"Storytelling" with Joan Dagget and Chrissie Muecke Peace Table

“Storytelling” with Joan Daggett and Chrissie Muecke

~ing podcast Season 3, Episode 17
Full Episode Transcript

Season 3, Episode 17: “Storytelling” with Joan Daggett and Chrissie Muecke was released on April 25, 2023. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

MennoMedia is excited to be developing a comprehensive storybook Bible set to be published on July 1, 2023. On this week’s episode of ~ing Podcast, we’ll be learning about this project from two of the people who helped shape and create this beautiful resource including biblically faithful retellings of 140 Bible stories. Joan Daggett and Chrissie Muecke join us to share about aspects of this project, such as its twelve “Peace Paths” that allow children to “choose their own adventure” through the book, exploring how peace themes are woven throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Those who preorder copies of The Peace Table: A Storybook Bible before June 1, 2023 can receive a 25% discount. More details can be found here.

Kate Boyd, Chrissie Muecke, Joan Daggett, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus?

Joan Daggett  00:09
A lot of people working on it… They put a lot of time, creativity and energy into this. And it’s just, it’s just gorgeous, even down to the table of contents.

Chrissie Muecke  00:22
That was really important to us to create something that was a place of welcome for all children and families.

Ben Wideman  00:30
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Hello, friends, welcome back to ~ing Podcast. I’m really excited today to be talking with a couple of folks who are part of our Shine Curriculum. Here with Joan Daggett and Chrissie Muecke, with me here today. We’re really excited to get in a little bit to our Shine Curriculum, something that MennoMedia has been publishing for a number of yours, but also a brand new project that is on the horizon. It’s called the Peace Table: A Storybook Bible. And I’m really excited to dive into some of that. But before we do that, I’m wondering, Chrissie and Joan, if you would be willing to tell us a little bit about yourselves. How… How long have you been connected with MennoMedia, The Shine Curriculum, and who are you? How do you introduce yourself when someone asks who you are?

Joan Daggett  01:37
I’m Joan Daggett. I’m the project director for Shine Curriculum. And I’ve been with Shine and MennoMedia since 2016. And I work with all manner of things, writing, editing, kind of just steering the some of the projects through and I work out of my home in Bridgewater, Virginia, and have a great team to work with.

Chrissie Muecke  02:10
I am Chrissy Muecke, I’m the Shine Curriculum editor. I started working for MennoMedia in 2009, as a contract writer for what was then Gather Round Sunday school curriculum. In 2013, I became the full time staff editor for Shine. I work from my home in Rochester, New York. I am married and we have five sons.

Ben Wideman  02:32
Well I wonder, for those who don’t know much about the Shine Curriculum, why don’t we start there? Can you tell us a little bit about, yeah, these past 13 years? What is the Shine Curriculum for those who don’t know?

Joan Daggett  02:44
Yes, Shine is a cooperative publishing project of MennoMedia and Brethern Press, which is the publishing house for the Church of the Brethren. And we’ve been doing curriculum for a very long time. As Chrissie said, through Gather Round days, even before that with Jubilee Curriculum. And so we publish children’s curriculum for the United States and Canada. And along with our quarterly curriculum, we also publish Vacation Bible School curriculum.

Ben Wideman  03:18
It must be a bit of an interesting dance with these, these multiple denominations, I guess not just Mennonite Church, USA, but Mennonite Church, Canada, as well as Church of the Brethren. I imagine, you know, kind of holding all that together, despite the fact that they’re all part of the Peace Church tradition is an interesting and unique challenge for you as you’re creating.

Joan Daggett  03:39
Yes, it is.

Ben Wideman  03:40
Well, let’s talk a little bit then about this. This new project that is on the horizon, as I mentioned in the introduction, The Peace Table, a Storybook Bible. Tell us a little bit about its origin. How did this all come about?

Joan Daggett  03:53
Yeah, so we have a three year curriculum cycle. And the previous one, we developed a storybook Bible called Shine On You may, your listeners might know about that. It came out in 2014. And that was the source of the Bible story for the first couple of cycles of curriculum. Then in 2020, we had three chapter books that we developed for the elementary age range, and they were very interactive. They were, you know, we wanted to get those Bible stories into the hands of the children and let them read it and interact with it. And so that was great. And then the pandemic hit, and that changed a lot of things. We heard the churches, and youth classes, they were putting classes together. And so we had to do the same thing for our elementary age curriculum. So I I’m before the pandemic, we had five age levels. And then we began to put more of them together as we saw churches needing resources for that. So we decided to go in a different direction for this new cycle that begins in the fall and create a Storybook Bible. That, like Shine On, it has all the stories for the three year curriculum cycle. So churches will purchase one book for the three year cycle. But it’s also a great tool to use at home for parents. And that was one of the main things that we saw out of the pandemic – parents wanted faith formation tools for use at home. And so that’s why we are going in this sort of new direction.

