This past Sunday, we had a conversation with a neighbor.
It was a conversation about what a strange, violent world this is. We talked about how so many young people are committing crimes- acting with utter disregard for the sacredness of life. We talked about how so many parents are giving up on their kids, and then kids become the delinquents they were expected to be.
It was, obviously, a sad conversation. And I didn't know what to say. I came home, shaking my head, and returned to the book I was reading.
The book was "Their Name is Today" by Johann Christoph Arnold. It is exactly the book to inform that conversation.
This is a book about bequeathing a better world to our children, and reaching their hearts and touching their souls. It's a book about "winning children for the good" and giving them the best opportunities to grow up confident and content.
The author comes from an interesting background. He is a chaplain for several law enforcement agencies, so his eyes are wide open to the havoc that crime wreaks on victims and responding officers. He is also an advocate for a more just, peaceful and merciful world, so he believes that a better way exists if we seek it out.
The question of children and how to raise them falls right in between these issues. Children are the victims of our broken world, and yet if they aren't guided and nurtured, they will become the next generation of victimizers.
Do we shut our eyes to the problems and pretend that America's children are just fine, or do we let the obvious problems shape our dialogue and become negative and prescriptive?
Mr. Arnold has found the good middle path to walk.
For example, he has an entire chapter called "Screening Out," in which he addresses specific dangers of of the internet age, such as violent video games. He also addresses the general effect of electronic entertainment in our homes and computer-based education in out classrooms. He never retreats to talk of "the good old days," and his concern isn't motivated by dislike of progress or technology.
Rather, he quotes educators and child specialists who question whether tethering our schools to screens is a good thing for children's literacy, social skills, and even motor control.
Some of my other favorite chapters include Discovering Reverence, In Praise of Difficult Children, and Material Child.
In Discovering Reverence, he says "Our response upon encountering a child must be nothing less than reverence. Perhaps because the word sounds so old-fashioned, its true meaning has been blurred. Reverence is more than just love. It includes an appreciation for the qualities children possess (and which we ourselves have lost), a readiness to rediscover their value, and the humility to learn from them."
My local library has a sign on the wall. It states that children will forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Imagine how children would feel if they were respected, right from the start. Not as little princes whose every whim is honored, but as little human beings who have dignity and purpose.
In "In Praise of Difficult Children," he brings a ray of hope to any parent or teacher who does not want to give up on any child, but can't seem to make any headway with a certain child either. I love this radical idea... be grateful for the "difficult" boy or girl, they are teaching you a new way to love them.
And in "Material Child," he deals with consumerism. He doesn't cast blame on the children or the parents who are caught in the trap of more-is-better, he points to gratitude and family togetherness as the source of true satisfaction.
I'm grateful to Plough Publishing and Propellor Consulting LLC for providing me with a copy.
A writer whose down-to-earth perspective has helped his books sell more than a million copies in twenty languages, Johann Christoph Arnold offers sound advice on a wide variety of contemporary issues. An outspoken social critic, he has addressed gatherings from Sydney to London and visited hotspots around the globe, including Ireland, Iraq, Chiapas, and Israel/Palestine. His work has also taken him into hospitals, nursing homes, juvenile detention centers, and even to death row.
Born in 1940 to war resisters driven out of Nazi Germany, Johann Christoph Arnold’s parents fled Europe when he was a baby and settled in Paraguay. It was a childhood of dire poverty, but his upbringing gave him a special sensitivity for the downtrodden. At fourteen, he moved to New York, where he has lived ever since. In the 1960s, his interest in the Civil Rights Movement led him to the American South, where he met Martin Luther King Jr. and marched with him. The ensuing friendship was to impact him for life.
A father of eight with more than three dozen grandchildren, Johann Christoph Arnold and his wife, Verena, have always taken a lively interest in children and young people, and in family life. In 1999, in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, they formed Breaking the Cycle, a program of nonviolent conflict resolution that has since been brought into hundreds of schools in the United States and England. Its essential message reflects Gandhi’s famed advice to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Johann Christoph Arnold devotes time almost daily to corresponding with his many readers.