How quiet contemplation revealed a hidden need?

purple paramentsWith the start of the season of Lent, a sharp-eyed churchgoer/church on-line watcher will spot changes in the Sanctuary. Ask your family members what they notice. First up, the colors have switched! The purple paraments are back. (Paraments are the hangings that adorn the pulpit, or the extra “garments,” the stoles the clergy wear. Did you know that each season of the Church Year has a different color?)

Wonder with your family: why purple for Lent?

cross in the sanctuary on Ash WednesdayAnd secondly, the empty, “old rugged cross” is back… watch it progress slowly—week to week—on it’s Lenten journey from the back of the church all the way to the front.

Do you wonder what if it blocks your view in church?

Discuss with your family what the recurrence of this on-the-move cross says to you.

Both of these alterations are relatively innocuous.

Or are they signals of something bigger? Something like…

Hey, it’s Lent! It’s time to intentionally put God at the center of your life.

But how is that suppose to happen?

Going into Lent I was conflicted. I knew that I needed/wanted to “do” something specific to mark my travel through Lent, to turn my thoughts toward the reason why Easter is important… but I wasn’t sure what to do. Give something up? Take something on? Then I got my answer at last night’s Ash Wednesday worship service.

It was a Taizé style service, consisting of meditative, repeated songs and scripture interspersed with periods of silent contemplation.

And in that quiet… I found peace.

Ah ha! I needed an injection of peace—some sacred time.

I needed to pull back from my day-to-day stuff and experience the divine.

imparting ashes on Ash WednesdayAt this service there were the sacred rituals of the sharing of bread and juice in Holy Communion, and the imposition of ashes—the part where “dust” gets etched onto our foreheads with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe.”

Lent begins with this sign—ashes. The ashes are symbolic of death. I need to let my old ways die. I need to try something new.

So I went home and created an “altar.” On an old board I placed a few “special” rocks, a sprig of fake flowers, a pinch pot made by my son when he was 5 years old… It is a place for me to linger, to allow my soul to be in quiet contemplation.

I plan to add and subtract from my holy space as I feel the whim. I plan to “visit” every day.

Lenten altar

How will you create your sacred Lenten space?


Photo credits:
Copyright photos from my archives.

Why did Jesus have to die?

Palms waving on Palm Sunday

Did you see the parade on Sunday? Such a celebration!


Lots of waving palms!

And there it was… Sure enough… Joy was in the air!

Palm waving with a focus on joy

And next Sunday is Easter!

More Joy!

Oh, but what about the in-between days?

Can we leave out this?

draped cross

Do you say, “I don’t know how to explain why they killed Jesus, so I’ll just hurry over that part.


“Let’s just skip the bad parts and progress right to the Easter Joy.”

Granted, it takes delicate talk to explain why Jesus had to die. Start off by asking your child why they think Jesus had to die. It is important to ponder and wonder around this question with our kids.

Make sure that they understand that is was not God who put Jesus to death but other people; people who did not like Jesus. They did not like the things that Jesus said and did. It might even be helpful to talk about why people might not like what Jesus had to say about how to treat others (Matthew 7:12), or about loving your enemies (Matthew 5:43-44), or about sharing your resources (Matthew 19:21).

How about some elaboration on why Jesus had to die:

This part of Easter is hard to understand. This part shows us how much God loves us and wants to be able to be connected with us.

No matter how hard we try, we still sin — we do stuff that separates us from God and from other people; things that push God away. There is nothing we can do to make up for our sins; we deserve to be punished.

Jesus took that punishment for us. He died so that our sins could be forgiven!

It seems harsh, but it’s not the end of the story because Jesus came back to life! Jesus had been killed on a cross but on the third day, women found his tomb (the place where he had been buried) empty! The tomb was empty because Jesus was alive! God’s power brought Jesus back to life again. He was resurrected. This means that God’s love is more powerful than death!

Jesus’ death and resurrection show us that we are fully forgiven. God’s love is more powerful than anything and is still there, even when we sin!

Photo credits:
Photos are from my archives.

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A Lenten service project: How can your family help?

Three crosses on a hill at Henderson Settlement in Kentucky

Does your family include service projects in your Lenten activities?

In the past I have traveled with a group from FUMC to a place known as Henderson Settlement in Frakes, Kentucky. We (adults and kids!) were on a mission trip so that meant we worked hard, and got dirty.

A young boy with a pick axIt takes two to cut lumber

At the same time it was satisfying. We learned new skills, strengthened friendships, and helped the residents. We served as the hands and feet of God.

Working at building a porchFour muddy boys take a break from work

Lots of drills were usedA happy homeowner with two workers

In April we’ll do another Appalachia Mission trip to Henderson Settlement. Even if you aren’t going along, there are two ways to get involved with serving others:

oneEat breakfast with us this Sunday, March 15th.

Join us from 10:30-11:30am at the downtown location. Suggested donation is $10/adults, $5/child. Proceeds will go towards purchasing supplies for our home repair projects.

Photo ad for Breakfast on March 15th to support Appalachia Mission trip

twoDonate supplies to help our Appalachian friends.

Visit our “tree” outside the church office and select a tag (to help you remember what to bring). Or just select from our wish list:

  • To help create food boxes: self-rising flour, sugar (both in 5 lb bags), cornmeal, or cooking oil.
  • For Hygiene kits: bar soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, or deodorant.
  • For the Maternal/Infant Program: diapers size 2-6, Pull Ups, baby food, Good Start Formula, Baby Food, Infant & or Children’s Motrin/Tylenol.
  • To re-stock the thrift store: new or gently-used clean clothing in good repair (any size, infants to adults), housewares, or children’s toys/games.

Please bring your donations to church by Sunday, March 29th. Leave them at the base of our “Giving Tree” or in the church office. Thanks!

It’s easy to indulge your family in a little Lenten service project love!

Photo credits:
Photos shared from various Appalachia Mission trip participants, Richard Rupp, Ruth Ann Church, Amy Unsworth, Wendy Everett, Jeff Wason, myself, and Henderson Settlement staff.
Orange numbers from public domain via

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Choosing the good road

This Lent at FUMC, as a congregation we are walking once more to the cross and to Jesus’ resurrection. Along the way we are looking at “road options” that Jesus and his disciples chose along their journey. How might these same decisions be open to us? Which road will we take? Will we recognize the best choice – the good road? Let us journey together this Lent as we “Walk The Good Road.” See you in church!

Last weekend Rev. Doug Paterson’s sermon on the “Good Road” series spoke to the quandary that the “The Good Road is Not Always Smooth.” I don’t think he mentioned David and Goliath, but he could have.

When the road is not always smooth, perhaps we are facing a giant.

Cartoon painting of 'The Scream'

Perhaps that giant, creating yawning potholes in our path, is…

  • A conflict with a person — family or friends or teachers or co-workers or bullies…
  • A situational problem — I can’t figure out math, my grandfather is dying, my dreams don’t seem to be happening…
  • Peer pressure — I’ve got to be the best soccer player. I’ve got to be in the in-crowd. I’m worried about having a bad-hair-day. I’ve got to have a bigger house/car/phone. I’ve got to be thinner/sexier/smarter…
  • Or maybe the giant you’re facing is you! You want to change but you don’t understand why you do the things you do and how to be transformed.

This last one is my current giant! My giant says to me “Carol, who are you to be speaking about faith?” “Who are you to make decisions about Sunday’s Cool?” “Who are you to be a leader in a Christian educators organization with thousands of members?”

It would be easier for me to back away from my giants, letting them win. Sometimes the road we must choose is harder than we would like.

The Good Road is ever before us. Will we recognize it when we see it?

Can I trust God’s definition of me as Imperfect, God-seeking, Confident, Child-of-God, One-who-has-work-to-do?

Thankfully God is always with me (regardless of the road I choose). But I also know that I am called to move in the direction of faith. But how? Here are some ideas:

Intentional Practices for growing faith:
  • Remembering: Where and when has God been with me in the past?
  • Provide a platform for lingering together, for the asking of questions, and for finding hope. Encourage the expression of ideas and inquisition. (Ask: What do you think about ___?) Honor with attention and thoughtfulness.
  • Spending time alone with God. Perhaps practicing a bit like this.
  • What scripture can I learn so that strengthening words roll off my tongue? (How about this Rotation’s Key Bible verse?)
  • A "shrine" of things that invoke the memory of God's goodness

  • What visual reminders will I place in my path? A cross here, scripture written on an index card there? Set up a spot in your home that is designated as a “quiet spot.” Fill this space with objects that invoke memories. Allow touching and rearranging and additions and subtractions. (Photo on right is such a spot set up at the Nelson home around Easter time.)
  • As well as the usuals: communicating with God through prayer; learning God’s advice by reading the Bible; strengthening my relationship with God through worship; serving others. (Read more here.)

Which of these practices will you implement in your family this week?

Photo credits:
Cartoon “Scream” by Prawny. Used with permission from
“Shrine” photo from Chris Nelson. Used by permission.

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Bothered & Bewildered: Stuck in a playpen?

The book Bothered & Bewildered by Ann Morisy“Bothered and Bewildered” — that’s the sermon series for Lent this year (2014) at FUMC. The idea for this theme came from the writings of Ann Morisy. That is one of her books over on the left: Bothered & Bewildered: Enacting Hope in Troubled Times.

