Taking the Lessons Home

 Taking the Lessons Home   Epiphany 3

One of the best things we can do for our children is to have dinner together.  Children who regularly have dinner together as a family tend to do better in school and have fewer behavioral problems.  That includes families with single parents—simply having dinner together where everyone has a chance to talk to one another and share what is happening builds stability in children’s lives.

When you can this month, try asking these question sometime during dinner, “Where did you see God today?”  “Did anything happen that reminded you God loves you today?”  “Did you do anything today that made God happy?”

One of the gifts we can give our children is the ability to see God’s presence and hear God’s call in every day, ordinary aspects of their lives.  Conversations like these can help us adults, too.

Taking the Lessons Home   Epiphany 2

“Come and see,” answers Jesus. This week, encourage children to “come and see” where and how things are done in the house.  If they want to be disciples as well as contributing family members, let them come and see how to load a dishwasher, do laundry and even sit down and pay bills.  Also—show them where you take time for yourself—a chair with a daily devotional, a bible or “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book nearby. Let them Come and see where the adults take time to be close to God and they will start learning and practicing healthy habits in their relationship with God.

Taking the Lessons Home    Epiphany 1

There are copies of the Blessing of the House service on the table by the elevator on the landing.  Use it or adapt it to your family’s needs and let the children participate in the blessing.  Cut a small branch off of an evergreen tree or use a green end off of the Christmas tree or wreath before you discard them.  Use the branch and a bowl of water to splash a bit of water as a blessing in each room.  Talk about all the blessings you enjoy in your home and talk about how your home is sometimes a blessing to others.

Taking the Lessons Home    New Year’s Day

If we had used the scheduled readings for today instead of the Children’s Program, the recurring theme would have been “children.” Jesus is the child of God; the children of Bethlehem were slaughtered because of Herod’s avarice; God has treated Israel like beloved children; the sacrifice of Jesus makes believers into children of God.

So today or sometime this week, take your children someplace special—a favorite restaurant, the zoo, a children’s museum. Tell them they are special. Tell them you love them and tell them God loves them even more—if you can imagine that! Talk to them about children who are not as fortunate—images of refugees are flashed across the news and on our television screens daily. Talk about how you might be able to help them—through the church or Church World Service. Bake some cookies and sell them at church—and give the money raised to Church World Service refugee relief efforts. Make friendship bracelets to sell at church. Shovel a neighbor’s driveway and ask for a donation to refugee relief efforts, Kindercottage or other child centered missions.

Listen to our children’s ideas for how to be a disciple. They will come up with things we have not thought of and which may lead us into new channels of grace and community.

Most of all, hold them close and tell them how much you love them.

Taking the Lessons Home:         Advent 4

Today the children tell us the story of the birth of Jesus. Plan ahead for gift opening this year and ask the children to open one present at a time. Each person has to tell one more part of the story of the birth. If remembering the story is too difficult for the children, simply have a copy available and each person has to read the next sentence in the biblical story before they open their next present. Depending on the size of the family gathered, you may run out of story before you run out of gifts. If that happens, after the story is told, ask each person to sing a verse of a favorite Christmas carol before they open their next gift.

This lets the family enjoy each other’s gifts and see one another’s reactions to the gift. It also refocuses everyone’s attention on gratitude in the face of the recipient, and weaves the birth story into our gift giving. It invites us to pay attention to each other rather than on what we are getting.

Taking the Lessons Home:       Advent 3

Today we hear Mary’s song, The Magnificat. This young woman is singing a song to magnify God’s love for all creation. You can talk about how we see God’s love for us in creation, the food we eat, the beautiful color of leaves this time of year, how God leaves some trees green for us to remind us that God’s love is “ever” green for us.

Then, take a magnifying glass and look at some of these things more closely. Note the intricate patterns on the leaves, the differences between the leaves that have fallen and a few needles from an evergreen. Check out what a potato looks like under the magnifying glass or veins under your own skin.

God has put a lot of thought into all the intricate details of creation. The trees use the smallest elements in the soil to grow and make the leaves. And then the leaves return these nutrients to the soil for next year’s leaves.

