Tuesday, February 27, 2018

God's Dream: Picture Book on God's Love for All People

      God's Dream is one of my favorite books to read to my kids. It uses very sweet illustrations and gentle language to describe God's love. The book describes how no matter our differences: race, gender, religion, nationality, we are all children of God, and can bring God's dream into fruition by showing love to one another. I particularly appreciate the nondenominational language, and the wide variety of children included in the illustrations. A cute dog and a cat are even included as examples of God's love, which my kids think is particularly fun.
     In addition to talking about the general message of the book, the kids like to examine the different children in the story and ask questions about the clothes, or what each other children are doing. Looking at the picttures, we have talked about how people kiss cheeks to greet one another; about yarmalukes; about traditional dress and about praying on prayer mats. Also, because Amani is going through an "all boys are terrible' phase", I like that they books shows a boy and a girl arguing then resolving their issue as an example of creating God's dream.
     The creators of this book are heavy lifters when it comes to theology and children's literature. For me the big draw of this book were the book's illustrations done by LeUyen Pham. They children have these large eyes and sweet round baby faces, and the backgrounds are different types of traditional prints from around the world. Pham has author and illustration credits in all kinds of children's formats including comic books, short illustrated novels for younger readers, and original picture books. She has worked with all the big names including Mo Willems, Juliana Moore, and Alexander McCall Smith. Basically anything she does is fantastic. 
    Desmond Tutu is a prolific writer on multicultral theology. A Nobel Peace Prize Winner for his work during apartheid, he is a leading religious thinker throughout the world. He has written about 20 books for adults, largely about forgiveness, and approaching differences with love. His most recent book, written in cooperation with the Dalai Lama looks adorable judging from their two sweet-old-man faces smiling on the cover. was a leading religious author throughout the world. The combination of Pham and Tutu basically makes this book essentail component of your library if you are truly committed to recieving your "liberal Catholic" ID card.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Candlemas and Starting To Grow God's Garden

     I did it! I finally did it you guys! I got together a Candlemas celebration that was worthy of the adorableness that is Candlemas. You would have been so proud of me. Granted, we did not do the celebration on Candlemas, because- c'mon, do you not know me at all? The point is we did it, with candles and seeds and praying and stories, and everything, and it was super fun.
     This year I decided that our Candlemas imagery was seeds. Halfway between winter solstice and spring eqinox, Candlemas is the point to shake off the winter blahs. Bulbs start to sprout out of the ground, and animals come out of hibernation. It is traditionally a time to prep the farm for the upcoming season. It's also the day wer remember the Anointment of Jesus at the temple, which I figure workds perfectly with the seed imagery. Stay with me here. Jesus is getting bigger. He's not just a sleepy, lump anymore; he's a reaching, toddling, gurgling baby with a personality. His annunciation- basically his baptism- welcomes Jesus into the Jewish community and starts him on God's path. Mary Joseph, Ana and Simeon weren't sure where his path would lead, but they could tell that it was important and would bring everyone closer to God. It all ties together: seeds, growing potential, the start down our path as a child of God: boom. Nailed it, right?
     So, imagery secured, we started our celebration with God's Dream by Desmond Tutu. The book uses gentle language and sweet illustrations to describe God's dream as loving each other as his children regardless of race religion or creed. It is one of our favorites. The story helped us make our Prayer Garden, based on the Wish Garden on Living Crafts. The kids drew pictures about ways that they hoped they could bring God's dream into being. I told them that these pictures were prayers, and prayers are like seeds. We begin by seeking God's way in our hearts, and by then, trying to follow the path of love, we will make God's home on Earth. It is the only true way to be happy. Warren drew a picture of a fireman helping an astronaut. Amani drew a picture of her helping animals.
     Next for the garden portion. I had bought some small seeds, and combined them with the seeds that came with the Fairy Garden Amani had received for Christmas. The kids buried their prayers in the soil, and sprinkled the soil with seeds. WWe also had to repot some orchids, so, you know, two birds. Remembering that longer sunny days were on the way, we placed a candle next to our flower pots, and Amani emphasized that we should all stop drop and roll should the flame suddenly roar out of control and consume the porch in flames. Safety first, guys.