Ann guest-lectured this past weekend in Ann Arbor. In one of her three talks, Ann spoke about bringing hope to those who are troubled and anxious — to those in a bothered and bewildered state.

Ah, that would be me.

I’ll admit – I’m often dazed and downright dizzy, and in the in midst of an overloaded life, I’m wondering, who me? A child of God? And why am I here?

What about you? Ever feel that way?

I’m thinking that a generous dose of uncertainty also applies to our current Rotation on the events of Holy Week. Some of the characters in our story were definitely a bit baffled.

  • Why did Jesus overturn the tables in the Temple? (Matthew 21:12-13).
  • What was Jesus talking about – “the Son of Man will be handed over…” (Matt 26:2).
  • And what brought Judas to snitch on his teacher?! (Matt 26:14-16).

Yes, I’d say that the portion of our story covered in this week’s mini reading plan (below), includes people who are troubled and anxious.

Can we relate?

To continue a previously started trend, let’s explore the concept of people bothered and bewildered during that first Holy Week. People, not unlike us, who (to borrow another Ann Morisy viewpoint) fear stepping outside of the playpen.

a child chews on the edge of a playpen

Do playpens even get used any more?

Those places where we placed a small child to keep them out of harms way while we were otherwise occupied? Keep the thought of a playpen — a safe place — in mind as you use this mini reading plan with discussion questions around the family dinner table. Or wherever your family (or your friends!) gather together. Use the chart below to read and talk about this particular portion of our story… in stages… over the coming weeks. Or print it out.

(Check out the start of the mini reading plans here.)

Read Talk about or do…
A bit of a review: Why is the crowd all worked up; who is coming into town?
Why were they shouting words of praise – Hosanna!?
What sort of king did they expect Jesus would be? What hint should they have taken from Jesus’ choice of a mode of transportation?
How do you suppose the sight of this parade makes the people think: perhaps it would be safe to leave our playpens?
Why do you suppose Jesus turned things upside down in the Temple?
Imagine you were a money-changer in the Temple; what would you have thought? Imagine that you are someone who needed to buy a dove to offer as a sacrifice in the Temple. How do you feel being turned away? (Sorry there are no doves; that man let them all loose when he was overturning tables.)
What about this event bothers you? What questions do you have? If you were there would you feel like you were in need of a playpen of safety and security, or a playpen full of challenges? What do you suppose Jesus is trying to tell us about prayer and worship?
Why do you suppose the chief priests and the teachers of the law were so upset about kids making noise in the Temple? This is just one example of how they seemed to always butt heads with Jesus. Jesus came to earth to help put the world right again, but he used ways that were different than what people expected. What way do you suppose a “take-charge” type of king would have used in this instance to right the unfair practices at the Temple?
A review: What did the festival of Passover celebrate? (Hint: look at Exodus 12:1-14.) What does the word “crucified” mean? (killed on a cross) Why did Jesus allow himself to be killed (he could have run away)? (It’s okay if you don’t have a definitive answer to this question. Discuss it anyway!)
What festival were the religious leaders talking about? (Hint: look in verse 2.) What sort of playpen were they setting up for themselves to avoid a backlash of protest from “the people”? Why do you suppose they were worried about what others thought?
Which disciple tattled on Jesus? (Judas Iscariot)
What was the bad plan that Judas made? Have you ever made a “bad plan”? What happened? Was forgiveness necessary? Do you suppose that Jesus forgave Judas?
What sort of playpen would you retreat to if you made a really bad plan? Or would you think to choose to run to Jesus instead?

Are you ready to continue with the next in our series of mini-reading/discussion plans?


Photo credits:
Youngster in a playpen by Ross Belmont, licensed under Creative Commons BY NC-SA 2.0

Rotation Schedule: the Events of Holy Week

Dutchman's BreechesHappy Lent!

Our current Rotation is a look at the events of Holy Week. Holy Week covers the last days – the last week – of Jesus’ life on earth. Our aim is that kids will be able to sequence the events of Holy Week and re-tell the story of Easter. In the process of this learning, they will come to recognize that Jesus’ journey to the cross (and beyond) was a trip that Jesus made for them because of God’s love for us. This is why we celebrate Easter!

To see a growing list of opportunities to foster faith learning at home on the subject of Holy Week and Lent, click here. Might I suggest a few of my favorites? (Click on the pictures or the underlined words, to read.)

Plastic Easter Eggs
Fill eggs with symbols of the story from Palm Sunday to Easter. Use these eggs to help children to learn and re-tell the story. Look for a starter set to come home with your child from our Storytelling Workshop!
an abacus What can your family do to intentionally put God at the center of your life – say for about for 10 – 15 minutes a day? Here are seven ideas for your family’s Lent experience.
a sign says: Look Both Ways
A bit of history about Lent… and a suggestion to take time in this season to notice the sacred in the secular.

