Nurturing the Faith to Sustain: a ★★★★★ book review

Sophfronia Scott came to Christian faith as a child, having read a religious tract and praying the prayer at the end. Her family wasn’t regular churchgoers, though her father listened to eight-track tapes of Reverend C. L. Franklin and movies like The Ten Commandments, King of Kings and the Greatest Story Ever Told.  When she was in college, at Harvard University, she reacted to a Christian friend’s harsh judgmentalism towards athiests and this increased her wariness of church. She  had thought about getting baptized, even spoke to Rev. Peter Gomes about it, but Gomes’s requirement for baptism was being committed to a Christian community, and she wasn’t about to join a church.

 

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she came to church and a more significant faith as an adult. Her young son, Tain Gregory,  heard Where is Your Hairbrush? on satellite radio in the car. This led to the discovery of other Veggie Tale Silly Songs and the Veggie Tale cartoon. As Tain learned about the Bible from vegetables, he began to show an interest in faith, God and spiritual things. One day he

 

said he wanted to go to church. So Sophfronia, her husband Darryl and Tain decided to start attending church together. They settled on Trinity Episcopal Church, the church that Tain’s preschool had been in.

I knew before reading This Child of Faith, that Sophfronia had a son who was a third grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School when a gunman entered the school. The events of that day entered the national consciousness. It was the fourth largest, single shooter massacre in U.S. history.  I figured, given the significance and severity of that event, this would be a difficult read, knowing that any Sandy Hook story would be intense.

And it was. Tain lost a close friend (a godbrother) and other people he cared about. Sophfronia struggled with the best way to help Tain process the trauma. But despite the way that day impacted their family and community, this memoir is not really the story of the Sandy Hook shooting. Rather, this is a story of a mother and son, each growing in their Christian faith and the resource their faith was to them.

Sophfronia tells us of Tain’s faith and childlike wonder, the way he saw God everywhere, his gregarious and generous spirit, and the things this called up in her. She also describes what she did to help nurture Tain in the faith, her lesson planning for children’s worship (which she was conscripted to occasionally lead), and the day she and Tain were baptized together. She talks about how their pastor walked with them through difficult stuff, such as the death of a friend’s husband and Sophfronia’s sister.  The school shooting happens near the end of the book. It is Sophfronia and Tain’s faith journey that would give each the resources to process that painful event. Their family worshipped together at Trinity church, they were fed by sacraments, oriented by liturgy and the liturgical calendar, and bolstered by devotional practice and prayer, surrounded by the community of faith.

Sophfronia lists Tain as her co-author. She wrote the book but includes occasional memories and reflections from Tain. With an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College, this is a well-written memoir. And despite its graphic and heart-rending conclusion, this signals hope. Their faith carries them through trauma and loss.  I highly recommend this. Five stars! – ★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

Goodnight Shame

Five years ago we sent our daughter to Awana at a nearby church. We like the Bible and we want our kids to learn and love it. We sent her, confident that she would have a good time and hopefully learn a little. In general, this was a positive experience for both her and us. We got to know some of the people at that church, the same church our other daughter went to for preschool (and later Awana) and there was lots of kids crafts and silliness which kept her entertained.

One night after Awana, our daughter was a little wound up. She wasn’t listening at all, running, laughing, singing when we started to go through her bedtime routine. We tried in vain to get her and her siblings to bed. We were exasperated.  So, I made my angry dad face and scolded her sternly. I remember a look of shock before she ran off to finally got ready. Parenting win, I thought. When she had her pajamas on, she came up to me, tears in her eyes. She looked up at me and said with a whimper, “Dad, I’m sorry for sinning.”

Excuse me?

It didn’t take me long to connect the dots. She came home from Awana where she had learned that Everyone has sinned. No one has lived up to God’s glory (Romans 3:23 NrIV). They had a short devotional teachings about what kids do that are sinful (like disobeying their parents), so that they’d accept Jesus as Savior and Lord.  She probably learned in the same lesson that When you sin, the pay you get is death. (Romans 6:23a NrIV). When her Wednesday night exuberance caused me to react in anger, she felt ashamed. Shame at who she was—a five year old hardened sinner who stayed up way too late and liked to sing. I doubt that this exact message was the one her Awana leaders intended, but it was the one she got.

I have a big problem with that.

I agree with her Awana leaders that sin is a universal problem, one dealt with decisively by Christ on the cross. But for the life of me, I can’t picture God punishing my little girl with eternal conscious torment because she was hyper and distracted at bedtime. The truth is, a lot of kid’s willful disobedience, while exasperating, is pretty adorable. If God enjoys my kids as much as I do (and I know he does),  I doubt he would even been angry if he was the one tasked with tucking them in that night. Kids are kids. He probably would laugh the way I laugh before my patience wears thin.

