Shine On: Middle School Math Teacher Shares Appreciation for Nourishing Lessons with No-Nonsense Prep

Guest blog by Esther Kratzer Koontz,

MennoMedia’s new Shine Sunday school curriculum for children, [published in partnership with Brethren Press] is praiseworthy: easy to plan, easy to teach and committed to deep and simple truths that stick with me all week long.

A student’s welcome sign from Esther Kratzer Koontz’s class at First Mennonite Church of Hutchinson, Kan.

I commute 45 minutes to church, which gives me plenty of time to plan the lesson on the way. As long as I’ve packed the snack, I can usually scavenge up the rest of the ingredients for a nourishing and enjoyable lesson at the church.

This week, I needed a backpack — but I found that on the floor of our minivan. I was supposed to have packed the backpack with a sampling of “valuables” to represent the weight of possessions in our lives, but my first- and second-grade students sure had fun helping me fill the backpack with wooden blocks of various sizes, each representing something a “rich man” might own.

“Gold, a mansion, a hot tub!”

We found our “limbo stick” in the broom closet. A needle? The sewing ladies happily showed us where those are kept.

Then we read each story right out of the new Shine On Bible. Word for word.

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While I read slowly, we acted out the story with the olive wood figures in our story people box. Jesus changes shape every week. Some weeks he’s tall and dark. Other weeks he’s light and stout with a knot on his back. The kids are never a bit surprised.

My scarf of the day quickly turned into the river where Jesus was baptized, the road where Jesus and his friends walk, or the sea where Jesus pulled up in his boat made of, you guessed it, a wooden block.

My busiest students loved building Peter’s mother’s house or the ship where Jesus stands to calm the winds.

What do you wonder?

After the story, we closed our eyes and asked the curriculum’s “wondering” questions. You don’t raise your hand to answer the questions. You just think about the story and wonder.

I wondered if the man used any of his money to help others. (The Bible doesn’t tell us.) I wondered how the things we own can make it hard to follow Jesus. Imagine hearing someone tell you to sell everything you own. Jesus asked the man to give what he owned to the poor. I wondered what God wants me to do.

What deep ideas — yet so simple for our little ones to grasp when they enter through the context of the story.

First shall be last

Each lesson includes simple movement games, a perfect transition as we left the worship center to head back to the table.

While we played the limbo game weighed down by the backpack full of block possessions, my daughter asked, “What does it really mean for the first to be last? What if someone’s been waiting for a long time, and they just got to the front of the line? Will they be last again?”

For snack, we lined up for a special treat, and I surprised them by giving the child at the back her treat first.

The child who had hurried to the front was my daughter. She cried about it later in the car, not because she got her snack last but because she was worried that she might end up last in God’s kingdom. Plus, she was embarrassed.

My husband told me, “Your line illustration may have been too literal.”

We told our daughter, “Jesus is simply looking out for the ones who everyone else has forgotten or pushed to the back. In God’s kingdom, it’s not about getting in line. Remember Jesus’ open arms last week as he let the children come.”

A blessing for each

Toward the end of each class, we eat our snack, work on optional activities in the student leaflets, chat or listen to music from the Shine CD. The kids sing really loud and dance whenever “Siyuhumba” comes on.

Each lesson includes a blessing to finish with, and we read it, word for word. I have found I can’t improve on the thoughtfulness of what the authors prepared.

On the last week of the quarter, the teacher’s guide suggested I bless each child for his or her special gifts to the class. I got a bit teary as I went around the table thanking each child individually: for coming early to prepare the room, for welcoming newcomers, for running the CD player, for asking good questions, for helping me build props for the Bible stories.

Last week some of the children created signs welcoming others to our class to mirror Jesus’ welcoming the children. One girl’s sign said, “Come in! This is the best class ever.”

I echo her sentiment, and add: this is the best Sunday school curriculum ever. It’s easy to teach, and the lessons pierce the heart with their truth and depth. The children respond to the stories and activities with joy and amazing perception, showing me what it must be like to enter the kingdom of God like a child.

Esther Kratzer Koontz teaches Sunday school at First Mennonite Church in Hutchinson, Kan. This article appeared originally in Mennonite World Review. Used by permission.

Esther also blogs at Through Grass and Sage and wrote previously about her first Sunday using Shine On. 

 

Anything But “Ordinary”

Chris Steingart is from Kitchener, Ontario. A MennoMedia board member for the past 2 years, Chris is the lead designer and founder of QT Web Designs a full service online marketing company. He is the father of 2 children – Rowan (2 yrs) and Maya (1 month) and husband to 1 wife – Jillian, all show below.

