All Hallows Eve, All Saints and All Souls

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Did you know that Halloween is only the beginning of a holy three days? Hallow means holy and “Hallowe’en” is a contraction of All Hallows Eve, or Even. On Halloween, we face our fears and laugh at them, knowing that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. The Celtic day of the dead, Samhain, predated Christianity and fell on October 31. Ancient practices and festivals have been adopted by the Church and made new in the light of Christ. To me this does not diminish the Christian holy days; it makes them stronger, more resonant.

November 1 is All Saints Day, a major feast of the church which we’ll celebrate on the following Sunday with baptisms. The Book of Common Prayer calls saints “the lights of the world in every generation”–people whose lives and deeds have shone brightly and helped others more closely follow Jesus. There are saints who lived long ago and there are saints living and working in the world today, saints who are known by the church and saints who are known only to God. We say that we are part of the Communion of Saints, the company of all faithful people, connected through our baptism to those Christians who have died, those who are alive now, and those yet to be born. The word “saint” means holy. In the Episcopal Church we have a Calendar of Saints, holy men and women we remember in prayer and with readings from scripture on their feast day. The saints tend to be quite colorful, and being perfect is in no way a requirement.

November 2, All Souls Day, is the “commemoration of all faithful departed,” a day to remember our own family and friends who have died. It’s a good time to visit a cemetery, which should not be a place of fear, but of respect. No one minds if you make rubbings of old gravestones. The churchyard where I work has markers dating back to the late 17th century. Mexican friends observe this day with serious play and even joy as the Day of the Dead, making family altars with photographs, flowers, candles, and food. Light a candle, say a prayer, tell stories of the ones we love and see no longer.

Here are three books I recommend for children who are grieving: The Invisible String by Patricia Karst does a wonderful job of describing the way in which we are all connected to those we love and is helpful for those experiencing any kind of separation or loss. My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes. by Roger Hutchison is a sensitive, imaginative exploration of grief in child-friendly language and vibrant art.  Death is Stupid by Anastasia Higgenbotham, is refreshingly honest, while leaving room for your own religious beliefs. 

(Excerpted from Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, Chapter 5)

 

 

 

St. Francis of Assisi

One of the most beloved saints of the Middle Ages and now is Francis of Assisi, patron of animals and the environment. Here’s his story to share with your children:

Francis was born in Italy in the twelfth century to a wealthy
family. He loved parties and fine things like the beautiful brocade and silk fabrics his father bought and sold, and he dreamed of adventure. He became a knight and went off to fight, but he was captured and put in prison. After a year, his father paid a ransom and he was freed. Francis knew then that he would not become a cloth merchant like his father. He
found himself in a church that was falling down, and as he prayed, Francis heard God tell him to rebuild it. He sold a bale of his father’s silk to pay for the repairs, which made his father very angry. The bishop told Francis that God would give him what he needed, so Francis gave his father his purse of gold coins—and all the fine clothes Francis was wearing! From that time on,
Francis wore only rough burlap and gave up all his belongings to live among and serve the poor and the sick. Francis followed Jesus in his actions, not just his words, and soon he had followers of his own who wanted to live simply and serve God and others as he did. He took special notice and care of God’s creation. He helped people and animals live together peacefully. One of the stories told about him is that he helped a village make friends with a wolf that had been attacking their animals. Even the birds flocked around him as he told them of God’s love. Some churches hold a blessing of the animals on his feast day, October 4. Francis may even have staged the first Christmas pageant, with real animals to warm the Christ child in the stable. Francis died in the same little church that he rebuilt with his own hands. He still inspires others with his generosity, his joy in God’s creation, and his simple, peaceful ways.

In honor of Francis, your family could make dog biscuits or cat toys to give away in your neighborhood or donate to a local animal shelter. Even toddlers can string Cheerios onto chenille stems that can be fastened into circles and hung on a tree branch to feed the birds. You can also make a bird feeder by spreading peanut or soy butter onto a pinecone or ice cream cone and rolling it in birdseed.

Here’s a fun short video to watch, a simple recipe for dog treats, and my favorite picture book about Francis.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents

Pentecost

It’s almost Pentecost, the Feast of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the church. Fifty days after Easter, ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, we remember the day that the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’s disciples, setting their hearts ablaze and turning their lives upside-down. There they sat, trying to figure out what they were supposed to do next, now that Jesus had truly left them, when a rushing wind filled the room. Tongues of fire danced above their heads, and they were given the sudden ability to speak in other languages—apparently it was such a scene that some onlookers thought the disciples were drunk, at 9 am. This is how the church comes into being. What a story!