In our prayer, we asked God to help us reach our goals so that we can bring happiness and light to the world.  Then we had granola bars. Grains are seeds. Delicious and seasonally appropriate.
     The kids really liked it, and I think having the flowers growing inside will help them remember the idea and give us something to reflect on and talk about as we watch the plants grow.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Celebrating Advent with The Jesse Tree

     I had been thinking about doing a Jesse tree with the kids for a few years. It's crafty, and involves a lot of fun Old Testament stories. I'm always looking for ways to add to our religion-centered our Christmas traditions, and this one can be designed to be a daily reminder of our faith in the overwhelming seasonal blitz of cookies and Christmas movies. Not that I have anything against cookies or Christmas movies; it's just nice to have balance.

     So a Jesse Tree links stories of the Old Testament as a way to the very beginning of God's relationship with his people. I began with this post from Kelleigh Ratzlaff Designs which focuses on stories in The Jesus Storybook Bible. It's particularly nice that at the end of each story in this book there is a sentence or two connecting back to the coming of Christ, a reminder that God's relationship with us began with Creation, moves through the entire Bible, culminating with the birth of Jesus.

     I mostly used the same stories Kelleigh used, but I added stories that have female protagonists, and others that stories that I just like. Since some stories I wanted weren't included in the Jesus Storybook Bible, so I added to our Jesse Tree volumes with the Usborn Illustrated Children's Bible Stories and Everlasting Stories by Lois Rock. For me, the tradition is not so much about tracing Jesus's actual family tree with specific stories and or symbols, as it is an opportunity to remember that the story of Christ didn't begin with the New Testament, but at the very beginning of God's love for his people.

     As for corresponding ornaments, there are so many options. Kelleigh's page includes a link to printable and/or felted ornaments, but I wanted kids to be involved a bit more in the ornament making, so I opted for the idea Alicia Michelle posted about using metal key rings. We used gel pen markers and as long as we were careful not to smudge, we were very pleased with our results. We hung them on this fake birch tree that we use for lots of different holiday traditions. Some people have a special tree, some people put them on their Christmas tree. There's really no wrong way to do this.

     I would highly recommend checking out some of the Jesse Tree ideas on Pinterest. There are a bazillion cute ways to create and display your ornaments along with all kinds of ideas like ornament trading party, and little songs and lessons you can do with your kids. I am way to lazy to do any of those things, but I like to pin them in a Pinterest board where I live an crafty, full engaged virtual existence, complete with a jaw-dropping wardrobe, and a fridge full of make-ahead healthy meals.

Sigh. Oh, Pinterest-Me: You're the best.

Here is our list with the stories we used with the accompanying ornaments: Some are them are traditional symbols, some are just items that work and are fairly easy to draw.

From Alicia Michelle's post:
"How To Celebrate Advent With a Jesse Tree"
  1. Adam and Eve: Fruit
  2. Noah: Boat
  3. Abraham: Star
  4. Isaac: Ram
  5. Joseph: Coat
  6. Plagues: Burning Bush
  7. Ten Commandments: Tablets
  8. Joshua: Horn
  9. Ruth: Wheat
  10. Samuel: Crown
  11. David: Sling Shot
  12. Esther: Scepter
  13. Daniel: Lions
  14. Jonah: Whale
  15. Mary and Gabrielle: Angel
  16. Elizabeth: Baby in a Belly/Oval
  17. Baby Jesus: Manger

"But Wait, Claire! There are only 18 stories listed here! What about the other days of Advent?"

To that I say, "Shhhhh!!"