God is our loving Father; yet sometimes our theology paints Him as less loving than we are with our own kids. We take great pains to not shame our kids when they misbehave, but ironically we’ve been taught to shame sinners. A couple of centuries of revivalist spirituality taught us to get people to seek the gospel remedy by getting them to feel sorrow for their sins.  How can something be good theology and bad psychology? Shaming sinners gets it wrong.

Certainly I could think of out of bounds behaviors and more serious offenses my kids might do that demands an adequate response. Sin is a real issue in all our lives that we need to confess it and repent of it.  But I’ve grown wary of this shaming spirituality we see in Evangelical statements, children’s curriculum, Sunday sermons and worship songs.  There has to be a better way.

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Directing My Kid’s Spiritual Formation: a book review.

As an erstwhile pastor and a full-time parent, I have a vested interest in my kids’ spiritual formation. So I was excited to dig into Jared Patrick Boyd’s book, Imaginative Prayer: A Yearlong Guide For Your Child’s Spiritual Formation. 

4625Boyd is a Vineyard pastor, spiritual director and founder of The Order of Sustainable Faith (a missional monastic expression). He has previously authored a book on composing a rule of life (Invitations & Commitments: a Rule of Life, The Order of Sustainable Faith,  2014).

In Imaginative PrayerBoyd provides a template for leading your children through a year-long transformative prayer practice (actually 42 weeks).  The book begins with a six-stanza  ‘Imaginative Prayer Creedal Poem (11-12).  Each week has an Ignatian style imaginative prayer designed for kids ages 9-12, reflections for parents and mentors, suggestions for pressing deeper into each theme with your children (through activities, research, and conversation), and suggestions to get your children to journal about. Even seven-week cycle includes a week of review which incorporates questions, activities and memorizing of the section of  Boyd’s creedal poem that corresponds to that section. The 42 weeks cover the topics of God’s Love, Loving Others, Forgiveness, Jesus the King, The Good News of God, and The Mission of God.

I read through this book a couple of weeks ago and took an atypical amount of time sitting down to write this review. Part of it is, this book came out in July, so me, or anyone reviewing it now, has not used the book as it was intended (a 42-week spiritual journey with kids). I actually have not used this with my own children, though I spoke with my daughters about it and they are super excited to try this out and I think it is a great way to harness their imagination to deepen their connection to God in Christ.

Essentially what Boyd provides, is a roadmap for us parents to slow down and become spiritual directors for our kids. Boyd tested the material with kids ages 9-12 because children these ages are old enough to grapple with significant questions and abstract concepts but also young enough to have a ‘sense of playfulness’ which makes the material more engaging (303-304). However, I plan to use this with my 8 and my 10-year-old. Having previewed the material, I like Boyd’s sense of the larger Christian story and the way he employs contemplative practices in an engaging way for kids.

On the topic, I have a big problem with a lot of Christian children’s curriculum because they focus almost exclusively on getting kids to behave better, promoting a form of moralism. Or they impart a faith formula that kids ought to believe. What is refreshing about Boyd’s approach is that is a transformative invitation to prayer.

I may revisit this later, but for now, I give this an enthusiastic 5 stars. Now for the practice of prayer. . .

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review

Parenting with Intent: a book review

What are your intentions as a parent?  Rearing up a child is not something that just happens.  It is hard work and without some thoughtfulness you will never take steps to raise your kids right. Counselors Sissy Goff, David Thomas and Melissa Trevathan have walked with a number of families through their ministry, Daystar Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee.  They know that good parents are mindful about what they want their children to become, but they also are attentive about being the sort of parents who can provide nurture and consistency, model spiritual health, and take responsibility for their family. In Intentional Parenting they offer their insights on how we can be better parents.

Intentional Parenting by Sissy Goff, LPC, David Thomas, LMSW, and Melissa Trevathan, MRE.

Goff, Thomas and Trevathan  take turns writing each of the twelve chapters of the book which are designed to encourage parents to attend to what parenting does. They challenge parents to be intentional, patient, grown-up, balanced, consistent, playful, connected, encouraging, spiritual, merciful, and hopeful. If this seems like hard work and pressure, the final chapter dispels the notion: “Being a Free Parent.” In that chapter, Trevathan avers that our experience of God’s grace is what sets us free to parent our children and trust God with the results.

Too many parenting books tell you how to get your kids to behave or succeed. That isn’t really the focus of this book, (though  they’re not urging us to turn out ill-behaving failures either). Instead their book focuses on what God does in and through us as parents.  In the opening chapter (“Being an Intentional Parent”), Thomas argues that parenting has more to do with our own growth than our ability to turn out good, productive children:

If we are willing to consider that God designed parenting more for our own sanctification and transformation than to shape our children’s lives, we open ourselves up to movement, growth, and maturity. If we consider that God designed parenting as a place where men and women could come to ask hard questions, engage deep heartache, and find renewed hope–a place where people can grow in the range and richness of new possibility in their lives–then there is much room for maturity of heart (p.10)

What follows in this book is an explication of this point. Each author, in turn, challenges us to be the parents we long to be.  If we are to parent well, we will need to grow in patience, because let’s face it, our kids are slow and the act of parenting does not feel very efficient.  Being a ‘grown-up’ parent means that to parent well, you will have to face your past and the things that shaped you as a child (and parent).  And yes balance and consistency will need to be cultivated to do it well.  But ultimately the glory of parenting is when you get to pass on  joy, hope and freedom to each child. If I have a well behaved child, but my parenting style impedes my kid understanding God’s grace, I failed as a parent (and a human being!).

