Healing Spiritual Wounds (Book Giveaway)

For those who have been hurt by the Church;

For those trying to hold onto Christian faith in the face of “Christian” hate and rejection and violence;

And, I strongly suggest, for the pastors and church professionals seeking to cultivate safe spaces for hurting Christians who are determined to find healthy faith communities rather than reject Christianity altogether;

For you, I highly recommend Carol Howard Merritt’s Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church.

Better yet, I encourage you to win a beautiful hardcover copy of Healing Spiritual Wounds by entering this week’s book giveaway! Simply drop me an email with the subject “Healing Spiritual Wounds” by Sunday, June 4th at 5:00pm eastern for your chance to win!

As I wrote in an earlier book review, every chapter of Healing Spiritual Wounds unpacks theology & sociology & history in order to give readers the permission to name their spiritual wounds and to claim new, grace-filled understandings. Impressively, Carol Howard Merritt does this work without falling into unhelpful categorizations of “conservative” or “liberal” theologies. She names the Church’s harms topically — emotional, physical, financial, spiritual, etc. — and through personal stories acknowledges that harm is caused by the Church across its theological/political spectrum.

As I was pleased to express in my endorsement: “Healing Spiritual Wounds is a gift of candid and caring space for those who have been hurt by the Church, and Carol is a wise and gentle guide through the complex work of spiritual recovery. Welcome to a deeper, healthier faith journey.”

All submitted names will be placed in a hat for a random drawing at 5:00pm eastern on Sunday, June 4th. I’ll contact the winner for a mailing address to send the free copy of Healing Spiritual Wounds. None of the email addresses received as a result of folks entering the book giveaway will be shared, and you won’t receive unsolicited emails from me after the giveaway has ended. Send me an mail to enter the drawing!

Kids and Prayer (Summer Sunday School)

Have you entered your name in this week’s giveaway drawing to win a free copy of the Kids and Prayer DVD? This fun resource, with four kid-friendly episodes about the basics of prayer, is a $50 value for your church or home library to support important conversations about prayer with the young people in your life. Enter to win by sending me an email with the subject “Prayer DVD” by Sunday May 28.

Don’t just enter to win Kids and Prayer for your bookshelf, however. Enter to win and use Kids and Prayer!

For example, perhaps you have the responsibility of crafting a multi-age Sunday School program for this summer, and you’d like to use Kids and Prayer for a program focused on prayer. For a twelve-week Sunday School summer outline, here are ideas for using the theme of each Kids and Prayer episode across three consecutive Sundays:

  1. “What Is Prayer?” Show the first episode, then ask the youngest kids to explain to the oldest youth what prayer is. Have the oldest ones retell the episode’s Bible story to the youngest ones, along with their understanding of how the story relates to prayer. Cut out construction paper hands, glue wiggly eyes on styrofoam balls, paint a portrait of your neighbor’s ear, and talk about how our bodies experience prayer (mindful of ableism): for example, our eyes might not actually see God, but our hearts try to “see”/understand God a little better every time we pray.
  2. Continue with “What Is Prayer?” If your Sunday School classroom has high turnover in its attendance during the summer months, consider playing the first DVD episode again. Play a game of Telephone to demonstrate how poorly we listen to one another, contrasted with how well God hears us. Ask the older youth especially to reflect on the difference between being heard and being answered, so kids of all ages can wonder together about how to believe that God hears them even if an answer isn’t immediate or obvious. Practice prayers of amazement with Psalm 8 — either use Psalm 8 as an example or read it aloud with kids responding “Wow, God” after each line.
  3. Third Sunday of the “What Is Prayer?” theme and episode. Look at the story in Genesis 18:3-5, sing “Kumbayah (Come By Here),” and discuss how we invite God to come and talk about the world with us. How did Abraham prepare a meal for his guests? How would you set a table where God is one of the dinner guests? Practice setting a table, and get creative in table displays, decorative plates, etc. Let everyone say their own prayer at the table.
  4. Fourth Sunday, it’s time for the second Kids and Faith DVD episode, “Why Do We Pray?” Once again, ask the youngest to explain to the oldest youth why we pray after watching the episode, and then have the oldest retell the episode’s Bible story to the youngest, along with their understanding of how the story relates to prayer. Take turns acting out various emotions — happy, sad, grumpy, lonely, excited — and talk about why we might pray to God when we’re in these different moods. Teach a prayer to be memorized or use Writing to God: Kids’ Edition to prompt the group with their own prayers.
  5. Continue with “Why Do We Pray?” Bring newspapers and magazines and ask kids to cut out something they want to pray about — a person or place or event that they want to make sure God is paying attention to. Make a display of the group’s prayer concerns and put it in the church somewhere with the encouragement that others add their own prayers to the display. Don’t be afraid of the hard questions in conversation with kids: What difference does it make that we pray for something that we can’t fix? What if God doesn’t fix it either? Be willing to not settle for easy answers.
  6. One more Sunday on “Why Do We Pray?” Paint rocks in class, teaching and affirming that God is like a rock — reliable across time, strong through change, able to withstand even our hardest questions (I don’t recommend limestone). Affirm the good news of Matthew 10:30-31 — God knows you, God loves you, God cares when you feel like you’re flying confidently like a sparrow and God cares when you’re falling.
  7. On to the third episode of Kids and Prayer, “How Do We Pray?” Ask the youngest to explain to the oldest how we pray, based on what they’ve learned from the DVD, and then have the oldest retell the episode’s Bible story to the youngest. If the weather’s nice and you can go outside easily, take a walk and practice praying along the way: “Thank you, God, for the apartment building!” “Wow, God, look at the ants climbing over one small crumb!” “
  8. Continuing with “How Do We Pray?” break the large group into smaller multi-age groups, with an assignment to each group to write a prayer in a different style: confession, thanksgiving, etc. (Encourage younger ones to generate ideas for the prayer, with older ones assigned to write.) Have the small groups put their prayers on poster board, with decorations and designs that reflect the mood/theme of their prayers. Read the prayers aloud.
  9. With a little advance homework on your part, bring psalms of varying moods for another Sunday of “How Do We Pray?” Work together or in small groups to understand the psalms’ meanings — does the psalm pray about a leader? is the psalmist mad at God or scared of God? etc. — and then take turns acting out the psalms once they’re understood. Ask each actor how they might pray in similar circumstances.
  10. The fourth episode of Kids and Prayer is “Where Do We Pray?” which hints of fun excursions for the final weeks of your summer program. First make sure the DVD episode is understood by all, by asking the youngest to explain to the oldest where we can pray and asking the oldest to retell the episode’s Bible story to the youngest. Wander around your church as a group in search of “pray-able” spaces: the sanctuary? the front door? the kitchen?
  11. As “Where Do We Pray?” continues, take time to retell (briefly) the story of the ancient Israelites wandering from Egypt across the Red Sea to Mount Sinai to the border of the Promised Land to random meandering through the wilderness and back to the Promised Land. A map can help demonstrate your point that the people prayed everywhere they went! Ask kids to draw “maps” (can be loosely interpreted) of all they places they go on an average day and identify which locations are “pray-able” spaces.
  12. To conclude the “Where Do We Pray?” part of your summer series, ask kids if there’s anywhere they can go that God is not. Consider the stories of Elijah who God found in a cave on a mountain … of Jonah who God found hiding (not very well) in a fish & then under a bush … of Peter who tried to hide out beside a campfire after Jesus was arrested. Play a game of hide-and-seek. If you’re not anxious about crumbs, include snacks as part of what’s hidden and needs to be found.

Check out other program ideas I’ve posted on my blog this week, but most of all be sure to enter this week’s drawing for a free copy of the Kids and Prayer DVD! All you need to do is drop me an email with the subject “Prayer DVD” and I’ll put your name in the hat. The drawing will be held at 5:00pm eastern on Sunday, May 28.

Kids and Prayer (VBS)

It’s giveaway week for my Kids and Prayer DVD, a fun & creative resource in which I host four kid-friendly episodes about the basics of prayer. A $50 value, free for your home or church library! Enter to win by sending me an email with the subject “Prayer DVD” by Sunday May 28.

But adding this DVD to your library isn’t my goal. My goal is to encourage you to use Kids and Prayer — with the young people in your life, even with the adults in your life.

