Excitingly, I now have a new home for Desertmum, which you can find here. Please pop across and keep me company while I wait for everyone else to turn up.
You could also, you know, add me to your bookmarks, share the new website with everyone you know and write the words ‘lucyrycroft.com’ in beautifully artistic brush-strokes across your bathroom mirror.
Recently, a young lad of 13 came to our church alone.
My husband recognised and remembered him as the same boy who’d come with his Dad, three years ago. They’d attended services for maybe two or three weeks – then not again. Until now.
At the time, the boy’s Dad said, “I’m not really interested, but he’s been asking to come”. Quite astoundingly, this young boy has claimed the identity of ‘Christian’ even though he has not been brought up in a Christian home, and has had very little Christian influence in his life other than the Christian group who led half-termly assemblies in his primary school. (If you do this job, be encouraged – it has an impact!)
I find it fascinating when parents who don’t hold a religious faith tell me how interested their children are in God. Kids can ask deep questions, that’s for sure, and if there is a God behind human design, then it’s unsurprising that children would have a deep-rooted longing to connect with something greater than themselves – a longing which doesn’t come from what their parents or teachers have taught them, or from the ‘religious’ experiences they’ve had, but from within their very beings.
And what of children, like mine, who are being taught about God’s existence, and who are having regular ‘religious experiences’ through church, children’s groups and Christian camps?
These children have deep questions too. Yes, they may frame them within the context of God’s existence – at least until they are of an age to question this – but that’s not to say that doubt and uncertainty can’t exist too.
So our question, as adults helping to raise spiritually-healthy children, is – how do we encourage these questions? How do we initiate debate? How do I permeate the deep recesses of my 9 year old son’s soul, when he only really wanted to tell me about the Newcastle-Man United game?
The closed approach of “That was your question – this is the answer” is not always appropriate. Of course sometimes there is an answer we can give – and I’m not dismissing this – but when our children have deep struggles and questions, I think that the simple black-and-white answer can often trivialise their experience, and devalue their thinking.
This is where creativity comes in: lots of questions, lots of responses, lots of deep thinking and forming of opinions. An understanding that one question may have many answers.
Let me back-track a little and inform you, if you didn’t already know, that Christian publishers don’t usually do Books Like This.
For example, we’re used to the 15-chapter teaching guide on a particular area of discipleship, written by someone with more experience than us. We’re used to someone telling us (or encouraging us) how to think.
Sorry – that sounds a bit cynical, doesn’t it? As if Christian writers are trying to brainwash their readers – and I don’t mean that at all.
But, generally, when I read a Christian book, I’m out to learn what the author has discovered through experiences, training or qualifications that differ to my own. It doesn’t mean I will agree with every word, but these books offer fodder for my mind, new interpretations of Scripture that I hadn’t come across, different opinions which strengthen my own.
“Where is God”, however, breaks this stereotype. It is, essentially, a coffee-table art book – hardback, with gorgeous pictures throughout, and empathetic commentary by Ann Clifford, who I interviewed for this blog on Monday.
And here’s another difference: Christian books, on the whole, tend to be written by Christians – right?
The art in this book has been produced by a variety of people from a variety of faiths and none.
Each of the 60 pieces of art was shortlisted for the Chaiya Art Awards, and is as diverse and beautiful as you would hope it might be, given the brief of “Where is God in our 21st-century World?”
Now this isn’t specifically a children’s book, but as any age group can enjoy and gain from art, I was keen to see what my children made of this. I viewed it as a PDF on my phone, but even without the ‘glamour’ of an open book with its glossy photos, my children were interested.
“What does it mean? Why is he wrapped in a bin bag? Who’s that? What’s happening?” were the initial questions, which I tended to follow with some more questions of my own. My children ended up providing their own ‘answers’ and interpretations.
We were able to bring our Christian beliefs into the discussion, but not in a forceful, dogmatic way – more a kind of, “The artist might be saying this… Jesus said this too” or “Do you remember when Jesus did…?” or “There’s a verse in the Bible that says something similar”.