     I had originally wanted to read one story every night, but then I remembered some other fun Christmas stories that I also like reading, and some nights I forget. The left over ornaments we just added to our Christmas tree. Next time I think we may just do it a few times a week, but we will definitely still do it. The kids were not always 100% into the story, but they loved hanging the ornaments and were always excited to learn what we were reading next.

     Do you have an engaging way to focus of Christ during the Christmas season? Have you tried the Jessee Tree? I'd love to hear what creative personal touches you use that helped make your Advent fun and meaningful.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Grit Between Toes

Level: Advanced
     For our Maundy Thursday celebration, we did not wash feet. Growing up, washing feet was so awkward for me, that I would sometimes run from the room in fear. I didn't want to do it, so we didn't, and I am kind of regretting that now.
     It is a big deal in the Catholic Church; an act Jesus performed on his disciples to show humility, intimacy and servitude. That's an important point of reflection. Also, because it is done every year at every church, it is a big cultural element of Catholic heritage. Pope Francis is so scandalously liberal that the whole Catholic community waits to see who he will be washing this year: prisoners? women? Muslims? What kind of crazy thing will he do next?! I want my kids to be a part of Catholic culture, so I think it is important to incorporate it.
     Also, Maundy Thursday is a remembrance of the Last Supper; a supper Jesus knew was to be his last. He told his friends that he was about to die. He went to the garden and prayed that he would not die, but when the soldiers came, he faced the most difficult path of his life bravely calmly and openly. Facing down life's discomforts is a critical part of being a person, and this little reminder is a harmless practice that is a good reminder. Next year I think I am going to have to incorporate it. It will be good for the kids and good for me.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

My Wildest Fantasies Are Theological Discussions

     Hey there, stay-at-home mom.
     Are you both intellectually unstimulated and looking to hone your feminism skills?
     Are you both filled with righteous indignation and really obnoxious?
     Guess what:
     What I recommend is fighting with people in Facebook comments.

     Ha, ha. Just kidding; I would not recommend it to anyone. While I like arguing with people on Facebook, we all have heard stories about the abuse that goes on in Internet comments, and I don't want you to sue me, so don't do it. As for me, I primarily argue with my friends who are thoughtful, polite and awesome, despite being WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!! Engaging in debates online I have learned quite a bit from my comment-section opponents, and have had people tell me that they also have learned things from me.
     One argument I find myself in with some regularity is the wisdom over the value and or truth held within religion, or as it is more commonly known in comment section, "Religious People Are Bigoted Backwards Morons Who Inflict Suffering On Others". These kind of Facebook debates are some of my favorites because they are a rare opportunity for me to engage in philosophical discussion. This could almost never happen in my off-line life. Though my regular companions are certainly thoughtful and philosophically astute, neither Amani nor Warren have a lot of experience with words more than three syllables, so the depth of our discussion is fairly limited. Essentially, Facebook debates are a way to engage in a thought provoking theological conversation that doesn't devolve into requests for grapes.
     This is why I want to debate Ricky Gervais. Well, I don't want to debate the ACTUAL Ricky Gervais, because he seems descend fairly quickly into insults when debating theists, but I do want to debate the imaginary Ricky Gervais that has been living in my head since I saw the real Ricky Gervais debate Steven Colbert on the existence of God. The good news is that I can! In fact, I have been debating pretend-Ricky-Gervais all day.

This is how it would go:

Gervais: “If we take something like any fiction, any holy book, and destroyed it, in a thousand years’ time that wouldn’t come back just as it was. Whereas if we took every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they’d all be back, because all the same tests would be the same result.”  (That part's not imaginary. That's how Gervais ended his debate with Colbert, with congratulations from both the audience and Colbert).

