachers and peers in an emotionally supportive setting." (CS. p 109) The last sentence here is intriguing.

Although there are exceptions, contrasting this to European - American church cultures that they studied, "Interactions between adults and children are characterized as highly structured and adult-centered with a one-way flow of communication from adult to child. Children are discouraged from questioning, speculating or extending presented material." (CS p. 109) The last sentence here is also intriguing. How can we encourage rather than discourage "questioning, speculating, or extending presented material," not to distract us from the text but to pull us deeper?

*Wendy Haight is the PhD program director at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in the School of Social Work. She's written a number of books, journal articles, and book chapters.

Winds of Change pt. 3

Rebecca Nye's research suggests that children have an even greater capacity to ask questions and let the scriptures affect them than adults. She suggests that children have a greater capacity to question categories and play with language until they become personally meaningful. (CS p 98)

She suggests that it's important to the spiritual development of children that they be allowed opportunities for the "data of powerful story, action and symbol [to] pull them about."

She asks, how do we enable children to engage and interact with the strange contradictions that we find "at the heart of faith"? Can we equip new generations to go after God this way and love it? (CS p. 98)

Is this important? If so, how do we do it? This is not the same as having someone tell you how to think and how to believe. It's not the same as someone giving you the answers. I believe she's talking about encouraging our children to actually interact with God's stories and His words and wrestle them.

There's an implication here that not questioning our religious language and our religious boxes breeds complacency. The implication is that this kind of wrestling, having personal faith experiences, and being able to put them into words or pictures is critical to our making faith our own and maturing in faith.

We want our children to make faith their own but to think about giving them room to wrestle with God and His stories and His words is a scary thing and not without risks. The thought of just listening without always telling them that this is the answer, just accept it so you don't have to wrestle with God is like breaking the shell open for an emerging chick.

She says that our questioning and engaging God's story and letting it interrogate us helps us grow and mature in our faith. (CS p. 98) The same being true of children.

If I understand her right, she says that modern education, science in particular - western culture in general, teaches us to ask questions. Yet when we approach the scriptures asking questions, the faith community immediately goes on the defensive. The guided-discovery approach to education and hands-on learning are ways that the educational community uses to help children make learning personally meaningful. That kind of learning generally involves the whole child. Asking our own questions is a way that learning becomes personal.

She says that when a child comes asking questions and finds "problems" with something like a miracle story in scripture, children come with stronger emotional tools. Adults come with complex counter-arguments pulling rank with intellectual explanations. As we play this game of superiority, an adult's more powerful intellectual tools undermine the emotional and intellectual tools of a child. Nye says that this "interaction with children [is] perversely unrepresentative of Christian spirituality. . ." (CS p. 99) The more powerful overpowering the weak.

She says that we need to recognize that when a child comes asking hard questions it means that God's story is affecting them! Shouldn't we be excited about that? What if, instead of giving them intellectual answers and explanations, we encourage them to ask questions and wrestle, and let the scriptures make them uncomfortable? "It's wonderful that the Word is affecting you like this!" and another day, "Do you have anymore thoughts about that?" She says that perhaps we need to communicate to them that wrestling with their questions is what really matters, not just knowing the right answers. I would go alittle farther to ask if allowing children to seek God, or go after God matters more than giving children (or adults) the "right" answers (CS p. 99) but that's pretty radical.

She says that, "placing the focus on how the data has affected the child in this way, the intimacy of subjective engagement with Christian material is protected and affirmed, and it will be easier ... for the child to discover that what matters in the end is what this miracle [or scripture] asks of people, rather than objectively analyzing it..." (CS p. 99) (My bold print.) She says that focusing on how the word personally affects a child protects and affirms a child's intimate, personal, subjective interaction with God.

When your kids are in that seeking mode part of you is happy that they're going after God to make faith their own, but the other part of you wants desparately to see them get it over with and get on with life ... When they're seeking God we're desparately afraid that they'll get lost. After all, they're only children. They don't know what we know...

Allowing this approach into any ministry seems an incredibly risky thing to do. It would radically change the church to be always seeking God, never assuming we have all the answers. It would require an incredible amount of faith to bring this approach into Children's Ministry. It would make us more dependent on God because it requires that God interact with our children with or without us. Yet what a wonderful thing to be able to say to someone, if you seek God with all our heart, He'll let you find Him and see it happen. Children are especially ripe for this.Children still love both the seeking and the finding. A child's faith still believes that God keeps promises. We're the ones who are afraid.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Winds of Change pt. 2

Though a researcher, it appears (much to her credit) that Ms. Nye sees her work observing and learning from children as more than data and statistics.