At our church, we do Pentecost up right, with baptisms and a bishop, confirmations of those baptismal promises made by teenagers and adults after a period of study, receptions for those becoming Episcopalians, and reaffirmations for those who wish to strengthen their commitment to following Jesus. There will be readings in other languages (of course), we’ll wear red, munch on birthday cupcakes (red velvet), strawberries, and watermelon. Some years, we’ve handed out pinwheels, or wooden rings with flame -colored ribbons. It will be a glorious day, and then we’ll all go back to our busy lives. That’s exactly what is supposed to happen. The church isn’t a building; it never has been—it’s the people of God, filled with the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism, going out into the world, bringing light to dark places, mending and making, healing and helping, one conversation or small act of love at a time.

Here’s a great children’s book on Pentecost: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23214224-the-day-when-god-made-church

Here are some simple ideas for celebrating Pentecost at home: https://www.growchristians.org/2017/05/30/thinking-ahead-to-pentecost-five-ways-to-celebrate/

And here’s a video about Pentecost to share: https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/video/episcopal-explained-day-pentecost

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents

Cindy Wang Brandt’s Parenting Forward—Review

One of my favorite things is curating resources to help parents navigate Christian faith—for their children and themselves—with a progressive understanding, and to help Christian formation leaders provide both best practices and excellent resources to their congregations. I’m in my thirtieth year doing this for families (and, as my son just pointed out, in my seventeenth year of parenting). Unlike Cindy Wang Brandt, I never knew anything but progressive values in the Christianity I grew up in and around. Still, my exposure to and experience with Cindy and the online, worldwide community she convenes, Raising Children Unfundamentalist, has made me a both a better Christian educator and a better parent.

Cindy is a leading voice in the progressive Christian space as a writer, speaker, podcaster, and activist. Her book, Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Kindness and Mercy, with a warm and encouraging forward by her friend Rachel Held Evans, is a thoughtful, compassionate, and clearly written guide for a new generation of parents as well as anyone wanting to take a progressive path with their children and partners.

Parenting Forward offers an approach to parenting that’s both gentle and fierce: gentle in the ways Cindy focuses on love and respect for children and other vulnerable people; fierce in the ways she advocates taking on such challenges as dismantling racism, sexism, and homophobia in family life. Cindy’s stories of herself as both a child and a parent, stories of other children and parents, and stories from today’s headlines provide fertile ground for this exploration of parenting as and for social change. When Jesus put a small child in the center of his grumbling disciples and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” I imagine Cindy there, taking this in, seeing the children as Jesus did, fully themselves, bearers of their own wisdom, with gifts to offer all of us, as we help to bring about the realm of God, here and now.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents

I arise today

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Skellig Michael, Ireland                           Photo by Michael on UnSplash

I arise today:

might of Heaven

brightness of Sun

whiteness of Snow

splendor of Fire

speed of Light

swiftness of Wind

depth of Sea

stability of Earth

firmness of Rock.

 

I arise today:

Might of God

Power of God

Wisdom of God

Eye of God

Ear of God

Word of God

Hand of God

Path of God

Shield of God

Host of God.

 

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a breastplate prayer or lorica, from Essential Celtic Prayers, a book my husband Phil Fox Rose made.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

 

The Season of Lent

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

This is adapted from a homily I gave at a family Ash Wednesday Eucharist in 2012.  Lent begins Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

Lent is the name we give to the forty days before the great mystery of Easter. Lent means lengthening, because the days are growing longer. It is a time for the color purple, the color of royalty. We are preparing for the coming of a king.

On the Tuesday before Lent begins,  Christians all over the world celebrate the end of season after Epiphany, which began January 6, when the magi, the wise ones from far away followed a star in search of a newborn king, Jesus. People celebrate with parades and parties and pancakes. Mardi Gras—Fat Tuesday— is called that because long ago on the night before Lent began, people used up all the fat in their kitchens—milk, butter, eggs, meat—so that during Lent they could come closer to God by not eating those foods. Some of us still prepare for the coming of our king by fasting—giving up—something. Some of us give up foods we really like—desserts or sodas or vanilla lattes. Then the money that we used to spend on desserts or sodas or lattes can be saved and given to help feed the hungry. Some of us give up television or video games or try to spend less time with our smart phones, and for the forty days of Lent we use that time instead to look for ways to come closer to God.