If you’re responsible for developing a Vacation Bible School (VBS) program or similar weeklong experience for children this summer, for example, you can put Kids and Prayer to use in creating a VBS program on prayer. Here’s an outline of ideas to jumpstart your brainstorming:

  1. First night, start with songs: motion songs, loud songs, silly songs, Jesus songs. Consider teaching a song like “Standing in the Need of Prayer.” Show the first Kids and Prayer episode, “What Is Prayer?” Depending on attendance and volunteers, use a rotation of storytelling, prayer-practicing, and hands-on stations to emphasize prayer: tell the story of Hannah who was diligent in prayer and wasn’t afraid to be honest & cry to God when she prayed (or talk more about the Bible story shared in the video); teach a memorize-able prayer, such as a few verses of a psalm or part of the Lord’s Prayer; trace hands on construction paper that children can wave to say “It’s me! It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” It’s also important to encourage kids to use their own words in prayer — in addition to memorized prayers and verses and songs — so include time for kids to say their own prayers using a prompt from Writing to God: Kids’ Edition.
  2. Second night, keep singing! The song “Kumbayah” provides a helpful reminder of the purpose of prayer — asking God to “Come by here,” to listen to and look at life together. Show the second Kids and Prayer episode, “Why Do We Pray?” Have the kids retell the Bible story in the episode, or read the story of Mary’s Magnificat celebrating all of the great things God has done. Play a game of “Telephone” to emphasize the importance of listening to one another and to assure kids that God hears us more clearly than the “Can you hear me know?” Verizon guy. Don’t forget to include time for kids to pray with their own words.
  3. Songs for the third night: test your group’s ability with rounds, call-and-response, and remove-a-word songs. The purpose? Prayer, just like songs, can take many different forms! Show the third episode, “How Do We Pray?” Spend time with clay to teach that prayer doesn’t need to be perfect and no two prayers will look alike. Read/teach examples of psalms that have very different moods: thankful psalms, sad psalms, grumpy psalms, amazed psalms. Play multiple versions of tag — just because it’s the third night and the kids’ energy is still high while your volunteers are starting to sag. Have kids practice different types of prayers (praise, confession, thanksgiving, etc.) in their own words.
  4. Fourth night, sing songs about places to partner with the theme of the fourth episode, “Where Do We Pray?” Can we pray in a little cabin in the woods, where a little man by the window stood & saw a rabbit hopping by? Can we pray in the kitchen where someone stole a cookie from the cookie jar? You get the idea. In addition to the Bible story in the DVD episode, tell stories of Jesus’ friends praying in a boat and on a mountain and in a garden. Draw pictures or build popsicle stick structures of kids’ favorite places to pray. Actually go into the church’s sanctuary for kids to say their own prayers for the evening.
  5. Fifth night’s goals: recap the four prayer themes and send everyone home on a sugar high. Watch all four episodes again, if you’d like. Sing all the favorite songs of the week. Add in “Peace Like a River” with motions. Ask kids to practice praying for someone who’s part of your program — not just for other kids, but for grownups and youth volunteers too (who should also practice this exercise of praying for someone else). Decorate prayer jars to take home, encouraging kids to write down one thing/person/experience each day that they want God to pay special attention to. Craft microphones out of styrofoam balls, paper cones and a heap of glitter to remind everyone that God hears them no matter what — with or without amplification.

Check out other ideas on my blog this week for summer program ideas about prayer, but for now be sure to enter this week’s drawing for a free copy of the Kids and Prayer DVD! All you need to do is drop me an email with the subject “Prayer DVD” and I’ll put your name in the hat. The drawing will be held at 5:00pm eastern on Sunday, May 28.

Kids and Prayer (DVD Giveaway)

Here it is: the biggest value of my giveaways this month: a free copy of the Kids and Prayer DVD (Protestant version) by Paraclete Press, in which I host four kid-friendly episodes about the basics of prayer. A $50 value! Enter to win by sending me an email with the subject “Prayer DVD” by Sunday May 28.

Even better: this week I’m blogging a series of program outlines with ideas on how to use Kids and Prayer to get your church praying this summer!

