“Curriculum Choosing” Season

Children-clipAs springtime rolls around for Christian educators (even in the midst of Lent), thoughts turn to reviewing curricula, especially if your church is feeling the need for a change or what you have been using is about to be discontinued. Now is the time to begin the research, as it really takes a concerted effort to evaluate what you’ve been using, what’s been working, what’s not been working, what direction you want to go (or continue on), and how the needs of your church (and its families and children) have changed.

With that in mind, springtime has meant a time for me to update the curriculum overview charts that I’ve been doing for 10+ years. Most of the time, each year I simply need to make sure the website address for each resource is correct and update the prices (which inevitably go up a few dollars and cents every year). There’s always a program that is no longer being published or a new one making its debut.

All that remains true for the 2014-2015 program year, with a few additional changes I’ve discovered as I updated, added, and subtracted from my 2013 charts:

  • Despite churches having fewer funds to purchase curricula and more “writing their own” (see the results from the curricula survey I did a year ago), a few publishers are cranking out more new products in a field that is already full of stuff.
  • Older resources are being converted to pay-and-download only (which may be extending their life) for a less-expensive fee.
  • Most publishers offer webinars to introduce new curriculum and/or videos on their website (or YouTube). Teacher training is also offered via video on the websites.
  • There is an increase in video usage in programs, but not all DVD-based. Use of life-streaming is making an appearance.
  • More resources and actual modules for home use. For some, the “Sunday School” portion of the material is a small part of the lesson plan – the rest is meant to be done at home as a family.
  • Pricing is increasing to a license-based model (especially on-line and downloadable material) and as these are often based on average Sunday attendance, the number of children in your program or (now) whether it is used in a home-setting (for homeschoolers).

I’ve expanded the chart this year with several additions – some new curricula (Whirl, Shine On), programs I wouldn’t exactly call curriculum but I know are being used as such (Messy Church), and a few that publishers actually contacted me about, wanting their materials listed on the chart (Discipleland, Faith Practices). So . . . here it is . . . my 2014 Children’s Curriculum Chart!

April2014ChildCurriculumChart

Let the e-mails fly back to me as they usually do with whatever errors you find or missing material you feel I should have included. Happy evaluating!

And if you want more help in evaluating and choosing, don’t forget to visit Building Faith’s Curriculum Center in the Resource Room.

Living Water

Lent 3: Year A – John 4:5-42 - A sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, CT on March 23, 2014

(c) kellymiketravel.wordpress.com

This past week we watched a program about Machu Picchu (“Decoded”) on The National Geographic Channel.  Did you know that all those green terraces were once gardens, growing corn, beans, wheat, and more? While water no longer irrigates the fields, at one time there were small canal systems built by the Mayans to fight against the poor conditions like the heat and surrounding wetlands. They were able to use water to sustain their life. It was their “living water.”

Early civilizations survived because they learned how to use water creatively without using it up. Not surprisingly, water is a fundamental religious symbol that permeates many cultures. Water appears often in our scriptures: the Tigris and Euphrates of Eden, Noah’s flood, Hagar’s hopelessness in the desert, Moses striking the rock at Massah and Meribah, the Israelites crossing the Red Sea to freedom and forty years later crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land. And certainly plenty of instances during Jesus’s ministry.

John Sanford, an Episcopal priest and author of The Kingdom Within (Harper SanFrancisco, 1987), tells a story that captures some of the themes in our readings today regarding the “water of God.” He writes about an old well that was located outside the front door of his family’s 150-year-old farmhouse in New Hampshire. The house had never been modernized, and did not have electricity or plumbing. The well was the family’s only source of water, and as Sanford describes it, “had unusually cold and pure water and was a joy to drink.” It never ran dry, even during the most severe droughts.

As time went on, running water was installed in the house. The old well was sealed over, and stayed boarded over for years. One day, Sanford decided to uncover the well. Expecting to see the dark, cool water of his youth, he was shocked to discover a bone dry well. What happened?

He writes, “A well of this kind is fed by hundreds of tiny, underground rivulets, along which wellseep a constant supply of water. As water was drawn from the well, more water moved in along rivulets keeping the tiny apertures clear and open. But when the well was not used and water no longer was regularly drawn over so many years, it went dry – not because there was no water, but because it had not been used.” This is the same sort of thing that happened at Machu Picchu and why those canals no longer carry streams of water.

