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The power of words

One of the things I like best about living in Farmville is the Virginia Children’s Book Festival that comes our way every year about this time — in fact, it is Oct. 16-18 at Longwood University.

We have been to it several times, usually with our grandchildren. But since the oldest one is in kindergarten now, and they live in Charlotte, I guess we’ll have to go by ourselves.

Which we don’t mind. This event is not just for kids, even with the title. It’s a great learning experience to sit down and listen from these very creative children’s book authors about where they get their ideas from, what they do with them, how they come up with such great books that catch children’s attention so wonderfully. For someone who is as creatively-challenged as I am, any help is a big plus.

For the purposes of this column, these books are not just there to entertain children, or to put them to sleep. There is a lot of good theology in these books. Theology — words about God, words that describe not just who God is but who God is for us. We all have a theology. Some of us have a theology of God as the mean guy in the sky; others of the wimpy being who doesn’t care what we do; some have a theology that lets God be God, the mysterious and awe-filled ‘Other.” God as love, peace and mercy beyond us, yet within us.

Todd Parr portrays in vivid colors the feelings children have, and how they can be a blessing. Victoria and Elizabeth Kann write about “Pinkalicious,” and her brother Peter who see the world through all kinds of bright colors — even if their obsessions with those colors sometimes gets them into trouble. My three-year old grandson’s favorites are books by Sherri Duskey Rinker, especially “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site,” in which inanimate objects take on human characteristics in tucking their little ones to bed, safe and warm. Some of the most creative work has come from African-American writers who open up children’s awareness of how love is shown to all people, of all skin colors and genders and conditions.

That may not seem like much of a devotion — until you remember the words from Proverbs: “Teach a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.” The words we give our children form their development. They shape who they are, and will become. This is especially so in the words we use about God. Do we teach that God is a mean guy to be avoided, placated, or manipulated? Or do we teach that God is beyond our gender or any other barriers? That God is love, that God cares, that God is present, that God understands even when we are mad or do something dumb?

God is in our lives. God is our words. God is in children’s books.

REV. DR. TOM ROBINSON is pastor of Farmville Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at pastorfpc@centuryllink.net or (434) 808-3038.