One of the unexpected findings that came as the result of Ms. Nye's research was the profound sense of disappointment and grief the children felt when they discovered that their series of interviews with her was drawing to a close. (CS p. 104) The best of children's ministers, Christian educators, camp counselors, teachers, coaches, adult friends listen to children. But despite her role as researcher, Ms. Nye became someone unlike other adults in their lives. She became someone that the children could trust to listen to and help them articulate their spiritual experiences. I'm not just talking about the "salvation experience". When she suggested other people the children knew that she thought could fill that role as well as she, the children scoffed.

Even if parents are given the tools to be primary spiritual mentors in a child's life (after Deuteronomy) and take that role seriously, will they naturally become the much needed confidants that children need, someone who will listen without judgements and take that child's experiences seriously, or will a child still need to look for someone else? Will a child look? There are probably people who can provide these opportunities to children but it isn't a job or an assignment, it will always be relational. If it happens, it's more apt to happen with someone trusted, available. and willing to listen.

What about children who aren't already part of a faith community?

How do you engage a child in this kind of dialogue? Most of what Ms. Nye learned seemed to be a result of just listening not just to talk about "spiritual" experiences and answering pre-determined questions but also listening to the everyday "chatter". (C.S. p. 93)

One child rejected the concept of God as an "easy answer" because in her mind an "easy answer" made the answer suspect. Another child found religious "church" language too weak to capture his experiences. " left no room for mystery and the unknown." (CS p. 95)

There is so much in this chapter. Maybe the things these conference presenters are saying can somehow be shaped to fit the existing paradigm of children's ministry but I'm guessing they'll be better used as tools to craft something new.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Winds of Change pt 1

Back on the serious side... This post comes in 3 parts.

Based on her interviews with children, Rebecca Nye* defines children's spirituality as "relational consciousness." She says, "[it is] an unusual level of consciousness or perceptiveness relative to other passages for that child. . . this was often in the context of how the child related to things, especially people including themselves and God." (CS p. 9) It seems that the church, in general, has doubted a child's spiritual capacity.

She says, "My passionate concern at present is about preventing Christian nurture and education from suffering from . . . developing "parts" of a child's faith - her biblical knowledge here, her moral values there, plus a measure or two of supportive community ... Overlooking the primacy of spirituality develops, in effect a potentially life-long impression that faith involves just parts of the person, but doesn't really touch who people really are, and are continually becoming."(CS p. 91)

It seems that generically speaking "modern" thinking tends more to compartmentalize and "postmodern" thinking is tending to go more holistic. From what I've read, traditional Hebrew thinking seems to be more holistic.

"Ideally, spirituality has a relationship with religion, but in practice 'effective' religious education programs can develop religious characteristics that are disconnected from spirituality." (CS p. 92) ... a critical observation.

"It turns out that children, partly by virtue of their distinctive psychological characteristics, have an intriguingly rich capacity for spirituality, for a kind of religious knowing and being which is neither contingent on their religious knowledge nor moral accountability." (CS p. 93) Another critical observation.

We're discovering without question that there are overwealming challenges involved when we try to include our children in whatever ways we can in all the expressions of our walk with God in Christ for their formation and instruction. But at the same time, this particular researcher's observations about the nature of children and this kind of thinking supports our desire to do this.

I think that to minister to kids and families in a way that really grabs hold of what she's saying, looking for opportunities to help the whole child grow in each of us, we as adults have to see our own spirituality as the core of who we are not one of many compartments. I think that if we explore the implications, we'll find that thinking like this is more far-reaching than just finding ways to keep kids engaged during a single worship service or finding ways for them to participate. It's more far-reaching than providing separate age appropriate kid activities while adults are doing their thing. We're still seeing through a glass dimly here, but maybe the smoke is clearing.

The more I read, the more convinced I am that there are winds of change that are just beginning to blow that will shake Children's Ministry to it's core. I'm not saying that there aren't pockets of people thinking like this and I expect that the shift in paradigms is still a long ways off. I hope I live long enough to see it happen.

*Rebecca Nye is doing "ground breaking research" as a social scientist looking through a "Christian lens" at children's spirituality. She co-authored Spirit of the Child with David Hay, she is the research coordinator for the Godly play approach. She's coordinating a research intiative at Cambridge University. (CS p. 90)