Today’s gospel speaks of “living water” and another “family” well. Jesus and his disciples have again been on the dusty road traveling north from Judea to Galilee going through Samaria. They stop near Sychar around noon, when the sun is highest in the sky, at a place known as Jacob’s well – a location anyone who has read Genesis will know is an important location. The disciples head off in search of food and Jesus is resting by the well – the central focus of the community – like the Town Green.

As he is resting, a Samaritan woman comes to draw water in probably following her daily routine. Now contact between Jews and Samaritans was prohibited; considered a practice that would leave a Jew ritually unclean. Never mind that a man could not address a woman in public. But hey, this is Jesus, and since when does he follow social restrictions?

Jesus asks her for a drink, and a conversation ensues about thirst and water. Jesus tells her that all who drink from this well will be thirsty again, but the water that he speaks of “will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (v. 14b).

The Samaritan woman assumes he means running water, as from a stream, and wonders about its source. Gradually this woman begins to understand that what Jesus offers is not something to assuage physical thirst, but the grace of God that satisfies the thirst to be made whole. He knows her more than she knows herself.

Water is to natural life as “living water” is to eternal life. As Christians, water is the key ingredient and that outward and visible sign of that spiritual and inward reality in our sacrament of baptism. Water is a stream that runs through our liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer. In baptisms, we thank God for the gift of water and recall a few of these stories in the prayer over the water: the Creation, the Exodus from Egypt, the baptism of Christ.

Whenever possible, the earliest Christians sought to have their baptisms in “living water,” that is, in moving rather than stagnant water. Flowing water represented the transforming but hidden power of the Holy Spirit at work in the sacrament. Our spiritual forebears were baptized in rushing streams, coursing rivers, windswept lakes, and, perhaps, even in the lapping tides of a sheltered bay. In some ways the sea may be the best symbolic medium of all, for in the depths dwell myriad riches to sustain and astound us, some quite obvious and familiar, some hidden and mysterious.

hand-in-waterLiving water connects us to the sacrament of new birth, which is baptism. Today our baptisms are a bit reserved in the splashing and pouring of water; an infant has a small amount of water trickled over their head and is quickly wiped dry. But the water is a symbol for something much deeper. And in the Episcopal Church, we have promises represented in this bathing ritual of new life.

Turn to page 304 in the red Book of Common Prayer in your pew. This is The Baptismal Covenant, something we regularly say and reaffirm. It is what those who are preparing for confirmation are saying taking on as an adult reaffirmation of the promises made on behalf of them by parents and godparents at their baptism. But do we pay attention to these words?

I invite you to act as the celebrant right now and ask the questions aloud. And let me offer a response to each question as a means to unpack what we are professing:

Do you believe in God the Father?[1]

Our God, its one thing to say the creed but another to put my trust in you.

Help me to live with the assurance that you are my Father and that nothing can separate me from your love.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

Our God, help me trust in your forgiveness expressed in Jesus.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

Our God, help me to look to your spirit to make me your person.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the Prayers?

Our God, I know I was not meant to go it alone because you created the church to be supportive family for your children.

And I know the church is made up of people like me – so it isn’t perfect!

Help me to play my part in the church, so I can learn from the teaching, be encouraged by the fellowship, be renewed in the Eucharist, and find strength for living each day through prayer.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Our God, you understand that sometimes I do things I never intended to do.

My sorrow doesn’t put it all right.

Neither can I use my weakness as an excuse.

Help me to begin anew, to experience your forgiveness and to walk again in Jesus’ way.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Our God, help me to live the way Jesus called me to live.

May my actions speak louder than my words of your love and of new life in Jesus.

At the same time, help me rise above my own stumbling speech and give the words to express what I believe.

Let me be a witness to the Truth.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Our God, all too often I have looked at people in a very superficial way.

Help me begin to see them with your eyes, knowing that every person is created in your image, as your child. If Jesus died for that person, how can I despise him?

