Children

VIDEO: The Poet of Poverty

As Andrea Ferich writes in “Digging” in the December 2013 issue, Camden, N.J. is a city of poverty and violence, with more than 40 murders taking place in one neighborhood in the last half-century.

Yet Camden is also a place where “we find our way toward beauty amidst the violence,” Ferich writes. At Sacred Heart Church in Camden, Father Michael Doyle pursues that beauty through poetry and prose. For years he has documented the despair and hope of Camden in monthly letters to friends.

“Poet of Poverty,” a 2008 film, journeys with Camden through the Father’s letters. In this excerpt, Martin Sheen reads the Father’s poem “The Dolphins Danced on Arlington.”

Poet of Poverty from Greenroom Productions on Vimeo.

Seven children were splashing in cascading water like shining wet dolphins in the sun. Somehow, they had hauled a discarded hot tub from Adventure Spas on Chelton Avenue, opened a fire hydrant and the powerful pressure sent the water upward on an old sheet of plywood into the tub and sent the children into ecstasies of delight in spite of all the awful misery around them…Nothing could daunt the wild surge of their young lives and hopes. What is it about hope! Does its real inspiration only rise out of the tragic emptiness to take its pure and unsupported stand against all odds?

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A Whale of a Lesson

TsuneoMP / Shutterstock
Blue whale's can have hearts as big as Volkswagen Beetles. TsuneoMP / Shutterstock

I created my SOLE space by providing one desktop computer per four students, a whiteboard to write questions on, and paper and pens for students to take notes for their sharing at the end of SOLE.

Then I asked a big question — “Why does a blue whale have such an enormous heart?” — and I let the adventure begin. My students began their investigations.

After 40 minutes, they shared their discoveries.

“Blue whales swim all over the world,” said Ki’ara, “So they need a gargantuan heart to be their motor.”

“Blue whales can call to each other over almost a thousand miles,” said Heavenly. “They need a big heart to talk to each other.”

“They swim together in pairs,” said Amare, “So they need huge hearts to care for each other.”

“Yeah,” said Isaac, “That’s true … it takes a huge heart to care for somebody.”

“Kids who are nice to me on the playground must have a big heart like a blue whale,” added Aydan. “And people who are mean must have small hearts.”

“Hmmm,” I said. “How can we have big hearts for each other instead of small hearts?”

Introverts: Caring for Dandelions

Girl blowing on dandelions, Volodymyr Goinyk / Shutterstock.com
Girl blowing on dandelions, Volodymyr Goinyk / Shutterstock.com

Recently I’ve been re-reading Susan Cain’s excellent book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Extroverts will want to take it with a grain of salt (although some of the book’s speculations suggest that extroverts are fairly thick-skinned about being taken down off their pedestals), but the book is a fascinating exploration of what it’s like to be an introvert in the world, including some analysis about how one gets to be an introvert, anyway, including how much is genetic, and how much comes from early environment.

It was in reading one of these “nature or nurture?” passages that I first encountered the “orchid hypothesis.” Taking its name from David Dobbs’ 2009 article, “The Science of Success,” published in The Atlantic, the orchid hypothesis essentially argues, as Cain puts it, that:

“… many children are like dandelions, able to thrive in just about any environment. But others, including the high-reactive types that [developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan] studied, are more like orchids: they wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent.” (Quiet, 111)

This jumped off the page at me.

To Our College-Bound Children: Your Parents Will Be OK

A high school graduate leaves the nest. Illustration by Mike Elliott/shutterstoc
A high school graduate leaves the nest. Illustration by Mike Elliott/shutterstock.com

News bulletin to Michael Gerson's firstborn son, my firstborn granddaughter, and the maybe 3 million other kids starting college this year: Your parents will be OK!

Gerson, a Washington Post columnist, wrote a touching op-ed piece Monday about his son's departure. He's not alone — the article, "Saying goodbye to my child, the youngster," is all over Facebook. Assuming there are still teenagers who use Facebook, no doubt many of them have read it too.

Some of those college-bound teens may be concerned for their parents' sanity. Kids, it's OK to relax. Your parents are probably normal.

The Danger of 'Orphan Theology'

THE MAXIM states that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But what happens when well-meaning Christians construct and lead others down that road? In her new book The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption (PublicAffairs), investigative journalist Kathryn Joyce explores how some evangelicals have fueled the global adoption frenzy—and how adoption reform advocates are trying to stem the tide of trafficked children (and the rampant spread of misinformation) across borders. Sojourners contributing writer Brittany Shoot recently spoke with Joyce.

Brittany Shoot: Why do you think it’s been primarily evangelicals who have led the surge in international adoption?

Kathryn Joyce: The idea of the “global orphan crisis” needs some unpacking. People who talk about this crisis often cite UNICEF estimates that there are between 150 and 210 million orphaned children in the world. While the figures actually refer to a wide range of orphaned and vulnerable children in need of services, often people only hear the word “orphan” and presume these children are parentless kids in need of new homes. In fact, most of these children have a surviving biological parent or other extended family who may need some support.