Ben Wideman  05:46
It looks beautiful too. I see in its description, and just clicking through some of the images that are on the Shine website, 140 Bible stories and artwork from 30 different illustrators. It looks like quite a project. And I’m imagining this is not something that gets thrown together in a few weeks. Chrissie, can you tell us a little bit about assembling a team to put together something like this?

Chrissie Muecke  06:10
Yeah, we started working back in fall of 2021. And so it’s been a very long process than been much more involved than I think we could have imagined. At that point, I had the opportunity to work with two other writers as collaborators for 45 of the stories. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of stories that are difficult for adults, but you know, particularly for children. We do retellings of the stories. And so we have decisions to make about, you know, what are you saying about Noah and the flood? What are you saying about Job? And so we wanted to get together and to do some of that reflection in community, which is an Anabaptist value around scripture. So how are we looking at those difficult texts together? So we met by zoom for theological reflection, we were reading commentaries and reading looking at Greek and Hebrew and different translations to see the ways that language was used. And how can we sort of translate that for children. We also talked about our own kids, because each of us had children at sort of different ages. And so we had a lot of conversation about, you know, how do I want my five year old to hear this, or you also have an 11 year old looking at the same book? So what does it mean for them? To see it? So we did a lot of writing and then reviewing each other’s work and coming back together. You know, we weren’t trying to include every detail of the story. Hopefully, kids are reading the Bible. Later on, we’ll get to hear more of that. But we really wanted to get to what is the heart of this for elementary children.

Ben Wideman  07:50
It reminds me a little bit of the way that our Anabaptist Community Bible project is coming together. Like, you know, requires a lot of conversation and a lot of meeting around the table to bring some of these things to life. Can you talk about how, how you set up a group to make theological decisions? So what goes into just assembling a team like this to decide what stories are we using and how do we how do we tell them and things like that?

Joan Daggett  08:19
Yeah, we set up a group of theological consultants at the very beginning of this project. We chose Sarah Bixler from Eastern Mennonite University, Malinda Barry from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and then two pastors from well, actually, they both happened to be from Canada. And, you know, gave them our Bible outlines from that we had already planned out, but also asked them to think about stories that we needed to round out the book. And so yeah, we all went over those outlines and met via Zoom. And yeah, had a great time just talking about some of the questions that that Chrissie mentioned. We also gathered some illustration consultants, we had art that we already have that we were considering using. And so we sent that art to, I think it was about three different illustrators, consultants, folks who worked in the arts, and so they they reviewed all of that and send us feedback so that we would have some input on the illustrations that we used.

Ben Wideman  09:43
Where… How do you find artists willing to be a part of a storybook Bible like this? Is there… Is there a process to that as well?

Chrissie Muecke  09:54
Well, don’t tell my boss how many hours I spent online trying to find people, but you… You know I was scrolling Amazon looking at beautiful books, I was on Instagram and Facebook looking at what other publishers were doing. There’s a lot of agencies out there where there’s an agent who represents a whole variety of different illustrators. And so I was contacting some of them. And also, some of it was just personal contacts, people who said, I know somebody wanted to check out their work. So it’s a real range of places, because it was, you know, it’s really difficult to get 30 illustrators who are willing to work on a project like this, that is sort of a spiritual faith based project with the budget that we had. And so even in trying to get 30, illustrators, I was rejected by over 75. So, there was a lot of a lot of emails, a lot of process attempts to find people. So it’s a long process there.

Ben Wideman  11:06
What makes this special? I imagine, you know, if you have grown up in church spaces, you’ve seen storybook Bibles. And probably church libraries have a whole range of them from over the years. What makes this Peace Table Storybook Bible special?

