As I was driving back home last night after a long day of working the election polls I saw my first holiday lights near by neighborhood. White lights hanging from the gutters along with windows outlined in white lit up the night, even brighter than the now waning full moon. It’s only November 9th!
But it reminded me that I am overdue in sharing my thoughts on a children’s book I recently received with a request to offer a review. Reading about the wise men in October was not exactly high on my list. However, this latest book would make a wonderful Christmas (or Epiphany) book for preschool or early elementary children. Nicely bound in hardcover with a dust jacket, the illustrations pop right off the page and will surely engage a child at home or in church.
It was fitting that I received a copy of Absalom Jones: America’s First Black Priestwritten by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones in early February, Black History Month. Exactly two years ago I wrote about Absalom Jones, sharing resources for learning about this man of faith, courage, and commitment. So it is fitting that I share a new resource for children (ages 8-12) close to his Feast Day – February 13 – that explores the history of this man and the context in which he lived and came from. The people of God are all people – all colors, all races, all languages – from all over the world.
One is immediately caught by the visually stunning cover of this book that shows what Absalom might have looked like today, surrounded by other people of faith who were instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, including the first Black woman to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, Barbara C. Harris, who died in March 2020. Illustrator, Christopher Michael Taylor describes his image on the cover as “a modernized and unique interpretation,” while each black and white artwork that begins each of the eight 3-page chapters can be described as “comic book realism.” They pop next to the text, engaging the reader in wanting to read on to see how a man, born a slave in 1746, earned his freedom and was ordained a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1802.
Resilience. Empathy. Courage. Gratitude. These are all just a few descriptions of what I assume all parents (and grandparents) wish to instill in their children. I believe being part of a faithful, worshiping community is an avenue to supporting us in this endeavor, as it is a hard, if not impossible road to follow on one’s own. But not all families are connected to a faith community and certainly during this pandemic, we are now isolated from many of those personal face-to-face support systems.
COVID-19 has “simply” added to all the reasons why parents (and any adult) despair over the world that we will be leaving to our children: climate change, political division, civil unrest, and racial injustice. And many couples have chosen not to have children as they do not want to add another individual into a world with a fraught-filled future.
Then along comes Amelia Richardson Dress’ new publication, The Hopeful Family: Raising Children in Uncertain Times(Morehouse Publishing, 2021). Asked to be part of the “launch team” of the book I agreed, despite wondering if this was going to be another book about children and spiritual practices (as the early descriptions shared) to hold them up against the evils in this world. I was more than pleasantly surprised. From the moment I held the soft, smooth cover of the book in my hands and discovered the beautiful layout and interior design, The Hopeful Family evoked feelings of calm; each chapter begins with an unexpected quote about parenting (with hope) and a lovely blessing is offering in conclusion.
I never noticed those words in the Psalter. But how fitting they are during this time of isolation, grief, and sorrow as we continue to live (and die) during this “2020 Pandemic.” Years from now, how will be look back at this time? Will there be a name for this era in the history books?
One thing is for sure. We are each grieving in our own ways. For many, the loss has been visceral – a loved one no longer with us. For others, the grieving is not related to the pandemic as death always makes an appearance whether it is expected or unexpected. At the moment, gone are the times to hug family and friends, gather to share stories and remembrances, be present to hold hands in silence with unspoken words passing between us.
Pentecost is sometimes referred to as “the birthday of the Church,” but the birthday refers not to the institutional church, but rather to our birth into the new life of the Risen Christ, the new creation that comes from the Holy Spirit. Pentecost (this year on May 31) brings the Easter season to an official end, but it also marks the beginning of our new life together. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are guided and supported in our attempts to live out our baptismal promises.
There are significant meanings in the Acts of the Apostles description of Pentecost. The Jewish feast commemorated the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. The gift of the Spirit to the Church on this feast fulfills the words of Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Pentecost also symbolizes the reversal of Babel in Genesis 11. At Babel, confusion, in the form of diverse languages, confound the understanding of the builders. On Pentecost (in Jerusalem), the apostles understood every language being spoken by the crowds (Acts 2:1-4 and John 20:22). At Babel, the human city is scattered. On Pentecost, the City of God is drawn together as 3,000 believers are added to the Church.
After Easter, Pentecost is the most important day of the Church year. Churches typically celebrate it with everyone wearing red (representing the flames of the Holy Spirit), perhaps a dove kite soaring above the congregation in procession, lessons read in various languages, children wearing construction paper flame hats, red balloons tied to pews, and birthday cake at coffee hour. Not this year! But it can still be celebrated at home. Some ideas and links to others: