Dance! (But keep your clothes on)

Year B, Seventh after Pentecost, Lectionary reading for July 11, 2021: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Last night, I spent way too much time reading arguments about David’s apocryphal state of undress. We know he wore an ephod (a kind of ceremonial apron), but other than that… no one’s really sure. His disgruntled ex-wife accuses him of being vulgar and uncovered, but as king, standards would have been pretty high. Perhaps he wasn’t wearing his usual kingly attire, or perhaps there wasn’t anything at all under that ephod; we’ll never know.

While there’s no consensus about what he was wearing, this passage from 2 Samuel makes it clear that this was a party, and nothing could stop David from dancing! He brought the ark back to Jerusalem, and despite a setback that delayed the ark’s arrival by three months, King David danced for the Lord without caring about what anyone thought.

“Dance like no one is watching.”

-King David

I never planned to share two giraffe books in a row. But if King David can dance with abandon before the Lord, then you have to meet Gerald the giraffe!

In this book, jungle animals play the part of King David’s judgemental ex-wife, and they tell Gerald that he’s clumsy, weird, and can’t dance. Gerald goes off to sulk while the rest of the animals party at the Jungle Dance. He meets a wise cricket who suspects Gerald isn’t the problem, rather, Gerald needs a different song. Gerald listens to the song of the moon, the grass, and the trees, and his body starts to move until he’s dancing like no one has ever seen!

David danced to praise God, and Gerald, by listening to the music of creation and trusting himself is doing the same. Now break out the craft supplies, make some instruments, and have a dance party!

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Perfect Weakness

Year B, Sixth after Pentecost, reading for July 4th, 2021: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

I think this a foundational paradox of our faith. God uses weak people, broken people, and imperfect people to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Sure, we have stories of heroism and conquest in the bible, but we also have Jesus. Before we could get to the resurrection, he had to endure the weakness of his humanity right up to the moment of death.

Our weaknesses and faults give God room to work miracles in our lives. When it seems like we just can’t go on, when it seems that the odds are impossible; that’s when grace does God’s work. Grace doesn’t save us from pain, but it gives us endurance and perspective when we need it most. God uses our imperfections not just to move our own lives in unexpected ways, but also to help others.

Jory John has a knack for capturing the nuances of childhood, and I’m sure I’ll be featuring other books of his here. Giraffe Problems starts with a Edward the giraffe explaining how awful it is to have a neck like his. Too bendy, too narrow, too stretchy, too lofty… too necky! Everyone stares, and he can’t even hide it behind trees or disguise it with scarves. I think we can all relate. I mean, I have the most unruly head of hair you’ve ever seen, and I’m sure you have a physical characteristic or personality trait that you just CAN’T stand! We’ve all been there.


Edward meets Cyrus, a turtle similarly disappointed with his neck. Cyrus’ neck problems have left him hungry and frustrated, staring up at a banana for a week as it ripens on the tree. It turns out Edward’s bendy, narrow, stretchy, lofty, necky neck is just perfect for helping his hungry new friend. Edward’s neck is still too long, and Cyrus’ is still too short. But grace brings the two together in a way that helps them both.

I would like to mention that no one came up to Edward and said “God has a plan for your neck,” and no one told Cyrus “there’s a reason for everything, even your hunger.” Statements like that are cruel, and I wish they would be abandoned. I know we mean them to be encouraging, but despite what I believe about God using our pain for greater purposes, when someone is hurting, these sentiments don’t help. If your friend is in pain, sweep their floor and make them a meal instead of pointing to a future in which their suffering makes sense.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What don’t you like about yourself?
  • Do you try to hide that characteristic?
  • Do you think everyone has something about themselves they don’t like?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Edward helped Cyrus get a banana. Did Cyrus help Edward?
  • Did God give Edward a long neck just so he could help Edward?
  • How might God use the things you don’t like about yourself?

Thanks for dropping by! I hope Giraffe Problems makes children’s ministry a little easier for you and more engaging for your little ones! Storybook Ministry is reader supported, so please share this post with others and if you can, consider supporting the blog at Patreon.

Salvation is Right Now

Year B, Fourth after Pentecost, Lectionary Reading for June 20 2021, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

I can’t do it, folks. I can’t believe that Christianity is a get-to-heaven system of checklists. I can’t believe that we have a whole beautiful book of scriptures and a 2000 year history of tradition and liturgy all for what happens when we die. Is Christianity a faith, or an insurance policy? Do we sing praises, pray regularly, and give to the poor just to bribe God into letting us into God’s kingdom?