Some people read the Bible more often in Lent, listening for what God is telling us today. We may pray more often, or at a certain time each day, and when we pray we could light a candle to remind us that Christ is the light of the World, and we are Christ’s light in the world.

We might draw or write our prayers and keep them in a special place, in a journal or a box or even on a calendar to show we are giving all our worries and hopes to God.  There are so many ways to pray, and Lent is a good time to try new practices.

Some of us take on doing more of God’s work in the world during Lent: collecting groceries for the food pantry, visiting the lonely, helping people in our neighborhoods or across the ocean. We might use a giving calendar so that we can return God’s blessings to us out into the world, by giving one day a quarter for every bottle of medicine you have in your house, or a nickel every time you turn on the water faucet another day.

Lent is a serious time, a time set apart for thinking, praying, giving thanks and remembering God’s gifts to us so that we might give generously to others.

We call the day Lent begins Ash Wednesday. Long ago, when people wanted God to know they were sorry for what they had done wrong, they asked God’s forgiveness by making a sacrifice—an offering—to be burned on the altar. If people had a lot of money, they  offered a lamb to God. If they had just a little money, they offered a bird.

When their sacrifice was all burnt up, all that was left were ashes. Sometimes the people who asked God for forgiveness would wear these ashes on their bodies to show how sorry they felt.

We no longer bring animals to be burned on the altar when we ask God to forgive us. Everything changed when God sent Jesus to live and die as one of us. Whenever we ask God to forgive us, we are forgiven. Whenever we turn toward God, we are embraced.

Our ashes come from the palms we waved almost a year ago at the end of Lent, when we remembered the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey instead of a stallion, still speaking of peace instead of leading a great army, and the people waved palms in celebration, as if they were welcoming a king. We welcome the King of Love. We call that day Palm Sunday—it is the Sunday before Easter. Some of those palms we fold into crosses, and keep in our homes all year until it’s time. It’s time.

At our baptism, we are claimed as God’s beloved children and a cross of oil is made on our foreheads to mark us as Christ’s own forever. The cross of ashes we receive in the very same spot is to remind us that God made us, we belong to God, and God loves us. May we remember who we are and whose we are, each day of this holy Lent, so that our Easter joy will be complete.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Looking for additional Lenten resources? Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter by Laura Alary is a wonderful book to add to your collection. Under the Fig Tree: Visual Prayers and Poems for Lent by Roger Hutchison is excellent for older children, youth and adults. This year, Illustrated Children’s Ministry has a creative downloadable family Lenten devotional focused on prayer.

 

Christmas Proclamation

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Christmas Proclamation      

adapted from Roman Martyrology by The Reverend Bruce Jenneker

 

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,

unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth

and in the fullness of time formed humankind in God’s image.

From the time when God created the universe, 13 billion years;

From the origin of life on earth, the first living cells, 4 billion years;

From the age of the dinosaurs, 230 million years;

From the time of homo erectus, using tools, 1 million years;

Several thousand years after the flood,

when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;

thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;

one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;

in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace~

A fanfare sounds.

Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,

desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,

being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception,

was born in Bethlehem of Judea of Mary, the chosen handmaid of the Lord.

The People shout:

Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth!

 

Advent ideas

cinnamon-stars-2991174_1920 (1)Advent begins this Sunday, December 2. In the secular world, this period of preparing for the birth of Christ has been swept up into “the holiday season,” that frantic period of time from just after Halloween (if we’re lucky) until Christmas Eve. In the church, however, we are serious about getting ready over a four-week period. While Christmas may be red, green and gold, the color of Advent is blue (for Mary, the mother of Jesus) or purple (for the newborn king). The mood is quiet, more focused. We are waiting for Jesus, and this is holy time. This slower, more deliberate approach to the season may be worth bringing home. What can you simplify? Where can you be more intentional, less rushed?

You could decorate first with just evergreen boughs, perhaps some pine cones, walnuts or apples nestled among them. Once the tree comes, try enjoying it with white lights alone for a week or two. If you or your kids are feeling crafty, string popcorn and cranberries, or make chains with festive patterned origami paper. Save the special, sparkly ornaments for closer to December 24. Save the most familiar Christmas carols, too, and listen to the delightful and quirky Keepin’ the Baby Awake or Yo Yo Ma’s lovely Songs of Joy and Peace

Some years we have had an Advent wreath of boxwood and juniper and holly for the center of the table.  This year the most I will do is gather four votive candles and one pillar candle–you can, too. Use any colors you like, and set them on a platter. Advent devotions to use with the wreath can be quite simple; these are offered by Peter John Hobbs.

