Reading, Interpreting, and Teaching

Every night we read with both our children. The oldest is nine and the youngest is 3. Both will have birthdays in a few months. With six years between them, we almost always read something appropriate for each of them.

Both get the bible then their stories. The youngest gets the bible through one of the many children’s bible story books she has. The pictures keep her interest and are appropriate to her level of understanding. We often embelish on the stories, emphasizing parts of the stories that the story we’re reading may not emphasize or that it may leave out. Its fun to ask her lots of questions about what we’ve read and about the pictures to help her think about the stories and to think about how Jesus loves her, too. We follow up with picture books and she also hangs out in her big sister’s room and listens in on her sister’s books.

The oldest has a youth translation/paraphrase of the NIV that’s perfect for someone her age. With her, we get to provide history lessons and clarifications that help her understand the bible better. We ask her lots of questions to see how she is understanding the passage we are reading that night. That gives us a good sounding of her understanding. It also provides us lots of teachable moments. It always seems that there is a lesson in life we can apply a passage to that helps her grow in her faith and dependency on God and Jesus Christ.

We follow the bible with some book, often at her reading level, but more generally, just beyond her level. Or, if we’re between books, we will read poetry for a day or so. Recently, we finished The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. Kate is maybe her favorite author and my favorite to read aloud (Pick up Because of Winn Dixie and read aloud the different persons that Opal meets-each has his or her very own voice and you’ll find yourself speaking just like that person as you read! Its amazing! My oldest got to meet her just before the 2006 Midwest Booksellers Association awards ceremony in St Paul were Edward Tulane won best children’s book and she cherishes the special note that Kate DiCamillo wrote to her in her copy of the book. It was so much fun to see my daughter get to talk with her out in the hallway. My daughter was as flushed and excited as the teeny-boppers screaming at a Beatles concert.) 

Edward Tulane was a good book to read because its all about learning to love, and appreciateing the ones who love us. These discussions are so wonderful to have. We see our children awaken to a deeper understanding and a clearer view of life and existence and loving. It also provides a touchstone for discussing the ways of the world and what is good and bad, what is right with the world and what’s gone wrong.

I have to mention another book I read last weekend. I’m working on a review of it that I hope to post hear later this week. Its an excellent book titled Pray Hard by Pamela Walker. I recommend it. This is a very interesting story in two ways. First, I enjoyed the story just as a fun read. It is well written with some very funny moments, interesting characters, and real relationships. I’m eager to read it again in order to give it an adequate review, time willing. It is also excellent because it provides us so much to discuss with our children regarding our faith, which is more precious than gold.

 In the story, we find Amelia Forrest’s father died the year before, crashing his plane into the side of a mountain while on a missions trip to bring relief to people flooded out in another part of the country. Amelia is sure she caused the crash, a secret she has hidden since the accident. Then, one day, a stranger appears at the door. He’s wearing a hat that says “Pray Hard” and his name is Brother Mustard Seed. He says he had a vision in which Amelia’s father tells him that his familiy needs his help. When he hears for the first time that Amelia’s father is dead, he sits down on the porch and cries. Amelia smells trouble.

Beside the story of Amelia coming to terms with her father’s death, its also a story of faith and the testing of her faith, and her mother’s and Brother Mustard Seed’s, also. In whom is their faith; what and who are they going to believe?

In the story, it really seems as through their faith – Amelia’s, her mother’s, and Brother Mustard Seed’s –  is in Amelia’s father more than it is in God. Really, the only one who clearly had his or her faith solidly grounded was Amelia’s Father, who always looked for ways to share his faith and love. Even Brother Mustard Seed is more interested in hearing from Amelia’s father than from God, and at one humorous point, disastrously seeks a create a vision on his own.

Meanwhile, Amelia’s best friend, Oshun, is away for the summer, in Haiti with her parents, who teach at the college. They’re there to study voodoo and Oshun sends her friend a voodoo doll as a souvenier. This doll is the spitting image of Brother Mustard Seed. While Amelia is arguing with her mother about Brother Mustard Seed, the doll slips out of her grasp and flies across the room. Just then, as the doll strikes the floor, they hear a great commotion from the basement and they hear moans from Brother Mustard Seed. Has Amelia caused this accident as well? She obsesses that it’s because of the doll. The next day when she finds her dog tearing the doll apart, she fears that Brother Mustard Seed is now dead.

When she unexpectedly sees her friend, Oshun, who has returned much earlier than expected, she tells her everything that has happened. Here, her friend brings her back to earth, asking her if she really can believe in something as foolish as voodoo. Somehow, these are the reassuring words she needs to hear. How could she believe something so ridiculous? But, she still must come to terms with Brother Mustard Seeds visions, and her own recurring dreams.

I found myself thinking all the time about this story. It presents so many teachable moments, especially about faith in God, and it provides moments to talk about our need for our own faith in God, not just a shallow, tag-along faith like Amelia and her mother had. Now this is not even a whisper of the theme of this book. Its something I saw as was reading it. Its something worth talking about with our children, or they’ll easily form the same sort of fragile faith we see in the characters in this book. While this book is clearly about faith on one level, it isn’t about faith in this level. But we need faith on this level, and so do our children.

Its not to serve as a basis from which criticize the world, but so we can both have compassion on the world, the folks next to us in the pews who very well may have faith that is more in the pastor or their sainted mother and father, or that even isn’t any faith at all. And also it is to guard against forming a fragile faith of our own that isn’t able to withstand the bad that surely happens to us all.

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