Candle Walk: A Bedtime Prayer to God: A Book Review

Candle WalkChildren love repetition and ritual and at no time is that more important than at bedtime. Little ones need a calming routine to help them transition from the excitement of the day to a time of rest and quiet. For Christian parents, a bedtime routine usually includes a time of prayer as parent and child give thanks to God, pray for loved ones, and make special requests.

For those looking to go beyond this type of prayer time, Church Publishing has a new book called Candle Walk: A Bedtime Prayer to God written and illustrated by Karin Holsinger Sherman. It offers children an opportunity at the end of the day for listening and contemplation. It is based on the ancient practice of Compline, when a person gives thanks for the day, examines their conscience, and follows a set order of prayers and readings.

Candle Walk adapts the practice of Compline so that it can become part of one’s life from a very early age. The text of the book is simple and lyrical, soothing little ones as they settle down for sleep. Set in the context of a walk by candlelight, the illustrations are simple and restful.

The book is recommended for toddlers and school children. The full Order of Compline from the Book of Common Prayer is included so that when children are older they can continue their contemplative time alone or with their families.

Those from liturgical churches may be most interested in Candle Walk but those unfamiliar with Compline might want to explore this practice along with their children and add a new tradition to their family. It would make a lovely gift for the birth or baptism of a baby and a dedication page is included at the front of the book.

 

This review is based on an advance reader excerpt of the book which I was sent by Church Publishing Incorporated. The book will be available to the public on February 15, 2019.

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Paul and His Friends: A Book Review

paul and his friendsI love the children’s book The Day When God Made Church which tells the story of Pentecost, so when a review copy of another book by author Rebekah McLeod Hutto came across my desk, I read it with interest. It did not disappoint. The book is Paul and His Friends: A Child’s First Book About the Apostles and will help children learn about the Apostle Paul and the people he interacts with in the early church.

The text is simple but includes the high points of Paul’s life and relationships, told from his perspective. Paul’s focus and mission is stated in two brief sentences: “I was a friend of Jesus and one of the Apostles. I helped people all over the world learn about Jesus’s love.” The emphasis in the book is on love and friendship and how Paul’s friends, starting with Ananias and continuing with Barnabus, Silas, Lydia, and others, help him to share stories of Jesus with others.

Jacob Popčak’s illustrations are colorful and cheerful. The characters in the book are pictured as animals, something which is not unusual in children’s books considering their affinity with animals. But here the portrayal of Paul and his friends as animals has a deeper meaning. At the back of the book there is a section explaining that “Paul and his friends were real people, but in this book, they are re-imagined as animals from the real Paul’s part of the world.” Paul is depicted as a honey badger because “although they look cuddly, they are also known for their toughness, just like Paul.” Silas is pictured as a hyena (whose bark sounds like laughter) because he was joyful even when he was imprisoned.

Paul’s past as a persecutor of the church is not ignored. Paul talks about how he hasn’t always been a good friends to others. He tells the story of Stephen who was killed by people who listened to the mean things Paul said before he knew Jesus, and then he adds “Sometimes friends make mistakes, and we all need God’s help to make better choices.” The text ends with a reminder to children that God is always with them, loves them, and forgives them; “Jesus will always be your friend.”

This book can be read at home with family and would also be an excellent addition to a church library or Sunday school collection. Its message that friends love and help each other is a good one and the message is expanded by letting children know that Jesus tells us to love our enemies as well as our friends. As the book states: “All love comes from God. When we love others, even our enemies, we teach others about God’s love.”

Coloring Women of the Bible: A Book Review

Coloring Women of the BibleUntil a few years ago, coloring was for kids. Then adults discovered that it was a wonderful, meditative spiritual practice which required little preparation or equipment. Now there has been a profusion of adult coloring books featuring everything from animals to mandalas. You may think there’s no need for another adult coloring book, but I recently received a review copy of Coloring Women of the Bible from Chalice Press and I have to tell you that this one is different. How many coloring books have “A Theological Introduction” which rails against the implied sexual caste system in traditional readings of scripture and Christian practice?

In Coloring Women of the Bible, the 50 illustrations of women from the Bible by Natalie Turri are accompanied by a short scripture synopsis and commentary from a feminist viewpoint by author Christopher Rodkey. Some of the women included are not those typically found in a Women of the Bible list such as Job’s wife, the witch of Endor, and the women of the Apocalypse.