Magnification helps us see things more clearly. Through her role, Mary helps us to experience the promise of God-made-flesh: clear, in focus, magnified.

How can our souls magnify the Lord so that others can see God’s love even if they don’t have a magnifying glass?

Taking the Lessons Home:     Advent 2

Please take advantage of the devotional booklets and the children’s activity booklets available for ideas for continuing the lessons of the day at home throughout Advent.

“Repent” is a difficult vocabulary word even for adults. The physical translation of “turning away from,” however, is easier to understand and can even be a little fun.

During mealtime grace this week, try including a “prayer of confession.” Ask your children if they are trying to be better at something?

If they are learning a skill, such as playing an instrument, then turn away from distractions. Write the word “distractions” on a piece of paper and have them turn away from it during the prayer, perhaps a prayer for strength to turn away from things.

Want to do more as a family together? Turn away from the electronic devices. Place the pads, tablets and phones in a basket or on a table away from the dining table. Make a ritual or ceremony of it. Get in line, place the item on the table and then turn away from it and walk away. At the beginning of the meal, stand up and face away from the table, say a prayer for God to bless your time together to catch up with each other, when you say, “God, turn us toward each other,” everyone turn toward the table and join hands.

Turning our wishes or our “we should do more of that” into a physical action helps us focus on the change we are trying to accomplish.

Taking the Lessons Home:      Reign of Christ Sunday

Sesame Street has that wonderful segment, “Three of these things belong together and one of these things does not.”

You can play this game with pictures of kings or modern day rulers such as presidents and prime ministers. Show a picture of a gathering of world leaders and look for the signs of status and power—a crown, a special robe, security details, soldiers lined up around them, fancy helicopters and airplanes. Then show them a picture of Jesus, perhaps with a crown of thorns or a picture of Jesus as the “good shepherd.”

How is Jesus similar to the rulers of this world? How is he different?

Talk about what it means that Christ is our king or our Lord. What does that mean for our behavior and the way we treat other people.

Make it a project for a week. Pick out people you see on TV or in the news and ask, “Who do you think that person thinks is “king” of their life?” Or ask your children to show you someone they know or someone in the news who they think worships Jesus as king. What makes them think that?

Taking the Lessons Home:      Psalm 98

Psalm 98 resounds with praise for God. Children can have a lot of fun with the idea that every part of creation praises God in its own way.

Take a walk around the yard or neighborhood and play a game. Start the phrase with whatever you see, such as, “And the trees praise God….”

And let the children finish the sentence. See what they come up with.  “by shaking in the wind; by having beautiful leaves, by letting the squirrels live in their branches…”

They can make different sounds for different birds: The robin praise God by….”  “The woodpecker praises God by…..”

Encourage them to shout, sing, make animal noises, dance, sway in the wind or other sound and movement.

Older children might take their favorite such verse and draw a picture or use some clay or salt dough to make an ornament depicting their idea—a tree, a squirrel, a house, a bush or something else that they saw praising God on your walk.

Taking the Lessons Home:  (Reformation Sunday)

Children are probably not that interested in “church history.” They are often, however, interested in family history. As All Saints Day approaches, get out some old family photos. Talk about the traditions your family had around Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

What traditions do you still practice? What ones have been set aside or forgotten?

Ask the children what is their favorite tradition? What ones do they not understand? Why do we go to this house on Christmas morning but to this house the weekend after Christmas—or spend Christmas Eve with one side of the family and Christmas day the other side? How did all that start?

Talk about church traditions, too. Why do we ring the bell at the beginning of worship? Why do we have Communion only once a month for the most part? Are there church traditions they would like to change? Share those ideas with the pastor!

(Luke 18:9-14) (Portions adapted from Sundays and Seasons, 2016. “Let the Children Come”, p. 299)

Children, especially older elementary aged children, are very concerned about “being fair,” a child’s understanding of justice. Is the slice of cake equal?  Who was standing in line first?

Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and tax collector provides a helpful focus for our work for justice: self-reflection. We usually begin thinking about justice by looking at the other person.  Jesus draws our attention back to us.  It takes a bit of maturity to engage in the kind of self-reflection Jesus is inviting here.  4th and 5th graders are just starting to develop that ability and it is a critical time to help them develop it.

