Editor’s note: The following is the sermon I gave at my church on Sunday, April 22. During the sermon, the congregation was given a hand out with some questions with the intent of helping them better absorb the message. At certain points you will see that I pause to ask them to answer those questions.
Learning to read in 1953 was pretty rough going.
Yes, learning to read then would have been horribly, tragically, ferociously, boring.
The stories were plain
And the pictures were lame
And the books’ only characters were Dick and Jane.
All right. I’m good now. Sorry about that, but you have no idea how tempted I was to write this entire sermon in rhyme. Seriously.
Moving on. Yes, learning to read in 1953 would have in fact been about as much fun as trying to zip your jeans after our church’s Thanksgiving potluck. That’s because 1953 was before Theodor Geisel wrote his first beginner’s book.
That didn’t happen until at least a year later.
The story of that book starts in May 1954, when John Hersey wrote a Life Magazine article titled, “Why do students bog down on the First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading.”
In the article, Hersey was critical of the stories being used to teach reading to children. He said the tales were boring and lack imagination.
After the article ran, a man named William Ellsworth Spaulding, a publishing executive, had an idea. And so, he invited his friend Theodor to dinner. As the story goes, during the dinner Spaulding proposed that Ted write and illustrate a book for six- and seven-year olds who had already mastered the basic mechanics of reading.
“Write me a story that first-graders can’t put down!” Spaulding challenged.
Then, Spaulding supplied Theodor with a list of 348 words every six year old should know, and insisted that the book’s vocabulary be limited to 225 words.
Theodor took the challenge and wrote The Cat in the Hat, under his pen name, Dr. Seuss. The book used 223 words that appeared on the list plus 13 words that did not.
It was described as a tour de force by some reviewers, because it retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Theodor’s earlier works, but because of its simplified vocabulary, it could be read by beginning readers.
As you probably know, Geisel went on to write many other children’s books, both in his new simplified-vocabulary manner (sold as Beginner Books) and in his older, more elaborate style. The Beginner Books never came easy for Geisel though and, like the Cat in the Hat, they all reportedly took him months to complete.
However, it’s not an exaggeration to say that his work changed the world. Or at least the world of first-grade classrooms across America. Because he cared a whole awful lot, he created works that taught generations of children to read about foxes in boxes, red fish, blue fish, and green eggs and ham.
How many of you remember reading a Dr. Seuss book when you were younger? OK, real quick, I want you to turn to the person next to you and tell them what your favorite Dr. Seuss book is and why.
Personally, I remember reading Green Eggs and Ham over and over and over and over and over and over in first grade. I was pro at that book.
Not on a train! Not in a tree!
Not in a car! Sam! Let me be!
I would not, could not, in a box.
I could not, would not, with a fox.
I will not eat them with a mouse
I will not eat them in a house.
I will not eat them here or there.
I will not eat them anywhere.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am!
He’s got quite a list of titles, doesn’t he? In fact, he actually wrote 46 children’s books during his lifetime.
For me today, it was his story about Truffula Trees, a Once-ler and a Lorax that inspired this message.
In the book The Lorax, Dr. Seuss tells the story of a Once-ler who discovers he can make a lot of money selling Thneeds made from Truffula Trees. And so, the Once-ler starts cutting down all the Truffula Trees for profit. But as he’s doing this, The Lorax, who speaks for the trees, keeps trying to warn to him to stop because it’s causing so much damage.
Sadly, the Once-ler does not listen to the Lorax, and eventually he and his family cut down every single Truffula Tree. The Lorax leaves and the forest is left desolate.
As the Once-ler explains:
“And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
was a small pile of rocks, with one word…
Whatever that meant, well, I just couldn’t guess.”
It wouldn’t be a Dr. Seuss story though if it ended on such a gloomy note. And of course, it doesn’t. (more…)
So, I was up until 2 a.m. last night putting final touches on the gift baskets that will be auctioned off tonight at the youth group fundraiser.
I’m really excited about the fundraiser, (Shameless plug: Mission trip fundraiser 6-9 p.m. at bd’s Mongolian Grill in Bolingbrook tonight will feature myself, my awesome pastor and the our wonderful youth helper-outer grilling for tips. And, also, of course, the silent auction baskets. Please come!)
There are nine baskets and I put 8 of them together with help from my little sister and a wonderful student in our youth group. I did not ask for donations or help from adults because I’m on the brink time-management wise and I seriously did not have one ounce of one minutes to go around asking people for things only to be rejected by a solid 65% of them. So I made the infamous rookie leader mistake and took control of the task myself.
I know. I’m dumb.
So now, I’m at work (on lunch) and really tired. Because, even with the help from my little sister and a wonderful youth student, there were still hours worth of work that had to be done last night before the event. You don’t think making bid sheets, little name cards along with corresponding envelopes for the baskets, and figuring out what to do with the last 11 items that don’t match at all will be hard or time consuming until you spend four hours on it.