Coloring Women of the Bible would be an excellent resource for personal reflection, women’s groups, retreats, and even intergenerational programs. A 52-page reflection guide called Dreaming in Color is available as a free download. The guide suggests four ways it can be used: for small group coloring and discussion groups, a retreat, individual use, and creating domestic and sexual violence awareness in the Church. There are also suggestions in the reflection guide for musical selections, liturgical and theological resources, and resources on domestic and sexual violence awareness.

The book is available from Chalice Press; the list price is $14.99 but it is discounted depending on the number of copies ordered. There are also discounted kits of 5 or 10 books. If you’d like to check the book out before purchasing, a preview of the book with a few sample coloring pages is available to download. You can also purchase the book on Amazon for $14.02.

Loving and Leaving a Church – A Book Review

Loving-and-Leaving-a-ChurchLet’s face it – for many pastors the perception they have of their ministry when they set off to their first pastorate and the reality of that ministry are two very different things. Barbara Melosh’s Loving and Leaving a Church: A Pastor’s Journey tells the story of an older, second career, female pastor and her experiences with the small blue-collar congregation in Baltimore where she “learned how to be a pastor.”

The neighborhood is undergoing gentrification and the church has been in decline for forty years but Melosh optimistically thinks that she can change the congregation and save the church. That doesn’t happen and yet it would be wrong to call her time there a failure. She is faithful to the congregation who drives her to laughter and to tears and they, in turn, learn to love and accept her.

Melosh uses pseudonyms in the book and refers to her church as “Saints and Sinners” and her congregation as “the Saints.” But these Saints are not the ones we refer to as holy and virtuous in anthologies; they are ordinary people who constantly surprise their pastor and are full of contradictions.

Anyone who has ever tried to bring renewal to a church can appreciate Melosh’s frustrations. Although the sign on the church declares “A Warm Welcome Awaits You Here,” the Saints are an insular group. As Melosh notes: “What they wanted was to come to church—this church—on Sunday, to take their familiar places in the pews, to worship the way they’d done for years, with the people they’d known for years.”

As Melosh plans a peaceful Advent with “midweek services and encouraging people to observe Advent at home,” she is ambushed by Winter Wonderland – a church fair with lavish decorations including more than twenty artificial trees; secondhand goods, handmade crafts, and hot dogs for sale; and a throne for Santa which just happens to have been taken from its usual place next to the altar. To her credit, Melosh buries her disappointment as her Advent dreams recede and has a rush of affection for the Saints who had worked for more than three days to create what they considered a thing of beauty.

There are serious moments in the book too as Melosh describes with honesty her empathy for those she ministers to: Saints now in nursing homes, a young mother facing cancer, and the family of the victim of a violent crime whose funeral Melosh presides over.  When she finally realizes it is time to move on, she struggles with guilt at the thought of leaving the Saints to soldier on and disappointment at her failure to save the church. She is heartbroken and writes:

I had been called to ministry, and I’d given my heart to it. But I’d been distracted by the wrong dream, deluded into thinking I could save the Saints. They already had a Savior, and it wasn’t me. I was called to be faithful: to do the work in front of me, to serve the people I’d been called to serve, to love the people I’d been given to love…I was beginning to realize the precious gift that was already mine. Saints and Sinners might well not survive as a congregation. But in the candlelight of the healing services, I saw that the kingdom of God was already among us, and in us.

My Favorite Color Is Blue. Sometimes – A Book Review

My Favorite Color Is BlueLife is hard. Sometimes, children find that out sooner rather than later. For a child the loss of a loved one may be difficult to process. Children lack the vocabulary to express their feelings as adult do; their brains are not fully developed so completing the process of reconciling to the death may take years.

A children may give the appearance of coping well, but may be grieving tremendously on the inside. Denial of grief can be emotionally unhealthy and lead to problems in the future. An understanding adult can help a child remember the person they’ve lost in various ways, such as looking at photographs or telling stories about the deceased adult.

Roger Hutchison has provided another tool to help grieving children (and adults) express the mixture of feelings that come when a loved one has died. His book My Favorite Color Is Blue. Sometimes. is subtitled A Journey Through Loss with Art and Color. It uses colors to talk about different ways a child may be feeling. Turning the pages of the book to read the simple text and experience the beautiful artwork can help children to share their own (perhaps confusing) feelings about the person they’ve lost. Blue stands for sweet blueberries, the bright blue sky, and the deep blue of the sea, but also for a swirling blue rainstorm.