Even younger children, however, can learn the words “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.” They learn the strength of those words best by seeing adults in their lives practice authentic confession and thankfulness for forgiveness as well as the generous practice of forgiveness themselves.

This week, when some little infraction for which your child needs forgiveness comes up, try offering forgiveness and then take an extra moment to reflect on what it feels like to be forgiven. Tell your child that you are thankful God forgives you for those times when you forget God and you hope your child is grateful for those times you forgive them.

When watching TV, ask if a particular character is acting more like the humble man or the proud man in the parable. Which character do they want to be more like in their lives?

When saying grace at table this week, ask them if they have had to forgive anyone that day or if they need to still forgive someone. Talk about the feelings around that and ask them to think about how God feels when we don’t forgive someone else or when we don’t honestly confess—that is, don’t make excuses, just confess—and ask for forgiveness.

(Luke 18:1-8) (Portions adapted from Sundays and Seasons, 2016. “Let the Children Come”, p. 295)

The parable of the woman persistently beseeching the unjust judge is the model Jesus offers for prayer life. I wonder if today he might offer the model of the child in the basket at the grocery store checkout lane who will not give up on beseeching her mother (or anyone else who will listen) for that candy bar or package of gummi candies.  Maybe Jesus today could tell us, “Consider the mother in the aisle at Target with the child who is wailing and kicking for want of the latest licensed comic book turned into movie stuffed animal character with realistic sounding animal noises and 6 different phrases.  Doesn’t the mother, who knows she is just rewarding that behavior but is embarrassed by the child’s tantrum and who has 3 more stops before getting home, finally buy the animal for fear of further meltdowns and perhaps being reported to the authorities?”

So often we teach our children prayers handed down from others. But how can we model for children a more personal relationship and conversational prayer life with God  (and nurture a sense of patience when our prayers are not answered immediately)?

Yes, it is good to know the traditional prayers. It is also good to feel comfortable lifting up our very real, human—and sometimes childish—needs.

This week, take a few moments to say aloud your prayers to God. Let your children hear you bringing very real, very personal prayers to God.  Then listen as they offer their prayers.

If you have a suggestion for how we can better involve your children in worship, please, come and tell Pastor Mike. We want to model extravagant welcome and an open, honest and meaningful prayer life.  We cannot do that with tradition alone.  We need to add childlike honesty and persistence.

 

 

(Luke 17:11-19) (Portions adapted from Sundays and Seasons, 2016. “Let the Children Come”, p. 292)

 

This is one of the Taking the Lessons Home columns that invites us to listen to our children and what they might teach us.

Having an “attitude of gratitude” is good for our mental health and overall good health. (In Praise of Gratitude, Harvard Mental Health Letter, November, 2011. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude ) We help ourselves by developing a sense of thankfulness—it reduces feelings of envy, resentment and anger while nurturing hope, health and empathy.

Have you ever taken a walk outside with a young child? Have you noticed how they seem to stop at every little thing? The bustling anthill, the tree root making a crack in the sidewalk, the exoskeleton left behind by the cicada—all miracles in their eyes.

I was in line at the grocery checkout the other day and just delighted at the amazed look on the face of an 11 month old child marveling at the pumpkin that was sharing the cart with her. Her hands trembled as she caressed its sides, checked out its grooves and squealed with delight as she felt the scratchy texture on the stem. I was almost jealous that I could not see a pumpkin for the first time ever again.

Sometimes it is hard for us to see and recognize God’s miracles all around us. Sometimes it takes a child to notice and wonder at God’s abundant grace to help us notice, too.

What can you do as a family to let your children help you see the world anew? How can we foster a greater attitude in this church to allow the outsiders or the unexpected ones to be our teachers—and perhaps nurture a spirit of gratitude in us?

Sometimes we are so anxious to explain the world to our children we miss out on the wonder of discovering something new. Likewise, perhaps we are too quick to explain our faith and our worship. Do we risk glossing over the questions a guest might have or the wonder they might have that they can participate in Communion with us?

