25 March 2014

The absolute best Scripture songs in the world!

No. I'm not exaggerating.

Let me tell you why I love it.

For the past couple of months, we have been listening to the amazing Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible cd at home and in the car. The music is simply wonderful-great musicians, clever instrumentation, singable melodies...Randall Goodgame has a lovely voice and plays a winsome character on his kids' cds.  My children love, love, love it.

My favorite thing about this cd is that it has prompted incredible discussions about who the disciples thought Jesus was (from "You are the Christ"), how we serve other people (from "Two Shirts" "Love" and "Love One Another"), and how God knows us (from "What is the Book" and "Romans 8"). We've talked about how we think about Jesus and what he did and does and can do for us.  We've discussed idolatry, freedom from sin, responsibility for the poor, identity in Christ, etc.

And the music is appealing for all ages.  I don't turn it off in the car when I'm the only one in there. Even the three and five year old have memorized the books of the Bible and big passages of scripture and all of the kids know more about Levitical food laws than I ever imagined (you'll understand that if you have the cd).

I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.

Get it here from The Rabbit Room and definitely consider buy extra for friends and family.  Once you hear it, you will want to pass it on.  It really is amazing.

07 March 2014

The importance of worship through play

I love watching my children play. They have such incredible imaginations.  I love to see how they create entire worlds out of the position of an object or entire plotlines from the posture of a toy. I love to hear them create dialogue and action.  I love their narrations and the intricate backstories they create for their characters.

I think most parents find delight in observing their children's play.  But I've been surprised to discover that many parents do not consider introducing Biblical subjects to their children as a possible basis for play. I've observed that children have a unique ability to enter the Biblical stories at a level of understanding that eludes many adults. Because God has given them extraordinary imaginative powers, they are able to inhabit characters with their whole selves.  This means that they are also positioned to learn from these characters in an extraordinarily real way. I'd suggest that more than being a good idea, Play is essential to a child's understanding of and love for the Bible.

And in our family, the only way Biblical play happens is for my husband and I to commit to creating time and providing the tools for it to happen.

The time
We have found that Biblical play happens best when we make it a part of our daily lives. This is one reason we love celebrating the church year together through family worship. Our family has found worship to be an important part of creating a home environment of praise and growth in the Lord.  We observe the church seasons because ordering our lives according to the story of Jesus birth, baptism, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, as well as the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the church reminds us that God is present and active in our world. We are Protestants, and fairly low-church Protestants now, at that. But liturgical traditions have shaped and formed us and blessed us, too, so many of our activities reflect that background. 

If an example of how this works would be helpful, you can read more about how we celebrated a specific day in the church year, Ash Wednesday, here.

The tools
The Montessori educational theories on deliberate play and the internalization of play by children have informed my own thoughts on this.  The book, Godly Play by Jerome Berryman (see his YouTube resources here) may be a good introduction, though I definitely do not endorse all of Berryman's theological positions.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones is essential to our family's worship experiences, though we also enjoy Egermeier's Bible Storybook which has short, well-written versions of the stories-of-the-faith. 
Peg people created with woodburning tools and watercolors

Our first method of playing-the-stories is to act it out ourselves.  Blankets, sheets, cords for belts, and various props have created some wonderful scenes here.  My children still remember the year we acted out Mary and Joseph's visit to the temple and their encounter with Anna and Simeon when the children were ages 5, 3, and 1. They rode on a Daddy-donkey and the youngest child was Mary and Joseph's faithful dog. It made a big impression!

As the kids have gotten older, we use peg people. Most recently I created some with woodburning tools and watercolors. Wood pegs are generally available at craft stores or can be bought in bulk at Similar sets are available on etsy. (Or we make a limited number of sets- contact me to see if any are available for purchase.) 

The most important thing to provide, in my estimation, is encouragement and the space to play without judgment. We have our worship-play items
Zaccheus climbs a tree to see Jesus
set out on a small table under the stairs in the foyer of our house.  It is a relatively private space, so they get moved when more than one sibling enters the fray. I invite the kids to act out a story as part of re-centering when the environment gets tense or as part of their devotional exercises at the beginning of the day or anytime they are looking for something to do. And then I step back and let them discover whatever it is that God has for them in those moments.

For our family, worship through play has been a wonderful experience of meeting God in a new and different way. But I'd love to hear from you.

