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Brian's Blog

  • October 22, 2014

    Need some good music?

    If you haven't been enjoying the music of Steve Bell for years and years as I have, you can catch up (kind of like watching a few seasons of a great TV series on Netflix) with his new 25-year retrospective, Pilgrmage.
    You can listen to clips and order the CD here:
    It's beautiful.

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  • A reader writes: violence is all we know because it is all we see

    A reader writes:

    While I know this framing story doesn’t have a chance in the world. Hell, we can’t even get the poor out to vote on election day, and we are hoping someday they will stop thinking of themselves and start living for the sake of the community? I live in a condo complex and serve on the HOA board, and we can’t get enough people to serve to make a full board. It certainly isn’t the framing story I would choose, except I love God and this is the story I believe God chooses and I feel God chooses me to learn it and live it. I found your book Everything Must Change in the library and am about 2/3rds the way through, but I skimmed ahead to see if you touch on the Greatest commandment. While you dance around it and almost refer to it, it isn’t the foundation the framing story is built on. My favorite story is found in Mark 12: 28 where Jesus tells the teacher of the law that for believing the 2 commandments are the prime directive that he is not far from the kingdom of God (yeah my own words there), but the message is clear that Loving God and neighbor is to enter the kingdom of God. While you say in your book that “kingdom” is a kind of old fashioned word that may not have any use in today’s world, I believe it is perfect and can be re-engineered to mean a whole new type of society, one that is not capitalism and one that is not a dictatorship.
    Another idea I think you dance around that I would like to comment on is your encouraging to us to try to picture what living in the kingdom of God would be like. Wonderful idea! I wish I was a better writer and had the foresight to write a screen play titled “The kingdom of God” . First scene: year 33CE, Just outside the Temple, and Mark 12:28 through 34 plays out and maybe we could throw in some more teachings about what justice would look like in the kingdom of God. Scene two: jump ahead 1800 years and the world is living the kingdom of God. The movie shows how the community works together to solve problems, work through disagreements, shows what the economy could look like, where there is no unemployment because the government has a right to work law and if you need a job you go to the employment office and you have a right to a job, one that pays well enough to live, and how those in the community work towards the good of the community, and it is that mindset that keeps those who would attempt to oppress or cheat the community from making the attempt. Perhaps the movie would show our community what it would look like and get them on the road toward the kingdom of God. The movie would reinforce acts of loving kindness, a very rare thing, if you would look at what is in the theaters year after year. Violence is all we know because it is all we see.
    Thank you again for your wonderful book, I am very much enjoying the lessons you teach in it.

    Thanks for the encouraging words. I think you are so right … the stories we ingest via movies teach us ways of seeing the world … My friend Gareth Higgins and I, along with the good people of the Raven Foundation, have been talking about how to get more screenplay writers to take the use of violence more seriously. That, by the way, is a major theme of my newest book, We Make the Road by Walking … grappling with violence in the Bible.

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  • October 21, 2014

    A reader writes: theological musings ...

    A reader writes:

    Brian, my wife and I just returned from a trip (my first) to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe these places. To be sure, we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

    I just wanted to share some thoughts with you.

    While we were there, one of the places we went was to the Episcopal Chapel of the Transfiguration. While I sat in the darkness looking at that view, I thought “We have something all wrong”. When someone asks us to “prove” the existence of “God”, we trot out the old “watch and watchmaker” schpiel. I think this misses the mark by infinity.

    Several weeks ago I heard a comment by singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier in which she said that artists were people who attempted to make sense out of chaos.

    If you recall, in the opening verses of Genesis, that’s precisely what God does.

    Maybe we need to start thinking of God not as a mere watchmaker, but as a great Artist. Maybe being made in the image and likeness of God means we can see creation through the eyes of the Artist.

    I thought, If I were to bring my weeniedog Daphne to that place and asked her to comprehend the wonder of it all, she would probably be wondering if it involved food or chasing a squirrel!

    Amen! In the modern era, where the machine was the pinnacle of human achievement, I can see why people were enamored with the watchmaker analogy. But it indeed falls short in so many ways. Creativity is the first action in the Bible - and it's one of the last too ("Behold, I create all things new!") That's one of the themes I trace from Genesis to Revelation in my new book, btw.

