Category Archives: Children

A Prayer for Parents and Children

Yesterday I listened to an NPR story on the radio in my car about Noel Anaya. According to the piece on their website Anaya

was just a year old, he and his five brothers and sisters were placed in the California foster care system. He has spent nearly all of his life in that system and has just turned 21. In California, that’s the age when people in foster care “age out” of the system and lose the benefits the system provides. That process becomes official at a final court hearing. Anaya, along with Youth Radio, got rare permission to record the proceeding, where he read a letter he wrote about his experience in the foster care system. (to listen to his letter, go to NPR

While the news is filled with hearings and floods, refugees and wars, this touched me. This young man now launches, out on his own, still searching for a family to love him. Today, I was reflecting on families in pain, intact and broken, and penned this prayer.

God of night and day, dark and light, Lord over joy and pain,

Holder of nations and blesser of babies, witness of Creation and the fall of a single sparrow,

This day, we are comforted that you see the brokenness of your children,

And the brokenness of our children.

In this moment where the road is uncertain, the way unclear

The fog seems to never end, and the light fades ahead,

The path littered with human pain and the wreckage of sorrow,

Help us to look up from our stumbling,

Into the face of Christ,

Who alone knelt in the night of the Garden and remained awake

Who knows what we suffer, for he himself has suffered,

Who was betrayed by his own, hauled away by conspirators of hate and fear,

Tried by those who loved only their own places of entitlement and safety

And condemned by the ignorant and the powerful alike

To die alone with the burdens of the whole world on Him,

And in that face to hear those blessed words,

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”

But he also looked into the face of his anguished mother

And his beloved disciple and made them into family.

“Mother, behold your Son.”

“Son, behold your mother.”

Give us ears attuned to the cries of the ignored,

Eyes to see the invisible ones,

Hearts to understand and welcome the lonely.

Show us the way,

Hold our hands,

Sturdy our resolve,

Settle our doubts,

And empower us to trust that we can keep walking forward

In our own Gethsemanes and Calvaries of the soul.

Amen.

CATECHISM WITH CHILDRENS BOOKS Some Helps for Parents

It is a daunting task to look for books.  The book of Ecclesiastes had it right. “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.’ Ecclesiastes 12:12 While I in no way can vouch for everything below, it is my best effort to find some useful guides to children’s books. I welcome any additions and helps. Parents are often the best resources for one another, but when it comes to faith, we often feel inadequate. I do, too, especially in the subject of children’s books. Many childrens religious books are trivial, superficial and some are downright wrong about God. You have to be careful when talking about heaven, God, Jesus, death and faith. So, here are some things that helped me.

 The Teaching Children Philosophy site is the work of Professor Thomas E. Wartenberg and his undergraduate students from Mount Holyoke College  is an interesting site with a terrific booklist, each one having a study guide with summary about the books and suggested questions for discussion. Click here to go to the site.   Although it is not specifically a faith-based site, the issues and questions it raises overlaps with faith. A New York Times article about the author gives some background on how it came to be. Spend some time looking around.  The summaries are very helpful!

University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children has a similar site and has put together a guide also with summaries and issues. It is well-researched, and can help a parent have substantial conversations with children.

In 2013 the New York Public Library published the 100 Great Children’s Books For 100 Years list of the most read (i.e., checked out) and favorite books of all time of the past century.  It is a wonderful list of books from 1913-2013, and most of us will recognize some of our favorites, but it’s also a good way to find some new ones.  It was chosen by their Children’s librarians.

Amazon books and other booksellers offer similar lists, although they are proprietors and may be a little different and about marketing rather than other criteria.  Amazon’s 100 Children’s Books to Read in a Lifetime is found at

 

When it comes to religious books for children, I was overwhelmed by the choices. And not always in a good way.  From Mommyblogs to homeschoolers, these were all over the place. So I would say, “Search at your own risk.” You will find whatever you’re looking for, which is pretty much the problem of the internet KDQuiltmakerGiftto begin with—the lack of “guidance” for the uninformed. A good teacher matters! There are lists everywhere—NY Times booklists, Goodreads, Listopia, Religious Tolerance, denominational books, and so on. Oddly, sometimes they are some of the worst books for teaching faith, because they are either so overtly religious and pedantic that they lack the quality of inspiring curiosity, or they are theologically questionable. Still, there are treasures out there. Magazines like Christianity Today and the Christian Century occasionally make recommendations, and even the Mommyblogs can have some good suggestions. Just read them with a critical eye. Someone’s entusiastic recommendation does not a classic make… Read the rest of this entry

Why Stories Matter


I see a dearth of storytelling power, almost an absence in our current public life. We have become a culture of three word slogans, name-calling, distortion and manipulation.

This summer, I decided to preach a series of sermons in dialogue with children’s books.  I heard another pastor last year at the Mercer Preaching Consultation in Chattanooga tell about the joy of doing such a series, and I wrote a note then that I wanted to try it.

The book, not the movie...

