Andrew Root – Dietrich Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker

whitley-college-public-lecturesIt really is an incredible time to be thinking about and learning from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that pastor and teacher who from a life cut short over 70 years ago left us a profound vision of what it might mean to speak responsibly of ‘God’ and of ‘the world’ in the same breath, and to be Christian community in one of the most violent and unstable and disenchanted times in recent human history. Rather than seek to escape such realities, Bonhoeffer believed that to follow Jesus is to be thrown ever more deeply into them, into the darkness. He taught us that the first place to look for Christ is in hell, and that it is ‘only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith’. It is only by ‘living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities’ that, he said, we ‘throw ourselves completely into the arms of God’. And this means, for Bonhoeffer, that ministers of the gospel are ‘not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice’ but rather are called to ‘drive a spoke into the wheel itself’.

It is not wholly surprising that Bonhoeffer is one of the most beloved and most misunderstood Christian thinkers of the twentieth century. His thought is the subject of a growing body of research as a new generation of Bonhoeffer scholars discover parts of his thought that speak most pressingly to contemporary concerns. Among those scholars is Andy Root whose main contribution to that research has been to draw our attention to the ministry that Bonhoeffer undertook with and among young people, especially between 1925 and 1939.

A few week’s ago, Whitley College was delighted to host Andy for the first of its public lectures for 2017. His lecture, titled ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: Exploring the Interaction between Ministry and Theology’, explored some aspects of Bonhoeffer’s work among young people, and enquired how Bonhoeffer’s insights might inspirit our own ministries in whatever contexts we are engaged.

A video of that lecture is now available here:

 

 

‘Children’s Song’

Pat Scala

We live in our own world,
A world that is too small
For you to stoop and enter
Even on hands and knees,
The adult subterfuge.
And though you probe and pry
With analytic eye,
And eavesdrop all our talk
With an amused look,
You cannot find the centre
Where we dance, where we play,
Where life is still asleep
Under the closed flower,
Under the smooth shell
Of eggs in the cupped nest
That mock the faded blue
Of your remoter heaven.

– R. S. Thomas

[Image: Pat Scala/SMH]

Moby Dick as a ‘very funny story’

This morning, two of my wee sprogs – Samuel (3) and Ambrie (2) – were keen to play on ‘my’ tablet. This is not unusual. They were especially keen to do some drawing. While they drew, I told them about the great Moby Dick. They thought that it was a ‘very funny story’ (clearly I have some work to do there!) and then they drew this delightful picture together:

Samuel - Sailing with Moby Dick

 

I reckon that they got the proportion between The Whale and the Pequod about right.

Then Samuel, who is mildly obsessed with aeroplanes, thought that he would draw the flight paths for Air New Zealand’s domestic flights. He was certainly right about AirNZ cutting back on those flights to/from Dunedin:

Samuel - Air New Zealand Flight Paths

Signed: A very proud dad

Hunting for Children’s Sunday School curriculums

Edwardian hunting girl 1902One would be a fool to assume that the perpetual nature of this hunt is undertaken in tandem with other activities which characterise normal human life. There is nothing here that allows for ebbs and flows in intensity. Indeed, it is little less than an all-consuming obsession ­– and a provocation of the gravest order to the gods of sleep and family life – that allows, in the spirit of the First Commandment, for no rival claims. And all of my best efforts to both encourage her to broaden her areas of interest and to distract her away from such an idolatrous quest have proved to be as successful as my efforts to birth an appreciation for the delectable cuisine of the sub-continent.

So – in the spirit of ‘Happy wife, happy life’ – I give in. More shamefully, dear readers, I reach out from just on the north side of the 46th parallel south, to elicit your help to feed this beast, to hold back nothing, and to bring me your best golden calves.

Here’s what ‘I’ need: suggestions for children’s Sunday School curriculum.

In the past, her appetite has experienced temporary satisfaction with The King, The Snake and the Promise and Meet the King (both from Matthias Media, as is Get Ready! which she is about to put on the Visa card), and, more recently, with the Jesus Storybook Bible curriculum. Somewhat – and many!!!! – less satisfactory hunting trips have seen material from a number of other fields occupying the kitchen table for months on end.

Anyway, I asked her about the criteria for a successful hunt. Her reply was as follows:

Something which:

    • is congruous with the Church’s great creeds [she’s happy to go either way with the filioque thing!]
    • increases biblical literacy
    • helps kids (and teachers) to learn the Bible’s big story (lectionary-based resources do not help here)
    • is engaging for the children but resists the temptation to ‘entertain’
    • is a half-year or full-year (or more) program
    • has idiot-proof instructions for teachers
    • is affordable
    • serves children aged 3­–10

So it’s over to you. Help!

Parents. Children.

Yesterday, with all the grief that attends just completing reading a great book, and with all the joy-in-anticipation of beginning a new one, I began reading Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. This deeply personal and somewhat cathartic book is about the forming and reforming of identities, those attributes and values which are passed down from parent to child across generations not only through strands of DNA but also through shared cultural norms (vertical identities), and those traits that are foreign to one’s parents ‘and must therefore acquire identity from a peer group’ (horizontal identities), identities which ‘may reflect recessive genes, random mutations, prenatal influences, or values and preferences that a child does not share with his progenitors’.

Through a series of reflections on deafness, dwarfism, autism, Down syndrome, disability, prodigies, schizophrenia, rape, crime, and transgender sexuality, Solomon is concerned to challenge notions of ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’, to examine the value judgements we carry, create, project and/or dismiss about such, and to ward off temptations to play down the ambiguities and ambivalences that surround notions of extra/ordinary.

In lieu of the likely event that I do not get around to writing a review of the book, and because I wanted to share something of my interest so far in reading this book – and for the consideration of fellow parents – here’s the (scene-setting) opening two paragraphs:

‘There is no such thing as reproduction. When two people decide to have a baby, they engage in an act of production, and the widespread use of the word reproduction for this activity, with its implication that two people are but braiding themselves together, is at best a euphemism to comfort prospective parents before they get in over their heads. In the subconscious fantasies that make conception look so alluring, it is often ourselves that we would like to see live forever, not someone with a personality of his own. Having anticipated the onward march of our selfish genes, many of us are unprepared for children who present unfamiliar needs. Parenthood abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger, and the more alien the stranger, the stronger the whiff of negativity. We depend on the guarantee in our children’s faces that we will not die. Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not for the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do. Loving our own children is an exercise for the imagination.

Yet blood, in modern as in ancient societies, is thicker than water. Little is more gratifying than successful and devoted children, and few situations are worse than filial failure or rejection. Our children are not us: they carry throwback genes and recessive traits and are subject right from the start to environmental stimuli beyond our control. And yet we are our children; the reality of being a parent never leaves those who have braved the metamorphosis. The psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott once said, “There is no such thing as a baby—meaning that if you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone. A baby cannot exist alone but is essentially part of a relationship.” Insofar as our children resemble us, they are our most precious admirers, and insofar as they differ, they can be our most vehement detractors. From the beginning, we tempt them into imitation of us and long for what may be life’s most profound compliment: their choosing to live according to our own system of values. Though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us’.

School is No Place for a Reader

readingThis piece by Jennifer A. Franssen rang too many bells to not repost:

A perplexing fate awaits a reader in an elementary school. There is no place for this strange child in classroom, library or playground. Watching my daughter caught in this predicament I find myself troubled by the paradox of an institution charged with teaching children to read that seems unable to offer either welcome or nourishment to the ardent reader within its walls.

With the arrival of the child came the books. From the shelves of used bookshops, thrift stores, libraries and Oma’s house, from the Amazon and Indigo warehouses, out of wrapped packages at Christmas and birthdays the books arrived like an endless small town fair parade – floats, marchers, brass bands, clowns – some finer than others, in crowds bunched together or singly straggling, not well-marshalled, but hanging together somehow. Each met with narrowing, gleaming eyes – what will this one do? Mother Goose, the Grimms, Kipling, Seuss, Beatrix Potter, Edward Lear and the Ahlbergs. A perverse favourite known as “Josh and Jude” that put readers-aloud into hypnotic trance.

By the time the child started school she had taught herself to read. Joining the carnival, she kept company with her favourites as long and as often as she liked. She met Moomintroll and Mary Poppins, Dido Twite and Pippi Longstocking, Loki and Laura Ingalls, Borrowers and Bastables, Swallows and Amazons. Awake and dreaming she gazed on Asgard, Olympus, Canaan, and Camelot. She lived at Willoughby Chase, Villa Villekula, and Greene Knowe. She stopped reading only when the book was pried from her small hands.

The books from school came home in a Ziploc bag with a detailed letter explaining how her parents or caregiver should read with her at home every night for ten minutes. The first small ten-page book was called “Noise,” its recurring line “Yukka, dukka, yukka, dukka, ya, ya, ya.” There was one book to last the week. “Noise” was the beginning of a parade as well. All entries wore the same uniform, had the same number of performers and arrived at precise weekly intervals. The drill lasted ten months a year for four years. In December of the first year, the child said she wanted to get up off the kerb and go home.

I

At the parent-teacher interview, the child’s mother sits in a small chair, knees at her chest.

“I wondered about the reading,” says the mother. She holds up two books – The Borrowers, from home, and A Bad Day, from school. “Do you have any books more like this one she just finished reading? She’d love to bring something more like this home from school, and it might . . . well, make more sense than sending these other kinds of books home.”

“Sequential levelled readers” are making their punctual way to the house in the backpack, one every week. The teacher leans forward and says, mysteriously, “There is a difference between decoding and comprehension. Perhaps she is decoding that book, but she isn’t comprehending it.” Raised fingers twitch around his words.

II

From junior kindergarten to Grade 2, the child’s classes march linewise down the hall to the school library for a weekly visit. Pre-selected books in a box wait to be grabbed and checked out at the end of library period. The students file in and obediently sit down. The librarian dims the lights and presses play on the DVD player. The child reads in the dark as the videos play. The librarian confiscates the book. “Stop reading and watch this movie.”

III

During library period in grade 4 the librarian teaches the children computer skills: making their names appear in various colours and fonts on the screen and designing brochures. At the end of the period there are a few minutes to check out two books. Most children decline the offer. The child sees a book she wants high on the top shelf and asks the librarian to reach it for her. “No. You can’t have anything with a yellow sticker. They are too hard for you. You might be able to read it, but you wouldn’t understand it. Pick one of the books with green stickers.” Green stickers mark the spines of The Magic School BusThe Babysitters’ Club and The Pokemon Guidebook. The book the child has just finished reading, Oliver Twist, is not in the library at all.

IV

It is the first day of school in grade 3. All morning the child looks forward to recess. The pavement is still warm in September. She will make a pillow of her jacket and lean against the brick wall, reading. The bell rings. The teacher pulls her from the line on the march downstairs, “Give me the book. You have toplay outside during recess.”

That afternoon, the child tucks The Two Towers inside the sleeve of her jacket before she makes her way outside. Vigilant against unauthorised reading, the teacher looms in the stairwell. She puts her hand out. “Give me the book. That’s sneaky – hiding that book under your jacket.” Then, very slowly and clearly, “Don’t – be – sneaky.”

V

The teacher calls the child’s mother. “She has to stop talking in class about the books she’s reading. It’s very insensitive. She’s making other students feel bad.”

“They feel bad? Why? What is she saying?”

“She said that Harry Potter isn’t hard to read.”

* * *

School is no place for a reader. An object of suspicion and a source of discord in the classroom, the reading child is a threat to school harmony. Her act of reading is itself a provocation to authority. She must be stopped and made to play team games or gaze dumbly at a screen. The silent reader dangerously escapes supervision and the escape is most threatening when the content of the book is unknown.

But reading boosterism is everywhere. Notices in the hallways advertise the Book Fair. Slogans abound. “Reading Rocks!” “Reading is Cool!” “I ª 2 Read!” Oracular posters prophesy “TODAY A READER, TOMORROW A LEADER.” A spurious promise. Reading seems at least as likely to undermine a desire to “lead” as to encourage it. In the act the reader retreats from the world, makes herself absent from the forum. When I think of “readerly leadership” Tolstoy’s General Kutuzof comes to mind – observing, waiting, delaying action, frustrating the ambitions of courtiers and counsellors. His was a leadership prone to doubt, aware of the vagaries of chance, and the unpredictability and frequent futility of action – “When in doubt, don’t.”

The Book Fair tables are filled with things that aren’t books – pencil sharpeners, stamp art kits, novelty pens – and things that only look like books – video game character guides, Lego sets packaged in a book form, One Direction Fact Books, Power Rangers and Angry Birds advertisements disguised as “Early Readers.” The Book Fair is a hoax.

Not only does school present a shallow conception of what reading is, the experience of school offers almost no opportunity to read with pleasure. Readers need relatively quiet libraries and classrooms well-stocked with excellent books, tended by well-read teachers and librarians always ready to suggest a book or to read out loud with enthusiasm and familiarity with the story.

The judgement of teachers and librarians putting books in the hands of children should be formed through wide reading, experience and appreciation of written language. Instead a member of one school library committee in Ontario can say that he doesn’t see any difficulty at all in consolidating two school libraries into one, smaller, space. After all, he never has any of his students check a book out of the library. “What’s the point? They should be using Wikipedia.” His fellow member (two of this type, on one small school board committee!) concurs, “I have taken loads of courses over the years – upgrades, professional development, content courses – I have never needed to read a single book. No one reads books anymore. It’s all articles and PowerPoint.”

School libraries are filled with computers and the shelves are filled with dreck based on video games, cartoons and movies. It is said that this is the only way to tempt children away from screen to page, but these book impostors are created to foster and capitalize on an appetite for a product. Is it likely that “Barbie in a Mermaid Tale,” printed out as sixteen pages of dull and disjointed summary, will increase the odds of the child reading Alice in Wonderland or Swallows and Amazons? Whatever the market may cast before consumers, school should not be its enthusiastic accomplice in corrupting the taste and abilities of the young. We must know these things for what they are. The Pokemon Character Guide is not a book, it is a toy. Children ought to have toys, but they should also have books.

Chances for reading in school are too frequently squandered on something else – computer training (a ludicrous idea equivalent to teaching students how to operate a DVR or a microwave oven), fundraising, and, most egregiously, watching mainstream commercial movies and television programs. Why, if reading is universally agreed to be essential to learning, if we all “ª” reading, would teachers choose to fill those inevitable unplanned 50-minute periods with a movie rather than have students read to themselves, or hear a book read aloud? Every child in school lives in a world throbbing with noise and the constant flickering of video display. Why would a movie ever displace the chance of a quiet hour with a book in school?

Sitting in waiting rooms with children over the years I have had the same experience time and again: when I open a book and read out loud every child in the room wanders over. They stop complaining, leave behind their iPod or NintendoDS. Children are transfixed by books read aloud. They should hear books and poetry often. Even if we adults rarely, or never, speak well, through reading out loud our children will hear the cadence of beautiful language. Children will listen to words, will imitate purely for the pleasure it gives them. Even the youngest children in the schoolyard parrot insidious pop song lyrics like “So here’s my number, so call me maybe.” Surely this has less meaning for them than Jabberwocky? And unlike Carroll’s nonsense, the pop lyric is devoid of the invention and impact of language shaped by formal considerations.

I have read a great deal in these pages and elsewhere about the demise of a literary sensibility and the dwindling number of discerning and independent-minded readers, not only among the population at large, but also, and more inexcusably, among university students, professors, publishers and critics. We are reaping a crop sown in the soil of elementary school, fertilised with Scholastic pseudo-book order forms, literacy texts, and reading logs, and grown in the glass house of bookless classrooms and school libraries converted into computer labs.

Lest we think the Ziploc reading bag a local phenomenon, here is poet and children’s writer Michael Rosen on the British “reading scheme” (in his 2007 Patrick Hardy Lecture):

Schools want and need parents to be partners in the education of the children. . . . But in this matter of reading – how should parents be partners? When? Where? And with what? Is the parents’ role to be a matter of reading the book a child comes home with? More times than not, in more schools than not, I have a pretty strong feeling this book isn’t actually what I’d call a book. It’s more a kind of pamphlet or booklet that tells some strange inconsequential tale about a group of people who don’t say things in any kind of recognisable, nor indeed utterly fantastical way. They seem to talk mostly in short statements in the form of instructions, intentions and conclusions, ‘I am going out.’ –  ‘I am happy.’ Is this what the teachers mean by reading with your children?

MatildaThat fierce and erratic writer for children, Roald Dahl, created in his eponymous heroine Matilda the archetype of the avenging autodidact book lover. She discovers her uncanny powers in the rage provoked when her father tears her book apart. She first comes to the attention of the nightmarish headmistress Miss Trunchbull as the impossible child reader of Nicholas Nickleby, a book the Trunchbull praises for the liberality with which the “admirable” headmaster Wackford Squeers uses his stick on his pupils:

“A fine book, that. But I don’t suppose this bunch of morons we’ve got here will ever read it because by the look of them they are never going to learn to read any thing!”
“I’ve read it,” Matilda said quietly.

“Read what?”
Nicholas Nickleby, Miss Trunchbull.”
“You are lying to me madam!” the Trunchbull shouted, glaring at Matilda. “I doubt there is a single child in the entire school who has read that book, and here you are, an unhatched shrimp sitting in the lowest form there is, trying to tell me a whopping great lie like that! Why do you do it? You must take me for a fool! Do you take me for a fool, child?”

Dahl’s own schooldays were remembered bitterly in his autobiographical story, “Lucky Break.” He felt the only worthwhile learning in his long, expensive and brutal English boarding school education came during two and a half weekly hours spent with one Mrs O’Connor, who supervised the boys while the teachers made their Saturday morning outing to a country pub. To each boy, she gave a copy of her six-page list of the most significant works of English literature and she talked about and read aloud from one of these books during each of her visits. “And the result of this,” wrote Dahl, “was that by the age of thirteen I had become intensely aware of the vast heritage of literature that had been built up in England over the centuries. I also became an avid and insatiable reader of good writing.”

Matilda’s Mrs O’Connor appears as the village librarian, the kindly Mrs Phelps, whose very great service is to aid and abet Matilda’s precocious reading while rejecting the prohibitions and ignorant judgments routinely pronounced against child readers:

“Mr Hemingway says a lot of things I don’t understand,” Matilda said to [Mrs Phelps]. “Especially about men and women. But I loved it all the same. The way he tells it I feel I am right there on the spot watching it all happen.”
“A fine writer will always make you feel that,” Mrs Phelps said. “And don’t worry about the bits you can’t understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music.”

Dahl gives us a vivid image of the misfit child reader in school and the antipathy she can provoke in teachers. He also shows us the ease with which a sympathetic adult can make a place for the child – Let her read books.

Why should school be such hostile territory for readers? Why this ambivalence toward reading?

In part, at least, a difficulty is thrown up by the imperative to pursue a “literacy agenda” – the teaching of reading as a functional skill and the concomitant concern about testing results has left little place in school for literature.

In the fulfilment of the literacy agenda – enabling functional and useful reading – it really doesn’t matter what books kids are reading, so long as they’re learning how to read. Levelled readers, The Magic TreehouseThe Ninjago Guidebook, Barbie movie derivatives – the texts are disposable and fundamentally interchangeable. Because it is easier to test and assess based on a system of sequential readers, because it is easier to trick students into picking up a book because it looks and sounds like a television programme, the shelves are stocked with such things in the name of efficiency. The way that literacy is pursued in schools has profound implications for books. Readers of CNQ – writers, editors, publishers, critics, booksellers – take heed. Children’s education in literature and, but more often or, literacy prepares the field on which you carry out all your endeavours. The literacy agenda has resulted in the near elimination of actual books from schools. Peter Hunt describes the situation in Children’s Literature: “[A] utilitarian culture sees the ability to read and write as paramount and looks for simple methods of achieving it. . . . The teaching methods . . . eliminate fiction on the overt grounds that it is too complex, and on the covert grounds that the unrestrained imagination is not politically malleable.”

Arguably, the literacy agenda is a limiting approach that ill serves all children in schools. It is inarguable that it ill serves those who are already readers.

Does it make any sense for the child who is reading fluently, far beyond her grade level, to spend hours in school learning “strategies” for sounding out words, completing phonics worksheets and reading basic introductory texts? Is it wise to have her sit in school for years waiting for a time when she will be taught, when she will be challenged and drawn deeper into her ability? What might be done for this reader? Teachers already have a great deal to do in addressing the many problems and challenges in the classroom, but does that absolve schools from doing what they might for readers?

Perhaps a talent for reading is more easily and readily overlooked than a talent for mathematics. Certainly it seems widely felt that identifying and fostering talent in math is essential to national economic success. Millions of dollars in government funding are available for Science Technology Engineering and Math (so-called “STEM”) initiatives from kindergarten to grade 12 with the goal of “developing the next generation of STEM leaders to fuel business innovation.” A plethora of specialist math and science programs are available in schools – Scientist in the School, Science Fairs, Math Olympiad, FIRST Robotics competitions, among others – programs that recognize the importance of students interacting with knowledgeable practitioners in the field.

In my experience, the usual approach to talented readers is to keep them busy with extra writing assignments – book reports, independent study projects and worksheets. Asking them to make predictions before, during and after reading, to explain how predictions help them understand their reading, to make connections between text and text, text and self, text and world. I instinctively dislike this approach. I might be persuaded that it is an attempt to break down the actual engagement with literature into teachable component “skills,” but it produces only a parody of thinking. And applied to a ten-page, 60-word text it is just nonsense.

The earliest version of writing about reading in school is the reading log. The kindergartener draws a face in the box beside the title to show how she felt about the book – the mouth curved up or down, or sliding across the face in a straight line, resisting, I think, the demand that she make a judgement. The reading log expands and continues through the grades and the smiling or frowning faces must become prompted opinions: “I liked/did not like this book because . . .” Virginia Woolf thought giving an opinion of a book forced the reader to “get outside that cloud of fertile, but unrealized, sensation which hangs about a reader, to solidify it, to sum up. . . . [The reader] says it is a great book or a bad book. Yet, as he knows, when he is content to read only, it is neither.” Doesn’t that “cloud of fertile but unrealized sensation” sound like childhood? Let it linger for the child reader.

In searching for something to offer young readers in school, perhaps we ought be guided by those most experienced and able of readers – writers.

Eudora Welty remembered in One Writer’s Beginnings her mother instructing the public librarian that the 9-year old girl had permission to read “any book she wants from the shelves, children or adult.” Eleanor Farjeon rejoiced in her family’s “Little Bookroom” – filled with the precious dust of ages – “a lucky dip for a child who had never been forbidden to handle anything between covers.”

Let the books work on the reader, and let the reader do work that will make her consider and become more familiar with the form of written language.

She might study Latin – a language not for conversation or writing, but for reading. Again, Welty: “It took Latin to thrust me into bona fide alliance with words in their true meaning. Learning Latin . . . fed my love for words upon words, words in continuation and modification, and the beautiful, sober, accretion of a sentence.” Our own John Metcalf regretted in his memoir not having learned the ancient languages from his elementary school years. This would indeed be a gift to the young reader. If this seems far-fetched consider that in the UK and the US the study of Latin in primary schools is growing rapidly through programmes developed by classics organizations outside the school system, and being met with eager appetite by students and parents.

KLMNOPShe might commit poetry to memory. Clive James wrote that what “we need to make explicit, for the benefit of our children if not ourselves, is that the future of the humanities as a common possession depends on the restoration of a simple, single ideal: getting poetry by heart.” Through memorizing she will acquire a feel for metre and might be taught to scan poetry and be introduced to a vocabulary of form that has the taste, delicious to the child reader, of the esoteric and encoded. In encouraging child readers to think about what they are reading perhaps we cannot do better than having them memorize and perform it. Reading a poem or play out loud is, in fact, a retelling and a work of understanding – one that does not require a reductive judgement.

If we can imagine a school that allows children to read widely for pleasure, spreading before them a large and varied collection of excellent books; that makes time for them to read and to listen; that instructs them in the form of words and written language; that fosters their imaginative engagement with reading and teaches them to resist facile judgements; if we keep before us Woolf’s idea of the reader, who –

must check the desire for learning at the outset; if knowledge sticks to him well and good, but to go in pursuit of it, to read on a system, to become a specialist or an authority, is very apt to kill . . . the more humane passion for pure and disinterested reading. . . . For the true reader is essentially young. He is a man of intense curiosity; of ideas; open-minded and communicative, to whom reading is more of the nature of brisk exercise in the open air than of sheltered study.

– then we will have begun to imagine a place for a reader in school.

Sally Lloyd-Jones and Sam Shammas, The Jesus Storybook Bible Curriculum Kit – a review

JSBBSally Lloyd-Jones and Sam Shammas, The Jesus Storybook Bible Curriculum Kit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan; 2012) – a review

A guest post by Judy Goroncy (the great)

Over the past two terms, our church’s Sunday School has been using The Jesus Storybook Bible Curriculum, the focus of which is to teach ‘the Story beneath all the stories in the bible’. As the product description has it:

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories together tell one Big Story: The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the centre of the Story, there is a baby.

The Jesus Storybook Bible (JSBB) includes 21 stories from the Old Testament, and 23 from the New Testament. Each week’s accompanying lesson is based on one of the stories and follows a similar structure ­– a time to recap previous stories, a relevant activity, the story time (which can be presented by either the teacher, or with the use of the accompanying DVD/CD), unpacking the story (technically called exegesis), reflection on Jesus’s location in the story, prayer, learning the memory verse, and completion of a hand-out. One of the real strengths and blessings of the programme is that it is concerned at every point to teach the great Story of the Bible rather than focus attention on presenting a series of seemingly unrelated ancient religious stories that remain largely unconnected to their principle purpose. Every part of the JSBB, in other words, is concerned to bear witness to the One who is God’s principal revelation; namely, Jesus. ‘Every story in the Bible whispers his name’.

We have found the programme to be geared more towards children aged 4–7. However, those aged 2–10 seemed to all benefit from and enjoy it too. Accounting for holidays and other ‘interruptions’, the curriculum takes about a year-and-a-half to work through. The lessons are easy to prepare, are clearly set out, and come with various helpful media aids. Because the lessons are presented chronologically, connections can be made between the stories and so enable children – and their teachers too – to build on what they have learnt in previous weeks. Hand-outs provide not only an opportunity for children to revisit the teaching and memory verses, but also assist and encourage parents/caregivers to be aware of what the kids are learning at Sunday School, and so encourage further discussions about the Story beyond the Sunday morning.

Despite there being so much focus on the Bible, learning memory verses, learning books of the Bible, etc., we have felt it imperative that the children look up the verses in their own Bible (a real one and not the JSBB). While this component is not specified in the curriculum, we believe that it is vital that the children have an understanding that all the stories come from the ‘actual’ Bible and that they become familiar with and are able to look up books, chapters and verses in their own Bible.

As we draw near to the end of the Old Testament section, the children are enjoying opportunities to present what they have learnt to the rest of the congregation, typically through the Sunday morning service. They present an overview of the key events and people in the Old Testament in the form of drama, bible readings, memory verses and song, using all to bear witness to God’s Great Rescue Plan in Jesus.

I cannot recommend this curriculum highly enough. Too often, our children’s programmes are so geared at entertainment, or are so diluted of content, that the true message of what Christ has done is lost. This programme takes seriously God’s love, our sin, and that we need Jesus, our Saviour, to redeem us and our lost world.

When ten commandments is ‘too many’ …

My son Samuel (2) is convinced that ten commandments is ‘too many’. (He doesn’t have a particularly developed doctrine of divine wisdom, and we haven’t done Leviticus yet, so I’m cutting him some slack!) And while he’s yet to learn how to spell his own surname properly, he’s probably onto something here, especially if Jesus is to be our guide on such matters (so Luke 10.27 and parallels). Anyway, Samuel has picked out his favourite the most important four:

4 commandments

Not a bad list. I tried to convince him about the one that says something about tidying up your room, but he wasn’t buying it. Still, I was pleased to see that #5 made the cut … for now.

Deep Blue Kids Bible: A commendation

Deep Blue Kids BibleSome time ago here at PCaL, I mentioned my quest for a suitable children’s bible. As many parents know, it’s a tough gig to find a rightly-pitched kids bible and so I was most grateful for those readers who weighed in with some excellent suggestions and guidelines. I am also very grateful to Lil Copan at Abingdon Press who read of this father’s plight and who very kindly took it upon herself to send me a gratis copy (i.e., with no strings attached) of the Deep Blue Kids Bible. It has proved to be a fantastic choice for us. The translation (the Common English Bible) is reliable (and it handles the vexed Galatians 2.20 fantastically!), fresh and accessible, and its presentation is aesthetically attractive with helpful introductions to books, practical (and not too distracting) in-text notes, a good little dictionary for those tricky words (like ‘cistern’ and ‘nard’ and ‘ordinance’ and ‘winnow’), some short devotions, and some legible maps. Most importantly, my (now) seven-year-old loves reading it. So if you’re looking for a kid’s bible, then I reckon that the Deep Blue Kids Bible is definitely worth your consideration.

Some six-year old theology

Omniscience

Parent (the responsible one): ‘I was just going to ask you something Sinead …’.
Sinead: ‘Well ask God. He knows everything, even if he is a boy! … Well actually, we don’t know if he is a boy!’

The great (children’s) bible hunt

Finding a suitable bible for a 6-year-old is proving more difficult than I had anticipated. Thus far, the said child and her father, both of whom love to read, have been very well served by The Jesus Storybook Bible. But they’re now both ready for the long-anticipated Stage Two, and the pickings really do appear to look rather slim and, it should be noted, depressing. At this stage, the responsible parent (no churlish comments here please; though, while we’re on the subject, you may wish to check this out) reckons that the NRSV Children’s Study Bible tops the list. The NIrV Adventure Bible for Early Readers not only sounds like a rare and exhausting disease that young readers would be better to be steered clear of at all costs but its pages are just a little too distracting (and I’m uncomfortable further lining Murdoch’s pockets!), and the ESV Seek and Find Bible has all the creepy hallmarks of a Watchtower magazine. I’d prefer something that doesn’t have the appearance of a glossy Warehouse catalogue [for US readers, think Walmart minus that hunting department so proudly sponsored by the demented Second Amendment], or isn’t filled with extraneous puzzles and ‘Christian’ propaganda, or which doesn’t reduce the words of life to a collection of sanitised McStories, each of which sponsor the impression that the Book is something other than serious stuff.

Suffice it to say that at this stage, I’m open to suggestions …

It doesn’t matter that I lost my shoes

‘It doesn’t matter’, by Fougasse (Cyril Kenneth Bird), 1943.

It doesn’t matter that I lost my shoes
It doesn’t matter that I don’t sit still at the table
It doesn’t matter that I spilt daddy’s coffee all over the carpet
It doesn’t matter that I always leave the door open when the heater’s on
It matters that my leggings are just the right length, below the knee.

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t do my reader
It doesn’t matter that I dinted the car with my bike
It doesn’t matter that I speak rudely on the phone to grandma
It doesn’t matter that I bang my brother’s head against the wall
It matters that my milk is above the princess’s eyes on my cup.

It doesn’t matter that I keep my hair in knots
It doesn’t matter that I wear the same undies for six days
It doesn’t matter that I go to school inadequately dressed (and late)
It doesn’t matter that I have a bedroom the state of which is hardly indistinguishable from Christchurch’s Red Zone
It matters that we don’t always do bread and wine at church.

It doesn’t matter that I never flush the toilet
It doesn’t matter that I then leave the tap running
It doesn’t matter that Angry Birds are rotting my brain
It doesn’t matter that I use half a bottle of sauce on a single sausage which I only then half eat
It matters that I can miss three bars on the monkey bars, and that I get to show dad how cool I am.

© Jason Goroncy
26 May, 2012

Telling our story: two book commendations

Stories have always played an indispensable role in human life. Whether via oral tradition or in written form, stories provide a framework for transmitting values, heritage, culture and traditions, even for transmitting the self across spaces and generations, for keeping the self alive, as it were. Stories also enable us to acquire expectations about the world. These expectations then provide a framework for organising other pieces of incoming information. In short, without stories, we cannot process our experiences. Without stories, we do not know who we are. It is certainly true that the people of God have long known this, and even if that knowledge has at times been submerged deep in the common memory, our being and witness is grounded in story, a particular story to be sure – the very story of God – but a story nonetheless.

And here comes a rub; for as Flannery O’Connor once noted, ‘there is a certain embarrassment about being a story teller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics; but in the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or statistics, but by the stories it tells’. So tell stories we must. And, of course, the Church has a long tradition of telling and re-telling its own story. And there are radical implications for so doing, for, as Rowan Williams observes in Lost Icons, ‘Every “telling” of myself is a retelling, and the act of telling changes what can be told next time, because it is, precisely, an act, with consequences. The self lives and moves in, and only in, acts of telling – in the time taken to set out and articulate a memory, the time that is a kind of representation (always partial, always skewed) of the time my material and mental life has taken, the time that has brought me here … The process of “making” a self by constructing a story that is always being told is a prosaic and universal one’ (p. 144).

There are at present two books on my desk which seek to contribute to this long tradition of helping the Church to know itself by retelling its own story. As it happens, they are both books which are accessible to children, which is particularly exciting because I’m always on the hunt for ways to tell my children, and others too in my community of faith, their own story. The first is by New Zealand writer Bartha Hill, and is called Trust God, Keep the Faith: The Story of Guido de Bres. It recounts the inspiring story of pastor and theologian Guido de Bres. De Bres was a student of both Calvin and Beza, and is best known as the author of the Belgic Confession (1561). The book paints the story of de Bres against the background of an eventful sixteenth century in Europe, events which proved to be costly for many of those who stood on the Protestant side of church reform. It can be ordered from Inheritance Publications or, if you are in New Zealand, directly from the author. For the latter, contact Bartha directly via email.

The second book is John Calvin by Simonetta Carr, and is nicely illustrated by Emanuele Taglietti. It is published by Reformation Heritage Books and is targeted at children from 6–12 years of age. Like Hill’s book on de Bres, Carr’s too wonderfully introduces readers (and their imaginations) to the narrative, humanity and rich theological contribution of its subject, and does so in a clear, readable and attractive way. The Church, and its young families, is much in need of the kind of resources that these two small volumes evidence. Both would make great gifts too.

God and Papatūānuku: a conversation with a 4-year old

'Rangi (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother)', by Wilhelm Dittmer (1907).

One of my greatest joys is talking theology with my four-year-old daughter (who is nearly five). Here’s an excerpt from a conversation that we had last week:

‘There’s lots of Gods; well there’s two Gods – there’s the God who is everywhere, and then there’s Papatūānuku. God looks after everything, but Papatūānuku looks after the garden, and even the basil in the glasshouse’.

‘Do god and Papatūānuku talk to each other?’

‘Yeah, of course. They are best friends. They listen to each other, and care about each other. They tell each other stuff, everything there is to tell, and then they all go to bed in the same room, like me and Samuel do’.

‘So how can God be everywhere?’

‘God’s got lots of legs – 166,000 legs. God’s got legs everywhere. But only two hands – the Holy Spirit and Jesus are like God’s hands. God doesn’t need any more hands. Two is enough. But God needs lots of legs. Otherwise God couldn’t go to Australia’.

‘And do God’s legs look like our legs, or are they different’.

‘Don’t be silly daddy. God’s legs are square, and they are all different colours too’.

‘And does Papatūānuku have legs too?’

‘Yes. They are round. And they are colourful too. And Papatūānuku has hair, even when she’s in the sea, and in the garden, and in the glasshouse’.

Around: ‘And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind/How time has ticked a heaven round the stars’

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Amen.

 

 

Welcome Samuel Jamieson Goroncy

Regardless of whether one counts the day’s beginning at midnight, or as sometime in the early hours of the previous morning, it’s been a long day and that principally for one reason. At around 0222 this morning, my partner and I welcomed into the world our beautiful son and Sinéad’s brother, Samuel Jamieson.

At various times throughout the day – i.e., when I wasn’t feeling totally freaked out by the fact that the girl’s names that we had spent so long debating were now literally immaterial, and, relatedly, that this wee one so tightly cocooned in soft blankets and a stylish teddy-bear jumpsuit has bits underneath that I simply wasn’t expecting to see – I meditated on the words from Lamentations 3.22: ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end’, and I silently recalled Walter de la Mare’s wee poem written for his daughter Florence. The poem is titled ‘The Birthnight: To F.’, and reads:

Dearest, it was a night
That in its darkness racked Orion’s stars;
A sighing wind ran faintly white
Along the willows, and the cedar boughs
Laid their wide hands in stealthy peace across
The starry silence of their antique moss:
No sound save rushing air
Cold, yet all sweet with Spring,
And in thy mother’s arms, couched weeping there,
Thou, lovely thing.

Samuel, this seven pound two ounce wonder, represents, no less than other children, what Jürgen Moltmann once named ‘metaphors of God’s hope for us’, that with every child, a new life – original, unique, incomparable – begins. And that while we typically ask, who does this or that child look like (apparently because we seem to think we can only understand the new in the comparison with what is already known or similar), we also encounter the entirely different, the entirely dissimilar and unique in each child. It is, Moltmann suggests, precisely these differences that we need to respect if we want to love life and allow an open future. Moltmann also recalls that with every beginning of a new life, the hope for the reign of peace and justice is given a new chance. It is important – and I feel the weight of the challenge here – to see Samuel in his own transcendent perspective and so to resist forming him according to the stale images of our world. Every new life is also a new beginning of hope for a homeland in this world which is-and-is-being redeemed. If it were not, we would have no reason to expect anything new from a beginning. Samuel will be baptised on 14 November at Highgate Presbyterian Church in Dunedin.

A final thing: Mother and Samuel are both doing very well. Dad and sister are glowing. Even the dog seems unusually excited. It is yet to be seen if our adorable chickens start laying eggs again, inspired by the events of recent days.

 

 

 

Stanley Hauerwas on the suffering of children

‘I think childhood suffering bothers us so deeply because we assume that children lack a life story which potentially gives their illness some meaning. In that respect I suspect we often fail to appreciate the richness of their young world as well as their toughness and resilience. But I suspect that what bothers us even more about childhood suffering is that it makes us face our deepest suspicions that all of us lack a life story which would make us capable of responding to illness in a manner that would enable us to go on as individuals, as friends, as parents, and as a community. I suspect that if Christian convictions have any guidance to give us about how we are to understand as well as respond to suffering, it is by helping us discover that our lives are located in God’s narrative – the God who has not abandoned us even when we or someone we care deeply about is ill’. – Stanley Hauerwas, Naming the Silences: God, Medicine, and the Problem of Suffering (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 67.

Towards a theology of the child: a series

childhoodHere’s my posts so far on a theology of the child in historical perspective. It’s a series that I’ve enjoyed doing and which I’d like to return to at some stage (but not for a wee while).

Jürgen Moltmann on Childhood: it all depends on perspective

kidsBy way of drawing a conclusion to a series of wee posts on exploring a theology of childhood (see previous posts on John Calvin, Friedrich SchleiermacherKarl Barth, David JensenKarl Rahner and Tony Kelly) I turn here to German Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann. In his essay ‘Child and Childhood as Metaphors of Hope’ [Theology Today 56, no. 4 (2000), 592-603], Moltmann observes the difference in how parents or educators speak about the child, how a child speaks about herself, and how adults recall their own childhood. These three ways of speaking of childhood can also be referred to as (1) ‘pedagogical childhood’, (2) ‘child’s childhood’, and (3) ‘future childhood’.

1. A concerned parents and educators view of childhood.

From the view of concerned parents and teachers, childhood is an age that is meaningful and good in itself on the one hand; on the other hand, it is a stage that is to be overcome by the child’s own development, through training provided by adults and education provided by the society. Finally, parents have to bring up their children, so that they can become something and can be made fit for a life in the world of adults … The open future of children has been pressed into the prescribed adult world through parental and educational measures. Childhood has been viewed as the ‘evolving’ stage of human existence, while old age seems to be the ‘devolving-stage of human existence’. The model of full humanity thus has been the grown-up human being between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-preferably, of course, the ubiquitous man ‘in his best years’.

Moltmann proceeds to cite the work of Leopold von Ranke to sponsor his protest against those notions which would reduce childhood to a mere ‘underdeveloped stage that must be overcome’, or, in von Ranke’s words, as a ‘prologue of the future’, claiming that

‘every epoch is immediate to God’, since the Divine strives to manifest itself in every epoch, and cannot be manifest in its entirety in any one single age. The same is valid for the stages of human life. Children, adolescents, adults and seniors find meaning in each stage of their lives. Every lived moment has meaning for eternity and represents ‘life in abundance’. Thus, every child and youth has a ‘right to their own present’. Even a child who dies early could have had an ‘abundant’ life. Life in abundance is not measured in terms of length, but in terms of the depth of life experience, a quality that will never be reached by a mere quantity of years lived and time spent. Life that is abundant in every present moment has to be affirmed and respected by others, by parents and educators, and should not be sacrificed on the altar of progress.

girl2. A child’s view of childhood.

How children view childhood is an almost impossible mystery for adults to discern. Moltmann writes:

What childhood is for children or how children view their own childhood remains a mystery almost impossible for adults to access since our experiences get confused with both our desires and fears … Perhaps we only become conscious of our childhood experience when we are no longer children, since we can only recognize that from which we are already removed. I think that childhood is outlined and determined by the fact that we are no longer ‘in the safety’ of our mother’s womb, but not yet ‘independent’ … On the other hand, we recall the dependencies, the nightly fears, the powerless dreams of one’s own all-powerfulness and the empty days. We also call to mind how small we were and how big the father, how helpless we were and how omniscient our mother, as well as how the bigger children always seemed already capable of everything. And still we experienced and performed everything ‘for the first time’. With boundless amazement, we would follow the flight of a fly and would interrogate our parents with unanswerable questions of ‘why’. How entranced we were in our games, reacting spontaneously and with unpremeditated laughter and tears. The darkness of the lived moment” would often be very dark and would not become light, either before or after. Surely before we were ‘school children’, we were ‘playing children’ but even then we were watched by adults and we adopted their attitudes and opinions in order to please them. Still, we will have to find some way to respect the interior perspectives of a child’s experience: otherwise all of our analyses read our own projections onto the child.

childlike-wonder3. An adult’s view of their childhood or the child in themselves.

Moltmann names the sentimentality and regressiveness that keep us from making peace with the reality of our own aging, when our ‘beginning gets glorified’ and ‘childhood is retrospectively seen as a landscape of unlimited possibilities and objectified as the potential of beginning’. He continues:

Since there is always more in our beginnings than we can actually bring forth, given the complexity of our circumstances, childhood and youth come to be seen as the glorified dawn of life. When we think of our youth and of all we might have been, we discover the future in our past. Our past ‘beginnings’ become the source of our future, in such a way that a ‘future childhood’ is constructed. This childhood awakens deep longings inside of us: the longing to be secure, to feel warm; the longing to experience life as a mystery one more time, the longing to experience wonder; the longing for a new beginning; a longing for the child within that wants to be born anew, so that the miracle of life may begin yet again. From this perspective, the beginnings of life seem pure and good. Consequently, children always seem innocent to us: their eyes mirror dreamy innocence. Yet, when is it that humans become capable of guilt? The dream of a sexually innocent childhood may only be the reversal of the old, terrible doctrine of original sin, which taught that children were conceived and born in sin and therefore had to grow tip under humanity’s hereditary burden. But from this perspective of ‘future childhood’, ‘innocence’, ‘new beginning’, and access to a ‘world of unlimited possibilities’, we construct childhood as a metaphor of hope.

Tony Kelly on the ‘saturated phenomena’ of the child

children-1I have posted earlier on the theologies of childhood proffered by Calvin, Schleiermacher, Barth and Jensen (all Reformed perspectives), and on that of Karl Rahner. In this post, I turn to Australian Roman Catholic theologian Anthony Kelly on the ‘saturated phenomena’ of the child[1]. In his essay, ‘Spirituality and the Child’, Kelly identifies five phenomena of the child:

1. A unique ‘revelation’. The child comes in the form of a unique ‘revelation’, breaking into the experience of human community as the ‘occurrence of the new, at once a gift and a promise given into the heart of life’. In this way, the child is a ‘focus of wonder at the generativity of the universe’. The child calls the whole human family to a ‘new responsibility, if parents and relatives are to receive this gift of a new beginning in reverence and care. Consequently, the child invites certain questions: In a child, what new thing is being given and revealed?

2. An ‘event’. The child is an ‘event’. Despite the vulnerability of both the child and parent, the event or advent of a child has the potential to affect the lives and thinking of all around it. It evokes a new sense of both the past and the as-yet-undetermined future. Consequently, the arrival of a child is ‘an open-ended, transformative event. It is no fait accompli in terms of assignable causes and predictable effects, but an advent whose significance overflows as a unique new presence within the constitution of family, society and even world-history. To this degree, it is in the nature of such an event to resist calculated prediction of outcomes, but to inspire waiting, fidelity and hope, if what is given is to be received in its incalculable significance’.[2] The event – or advent – of the child also poses a number of questions:

  • What has really happened in this coming?
  • What might be its effect on parents, siblings, wider family, society, creation?
  • How might the Church wait with couples in pregnancy?
  • How might the gift of child be played out in church, family and in event of creation itself?
  • What is the nature of hope?

children-33. A gift and event. Kelly writes:

Despite the possibilities of violence and exploitation inherent in a grossly sexual objectification of relationships, the child is a witness to something else. He embodies, within the intimacy, ecstasy and generativity of our incarnate existence, a distinctively personal order of relationships. For she implicitly demands to be received as something more than a biological product of two sexual agents, and so to provoke a larger sense of life.[3]

This invites further questions:

  • What is this larger sense of life?
  • To what mystery/ies of life does the event of child point?
  • How, in the Christian phenomenology of life centred in the Incarnation, is the child related to the Word who is himself made flesh, given into creation from the eternal generativity of God?

4. Something akin to a work of ‘art’. Like any work of art, the phenomenon of the child resists one-dimensional interpretations, resists detainment, resists ‘pre-designed space’. Instead, ‘its power is to command its own space and change the place given it’.[4] Kelly cites the poem, ‘Five Days Old’, by Australian poet Francis Webb (1925-1973). For most of his life Webb suffered with mental depression and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1950s. ‘He spent most of his adult life in and out of psychiatric hospitals, writing poetry against terrible odds’.[5] In England during the war, he was being treated by a young Canadian doctor who had invited him home around Christmastime. The young parents put their five day old Christopher John in the poet’s arms, and left him alone for a while. This poem was the result:

Christmas is in the air.
You are given into my hands
Out of quietest, loneliest lands.
My trembling is all my prayer.
To blown straw was given
All the fullness of Heaven.

children-4The tiny, not the immense,
Will teach our groping eyes.
So the absorbed skies
Bleed stars of innocence.

So cloud-voice in war and trouble
Is at last Christ in the stable.

Now wonderingly engrossed
In your fearless delicacies,
I am launched upon sacred seas,
Humbly and utterly lost
In the mystery of creation,

Bells, bells of ocean.

Too pure for my tongue to praise,
That sober, exquisite yawn
Or the gradual, generous dawn
At an eyelid, maker of days:
To shrive my thought for perfection
I must breathe old tempests of action

childrens-shoesFor the snowflake and face of love.
Windfall and word of truth.
Honour close to death.
O eternal truthfulness, Dove,
Tell me what I hold –
Myrrh? Frankincense? Gold?

If this is man, then the danger
And fear are as lights of the inn,
Faint and remote as sin
Out here in the manger.
In the sleeping, weeping weather
We shall all kneel down together.
[6]

  • In what ways is a child like/unlike a work of art?
  • How does the coming of such vulnerability change/disrupt the life of a family? Of a faith community?
  • How does the coming of such vulnerability call for new vision and ecclesiological modus operandi?
  • How does the coming of such vulnerability call for ‘reconciliation among those whose murderous demands have foreclosed on new possibilities and made the world a dangerous place for children’?
  • How might childhood point to the open-endedness of life?
  • How might childhood resist calls to shut down eschatological hope?

children-25. The ‘face’ of an other. So Kelly:

The face of the other is not a projection on one’s part of the other as an object, useful, exploitable or ignored … It stands for the totality of the reality of the other as given, calling me to responsibility. To allow oneself to be ‘faced’ by the other in this way, is to be called out of oneself, to make room for this other, however unsettling this may prove.[7]

Again this raises a series of challenges:

  • Children are often easy to ignore in our communities. How might the children in our communities pose a challenge that we cannot afford to set aside or to palm off onto others?
  • What does the child call those engaged in Christian ministry to?

[1] The phrase ‘saturated phenomena’ is taken from Jean-Luc Marion, De Surcroît: Études sur les phénomènes saturées (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2001).

[2] Anthony J. Kelly, ‘Spirituality and the Child’ in Children, Adolescents and Spirituality (ed. Marian de Souza and Winifred Wing Han Lamb; Adelaide: ATF Press, 2008), 14. Italics mine.

[3] Ibid., 15.

[4] Ibid., 15.

[5] Carol Treloar, ‘Poetic Australians’, The Advertiser, 7 September 1991.

[6] Francis Webb, ‘Five Days Old’ in The Oxford Book of Australian Religious Verse (ed. Kevin Hart; Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 225. Italics mine.

[7] Kelly, ‘Spirituality and the Child’, 17.