Know who this is? If not, and if you are interested in educating kids in the Christian faith, you might want to learn.
This is Steve, and he’s the main character in the incredibly popular pixelated video game Minecraft. Minecraft is an open-ended game in which players travel through an infinite world of various terrains, interacting with different natural objects, all composed of blocks — dirt, grass, metal ores, rock, sand, wood, etc. Players build the blocks into thousands of different objects — houses, beds, lamps, boats, even working trains. To get a stronger sense of how the game works, here’s the trailer.
Most people play Minecraft in one of two modes: survival mode, in which the player has to find and live off of the world’s resources while avoiding monsters, and creative mode, in which the player has infinite access to resources and needs not worry about survival. The latter mode sort of resembles a giant digital Lego table.
Minecraft is a uniquely far-reaching way to communicate with kids because it’s both versatile and popular. It’s the second best-selling video game of all time with over forty million players every month. A huge percentage of these players are children . Schools use it all the time, and the game provides excellent opportunities for Christian educators as well.
Here are five suggestions for ways to use Minecraft to educate kids about Christianity. You can try these at Sunday school or in VBS if you can get access to a few tablets or laptops for kids to share, or at home. (The kids’ skill levels will vary, but that offers a great opportunity for the more skilled kids to share their expertise with the less skilled ones.) Most of these work best in creative mode. Some would work best as ongoing projects, though others could be done in a single day or class period.
- Use Minecraft to teach kids what various Biblical structures look like. Show them images of Solomon’s temple or Noah’s ark and describe them as depicted in the Bible. Then have the kids work together to try to recreate these structures in a Minecraft world. (Bonus points if they round up two of the various animals available in Minecraft worlds and bring them aboard the ark.)
- Have kids design a Minecraft church. What substances do they want to use for various objects? Do they want stained glass windows or clear? They can create traditional altars, fonts, pews, etc., or they can work within the rules of the game to create churches that aren’t possible in the real world. A stream could run through the church, ending in a baptism pond that never overflows. Pews could be made of blocks of soft wool instead of hard wood.
- Have kids build rooms or worlds in response to various passages from scripture. The players can work with the Minecraft terrains to create any number of Biblical settings, from the Garden of Eden to the Pyramids of Egypt, from Jesus’ tomb to Paul’s prison. Older students could do a variation on this idea and build a Stations of the Cross world. They could use historical information and Biblical accounts to create the Garden of Gethsemane, King Herod’s palace, the cross on the hill at Golgotha, and Jesus’ tomb. A class could build various parts of the world and then “walk” through it together while reading the Passion story.
- Have students explore statues and buildings across the world that people have used for worship by replicating them in a Minecraft world. Likewise, they can learn about different architectural styles that have been used for worship in different times and places.
- There’s a Minecraft Bible out there, designed by teachers who have used Minecraft in their classrooms. Kids who like Minecraft can learn Bible stories using language and images that they enjoy and understand.
If you have used Minecraft to teach kids or have other ideas about using Minecraft to talk with kids about faith, please comment. We’d love to share your ideas.
We just launched A 7-Week Advent with Stephen Smith For Individuals and For Groups. If your reaction to that title was to say to yourself, “Seven weeks of Advent? Why would they do that??” then please click on this link and listen to the song for a moment. Can you feel the pressure? This song is merry. MERRY. This song and others like it will be played at your at top volume during the month of December until you too become merry! Resistance is (or at least can come to seem) futile.
Nevertheless, a Christian trying to hold out for a contemplative Advent in December may be able to resist Andy Williams’ demands. Though the scents of specialty Christmas drinks may beckon, she may be able to turn her head away. She may pack the Christmas cookies given by her friends at the office resolutely in a cupboard until December 25 and hold her head high amidst the rustling of wrapping paper and the twinkling of tinsel.
But — most Christians do buy or make gifts for others for Christmas. Which means purchasing them or making them ahead of time. And most Christians do have a dinner of some kind on Christmas day. Turkey or roast beef. Christmas cake. Which means putting some energy into baking and cooking for it. Christmas trees are lovely, with their twinkling lights and carefully crafted ornaments. There’s no harm in decorating one a few weeks ahead of time. And what about those dear friends who invite you to come sing Christmas carols and drink cocoa? Before she knows it, even the most resolute, Advent-loving Christian can find herself wrapping presents and belting out “O Holy Night” with the best of them.