Where is the schedule? It was sort of out of date and has been removed 🙂

But here is what we did in each workshop:

  • In the Games Workshop students will play a “Family Feud” quiz game while learning story details.
  • In the Cooking Workshop students will create an edible map of Jerusalem, noting the location of the events of Holy Week.
  • In the Storytelling Workshop the contents of eggs found in a hunt help a Bible-times character to tell the story. Students will create their own mini set of storytelling eggs!
  • In the Photography Workshop students will re-enact the events of Holy Week and pose for still photographs of each scene.
  • In the Video Workshop students will watch portions of the live-action video The Visual Bible: Matthew, while enjoying popcorn (can’t have a movie without popcorn!).

Check out the Workshop Rotation Model for Sunday school at the original home of Rotation, where many of my lessons are posted under “CreativeCarol.”

If you are in the area, please join us for the fun learning at First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, MI.

Photo credits:
Flowers are from my archives.
Easter eggs by kanspice.
Forehead with ash cross by mtsofan.
Look! by Travis Nep Smith. All photos licensed under a Creative Commons License on Flickr.

God makes all things new

How is your Lent coming? Have you seen any of these…

crocus peeking out of the snow

Maybe not yet, but soon!

Isn’t it appropriate that Easter and spring coincide? Spring is symbolic of what Easter is all about.

God transforms, and makes all things new.

Did you know that most bulbs like the crocuses shown above, need weeks of darkness and cold temperatures in order to bloom? (On the exception list would be amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus.)

Just as bulbs have spent mandatory time, waiting in the ground all winter, we too need a time of quiet renewal. The purpose of Lent is to remind us of this; to be transformed we need some dark, quietness!

Be ready for the first bulbs you see rousing from their renewing experience. Ask your kids (and yourself!):

  • If you were a bulb what would you think about as you waited in the dark?
  • Perhaps you could talk to God?
  • Perhaps you could listen for God?
  • Perhaps you could use your time to admit your sins? (Sins are anything you’ve done that separates or disconnects you from God)
  • Perhaps you could renew your relationship with God?
  • What are you learning in your quiet darkness?

Lenten blessings!
 — Carol

A cross decorated with palm branches It’s Lent! Here are some resources for the season:

Lenten activities for your family.

Short spiritual practices to try during Lent.

A way to tell the Easter story using plastic Easter eggs.

A small thing to add to your days during Lent.

Photo credits:
Crocus in snow by Liz West, is licensed on Flickr under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).
FUMC’s palm-covered cross from my archives. Offered for use under Creative Commons (BY NC-SA 2.0).

The Last Supper, with apologies to Leonardo

Here it is! The pictures created in our Photography Workshop for our Rotation on The Last Supper. (Just the 4th, 5th and 6th graders visited this workshop.)

The 6th Graders (and their Shepherd) create a tableaux of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

Students start off this workshop talking about what dinner time is typically like in their home, and what is done differently at special times, such as birthdays. Then they review the story about Jesus’ special last meal that he shared with his disciples on the night before he was killed. Something happened at this last supper that makes us still talk about it more than 2000 years later! Jesus gave his followers a way to remember him. Today, we still practice this same ritual!

The 4th graders re-enact Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper
There weren’t very many there that day, but the 4th Grade (plus their Shepherd) create their version of Leonardo’s painting.

What’s the process involved in creating this picture? Students are randomly assigned to portray the participants that were at the first Last Supper. They study art prints (with magnifying glasses!) of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper. Then it’s into costumes and recreating da Vinci’s painting using a technique called “frozen picture” or tableaux.

The workshop leader at work with her camera
The Shepherd gets everyone into postion and the Workshop leader snaps a few photos of the 6th graders.

After the photos are shot, the students look at the pictures on a TV screen and choose the best shot. For further learning, the student who portrayed each disciple reads a blurb about that disciple.

students view the resulting pictures on the TV.
Which picture turned out the best?

The 5th graders create a tableaux of The Last Supper
And here are the 5th Graders on the week when they visited the Photography workshop.

From notes made by da Vinci we can identify each of the disciples in his painting. From left to right it would have been: 1– Bartholomew, 2–James the Younger, 3–Andrew, 4–Judas, 5–Peter, 6–John, Jesus, 7–Thomas, 8 – James, 9– Phillip, 10–Matthew, 11-Thaddeus, 12–Simon.

For comparison, here’s a look at da Vinci’s The Last Supper

da Vinci's The Last Supper

How did they do?

Photo credits…
Photos of kids portraying The Last Supper by Alice Nuttall. Used with permission.
Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is in the Public domain, the picture shown is via Wikimedia Commons.