Friday, November 21, 2008

Banana Peels?

In a life such as mine, one filled to the brim with interests, hobbies, fascinating people, work, family and friends, there must be projects that are always put on the back burner. Some things are consistently simmering back there, but occasionally I take one pot off and replace it with another. My stovetop is only so big and my front burners are limited.

Unfortunately, one of the perpetually placed things on the back burner is The Book. No, not the great American novel - this is a book my sister, Joy, and I are writing in collaboration, and it’s a book of children’s sermons.

When Ed was in active ministry, at one point I decided to start the familiar (to me) tradition of children’s sermons in the service. (For those of you who don’t go to church, this is the time in the service where the kids come down to the front, usually sit on a front pew or on the floor, and someone gives a short “lesson” and sometimes hands out “favors” to help them remember the point of the lesson.) I felt there was a need, and boy, I just love stories! I love to hear them and I love to tell them. Over the years I have heard countless children’s sermons. Most were ordinary, preachy, or, well, just plain boring. They either talked over the kids’ heads or were given condescendingly. In the defense of those brave souls who tried to do this, it’s not as easy as it looks to give a children’s sermon. You may have kids whose ages are anywhere from 1 to 12 - quite a broad range. You have kids with limited attention spans. You have kids who have attended church all their lives, and others who never heard of the story of Moses. In addition to all this, you have to remember that the adults are listening, too, and they might as well get something out of it. And in my case, I tried to match the “moral” of the story with Ed’s regular sermon (as well as the hymns), as we always tried to make our church services a seamless entity with a major focus.

In spite of the challenges, I started really enjoying giving children’s sermons. I looked at published books for ideas, but as I had experienced in real life, the sermons in those books were not interesting to me. If I was going to be a good storyteller, I had to really be passionate about the story.

What stories am I passionate about? My own! My life has been so enriched by crazy characters, situations, childhood memories, and I decided I had a fertile background for such stories. So I ditched all the books and started to write my own. I added to these things, tidbits I came across in my reading or on the news, things I observed maybe years ago or just the day before - hmmm...maybe these were actually the seeds for this blog which didn’t germinate until years later!

While I was in middle and east Tennessee giving children’s sermons, Joy was in west Tennessee going to her own church and lo and behold, she started giving children’s sermons as well. People were complimenting us both on our stories, and finally one day the idea began to take root about trying to get them published. Being separated by miles of Tennessee land at first, then by miles and miles of the Eastern seaboard after we moved to Maine, was a challenge, but using the Internet, phone, and occasional visits in person, we formulated a good start for our book. Taking our cue from two of the stories, we fashioned an intriguing title of “Banana Peels and Bumblebees.”

Alas, the demand is not really there for children’s sermon books, it seems. It’s such a specialized niche, and, really, even if a few churches in a city bought it, it would be only a maximum of one copy per church! A friend of mine volunteered to show some excerpts to a published Christian author of her acquaintance to get her critique, and the author gave us a thoughtful response. She detailed our strengths and weaknesses and suggested we might be better off retooling the book for use in families, as more and more families, she said, are having “spiritual” times together. We started the revisions, but life started getting busier, Joy’s girls got to be teenagers with all that entails, and my grandkids started growing up with all that entails, and we sold our house and moved and, well, there it sits on the back burner.

The point to all this: Just like the journey to simplicity, retrieving these stories from our lives required a great deal of introspection. It took observation and awareness - the ability to take any - any - ordinarily mundane and apparently meaningless situation or something somebody said or some other life experience, and squeeze it and wring out the meaning, because I believe you can find meaning in almost anything. There are life lessons in every little thing we experience, every person we come across, everything we see and hear and touch, everything nature gives us, and every other thing life throws our way. The key is to catch the moment and be able to put it into a story.

Frequently, the idea of finding meaning in your life is interpreted as one big thing - what you were called to be, your mission, looking at your life as one big experience. But Joy and I look at meaning in the little things - the memory of our dad picking crabgrass or directing the choir. The memory of our mom eating bananas, or of the time we brought an abandoned kitten back from a cliff in Chattanooga to our home in Memphis. These are some of the stories of our lives. We all have these stories, sitting in us waiting to be observed, given meaning, and shared. The more you find your own stories, the more you learn about yourself, about your relationship with those around you, and about your relationship with God. I encourage you to take some time to find the stories of your life and write some down, for your kids or grandkids or parent or friend - or even just for yourself. You will be amazed at the richness of your life and what it offers to others. Heck, even get a book published! (Then give me the name of your obliging publishers... I have something they might be interested in!)

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