Sit down with your children and write some thank you notes—to family members, teachers, scout leaders and the church. Listen to what they are thankful for. Help them to see the many things they have to be thankful about. Tell them why you are thankful for all those people.

Take time to pray for a more grateful attitude. It is good for your heart, your weight control, your marriage and all your relationships among lots of other physical and spiritual benefits. And the children can teach us if we let them.

Psalm 36:5-10

The psalmist tells us: But your loyal love, Lord, extends to the skies;     your faithfulness reaches the clouds. 

Books such as The Runaway Bunny, Guess How Much I Love You and I Love You This Much reassure children that their parents’ love is beyond what anyone can measure.  So too, we imagine God’s love with metaphors for the infinite.

Look at the animals around the house and talk about how mother dogs show their love to their puppies, cats to their kittens, squirrels to their pups, raccoons to their cubs or birds to their chicks.

Talk with children about the deep well of God’s love, a well that never runs dry. Talk about the times they have been angry and stopped liking a person and think about how hard it must be for God to love us all.  Does God know something about us we don’t know?  Does God know we are far more capable of loving one another than we think we are?

Does knowing God loves us so deeply help us to be able to love others—and be a little more patient with them?

 Luke 12:49-56

Any readings about family are a good opportunity to help children figure out how they are related to family members.  Get a sheet of paper or some poster board and draw a family tree.  Start sharing stories about the relatives you remember that your children may not have known—and other stories about the people they do know.  Create a family tree.  Instead of squares and circles for the genders, you can put pictures for the people if you like.

family-tree-symbols

Ask your children about friends and church members.  Do they feel like family sometimes?  How would you diagram them into the tree?

If you do get pictures out, talk about who looks like who in the family.  What skills—musical, craft, woodworking, math, compassion, patience, athleticism—do you see in different people in the family?  If some children are adopted, talk about the difference in appearances and how gardens are beautiful because of the variety of the flowers.  Family and faith become the soil that nourishes all the different looking people.

List a special gift each person on the tree brings to your family.  Share the “Family Gifts Tree” at the next big family gathering and say a prayer giving thanks for each family member.

With older children and teens:

Formal family trees or “Genograms” are used in pre-marital and other counseling settings. They call for adopted, foster children and couples living together without being married to be joined by dotted lines rather than solid lines.

How would those dotted lines make the people feel? Is there a difference within the family?  What does it mean to be married or living together?  Do you need a formal commitment or the recognition of the community to be a “family?”

 

 Luke 13:10-17

The gospel story today carries that striking image of the woman “quite unable to stand up straight.” This condition meant that she could not look people in the eyes and she was probably ignored and forgotten.  But Jesus notices her.

Talk with your children about how they feel when people ignore them. Have there been times when adults just kept talking and ignored them?  When is it rude to demand attention (when interrupting) and when is it necessary (when someone needs care immediately)?   How do we tell the difference when we are sometimes impatient ourselves?

Also talk about the other side of the situation—when do we ignore others? How do we acknowledge people (look at them) without “staring” at them?  Who are the people you find it difficult to look at sometimes?   How do you think they feel?

We can look at people who are homeless, differently abled or looking lonely or sad and simply nod at them, even smile at them. A nod and a smile are sometimes the difference between ignoring someone and staring at them.

For older children and teens:

Many women are still living under a spirit of oppression today. This passage is a good opportunity to talk about what our youth feel about body shapes and attractiveness, women’s and men’s roles in family and society and who the lost or ignored ones are in their schools.  Explore how different teachers convey their overt or unconscious attitudes about women’s and men’s roles or places in society.  Schools may have policies but our children are uncannily perceptive about which teachers agree with those policies and which ones adhere only grudgingly.  Check out how they feel about these issues and their perceptions of how others feel about them.

What do they hear from other family members? Do they feel subtly pushed in the direction of certain studies or careers because others are for the other gender?  Do grandparents say different things than parents; do parents push in different ways than teachers?  What is their perception of their peers and their hopes and dreams?