Give me a new love that reaches out to everyone because Jesus died for all.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Our God, I don’t want my attitudes to be shaped by the injustices that mar society, by the discrimination, greed and lust that spoil relationships.

In Jesus, color does not count, wealth carries no weight, and gender is not important.

Help me to live in Jesus, to see people through his eyes, and work for the harmony that reflects your kingdom.

Revisiting Sanford’s story about the homestead well of his childhood, he concluded that the soul of a person is like his old well. What happened to the well can also happen to our souls – if the living water of God does not flow into us and through us. It can dry up or sit there boarded up if we don’t live it out in our daily lives. It may sometimes seem that “God is dead” in the world, but it is our own dry, barren souls that have been boarded over, and we are no longer able draw from “that spring which wells up to eternal life.”

Our Baptismal Covenant helps us to keep that living water fresh. How does Jesus challenge us to break out of comfortable traditions and into the living waters of his life? Jesus’s message to the Samaritan woman transcends physical, moral, and spiritual prejudices. That is what our Baptismal Covenant does and what we promise to strive for at each and every baptism we participate in – being living examples of transcending the physical, moral, and spiritual prejudices that separate us from God and our neighbor.

What is your greatest thirst? How might you quench it? What gets in the way of your drinking of the living water and sharing it with others?


[1] Adapted from a prayer written by Reginald Hollis © 1993 Anglican Fellowship of Prayer

Transformation

d365_white_square_72dpiAt the end of 2013 I was invited to write a week’s worth of devotions on a site called d365.org, which is a partnership between the Presbyterian Church USA, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and the Episcopal Church. Produced by Passport Inc. (a national non-profit whose goal is to work for integrated, ecumenical, inspirational weeks of summer camp that model important lessons like service in the name of Christ), its first devotional site was launched in 2001 in response to the attacks of September 11.  Their primary goal then, and since, has been to provide inspirational and relevant reflections on scripture for young people (teens and young adults).

The site involves some music for centering, a reading from scripture, a brief devotion, a prayer, and a sending forth. You can sign up to have it pop in your in-box every day and is a great resource to share with your youth (or adults).

It was an honor to be invited to offer reflections for the second week of Lent 2014. I was told I’d be sent specific scripture to reflect up for seven days worth of posts. I was up for the challenge, as this is something I really enjoy doing. Little did I know the “constraints” I was to be given:

  • Fifty word devotion
  • Three pieces of scripture for the week, with the first five days focused on a few verses at a time – another words, a pericope of a pericope
  • Written in first-person
  • A prayer to follow each reflection

It was a great challenge for me. Reflecting verse by verse, each on its own while also looking at the big picture and the themes that resonated with me. In fifty words.

Today my last reflection was posted on the site, so I thought it appropriate to share in its entirety. You can read each of them in context on d365.org’s archives page. (March 16-22, 2014). So, grab your bible (or click on the link that will take you to the online NRSV verses) and read about Nicodemus, light, transformation, and righteousness!

Transformation

Pause:  The world is changing. When time passes between meetings, you see that friends and family are changing too. And you are changing as well. In these next moments, open your heart to God, who is seeking more than change in you, but transformation—something truly new.

Listen: John 3:1-3

Think: When the electricity goes out at night my immediate reaction is to light a candle and find a flashlight. My eyes (and mind) are accustomed to seeing by artificial light when the sun goes down, so it takes awhile for my pupils to open up wide, strain, and focus on finding my way, even in familiar surroundings. The darkness reminds me of the power of light to see things known and unknown.

Not so with Nicodemus. He hides in the shadows. As one who knows much (after all, he is a Pharisee), he still seeks answers. He comes to see Jesus under cover of night, but the deeper darkness of unbelief obscures his vision. He cannot recognize a new vision of what life can be; he seems stuck on what life just is.

Jesus is the light of the word – daytime and nighttime. He meets us in the shadows as well as the sunshine. How does Jesus show you the way whenever you are in the midst of darkness or overcome by shadow?

Pray: Lord, teach me to trust you in the darkness and recognize the signs that you give me to light the way. Help me to be open to new possibilities, new experiences, and new awakenings so that I can be a sign to others of your amazing love for the world. Amen.