Chrissie Muecke  11:24
I think the title gives a clue as to one aspect of why this is perhaps different from others, which is a peace emphasis that we have in here, which again, is a core Anabaptist value. But I also think that there’s a lot of parents from a lot of different denominations, and even not in the church who are really concerned about the level of violence and war and conflict that their children are being exposed to. And so wanting to know how to talk about those things, how is the church offering a different perspective, or a different vision of how we relate to others in the world, we have a couple of different ways that we are incorporating peace into the book we have what we’re calling peace paths that are, there’s five stories in each path, and you get a page number for the first one, and it directs you to a story. And then you can read that story. And there’s a prompt in there to say, to ask a question or think about something related to that. And then there’s another page number that points you to the next story. And those paths are centered around four aspects of shalom or peace, which is peace with God; self; others; and creation. And so, for instance, one of them is “God is Amazing,” which is, you know, stories of miracles. And then one is “Family problems.” And one is “Water Wonders.” And one is, “I Need Comfort,” I’m not alone to some of those peace inside looking at how is the story of peace woven throughout the entire biblical story. And then the other way in which we have peace in there is there’s a bunch of ideas in the back of the book for, you know, what are sort of strategies for each of those areas of peace that you could look at. So some of them are saying, “Okay, in this Bible story, how did the characters use or not use one of these strategies? How might the story have been different? Had they done one of these things?” Or even you know, for you as a child, which of these things might help you? Or if you were in that situation, how might you feel differently had you tried one of those things? So it’s really trying to look at both the scriptural context, but also children’s experiences as well.

Ben Wideman  13:45
I like that. But I gotta say, as a child of the 80s, seeing, “Choose Your Own Adventure” as a component of this Bible was something that brought me back to my elementary school library days of those wonderful books that set up for you want to go this way turned to this page. And it’s neat to see that kind of that element go into it. Any parent who has read from storybook Bibles know that you can’t sit down and read an entire Bible in one night. So having these unique pathways throughout the text seems like a really interesting way to tackle some of these things. I imagine that you’re also putting this in the hands of, of younger children and getting their feedback and their response as you’re going through some of this process.

Joan Daggett  14:31
We have had some interaction. That was early on, especially with the illustrations, we had children look at some of the illustrations that we were considering using, but we’re anxious to get it into the hands of kids. I think one of the things that makes it unique for me is just how interactive it is and that that includes the prompts that are on the page with each story So there’s wandering share questions, Shams known for its wandering questions, so that people who, who open this book will be instantly familiar with it, we’ll find that from your piece. And so these are open ended questions where there are no right or wrong answers. And they encourage children and parents and teachers to talk with one another about the story. Along with that, there’s a prayer prompt on every page. And then there are other categories on the page like, dig in, which gives Bible background information and points people to the back of the book of the timelines, the maps, things like that. Live it, which highlights and provides action ideas for kids to apply the Bible story to their lives. And one of the one of the unique things, unique categories is artists spotlight, some of our illustrators have highlighted different things about their illustrations. And so we want to, to share that with the children and their parents and teachers. So you highlight some of the unique elements of the illustrations.

Ben Wideman  16:19
That seems to resonate quite well with our Peace Church tradition, in that the Bible needs to be made practical. It’s not just a compilation of old stories that make no difference in how we live our lives today, but that, you know, should call us to something in how we, how we practice, or how we live in the world, and especially along those peace themes that seems really significant. Seeing some of the materials online, there’s a page that is highlighted, that shows ways to pray, you know, thinking about different kinds of movement prayers, or there’s one that’s alphabet prayer, color prayer… it seems like there’s been a lot of thought put into, you know, stepping beyond some of the assumed practices for for how we engage with Scripture and try to think creatively how to reimagine what what it looks like to live a faithful and spiritual life. Do you say more to that?

Chrissie Muecke  17:21
I think that you know, that page you’re referring to, at least for me, I think there was a very much of an emphasis on verbal spoken prayers as like the right way to pray. Like, that’s, that’s how you’re supposed to relate to God. And I think this idea of there’s all kinds of ways that are interactive, that are sensory that enough to kids who are at different ages, and who need different things, and that there’s an invitation to say, you don’t need to be one thing, like there’s a there’s a place for you. Yes, in these different ways in which you’re interacting. So if you want to ask a lot of questions and have conversation that’s there, but if you want to pray in a different way, or if you like, maps, if you’d like to look at where people were and what was happening that you can you know, that that’s there too, as a place of invitation for different kids. I like that. I think we also need to in terms of what’s unique about this, that we have to talk about illustration that I think the world is becoming increasingly diverse. And so it was really important to us to create something that was a place of welcome for all children and families. And so by having all these different illustrators, they were invited to create from their particular background and and to think about what would be meaningful to the children that you know. And so several of the parables are kind of done this way. Like if this had happened in Indonesia, we have an Indonesian illustrator, you know, how would that have looked? Now is that how Jesus, you know, the people listening to Jesus? Is that how they would have imagined it? No, certainly not. But this, this message of the Bible is timeless, and it’s for all people. And so how do we invite the imagination of children to say if Jesus told this story to me, and to my church or my community, in what way might Jesus have, what images or ways we would have Jesus talked about that story to help us understand that? We also in terms of depictions of Jesus, that was another place in which we wanted to show diversity and certainly some of the images of Jesus are him as a Middle Eastern man because that was, where he was born and what but there’s also different race and culture depictions. One story is depicted as if it happened in Mexico. Now are we saying Jesus lived in Mexico? No. But again, And we’re interested in helping children to know and understand that, you know, Jesus came for all people in all times and all places and that God is with us, you know, in wherever long ago and in our families and our communities.