We are preparing not just for Christmas, but for the coming of Christ. How do we ready our hearts as well as our homes? What can we do to make giving the focus rather than getting? Who might be feeling lonely and left out at this time of year, or just overworked and under-appreciated? Take hot chocolate to the crossing guard, make cookies for the firefighters or the postal carrier, spend time with an elderly neighbor or visit the local nursing home. The internet abounds with simple ideas along these lines; Action for Happiness has created a kindness calendar for each day of December.

Advent calendars are a fun way of counting down the days until Christmas. Here’s a mason jar Advent calendar from the creative people at The Salt Project, if you haven’t already purchased one.  This year, I am participating in Advent Word, a global online Advent calendar, for which a daily prompt for a photograph and personal reflection are given. I also recommend following the adventurous Wandering Wisemen on Instagram or Facebook  from December 2 to January 6.

Sybil MacBeth wrote a book chock-full of engaging ideas for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany called The Season of the Nativity, and she’s also the creator of a favorite prayer practice of mine, Praying in Color. She has several templates for a prayerful, colorful Advent calendar that are great for kids, teens and adults.

When my son Peter was younger, we read a different Christmas book or chapters of a wintery book each night leading up to Christmas Eve, when he’d receive a new one. Some parents more organized than I ever was wrap these books from the family’s or the library’s collection in holiday gift wrap and number them, opening one each night at bedtime.

For younger children, Laura Alary’s book, Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas helps them connect what is happening in church with what is happening at home as we get ready. Its tone is both joyful and calm, in a way that suggests the profound difference between waiting for Jesus and waiting for Santa.

All Creation Waits by Gayle Boss with stunning woodcuts by David G. Klein is an Advent book that’s perfect for older kids and adults. Each chapter opens a window into the mysterious life of a North American animal in winter, and through them we are reminded that “the roots of Advent lie deep beneath the Christian church—in the earth and its seasons.” Another adult great read for Advent is Quinn Caldwell’s smart and thoughtful All I Really Want: Readings For a Modern Christmas.

Advent is a season of wonder. We wait in darkness for the light to be kindled and grow and spread, for the long-expected child to be born, for our hope to be renewed. This year I need it more than ever.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, which makes a swell Christmas gift.

Meeting God in Others

good-samaritan

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”                                                                                                                                                                              Luke 10:25–29

This question is the one which echoes the loudest for me in these last few weeks, with so much suffering and so much dissension in the news—the famine in Syria, the horrific attack at Tree of Life Synagogue and the migrant caravan approaching our border. Today I read this article in Sojourners, which concludes with a recent troubling quote from Rod Dreher, a well-known Christian blogger:

“The Bible tells Christians to love their neighbors as they love themselves. But who is their neighbor? The man next door? Yes. The people who live across town? Surely. Those who live in another part of their country? Okay. People from another country who want to settle in their country? Erm… .

If everybody is your neighbor, then nobody is.”

The scripture passage from Luke’s gospel is the conversation that prompts Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan: A man, a Jew, is walking from Jerusalem to Jericho when he is set upon by robbers and left for dead. The religious leaders of the man’s own tribe who see him by the side of the road on their way to work or worship avoid him and do not stop. The person who helps him, who carries him to safety, bandages his wounds, and pays for his care is the enemy of the Jews, the one who is not like him, the one Jesus’s listeners would have been most surprised to hear named as the rescuer. Jesus’s entire point was that our commonalities do not make us neighbors. Showing compassion makes us neighbors.

Our neighbors have been the women who are shelter guests at Crossroads Community Services. During the day, most of these women are busy learning skills that will prepare them to transition out of homelessness. At night, they come to Crossroads for a meal and a place to sleep where it is safe, warm, and sheltered. As with so many programs, this one relies on volunteers. When we volunteer, we don’t actually do much. We chat over dinner and spend the night in a room nearby. The women leave very early the next day because the church also hosts a breakfast program in the same space. Those few mornings I hope we are more aware of our own privilege, more aware of how little it takes to be a good neighbor.

Expanding our children’s circles of concern from family and close friends to others whose lives and experiences may be very different from their own is a key element of developing empathy, according to researchers. A recent study—part of the “Making Caring Common” project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education—involving 10,000 youth ages twelve to eighteen, found that 80% of respondents valued personal happiness and success over caring for others. Empathy is defined as the ability to “walk in someone else’s shoes,” but it is more than that: it is valuing and responding with compassion to other people and perspectives. Giving our children the opportunity to know, listen to, and actively help others is essential, not only to our Christian identity and formation but to changing the society in which we live, or as Ed Bacon, the former rector of All Saints Pasadena likes to say, “turning the human race into the human family.”