 

 Luke 14:1, 7-14 This can be a fun passage to explore with our children and grandchildren. At the next family meal or just at a dinner one night, ask the children how you all decided where everyone would sit around the dinner table.  Listen to their answers.  Is there a birth order/age based decision?   Do you have a round table or a rectangle with a “head of the table”?  How have the children picked up on subtle cues about where they “belong”?  Are those the messages you want to send or are they interpreting cues in a way that surprises you?

At the next holiday dinner with a larger family gathering, what would happen if you had some adults sit at “the kids’ table” and some kids sit at the “adults’ table”?  Ask some of the older children/young adults what it feels like to be relegated to the kids’ table or, maybe, what it felt like the first time they were invited to the adults’ table.  How does the family make room for newcomers—boyfriends, girlfriends, fiancés?

Have you ever invited a non-family member to join you at a holiday meal—an older neighbor who does not have family nearby, perhaps? Where did they sit?

Does gender play a role in seating at the table? We may teach our children the genders are equal and try to raise our daughters and sons to believe they can be whatever they want to be.  Do we show that equality at the table or is the “head of the table” reserved for males only?  Who helps clean up after dinner?  Is work equally divided?

Again, no right or wrong answers here. It just might be interesting to explore the subtle cues our children are perceiving and reflect on how our actions sometimes speak more loudly than our words.

 Philemon

Letter writing is becoming a lost art in our culture.  Our children may not even recognize Paul’s writings as letters but as seemingly long winded essays. Philemon gives us a chance to talk about letter writing and putting our thoughts in writing.  Try sitting together and writing some of these letters:

  • A letter to yourself at the end of this school year. Was the year as exciting as I had hoped it would be? What did you learn? Who are the new friends you made? How did you change over the year and did any of your friendships change or other thoughts or questions.  Then put the letter in a safe place and take it out at the end of the year—or maybe more often—to think about the questions.
  • A letter to a relative living in another city. Sometimes a phone conversation or an e-mail gets us quick answers to quick questions. What are some of the deeper thoughts or feeling you can express in writing that you have a hard time talking about?
  • A letter to a teacher telling the teacher something about yourself that you think they should know.
  • A letter to a grandparent or other beloved relative to ask questions about their life, what was it like when their children were born, what hopes did they have for their life and how has it all worked out? What things do they want to tell you about life and what is important in life?
  • Take a look at recent text message threads and turn them into letters. What is really being asked and what prayers are really behind the texts? For example: “home yet?” could mean, “Are you safe? Have you made it past all the dangers I worry about? Are you safe in spirit? Did anything happen at school that has made you sad or worried? You do know that even if I am not there when you get home, you are in my thoughts and prayers. I pray for you throughout the day. I hope you know that.”            Talk about the love, the concern and the joy that is behind the texts you have traded recently. Letters give us a chance to express feelings and nuances we cannot express in texts, tweets and quick phone calls.

You can also try looking at this idea another way: take a letter and turn it into a few text messages.  Try it with Paul’s letter to Philemon and then try tackling 1 Corinthians 13 or some other of Paul’s letters.

1 Timothy

We will be looking at these pastoral letters for a few weeks.   Just like last week, we note that letter writing is becoming a lost art in our culture.  Our children may not even recognize Paul’s writings as letters but as seemingly long winded essays.

We also might pull away from people trying to tell us about their experience with Jesus or their experience of faith. We have seen faith divide people.  Our children are still learning, however, and they need to hear and see ways to connect our faith to our lives.  These letters, if we look at them together, can help us do that.

Children need to hear our stories. Millenials, we are told, connect best over a personal story—and a cup of coffee or a latte. In fact, I think everyone, including us Boomers, responds to honest, open sharing as long as it is honest and not coercive or demanding. So, again, this week take some time with your children—or spouse or yourself—and write a letter to someone else about your experience with God. Children can add a picture if they like.  What was it like to need to hear from God?  What was going on in your life?  How did God connect with you—through a church, a friend, a pet or another person?  What changed?

How does it feel to know you are forgiven? Are you able to forgive others knowing God loves you?

Share your faith story with your children and help them start to learn how to share their faith story with you. When they struggle with their faith, they are more likely to feel comfortable coming to you if you have laid this groundwork.

