Dreaming of better things

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The other week we managed a cinema trip as a whole family!! (a good reminder that miracles do happen!) We watched ‘The Greatest Showman’, and absolutely loved it. Each of us enjoying the music and dancing, the editing, the story.

As usual we came away with plenty to talk about – as well as new songs stuck in our heads, that have to be sung. And this film left us with questions that needed answers.

Based loosely on the life story of Mr Barnum, the man who dreamed circuses into being the story depicts society misfits – through class, colour and through disability – coming together to forge themselves a place in the world, to be accepted and recognized as valuable. And so it deals with big themes; rejection, prejudice, contentment and discontent, affirmation, belonging, the human spirit, community…

Now the film depicts Mr Barnum as a lovable flawed hero whose dream creates a family by bringing a group of people together who have only ever found rejection. It does wrestle a little with his own sense of rejection and his striving after social acceptance which leads to him turning his back on his troupe in pursuit of his ultimate dream. But even so he is the film’s hero. Yet as my A quickly found out when we’d got home the real Mr Barnum story was almost exclusively the struggle to make it in the world – and none of the creating of a family. Yes he did collect together social misfits but he didn’t even come close to treating them kindly or as equals. So is the way the film lets us believe in a better version of history at best misleading, at worst glossing over the reality of the prejudice and inhumane treatment of those of different race or of different abilities by society in the past? Or does it actually give us a vision of something to strive for – a community of equality and respect?

So how can I talk with my children about these things?

Is Hollywood history? Is it right for film makers to tell history in a better light? How important is it to find out truthful history? What really happened? Does God ever ignore the tragic or wrong, does he ever only see the good in our lives and our stories?

‘these hands could hold the world but it’ll never be enough’ What did the characters want most in the world? Did they find it? Can we ever find and get everything we long for or think we need? Are we wanting the same things that God wants for us I wonder?

I am the Lord your God. I brought you up out of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things. (Ps 81:10 NIRV)

Find your delight in the Lord. Then he will give you everything your heart really wants. (Ps37:4 NIRV)

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Can we ‘rewrite the stars’? In 2017 headlines were telling us that hate crime against people with disability had increased by 150% over 2 years in the UK. And statistics showed a marked increase in race and faith based hate crime following the Brexit referendum in the UK.  Prejudice is still very much an active part of society in the here and now. The characters Philip & Anne wanted it to be different but didn’t know where to begin. What can we do to change things? Is it possible? Does God also have a dream to change things? What will things look like and be like in the world he’s going to make?

Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head

A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make (Lyrics from ‘A million dreams)

‘I am brave, I am bruised. I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.’ These are words from the song Lettie sings when she sees that Barnum has also let them down. ‘Won’t let them break me down to dust. I know that there’s a place for us. For we are glorious.’ Barnum is the main character of the film, but who are the other heroes? Why are they heroes? Have you ever felt let down like Lettie? Have you ever felt brave like Lettie? Who or what makes you brave?

‘a celebration of humanity’ the newspaper reporter concedes that another reporter might even have said his circus was a celebration of humanity. In what way are all unique? Is difference something to celebrate and value? Does God celebrate difference – does he value all of humanity? How does our understanding of God change how we behave towards others?

For the love of Christ puts us into action. We are sure that Christ died for everyone. (2 Cor 5:14 NLT)

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SOS!

Now what do you do when a good friend at church brings you a present – a bag of spare salt dough! Roll up your sleeves & dive in of course…

I’ve been pottering, in between everything else, putting together some ‘SOS adventure bags’ which I hope will eventually become a bit of a library of resources for families at church. SOS comes from the name of our church’s accessible service ‘sense of space’, but I love how it also means ‘help! rescue us!’ it seems incredibly apt on so many levels! Each bag is essentially (I hope) going to be an all age story sack with resources and ideas – with SEND in mind – for exploring a Bible story at home together.

