Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
You likely heard the news of unidentified drones at Gatwick and later Heathrow airports last month, forcing delays in flight takeoffs and landings while raising alarm bells for aviation safety monitors. Drones have the potential to wreak havoc but also bring good. Yet good news, we know, rarely makes headlines.
That same week thousands of miles away, health workers successfully deployed drones to deliver vaccines in Vanuatu, a far-flung country of 80 islands in the South Pacific. Twenty percent of Vanuatu’s children have never received vaccines, according to a report in Popular Mechanics, but a drone made possible the first immunizations for 1-month-old Joy Nowai, then others. Her mother otherwise would have had to walk 25 miles to reach a clinic.
As commercial drone companies perfect delivery of blood and medical supplies in Africa and remote areas of the United States, we want to hear these stories along with the threats and downsides.
We journalists can do more than lead with what bleeds. The world that is fallen is also in the midst of redemption, everywhere. Yet cynicism, even despair, easily can rule the day or the home page.
Good news doesn’t have to be trending to be good.
The book of Acts often reads like breaking news, giving us the sensational inside scoop on what happened to the early church following Jesus’ ascension. In detail it tells us who was present at Pentecost, what was said (on and off the record) leading to Stephen’s stoning, how bystanders became instigators, flinging their coats at the feet of some young man named Saul.
In the midst of gory news in Acts comes something unexpected. After the Sanhedrin (the Jews’ Supreme Court in Jerusalem) flogged the apostles, we read in Acts 5:41, they left the council, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” These men tended their wounds and kept right on working.
This kind of upside-down rejoicing is a good pattern for starting a new year, or a new day any day of the year. Not the isolationist’s joy I hear from friends sometimes, who say they don’t watch news anymore, or they read just the headlines. I understand that yearning to retreat, to watch home-improvement episodes or puppy antics. Too much of what passes for U.S. news coverage these days is actually news about news, full of angles instead of straight storytelling on what’s actually happening in the world.
But the upside-down rejoicing the apostles discovered is the deeper resilient joy that comes from cultivating first a realistic awareness of the world, then an appreciation for God at work in it. He orchestrates beauty and redemption in the midst of ugliness and evil. He takes those the world discards and calls them His. He is the kind of God who told Abram at age 99 he would be Abraham, “father of a multitude,” and his wife would bear a son named Isaac, “laughter.”
This God is at this moment raising churches out of squalid refugee camps, sending church leaders in China to prison with rejoicing, giving them songs in the night as He did for Job. It is not always headline work, but often hidden, inconspicuous, and unreported.
At the core of altered perspective we find Jesus ready to train our eyes to see, Jesus who endured, who suffered ultimately but saved abundantly, the pre-eminent resource and example of upside-down joy. This Jesus who conquered the biggest thing, death, also taught us to yearn over the smallest thing, like the one lost coin or the one lost sheep.
The Dutch Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen said, “God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because human pain and suffering have come to an end … but because one of His children who was lost has been found.”
Good news doesn’t have to be trending to be good. Anyone who has held a newborn knows it can be one child, 1 month old, finding new health and new life in faraway Vanuatu because someone made a way to rescue her.