Wondering how to start? Writer and activist Glennon Doyle Melton wrote a letter to her son the day he began third grade. In it she tells him about a boy in her own third grade class, whom her classmates teased and she ignored, and the regret she feels about that every day. “I think that God puts people in our lives as gifts to us,” Glennon tells her son. “The children in your class this year, they are some of God’s gifts to you. So please treat each one like a gift from God. Every single one.” She gives her son some concrete examples of how to be compassionate to his friends, like making room at the lunch table for someone eating alone, or choosing someone first for the team who is usually chosen last. That sounds like Jesus to my ears. Glennon also tells her son about his teachers and classmates, “You Belong to Each Other.” I’m pretty sure God says that, too.

Other Religions

Our upstairs neighbor Hoora spent the morning of her birthday translating a baptism class I was teaching into Farsi for a family who recently emigrated from Iran. Her husband later told me she spent hours in preparation, reading about baptism and watching videos on the Internet. I wish I knew as much about Islam as she knows now about Christianity; the best way I can think of to honor her gift of time and effort is to learn more about her beliefs and culture.

My sister’s husband is Hindu, and we have been learning about his religion to better understand the traditions that my niece and nephew are growing up with. A dear friend who converted to Buddhism and is now a monk shares with us teachings and practices that she thinks will resonate in our lives. Throughout the years so many Jewish friends have welcomed us into their homes for Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Passover. I have had the privilege of both working in an interfaith center and teaching children’s interfaith classes. I cannot overstate how important I think it is for all of us to better understand each other’s religions, our common values as well as our differences. Yes, it is important that we articulate our own faith to our children, but in this global age, we are connected as never before, and cultivating respect for one another is essential to the health and well-being of everyone who calls this planet home.

Once, we met an Israeli engineer on a flight from New York City to North Carolina and much to his surprise, my son Peter, then 9, sang him the Shema in Hebrew: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” We are, each of us, made in the image of God and when we look for God in everyone we meet, we are reminded of who and what makes us one.

At every baptism, Peter has heard this vow and at his confirmation, he made it for himself:

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

“I will, with God’s help.”

The particular gift of knowing people of all ages and colors and religions and walks of life was easy to give Peter, and one that becomes a gift he can give to others. This, I think, is one of the most important things we can do for our children: teach them to draw the circle wider, help them make the world a little bit smaller. This is what the kingdom of God looks like; we are building it together and it won’t be finished until everyone, everyone’s in.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents. This post is adapted from Chapter 8, Meeting God in Others.

Image: Gertrud Mueller Nelson

 

Radical Mister Rogers

Mr-Rogers-1
Focus Features

I was having a really bad week, as was our country, and my anger was spilling over into everyday life, when my husband suggested the perfect antidote: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This documentary about Fred Rogers, the most unlikely television evangelist of his or any day, was balm for my soul. And then our bathroom ceiling collapsed. No, really. While my husband was in the shower. Perhaps it would have been different if it happened while I was washing my hair, but it’s 18 hours later and I am still smiling. Mr. Rogers was just what I needed. I believe Mr. Rogers is just what we all need.

Watching (visiting?) Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood helped children communicate, to express even difficult emotions, and to resolve conflict peaceably. However, Mr. Rogers was not only kind and gentle, he was also radical and subversive. In 1968-69, the very first season of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the show helped children cope with the Vietnam War and the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and promoted racial integration.

In every episode, Mr. Rogers spoke directly to children to tell them they were special, they were loved, just they way they were. Inherent in his message, of course, is that everyone we meet is equally special and beloved. That is as radical today as it was fifty years ago and two thousand years ago. “Who is my neighbor?”

I read that during the filming of the documentary, director Morgan Neville’s mother died suddenly, and throughout the process, discovering “the better angels of people’s natures, the best that we could be” was for Neville “the best form of grief therapy I could possibly have had.” Keep looking for those angels, friends. As Mr. Rogers reminds us,

From the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving. So, on this extra special day, let’s take some time to think of those extra special people. Some of them may be right here, some may be far away. Some may even be in heaven. No matter where they are, deep down you know they’ve always wanted what was best for you. They’ve always cared about you beyond measure and have encouraged you to be true to the best within you. Let’s just take a minute of silence to think about those people now.

We can not only think about those people, we can be people who love others into loving.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.