Monday, October 31, 2016

Asking Questions

It's been almost two years since I've written a blog, but a 60 Minutes feature last night prompted this one.

The segment featured a young man in a Minnesota prison who had attended his religious services regularly but didn't understand the language. He was born in the U.S. and is a U.S. citizen. When he wanted to understand more about his religion he went to the internet and listened to a man speaking in English who convinced him that if he recruited for Isis and even died for Isis he and his whole family would go to heaven. He had questions but received pat answers.

This reminded me of a book I'd just finished (The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family by Karen Powell) where a thirteen-year-old boy attended church with his family most weekends, and one Sunday after service he asked the senior pastor if God knew everything and he held up his little finger, would God know which finger he held up. The pastor's answer was yes, because God knew everything. Then the boy pulled out a Life magazine with pictures of starving children in Africa and asked if God knew about them and if God was going to do something about it. The pastor gave the same answer. That boy left church that day and never returned. The boy's name was Steve Jobs. Yes, the Steve Jobs of Apple.

I often tell parents and church leaders that I consider faith as my relationship with God and my beliefs as something that has changed from time to time and will continue to change. This, then, requires us to inquire and question. This is what the early Jews and Christians did as they wrote the scriptures that we hold so dear. They were inquiring and applying the ideas to the life as they knew it then - the world was flat with the heavens and God above, and other thoughts.

If we don't inquire about our faith, we never grow in that relationship with God. Jesus encouraged an inquiring faith when he questioned some of the laws that had developed in his religion. John Wesley used four ways of looking at our faith: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. He encouraged us to use the brains for more than just filling the space in our skulls.

What would have happened if the pastor had taken the time to talk with Steve Jobs about his questions instead of giving pat answers? How many lives would have been saved if the religious leader of the young man in the Minnesota prison had done the same?

We must help older children, youth and yes, even adults, to inquire about their faith and thereby come to their own beliefs and understand that those beliefs may change as they grow closer in their relationship with God.

Questions and Faith

It's been almost two years since I've written a blog, but a 60 Minutes feature last night prompted this one.

The segment featured a young man in a Minnesota prison who had attended his religious services regularly but didn't understand the language. He was born in the U.S. and is a U.S. citizen. When he wanted to understand more about his religion he went to the internet and listened to a man speaking in English who convinced him that if he recruited for Isis and even died for Isis he and his whole family would go to heaven. He had questions and received pat answers.

This reminded me of a book I'd just finished (The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family by Karen Powell) where a thirteen-year-old boy attended church with his family most weekends, and one Sunday after service he asked the senior pastor if God knew everything and he held up his little finger, would God know which finger he held up. The pastor's answer was yes, because God knew everything. Then the boy pulled out a Life magazine with pictures of starving children in Africa and asked if God knew about them and if God was going to do something about it. The pastor gave the same answer. That boy left church that day and never returned. The boy's name was Steve Jobs. Yes, the Steve Jobs of Apple.

I often tell parents and church leaders that I consider faith as my relationship with God and my beliefs as something that has changed from time to time and will continue to change. This, then, requires us to inquire and question. This is what the early Jews and Christians did as they wrote the scriptures that we hold so dear. They were inquiring and applying the ideas to the life as they knew it then - the world was flat with the heavens and God above, and other thoughts.

If we don't inquire about our faith, we never grow in that relationship with God. Jesus encouraged an inquiring faith when he questioned some of the laws that had developed in his religion. John Wesley used four ways of looking at our faith: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. He encouraged us to use our brains for more than just filling the space in our skulls.

What would have happened if the pastor had taken the time to talk with Steve Jobs about his questions instead of giving pat answers? How many lives would have been saved if the religious leader of the young man in the Minnesota prison had done the same?

We must help older children, youth and yes, even adults, to inquire about their faith and thereby come to their own beliefs and understand that those beliefs may change as they grow closer in their relationship with God.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Creeds and the Lord's Prayer - Always the Same?

It's been so long since I've written a blog, I'm having difficulty finding what I want on the web site. They seem to be changing it to "make it better", but I can't even remember how I did it before!

Isn't that much the same way we are with life? We expect life to go along just as it has in the past - no changes for me! That is unless I decide to make the change. But what makes me the one entitled to make changes and no one else? Perhaps it's my feeling of importance. Or perhaps it's just that I'm too lazy to do things in another way or learn another method.