Listen: John 3:4-6

Think: Literally, I can’t imagine being born again. But spiritually, yes. I was welcomed into the family of God on my baptism when I was four months old, being “marked as Christ’s own forever.” I don’t remember it, but I do remember my confirmation many years later when I renewed by commitment to follow Jesus. The gift of faith that came from my parents and godparents, from those who surround me in love, and from the Holy Spirit continues to bless me and spur me on to be the best that I can be.

Nicodemus is a literal thinker. He is focused on the flesh of birth, like a newborn baby coming into the world. But Jesus is speaking of being born from above – born to live a life in a new way – open to the Spirit in a new creation.

I have a friend who, when she takes a shower, thinks about the water flowing over her as a re-baptism to a new day, a new beginning. Being born again is awakening to the grace and knowledge of God’s presence in her life.

Each new day offers opportunities to begin life anew. How does God call you to new life?

Pray: Holy Spirit, wash over me. Fill my heart with a renewed sense to follow Jesus today and every day, for I yearn to be live my life following God’s way instead of my ways. Amen.

Listen: John 3:7-10

Think: I used to camp as a Girl Scout. Building a campfire was fun, but with it came a great deal of responsibility. Whenever we left the campsite, we had to make sure the fire was completely out. After breakfast one day we left for a hike only to return to the site for lunch to see that the fire had reignited. It was a windy day, and a gust of wind had sparked the dying embers, bursting the charred wood back to life.  We had no idea the wind would make an appearance in our absence.

There’s a word in Greek, pneuma, which means both “spirit” and “wind.” When Jesus speaks of rebirth and new life, he is speaking of the elusive and mysterious power of the Spirit. There’s no telling when it will come or to whom (or what) it will descend upon. Being born again isn’t something we can do; it happens through the power of the Holy Spirit.

When have you experienced the unexpected power of the Spirit?

Pray: Spirit of God, blow your wind upon me. Create in me new sparks to proclaim the Good News of Jesus in my words and actions. Amen.

Listen: John 3:11-15

Think: Struggling with questions can be important in helping in strengthening and defining faith. Yet when I’m resistant or reluctant, or simply in the wrong place to see clearly, I sometimes ask questions to help avoid the real issues that is facing me. When I’m confused, it is easy to fall back to taking things literally. It’s easy to get stuck. Kind of like Nicodemus – he seems to want an answer from Jesus that can be wrapped up in a few words or actions. The known and the unknown things of life call me to look beyond my surroundings and myself.

The world of the Spirit is beyond my (and Nicodemus’) comprehension. It challenges me. It encourages me to question, to seek, to learn more. It challenged Nicodemus, too. Jesus turned the world upside down; he is asking us to look toward heaven instead of having our heads stuck in worldly thoughts.

Knowing and believing can walk side-by-side if I have faith. How can you imagine heavenly things?

Pray: Lord, as I journey toward Jerusalem with you, help me to stay with you through the challenges that lie ahead. Keep me looking heavenward instead of focusing on the little pebbles along the path. Open up my imagination. Amen.

Listen: John 3:16-17

Think: God’s boundless love for the world, for all of human existence, is expressed in these familiar words that follow the story of Jesus and Nicodemus. The Gospel writer is talking about the way God loved the world, which points us back to John 3:14. Suddenly that Moses and the snake stuff makes more sense. God loved the world in this way: God lifted up Jesus in the same manner that Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness to cure people bitten from snakes in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9). So God lifted up Jesus “that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

John 3:16 used to be seen at sporting events on a sign held up by a man in the crowd. Today it could be a Gospel message “tweet” with just 131 characters.

We have the promise that Jesus, the Son of God, came to bring light and life to the world. That seems enough to broadcast to the world.

Pray: God, thank you for the promise of eternal life. Thank you for loving us so much you became one of us and died to new life for us. Give us strength to stand with you at the cross so we may rejoice with you in your resurrection. Amen.

Listen: Romans 4:1-5

Think: What does it mean to be righteous? By definition, it is a person who is virtuous in their conduct and morally right. When I think of Abraham, I think of his relationship with God. Abraham gave his whole heart and confidence to God. His obedient trust led him on a journey into the unknown. His faith counted on God for everything. And God remained with him – even when he doubted along the way.