Additionally, adoption has become a powerful metaphor in many evangelical churches studying and preaching what has become known as adoption or orphan theology. Many leaders within the movement teach that earthly adoption is a perfect mirror of Christian adoption by God, and it’s a way that Christians can put their faith into action in a very personal manner. Evangelicals have been encouraged to adopt by this theology as well as by other developments in their churches or denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2009 resolution that asked its members to prayerfully consider whether God was calling them to adopt.

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Afghanistan's Children of War

The United Nations issued a report on Wednesday stating that the number of civilians killed or wounded in Afghanistan rose by 23 percent in the first six months of 2013, with women and children faring the worst — killed by roadside bombs almost every day. An earlier UN report noted that

"Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child."

Over a third of Afghans are living in abject poverty, violence is escalating as NATO forces withdraw, and years of international aid has done little to decrease the abuse of women and children.

Click here to see the Atlantic's photos series on Afghan children.

Jesus and the Top Secret Empire

WATCHING THE PBS Frontline documentary “Top Secret America” in April reminded me of why I read the gospels. They help me get my head screwed on right—upside-down, that is.

In that show, Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter Dana Priest investigates the secret history of anti-terrorism in America since 9/11. “Secret” is the key word, since the public has little idea of the injustice, torture, black sites, civilian-killing drone strikes, data-mining, over-surveillance, and general terrorizing that have been done in our name and with our tax money for the past 12 years. The Boston Marathon bombings will only up the ante.

“Empire,” I think as I watch. Our American empire has secret tentacles in every part of our inhabited world. Cofer Black, then head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, announced after we were attacked on 9/11, “The gloves come off!” In other words, we will do whatever it takes to obliterate al Qaeda. “We went in [to Afghanistan] to kick ass. And we did!”

Restraining gloves have apparently stayed off, since little has changed in the Obama administration. No current national security big shot would speak to Frontline. It’s “top secret,” of course, since in public we are supposed to be a democracy and not an empire.

I THINK OF texts from the gospel of Matthew—radical texts penned under the thumb of the Roman Empire. A couple of years ago, I was asked to write “insight essays” for a teacher’s guide in the “Gather ’Round” series of Sunday school lessons for children and youth published by the Brethren Press and MennoMedia. The first seven lessons leading up to Easter were centered on texts from Matthew 18-28. I struggled to find a common thread running through these stories and sayings leading up to the final events in Jesus’ life.

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Raising Children to Be Global Citizens

Small boy looking at his globe, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com
Small boy looking at his globe, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

Before we had kids, we loved to travel, had worldview stretching experiences, and were all together creative in how we lived the lives we had been given. For us, having the right kind of experiences meant far more than have the right kind of house, car or, other possession that could be associated with “success.” As we reflect on our development individually and as a couple in the context of marriage, it is clear that these experiences (and resulting relationships) have shaped us more significantly than any classroom or lecture series. It has been the classroom of real life relationships that have formed us into global citizens who follow a Jesus with a global reign.

And then we had kids …

Death by the Numbers

The Predator and Reaper drones in most common use by the CIA and U.S. military carry 500-pound GPS-guided bombs or Hellfire missiles. The bombs can destroy whole neighborhoods, while Hellfire missiles are designed to explode afterhitting their target, spewing shrapnel and “incendiary pellets” to “ensure target destruction.”

10,000+     
Weaponized drones in the U.S. arsenal

493 to 527    
Covert drone strikes by CIA and the U.S. military in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia (2002-13)

3,057 to 4,338         
Estimated total deaths by covert drone strikes

197 to 207    
Children reported killed in covert strikes

Sources: Defense Update;General Dynamics; The Guardian;The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Image: Drone aircraft launching a missile, Paul Fleet / Shutterstock.com

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A Testimony of God's Grace and Love

MARRIAGE IS A wonderful thing. Yet it seems to be taking a hit in our society, and I must say it is taking a hit in my community at rates I am very uncomfortable with as an African American.

My wife, Donna, and I have been working in ministry and missions for a long time, and we see our marriage as a key to our work. We live and work in the city in a mostly black neighborhood, and the percentage of married black couples is extremely low. Modeling a great marriage is something we take seriously and make very public. If we didn’t make our marriage and relationship public, some of the young people we know and work with would not know personally any happily married African-American couples.

It is our intent to live out our lives as a couple and family so others can see its beauty and challenge. Our community has upwards of 90 percent single-parent homes, with few dads present and even fewer marriages. Marriage is one of our greatest “testimonies” of God’s grace and love in our lives. How we love each other and our children is a important part of our work, so we are very intentional about the health of our marriage. This has given us the opportunity to love each other well.

A public manifestation of our marriage means we celebrate one another with friends as much as possible. We announce our date nights and trips we take together, and we publicize special days and anniversaries. We let people know how much we enjoy it being just the two of us, and we even disagree publicly so people know we are individuals and have our own opinions. It is our opinion that black children need to see and interact with healthy black couples.

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