28 March 2012

all quiet on the link-up front

Well, the weekly update is an easy one this week, because there've been no new contributions since my last update. But I've put a few feelers out on Pinterest (such as this one), and we'll be accepting links right through Easter Saturday.

We welcome any posts, old or new, about Preparing for Easter (Celebrating Lent) in a Montessori way and/or using nature, art, or story-based religious education. Please add a link back, both to me and to my co-host, Sheila, in your post and bear in mind that we may use your photos to blog about this (only ever with appropriate credit and links back to you, of course).

24 March 2012

relational not propositional

"Jesus calls Levi" (William Hole, public domain)
The incarnation implies that the 'communication of Christian truth is relational and not propositional'. 

David Lyall, The integrity of pastoral care, 2001, p.96, cited by Ballard & Holmes, The Bible in pastoral practice, 2006, p.207.

off-topic and likely preaching to the converted

photo source
This is somewhat off-topic, and I'm late in responding to a news story from late Jan / early Feb, but I just feel that I have to type this out! Skip over this rant if you've heard it all before and just find it too depressing or infuriating.

I recently read this in a comment on an American blog: I once heard a woman being interviewed on TV. She had been a teacher in the public schools, but as a second career had become a financial advisor. When the host asked about her career change, she said, “they’ll pay you to take care of their money, but they won’t pay you to take care of their children.”

And then today I came across this from an Alabama state senator: "It's a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher's pay scale, you'll attract people who aren't called to teach. To go in and raise someone's child for eight hours a day, or many people's children for eight hours a day, requires a calling. It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn't want to do it, OK?  And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It's just in them to do. It's the ability that God give 'em. And there are also some teachers, it wouldn't matter how much you would pay them, they would still perform to the same capacity. If you don't keep that in balance, you're going to attract people who are not called, who don't need to be teaching our children."

The same man defended a 62% pay raise for legislators, because of the risk of bribery and corruption. He needs to make enough that he can say no, in regards to temptation. I read about his arguments in a blog post about the use of the word BiblicalNotice the damage done to the sacredness of the word “Biblical” to toss it around like that. I myself might have wanted to point out the Biblical stance against those who serve their own interest... and oppress their workers (Isaiah 58:3). 

Guido Reni (1575-1642) Education of the Virgin (source)
No, it's not Biblical to underpay teachers and nor is it Biblical to pay legislators more than teachers. According to Luke, Jesus said, The laborer deserves to be paid (10:7). Most of the other references I came up with in a quick search were somewhat specific to the spiritual realm, but did emphasize that teaching is to be highly valued and rewarded: Let the elders who rule well be considered worth of double compensation [according to the footnote], especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Tim 5:17). Those who receive instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor (Gal 6:6). If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? (1 Cor 9:11)

23 March 2012

variations on a theme (Lenten link-up)

I want to thank Sheila at Explore and Express for the idea of this Lenten link-up for Celebrating Lent and Preparing for Easter. It's enabled us to connect with various different bloggers, many of whom were new to me. Last week I showed photographs of different responses to the Faces of Easter story, all from bloggers participating in our link-up.

This week I thought I'd like do something related - to show connections that I see between different bloggers who are doing similar things but in different ways. For some of you it's probably easy to translate an idea you've come across on-line into something that will work in your home or your church tradition, with your children and the resources you have available. But for others of us it's difficult to see how to adapt an idea. I hope these comparisons will help you to think outside the box (or "outside the photograph").

These are the photographs that got me thinking about this. The first is Holly's photo (from Three-Sided Wheel) of her Lenten mantelpiece, and the second is Sheila's photo (Explore and Express) of her Lenten nature table this year.

© Copyright 2009-2012. Three Sided Wheel-Holly Nehls

© photo by Sheila from Explore and Express
Very different - Holly's is on a mantel, out of the reach of children (although here you can see that she has also provided materials for children on the hearth), while Sheila's is placed on a windowsill. But both incorporate the seasonal color purple, and both emphasize Jesus (Holly's with the empty cross, awaiting Jesus's giving of himself on Good Friday; Sheila's with the Christ candle and also those purple puzzle pieces, which fit together into the Mystery of Easter in the shape of a cross).

If you have already read these posts you'll know that Sheila's display, although inviting, is not for thoughtless play. The small bowl contains water for remembering or looking forward to baptism. The figures in the desert represent their family travelling through Lent - each member chose his or her own figure to place there. And Holly's display, although simple, is full of meaning and story because each votive candle represents one of the Stations of the Cross, which the family recall together in prayer every Friday during Lent.

So different and yet so similar. Do they give you ideas for a way that you could prepare a prayer shelf or corner in your own home?

week 5 of the Lenten link-up

I'm a little late posting this week's update but we're now into the fifth week of Lent.  Our theme is Preparing for Easter using
  • art projects,
  • nature projects,
  • Montessori methods, &/or
  • story-based religious education.
If you would like to share your words and photos with us, just link your blog account and photo below. Please don't worry if "your idea" has already been done by somebody else. As I'll say in my next post, it can be very helpful to see how two different people do "the same thing" (or even two different but related things). 