Many prayers and deep appreciation for the ways you will encourage a prayer-full summer in your faith communities. Be sure to enter this week’s drawing for a free copy of the Kids and Prayer DVD! All you need to do is drop me an email with the subject “Prayer DVD” and I’ll put your name in the hat. The drawing will be held at 5:00pm eastern on Sunday, May 28.

Book Giveaway: Bible Sisters

Looking for a new daily devotional?

Seeking an introduction to lesser-known women of the Bible?

Hoping to resource a Bible study group in your church?

bible-sistersThe newly-released Bible Sisters: A Year of Devotions with the Women of the Bible by Gennifer Benjamin Brooks (Abingdon Press 2017) might be an excellent book for you, and I invite you to enter this week’s book giveaway to win your own free copy. Simply drop me an email with the subject “Bible Sisters” before 5:00pm eastern on Sunday, May 21, at which time all submitted names will be placed in a hat for a random drawing to win Bible Sisters.

I received Bible Sisters from its publisher for the purpose of reviewing and giving away the book, so let me turn to the review itself:

It’s important for our bookshelves to make substantial room for and give voice to women of the Bible, and I celebrate Bible Sisters for adding its attention to their stories — especially to the less familiar & unnamed women of scripture. Hopefully Bible Sisters will inspire you to dig deeper into your Bible and to research other retellings & histories & commentaries on these women, not only for your encouragement in faith but for your understanding of ancient & present-day experiences of women.

Gennifer Benjamin Brooks gives a fresh hearing to some scripture passages that have historically been injurious to women: Bathsheba is not blamed for her own rape, for example, nor is the violence against her romanticized. First Corinthians 14’s admonition that women should be quiet in church is rightly called out for its inspiration of sexist doctrines against women’s leadership, and Brooks shifts the question instead to ask what value silence in worship might have for all of us. And I’m glad for the attention given to Anna the Prophet, the Daughters of Zelophehad, Hannah, and so many others.

If some of the devotions are fresh & refreshing, however, others make me wince. The entries about Lot’s Daughters show no effort to question the mischaracterization of homosexuality as Sodom & Gomorrah’s sin (rather than the sin of violence against strangers and the poor). The moralistic assessment of single motherhood as the result of women settling for “a secondary role” in their relationships with men (based on the story of Esau’s son Eliphaz’s second wife Timna, who receives two nearly identical entries in what must surely be an editorial oversight) is a tired stereotype, speaking as a single parent. And Brooks’ overarching theological bent in favor of personal responsibility can seem to overlook injustice and abuse beyond individual control.

As a whole, the more I read Bible Sisters, the more I remember why I dislike 365-day devotionals: For the sake of printing a book of manageable size and marketable content, inevitably each day’s scripture reading cannot be fully examined for its rich complexities … each day’s reflection must likewise simplify & generalize its perspective on modern life for the sake of a daily nugget for readers … and each day’s prayer is compelled to function as a tidy “The End” bow on it all. Inevitably I find 365-day devotionals unsatisfying, and I regret that Bible Sisters doesn’t break this mold.

Still I affirm that Bible Sisters: A Year of Devotions with the Women of the Bible can be a useful starting place, and its well-organized indices are a great resource:

  • for preachers brainstorming a summer sermon series on women of the Bible: skim the index of names and start with the women you know least;
  • for small groups seeking a new approach to Bible study: have group members take turns presenting the full Bible story and corresponding devotional about biblical women they don’t know well;
  • for personal encouragement, especially if you’re struggling to claim confidence in & hold fast to your identity in Christ or if you’re striving to clarify God’s call within you in contrast to life’s chaos & complications — themes that are strong throughout Bible Sisters.

Women of the Bible are pillars of our faith stories and essential to our understanding of the salvation narrative. If you’ve not yet found an accessible book for diving into their stories, let Bible Sisters get you started — even better, enter for a chance to win a free copy! Send me an email with the subject line “Bible Sisters” before Sunday, May 21 at 5:00pm eastern.

(None of the email addresses received as a result of folks entering the book giveaway will be shared, and you won’t receive unsolicited emails from me after the giveaway has ended.)