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So far I have made a start with two very visual ones… Jonah, and Noah – both of course with plenty of scope for imaginative play ideas, colourful and sensory rich exploring experiences and good storytelling. Also both with really tough themes, God’s generous forgiveness (and our struggle with it), and God’s holiness and righteous judgement (and of course our struggle with it!).

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So I am now on the look out for just the right books to add to both of these, I’m thinking testimony/biography, short enough, inspiring and gutsy. I’ve also bought a prism which I need to make a little bag for – to explore rainbows and God’s promises. There are activities and website addresses to find out more in these too – which may need occasional updating but I love the idea of them being a rich & varied resource that will have something in to appeal to each member of a family (hopefully).

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Noah bag so far has: a rainbow dice with prayer ideas for each colour; a puzzle; an ark 7 animal playset; suggestions for imaginative play together to explore ‘rescue’; a lovely version of the story by Susie Poole; the prism with suggested activities; invitation to play a memory game to explore ‘remembered’; and hopefully a biography.

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Jonah bag so far has: story book (Lion childrens ‘my very first Bible stories’); a recipe for stained glass heart biscuits; British sign language signs to learn ‘I love you’, ‘sorry’; a big fish & a Jonah to play with, a sensory sand prayer tray in a tub – with prayer prompts in; a Topz diary (by CWR) looking at forgiveness – mine loved these in their tweens; a suggestion for play to explore hiding; a suggestion to measure things to explore how big God’s love might be; and a link to find out more about Ninevah and what we know about it from archaeology. And then a book for the grown ups to be decided!

So anyway, back to the salt dough… we rolled up our sleeves and dived in. My mind went straight to these bags. What about hanging decorations with a verse written across a few that can be hung in order and learnt? What about fish – they are not something I have a playset of – beautiful colourful, individual fish could make lovely tactile prayer prompts or be played with…

Then hands, and hearts. So many stories could be explored and experienced in a new way through these tactile shapes. So next out with the acrylic paints, and then the varnish and I can see the next couple of bags beginning to take shape.

Please, please comment with your ideas of things or activities, or good books I could potentially include in these bags…

Did it really happen? Evidence for the Easter story.

So, I have plenty of ideas for telling the Easter story at home but when it comes to the inevitable difficult questions like ‘Did it really happen?’, ‘How do we know he came alive again?’ am I ready??

I feel no need to justify God, he can defend himself! However, there are plenty of resources out there that can give me help in exploring these tough questions with my inquisitive, need-concrete-facts, take-nothing-at-face-value children. So I thought I’d get a bit ahead of the questions when they come and remind myself of some of the evidence.

There is plenty of written historical evidence that would be considered trustworthy that suggests Jesus was a real historical figure. The Gospel ‘witness statements’ refer to places and events that there is archaeological evidence for, and they give accurate descriptions to those places and things.

“The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. Compare that with, for example, King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur.” (Dr Simon Gathercole, an article in The Guardian)

I can explore more about the archaeology that is providing evidence showing Bible stories to be historically accurate. www.biblicalarchaeology.org 

This second-century graffito of a Roman crucifixion from Puteoli, Italy, is one of a few ancient crucifixion images that offer a first-hand glimpse of Roman crucifixion methods (https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/ancient-crucifixion-images/)

We can also find evidence – written accounts, early pictures and engravings, of crucifixion as a method used by the Romans during the right time frame. We can find out more information than we would want to about usual practice, and what crucifixion involved and see the way that the Gospel accounts describe it is an accurate one.

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“In 1968, an ancient Jewish cemetery was unearthed during construction. There, a heel bone was discovered in the grave of a young criminal that contains an iron nail matching the record of crucifixion. Remnants of a wooden board are still attached at one end, where the nail was bent over to hold the foot on the cross.