I really hope there’s a heaven where angels strum harps on clouds, where we get to see our long-departed friends and family, all in perfect health and happiness, and where we will effortlessly live in the presence of God for eternity. That would be amazing! But do we really have to wait until we die? And is that the whole point? This passage from second Corinthians is one of many scriptures that refutes the idea that salvation is only for later. Here are 2 of my favourites:

Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

Luke 17:21

And saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:15

Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now, not just in the future. I love the way this video from the Bible project illustrates how Jesus’ ministry opened pockets of heaven here on earth wherever he went:

This brings me to today’s storybook. People tend to think of happiness as a goal to achieve, just like heaven. But we can choose happiness by choosing to live in God’s presence. God is always “at hand,” always available, always ready to be grasped. Even in moments of suffering, we can reach for God and find a little piece of heaven within our pain.

Julie Berry’s book Happy Right Now explores this idea from a child’s perspective. Sometimes it will rain, sometimes we have to say goodbye to a treasured friend, and we don’t always get the puppy (or friendly dragon) we want, but even in these difficult circumstances, we can choose how we react.

This book offers readers a list of helpful ways to cope with sadness, anger, and other overwhelming emotions. One page in particular shows the main character sitting quietly, taking deep breaths, and letting herself relax. Christianity has a long history of contemplative prayer as a way of listening to and connecting with God. Let’s celebrate that tradition with our children!

Contemplative prayer can be as simple as quieting your body, sitting silently, and letting go of surrounding distractions with a special word or phrase. I like to use “peace of Christ” when I get distracted, but you can help the children in your ministry choose a word of phrase that works for them. Sometimes children feel like they don’t know what to “say” to God in prayer; this is a great way to demonstrate that listening to God is equally important.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Where is heaven? How do you get there?
  • Is God far way when you pray, or right there with you?
  • What could make you happy forever?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Which of the strategies in the book have you already used to feel better?
  • Does following Jesus mean you will always be happy?
  • Do you have to be happy all the time?

Thanks for stopping by! Please share this post with your friends so we can make children’s ministry easier for leaders and more engaging for kids.

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Ends and Means

Second after Pentecost, Mark 3:20-35, Lectionary reading for June 6, 2021

Satan can not cast out Satan, only God can cast out Satan; you can not do good through evil means.

This passage of scripture comes early in Jesus’ ministry. He hasn’t been teaching and healing for long, but word has spread. There are so many people crowded around him, his family can’t get close enough to check up on him and see for themselves if all the rumours are true. His family wonders if he’s out of his mind, and the scribes think he’s possessed by demons.

But hang on a minute. Moments ago he healed a man with a withered hand, and before that he performed several other miracles: he healed a man with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21-28), healed many others at Simon’s house (1:29-34), cleansed a leper (1:40-45), and restored a paralyzed man (2:1-12)! The religious authorities accuse Jesus of using the power of Satan to do these works, but Jesus points out what the crowd already knows: these miracles are only possible through God’s power.

Satan can’t achieve evil ends with good works, and neither can we achieve positive outcomes if the path is one of evil, deception, or cruelty. Whenever humans try to use just a *little* evil in the name of the greater good, things fall apart. It’s as though Satan is waiting for us to steal that money we promise to use to help widows and orphans, only to pounce and really get us in his grips, and convince us that stealing a little more won’t hurt, and neither will spreading that rumour or starting that fire. If you want to do good, you gotta do good!

While this is a tricky idea to get across to little ones, I found the perfect story to make the concept easier to understand. The Snatchabook is a little critter who desperately wants a bedtime story, but doesn’t have anyone to read to him. His solution? He will steal some books! The families of Burrow Down miss their books and want them back. What’s worse, they accuse each other of stealing the books, leading to suspicions and hurt feelings. Eliza stays up all night to solve the mystery and meets the Snatchabook. She explains that stealing is wrong and helps the little fellow make amends.

There’s nothing wrong with needing a bedtime story! But the Snatchabook learns that stealing stories isn’t the right way to go about meeting that need. Once the books were all returned and the Snatchabook made his apologies, the families of Burrow Down welcome him into their homes for story time. The wrong way often seems like the easy way, and it takes guidance from caring adults for children to learn that doing the wrong thing only ever leads to more wrong things, while doing the right thing, even if it seems like so much more work, will lead to even better things.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Do you know anyone who has stolen anything? Ask for stories without names.
  • Why do you think people steal?
  • Do you think there’s ever a good reason to steal?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Would you let the Snatchabook into your home after he stole all of those books? Why?
  • What do you think the Snatchabook should have done instead of starting to steal?
  • When you can’t think of a good way to solve your problem, who can you go to for help?

Docherty, Helen. The Snatchabook. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013.

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How do we lay down our lives? Y’know, without actually dying?

Year B, Sixth Sunday of Easter: John 15:13-14 Lectionary reading for May 9, 2021

A couple of years ago I read a meditation about the nature of the Gospels that forever changed how I read them:

The three synoptic Gospels are largely talking about Jesus, the historical figure who healed and taught and lived in human history. John’s Gospel presents the trans-historical “Christ.”