I love the way that this book brings the question of God’s existence into regular situations that we and our children encounter. I already mentioned here about the picture of homelessness. Another I was struck by was a modern take on the Virgin and Child – except, in this version, both of them are wearing life jackets, linking to the Syrian crisis, still fresh in our minds, and the fact that Jesus and his family were also refugees.
Of course there’s plenty of more abstract pieces that my kids (and I, for that matter) looked at and, with screwed-up faces, asked, “What’s THAT??!!” – but that’s okay. Not all art will speak to all of us.
In fact, author Ann Clifford gives us this very caveat. “Perhaps [a particular piece] doesn’t look like art to you and it evokes nothing. That’s okay. Turn the page.”
Ann’s commentary is wonderfully incisive and articulate. She doesn’t comment on each piece, but offers short pieces throughout the book on themes expressed in the artwork.
‘Where is God in the 21st Century?’ is out now (you can buy it here) – but if you’re local to me, let me know as we can benefit from a bulk order discount.
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Along with my Book Club, this month I read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. I really enjoyed it, bearing some similarities to Eleanor Oliphant, which I read in June.
The title character, like Eleanor, has had a less-than-ideal upbringing, in a dysfunctional family, and now struggles to cope with aspects of everyday life that the rest of us take for granted. Lucy doesn’t necessarily notice or verbalise these struggles, but they become implicit through Strout’s deeply incisive writing, which I enjoyed very much.
The book however, is not mainly about Lucy’s struggles (as an adopter, I tend to read everything through an ‘early life trauma’ lens even when the author hasn’t necessarily intended that!), but more about her relationship with her mother, who comes to visit for a prolonged period when Lucy finds herself in hospital. The pair haven’t spoken in years, and now Lucy is married with two daughters. The ensuing conversation sheds light on Lucy’s upbringing, the characters of the two women, and on what might be going on elsewhere in Lucy’s adult life.
I found it a fascinating read, if slightly frustrating in its ambiguity. I like a little bit of uncertainty (“it could have been this…”, “maybe she felt like this…”) but I also like to know what the actual story is, as I never trust my instincts to have got it right! But maybe that’s the point.
Anyway, it was not a long read, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys this type of story.
There has been A LOT of party food (read: cake) kicking around Casa Desert this month. ALL four of my kids had the audacity to be born in September, and I know that every time this month rolls round, God is laughing at His amazing joke of putting all four of these September-born kids into the life of a Mum who is liable to get a little too party-obsessed.
Yeah, funny. Thanks God.
Actually, the joke is working. I’m chilling out about the kids’ parties. They’re not as much of a mission as they used to be. These days I’m tending to just book a bouncy castle, open a packet of cheesy balls, and let everyone create their own fun. Imagination never hurt anyone, right?
And, to bring this back to the subheading, I don’t really do much with the food. It mainly comes from packets. This year we made some (pretty nice, if I say so myself) chocolate cupcakes from Twist (quite possibly the most helpful, foolproof and scrumptious baking book ever) – but only really for something to do with the twins, who can’t get enough kitchen time at the moment.
Then there were the Birthday Cakes. Listen, I’m hardly Bake-Off material, but I like to try, OK? A mermaid one for Missy (now 7):
Spiderman for Monkey and Meerkat (now 4 – geez, where did that go?):
And a football one for Mister (9! He’s 9! Double figures next year! Someone remind me when I’m supposed to get the hang of parenting?):
That’s about it really. He sits neatly in the very small overlap section of our family’s Venn diagram when it comes to musical preference. The catchy melodies and simple, repetitive words appeal to our kids, who can remember all of them (even the 4 year olds). The Orbison-esque voice and use of brass give it a vintage sound that Desert Dad and I appreciate. Perfect!
And – for those of you who are fans of George Ezra AND a cappella (as well as those of you who are not) – you absolutely have to watch this:
I love that this isn’t even a gig…they’re just warming up!
This month’s piece for More than Writers explored one of my (many) misadventures with DIY this summer, and its application point for writing and editing.