Ben Wideman  20:19
A question we often ask folks who are on ~ing Podcast is where have you found hope in this? In this process of putting together this project? I’m curious if either of you have an answer to that…

Joan Daggett  20:31
Well, for me, this book is just so beautiful. And it has had a lot of people working on it. They put a lot of time, creativity and energy into this. And it’s just, it’s just gorgeous, even down to the table of contents. And, you know, for me, it’s not just another prod product that that we have. But, you know, I think at this time when the church is sort of fraying, we at Shine offer this as a gift of beauty to our churches and to our children. As a reminder that Jesus, you know, invites us to gather around God’s story, with our friends, with strangers, with people we disagree with, and find our place at God’s table. And that’s, that’s really what it means to me and the hope that it gives to me that we can give this, this book that will hopefully help churches and parents and children to do that.

Ben Wideman  21:47
Chrissie, anything to add?

Chrissie Muecke  21:49
This book has brought me to tears… in a beautiful way not, I mean, maybe some days in a little bit of stress. But there’s pieces of art in here that have brought me to tears because of how beautiful they are. And because of the ways in which they show something different than what I have seen before that they’ve made me think about the scripture in a way that I never could have thought about it without seeing that image. And I think that gives me a lot of hope for kids who have not seen images that they connect with. And that I just really hope and pray that each child who comes to this each family will find pieces that speak to heart that speak to these deeper existential questions that we’re asking about where is God in our lives. And, and I think some of the art and the way that some of the stories are told, there’s just things I hadn’t seen before, and hadn’t heard before. And and, you know, in working with these other writers and illustrators, that it’s brought things out just for me as an adult that, you know, I think will also connect with other parents, not just a, “Oh, this is a good thing for my kid to know about the Bible stories.” But there’s, there’s something special about these things that again, I could not have anticipated when we started this project.

Ben Wideman  23:17
We give so little thought, or historically, at least to how our Sunday school curriculum, how our children’s curriculums look in in so many different church spaces. And it really, I have a lot of sense of pride when I think about the work being done by the folks with the shine curriculum and the intentional and thoughtfulness that goes into creating something that is a little bit different and a little bit more intentional and a little bit more inclusive, and really creating something that I think raises better children than than the sort of thoughtlessness that has often come with so much of the stuff that’s out there. And I thank you both for, for being a part of this offering to the church. It means a lot to me, and I know to a lot of other people. This storybook Bible, The Peace Table is set to be published on June 2, but we were saying before we began it, it doesn’t make sense to wait until then, because there’s a special deal happening right now. Can you say a little bit more about that?

Joan Daggett  24:23
Yes, people can go to ShineCurriculum.com and preorder The Peace Table and they’ll get a 25% discount on any quantity between now and June 1.

Ben Wideman  24:34
Any quantity – that’s a significant thing for churches who are considering this. We hope that you check it out. And, and yeah, we hope that you can share it too. This beautiful book looks like it’s meant to be shared and we really hope that you are able to do so. Chrissie and Joan, thank you so much for taking the time to be here on ~ing Podcast today. Thanks for having us.  Next week on ~ing Podcast, we’re sitting down with MennoMedia author Kate Boyd to talk about her new book, An Untidy Faith: Journeying Back to the Joy of Following Jesus.

Kate Boyd  25:10
I have come to my convictions with a lot of time and prayer, and study and conversation. And I’m trusting that all of us are doing our best to be faithful. And that’s sort of like the place that I want to start from from a lot of conversations, and then ask questions to get at the heart of like, where we’re actually differing and why and if we can still have conversation with each other in that way.

Ben Wideman  25:35
As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.