Edit: I should have added this phrasing that Sheila's using (if it isn't already implied by this week's and last week's posts). 
By participating you allow us permission to use your photos to share highlights. We will be re-posting each week!

18 March 2012

4th Sunday in Lent

This is the first time I've been in Junior Church since Lent began. I told five plaques' worth of the Faces of Easter and we created a wonderful assemblage to help tell more of the story.

The items brought to the circle were: the baptismal doll (because it's a baby and Jesus was a baby), the church clock, the desert bag, the Holy Family figures of the Christ Child, the Mother Mary and the Father Joseph, the Risen Christ cross, two parable boxes, flowers (like Easter lilies), the ark (not representing the ark, but either the boats that the disciples left when they followed Jesus or maybe the boat that Jesus taught from), and the Advent materials.

This really encouraged children to use story materials during our Response time. They got out the Baptism materials, the World Communion materials, the Great Flood materials, and the Great Family materials. 

On a more disappointing note, I should not have tried to show off to the visiting priest. I assured him that "we" knew several things about Lent. I know, it's not the done thing in Godly Play to encourage the children to perform like trained monkeys, and I got what I deserved, I suppose. They looked very blank, and I encouraged, What color does the church use during Lent?

One child answered reasonably confidently, Brown!

17 March 2012

wondering with materials

It's an exciting feature of the Faces of Easter lessons that instead of opening up a time of verbal wondering or discussion at the close of each story, the storyteller says, I wonder what there is in this room that can help us tell more of the story. Look around and see if you can bring something to show more about this part of the story.

That's all. There are no more rules than that.

Some in the circle may be thrown by this and have no idea how to respond. As Berryman says, that is okay. Many children learn by watching as well as by doing.  Since most of us will present portions of this lesson at least twice during Lent, participants will have another chance on another occasion... and after all, this is an opportunity but it is never a requirement. If you don't feel like getting something, that's okay. Just enjoy what we make together.[All the Berryman quotes in this post are from The Complete Guide to Godly Play, volume 4.]

The first person I ever called upon took the instructions very literally, and brought our Bible to the circle. Which was an excellent response. Berryman had predicted what my next child did: Sometimes children get up, wander for a moment and bring something at random, without knowing why. That's okay. [Notice how often he says, that's okay. That's one of the things I love about Godly Play!] Be amazed and wonder why with them, together coming up with something relevant. Everything in the room is connected in some way.

Last year, though, I chose not to wonder explicitly about connections. I just accepted anything that was brought to the circle with silent wonder and appreciation. And perhaps a nod or a smile. My children were young, and not always very articulate. And ever since my training I've liked this special kind of Wondering for its freedom from words and freedom from over-thinking things.

And this is why I love writing this blog and reading your comments, and reading the posts that others write, especially those submitted to our Lenten link-up. It's so helpful to hear about how others put this into practice, what they like best, what they think is most important, and what they think can be left out.

photo from the So Many Joys blog
Amanda wrote a post at So Many Joys pointing out that sometimes we may need to set limits about how much it is practical to bring to the circle. Berryman suggests that a child might bring the desert box, but many desert boxes are so heavy and unwieldy that this may be too disruptive. Amanda writes about a bit of chaos that grew from large item connections to the first Face of Easter -- the entire Books of the Bible lesson, the desert, the World Communion lesson -- all big and very interesting stories to explore all out at once when we were still in our circle. I actually think that is when my headache started. Perhaps next week, I'll just have them bring one small item from the story rather than an entire story. 

Berryman proposes some Wondering Questions for use when these stories are told outside the Godly Play classroom. But it may also be entirely appropriate to ask people to think creatively and look around whatever room you find yourselves in for objects which would help to tell the story, or even to share aloud what object they would bring if it were available.

photo from Featherglen, cropped by me
When Featherglen did this, family members brought various objects, some overtly religious and others not. She writesMy beloved rummaged for a while in his overstuffed desk and brought out a beautiful big dried bean. He is gardener and this was one that came from last summer's crop. He placed it by the picture with baby Jesus. We all wondered a while about the significance of the bean, its colour (you can't see so well but it is actually a rich purple colour), baby shape and, of course all the elements of growth. 
photo from Explore and Express, cropped by me

As Sheila's experience shows, you may get unusual connections and contributions even within a Godly Play setting. Can you see what has been placed next to the plaque depicting Jesus resisting temptation?

She writesOne child laid a package of cookies and a stop sign made of sticks beside the picture of Jesus in the wilderness.  He then explained that this represented Jesus’ long fast and how hungry he must have been.  