Chris Jillian Rowan and Maya

About a year ago, I picked up a copy of Ordinary Miracles: Awakening to the Holy Work of Parenting.

As a parent of a rambunctious toddler (Rowan), I was excited that Herald Press was offering titles that explored something directly relevant to me, and was thrilled to read a book by a friend, Rachel Gerber!

Last spring on my way home from a board meeting I cracked open Ordinary Miracles and couldn’t put it down. Gerber’s thoughtful and relevant insights mixed with her down-to-earth wit combined for an enjoyable read that had me in stitches and tears and sometimes both at the same time. It seemed like with each turn of the page there was always something that had me saying to myself (and occasionally out loud) “that is so true!” Throughout the book we hear accounts of Gerber’s own parenting experiences and observations, cleverly woven into the “Emmaus Road” story (Luke 24:13-35). The overarching theme is that when parenting seems bleak, God is present.

Fast forward in my own life to this past month when we welcomed Maya, a little sister for Rowan. When the going has gotten tough (as it inevitably does with a 2 year old and a 1 month old), I’ve found myself coming back to Ordinary Miracles for a comforting word, a relevant chuckle, and also to ground myself a little bit in the Holy work that’s going on in our household.

In particular I found Gerber’s depiction of two different kinds of time that govern our lives to be very relevant to my experience:

Chronos is the time that we live in. It is the time that is told by the clock. It’s the five minutes left in time-out. It’s being stopped by another red light as you race to preschool to try not to be late again. It’s holding your breath as you wait to check out at the grocery store while your squirrely boys try to rip down candy displays and whine at the top of their lungs about why they need M&Ms now.

Kairos, however, is God’s time. It is time above time. It is a time with no end, when you are able to momentarily stand still in the midst of the hub-bub of life and see how things really are. It is stepping back, even in the craziness of life, to take notice of the blessings in life. To realize how God moves, how God provides and how God simply is.”

As a business owner who works from home, way too much of my life is Chronos-led time. I start work at 8:30, I work till noon – I eat, I play with Maya, put Rowan to bed – hoping that Maya’s not screaming in the background distracting his focus on his nap, only to ruin his chance at giving me an extra couple hours to work… We feed Rowan dinner, then I hold Maya for a while in the evening and if I’m lucky and not totally beat, I put in another couple hours of work in the evening – YEESH! If Chronos was the guiding force in our lives, I would be consumed by schedules to the point of insanity. Gerber helps us to remember, to take time and look for the opportunities for God’s time: Kairos. It’s only when we (occasionally) throw out the clock and the phone calendar alerts, that we can truly enjoy bath time – when more water is splashed outside the tub than remains in it, or snack time – where we discover the best place to eat apple sauce is off of a bib, not out of the bowl. Or bed time, when reading a couple more books and singing two or three more songs is a joy and a privilege, not a burden.

I wouldn’t say that I’m the model parent who makes all the good decisions, but with Ordinary Miracles as my companion, I can really come to terms with the Holy work of raising two amazing little human beings that is taking place in our home.

Whether you’re a parent-to-be, a new parent, or are someone who delights in reading about the trials and tribulations of parenting young children, this is the book for you! Ordinary Miracles also makes for a perfect faith-based gift for an upcoming baby shower!

More than that, it is a reminder for anyone of these two concepts of time—and how Kairos time is needed by all.

Ordinary Miracles is a book that is anything but ordinary. It balances funny accounts of Rachel and her boys (Owen, Connor and Zachary ) and her continuous battle to drink a hot… (no), warm… (no), reheated coffee, wipe runny noses, fit in time to work, and cope head on with the endless calamity, distractions and tearful moments that parenting in a God-centered home can bring.

–Chris Steingart

Chris was recently named to MEDA’s 20 Under 35 list of “Young Professionals Changing the World.” 

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For more on this book or to purchase, check our store.

She, Me, We: Anabaptist Women Publishing Theology

This past weekend Mennonite Church USA sponsored a conference honoring the diversity of women’s voices in theology, called All You Need Is Love. I had the privilege of co-leading a workshop with Managing Editors Melodie Davis and Valerie Weaver-Zercher. This blog post is a brief adaption of our workshop.

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Why does the Mennonite Church not have a Beth Moore? A Nadia Bolz Weber? An Ann Voskamp? A Rachel Held Evans?