It appears the nail hit a knot in the wood of the cross and didn’t allow removal of the body without serious damage. Therefore, the family conducting the burial probably chose to leave the spike in the bone and cut away a section of the wood. The heel bone dates to the first century AD and provides grim evidence for the reality of crucifixion.” (www.allaboutarchaeology.org)

There is evidence from outside the Gospels to look at that also confirms that Jesus was killed in this way. A Roman historian called Tacitus, and a Jewish historian called Josephus both describe Jesus as having been crucified. There is similar reference in the Babylonian Talmud, some Jewish writings. All of these texts are early accounts, not written later with hindsight or loss of information. And they all contain the same facts, Jesus was crucified, Pontius Pilate ordered it, Jesus was a notable figure who had followers.

© 2009 AllAboutGOD.com

“Do we have evidence for Pontius Pilate outside the biblical texts?

In 1961, archaeologists discovered a plaque fragment at Caesarea Maritima, an ancient Roman city along the Mediterranean coast of Israel. The plaque was written in Latin and imbedded in a section of steps leading to Caesarea’s Amphitheatre. The inscription includes the following: “Pontius Pilatus, Prefect of Judea, has dedicated to the people of Caesarea a temple in honor of Tiberius.” Emperor Tiberius reigned from 14 to 37 AD. This matches the biblical timeline that records Pontius Pilate ruling as governor of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. (www.allaboutarchaeology.org)

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“The documents produced by Christian, Jewish and Roman writers form the most significant evidence.

These abundant historical references leave us with little reasonable doubt that Jesus lived and died. The more interesting question – which goes beyond history and objective fact – is whether Jesus died and lived.” (Dr Simon Gathercole, an article in The Guardian)

So, then on to the questions about Jesus coming alive again. We have evidence to back up the story that he really died. But then what?

The Gospels all have the disciples finding an empty tomb. Matthew’s Gospel also tells us the Jewish leaders began spreading the rumour that the disciples had stolen the body to make it look as if he had risen from the dead. Even they were in agreement that the tomb was empty! And this is confirmed in some early Jewish writings called ‘Toledoth Jesu’.

It is also interesting that the man who takes Jesus’ body and places it in an unused tomb is a Jewish leader himself, Joseph of Arimethea. He would have been well known, part of the Jewish high court. It would not have been possible for him to be written into the accounts of the Gospel within seven years of the event if this had not been true. And this being true also gives an inherent accuracy to the rest of the account.

It has also been said that the accounts of the empty tomb have women as eye witnesses, women spreading the news. If Jesus’ disciples had wanted to start a fiction, a legend then they would almost certainly have had men as the eye witnesses to the empty tomb, and men would have spread the news. In that time a woman’s evidence was not recognized in court, their testimony was thought of as worthless.

All the Gospels talk about Jesus appearing to his disciples in the days after he had died. They each contain eye witness testimony. Not just factual accounts but accounts as felt, seen, and interpreted by people. “These eyewitness testimonies speak to us
from the inside of the events, experienced by those who recognized the
disclosure of God in them.” (Richard Baukham) There is a consistency between them as well as each being unique. They are personal accounts that also pass on theological understanding.

Outside the Gospel accounts there is evidence from Tacitus, Josephus and also Pilny the Younger, a Roman Imperial Magistrate that the followers of Jesus did not stop, weaken or disperse after the crucifixion and the testimony about the empty tomb. Rather they grew dramatically in number. Were observed to worship Jesus, as they would a god. It is written that they met together weekly to worship despite growing persecution of any thought to be Christians.

“..the Jews or Romans had no motive to steal the body–they wanted to suppress Christianity, not encourage it by providing it with an empty tomb. The disciples would have had no motive, either. Because of their preaching on the resurrection, they were beaten, killed, and persecuted. Why would they go through all of this for a deliberate lie?” (Matt Perman, on Desiring God) 

It is good to refresh my mind about all of this before the questions come my way. Not that it’s my place to ‘convince’ any of my children but it’s important to me to know that I have gathered resources so I can explore with them the best I can. ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), or ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition) as it’s more often becoming referred to as in recent months does mean for us, in our house that facts are important. Knowing why, knowing detail, being thorough (and intensely focused) are all important in life, and so they are important in exploring faith too.

