A Homemade Year

Homemade YearA Homemade Year
Jerusalem Jackson Greer
Paraclete Press, 2013

My spiritual life has been deeply affected by the Anglican practice of arranging church life around the various liturgical seasons of the year.  Liturgy began to feed my soul in college and has only become more important to me in the (more than) decade since graduation.  Now as a mother, I aim for my family’s home life to reflect what goes on at church.  I want my children to always sense that church feels like home and home feels like an extension of church.  It’s something that hasn’t magically come together all at once, but bit by bit and year by year I try to make steady progress toward that general goal.

You’ll understand, then, that when I caught wind of a new book on celebrating the church year with your family I was immediately interested.  A Homemade Year is a book that will appeal to both newbies and veterans to liturgical celebrations, so wherever you find yourself on that spectrum I happily commend it to you.  I loved that the book doesn’t contain long, intimidating lists of all of the ways you could be marking each special day or season.  (She says candidly in the preface, actually, that she doesn’t recommend doing every craft, recipe, and activity in the book unless you only require three hours of sleep per night.)  Unlike some of the other church year celebration guides that I own, this book is a peek into one woman’s family life and the simple, creative, personal ways that she has made the church year come alive in their home.  It’s less like Pinterest and more like a memoir of sorts, and for someone who can get intimidated by the sheer number of ideas out there, I appreciated that.  It’s a welcome reminder that celebrating the church calendar doesn’t mean we have to put every single great idea into place.  Just one or two recipes or activities is really all you need, and you alone get to choose which ones (from this book or from other sources) are going to mean the most to your family.  Hooray!

Aside from the well known staples of the church year (Christmas, Easter, etc), author Jerusalem Jackson Greer writes about a number of celebrations that I was almost entirely unfamiliar with.  Anyone out there regularly do something for St. Joseph’s Day?  Or Holy Cross Day?  Do you even know when they are?  I certainly didn’t.  But because of A Homemade Year I do have several new days that I’m adding to our family’s celebrations this coming year.  Here’s the passage that sold me on observing Candlemas, the day to remember when the infant Jesus was presented in the temple:

By the time February 2 rolls around, there is very little evidence of Christmas left at my house… Winter is still here, bleak and bare, long outlasting the holiday finery that it arrived in… Candlemas comes to me then, in those moments of wondering and cold toes.  It comes full of light and warmth, it comes with beeswax candles and cups of steaming hot cocoa, signaling like those blinking lights on the snow plows and school buses, reminding me that Christmas was not a dream.  Christ did come, and he is among us still.  

Yes, yes, and yes.  Sign me up for Candlemas!

I have long loved the church year from Advent to Christ the King.  I love the rhythm it brings to my spiritual life, I love the aesthetics it offers to my home, I love systematically reliving the life of Jesus every year.  But even if you’re not similarly devoted to keeping the liturgical calendar alive in your home, I’m going to venture a guess that you’d still appreciate A Homemade Year.  Jerusalem neither grew up in a liturgical church nor worships in one now, and her meditations about each mentioned day/season are down to earth stories from her own life experience.  To me, that’s what makes this book so perfectly unique from the other Christian year celebration books I own.  Sure, there is less talk about theological underpinnings or historic traditions.  But when I read it I’m inspired to pay attention not just to liturgy but also to the unique story being woven together in my own home.  It makes me want to think on a more personal level about the ways my family can meaningfully engage in the passing of the Christian days and seasons together – and ultimately, that’s why it’s found a permanent spot on my bookshelf.

[Paraclete was kind enough to send me a review copy of A Homemade Life at my request.  I’m sorry that, because of our long blogging break, it’s taken me this long to share my thoughts with you all!]

The Parables of Jesus

The Parables of Jesus
Earnest Graham; Peace Hill Press, 2013

I will be the first to confess: I was pretty skeptical of a graphic novel version of the parables. Actually, skepticism is my general stance towards graphic novel versions of anything. This is largely an inexcusable bias, combining the naive feeling that these are books for elementary-aged boys with a general snobbishness towards things with pictures. An unbecoming attitude in a blogger about children’s books, I know. Which is why I went ahead and ordered Earnest Graham’s The Parables of Jesus when I happened across it, poking around over at Peace Hill Press — there’s nothing like self-improvement as an excuse to buy new books!

And since you’re seeing this review here, obviously I’m glad I did. I was wrong about graphic novels, mea culpa, et cetera et cetera. (In fact, reading it reminded me that as a kid, I loved comic collections – specifically Garfield books, embarrassingly enough! – and I just had to bring back a copy of Asterix the Gaul for my daughter from Paris. She was surprised and delighted. It’s fun to keep my kids on their toes.)

