A Kid-Created Page-Turner: a kid’s book review

I have been following these authors and their project on social media (the “Coco and Cillian’s Adventures” page on Facebook). Cosette and Cillian, together with their dad, Nathan, have been hard at work crafting a children’s adventure story. Forbidden Treasure: A Mystery Lake Adventure is the result of all their hard work.

Forbidden Treasure by Cillian, Cosette, and Nathan Willard

This is the story of Alice and her twin brother Jax who recently moved from the Bay area to the town of Mystery Lake, Oregon (not a real town, but somewhere near Eugene). While they are still adjusting to their new surroundings (dodging bullies, and trying to make friends) they discover a time machine in their uncle’s storage area at the school (their uncle Tony teaches science at the high school). Jax and Alice and their new friends, the Detective Club, use the time machine to investigate a 150-year-old mystery of Alistair McQueen, miner-turned-millionaire, and his lost gold. In the process, they learn of Alistair’s forbidden treasure . . . (if you want to know what it is read the book, I’m not doing all the work for you).

Cillian and Cosette collaborated on developing and outlining the story. Cosette wrote the chapters, and their dad, Nathan, would expand the storyline and explain bits. All three of these authors collaborated in illustrating the book. I like how Nathan (the dad) found a way to foster his kids’ creativity and help them produce something tangible and cohesive. And the thing is, it is a good story and a fun read. It reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew but this book is a true original. I can’t wait to see what Cosette and Cillian will do next!

Preparing for Advent with Paraclete Press: Part 1 (Family Edition)

Advent is almost here and if you are hunting for Advent devotionals, Paraclete Press have some great ones. In fact, for the past few years, Paraclete has been my go-to publisher for books for Advent and Lent.  They are the  publishing arm of the Community of Jesus, an ecumenical Christian community in the Benedictine monastic tradition. Two family oriented books I’m really excited about are: All Creation Waits and Look!

All Creation Waits

all-creation-waitsFor Advent last year, my family read through Gayle Boss’s All Creation Waits, which counted down the days of December to Christmas with woodland creatures. In the northern hemisphere the days leading up to Christmas are dark and cold. Boss had us look to animals, some asleep, others with only wit and instinct to carry them through lean winter days. From the animals we learn what it means to wait. And Christmas morn we read of Jesus the light come into the world.

All Creation Waits may be my favorite devotional we’ve read as a family. Last year, my wife and I read this with kids (then ages 9,7, 5 and almost 2). The two-year-old paid no attention but the other kids listened with interest, excited to discover how each creature waited out winter. And of course David Klein’s beautiful woodcuts brought each animal story to life (Here is my post about the book from last November). This is a perfect daily reader for the season, and not just great for kids. It helped me see the season a little more and discover how to wait through dark days.


lookA new book I’m excited about is Look!: A Child’s Guide to Advent & Christmas by Laura Alary, Illustrated by Ann Boyajian.  Alary and Boyajian previously collaborated on a similar book for Lent and Easter, Make Room, which my kids also loved (my review of that book is here).

Alary describes the traditions of Advent (e.g. the Jesse Tree, the Advent Wreath) and what the season of Advent means. She explores what it means to wait by inviting us to look back, look around and look ahead. We look back at the people of Israel suffering in oppression but awaiting God’s action on their behalf. We look around, the way John the Baptist watched and waited for the time at hand and saw the Spirit descend like a dove on his Jesus after he baptized Him. We look ahead, the way Mary heard the angels word’s, consented and became pregnant with her savior and lord. And yet nine month she carried him (and 30 years raised him!). With Mary we learn to say yes to the things God may be calling us to.

Alary has practical suggestions of how we can step out and be more kindhearted and generous with others. This is what most excites me about this book. When my kids read Make Room they came away with a new appreciation for the liturgical season and the ways attempt to make more space for God in our lives. This book invites kids to pay attention and I wonder what they will see!

Notice of material connection: I received copies of these books from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest reviews


Family Ministries: A Comprehensive Guide (a book review)

Family Ministry A Comprehensive Guide, second edition by Diana R. Garland

Our families are either a source of great joy or great pain for us. Probably both. Families are the context in which we learn to trust and love and grow and where we learn to be human. Churches and family ministry are resources for families which help nurture families and help them grow. But what is the purpose of family ministry? What is the nature of family and how do churches support families and help them fulfill their calling?