    It's interesting to ponder what the human versions of chasing a squirrel would be!

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  • October 20, 2014

    A reader writes: using your book in Northern Ireland

    A reader writes:

    I just thought I would let you know we have a group reading We Make the Road by Walking in Whitehead, Northern Ireland. Do hope you can visit Ireland soon!!

    So glad to know you're using the book. I will be in Ireland, co-leading a private retreat, next June. We will probably have one public event while I'm there (not yet scheduled, details TBA). More information here.

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  • October 19, 2014

  • October 18, 2014

    A listener writes: overwhelming, underwhelming

    A listener writes:

    I was recently spiritually prompted to one of your interviews, on Premier Christian Radio, and just wanted to follow that up with an introduction.

    My name is ccc; I am a [middle aged] Christian of 17 years, and I live in East London, England. I have been a Christian all of my life, but consciously reaffirmed my faith in 1997. Since then I have enjoyed (and endured) the most amazing relationship and walk with God.

    I had little taught expectations (or limitations) on God, I believed he would respond to me much as he did to our Biblical forefathers - and he did, and then some. I had always assumed this was how ever Christian experienced God, in a very real and present way, guiding the big and small, trivial and significant decisions. From where to live – to what to eat, more importantly how he desires to see me grow in spiritual maturity.

    Conversely, whilst my knowledge and experience of God has been extraordinary, my experience of life in the church has been underwhelming. Even this experience God used to teach and mature me – though I don’t pretend to be spiritually matured just yet.

    Eventually I determined that God allowed me to experience him in such a real way because he knew I would not be able to keep it to myself. I believe my story might help and encourage other Christians struggling with faith and church life, so I wrote about it.

    Essentially I try to encourage and challenge us all (as individuals and bodies) to go back to basics, to re-examine our commitment to God and our relationship with him. To take a long, hard and honest look at whether the Christians we are today reflect, honour and glorify God. Are we growing in spiritual maturity and if not, why not.

    The most important lesson I learned, and it took the best part of ten years, is that I’m not in control, I can’t change me, I can’t make myself Christ like no matter how committed I am to God and how hard I try. After ten years God stopped me, showed me that he hadn’t asked for my plethora of well intended good deeds, he had only asked that I be honest and sincere with him and those around me, even if that meant confessing some very ugly truths.

    That was a key turning point in my spiritual journey, try less – pray more, allowing God to lead on your transformation is the only way to ensure that change is sincere and lasting.

    I had spent ten years trying to make myself better and all God really wanted was for me to get real with him, surrender to him and let him transform me into whatever he created me to become.

    After hearing your interview I felt a deep resonance with your story, but also a small spiritual butt kicking to finish the book.

    If I’m entirely honest I’m not sure why I’m contacting you, perhaps the encouragement to finish the book was all God intended. But it can’t hurt to say hello and let you know that I have been encouraged by your story. And, if there is any guidance you can offer to a first time author that will of course be greatly appreciated.

    May God bless you and keep you.

    Thanks for your encouragement. As for advice for first-time writers, here are a few things I've posted in the past:


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  • October 17, 2014

    Q & R: Reaching across the cultural & religious divide

    Here's the Q:

    Brian, I have a thought about your blog response
    You emphasize, rightly, that progress toward peace with Islam or any
    other group must include making the effort to better understand them
    and why they take the positions that they take. But that's difficult
    with Islam in ways not shared by other groups of "other". As you
    doubtless know, there are no translations of the Quran into any
    language. There are some sort-of translations that Muslims allow to be
    used as a crutch by people who want to learn Arabic. But they take it
    as a cardinal principle that the words of the Prophet cannot be
    translated and yet remain the words of the Prophet. While nearly
    anybody, anywhere, can pick up a Bible in a familiar language, only
    Arabic speakers can read the Quran.

    The result is that anything an American may "know" about Islam has
    been filtered through a great many layers of interpretation,
    misinterpretation, bias, hatred, tradition, unrecognized cultural
    references, etc.