Home for Good published my piece on What the Church needs to know about Invisible Needs. I feel a bit arrogant saying it’s an essential read for all those in church leadership – but I’m going to put myself out there, uncomfortable though it is, for the sake of all the many traumatised children who attend our churches each week and struggle in ways many of us never notice.
My Aussie friends Mike and Helen started an awesome company called XCeptional, which helps people with autism get into employment. They run training, provide software testing for clients, and work with companies who want to become more inclusive.
Do you ever read something and get the feeling the writer has reached inside your brain, pulled together all of your incoherent thoughts and expressed them more eloquently and articulately than you would ever have done?
I love it when this happens! When my friend Laura shared this article on Facebook, I have to say I was blown away. You try reading When Kids won’t bow to your Idols and see if you don’t feel mightily challenged and entertained all at once.
Parties! Three of them, to be precise. Missy had Unicorns and Mermaids, the twins had Spiderman (very loosely adhered to, I might add), and Mister had the easiest one of all: Football! (Think: kids, muddy food, a ball and some food, and that’s pretty much it.)
Sleep! Actually, not much of it. Pray for me in October!
Books! Some progress! Still nothing to report to you, but hopefully very very soon… Suffice to say, there’s been enough progress that I’m feeling pretty excited!
Christmas Anthology! Out soon! I have a reflection in it! If you’re on my mailing list, look out for a special subscribers-only offer in your inbox very soon. And if you’re not on the list, join now! It’s fun – I promise.
I was so delighted recently to discover this lovely book for young-ish children.
Granted, I don’t have a lot of time to research Christian books for kids, but the ones we have do vary in quality. (Actually, it’s probably less variable than it once was, as I’ve chucked the awful ones!)
Sometimes it feels like our children have all these beautiful books, with lovely illustrations and poetic language – and then the Christian books which sit on their shelves are some kind of second-best, low-budget option.
While I know full well that Christian publishers do have smaller budgets, and a smaller audience, I do think that there are ways of getting round these obstacles to produce beautiful books – and Scripture Union has certainly achieved this with ‘A Really Incredible Feast’.
When I first opened the envelope, I was impressed by the book’s size, look and feel. It’s hardback – always a great start, as it just feels so weighty and lovely! – and the illustrations are bold and striking. Fabulous!
It’s also incredible value for money, retailing at just 4.99 for a hardback book with six long-ish Jesus stories included. This makes it affordable and accessible for many – and SU should be applauded, again, for creating such a low price point.
Johanna Baldwin’s poems are really lovely, and make for an engaging story. There are six stories from the life of Jesus, including calming the storm, feeding the 5,000, and healing a blind man. I love the way she brings these all to life with fun language, without resorting to ‘extra’ details or digressions which aren’t in the original Bible story.
Bible references are given for each story, in case you want to look it up and read it to your child, but actually Baldwin’s poems don’t really leave out much. Still, it’s worth noting as it can be good to help your child make the connection between a picture book and the Bible.
The blurb states that this book is suitable for 5s-8s. I read it to my brood of 8-6-3-3, and, unsurprisingly, it was my 6 year old who took to it the most.
My *slight* quibble is that there are rather a lot of verses on each page – which makes for great value for money, of course, but wouldn’t perhaps engage a pre-schooler who needed more scene changes for that amount of words. I guess that’s why the age range doesn’t include under 5s.
However, the illustrations – I felt – were more geared to younger children. As such, Mister (8) didn’t engage so much in the book. He listened, and he didn’t dislike it at all, but as he’s at the stage of reading smaller ‘novel’ sized books, with more text and fewer pictures, I can’t see a situation where I would sit down and read this solely to him.
If you know a 5/6 year old, or mature 4 year old, this book would be excellent for them. The hardback cover, great illustrations and fun rhyming language make it a brilliant (and inexpensive gift) for a birthday, Christmas, or baptism/dedication.
And – of course – I’m not ending the review on that note… The author, Johanna Baldwin, has kindly offered a FREE copy to a Desertmum reader!