-Fr. Richard Rohr

I wanted to start with this statement of how I interpret the Gospel of John because it speaks further to my rejection of dogma (see my post from April 10th). I don’t think John ever intended for his Gospel to be read literally; rather, it needs to be read with a much wider lens.

Jesus the Christ laid down his physical life for his friends as an example for how we are to live, putting love ahead of all else. I would hope as adults, we would agree that there is no higher love than laying down our lives for a friend, but we can’t look at in terms of binary goodness: martyrdom good, staying alive to fight another day, bad. With children, we need to talk about how Jesus sacrificed his life for his friends, but also introduce them to the metaphorical understanding of the crucifixion as well: doing hard things, sometimes REALLY hard things to help our friends and do what is right.

There’s so much to love about What Can a Citizen Do? Dave Eggers’ book features gloriously diverse kids drawn by Shawn Harris who work together to build something none of them could build alone. The words describe how citizens have responsibilities to each other, but the art shows something more: how we are sometimes called to put our own comfort aside to make life better for our friends.

A citizen’s not what you are—a citizen is what you do.

Dave Eggers

The book never specifies the location of citizenship, and I think this is a great opportunity to talk about how, while we are citizens of our communities, we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God, and that holds us to even higher standards. The book demonstrates that while laying down our lives for our friends can be uncomfortable and challenging, it is critical if we want to live the Kingdom of love during our lives.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What is a citizen?
  • What communities are you a citizen of?
  • What are your responsibilities as a citizen?

Discussion for after you read:

  • Tell about a time you when it was hard, but you helped someone anyway.
  • Tell about a time someone put their own comfort aside to help you.
  • What can we do to make sure everyone feels welcome in the Kingdom of God?

Thank you to everyone who has subscribed to this blog, my Facebook page, and my Instagram. Your support means a lot! Please forward this post to others in your circle of friends who may find it useful in their work with children. As always, if you click on the book covers, you can purchase the featured book at Amazon and I will receive a small commission that helps pay to keep this site up and running.

Eggers, Dave. What Can a Citizen Do? Chronicle Books, 2018.

Love, Especially When It’s Hard.

Year B, Fifth Week of Easter; 1 John 4:7-21; Lectionary reading for May 2, 2021

When my kids were 6 and 8, we unexpectedly took in a 5-year-old foster son. A little boy in my kindergarten classroom could no longer stay with his current foster family and was going to spend Christmas at an emergency care home 2 hours away. I reached out to his social worker to see if he could spend Christmas vacation with us so he wouldn’t be with strangers, and he stayed with us for 8 months. It was wonderful, heartbreaking, hard, and we needed to do it for one of ‘the least of these.’

Big D had the warmest smile and was born to cuddle. He loved listening to stories as long as he could wiggle, and could dribble a basketball like nobody’s business. He was always on the move, but put a kitten in his lap, and he’d stroke her fur long enough for us to get supper on the table. He had a hard time remembering things like how to spell his name or count to 5, but he memorized our family prayers within days of moving in. He was easy to love.

But Big D was also a handful. He needed constant close supervision because his behaviour was so unpredictable. He told so many lies it was hard to tell when he was being truthful. He stole things. A lot of things. Thankfully, he always hid them in the same place! Despite the best supervision we could provide, he still stole a friend’s iPod, a lighter from the hardware store, and $100 from the hot lunch cash box at school, along with countless small, shiny things from around the house that we’d find under his pillow each day. He was hard to love.

I needed to remind myself daily of this passage from 1 John. Christ lived in that little boy, and I had to love Big D no matter how tough it was. Abiding in Christ wasn’t just a theoretical experience during those 8 months; it was a daily necessity. While I have spent many years cultivating a loving, positive outlook and manner, loving Big D the way John commands every day felt impossible. By leaning on God, I succeeded more days than I failed.

I found this little book a couple months after Big D came to live with us, and I have complete faith the Holy Spirit put it in my hands. At first, I thought it would be a great book to read to my son Tim, who struggled with jealousy. He had a hard time believing I could love another kid without me loving him any less. I think it helped Tim, but mostly, when I picked this book at bedtime, I was reading it for me.

God loves us so completely he sent us Jesus. God loves us no matter how many of us crowd onto the planet; God loves us even if we eat fast food and watch too much Netflix. God loves us so that we can learn to love like God does. Just as it doesn’t matter how many children are in a family, a parent’s love expands to fit them all, we all have an infinite supply of love when we abide in Christ.

Ok, ok, I’ve made this post way too personal and if I keep going I’ll likely cry, so to wrap up: the kids in your ministry need to know that God will always give them more love than they can ever give away, and the adults in your ministry? They need to hear the same message.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Who gets more love: a kid with no siblings or a kid with lots of siblings?
  • Does God love you when you are naughty?
  • Does your family love you when you are naughty?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Is it always easy to love the people in your family?
  • Can you love someone you’ve never met?
  • How do you show love to someone you don’t know very well?

