Thursday, September 1, 2011

Early childhood…

Do you remember the first book you had read to you? My answer: “I haven’t the slightest clue!” The earliest book I can remember, though, remains a favorite: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

We didn’t own it at my house, mind you. I only encountered this Dr. Seuss classic each winter when Mom and Dad would drive sisters and me to grandma’s house near Chicago. There, Grandma Ray would read us The Grinch, seemingly every time we asked (i.e. every day ending in –y). In part, that was the classic “see how late we can stay up by having grandma read multiple bedtime stories” strategy. But mostly, we loved the book, and especially the sound of Grandma’s voice as she inflected and soothed, entertained and taught. Suffice to say, my grandkids will encounter The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and I hope they love it as much as I!

It turns out that my early childhood experience was lucky. From early on, I recall understanding how books worked, how to turn the pages, etc. Not just Grandma, but my parents and others had taught me- before I could make conscious memories- that reading and stories were worthwhile pursuits. My wife would tell you that maybe they did the job too well, that I spend too much time reading now! But as a researcher of early childhood education, she’ll also tell you that giving young kids the gift of reading is as good a gift as any.

Did you know that some children enter kindergarten having no idea what a book is, or how to use one? Coming from my home, that would’ve been impossible. But why would you, at age 5, if your parent(s) didn’t value reading, or were always working, or were illiterate, or couldn’t afford books…?

Did you further know that the most significant predictor of a child’s future success (after the predictable big two- Race and Family Income) is the number of books present in a child’s home? When Tabitha told me that, it blew my mind. Of all the educational investments we make, whether a family has a book, bookshelf or library of books for children ages 1-5 matters the most. Of course, it’s not just the books. It’s what they represent- respect for education, capacity to buy books, stability in housing. Still, reading to kids has an outsized impact on their future, well before they can read themselves.

One role I play on behalf of Plymouth Creek is to serve on the Advisory Council for IOCP’s Caring for Kids Initiative. CfKI provides some low-income families that IOCP serves with affordable, quality early childhood education (and children’s books!). It’s a great program, since one important antidote for factors that weigh on a child’s potential is to give the kid great childcare. Multiple studies show how munchkins from low-income families who receive good pre-K education perform much better than their peer groups. Further, they save society anywhere from $8-15 in future costs (reduced income taxes, prison, welfare) for every $1 invested.

But great childcare is expensive! Hence, CfKI, which in a few short years has built capacity for 80 local kids to receive great childcare (the need’s about 400, so we’re getting there…). And a recent study of CfKI’s work more or less ‘proved’ its effectiveness. Pretty cool table for PCCC to sit at, amen?!

Anyway, I mention all this because CfKI has a fundraiser on Saturday, September 17 at the Hilde Center in Plymouth. Called Family Fun Night, and it should be, well, a blast. A ‘walk’ begins the event, followed by a showing of Toy Story 3. Plus Games, Music, Face Painting; a child’s perfect night out. So if you or neighborhood families want an enjoyable evening, that also supports an incredibly effective initiative for poor families in our community, stop by. More info’s available at, or on the bulletin board at church.

And please join me in prayer for all the children in our midst. May they have love and guidance at home and elsewhere, as well as folk all around working to make their future better.

Even if that’s a simple as reading a book.

Grace and Peace,
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Faith matters…

I use a Dell computer when writing these letters, sermons, emails, everything. It’s what I know; it works for me. Friends of mine, however, use Apple computers, and to their minds, I’m a club-wielding, Stone Age Hunter/Gatherer for not having joined them in the iWorld of Apple. With an evangelical furor that would impress Billy Graham, these adherents to the cult of Steve Jobs (God bless him in retirement) wait breathlessly whenever a new Apple product. The iPod- Revolutionary- they swooned! The iPad- Transformational! The iPhone- Iconic, a natural evolutionary extension of the human hand! And here I waste my time on PCs, alas.

A while back, however, I joined my friends in their iObsession, purchasing an iPhone to replace my previous cellular companion. And with some grudging admittance I must say that, yes, the gizmo is quite handy. Not an epoch defining leap forward, but certainly a useful tool. It plays audio books and music; it downloads email and news; its GPS function has frequently saved me from having to stop and ask directions. Maybe you recall the once-ubiquitous iPhone advertising campaign- a person says, “I want to (insert random desire here- like ‘find good local restaurants,’ or ‘play addictive, avian-inspired games’).” And the announcer says, with breezy self-confidence, “Yep. There’s an app for that.” App, of course, being the hip contraction of the word Application.

Indeed, if you’ve ever seen the vast treasure store of possible downloads for the phone, there is- usually- an app for whatever that is. This one tool can perform many a useful feat, most of which have nothing to do with telephone calls.

Well, it seems to me that, if we switch topics from gadgets to faith, modern Christians of our ilk struggle with the exact opposite issue. Ask, “Why does faith matter in your life? What are its…applications?” And you’ll get all sorts of answers. But many are halting and hesitant, or simplistic generalities. Which isn’t to say we don’t believe that faith matters. It’s just we’re cautious about making too broad a set of claims (having cringed at the hubris of less-hesitant members of Christ’s church), or feel uncertain in the ever-changing world of modernity. Our instincts, our spirits tell us that faith matters greatly, and maybe during certain life events that became blessedly obvious. In everyday conversation or living, however, many wonder, “Is there an app for faith…”

This fall, we’ll tackle this topic head on. The sermon series I’ll preach is “There’s an App for That: 10 Ways Faith Matters.” I’ve chosen a set of ten great Biblical stories, most familiar, a couple less so, each of which, I believe, highlight a particular issue or idea that puts faith into practice, that teach us why faith matters today- to us, and to God’s good Creation. Without giving away all the secrets, these applications of faith include, “The App of Serenity,” “The App of Global Community,” “The App of Impossibility.” All together, I think, we’ll see a parade of beliefs and activities that present updated reasons for living faithfully as Jesus’ Disciples. At the very least, I hope it inspires you to articulate your own thoughts about why faith matters to you.

Also, this month we’ll welcome a new addition to our ministry team. United Theological Seminary is sending us an intern- Lynda Lee- who’ll serve with us September 11 through mid-May. Lynda is currently a member of Spirit of Joy Christian Church, proud wife, mother and grandmother, accounting professional, creative devotee of exploring the arts in worship, and a thoughtful, faithful woman pursuing ordination. Many of you remember past interns, having told me good stories about their time at PCCC. As such, I believe we have much to offer Lynda in her ministerial formation. And I know we’ll receive much from her work and worship in our midst. Please make a point of being present that Sunday to welcome Lynda; tell her why this church matters to you, the difference it’s made in people’s lives already, and especially how you hope it will grow in its impact and mission. For, indeed, faith matters! There’s many an app for God’s love.

Grace and Peace,
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