    I like languages, but I have little inclination to learn Arabic. Yet
    we must come to a better understanding of Muslims. For that, we need a
    strategy. A number of things you've written suggest that your strategy
    for better understanding Muslims has been to meet as many as possible
    and have long talks, taking a nonjudgmental attitude so that neither
    party gets mad and storms out. Great. But that strategy doesn't work
    for many Americans.

    Any suggestions?

    Here's the R:
    Thanks for this question. The fact is, you could also say that to some degree, 'anything an American may "know" about Christianity or Juadism has also been filtered through a great many layers of interpretation, misinterpretation, bias, hatred, tradition, unrecognized cultural references, etc.' Fortunately, there are many translation of the Quran into English and other languages. Since avid readers of the Bible will already know that there is always an element of interpretation in any translation, people sensitive to the issues and complexities of biblical translation and interpretation are well placed to read the Quran responsibly in translation … not in a way that would satisfy all Muslim scholars, but in a way that will replace complete ignorance with a responsible knowledge base.

    In addition, there are excellent introductions to Islam, written by both Muslims and Christians. Here are three resources I would especially recommend:
    1. John Esposito's works, beginning with Islam: The Straight Path.

    2. Who Speaks for Islam summarizes a monumental demographic study and dispels many myths. It's short, readable, and research based.

    3. Reza Aslan's No God but God is also highly readable and helpful.

    As for building relationships between Christian and Muslim congregations, people like my friend Jeff Burns and organizations like Peace Catalyst are going important and needed work, among many others.

    And here's another great resource:

    Excerpts from "The Jesus Fatwah" by Living the Questions from Living the Questions on Vimeo.

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  • October 16, 2014

    Really. You should know this ...

    Theories/understandings of the sun change … as do theories and understandings of everything, including God. That's a theme of my book We Make the Road by Walking, and John Stonecypher captures it amazingly in his weekly multi-media commentary. Check it out here.
    And here:

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  • October 15, 2014

    Making Plans for 2015?

    Here are a few special events I'll be involved in - you might want to come along!

    June: Ireland Tour with Gareth Higgins

    August: Ring Lake Ranch

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  • October 14, 2014

    A reader writes … "I'm the classic kid who grew up Evangelical"

    A reader writes ...

    Dear Brian,
    I know you are very busy and maybe won't even read this but thank you so much for your brave writing, I'm sure you get quite a lot of grief over it but I wanted to encourage and thank you. I am the classic 'kid who grew up in the evangelical church'. My dad was a pastor and my whole life was church and the evangelical bubble ( including being a missionary) until my late 20's when all my understandings of God started to fall apart. At the risk of making this too long let's just say that huge career disappointment, long term unemployment after coming out of full time christian ministry, having a disabled child and university study that raised many questions made my 30s the time of getting rid of all the paradigms and christian culture I had grown up with. I just read Rachel Held Evans memoir and we could be spiritual twins in many ways.

    I read 'Generous orthodoxy' this year and it was so good. So good to hear I was not the only one with big questions about the evangelical way of church. So good to hear a bit about how other Christian traditions view such things as the cross and the kingdom of God. This has led me to reading writers from Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox streams, which has basically saved my Christianity because I can now see that it is possible to experience God organically without having to 'know'a whole lot about him, it's been awesome. I am starting my Masters degree in Anthropology next year and my thesis topic is the new trend in evangelical Christian missions of moving from 'soul saving' to justice based 'incarnational service work, and if this is a result of emerging theology, I quote you and N T Wright in my thesis proposal. My university is secular, but they find the topic fascinating. Keep writing, looking forward to reading your new book.

    Thanks for writing … and thanks for your encouragement. It's an exciting time to study anthropology, and especially the intersection of anthropology and religion. In your studies, be sure to explore Rene Girard. You'll find amazing insights there.

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  • October 13, 2014

    Religion. Secularism. Violence.

    Many secular thinkers now regard “religion” as inherently belligerent and intolerant, and an irrational, backward and violent “other” to the peaceable and humane liberal state – an attitude with an unfortunate echo of the colonialist view of indigenous peoples as hopelessly “primitive”, mired in their benighted religious beliefs.
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  • October 12, 2014

    Q & R: Muslims, Isis, and benevolence

    Here's the Q:

    Our study group recently started a discussion of Islam, having read your book Why Did JMBM Cross the Road? as background. … In the case of Islam more than other faiths — the challenge in practical terms seems far more complex than you made it seem in your book.