Luke 16:1-13

Luke’s warning about wealth and his attention to the poor are hard to hear in our capitalist culture.  Some Christians have replaced it with a point of view found in the Old Testament, that God gives wealth as a reward for religious faithfulness.  So it is that Christians do not agree about how to have and use money. (Sundays and Seasons, Year C 2016)

Children sometimes have a “magical” view of money, especially today when we pay for things with credit and debit cards. They do not see the direct link between work and reward. That is why chores and allowances are an important part of a child’s development. Increasing children’s responsibilities as they get older is also a way to nurture and shape their growth.

Talk about what your children do now to help around the house. How are they rewarded—or do you reward them? Some parents teach that being a part of a family carries with it the need to contribute to the family’s wellbeing. Chores are a part of life, not something for which you get paid. Regardless, talking about working around the house and what privileges they might earn as they show more responsibility is a good conversation to have.

Connecting money to time is something children can understand when they get to school age. “Mommy has to work 2 hours to afford that. Daddy has to work a whole day for the groceries we just bought,” can help children understand the connection between work and material goods. When paying for dance lessons, sporting equipment or some other childhood desire, ask your child if they are willing to work a half of a day doing household chores to demonstrate the same commitment to their activity that you have just shown in buying the equipment or paying for the lessons.

Another discussion—Orthodox Jews try to never handle money on the Sabbath. The idea is that if human effort reaches for more money, then resting in God means the cessation of caring about worldly goods. In early Christianity, those gathering to worship—which was not held on the Sabbath—contributed money for the needs of the poor as one way to offer thanks to God.

Sit down with your children and talk about that idea of Sabbath, maybe even plan an old fashioned Sabbath day. What will you have to do to get ready so that you do not handle money for a whole day? What meals can you plan that minimize work? Try to go a day without TV, video games and internet (those all require others to work to provide the power to the devices). Do things with each other, outdoor activities, indoor games or spend time reading and reading to each other. The whole day is to be focused on resting in God. What does that look like for your family?

 

World Communion Sunday

One of the best definitions of World Communion Sunday I’ve seen:

We celebrate World Communion Sunday on the first Sunday of October, as a recollection of the universal church gathered at table in celebration of the presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit….When we gather at table, we celebrate a number of core components that the ecumenical community agrees are manifest in the Eucharist (the Greek word for ‘giving thanks’). Holy Communion is an act of God’s grace. It is an act of thanks for all God has done in creating and saving. It is an act of remembering the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It is the work of the Holy Spirit who prompts our remembering, our thanking, and our hoping. It is a family meal of nourishment, justice-seeking, and inclusion. It is an act that makes visible our future hope with God and all of God’s people.—Rev. Craig Schaub

            “An act that makes visible…” Today is a good day to talk about how we make our hope in God “visible” in the world. Incarnation and manifesting love are lofty concepts for children. “How do we show someone God loves them?” is a question they can easily understand.

What special meals or holidays make your love for your extended family “visible”? With Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and birthdays we often have traditions of including extended family in our meals or traveling to another family member’s house. Are there other times when family gets together and makes our love for each other visible? Talk about how there is more going on than just a party when the family gathers together. Can they see God present with them and working in their lives when family is doing something as ordinary as celebrating a birthday?

If your children were baptized as infants, today is a good day to get out the pictures so they can see who else was there; who came to the party to make their love visible for this new baby and this new disciple of Christ? And now that they are older, how do they show they love someone in the family—beyond hugs and kisses, where do they show up or what do they do to make their love visible?

Moving from love for family to making love for God “visible”, discuss with your children who else could we invite to these special meals? Is there an elderly person in your neighborhood who doesn’t have family nearby? Is there a younger family that cannot travel to their extended family who might enjoy a larger gathering for a holiday? Exchange students at the University?

Take a moment during a birthday party or holiday dinner and ask everyone there to write a letter to a soldier or a note to the local police or fire departments thanking them for their service. Talk about giving an animal to a family through Heifer Project as a special family gift to God at Christmas or for a birthday or anniversary.  Heifer International  See what ideas your children offer and discuss how you might expand your table this year.