Tradition does tie us to our past and ground us in a good way, but we can have tradition and still vary it somewhat. For one, I'm tired of reciting the Apostles' Creed every Sunday. I've said it so many times that it's lose its meaning to me. It has become rote. Sure, I could spend a couple of hours reviewing the meaning of the words, and hopefully they would have a renewed meaning for me. But there are other creeds available to use in worship, or we could have a Sunday school class or small group write a creed that would be used. One church had its confirmation class write a creed each year, and used it on confirmation Sunday. Then it was used again on the Sunday that that particular class was recognized as graduates from high school. I'd like to have seen it used more often during those 6 years in between. Wouldn't that have refreshed the youth's faith? And it would have made me think again about just what I believe.

I challenge you to take a few minutes and write your own creed. It may never be used in a worship service, but it will make you think about just what you believe!

While I'm thinking about change in worship, how about the Lord's Prayer? We seldom really listen to what we are saying as we recite it. Did you note what I said? Recite it. And that's usually what we do. We don't really pray the prayer most of the time. I can think of three ways to make it more meaningful to us. First, we could sing it on occasion. Most people know the tune most often used, and singing it together brings new meaning. We could pray the prayer in a litany form, with one side of the congregation praying a phrase and then the other. That would be simple to accomplish when we use a projection screen. One side would read the bold and the other the light print. The third way is with some simple movement, either by an individual, a liturgical choir group, or even by the congregation itself. Movement give meaning to some people where words don't.

I guess what I'm trying to say is let's get out of the rut but still keep our Christian heritage or verbalizing our beliefs and of praying the Lord's Prayer. That heritage is important and connects us to all those Christians who have gone before us.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Needs of Children in a Crisis:

Love – In times of crisis, whether individual or national, children need love – They need to know your love, not showering with gifts but physical love.
Assurance – They need to have assurance of their own safety, but avoid being overprotective so that they are afraid.
Conversation – Keep the lines of communication open. Use such things as selecting pictures in a book or drawing pictures to express feelings. Then talk about the pictures. Take the lead from the child as to how much they need to talk about and know about the situation. Keep answers to questions simple, giving only what is needed. Listen to comments of children as they play – are there clues here that need further conversation?
Expression of feelings – Use opportunities for children to express feelings, such as: toys, puppets, books, music, water play, play dough, painting, puzzles (creating order out of chaos). Let children know that you have some of the same feelings they have. Be honest about your feelings, but temper them with recognition that God loves even those who have harmed someone. God doesn’t like their actions, but God continues to love.
Prayer – Pray for those injured, those whose family members were injured or killed, those who are making decisions, and also those who planned and carried out any injustice. Keep prayers simple, simply talking to God. It’s ok to tell God about your feelings too. Children may want to write out prayers as if writing a letter to God. Let them even express anger to God. God is big enough to take our anger and still love.
God’s love – They need to know that God loves with a happy heart and with a sad heart. During a crisis God loves with a sad heart. We don’t understand why things happened. We don’t believe that God plans for bad things to happen. We will never understand why bad things happen, but we do know that God is sad, not only sad for those who are hurt or killed and their families, but also for those who did bad things. God wanted them to be happy people who loved others, but something went wrong.
God’s will – Older children can understand the concept of the three wills of God.

1. God’s Original Will – that we choose to live together peacefully, loving and caring for each other.

2. God’s Circumstantial Will – A part of that original will, however, is that we all have our own free will. We are free to choose things that will be helpful to others and things that will be hurtful to others. In these circumstances, some people chose to do things that were very hurtful to others.

3. God’s Ultimate Will – If we allow God to work through us, we can become stronger people because of the circumstances that did happen, and we will have a stronger faith (or relationship with God) because we have lived through this.

(Adapted from THE WILL OF GOD by Leslie Weatherhead.)
Really, Really Me – When talking about death with young children, play the game, “What’s the Really, Really Me?” In this, touch a part of the child’s body and say, “Is this the part of you that makes you cry when you are sad or makes you laugh when you are happy?” – Then do the same with other parts of the body. Finally say, “That’s the part that doesn’t die when the body dies. We sometimes call this our soul.”
Focus – Children need something aside from the crisis on which to focus their attention. This is a good time to carry out a mission project. Suggest some local mission they may participate in or one of following:

~ grow a garden and give food to others

~ supply a meal for someone, bake something for someone

~ adopt a room or flower bed at church to work on

~ plant a tree or care for yard of some older person

~ pray for a missionary. Get a calendar of birthdays, etc. from GBOGM Service Center, 7820 Reading Rd, Caller No. 1800, Cincinnati OH 45222-1800 or call 1-800-305-9857 Also may be ordered from www.cokesbury.com make a search for “Missionary Prayer Calendar”.