I hope this post encourages you to try this kind of wondering if you have not done it before! Feel free to set boundaries that work for you - whether or not to ask for explanations about the objects brought, whether to limit the size of object brought, whether to restrict the objects to Godly Play materials, whether all objects should relate to one plaque or to any of those laid down...

The rewards, for you and all the circle, can be rich. As Amanda's So Many Joys post continued, I still loved seeing their connections to the Mother Mary and the Father Joseph and the Word born flesh as a wordless child. They are profound, the kids! 

14 March 2012

week 3 of the Lenten link-up

It's the third week of Lent, and the pace of new contributions to the Lenten link-up (Celebrating Lent) that I'm doing with Sheila has slowed down quite a bit. But we'll still accept contributions all the way up to Easter. Our theme is Preparing for Easter using:
  • art projects,
  • nature projects,
  • Montessori methods, &/or
  • story-based religious education
We ask that you do include a link both to Sheila's blog and to my own (or you can use the button Sheila made, found top right in my sidebar), in exchange for us hosting this link to your own post. More details are in my original post. All contributions will be linked every week.

We've had some posts about the Lenten series of Godly Play lessons - The Faces of Easter, which I think merits a summary post of its own. I hope to get that written and published within the next day or so. [Update: you can find that here.] I'd love it if you'd be willing to share any photos showing some of the objects brought during the Wondering! Please get in touch and/or link your blog account and photo below.

an addition to the library

I've never gotten around to writing about our "library" (which is a mere book basket). But this weekend it had a new acquisition... from the Free (second-hand) Books table at my residential weekend training course!

It's a small, colorful book called Share this feast: reflecting on Holy Communion. It's less than 50 pages long, and perfect for dipping into.


The book was published by the Methodist Church, but emphasizes the shared ground between all the Churches that celebrate Holy Communion. It's suitable for a wide age-range, and is an excellent jumping off point for anyone to meditate upon Communion (The meaning of Communion for you will build up in layers over the course of your life as a disciple, p. 3) or to encourage discussion.

The themes of the openings include "pour out your Spirit", "the sacrament of care", and "confession" as well as more obvious ones like "do this in remembrance of me" and "a foretaste of the heavenly banquet". Each theme is dealt with in a single opening. All openings include colorful art or photographs and brief captions (song lyrics, Bible verses, or prayers) as well as 2-3 paragraphs of text.

icon image source

I'll admit, the children almost never look at the books in the book basket. But each time we've have an all-age event in the classroom, there's been at least one adult who just wanted to read quietly during their Response Time. 

Do you have books in your classroom?

08 March 2012

two weeks into Lent

Sheila and I are up to twenty contributions on our Lenten link-up. We'll continue accepting contributions all the way through Lent. Our theme is Preparing for Easter, and we welcome posts (old or new) about:
  • art projects,
  • nature projects,
  • Montessori methods, &/or
  • story-based religious education
Please, though, do include a link both to Sheila's blog and to my own, in exchange for us hosting this link to your own post. More details about how to join can be found in my original post. All contributions will be linked to that original post and to all these updates.

This week's contributions included two craft projects which caught my eye: Leslie's (Thoughts from the Sheepfold) prayer beads and Featherglen's finger labyrinth. (The photos below are used by kind permission of the bloggers in question.)

The prayer beads have an interesting twist - you can move the beads and thus keep track of how far along the sequence you are. Leslie suggests this could be a good way to keep track of a Lenten discipline, by moving a bead each time you remember to put it into practice. 

photo by Leslie Swaim-Fox, of From the Sheepfold

Featherglen's finger labyrinth is made of wool roving, needle-felted onto a fabric base. I believe it when she says that the technique of needle-felting the labyrinth itself was a meditative exercise!  

photo by Featherglen, more pictures and full tutorial here

05 March 2012

the power and authority of Scriptural story

[The authority of scripture was] exercised by priest and people praying the words of scripture in psalm and canticle, and reading, hearing and pondering the whole sweep of the Bible’s story year by year ... so that they might learn the way of repentance, conversion of life, and holiness. The key thought of “the authority of scripture” was the power the story had to inform prayer and shape imagination, to provide exemplar and encouragement, and to help put their lives’ journey into the context of the journey of God’s people from creation to final fulfilment by way of the cross. 
The authority of a story (and most of scripture is story) is often subtle, frequently a long-term project, and nurtured by repetition and slow digestion. It is about the reshaping of how we see ourselves and our lives by forming our mental world, and populating it with the images, examples and friends who open new possibilities to us, as well as warning us away from bad ideas and foolish practices (of which there are more than a few in the Bible). 

[The context for this quote is a blog post arguing about different understandings of the authority of Scripture. But what leapt out at me was the emphasis on the slow digestion of Biblical story/stories and the way this phrasing might encourage other Godly Play folk.]

[The photo is my own - showing materials for the story of Abraham, Sarah, and the Great Family.]