To be clear: The Parables of Jesus is not a comic-book serial of the parables. In fact, I should apologize to Mr Graham for even referring to Garfield in the same review. (I’m sorry.) In truth, the reason I loved the book, and the whole idea of a graphic novelization of the parables, is because I think it gives them to us much like the first hearers would have received them: in pictures.

What are parables if not pictures, images, metaphors to help us imagine a kingdom that is not of this world? That is utterly unlike anything we would dream up ourselves? Just like Jesus’ crowds, we need to have our imaginations jolted awake, enlivened, and reshaped. But we live in a culture in which these word-pictures are as old as the hills, and have been committed to dusty parchment. (Or worse: Sunday School melodies, which commit the words to memory while emptying them of any power to surprise or transform.) I found that seeing them drawn out, embodied on the page, made them new and fresh and challenging.

This visual re-imagining of the parables is faithful in two important ways: first, the words are only those of Scripture. The pictures depict one possible embodiment of those words; and, well, isn’t that the point of the parables? As Jesus speaks them to us, we all imagine and envision them for ourselves. We are invited into someone else’s faithful imagining, and our own imagination is prodded awake. And second, I especially loved the choice to set each of the parables against a different cultural backdrop. The parable of the sower happens on the African savanna; the landowner finds her day-laborers in a dusty border town; and the farmer whose crop is infested with an enemy’s weeds harvests them in rural Japan. Like the best stories, Jesus’ parables are deeply situated in their time and place (first century Galilee), but manage to reach powerfully across time and culture. They’re both strange and familiar; inviting and challenging; comforting and transformative at the same time.  I want my children to encounter the parables in just this way, as living stories that are compelling, powerful, strange and exciting. This collection by Earnest Graham gives them to us as such, and I’m awfully grateful.

Well, hello!

Well, hello there.

How have things been? We’ve been well, but we’ve missed you. And we sure are glad to be back.

Oh, and guess what? We have some shiny new things to show you! Like a new Tumblelog, where we’ll be posting bits from what we’ve been reading, as well as links to other interesting folks writing on this newfangled Internet thingy. It’s our very own public commonplace book, where you can follow along, comment, and share. While the space here at our main blog remains dedicated to all things theological kidlit, we’re excited to invite our readers into other bits of our reading and thinking as well.

You can still follow and chat with us on Twitter and Facebook as well. We’re excited about using both to keep connected with our readers, draw others into conversation, and generally spread the word about the very best in theological literature for kids. If you haven’t followed us there yet, do stop by and say hello!

Our hiatus wasn’t really planned and lasted longer than we guessed it would, but both Haley and I are eager to start this conversation again. To those of you who have happened upon us via our Lent postings from years past, welcome! To those who have been reading for awhile, welcome back! We’re so looking forward to reading and discussing with you.

A fellow traveler’s blog, and a winner

We all know there are hundreds of book blogs, book lists, and other resources for the literary-minded parent. It’s a little overwhelming to sort through them all, let alone read more than a few. So I’m pleased as punch to point you to a fellow-traveler – and an Aslan’s Library reader! – on the blog road. If you haven’t checked out Théa’s Little Book, Big Story, you should. She’s building a lovely virtual bookshelf, and it’s delightful to read her observations on the books she’s begun to display over there. Stop by and drop her a line!

And before we get back to the business of reviewing tomorrow (hint: some music that my kids like to sing loudly in public, to the bemused glances of passerby), I’m also glad to announce that we’ll be sending Tori  L. a copy of Thoughts to Make Your Heart SingTori, drop us a line and we’ll get it out to you to enjoy. Thanks to all of you who dropped by and shared birthday wishes: it was wonderful to hear from all of you. Happy Monday!

Happy (Belated) Birthday to Us!

It’s kind of hard to believe, but we’ve been at this for three years now! (Our blog is the same age as my youngest; I remember posting from the hospital bed and thinking, “I was NUTS to start this now.”)

Our official blog “birthday” was in May, but I am all for parties, belated or no. In that spirit, please join us over the next couple of weeks as we celebrate three years of reading and thinking about the very best in theological children’s literature!