Diana R. Garland, dean of the Baylor School of Social Work, wrote Family Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide to help family ministries support Christians as they live out their faith through their families. She draws on her own experience as a social work educator, researcher, family ministry consultant, congregant and family member (17).  The  first edition of this book won the 1999 Academy of Parish Clergy book of the year to Family Ministry. This edition substantially reorganizes the original material, integrating the biblical content with the social sciences and the theoretical with the practical (this edition also provides indexes which were missing). These changes make this book slightly longer than the first edition (656 pages). Having not read the first edition, I can’t say whether this edition improves upon Garland’s earlier  effort. However I can tell you that this is hands down the  most helpful book on ministry to families. Period.

Family Ministry is divided into four sections. In the first section Garland sketches the American concept of family in history and the current forms of family. She relates that to the history of Christian thought and biblical teaching on family. The sociological, historical and biblical data demonstrate that family is a fluid concept which has changed over time, often taking different forms. The ‘traditional’ family consisting of a breadwinner father, homemaker mother and dependent children has not been the reality for ‘more than 5% of Christian history'(40).  Within the current American context, families are increasing defined by persons choosing to be family, the purpose of family is no longer birthing and raising children and marriage is’ no longer the exclusive social location for sexual partnering (48).’  The Christian and Biblical understanding of family affirms monogamous marriage is the proper context for sex but also challenges  the ‘traditional’  definition of family. Jesus relativizes commitment to families of origin and recasts family as the community of faith. In light of this, Garland proposes:

The church is community on mission , a community that attempts to embody the characteristics of Jesus Christ. With that community on mission as the context, family ministry is any activity that directly or indirectly (1) forms families in the congregational community; (2) increases the Christlikeness of the family  relationships of Christians; or (3) equips and supports families for the work to which they are called together (120).

These three prongs of Family ministry provide the structure for the rest of the book.

In section two, Garland probes family formation and how the congregational community can support families. She discusses how families relate to one another,  how families develop, how physical and social spaces nurture individuals and families, the impact of stress, crises and castastrophe on family life and how cultural and ethnic identity inform our understanding of ‘family’ and our expectations. Garland  begins this section by telling the story of one group of individuals who become family for one another and discusses how the concept of Christian family  both builds on cultural definitions of family while remaining distinct (15).  She presses the notion that families develop in stages (linearly) and suggests that families develop cyclically (as phases of relationship).  Her exploration of how culture shapes our understanding and expectations of family also reveal the way in which rituals, culture and shared stories nurture give families their identity and nurture them. This has implications for congregational life.

Section three is about interpersonal dynamics within the family and how family ministry can help families become more Christlike.  Garland talks about the dynamics of communication, conflict and anger, forgiveness and repentance and intimacy. She explores the nature of power and roles, arguing for a more egalitarian approach to family relationships. She also discusses the appropriate and most effective forms of discipline and the problem of family violence and how ministers should address the issue of abuse

Section four is where Garland explores how families fit within the mission of the church and how families and churches mutually support one another in extending God’s kingdom. Congregations support family life when they have hospitable worship services which welcomes and includes every member of the family, nurtures their formation, offers pastoral care and leadership. Garland also provides a template for assessing congregations, neighborhoods and evaluating family ministries. She concludes by providing a number of examples where congregations have provided programs and ministries which nurture neighbors and families and invites families into the work of ministry.

Generally I find that certain words in a book title over promise. When a book says it is a ‘comprehensive guide’ I wonder if it can possibly deliver on its promise to say everything that needs to be said about its topic. However Garland largely succeeds.  She has written a book which is practical, theologically astute, makes good use of sociological research and addresses many of the dynamics of family life. Not everyone will agree with her conclusions (i.e. my complementarian friends would likely be unconvinced by her biblical defense of egalitarianism), but she is a great dialogue partner and she weds insights from the social sciences with a keen understanding of the mission of the church. Much of the research which this book builds on is summarized in these pages but an extensive bibliography points readers to other resources where they could dig deeper into the topic in a more focused way. If anything is left out of this ‘comprehensive guide’ it is the way technology is re-shaping family life.  The internet, the ubiquity of  smartphones and other devices have impacted our relationships with one another. Perhaps in a third edition.