To enter, simply join my mailing list here – or, if you have already done that, simply leave a comment on this post. That’s it! Simples.
I’ll pick a winner (using my trusty random number generator) this Sunday, 23rd September, at 9pm BST. I’m happy to post internationally, so if you’re not based in the UK, don’t let that stop you!
It’s no secret that one of the big debates in the Church today is how to pastorally respond to those of varying sexual orientations.
Churches the world over range from a permissive, arms-open approach to a more closed, even angry, approach. And any talk of trying to ‘strike a balance’ is futile, as there are as many opinions on this subject as there are Christians, with everyone holding a different idea of what that ‘balance’ would entail.
So – and I’m convinced of this – we need to find different solutions to working and worshiping together peacefully and lovingly. Solutions which embrace the diversity of opinion found within the Church and use it to strengthen our mission, not divide it.
This is the third and final reflection, and it concerns our approach as churches.
Kathy Keller spoke wonderfully in the afternoon on the more practical issue of how we make our churches welcoming and inclusive, while holding to traditional Bible teaching about sex being for (heterosexual) marriage.
This will jar for those who don’t read the Bible this way, but one thing I found particularly strong was Kathy’s assertion that actually homosexual ‘sin’ is a lot less common/frequent than heterosexual ‘sin’ – purely by nature of there being more heterosexual than homosexual people in the world. Of course this is obvious really, isn’t it? Only I’d never thought of it this way.
In other words, where do our churches stand on teaching about sex within marriage generally? How do we address those who are living together outside marriage, those who have had affairs, those who are in the process of a divorce, those who are considering remarriage?
There are no easy answers, of course, to any of this – but the point is: sexual sin needs to be addressed as a whole. Singling out any one group of individuals is not helpful, and it certainly isn’t Biblical.
Living Out had produced a church inclusivity audit for the day, which I found incredibly helpful, not to mention challenging. If we really ask these questions of ourselves and our churches, where do we stand? I know we fall down in a number of areas.
“Church family members instinctively share meals, homes, holidays, festivals, money, children with others from different backgrounds and life situations to them.”
I’m not so sure that our church, diverse and welcoming as it is, really models this kind of sharing with those of different backgrounds. The thinking here is that if a church develops this kind of culture then it will make life easier for a person who has chosen, for whatever reason, to live a celibate lifestyle, as they will automatically feel included, and experience life-giving relationships within their church family.
“All in your church know that we all experience sexual brokenness and all are being encouraged to confess their own sexual sins.”
I just don’t think that we talk about sex very much or very well! Are we encouraged to think about past sexual behaviour, and whether it was God-honouring? We might be in committed marital relationships, but have we ever asked God to forgive us for what we did before that, or for mixed motives even now?
Again, this general focus on sexual sin (rather than homosexual sin) is helpful, I think, as it sets high and challenging expectations for all of us.
You can download the full audit here and I really recommend taking a look – there are some stonking statements on there. In addition, there’s a great video of Ed Shaw (a same-sex attracted church leader) explaining at the conference how he went through this audit with his church leadership team.
There were some great books recommended during the conference which I wanted to mention here, as well as some of my own favourites:
Walking with Gay Friends – I found this incredibly helpful a few years ago in helping me think through this issue. The author is a Christian and a lesbian.
The Gospel comes with a House Key – Rosaria Butterfield’s story of converting to Christianity as a gay, feminist academic is one I want to read – this is a follow-on book, where she describes the kind of radical hospitality Christians are called to give.
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However, I realise that many of you will Google the book titles, just to check whether there’s a cheaper price. I get it – I do that too. I always try to put the cheapest price I can find right here in the blog post, but that’s not always possible (prices change all the time, I’m UK based so some things will be cheaper/dearer in other countries, and I have an aversion to Amazon…). So by all means, go check the cheaper price – but if you find that it’s the same as what I’ve recommended, do come back here and click on my links pretty please. It’s how I keep the blog free! Thank you 🙂