A Million Metaphors

Sixth after Pentecost, Reading for June 27, 2021, Psalm 48

I read a lot of books in preparation for writing this blog. I regularly pick up dozens of new storybooks I’ve requested from our local library, and I’m constantly on the lookout for more to request. It’s important to me that I’ve held a book in my hands before I recommend it. There’s some toxic theology in some so-called “religious” children’s books. Before any book appears here, it’s been through my request-read-take notes-return routine.

A few months ago, during my usual search for more books that might be featured here, I heard about What is God Like? and something told me this was a book that needed a permanent spot on my shelf and not just borrowed from the library, so I put my name on the pre-orders list and waited. I was right.

I love this book. It answers a child’s question about God, but it does something else even more important—it teaches children that there is more than one way to think about God. On the very first page, this book acknowledges that no one has ever seen all of God, since God’s just too big for any of us to see fully. Instead, every colourful page points to something familiar to children, like a candle, an artist, or the wind, and helps children know God through metaphors.

And then Psalm 48 appeared in the lectionary! Coincidence? I think not! Many of the Psalms try to answer the same question as this book. Psalm 48 compares God to a mountain, a city, a defense, a temple, and a wind. The psalmist wants us to understand the power and might of God through these heavy comparisons, but something beautiful happens in the very last verse. The psalmist reassures us that, despite the militant metaphors of the psalm, God is our guide. God is our guide forever!

The psalm commands us to tell future generations about God, but when God hides behind the cloud of unknowing, it’s difficult to answer a question like “what is God like?” This book, by Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner, gives you page after page of beautiful comparisons and metaphors with which to talk about God with your children. This isn’t a book you’ll read once every three years when Psalm 48 comes around in the lectionary; this is a book your children will turn to over and over again.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What does God look like? How do you know?
  • What does God sound like? How do you know?
  • Does anyone know these things for sure?

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Which comparison did you like the best? Why?
  • Were there some comparisons that made you uncomfortable?
  • What other comparisons might describe what God is like?

Thanks for visiting Storybook Ministry! Please share these posts with your friends and colleagues in children’s ministry so we can make Sunday mornings a little easier for more faith communities.

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Pride Sunday!

Acts 15:5-13 Reading for June 6th, 2021

The trouble with following the Revised Common Lectionary is that sometimes, great events get left out! There’s nothing special for Mother’s or Father’s day, and nothing for Pride Sunday! I’m publishing this post only a few days before Pride Sunday, but hopefully you will still have time to track down a copy of this great book. I got mine at an Indigo bookstore, and I would guess most bookstores have a copy. Check your library too!

This affirming passage from Acts gives me goosebumps every time I read it. Much like earlier passages from Acts, like the story of Peter’s vision and Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, the message is clear: the Gospel is for everyone. Salvation is for everyone. There is nothing about your appearance, your past, your behaviour, your thoughts, your nationality, or your family background that you can hide from God, and still God welcomes you into the family.

In fact, you are saved even if you don’t live up to religious rules! Some people insisted that all the men of Judea had to be circumcised if they wanted to be saved, but Peter and Barnabas “were up on their feet in fierce protest” (Acts 15:1-2) defending that salvation is for everyone, no matter what you (or your genitals) look like.

What I love most about It Feels Good to be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, is its simplicity. We sometimes overthink concepts like gender identity or sexual orientation and decide they are too complicated to explain to children, but they really aren’t. It boils down to what the title says: it feels good to be yourself.

Teresa Thorn’s book explains that doctors and parents make an educated guess about each baby’s gender identity, but as that baby grows up and can communicate, they might tell the world that they got it wrong… and that’s ok! The book also reassures readers (kids AND parents) that there are too many ways to be a boy or a girl or non-binary to fit in a book. God’s world is full of glorious diversity, because that’s the way God made it!

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Are you a boy or a girl or something else?
  • How do you know?
  • Can you hide anything about yourself from God?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Is there only one way to dress/act if you are a girl?
  • Is there only one way to dress/act if you are a boy?
  • Does God love girls more than boys?

NEW! Storybook Ministry is reader supported, and to keep it ad-free, I’ve started a Patreon page. Check out the exclusive patron perks at https://www.patreon.com/storybookministry

Thorn, Theresa. It Feels Good To Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity. Henry Holt and Co., 2019.