I think this is hands down the best and most comprehensive book on family ministry. I highly recommend to all those who minister to families. That includes more than family ministers, children’s ministers, Christian ed directors, and youth pastors. Everyone doing the work of the ministry needs to have an understanding of how families fit within the mission of the church and what the church can do to support them.  I found this book to be tremendously helpful and their are sections which I plan on revisiting.  It assumes basic knowledge of sociology of marriage and family relationships but is written in an engaging and accessible way.  This is a great resource and I am grateful for Garland’s insights and thoughtfulness.

Thank you to IVP Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

The Third Word from the Cross

Jesus’ mother was standing next to his cross along with her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus looked to see His mother and the disciple He loved standing near by.

Jesus (to Mary, His Mother): Dear woman, this is your son(motioning to the beloved disciple)! (to John, His disciple) This is now your mother. (John 19:25-27-The Voice)

Throughout the gospel narratives, Jesus’ relationship with his mother seemed strained. When he was twelve he ditched his parents to go to temple(Luke 2:41-49). As an adult, Mary approaches Jesus to help with a wine shortage at a wedding, he responds, “Woman, what has that to do with me?(John 2:4)” I know, from years of Bible studies and commentaries that ‘Woman’ was a common address during the time, something like “Dear woman.” But try as I might I cannot make this phrase of Jesus sound like he’s being nice to mom.

mary&JohnOnce when his mother and brothers came to get him, fearing he was off his rocker, he virtually disowned them. “Who are my mother and brothers? You here are my mothers and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my true family (Mark 3:33,35).”

And it is this Jesus who uttered the words that warm every mother’s heart, “If you come to me without hating your own father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister, and yes, even your own life, you can’t be my disciple. (Luke 14:26).

But on the cross, Jesus took a moment away from dying for are sins to focus on the family. “This is your son. . .this is now your mother.” What does this mean? What is the significance of this little interchange?

Was Jesus taking time to make sure his mother is cared for in his absence? Was he giving his mom and disciple shoulders to cry on in their grief? Certainly there is an element of provision here for his grieving mother. A good Jewish boy would see that his mother was properly cared for in her old age. Augustine observes as much:

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. cxix. 1) This truly is that hour of the which Jesus, when about to change the water into wine, said, Mother, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come. Then, about to act divinely, He repelled the mother of His humanity, of His infirmity, as if He knew her not: now, suffering humanly, He commends with human affection her of whom He was made man. Here is a moral lesson. The good Teacher shews us by His example how that pious sons should take care of their parents. The cross of the sufferer, is the chair of the Master.

But this brief episode also invites reflection on the significance of Mary. As Stanley Hauerwas writes:

Mary, the Jew is in a singular fashion becomes for us the forerunner of the faith, making it impossible for Christians to forget without God’s promise to Israel our faith is in vain. When Christians repress the role of Mary in our salvation we are tempted to forget that God remains faithful to his promises to his people, the Jews. Our Savior was born of Mary, making us, like the Jews, a bodily people who live by faith in the One who asks us to behold his crucified body.

Jesus therefore, commands the disciple, his beloved disciple, not to regard Mary as Jesus’s mother but rather to recognize that Mary is “your mother.” Mary’s peculiar role in our salvation does not mean that she is seperate from the church. Rather, Mary’s role in our salvation is singular because, beginning with the beloved disciple she is made a member of the church. Mary is one of us which means the distance between her and us is that constituted by both her and our distance between the Trinity and us, that is, between creatures and Creator. (Cross-Shattered Christ, 53-54)

Mary’s yes thirty-something years before inaugurated the events that led to this moment. Her son, the God of the universe, was stretched out on a cross. With dying breath he honors her for her role and her love for him. He gave John to her as a son, reconstituting family. It is not an overstatement to say, that church is born at the foot of the cross. And the hopes of Mary, and with her all of Israel, are bound up in the Son she saw die.