The storm is inside of me.
I am angry.
I am sad.
My heart is hurting.

Hutchison had the privilege of painting with children who witnessed the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. The experience convinced him that he had a vocation to serve those who grieve with his writing and art. My Favorite Color Is Blue. Sometimes was published by Paraclete Press on November 7, 2017.

On Wednesday, November 14, 2018, Hutchison will be presenting a free webinar about the book for PRC – Practical Resources for Churches. You can click here to register to attend the webinar in person; after November 14, you can use the same link to register to view the recording.

Paraclete Press provided a review copy of the book.

Crafting Gratitude – A Book Review

Crafting GratitudeMost of us know that practicing gratitude has many benefits including greater happiness, better health, and increased productivity. Gratitude journals, where you might list five things each day which you are thankful for, are one way to focus on gratitude, but after a few weeks or several months, this practice can become monotonous.

If you’re looking for other ways of practicing gratitude, then take a look at Crafting Gratitude: Creating and Celebrating Our Blessings with Hands and Heart, published by Viva Editions in 2017. It’s written by Maggie Oman Shannon, who has written a number of books including Crafting Calm: Projects and Practices for Creativity and Contemplation and A String and a Prayer: How to Make and Use Prayer Beads.

The gratitude crafts listed in the book include many which involve multiple senses. Shannon suggests different ways to do the crafts which allow an individual’s creativity to flourish. For instance, gratitude bowls can be filled with running water every morning as a person reflects on what fills them up and drains them or what gives them life and what takes life away. At the end of the day, the water in the bowl is poured out onto the earth, as a signal to rest. A person can use a bowl they already have which has special meaning for them, a purchased bowl made by an artist, or a bowl they make themselves by crocheting, using clay, or decorating a purchased bowl.

For each suggested craft, there are “Inner Inquiries for Journaling and Reflection.” Interspersed throughout the book are quotations and prayers from a number of religious and spiritual traditions. I could see this book being used by a church or spirituality group or some of the crafts being part of a retreat focusing on gratitude.

Author Maggie Oman Shannon is an ordained Unity minister; the Unity Church embraces a progressive interfaith approach to Christianity and accepts and teaches the “universal truths in all religions.” The crafts are not explicitly “Christian” and may be too New-Agey for some if their religious perspective is conservative, but for most the crafts can easily be accommodated to any religious perspective.

If you’d like to meet the author of Crafting Gratitude, PRC – Practical Resources for Churches will be presenting a Meet the Author webinar on October 17 with Maggie Oman Shannon who will be talking about the book. There is no charge for the webinar and you can register to attend by clicking here. After the webinar is broadcast, the same link will allow you to view the recorded webinar.

 

The Lifesaving Church: Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention by Rachael A. Keefe – A Book Review

The Lifesaving ChurchFrom the title, you might think this book is a how-to for churches and other faith communities on how to prevent suicides. It is that, but also much more. It is the story of the author, Rachael A. Keefe, her struggles in a highly dysfunctional family, her eating disorder, and her own attempted suicide as a teen. She is honest about her feelings then and now, and her continued emotional turmoil as she attended college, seminary, became a pastor, and became aware of her bisexuality.

It was the church of her childhood and adolescence which she credits as having saved her by letting her know that she was not alone. Her experiences led her to become an advocate for churches to take on the task of suicide prevention. Her courage and honesty will surely inspire others with thoughts of suicide to break their silence about the subject, one which Keefe refers to a “one of the last taboos of the church.”

In order to get churches talking about the subject and then taking action, a free downloadable study guide for the book is available. There is also a free download available of the PDF 10 Facts Every Church Needs to Know about Suicide Prevention.

Keefe addresses some of the theological questions surrounding suicide but cautions those dealing with suicidal people or survivors of suicide to be careful about what they say. The best answer, she maintains, is that “God is not a fan of suicide.” She emphasizes that the language we choose to talk about suicide is important.

The book includes seven appendixes, filled with useful information and resources. They are: Signs of Suicide Risk, Resources for Clergy, Resources for Laypeople, Resources for Those Struggling with Suicidality, Resources for Suicide Loss Survivors, Scripture Verses and Stories That Emphasize Hope, and Prayers.

The book is available from the publisher, Chalice Press, as well as Amazon and other booksellers. PRC – Practical Resources for Churches recently had a webinar focusing on the book and led by the author. The recording is available; you can view it at no cost by registering here.