Eating Macaroni in the Bathtub

Year B, Sixth Sunday of Easter, Acts 10:44-48, Lectionary reading for May 9th, 2021

The Jews in Jesus’ time thought they had a monopoly on God. They were the chosen people. They were in covenant with God and knew how to follow the rules to stay right with God. They had high standards of conduct, and if you did not live up to the standard, you could be denied entry to the temple— and therefore, God. Several scenes in the book of Acts report how this understanding of God and who God loved changed for Jesus’ followers. Peter has a vision to help him understand all are welcome, Philip baptises the Ethiopian Eunuch, and here, the Holy Spirit falls upon Gentiles (non-Jews).

The followers of Jesus needed to hear the lesson that all are welcome in the Kingdom of God repeatedly, and I don’t judge them for that one bit. Are we not the same, 2000 years later? Throughout human history, from long before Jesus walked the earth up to the present day, we have struggled with us/them thinking. WE have the answer; THEY are doomed. WE are civilized; THEY are barbarians. WE are human; THEY are animals.

You don’t have to look very hard to find cute videos of Black and white children hugging each other or claiming to be twins because their shirts match. They are heartwarming and give us an opportunity to pat our collective selves on the back. “See, we do live in a post-racial society!” The older those cute little children grow though, the more aware they become of differences around them, and how adults judge those differences. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that most of the world thinks different=wrong.

Fighting back against that thinking is a critical task for parents, teachers, and those who minister to children. The Holy Spirit flowed out upon the Gentiles and Jews alike, because God loves the diversity of creation. Why else would God have created so much diversity?

I wish a single storybook could innoculate our children against fearing and hating difference, but it takes consistent messages of acceptance over a lifetime to fight against the persistence of ‘othering’. Still, a storybook is a pretty good place to start, isn’t it? When Todd Parr writes and draws about diversity, you can’t help but be pulled into the message. His bright, silly illustrations lighten the mood and open our hearts to a deep truth: we are all human, even if we eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub.

Todd Parr’s message of self-confidence, inclusion, and acceptance should be read once a week for best results, but even if you only read it once in your children’s ministry, you are helping to break down the walls we build between US and THEM, and making the world a little more loving.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What makes you different from anyone else?
  • How do you feel when you meet someone who looks or acts differently than you?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Why do you think God made so many different kinds of people?
  • What can you do to get to know people who are different than you?

Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you will use It’s Okay to Be Different in your ministry! Please consider subscribing to get email updates every time I write a post, and remember to share posts with your friends in children’s ministry! If you click on the book image, you can purchase the book and help support my work with a small commission.

Parr, Todd. It’s Okay to Be Different. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009.

Christ Is For Everyone. Yes, Everyone!

Year B, Fifth Sunday of Easter Acts 8:26-40; Lectionary reading for May 2

Remember earlier in Acts when Peter needed a vision from God to understand that the Good News was for everyone, not just Jews? This story is similar, and for good reason. 2000 years ago, gods were understood to belong to a specific group of people or to a geographic location. Until Jesus, Yahweh ‘belonged’ only to the descendents of Abraham.

But God did a new thing! At the beginning of Acts, Jesus promised the apostles that they would witness for him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jesus sent the disciples out into the world to proclaim the Good News to people far and wide. This would have taken some getting used to. Sure, they had received the gift of tongues and could speak to and understand the people in these new lands, but as Jews, well-acquainted with persecution, preaching to strangers must have been quite intimidating. Here in Acts Chapter 8, the Holy Spirit directs Philip to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch. While this man wasn’t likely from as far away as modern Ethiopia, his homeland would definitely have counted as “the uttermost parts of the earth.” Did God really intend his message to extend to those people? To top it all off, this man was a eunuch, which according to Levitical law, made him unfit to make offerings to Yahweh.

The Ethiopian eunuch was a foreigner who looked and spoke differently from anyone the disciples had ever met, and he was… blemished. If he had been in Jerusalem to worship, he must have believed in the God of the Israelites, but he would have been an outcast in Jerusalem; not admitted in the Temple. While you probably don’t need to get into the specifics with your little ones, it might be helpful to explain that Philip knew something was very different about the man in the chariot. Still, with the push of the Holy Spirit, Philip helps the Ethiopian understand the prophecies in Isaiah and baptizes him. He welcomes him into the family of God without caring about where he’s from, what he looks like, or the state of his body. This is a revolutionary welcome! No wonder the Ethiopian “went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39).”