~ read about missionaries http://new.gbgm-umc.org/work/missionaries/biographies/

~ support UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). Visit their web site www.gbgm-umc.org/UMCOR-Hotline or call 1-800-841-1235
Reality – Children may have trouble distinguishing between TV shows that blow up buildings or where shootings occur and the factual news reports of an event. Yes, this really did happen. It is a sad time, but we will come through it with God’s help.
Stability – There is something about the routine schedule that makes it settling. This can be an anchor to help the child realize that life can and will go on. Continue with the routine.
Quiet times – In the confusion of the crisis, children and adults alike need quiet times.
Some additional thoughts:

Two main questions they’re likely to have, whether they communicate those questions or not:

Will this happen to me or to someone I love? (We don’t expect it to. You are always loved and have a loving circle of family and friends.)

Why does God make/allow this to happen? (We don’t believe that God made this happen – see will of God above.)
A young child cannot understand “We just have to trust in God.” They trust in parents and parents protect them. Did a person who is hurt, or as in 9/11 the thousands who were killed not trust in God too?

If you remember any fears at time of Kennedy’s death or 9/11, share that you had fears then.
Realize that children may regress in their behavior to get our attention.
Resources:

HOW DO OUR CHILDREN GROW? by Delia Halverson has chapter on children and death. It also has a study guide for parents.
http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5161175/k.2D20/Helping_Children_in_Times_of_Crisis.htm

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Today I heard a feature on TV about a grandma bus monitor who was bullied by some students on the bus. The video is on YouTube, and when you view it you either want to cry or scream! It's really getting the attention of the public, and maybe we in the church need to work with parents and help them teach their children to respect adults. Public school teachers face this every day.
Some years ago we had trouble with what is now called bullying (we called it put-downs) in the church where I worked. We worked on a plan which I'll copy below. Maybe this will be helpful to you:

Problem: Our students fell into a pattern of using bullying/put-downs with each other and with adults. They did not seem to be aware of just what bullying/put-downs were or how it effected others. It had become the popular thing to do. We wanted to turn the peer expectations in the opposite direction.

Purpose:
1. Help students recognize what bullying/put-downs are and how they effect others.
2. Turn peer approval to avoiding bullying/put-downs instead of using them.
3. Establish and enforce disciplinary procedure.
4. Create a safe environment for everyone.

Plan of Action:
1. Develop bullying/put-down badges (using specially made rubber stamp) of a hand with thumbs down and words "Put Down Put-downs."
2. Tell staff about plan and give them permission to participate.
3. Explain to students (see below)
4. Launch affirmative slogan campaign (see below)
5. Concentrate on affirming students and reward students who affirm.
6. CELEBRATE!

Scriptures:
Proverbs 3:12; 19:18 and 1 Corinthians. 13 and Rev. 3:19

Presentation to Students (done is groups of 6-8)
(It was important that this be done by someone who had already established a positive relationship with the students.)
1. Define bullying/put-downs -- a critical, insulting form of abuse.
a. Students define abuse.
b. Students give examples of bullying/put-downs, such as:
• name calling - jerk, stupid, etc.
• teasing for something different -- i.e.: glasses = four eyes; slow runner = slow poke; slow thinker = dummy, stupid; complexion (ruddy, race, freckles); intelligence = brainy, egghead; accent; body size = fatso, skinny.
• foul language against another
• change name to degrading word
• private jokes
• talking when another is talking (this says, "What you say isn't important)
• ignoring/indifferent - cruel/neglect. These insults lower self esteem.
• sarcasm - It's not what you say but how you say it. - Nice dress! vs. NIce DRess.
2. Inform, students that bullying/put-downs did not originate with their generation.
Example: Parable of Pharisee and tax collector, "God, I thank you I am not like this tax collector." (Luke 18:9-14)
Often adults, even parents, fall into this habit too.
3. Review discipline policy. (If there is no policy, it may be good to develop one after this exercise.)
4. Recognizing what bullying/put-downs do:
a. Each student makes a list of bullying/put-downs. Then take a large paper cut-out of a person and pass around the circle. Each person gives an example of a bullying/put-down statement and tears off part of the paper person.
b. Talk about how it feels to be "torn apart".
c. Pass the paper person back around circle and ask each to give an affirmation or positive remark and tape their part back on the paper person.
d. Look at the taped "person" and talk about how, no matter how we try, we can't completely undo the damage that bullying/put-downs do to a person.
5. Put-downs and bullying are negative power -- how can we turn power positive?
a. Treat each as a CHILD OF GOD.
b. Build up with affirmations.
c. Positive power multiplies.
d. List affirmations (listing on an outlined hand, symbolizing a pat on back.)
6. Ask students to leave the negative somewhere else when enter church grounds.
7. Make posters using put down bullying/put-downs and positive statements. (See photo.) We made multiple posters, and the students asked to take them to school and use them there with students.
8. Plan slogan campaign.
Out of this campaign came several ideas. The winning idea:

You know what makes me frown?
It's when you put me down.
So go the extra mile
And make me have a smile!

You can see the logo in the other photo. Both the logo and slogan were put on T-shirts which most of the students bought.
------------
NOTE: This campaign was initiated and within the first week we could see a difference in the attitude of the students. They began to call each other on put-downs. They felt that they had permission to go against what had become a trend. It did not solve every discipline problem, but it did turn the general attitude, and the teachers at school even said that it helped there. Many thanks to Denise Beggs, who did the primary work with this at Sanibel Community Church, Sanibel, Florida.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Way of the Cross



As Lent approaches, I'm reminded of an event that my Sunday school class in Ft. Myers, Florida, organized for several years called "The Way of the Cross". You might want to consider such for your congregation. We did this on Good Friday and invited individuals or families to visit the "stations" at some time during the day. This could be done at any time during Lent, and it would be well to advertise it throughout your community, even using the local newspaper.

This was a series of centers set up in separate rooms. Each person or group was asked to wait until the previous person had left before entering the room. We placed footprints on the floor to lead the participants from room to room. Each center had all of the directions needed for a time of quiet reflection and contemplation on that particular time during the last hours of Jesus' life. At the center there was opportunity to read the scripture (or a tape recording of the scripture), a brief description of what happened at that time, and reflection questions. There were also items on the display that symbolized things in the story, such as a money bag and coins for Judas, sandals for when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, communion elements, prayer cards in the "garden", a crown of thorns to be placed on their heads, Q-tips and vinegar for tasting what was offered to Jesus on the cross, and such.

The final stop was the sanctuary where a life size cross was on the floor with papers to write any messages the participants wanted to place on the cross. There was a basket of nails and a hammer, and the partaicipants were asked to nail their paper to the cross. The sound of the hammer echoing in the empty sanctuary was very moving. The papers were later removed and burned, and the ashes were used for our Ash Wednesday service the next year.

As they left the sanctuary there was a table with a flyer suggesting ways they could prepare for Easter, as well as information on our Good Friday service and Easter services.

If you would like more information on this, you can find it on pages 112-117 in my book TEACHING & CELEBRATING THE CHRISTIAN SEASONS, available through www.chalicepress.com, www.cokesbury.com, and www.amazon.com. If you still have any questions, contact me at halversondelia@bellsouth.net. You might also like to check out the suggested books at the bottom of the blog page.

Whatever you do to help your congregation celebrate this special season, I pray that it blesses you too!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Thinking Ahead to Lent and pre-Easter ideas


Just wanted to share with you a tradition I've done for many years, waxing onions in the spring. The bulb symbolizes life coming from something that appears to be dead and are appropriate for the Lenten and Easter season.

Scout through the vegetable bens at grocery stores, looking for onions that are beginning to sprout. Then, using a pan of boiling water, I melt wax, colored with broken crayons, in old aluminum cans. Holding the sprout, I lower the onion into the melted colored wax. I lift it out long enough for it to cool slightly, and then dip it quickly again. I do this several times until I achieve the desired hue. You can drip melted wax of other colors on these to give them more interest. These are then placed into a basket, as I would Easter eggs. They usually last four to six weeks, reminding us of Christ’s resurrection and of the new life that Christ can bring, even if we have become as disagreeable as an onion!

After the sprouts begin to wilt, break away the wax and plant them in the ground, and they will usually reproduce themselves.

New Life from the Onion

Like an onion with life hidden deep inside,
Oft times we sleep all winter long.
Then springtime comes, and all life is new.
Our soul’s window opens with a song.

We praise God, our Creator;
We praise God in spring, a time of new birth,
We praise God, Guide of our life;
We praise God this hour, all creatures on earth.

By Delia Halverson
-- from Helping Your Teen Develop Faith (Judson Press, 1985)