I am morally obligated to inform you of my little money-making scheme with Amazon, the one where you click on a book and I earn a 5% commission, but since no one ever actually does, these extra words are just for fun. This book is less than $10 though, so if… let’s see… carry the 1… if 154 people bought this book, I could pay for my domain name this year!

Docherty, Helen. You Can Never Run Out of Love. Scholastic, Inc. 2017.

We Are Not Defined By Our Sins

Year B, 3rd Sunday of Easter; Acts 3:12-19; Lectionary reading for April 18, 2021

When I was a child, sin terrified me. I was a Very Good Girl, and there was a lot at stake to keep it that way. While far from perfect, I wanted everyone, including God, to think I was. If I wanted to go to heaven, I had to be perfect, right? Once, shortly after my grandpa taught me how to make the sign of the cross, I did it with my left hand. That was it, I was sure I was going straight to hell, even though God had made me left-handed. I prayed and prayed for forgiveness, but I feared it would never be enough.

I lost my faith as a teenager, partly because I couldn’t keep up the perfection game. I didn’t understand how God could have made me so flawed and then wanted me to follow all these rules! I didn’t have enough scriptural understanding or guidance to survive that paradox. Rather than feel the shame of failing to meet God’s expectations, I rejected Him altogether. I was a sinner, so I gave up.

Eliza J. Murphy is also a Very Good Girl. She’s even captain of the Worm Rescue Team! But in Abigail Rayner’s book, I am a Thief!, she does something no good girl would ever do: she steals a sparkly green stone from her classroom. Eliza feels terrible about being a thief, but when she starts asking family members about their checkered pasts, she discovers that many of them have stolen things too — but that doesn’t make her feel any better.

Eventually Eliza realizes something important: even if someone is a thief, they are many other things too. Their mistakes do not define them, especially when they make amends. The children in our care need to know that they will mess up, make mistakes, and yes, sin, but that they are more than the sum of their deficits. They are beloved children of God. No matter what they have done, all they need to do is turn away from their mistake and back toward God to have their sins wiped away. There may still be worldly consequences for their actions, but God’s love and forgiveness are assured.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Have you ever stolen something? What happened?
  • How do you feel when you know you’ve done something wrong?
  • Does someone in your family write down all the mistakes you’ve made? Do you think God does?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Why do you think Ms. Delaney tells Eliza that she’s brave?
  • Does this book tell you it’s ok to steal?

I loved reading this book, and I think you will too. Click on the book image to purchase it through amazon and you’ll be supporting my work on this blog. Thanks for reading, please subscribe so you always have a book suggestion ready for your ministry!

Rayner, Abigail. I Am a Thief! NorthSouth Books, 2019

God Doesn’t Have Favourites!

Year B, Easter; Acts 10:34-43; Lectionary reading for April 4, 2021

The good news is for everyone!

God didn’t choose to save only the Jews. From the very beginning, when God calls Abram, he is told that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Gen 12:3)”, but tribalism is as difficult to shake now as it was in Abram’s time. Even though the resurrected Jesus commissions the disciples to spread the Word around the world, and even though they received the gift of tongues at Pentecost, God knows Peter isn’t quite ready for God’s blessing to be upon non-Jews and Jews. God sends a vision to Peter and an angel to the centurion Cornelius, and finally Peter understands.

Yes, but…

Nope. No buts about it.

No matter who you are, where you’re from, the colour of your skin, what language you speak, your gender, or who you love, if you fear (honour, respect, and revere) God and do what is right, God accepts you into God’s family.

Jamie Lee Curtis’s book, Is There Really a Human Race? helps put this into perspective. The story is told as a child asking a parent questions about this human ‘race’ we seem to be in. Where are we going? Why are we racing? Is the race fair? Eventually the perspective switches to the parent, who reassures their little one that we aren’t actually in a race with other people, and in fact, we experience far more success when we cooperate rather than compete. There’s a lot going on in the illustrations, so plan on leaving this book out in the Sunday school room, or when it’s safe to pass something around during coffee and fellowship (remember those days? Sigh.).

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Do you like being in races and contests?
  • Would they still be fun if EVERYTHING was a race or a contest?
  • Can you win God’s love in a race?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Can you tell if someone loves God by looking at them?
  • Can you lose God’s love in a race?
  • Why do you think God made so many different kinds of people?

I hope you use this book in your ministry, but be warned: it can be a bit of a tongue-twister, so practice reading it out loud first! If you click on the picture of the book below, Amazon will happily sell you a copy and I will receive a small commission to help support the site. Check your local library for a copy too!

Curtis, Jamie Lee. Is There Really a Human Race? HarperCollins, 2006.