We have an extra special gift coming up tomorrow: the lovely and gracious Sally Lloyd-Jones, whose books (The Jesus Storybook Bible; Song of the Stars; Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing) we have loved well, shows up to chat about writing for children, reading with children, and why children need excellent story Bibles and books that honor the truth of God’s love for them. We’ll be giving away a copy of Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, too — because, like hobbits, we are all for giving presents on our birthday! (Also we’re all for elevenses, but that’s another matter…)

Be sure to stop by and visit tomorrow – and if you have friends, children’s pastors, or other folks who are interested in reading theologically with kids, invite them to the party too!

Connecting

Hello, readers!  I keep meaning to mention this, but I (Haley) have been posting more regularly on our Facebook page lately and we’d love to connect with you there.  One of the things I’ve been doing there is highlighting book sales when I come across them.  Today, for instance, I just posted that the Kindle edition of the Jesus Storybook Bible is on sale for $1.99.  Yay!  We have a paper copy, of course, but I was happy to buy the Kindle edition as well because it will be so handy for when we’re away from home.  I’m not planning on amassing a huge Kindle library of children’s literature, but I am a fan of having a handful for when we’re traveling – or when we’re stuck in a waiting room.  (That’s actually the theme of an upcoming post I’ve been working on…)

Have a great weekend!  Hosanna!

In Which We Are Back!

(and ready to read: just about anywhere, it seems)

(and ready to read: just about anywhere, it seems)

Here at Aslan’s Library, we want to wish you a very happy 2013. We hope it proves to be a year of growth, blessing, and joy for you – and full of good books!

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be back, up, and running with reviews, posts on reading and faith, and hopefully an ongoing and increased conversation with you, our readers. We’re excited for all that 2013 holds, and are looking forward to spending this corner of our lives with you!

To Be Continued

Hello there, readers!  I hope that you enjoyed the four reviews I posted this week.  Will you be adding any of them to your library or shopping lists?   I’d love to hear if you plan to check them out – and of course, I’m always eager to hear of other recommendations you might have for Sarah and me.

Sadly, the fifth review I promised isn’t going to happen today BUT if you come back next week it will be waiting for you on our regular posting day (Tuesday).  Even if I couldn’t quite keep up at the end, this blitz of book reviews was really fun and I hope to do it again soon!

Have a wonderful weekend!

The Gift of Thankfulness

[An apology to Eastern and Central time zone readers: this isn’t precisely posted on Tuesday. But the date hasn’t turned out on the West Coast, and I’ve had a busy day. So let’s just pretend I made it in for your Tuesday reading, okay?]

Gratitude may not be one of the fruits of the Spirit mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5, but it is a gift nonetheless. I don’t know about you, but my own bent is certainly towards entitlement, dissatisfaction, and frustration. To inhabit a moment marked by nothing but gratitude – no striving, no analysis, no wondering how to make it even better – for me, it’s a rare and beautiful gift.

That said, it’s a gift to which we are more or less open. We can long for gratitude, and put ourselves in its way when it comes. Or we can so neglect it that we become the kind of people who don’t recognize grace even when it kicks us in the shins. (Or in the forehead with a book.) If you’ve read this blog before, you know that both Haley and I do a lot of parenting via books – and stories are one of the best ways I know of helping kids (and grownups!) understand and embrace gratitude. With my kids, at least, I find it much more fruitful to get inside of and identify with someone else’s gratitude than to simply force them to say “thank you!” all the time. I still force them, certainly. But I also think feeling it on someone else’s behalf can help us learn how to feel it, and desire it, for ourselves.

In that vein, for Thanksgiving, I combed through our past reviews and put together a short list of some books that can help us all practice gratitude. I plan on reading a few of them with my kids: I’ll probably mention that each is about something we can be thankful for, and talk with them afterwards about how each book helped them name something for which to give thanks. I’d love to hear if you use any of these, and how it goes — or if you have other practices that you use during this season (or year round!) to teach gratitude. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving!

Books to Encourage Gratitude for God’s Goodness in Creation
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Glory
Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise
Song of Creation
Brother Sun, Sister Moon

Books to Encourage Gratitude For God’s Faithfulness to His People
The Moses Basket
Noah’s Ark
The Big Picture Story Bible
Exodus
Joseph

Books to Encourage Gratitude For Those Who Have Gone Before
Stories of the Saints
The Holy Twins
What Is the Church
Hero Tales
Corrie Ten Boom
Eric Liddell
The Story of Ruby Bridges
Peril and Peace

Books to Encourage Gratitude for God’s Goodness to Us
The Miracles of Jesus
Smack Dab in the Middle of God’s Love
At Your Baptism
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
Seeds Family Worship: Seeds of Faith, God’s Character
A journal, for recording daily mercies; things read and loved; and prayers

The Inheritance of Church History

As you’ve probably gathered, Haley and I are fascinated by church history. When I was a sophomore in college, I took a class with the late Robert Webber – surely one of the saints who has gone before. He pointed us towards the rich wisdom of ancient Christian worship, and my understanding of the faith I had grown up in was transformed. I should probably say that it was broken wide open. In some ways, I’ve been trying ever since then to find myself on the grand pilgrimage, and in the master story of, the church.