Me: Sure, I think a lot of people think that way: religion is flighty and trivial, and science is irrefutable and permanent. However, history would suggest that the opposite. One thousand years ago, even 5,000 years ago, there was religion and it is still very much the same: forces beyond the comprehension of man witnessed through the elements of nature and humanity; the essentials of kindness, gratitude, justice, and sacrifice; the connection between music, people and the divine: the importance of quite reflection. It seems to me that the essential elements are all there. On the other hand, just 500 years ago, people were pretty sure that sickness was a result of imbalanced humors. One thousand years ago, people thought the sun went around the Earth. Science is changing minute to minute. A very large part of what society accepts as scientific "truth" is the result of greed, political agenda, bias, human error, or ignorance. Both religion and science are developed by humans, and humans mess up a lot. That is guaranteed to be the case in 1,000 years as well.

Gervais: Wow! What a well thought out argument. Given that I said that thing about fiction and textbooks in February and it is now the middle of March, your answer was worth the wait. You have given me a new perspective on religion.

Me: Yes, I have that effect on people.

Gervais: You should be the one on Colbert. Let's go right now!

Me: Hooray!

Then I meet Colbert and he and I high-five the whole interview and fly off into the clouds in his hot rod.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

My Lenten Activity Brain Dump: How Liberals Do Lent

     Obviously, we started with chocolate chip pancakes for Maudy Tuesday, because will be a cold day in Hell the day I skip Fat Tuesday. Warren and I WENT TO town of Fat Tuesday, and Amani suddenly decided 9a) she hated happiness and (b) chocolate chip pancakes weren't her thing (aka: hating happiness). She opted to eliminate the middle man and go for straight chocolate chips. (That's my girl!)
     We skipped Ash Wednesday because I wanted to remind God that I am a terrible person, but that's over with, and now I am in it to win it.
     This is what I got on the docket for Lenten practises:

(1) I am trying to do some kind of God-related activity with Amani and Warren on Sundays. The first Sunday we sorted through the Seeds booklets that Amani gets at school. They are cute little pamphlets . They are from Pflaum Publishers, and each contain an activity that corresponds with each week of the Liturgical calendar, They literally take about 5 minutes, and Amani really likes them.
Huh. I also just noticed they have free online activities. I shall check those out and report back.

(2) Amani's preschool also sent home a Lenten Calendar from Creative Communications. We followed a similar one for Advent, and I am hoping to at least do one or two activities from here. One thing they suggest is a Jesus tree, which, from what I am reading, is a lot like a Jesse Tree. If we end up doing that I'll let you know how it goes. If you end up doing it, will you let me know?

(3) We are going to make pretzels. We did this last year, and they were awesome, so we are going to do it again. One of my friends asked me what pretzels have to do with Lent, and I was all, "Wow. You really don't know anything about our Church history, do you?" Naturally then had to turn around and I look it up on Google. The short answer is because it looks like arms folded in prayer. If you want the long answer you can read it at the page I read. Or you can read this page, which I am including mostly because it refers to "holy pretzels" which I find hilarious.

(4) Last Sunday Amani and I made a prayer hand, that we are now using to guide us through bedtime prayers. I got the idea from a few Pinterest pages I follow, but I think the things I chose to focus on for each finger are not really working for us. I chose to focus on "Those Closest to our heart", "Prayers for God's guidance", "Things we are Thankful For", "Confessing our sins", and "Prayers for ourselves". I think I was too focused on making it fit with the correct finger, rather than things that will spiritually feed Amani. It's going fine. Amani is kind of into it, although I think that's primarily because we lay in bed together and cuddle while we do it. She does not like prayer- or being made to do prayer- or doing prayer with me. I don't know. Anyway, it's going fine, but I think I need to tweak it a little. Right now I feel like it is a little overwhelming. I'm thinking our new prayers will include (1) People and animals we love and people and animals who need help (2) Something we are thankful (3) A place we saw God (4) A way we helped (5)Something we will do better tomorrow. It feels a little simpler.

So, that's what I got rolling around in my head for this season. We'll see how it goes, although I'll be damned if we don't do those pretzels. They were GOOD.
What are some things you are planning on doing for Lent?