This hymn is quiet by comparison. Sometimes “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and the season it represents — the contemplative, quiet preparation for the coming of the Lord, a focus on our need for repentance– have trouble being heard over the din. The Advent season can be drowned out, even when we make our best efforts to stay focused.
For this reason, Stephen Smith’s congregation has become a part of The Advent Project and extended the celebration of Advent at their church to seven weeks instead of four. Advent, Stephen argues, is a season in its own right. It’s a time of holy contemplation and preparation, so why not start it a little sooner? Give it a few weeks to sink in before determined merriment and Christmas preparations start to kick in? At the very least, those three weeks allow for less rush and distraction as we celebrate Advent; at most, it gives people an Advent season that they otherwise won’t notice through the Christmas rush.
In this course, Stephen Smith outlines reasons and ways to celebrate the Advent season over a period of seven weeks instead of four. This course is ideal for Christians who are looking for new ways to celebrate a holy and contemplative Advent. For a preview, please click below.
Digital technology has created a break between parents’ experiences of the world and that of our children. Contemporary digital technology offers children an entire category of experiences that previous generations never imagined. Sure, we had video games and television, but playing Nintendo games didn’t really prepare us for parenting with the internet.
While this world creates new challenges — internet safety issues, temptations to over-screen, easy distractions for both children and parents, etc. — it also offers parents amazing new opportunities to engage children. Churches should be quick to utilize this technology to bring scripture into children’s lives, partly because digital technology is a powerful way to reach kids and partly because it’s one of the main ways that kids engage the world. If we want to reach them, we need to speak their language.
This post is the first in a series of blog posts that will explore ways in which religious educators, parents, godparents, and other people who work with raising children in faith might use digital technology to help engage kids with faith.
Today, we’ll talk about video technology. Anyone who has ever seen their children view photos and videos of themselves, wave at their own images on security cameras, or listen to their own recorded voices knows that recording kids in action is a great way to engage them. Back in the day, hand-held video cameras were heavy and expensive, but now, creating a video is as easy as pulling out a smart phone.
Here are some ways in which video technology might be useful in engaging kids with scripture and spiritual practices:
- Discuss a Bible story or passage from scripture with your class. Have individual children or groups write a short lesson or meditation on the text and record the children telling the story and reading these meditations aloud.
- Have the class draw pictures of different scenes from a Bible story. Put the pictures in chronological order and record the children telling the story in the background while showing the pictures in order. You’ve made a short movie! Play it back for the kids.
- Along similar lines, using more than one class, have students create a play or a puppet show based on one or several stories from the Bible. Have them make costumes or puppets and scenery and then record the production like a movie. You could even have multiple classes make such movies and then have a movie day. Pop some popcorn, bring the kids in — perhaps with their families — and show the movies to everyone. (Kids who prefer not to appear in the videos can still help write them and make materials for them.)
- Have students or different groups of students write prayers for different times of day. Create videos or digital recordings of morning prayers, evening prayers, etc., and send them to parents. The kids can listen to or say these prayers as part of their routines.
(Important note: Remember, many communities require parents to give consent before any identifiable images of children are displayed publicly. Ask parents before you show identifiable images of kids on websites or in any other place where the wider community could access them.)
Coming next week: learn how (and why) to create a website for your Sunday school class.
We just launched Practical Forgiveness with Rob Voyle For Individuals and For Groups. This class takes a hands-on, method-oriented approach to the process of learning to forgive.
Frederick Beuchner once wrote:
Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.
The kind of anger that Beuchner describes here is resentment. If you have ever found yourself caught in a pattern of resentment from which you have trouble breaking free, Rob Voyle’s class may be useful to you.
In this class, Rob Voyle, an Episcopal priest and faculty member at the Clergy Leadership Institute with years of experience and advanced degrees in psychology and counseling, offers methods to help people move from resentment to forgiveness. In his lectures, Rob defines both terms and offers reasons for people to pursue forgiveness. He distinguishes between forgiveness and reconciliation and discusses healthy ways to manage forgiveness without opening ourselves up to being hurt again by the same people. Finally, he offers practical spiritual and mental practices to help people break out of the cycle of resentment, wish those who hurt us well, and move on with our work of “walking in love as Christ loved us.”
For a preview of Rob’s class, click here.