Easter contemplative colouring

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I have been busy drawing some brand new Easter colouring designs which I am excited to share here as free printables.

Click here for ‘I have loved you’ full image

Click here for ‘new creation’ full image

We use the designs here at home, enjoying time colouring in and talking together responding to the words. I know some have been used in schools, youth groups and church small groups. Thank you for your feedback, it’s an encouragement to know the designs are being useful – and enjoyed!

This week we have also spontaneously made an ‘Easter joy’ garland for the kitchen from some artificial flowers that we unexpectedly acquired. I had some wooden heart cut outs waiting in the wings for the right moment too so they have come our to join in. We thought about hope-full words that help us describe the wonder of the gift of Jesus’ death and coming alive again. Words like: rescued, forgiven, love, peace, joy, saviour…

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Easter Joy garland

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The garlands came together quite quickly, lots of the flower stems were wired and could bend and twist around the previous one. Some needed extra wire around them to keep them in place, but not many. Then I simply attached some string on either end (I made it in two halves) so I could hang it up on our existing hooks that I use for all kinds of bunting throughout the year. The wooden hearts were easily coloured with sharpies, and I hope to tie them into the garland with some Easter coloured ribbons when we’ve finished – in time to help us celebrate on Easter Day.

 

We usually plan an Easter egg hunt in the garden too, and this year I have come across this lovely idea on ‘Bless this mess please’ for an Easter Day walk and scavenger hunt looking for things that are visual and tactile reminders of the story.

 

 

DIY sensory scripture glitter frame

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I have been seeing a lot of pictures around that have an inspirational quote in the background and room for a heap of free flowing sequins and glitter in front. They’re great, quite mesmerizing. The sequins make a great soft sound as they move around, are quite responsive to your moving of the frame. And there’s the fun of covering the words and revealing them.

I began wondering about the idea of putting together one of my own (or maybe a few) where the words are from the Bible. It could be reflective, perhaps even meditative. So I chose a cheap box frame making sure it was the kind with a gap between the picture and the glass/perspex. I went for a soft green and then headed home pondering what words.

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Andrew suggested ‘my cup overflows’ from Psalm 23, imagining the glitter ‘overflowing’ from a cup as it moved around the frame, great idea so i grabbed my pens and paper and started to play with the words. Eventually ending up on warm primrose yellow paper, and put together in a design with words from Lamentations as well which began running through my mind as I drew.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lam 3:22 NIV)

In many translations this verse emphasizes the way that God’s mercy and love last forever, as the next verse goes on to spell out ‘they are new every morning, great is his faithfulness!’. But it is this particular translation that I must have learnt as a child, and I love the way it speaks of the power and strength of God’s love and mercies – they are gutsy, rescuing.

Once I was happy with my design I then had a happy half hour with B sifting through our collections of little pots of sparkly, stick-on things in the craft box picking out gold, bronze and some little sea glass green beads. The frame needed some hot glue to seal the ‘box’ part against the perspex so the sequins can’t slip out, and again to seal the back once I was happy everything was in place. All that’s left to do is enjoy, and be reminded of the love and mercy that flow from God making my life full-to-overflowing, blessed. And that those very verses come from a book of lament, and a psalm about walking through the valley of the shadow of death needing God’s protection!

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Ideas for using the sensory scripture frame:

  • simply as a quiet reflection focal point, calm space to listen to what God is reminding you about.
  • as a memory verse, cover and uncover sections of the design (or whatever verse you have used) trying to say the whole of the verse each time.
  • with a design like mine that doesn’t have the full verse written out, use it as a starting place for going on a treasure hunt for the full verses together. find the words you do have and look them up. Read the verses before and after.
  • one of the verses I have used is picture language; think about the meaning of the metaphor. Get a cup and fill it to overflowing with water, rice or cereal. What happens when it overflows? Do we usually pour stuff into something until it overflows? When would we? Does that same kind of ‘overflowing’ process ever happen in our life? How could God ‘pour’ something into our life as if it were a cup that could overflow? And what would he pour in?