    I would be interested in your response to this multi-part question:
    In the case of Islam — recognizing that extremists are a minority group within Islam — do you believe a strong/benevolent attitude can be effective in relation to Islamic extremists?

    Can we realistically expect that if we listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Muslims, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?

    If so, how do we get this movement started (besides promoting your book and/or this video), in the face of what the media is showing about ISIS etc.?

    Thanks for considering my questions.

    Here's the R:
    I'm glad your study group has read JMBM and found it helpful. You're certainly right - the challenge in practical terms is huge, especially if we expect that long-term problems can be solved with short-term solutions.

    You might say it like this: I believe God gave us a major shot of life-saving medicine through Jesus. For 2000 years, which is, say, 400 generations (roughly speaking), some people have been taking this medicine. Slowly, a new way of dealing with violence and hatred is replacing the old. Since then, others have come along to administer "booster shots" - reiterating and clarifying Jesus' message when it gets sidelined or distorted - people like St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Francis, St. Claire, Dorothy Day, Dr. King, Jon Sobrino, Desmond Tutu, Richard Twiss, Shane Claiborne, Tony and Peggy Campolo, and many more.

    Meanwhile, the old habits of hate and violence are still normative for billions.

    Our situation is not unlike someone who has smoked for 30 of their 50 years. If they quit smoking tomorrow, immediate health benefits will begin to manifest. But it will take many years for lungs, skin, vocal chords, blood pressure, etc., to return to normal. Consequences are "in the system" so to speak.

    So … each of us does all we can to live the way of Jesus, the way of the beatitudes, the way of the kingdom of God. In so doing, we spread health. We try to teach our children to do the same so they will spread health. We move toward our enemies - not to destroy, but to "preach the good news" and to invite them into the way of peace too. That requires learning and understanding why they see and respond as they do … and building relationships so that they may at least see an option of a better way. That may seem impractical and slow-moving … but I can't think of a better way, try as I might.

    "There is no way to peace," the old saying (from A. J. Muste) goes, "for peace itself is the way."

    As for your question, "Can we realistically expect that if we listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Muslims, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?" - I have to ask two questions. First, "Can we realistically expect that if we don't listen listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Muslims, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?" … and "Can we realistically expect that if we listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Christians, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?"

    It's not easy reigning in the bad behavior of others under any circumstances. I think there are two essential first steps:
    1. Don't imitate extremists - in thought, language, or behavior.
    2. Provide an alternative example.

    I don't doubt that there will be military responses, police actions, etc., etc. These may contain evil; they may also unintentionally set more evil in motion. But they won't overcome it with good. That is the work of all of us … and that was the focus of my book.

    And that cause, I hope, will be advanced today in thousands of congregations around the world … gathering around a table that dares to proclaim the kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet, not like a culture war or battle zone.

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  • October 11, 2014

  • We Make the Road - Kids' Curriculum, 4 of 4

    Churches around the world (literally) are using We Make the Road by Walking - in groups, in classes, and many, for a whole year of integrated programming. Here's one more example of how Dominique Nash of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, FL, is adapting the material for her kids' ministry:

    We Make the Road by Walking for Kids
    By Dominique Nash

    Week 4- The Drama of Desire
    Introduction with Children
    You will need a small bag full of lollipops and a volunteer who holds one big, lollipop
    You: I’m so excited because my dad, who loves me very much, gave me all of these lollipops and they are so good and special. He told me I could have all of them and enjoy them. I can even share them with others to enjoy. I’m so thankful for the things my dad gives me…..wait (look over at volunteer across the room) what’s that? What do you have behind your back? I want to see.
    (Volunteer pulls big lollipop out)
    You: Oh wow! That’s a cool and gigantic lollipop. (Look at bag of lollipops)- I don’t want these, I want that one.
    Volunteer: But you said your dad gave you those to enjoy. You have so many, now you want this one?
    You: Yes, I’ll give you all of these lollipops for that one. That one looks better than these and I think I’ll like it better.
    Volunteer: No, your dad gave you those, you can even share them. I don’t think you’ll be happy with your choice.
    You: I don’t want these anymore I want the one you have, it’s better……….. (hastily put them aside).
    Has something like this ever happened to you? You have something and you really like it, until you see someone might have something better or something you want more and then all of sudden you don’t like what you have? Maybe it’s a toy, a phone, a video game, or their house? Allow kids to answer. What that’s called is DESIRES. Who knows what it means to desire something? Allow children to answer. It’s simple, it’s to want something. Sometimes we want what others have and we compete with others to get it. Not in a good way though. We become mean, angry, and jealous. Sometimes we become sad. We even start to judge others and blame others. We pretty much make ourselves miserable. Does that sound like who God is? If we’re made in his image and he says to follow him, or to imitate him, shouldn’t we desire the same things he does? We need to have the right kind of desires, we have to have God’s generous desires…to create, bless, help, serve, care for, save, and listen to this one…..ENJOY!
    Imagine what we could do for God and the world, if we all had God’s desires and worked together.
    Read Genesis 3:1-13 (Act it Out): Use a stuffed animal snake, a fake tree, or human tree, and two volunteers to play Adam and Eve.
    Prayer (have them repeat after you): Dear Lord, thank you for all that we have. Thank you for loving us and taking care of us. Please help be like you and want the same things you do. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
    Discussion Questions:
    1) What did Adam and Eve do when God asked them what happened? (They blamed each other)
    2) Has there been a time when you wanted something and didn’t go about the right way of trying to get it?
    3) What do you think it’s like when we desire the same things God desires? What does that look like in our lives?

    Activity/ Game
    Younger Children (Toddlers and Preschoolers): Have children build a tower of blocks taking turns and working together. Praise them for sharing, waiting, helping, etc.
    All Children: Have the children stand in a line. Make sure they’re not lined up according to height.. Make a rectangle around them with tape. Tell them they have to get in a line from shortest to tallest without talking or stepping outside of the box.
    After the game: How did it feel to work together? Did you desire, or want for all of you to do well?
    Older Children: Supply a large blanket or sheet. Have all of the kids stand on it together. The goal is to turn the blanket over without anyone getting off.
    After the game: Follow up with the questions above.
    Option 1 (For younger children): Picture of Adam and Eve
    Using people shaped sponges or cookie cutters, dip them in washable paint and make two prints on a piece of construction paper (Adam and Eve) Use a strip of brown paper to make a tree trunk. Dip the child’s hand in green paint to make the top of the tree. Let them add red, yellow, and/or green circles for apples. Talk about desires and choices. Keep it simple and relatable. Things like taking turns, nice hands, kind words, good helpers, kindness to animals and plants, etc.
    Option 2: “Edible Art.” Put all of the children’s names in a basket. Have each child draw a name out of the basket. Explain to them that they are going to make a snack for that child and serve it to them.
    Snack- Happy Faces
1 rice cake
    Cream cheese
    Raisins, blueberries, or any small fruit.

    Have children wash their hands hen prepare the snack. Supply each child with the ingredients. Some may have more or less fruit than someone else. Have them work that out together. They will have to share and help. Using a craft stick, have them spread the cream cheese onto the rice cake. Take the fruit and make a happy face. If you offer several different choices, have them ask the child they’re making it for what they would like.

    After everyone is finished, allow them to serve. Tell them with this craft, we desired, like God, to create, sere, and enjoy. We desired to make someone happy.

    Option 3: Word Collage-
    Grab a big stack of magazines and flip through each one. Cut out create, bless, help, serve, care for, save, and enjoy. Cut out several of each one. If you can’t find many, combine letters and words to make the words you need.
    Use cardstock and lay your favorite clippings out and make them the focal points of your collage, and then trim the pictures down as closely as possible so that you can fit them all together.
    Lay out your collage, fitting the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle. Overlap pieces and just keep rearranging them until every inch of your surface is covered.
    Remove each piece starting with background pictures and glue them down. Don't worry of the pictures don't end up exactly where they started. Fill in any gaps with smaller images and words. Trim the edges when you're done gluing.
    Cut a piece of clear contact paper that is about 1.5 inches bigger that the surface of the collage.
    Peel the backing off of the contact paper carefully and slowly lay it over the collage. Start in one corner and work your way across. Be sure to leave excess contact paper around all the edges. Smooth out the contact paper to avoid air bubbles.
    Fold the extra contact paper edges around the back of the surface like you're wrapping a gift and trim any excess.

