In his book Bowling Alone, published in 2000, Robert Putnam described the fraying community and social ties in American society, citing declining church attendance; declining voter turnout; and declining participation in labor unions, in civic clubs, in scouting, and in all sorts of community organizations like bowling leagues. He warned that declining engagement with one another jeopardizes the social connections and social resources that we must have in order to solve community problems.
In a new book entitled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Putnam describes the growing divide between children born into families who are able to give them enriching experiences such as reading to them beginning in babyhood and taking them to music, sports, scouts and other opportunities, and children whose families are struggling simply to survive economically He stresses that it’s not just material resources that these children lack. They are missing out on mentoring and the benefits that come from knowing a network of caring adults, and from enriching activities. Along with a good education and good health care, these blessings help children grow up into strong adults. Putnam reminds us that all of these children are OUR children, and we are collectively responsible for them. Faith communities can certainly help address the situation, Putnam notes, especially when it comes to mentoring children. I resonate with Putnam’s call for adults to step forward and be mentors. There is no substitute for having adults show interest in you and want to spend time with you.
I look forward to reading the whole book. Growing up I received so many blessings and was loved and mentored by so many caring adults in my family and church. My husband was similarly blessed. Thanks to our families and our church, my husband and I were able to pass these blessings on to our daughter. God has brought to our church’s attention a whole flock of children that we can share these blessings with, and we are seeking ways to do that. See my recent post on sharing music with little children.
God has also brought to our attention some statistics that cause great concern. We have learned, for example, that within a seven mile radius of our church’s building 37% of households with children are headed by single mothers, and 8% are headed by single fathers, and that adds up to 45%. Moreover, 18% of all households within this radius are subsisting on $15,000 a year or less. It is a varied and challenging community in which to seek God’s call. However we answer the call, it is going to require an investment of our hearts, making friends and building relationships.