This book is full of  challenging advice from some seasoned counselors. But it is not preachy. Goff, Thomas and Trevathan are excited about what parenting does in us as we seek to love and nurture our children.  Their excitement is infectious. I give this book 4 stars!

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review through BookSneeze.

 

Organic-Family Style Outreach (a book review)

by Kevin and Sherry Harney

As a Christian parent invested in the life of my children, I want my kids to know Jesus and have a robust faith of their own. I also want to live the sort of life which welcomes friends and neighbors and shares with them the good news about life in Christ. Unfortunately when you turn to Christian books about parenting or evangelism, you often get a barrage of heavy-handed advice or some pre-fab formula for success.

What I like about Organic Outreach For Families is that Kevin and Sherry Harney  have raised boys of their own and they offer sane advice about sharing your faith with your kids and neighborhood. Far from being a formulaic approach, the Harneys encourage parents to listen well and discover who our kids are so that we can share Jesus with our kids (and others) in ways that are non-manipulative.

In part one of this book the Harneys share how to talk to your kids about your faith journey and your relationship with God.  They encourage parents to share our own experience of God with our kids (in age appropriate ways),to study our child’s unique shape and learning style, to pray with our child and patiently wait for God’s timing in drawing them to Him. It isn’t up to us to manipulate our kids or force our faith on them. Instead patiently extend God’s grace to them and speak to them about the God we love. They also offer some tips for praying for and sharing your faith with extended family (patience being a key element here).

In part two the Harneys explore four characteristics of  a Christian home which help children grow in their faith. A safe haven home is a home which is a safe place for your children because you raise them in ways that are consistent with your belief system (i.e. you practicing what you preach, you are consistent with the loving discipline you provide. Home is an emergency room because as parents we cultivate health in our kids (and in our communities) by providing loving attention, being present and inviting and culturally aware. The home is a playground where parents provide fun and enjoyment for the kids and participate in activities that make each child feel loved (Know your kids’ love language).  And the home is also a place of prayer where parents teach their kids to pray and trust God with everything by praying with them for others, for important life events, for stressful situations. The bottom line for the Harneys is:

When prayer is natural, frequent, and normative in your home, God’s presence is seen and his power affirmed. At the same time, when life’s great moments and times of pain  come and go without prayers being lifted up to God, the message is just as loud and clear:  God isn’t interested in our lives (122).

The consistency, care, enjoyment and prayer are elements to help children grow up to love God and live for him.

In the final section of the book, the focus broadens to look at how families can partner together in mission to impact their neighborhoods.  Here the Harneys challenge families to keep a prayer list and prayerfully look for opportunities to be the light.  They challenge families to work together to make their home hospitable and inviting places (i.e. cleaning up the home together for the express purpose of inviting others over), and budgeting for entertaining.  They also encourage families to eat out  and shop at the same places so that you can build relationships with people.  Yet they also talk realistically about being able to set boundaries which protect everyone in the family.

I liked this book a lot. My wife is the children’s director at our church and several weeks ago she was looking for resources she could recommend to parents about talking to your children about your faith. We didn’t have this book at the time, but I think it is a great resource for this. I also appreciate that the Harneys offered advice about child rearing based in their own experience of raising their sons (their sons also share their side of the story in sidebars throughout the book).  This doesn’t mean that they think your family or mine will necessarily look the same as theirs. The ‘organic’ part about this book means that the Harneys want you to take the ideas they share here, about evangelism, hospitality and parenting and adjust them so that they can grow in the soil your family is planted in.

Likewise the sort of evangelism described here is rooted in the idea of ‘incarnating’ Christ in your home and in your ordinary life through practicing hospitality and  building friendships with your neighbors (and your kid’s friends).  This means that every family which follows the Harneys’ model of outreach will look different, and will reach different sorts of people because we are all different (and some of us more different than others). I am quite enamored by this approach but I don’t always know the best way to go about it. I have lived in the city in intentional community where I was involved in my neighbors on a number of levels. That was easier than raising three kids (toddler, preschooler and kindergartener  is sleepy suburbia where your neighbors don’t talk to you. The challenge for me is to figure out how to do the sorts of things that the Harneys suggest in my  current context. The Harneys are helpful to that end, offering suggestions at the end of each chapter on ‘making our house a lighthouse.’

I recommend this book for parents who are passionate about introducing their children to Jesus, helping them grow in their faith and partnering with them to reach their community. It is what I want for my kids and the Harneys have a lot of wisdom to share.

Thank you to Zondervan and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.