The world is a much smaller place than it was in Philip’s time, but even in the most multicultural of cities, it’s easy to spend most of our time with people that look, speak, and live just like us. Philip needed an angel and the Holy Spirit to get him to look past appearances and cultural biases to witness to the Ethiopian; and sometimes, we do to.

This beautiful little book by Rachel Isadora just might be the Holy Spirit in disguise for someone in your congregation. Little Carmelita lives in a neighborhood alongside people from around the world. She goes to visit her grandmother and greets everyone she meets in their own language. You’ll learn 9 ways to say hello; 9 new ways to get to know someone from the “uttermost parts of the earth,” 9 new ways to minister with love to the outcast and the stranger. Pretty good for a 30 page book, eh?

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What languages do you speak in your home? Do you know any other languages?
  • How do you feel about meeting new people?
  • How do you feel about meeting people who look or behave differently that you?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Did you know any of these ways to say hello? Do you know any other ways?
  • Is there someone in your church, school, or community you haven’t met yet? Which ‘hello’ will you say to get to know them?
  • How can you greet someone who can’t hear or can’t see you? How should you greet someone who can’t or won’t say anything back?

Sometimes the simplest books are the best. Clicking the book images takes you to Amazon, where you can support my work through the purchase of a book. You can also support this ministry by following the blog, my Facebook page, or my newborn Instagram account, details coming soon!

Isadora, Rachel. Say Hello! Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017.

If you read this far along, here’s 2 more ways to say hello: an-yong in Korean, and selamat in Malaysian. 😉

How Do We Teach Children Safety, Without Making Them Afraid?

Year B, 3rd Sunday of Easter, 1 John 3:1-7; Lectionary reading for April 18, 2021

I really wanted to focus on the joy of the first verse in this reading:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

1 John 3:1

Unfortunately, there is more to the message of this passage that needs to be addressed. Our world is full of wonder and goodness, but there is evil here too. There are people who refuse the designation “child of God” and choose instead to hurt others and destroy creation. Our children need to know that not everyone is trustworthy. It is imperative that we teach them to stay safe.

In our age of 24-hour news channels and instant disaster updates sent straight to our phones, stories of evil can be difficult to escape. As adults, we can filter this information with what we know of the goodness of the wider world. Children cannot. The world can seem to be a very frightening place when the adults around them discuss murder and mayhem within earshot.

Michael Leannah’s book Most People is a simple and comforting antidote to that kind of fear. It gently explains that while there are some bad people, most people in the world are kind, helpful, and safe to be around.

Most people want to make other people—even strangers—feel good. Most people are very good people.

Michael Leannah

Jennifer Morris’s illustrations back up this message by depicting an impressive array of diverse people doing good things in a variety of circumstances. She draws people of all sizes, colours, abilities, and lifestyles, which gives readers an opportunity to talk about the expectations we have about certain groups of people.

This book does not deny the existence of evil, and I don’t suggest you do with your children, either! Until God’s will is fully done on Earth as it is in heaven, we need to teach our children ways to keep safe without making them fearful. We are all children of God, and most people live up to that calling. Let’s give the children in our care a message of hope along with our necessary messages of caution.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What should you do if you get separated from your parent/family/caregiver?
  • Look through the illustrations and ask the children what they think about a few different people, and ask them why they think that.
  • Do you think people are mostly good or mostly bad?

Discussion after you read:

  • Go back through the illustrations and talk about people the children had earlier said looked mean, scary, or bad.
  • Can you tell if a person is bad by looking at them?
  • What is the difference between being cautious and being afraid?
  • Remind children that if someone makes them feel unsafe, they should always find an adult they trust.

Please be mindful of your audience when reading this book. If you work with children who have experienced trauma, this book could help them understand that not everyone is as scary as they might think, but they might also feel like their experience is being minimized. If you know little about the children in your care, please make sure your questioning is gentle and that you in no way try to minimize or dismiss any child’s experience of trauma.

This book is really one of a kind, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s tough to talk to our kids about staying safe without also making them more afraid, particularly of people who look different from their family. Most People can start important conversations in your home, church, or wider ministry.

Here’s a friendly reminder that you can purchase my featured books by clicking on their images. This supports me with a small commission. Please also consider subscribing to the blog or following Storybook Ministry on Facebook to support my work. Thanks!

Leannah, Micheal. Most People. Tilbury House, 2017.