Reading about church history, learning the old stories, visiting the places where God has moved in the past – these have all been central to my faith. I’d like to think it has kept me moored to something larger than myself. It seems fitting, then, to spend a little time in the week following Reformation Day/All Saints’ Day reflecting on a space I have dearly loved, and would love to share with you.

So. London. London is quite possibly my favorite city on the planet. I simply love it. And while there are hundreds of ways to while away a happy afternoon in the capitol of Albion – most of them involving tea and scones – I think every London trip requires a pilgrimage to Westminster Abbey. The first, the second, and the fiftieth visit alike.

If you’ve never been there, Westminster Abbey is the place where British royals are crowned, married and (most significantly) buried. So are quite a few other notable Brits across the ages. Apart from being a simply gorgeous and iconic church, it is literally rich with history: the people who populate the pages of British history are interred below its floors and within its walls.

(In fact, my first visit there was unsettling: I was walking around, among, and on top of some incredibly imminent bones. And my belief in the resurrection made the experience even more vivid. Someday, Edward I, William Wilberforce, Issac Newton, Mary Queen of Scots, and Oscar Wilde are all going to wake up in the same place. I was struck by just how weird and amazing and beautiful the doctrine of bodily resurrection really is.)

I have two favorite spots in Westminster Abbey: the Lady Chapel and the Poet’s Corner. The first is a chapel added behind the choir by Henry VII as a tribute to Mary the mother of Jesus.

What makes it so compelling? In a small room to one side, buried (literally) on top of one another, are Elizabeth I and her sister Mary I. Mary was Henry VIII’s daughter with Catherine of Aragon and a devout Catholic; she ascended the throne after her Protestant brother Edward VI died as a boy. Mary fought to return English worship to its Catholic roots. It was during her reign that Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake, and hundreds of other Protestants were imprisoned, executed, or fled. After Mary’s death, Elizabeth became queen and the Church of England was established as solidly Protestant.

What’s profoundly moving about this (impressive) tomb for two queens, though, are two inscriptions. The first, in Latin, translates:

Partners in throne and grave, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of the Resurrection.

Nearby, on the floor, is this stone:

I’ve never been so convicted of the deep sadness God must feel over the divisions in the church as I did in that small room, reading those polished stones, in an ancient cathedral. The first time I visited the tomb, I wanted to sit down and weep. (They don’t let you do this, by the way. A friendly but firm Jeremy Irons, who narrates the audio guide, reminds you that the space is crowded and visitors need to keep moving along.)

Across the chapel, also to the side, is another small room. In this one, Mary Queen of Scots is buried. She was a legitimate claimant to the English throne during Elizabeth’s reign, as well as devoutly Catholic. She was executed on Elizabeth’s orders. After Elizabeth’s (childless) death, Mary’s son James became king of England and had his mother interred in a throne no less splendid than her rival’s. It stuns me to think that these three women – who in turn imprisoned and persecuted one another – will one day be resurrected side by side. The fractured and painful history they shaped will not have the last word.

The wideness of God’s mercy clearly goes beyond our imagining.

I also love the Poet’s Corner. It’s an alcove of the Abbey where great English poets are buried or remembered. I wish the tour guides would let me just sit awhile on the stone honoring WH Auden, meditating on its inscription:

“In the prison of his days, teach the free man how to praise.”

My children are too little, still, to appreciate the Abbey — or John Wesley’s house, or the burial yard at Bunhill. But the stories, aspirations, hopes, blunders, and crimes of those buried there are their inheritance. They need to be able to find themselves in those stories and learn from them. I want them to learn to give thanks to God for where they see him acting in history,  and to pray for remedies to all the old wrongs that the stories tell. Most of all, I want them to see all those stories as part of his story – the true story of the whole world – and to long to act out their part in his drama with freedom and grace.

And I want it for myself, as well. Which is probably why I find myself drawn to these stories, these spaces, over and over again.

What about you? What are the spaces and stories where you’ve felt your own intersection with God’s ongoing story?