Relationships are two-way streets; each person needs to be open and receptive to listen to the other. It isn’t always sunshine and roses, but often involves give and take, compromise, and forgiveness when things break down. This is the gift God gave the world through his Son, Jesus.

We don’t have to prove anything for God to love us. God does ask that we follow in the ways of those who obeyed as best they could, despite their human weaknesses – people like Abraham and David. God calls me to righteousness, and loves me no matter what.

Pray: Help me give my heart to you, O God. Give me the strength to put all my trust in you. Clear my doubts. Show me the ways to be righteous in your sight on my life’s journey. Amen.

Listen: Psalm 121

Think: The Hebrew root word translated “keep” means to guard, to protect, to take care of someone or something. It implies looking out for someone else’s best interests, keeping another from harm or injury, watching out for his or her welfare. In order to “keep” someone in this way you must pay attention. You have to intentionally regard the other seriously, personally, continually. You have to care.

God cared for Abraham. God cared for Nicodemus. God cared for Jesus. God cares for me.

Faith is living like you are God’s person. Faith is living your life trusting God every day. Faith includes living by God’s rules and trusting God to love you and forgive you when you mess up. Faith means living like Jesus.

God is my keeper – in a good way. God keeps me in God’s constant sight, protecting me always. God keeps me from evil. God keeps me surrounded by care and provision when I am awake and while I sleep.

Pray: Lord, you watch over my comings and goings. With the decisions I make, keep me safe. Watch over those I love. Help me to care for others as much as you care for me. Amen.

Go: 

God’s light is powerful, revealing
The way to new life,
A new birth by the power of the Spirit.

Walk into your day, then, with new questions
Received with infinite love,
Leading towards a life of righteousness.

God’s steadfast care will provide.

Preparing for Lent

lent2013As much of the country is being blanketed with snow and ice, we are longing for sunshine and warmer temperatures. Lent has always meant spring is on its way, and Ash Wednesday is less than three weeks away, on March 5th.

It’s time to put those Lenten studies in order and plan what our personal disciplines will be this year. Every year I  update a document that lists information about Lent and some intergenerational activities to kick off the season starting with Shrove Tuesday (pancakes!) and “Burying the Alleluia.” It includes a list of resources for children & families, adult studies, and resources for individual or group reflection. You’ll find it all by downloading Lent 2014: Year A.

This is what’s on my radar screen for my congregation (and myself):

  • Lent Madness – I’ll be mounting the large “bracket” poster on a tripod in the narthex for everyone to follow. I’m hoping some confirmands will help keep it up to date.
  • Downloading The Season of Lent 2014 app to my iPad and iPhone that features the words of spiritual director Mary C. Earle alongside the beauty of one of Roger Hutchison’s paintings. The app is not available yet, but I’ve had a sneak preview, and it’s beautiful. (We’re giving out the posters at church, too).
  • Watching another “Big Class” from ChurchNext; this one “Making Sense of the Cross.” I’m trying to figure out a good date and time when I can facilitate a conversation at my church to watch and discuss this together.

What will you be engaged in personally and in your congregation this upcoming Lenten season?

The Bread of Life

breaking-bread-picAmy Frazier, an EfM mentor and Episcopalian in Roanoke, Virginia writes a wonderful reflection about bread (and wafers) and how we remember God  . . .

As I tooled along I-81 south, various memories surfaced. Like many Episcopalians, I grew up Roman Catholic, and I once asked why we called the wafers “bread.” To my nine-year-old self, they weren’t “real bread,” like the bulkie rolls we got from the Jewish bakery. “Communion bread is made that way to remind us of the manna God gave the Israelites to eat in the desert,” Grammy Lou said. I remember thinking – God must have loved them a lot to give the Israelites so much manna, because it sure would take a lot of wafers to fill me up if I were hungry. And wafers might fill me up, but no way would they satisfy me like a bulkie roll and cream cheese!

Is that why we sometimes use wafers? To remind us that God gives to us abundantly, even during our desert times? To keep us longing for the real Bread of Life?

Read her whole article here: Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia.

How are you bread to others, and how are we constantly re-remembering the gifts we are given by those we love – and God?