We always enjoy Big Class time. It’s engaging and exciting to follow so many quality conversations between so many people on important topics. Bridging the Political Divide with Parker Palmer has wrapped up as a Big Class (though a number of people have purchased it since it closed, or are planning to use it as part of their annual subscription). We want to thank all who participated. Parker Palmer’s wisdom offered much food for thought, but, as always, what moved the class beyond the lectures was your thoughtful, discerning engagement with the lectures and with one another. You continue to bring much of what these classes have to offer, and for that, we thank you.
Bridging the Political Divide enrolled more students than any Big Class has ever had — 2,842 people registered for the course. Many of those people took the class in groups with others from their congregations, so the class reached even more people than that number reflects. Of the people who filled out the class survey at the end, 93% were satisfied or very satisfied with their course experience, and nobody was dissatisfied.
Many people appreciated Parker Palmer’s lectures and overall demeanor, generally agreeing in sentiment with the student who wrote, “Parker Palmer is so cool.” In particular, numerous people mentioned Parker’s “concept of hope and cynicism being the biggest divide between us.” Others appreciated Parker’s advice about “how to engage with people of different political views” and his suggestions for “specific language with which to interpret conversations in a tailspin.”
Other students made specific mention of the high quality discussions that took place. One student wrote about appreciating “the opportunity to share discussion with others in a meaningful way,” while another liked “the conversation with others and being able to ‘upvote’ the responses.” That’s on you. Thank you for providing your valuable insights and adding value to this discussion.
Finally, one more thanks to Forward Movement, The Episcopal Church, Bexley Seabury Seminary, Living Compass, and the Center for Courage and Renewal for making it possible for this class to reach so many people. Thank you!
The Big Class: Bridging the Political Divide with Parker Palmer runs through Sept. 19. Today is Sept. 18. You can see where we’re going with this.
If you have signed up with the idea that you have plenty of time to take it — you do! Today and tomorrow. Two whole days. If you are planning to sign up and take it when you get a chance — go ahead and do it! Today or tomorrow. It takes less than an hour to take the whole thing. If your friend is interested and you meant to forward her the link — do it! Just tell her to take it today or tomorrow.
Really, it’s well worth the effort. Parker Palmer’s ideas about handling discordant political beliefs are wise — and this election season isn’t going anywhere until November 9. It’s well worth 45 minutes on the computer to take a free class from a wise man who will give you some skills to surf the negativity — and even make the differences between us opportunities for growth.
It’s that that you can’t take it after Monday — just that you will have to be a subscriber or pay for the class. But today and tomorrow, it’s free to anyone in the world who wants to take it. Put aside some time for later today — or just stay on the computer now — and take Parker’s class.
The Big Class: Bridging the Political Divide with Parker Palmer now has over 2200 students taking it. Parker’s lectures have provoked many insightful comments in the discussion section. Here are a few of your responses to the class’s discussion questions:
On whether or not we should maintain silence on politics with those who disagree with us:
I think silence is an essential part of true dialogue. Not just the silence of waiting for your turn to talk, but the silence and stillness that come with really listening to others with an open and humble heart. That said, when someone in the dialogue says things that are harmful or degrading to a person or group of people, silence is a participation in that, and it is not being in right relationship with our brothers and sisters who are being demeaned to remain silent. But prayerfully try as I might I too often am not able to discern when I need to deeply listen in silence or to speak up at difficult but needed times.
On maintaining space in conversations for disagreements without betraying our core values:
Respectful conversation can clarify commonality of core values. For example, in the case of abortion the pro-Lifer might agree with the pro-Choice argument that an outright ban simply drives abortion into the back streets, the common value here being law and order or the desirability of minimizing crime.
Respect for others’ beliefs is a value in itself.
On the qualities held by good citizens in our communities:
- Humility – knowing no one person or party or perspective has a corner on the truth.
- Openness to learn – becoming informed, study, reading beyond mainstream media, from all sources – from those who share opinions and others
- Positive attitude about our connection with each other and possibilities that may emerge as we listen to each other and work together on solutions for the greater good.
On using the internet for productive political conversation:
Researchers tell us that effective communication across a wide range of settings (marriage, work, politics, etc.) is built on a foundation in which inquiry outweighs advocacy by a significant margin.The trouble with so many online “conversations” is that they almost exclusively take the form of advocacy. All chutzpah and no humility. As a result, we never really get to know the hopes, dreams, and fears behind these often strident words. More questions and fewer assertions can help create the safe space needed to explore complexity.
Thanks to you all for the high quality discussions that you are having. Please keep the insights coming!