    Activities to Do at Home:
    1) Read Psalm 32:8 as a family. Discuss what it says about God helping us?
    2) Cook dinner together and serve each other.
    3) Play a board game and talk about winning and losing. How does it feel to win or lose? What should we do?

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  • October 10, 2014

    We Make the Road - Kids' Curriculum, 3 of 4

    Churches around the world (literally) are using We Make the Road by Walking - in groups, in classes, and many, for a whole year of integrated programming. Here's an example of how Dominique Nash of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, FL, is adapting the material for her kids' ministry. More tomorrow:
    We Make the Road by Walking for Kids
    By Dominique Nash

    Week 3- A World of Meaning
    Introduction with Children
    When we talk about loving God and living out that love by loving others and we set out to do that, sometimes we find love to be a hard thing to do. Who has seen a river, a creek or a stream? Tell me about it. Did it go straight?
    Pretend this mountain I’m building, this foundation, is your life. God created you and here you are! (Grab rocks with words written on them) These rocks represent the hard things in life, the tough stuff. Feelings we may have, things that happen, or maybe choices we make. (Place rocks on “mountain” one at a time). Things like, ANGER, SADNESS, UNFORGIVENESS, DIVORCE, SICKNESS, DEATH, just to name some of the things that can happen in our lives. Now I have water. This water represents our love for God and his love flowing out of us to others. Watch what happens when I pour it and let it flow (Pour water on top of mountain. After kids watch, ask them what they observed). The water kept flowing even when these things tried to stop it. No matter what may happen in our lives, our love for God and others has to keep flowing. We still choose to love in every way, every day and know that everything is an opportunity to grow closer to God and each other. Just go with the flow!
    Read Psalm 145:1-16 in a dramatic way.
    Prayer: Dear God, Thank you for your love and the opportunities you give us to love others. Please help us know you more and live like you want us to no matter what happens. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
    For Discussion
    1) What does Psalm 145 say about God?
    2) What does loving God and every day in every way, look like? (have them give real life examples, even simple things)
    3) What are some things in your lives that make that hard? What should we do when it’s hard? (pray and read our bible-spend time with God)

    Younger Children: Hug a Friend or Give a High FiveFreeze Dance. Every time the music stops, they have to hug a different friend.
    **Special Note- “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers is a good song for Freeze Dance.
    All Children: Ping Pong Ball Race. Have 2 to 4 children racing at the same time. Each child will have a spray bottle and have to spray their ping pong ball across the finish line. Talk about if the ball went straight or not. Did it go the way they had planned? Relate that to the lesson and living a life of love.
    Another option for the ping pong ball race is to write words that express ways to love on index cards. Laminate them and tape them to the table or floor for the ping pong balls to roll over.
    Option 1(for younger children): Make a river and rocks out of paper.
    Cut rock shapes out of grey and brown paper. Write words that show love on each rock. Thing like- “nice hands,” kind words,” “share,” “hug,” “give,” “help,” etc.

    Have each child make a river on a piece of construction paper.

    River Options: Use blue watercolor paint
    Have children tear blue construction paper into small pieces and glue on a sheet of paper to form a river.
    Glue blue tissue squares on a piece of paper to form a river

    Glue paper rocks along river

    Option 2: Provide small or medium river rocks and metallic permanent markers. Allow the children to decorate the rocks (if time allows, you can use paint). When they’re finished talk about their struggles in life whether they’re events, feelings, or things they do that aren’t good choices. Have them take a black permanent marker and write one thing on each rock.
    If there’s time, have them partner up and build a small mountain out of sand. Supply water in cups. Have them place the rocks on the sand and when they’re finished, they pour the water down from the top.
    For younger children- have them write words that show love, as listed above.

    Activities to Do At Home
    1) Talk about every day ways you choose to love each other. How about others? Could you live out God’s love more?
    2) Make a mountain and rocks together. Pray for each other that you will love God and others more no matter what happens.

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