Church educators and the Mystery of Children

I have just been with a favorite group that we work with, having the privelege to set up a large book display with the Eastern region of APCE (Association of Presbyterian Church Educators.) Presbyterians plus educators equals an unmitigated enthusism for books, resources, tools with which to teach. They usually have very good speakers —main- line Presbys, usually, often somebody famous or published. It is a good time, they laugh a lot, and treat me like I’m a hero. Gotta love ’em.
We thank God for the generous spirit of these folks, and their hours of hard work doing what they do, week after week after week. And, although it isn’t with some human ambiguities, I suppose I am grateful, on a good day, for the theological diversity and congregational uniquenesses we find in the broader body of Christ. It certainly is interesting to see what authors different folks like, which churches are interested in what aspects of Christian learning, and the way new approaches and models and perspectives do or do not take hold in various locales.
They, of course, knew about Diana Butler Bass’s important and fascinating book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, a study of mainline churches and the spiritual practices that, as excercised in fairly ordinary neighborhood congregations, are bringing new energy and renewed vigor to many. Her two books with the Alban Institute, Practicing Congregations and the collection of various church stories, From Nomads to Pilgrims, are both very good for anybody thinking about congregational life, and we sold them at the retreat. The media may too often imply that only evangelical churches are growing, or that the mega-churches are the way of the future within American Protestantism, or that the Christian right speaks for most followers of Christ. Diana shows it ain’t so. And, given the buzz on her book at APCE, and others like it, we are very proud that we raved about it months ago, and named it in our year-end list (December 06 and Janurary 07 over at the website. Do read our remarks about it if you haven’t seen our mini-review. That, and her other fine books, are very, very important.)
Yet, I have shown two book covers, one above and one below—one by a very famous author that just arrived this week!—that capture much of the interest of these church educators, namely, the desire to think carefully and theologically about our children within our faith communities. We’ve pushed Marva Dawn’s Is It A Lost Cause and Miller-McLemore’s Let the Children Come and the excellent compilation, edited by Beth Posterski and others, Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in Church, Family & Community and other such works to anyone that will listen; although we sell many books, many good books, that might be considered in the “self-help” or how-to catagory–parenting and family stuff that is instructional and wise and helpful–it is vital that we think more foundationally and theologically about the nature of our kids, or, as Marva puts it, “the church’s children.”
And so, Martin Marty’s new book must be celebrated. Martin Marty! On children! He is a dear man, a preminent scholar, a fine religious leader and life-long congregational member. (And he bought a book from us once, and then wrote me a lovely note thanking me for having it. I should have been thanking him for doing business with a scrappy little place like ours.) Dr. MM is a serious, erudite writer. We cannot commend it enough, even if it is, at times, a bit academic. It is part of a series edited by Don Browning and John Witte, if that rings any bells for the scholars out there. Publisher’s Weekly in its glowing review, notes that it is “breathtakingly ambitious in scope” although they also assure us that it is also quite inspirational.

And, the new Bonnie Miller-LcLemore, In the Midst of Chaos, is equally fabulous, if a little less heady (and with a very lovely dust jacket.) This Jossey Bass series on the practices of faith is some of the best stuff coming out on thoughtful and theologically rich reflections on the distinctives of being Christian in the world, living out faith in every aspect of daily life. This one, with that great subtitle: “caring for children as spiritual practice” has much to teach us, and it is presented in a cogent and gracious manner. (Jerome Berryman, of “Godly Play” fame, writes that “it is as good as it is beautiful.”) Like Marty’s, it understands the mystery of all this, too. Wonderful stuff, for church leaders, educators, parents, and anybody who cares about children, or the spirituality of the ordinary. Highly recommended.

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