I’ve heard variations of this question—just insert the name of your favorite woman writing theologically.

To answer the question, go back with me to the late 1940s when Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus and Ella May Miller had a huge following among Mennonites and those outside the Mennonite Church.

Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus founded Heart to Heart radio broadcast because she had a heart for the way she saw others parenting (or not) their children, and always longed for a platform, literally, in the church. (In those days a woman could speak from the floor of a Mennonite church but not from the platform.)

Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus photos

Ella May Miller was the speaker for over 25 years on this radio program. Her newsletter was mailed out to some 25,000 supporters and 181 radio stations across the nation carried the program. Annually during survey month she received 36,000 letters! One of her books sold nearly 210,000 copies.

Ella May Miller

Eventually Ella May resigned from the position in 1975, at a time when her approach and theology were no longer being embraced by the direction of the radio program.

A task force was charged with thinking about how to replace her, and they talked about not wanting to develop another personality-driven broadcast. Call it discomfort with women in leadership, call it discomfort with the theology that Ella May was espousing: I can only speculate on all the reasons for the team wanting to go a different direction.

Herald Press is the book imprint of MennoMedia, the publishing and media agency of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. The chart below shows the number of Herald Press titles published in the last 35 years. Specifically broken out are the books authored by women or co-authored by women.

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It’s likely no surprise to know that nearly all the children’s books and cookbooks published in these years were written by women. Yes, women also authored devotional and inspirational titles, books about mission and church life, or worship, and books about families. Only a few books in all these years, though, are cataloged strictly as “theology” that are written by women. Why do you think it been acceptable for women to couch theological writing in the context of food, children’s books, or family life rather than just writing theologically? Is this still true?

While Herald Press is certainly not publishing as many books by women as by men, the sales figures tell a different kind of story. Below are the 10 bestselling Herald Press books of all time. And I’ve put in bold the titles by women. Note that just 3 of these 10 are by men.

  1. The Amish (1952), John Hostetler
  2. More With Less Cookbook (1976), Doris Janzen Longacre
  3. Caring Enough to Confront (1973), David Augsburger
  4. Meditations for the New Mother (1953), Helen Good Brenneman
  5. Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950), Mary Emma Showalter
  6. Rosanna of the Amish (1940), Joseph Yoder
  7. Favorite Family Recipes (1972), Mary Emma Showalter
  8. Meditations for Expectant Mothers (1968), Helen Good Brenneman
  9. Amish Cooking (1982), Compiled by Amish women
  10. Ellie (1988), Mary Christner Borntrager

We at Herald Press see books authored in one of the following ways:

  • Solo author: Single author creates content of the book. (Recent titles include Sacred Pauses, Ordinary Miracles, and Blush.)
  • Coauthor: Two or more authors create content of the book. (Recent titles include Mennonite Girls Can Cook and Creating a Scene.)
  • Editor: One or more editors invite others to create substantive content. Editor creates content herself. (Recent titles include Tongue Screws and Testimonies and Widening the Circle.)
  • Collector: One or more editors invite others to create substantive content. (Titles include More-with-Less Cookbook and Simply in Season.)

While books are written in all of those ways, at Herald Press we know that:

  • Solo-authored books generally sell better than coauthored or editor-driven projects.
  • Collected editions, though, have been among Herald Press’ bestselling titles, with cookbooks as the biggest example.
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Managing Editor Valerie Weaver-Zercher talking about the ways that women write for Herald Press.

At the same time, when myself or others from Herald Press approach women to invite them to write a book as a solo author, they frequently suggest either a coauthor or editor approach instead. Perhaps it’s a lack of time. Perhaps it’s insecurity in author platform. Perhaps it’s feeling like you don’t have something to say.

As women, we practice theology on the go. It happens in the midst of conversations, in the midst of everyday life. The dialogical nature of how we “do” theology could be one of the reasons why women are so interested in writing with others and telling their stories together.

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Theologian Malinda Elizabeth Berry, at left, gave a wonderful workshop on thinking theologically about several Herald Press cookbooks. I’m on the right responding to Malinda’s assessment. It was theology on the go with my little theologian along for the ride.

But women, we need to hear your voices! The church needs you to “lean in” and communicate your message, to quote Sheryl Sandberg. I encourage you to work on your author platform either in person or via social media, to connect with readers and reviewers, and to engage in speaking and writing theologically. All of this helps you cultivate an audience that wants to follow you, and this is the audience that will eventually want to buy your book.

Amy Gingerich

Editorial Director

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