The thing is, I promise you I did not have four hours to spend on it until 10 p.m. last night.
I can feel myself being overcome with exhaustion because I’m starting to get mad in my head at inanimate objects. I feel the urge to yell at the top of my lungs at my cell phone when it doesn’t load DrawSomething right, and to scream at my car when the doors don’t unlock the split second I press the key chain button, and to throw a complete tantrum when my towel gets stuck as I try to pull it off the towel holder after my shower.
Really, the problem is that I also was up until 2 a.m. Saturday night trying to get my youth group lessons finished. I got stuck because my DVD conversion program was randomly converting an MP4 file I needed upside down and backward and the whole internet world did not seem to contain the cause for such craziness, much less a solution.
So I was up half the night messing computer programs that people with my skill set probably shouldn’t even be downloading on to their computer for fear of viruses, all in an attempt to show a 5 minutes and 39 second sand-art video of the Resurrection story.
I finally got the thing to play correctly on a DVD at 7:30 a.m., after I woke at 6 a.m., prayed a bunch and worked at it again. Take that Satan.
You’ll probably all, “Crystal, um maybe you should have started working on the youth lesson sooner so you wouldn’t have these problems.”
But again, I promise you with all my heart that I did not have time before Saturday night to finalize the lesson plans. You’ll have to take my word for it regarding the weekdays, but to illustrate the craziness that was my Saturday, here’s what my scheduled looked like:
8 a.m.: Got my taxes done. Yay because I got them prepared for free at my best friend’s job, which offers tax prep services. But boo because I own the federal government $467 dollars because having two jobs effs up your withholdings.
9 a.m.: Skype conference call for a Christian board I serve on. I had hoped to participate using my new web cam, but A. I did not get done with my tax appointment on time, so I had to take the call on my cell and then try to focus on the meeting without making too much noise with my turn signal and B. Even when I did get to my house and switch over to my computer, I realized that group video chat is different than normal video chat and you have to pay for it, so I still couldn’t use my webcam.
11:30 a.m.: Doctor’s appointment in Joliet.
Post doctor’s appointment until 5 p.m.: Finish buying all the random things I needed for the aforementioned silent auction baskets.
5:30 p.m.: Leave for a (really awesome and fun!!!) event at my church.
9:30 p.m.: Finally sit down to finish my youth group lessons.
And, just like making silent auction baskets, putting final touches on lesson plans is the kind of task you don’t think should take very long, and then you look up and you’ve spent seven hours doing it.
I will tell you that putting in the extra effort on the youth lesson was totally worth it, and that the group is doing so amazing right now and that lately there’s been a lot of fruit (in the Biblical sense) and that the kids seem to really be understanding things in new ways and by extension, I’m learning to understand things in new ways and it’s so wonderful that I truly can’t understand why the whole world isn’t a youth leader.
And I will also tell you that fundraising for mission trips is more than worth it because mission trips are little pockets of time where you and everyone with you is somehow able to physically touch the holy spirit and nothing is more amazing.
But I will also tell you that I’m giving the sermon at church this weekend (approx prep time needed: 40 hours total) and that I have to plan a night lesson for next Sunday night and that our youth group is changing rooms and has to be out by next week and so I have to somehow find time before Sunday to take care of that and that, really, I’m just extremely tired.
And when I close my eyes to pray over my lunch, I will mostly likely fall asleep for 10 seconds.
I just hope Heaven is the kind of place where no matter what you do, you always feel like you’ve had a full night’s sleep.
Editor’s note: This is the prayer I wrote for the Easter services at my church.
Today we remember your grace, mercy and love.
We remember your son, who you sent as our dove.
We reflect on the suffering he endured for our debt.
It’s gift that we pray we will never we forget.
Because we understand that our debt was substantial.
And we pray we will always be humbly grateful.
Jesus hung on the cross, and bleed for our sin.
He was beaten, and tortured and endured wounds on his skin.
But, the story, we know, didn’t end with the grave.
Instead, your son, the whole world he did save.
Through his resurrection, we gained access to eternal existence.
And suddenly your presence wasn’t at a great distance.
Jesus offered us all true unity with you.
And gave us a chance to each be made new.
So we rejoice, and shout: He is risen!
We are no longer bound by sin’s mighty prison!
But we also know that this world is still broken.
And that many have not yet heard the good news that’s been spoken.
So, we pray for the sick, the poor and the sad.
We pray for the lonely, the hungry, the mad.
We pray for the people who need it the most.
That they might be touched by your holy ghost.
We also, today, pray for the people who don’t think they need it all.
We know that prayer’s need is never that small.
And we pray for those who are still in the dark.
We ask that you’ll help them see your wrists, feel your marks.
Lord, we ask that they too can tap into your peace.
And truly understand that your love does not cease.
We pray that, like your son, we can be a light in the night.
We pray that as followers, we can shine even 1/100th as bright.
And, we ask all these things in Jesus’ name.
Because after He rose, everything changed.