The book, not the movie…

I will have a Pastor’s time with the children in every service, and we will read from a children’s book. I will post top lists of books for children on our church website for parents, including a list from the New York Public Library list of the most read Read the rest of this entry

Asking Good Questions: A Sermon for a Young Parent

 I’d want them to know my love was so strong that no matter how bad it gets,

how far down they go, who leaves them and abandons them, I won’t. 

13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.    

Looking at a newborn is a pretty overwhelming reality.  It is the age we are in.  Vickie and I were sitting outside in the

waiting room, getting more anxious by the moment for our daughter and her husband and a little one.  Being born is

from cdc.gov site

from cdc.gov site

dangerous, not guaranteed, and full of anxiety, no matter what reassurances we are given.  In fact, the greatest advice from the OB to our daughter the last two months was, “Don’t Google.”

We don’t know how to know what to do with all the information.  In the old days, they took the mother, the father paced outside, and  the baby arrived.  It was the first inkling of what you had—boy or girl.  No paint colors until you knew.

Now, you have more knowledge about this infant than the NSA has of your cell phone.  But what to make of it?  Truth is, there is still a place where we cannot intrude with knowledge, and it is the miracle of life itself.

But don’t get me wrong.  It’s great to know.  And here’s how we got the word.  We’re sitting there, grandparents, waiting, worrying, praying.  Getting texts from our kids and friends—praying for you, hoping, let us know, that sort of thing.  And we occupy ourselves by answering these as we wait.  Naturally, we are watching the other occupants of the room.  A waiting room is pure democracy.  Rich, poor, well-dressed and barely dressed, country and city, every Read the rest of this entry

Standing Up for Children in Birmingham, Alabama

Several years ago, Dr. Penny Marler approached me about participating in a program where pastors might become

Rev. Arthur Price

Rev. Arthur Price

friends across differences—race, age, denomination—and learn from each other.  Rev. Arthur Price and I decided to make that journey together.  He is the pastor of historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, where, 50 years ago this fall, people driven by hate and fear set off a bomb that killed four little girls who had just prayed together.  The episode set off a national revulsion to the radical racists and helped put America in a new direction.

kthompson_PKDHAZ6R

Rev. Keith Thompson

Over the course of that few years, we became friends, Arthur much younger, a different personality, a native of the North, me a son of the South.  It was one of the richest experiences of my life, and it is documented on the website of the Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence.   (For more information about the project Rev. Price and I did together, click HERE)

One of the side blessings of that friendship was connecting our churches.  We visited each others’ deacons meetings, had our congregations together for fellowship, and continued our friendship by having breakfast together regularly over the years.  Last year, we began to talk together about doing something positive that would mark this anniversary by affirming that we are in a new day and that the faith community is part of that.  We were joined by another friend, Rev. Keith Thompson of First United Methodist Church downtown.

After the massacre at Newtown in December, our sense of commitment was heightened.  Whatever strikes at our Read the rest of this entry

Keeping Children Safe in a Dangerous World

Last weekend, our family gathered in Stone Mountain, Georgia, to celebrate my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.  I must hasten to add, my folks are still relatively young—they married right out of high school, had me by age twenty, and the avalanche of four kids and their spouses, twelve grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, along with spouses, dogs, cats, and horses.  We spent the weekend sharing a Holiday Inn Express breakfast area and their home—telling stories, laughing late into the night, and torrid games of Uno at the hotel with three of our aunts who came to help and their spouses.

I was humbled as I listened to my elders tell stories about us, realizing how large the protective covering of love was for us.  My Dad was one of nine, my mother one of eight, and one who died at birth.  A large family is chaotic sometime, but as my Aunt Johnnie philosophically puts it, “Oh, we argue and fuss and get mad but we always keep getting together.”

We have known our share of heartbreaks, losses, tragedies and struggles, all of us.  But we keep getting together.  There is something astounding about families, something enduring, durable, that transcends politics and economics.  Dirt poor was always not as poor as the people down the road, and besides, “we always had each other and enough to eat.  So we didn’t think we were poor.”  That despite clothes made out of anything mothers could find and food they grew themselves. Read the rest of this entry

Andy Griffith’s Kinder, Gentler Community

I’ll admit it—I long for Mayberry and simpler living. 

Maybe it never existed, but something in us says, “It ought to.”

Andy Griffith died today on the Outer Banks of his native North Carolina where he lived.  A few years ago, I took my senior adults to the Outer Banks, and, other than seeing the place where “Nights of Rodanthe” was filmed and hearing about how one native got to be examined by Richard Gere as a bit part, the biggest thrill was hearing that Andy

Andy Taylor (Griffith) with Deputy Barney Fife (the legendary Don Knotts)

lived there still.  “You can still see him in the grocery store and he is an active part of the community,” she said solemnly.

We were the Baptist version of medieval pilgrims tracing the steps of a saint.  Andy Griffith, though Moravian, taught more Baptists their character virtues than almost anyone I knew.

