By Lois Rock, illustrated by Barbara Vagnozzi. Lion Children’s Books, 2014. 64 pages. $14.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 9 and up.Buy on FJ Amazon Store
How often do we Friends hear the term Christocentric as if Christ is not an integral part of Quakerism? I have watched my Quaker meeting struggle with our spiritual identity, and a few years ago, I witnessed New England Yearly Meeting struggle to approve a minute at our annual sessions because “the body of Christ” was included in the text. Historically, Jesus was an outstanding storyteller; the use of his parables brings our Christian roots back into First-day school.
I have searched for a book that retells some Bible stories for our First-day school, and this book fills a void in our First-day school library. It includes 20 of the parables told by Jesus and Biblical citations for each. These include a few well-known parables and also introduce less familiar ones. The illustrations are colorful, simple line drawings that are appealing to children and provide adequate visual images of the time. With a literal approach, one might think the parables are simply about capitalism, servitude, and authority. However, when these stories are discussed as they relate to Quaker testimonies, they provide an excellent opportunity for young people to understand metaphor. Children enjoy comparing Lois Rock’s written versions to those in the Bible. The stories become even stronger teaching tools for Bible study when they are read and considered in their Biblical context.
Because I am a professional storyteller, I tell stories with our children quite often. During intergenerational worship, the children have enjoyed telling or acting out folktales that hold Quaker values. Worship sharing usually follows their brief performances, during which they pose queries that are based upon the folktales. Recently, our First-day class studied and acted out the parable of the three servants (also known as the talents) from this book. The master must go away for a while, and he gives three servants different numbers of talents (a unit of weight referring to money) to care for in his absence. One servant is given 5,000 coins, one is given 3,000, and the third servant is given 1,000. The first and second servants double the master’s money while he is gone, and the master is pleased. The third servant buries his 1,000 gold coins for fear they will be lost or stolen, and the master is very displeased. During the performance, I watched Friends’ faces show concerned, questioning expressions. The parable ends with the master giving the third servant’s coins to the first servant, and saying, “To every person who has made something of their gifts, more will be given. The person who has made nothing will lose the little they have.” Ending the story with the song “This Little Light of Mine” brought smiles back, and a fine worship sharing followed as Friends, given queries from the children, reflected on their own and others’ God-given gifts.
Many liberal Quakers shy away from talking about Jesus, and yet, the story of his life and his teachings provide a powerful base for Quaker faith and practice. This is a simple book that conveniently binds his parables together. We are happy to include it, with discussion of the meanings of the stories, in our First-day school program.