Have you incorporated play into your family worship? If so, what are your favorite resources? What has God shown you and your family through play? If not, what is holding you back?

05 March 2014

Ash Wednesday

We managed to observe Ash Wednesday here even though we had sickness in the family and the parents were exhausted from sleep deprivation.
First we read the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness in The Jesus Storybook Bible and Egermeier's Bible Story Book while the children acted it out with our peg people.
Then we read Psalm 51 and took turns imposing the ashes on each other.
And we sang, "I have decided to follow Jesus." 
 It was a simple, meaningful celebration- a perfect start to Lent, despite the odds.

Does your family celebrate Ash Wednesday in any special way?

03 March 2014

Celebrating Lent as a family: visual reminders

Worship Space
For us, celebrating Lent is as much about creating visual signals to pause and worship as anything else.You may wish to create your own space for contemplation or observation.  A purple cloth on a table, a chair with a Bible and a journal… these things communicate that there is something different about this time, something special.  You may want to decorate differently than you do the rest of the year.  Adding pictures or books in a special basket for little ones to enjoy incorporates them into the space.  This space doesn’t have to be complicated.  Rocks, wood, a nail, a small cross…things that children can touch and hold makes a difference in their understanding of the Jesus story!
Lenten wreath or spiral
Just as an Advent wreath helps to count the days or weeks to Christmas in a very visible, tactile, sense-engaging way, so do candles in some form help to create anticipation during Lent.  A weekly countdown should include 6 candles.  A daily countdown would need 40 (if Sundays are not included).  A Lenten cross can be made from wood, or can simply be a poster board cross, onto which candles in votive holders are set. Simple wreaths are also available at many Christian bookstores or online (try Catholic bookstores).  An Advent to Lent spiral is an especially beautiful way to remember the days.

Repentance box

A repentance box is a very visible reminder of God’s pardon for us.  Mistakes, errors and sins are written on slips of paper and put in the box.  On Good Friday, the pieces of paper can be nailed to the cross.  Or, another option is to write the word “FORGIVEN” on each slip of paper and throw them away or burn the pieces.  Or, a parent may wish to empty the box so it can be presented on Easter morning.
"Dust" bowl

A bowl with flour in it is a tactile way to remember that “we are dust, and to dust we shall return." Playing in the dust is a great way to redirect an older child (or adult) by asking them to draw something representing their sins in the dust and then erase it. We have used the flour bowl in our "quiet chair" area and in the past have made it available to the younger kids only with supervision. If the thought of setting a bowl of flour out for the kids to turn into a massive mess gives you the heebie-jeebies, forget this idea. But if you are a little enthralled, another great take on this can be found at this link.
Forced blooms
A beautiful way to recognize new life is to cut some branches from a flowering bush such as forsythia or a cherry tree, place in water and allow the branches to open in time.  These, inevitably, will open before Easter.  If you want to control the bloom, you may wish to use barren branches and then replace them with flowering branches at Easter.
Jesus Tree
Similar to a Jesse Tree at Advent, a Jesus tree is a lovely way to contemplate Jesus’ way to the cross by using scripture and art to tell the story.  You can make your own versions, but an excellent free (and gorgeous) version is available at Holy Experience from Ann Voskamp

Do you have any ideas for visual reminders that can help a family worship during Lent?

01 March 2014

Celebrating Lent as a family: devotional readings, music and crafts

There are many wonderful devotional books and readings available to deepen one's Lenten experience. Some are listed below. Personally, I love to choose a book to read a little at a time during the seasons of Lent and Advent.

But one of the most effective strategies to build one's relationship with the Lord during Lent is also one of the simplest.  A Bible reading plan that focuses on the Gospels is a wonderful way to be reminded of who Jesus is and what He did that led to His crucifixion and Resurrection.

A family might choose to do a plan together and read through one of the Gospels in the weeks before Easter. Or or use a children’s devotional to make projects that remind you of the path Jesus took to the cross.
There are also many wonderful choices available when it comes to worshipful music.  Lent is an excellent time to introduce kids to music they might not have experienced before like chant, oratory, or classical pieces.

The titles listed below are a very, very small sampling of the many resources available. These all have child-relatable elements and I find myself using them again and again for our family.  Use your discernment as to whether these fit your family's theological convictions.

Bible Reading Plans
YouVersion has three new plans (including one by NT Wright!)
Here's a 30-day Gospel of John plan