Being a native of North Carolina, I fastened onto the Andy Griffith Show at an early age.  I was in elementary school when the show was on the air.  Andy, Aunt Bee, Otis Campbell, Thelma Lou and Helen, Goober, Gomer, Opie and Barney Fife were childhood friends.  I know a lot of the bits by part—I’ve watched and re-watched the reruns my whole adult life.  “Why do you watch the same shows over and over?” my wife asks.  But even she will watch “Aunt Bee the Warden” (she has a secret desire to imprison lazy men and beat them with a broom) and “Class Reunion,” and “Mr. McBeevy,” and all the others over and over.

It has been analyzed to death, of course.  From its lack of diversity to its nostalgia overdoses, the show has taken its share of hits.  And we all keep watching.  Having lived in small towns, of course, I can say “The Andy Griffith Show” was half of the equation—the ideal, good half.  Andy did capture the foibles, silliness and pettiness, but missing was meanness, racism and evil. Read the rest of this entry

Memories of Dad

There were times as a young man when I complained to myself

A memory of Dad…where do you start?  I have pictures in my mind.  First, of looking up at this tall, silent man.  Looking up in fear sometimes, in awe most of the time as he went about life.  He was strong, good, quiet, rarely angry with us.  I looked up when I read his scrapbooks, hook shots flying through the air, frozen forever as the ideal athlete.  Playing catch in the backyard or playing basketball while he watched, always the same.  You were the mount Everest of my childhood.

I have pictures of you with tools, hammering, sawing, sweating, up on ladders, on the roof, in the garage, in the yard.  You weren’t still very much.  I wanted to be like you. When I got married and got desperate enough, I got a job pulling nails and then driving them.  You gave me my first hammer.  I still have it, by the way.  I barely knew which end was which, but I always watched you as a boy, so I tried to draw on that and learned enough to do for myself and become a certified carpenter, which convinced me that preaching and air-conditioning was a pretty good way to go.  But still, you showed me how to use my hands.

Pictures of you at the store, day in, day out, working long days, all day, nearly every day, and never really griping about it.  How tired you must have been!  But, come the next day, up you got, out the door and on about your business.  It was a mystery until we all did our time on the McCrory’s Christmas chain-gang in the toy department. Then we wanted it to be a mystery again.  But I would watch you, handling things, helping people find what they wanted, setting up displays, really enjoying it, to tell you the truth.

I have pictures in my mind of you at my wedding, at my ordination, reading my charge, coming to see us.  You stood around at the edge of all the noise and stories and excitement and grinned, taking it in, feeling no need to say much, but delight shining from your eyes.  My girls adore you for your sweetness and gentle spirit.

Oh, and what would I do without those images of you sitting in the bedroom in the evening, by yourself, plucking that black Sears Silvertone electric guitar, singing, “I Want to Go Home” and Hank Williams.  You gave me bluegrass and my first guitar and the love of music.  Mother gave me method and lessons, but I have you to thank for playing by ear and the instinct for improvising.  The joy of your retirement years has been sharing music together, rediscovering the music you knew as a young man.  How I wish Uncle Paul were still here when I could really enjoy it!

Hear Gary’s song, “Daddy Never Said” from his permanent world of pretend album [clilck here to listen] 

And I remember some pretty short but wise proverbs you gave me.  “We’ll be there when we get there.”  “People do what they have to do.”  Lots of stories.  And as far as jokes, some of the worst groaners I’ve ever heard.  Corny, but we told them to our kids anyway.

There were times as a young man when I complained to myself that you were so busy and I wished I could have had more time with you.  But now I look back and see that my life is full of images you gave me.  Work, family, music, faith.  Plenty of good things for life.  And I realize what a big, cool shadow you cast over my life in the heat of growing up.  You were always there to provide for us, show us, and delight in us.  I am grateful and I love you.

To Kill A Mockingbird…50 years later

Here in Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of our great treasures.  You can still go to Monroeville, Alabama and see a live re-enactment of the story every year by the local citizenry.  You start out in the yard, then move inside the courthouse, and it is eerily reminiscent of the movie because Hollywood built a replica of it for the film.  When I went with friends a few years back, I felt a flash of shame and pain when the n-word was uttered while African American locals up in the balcony were in our presence.  I was embarrassed.  So we’ve made some progress, I guess.  As a child in North Carolina the word was uttered around me thoughtlessly, as a part of an unquestioned culture of resentment and vulnerable entitlement. Read the rest of this entry

Simple Things and Joseph Kony

I have not been surprised at the diverse and passionate reaction to the Joseph Kony 2012 video, viewed by more than 80 million people as of last night, with accusations of everything from overreaction to his being a “CIA contractor.”  I can comprehend the anguish.  When I went to Kenya in 2007, I was overwhelmed by the sight of tens of thousands of people living in the slums of Nairobi, and the complexities of a country whose history I only began to understand.  I chose a humble approach, assuming I knew nothing and had few answers.  I also know that only the people of a place can finally discover the answers for their nation. Read the rest of this entry