I had the opportunity to attend St Charles West's recent graduation ceremony recently (thanks BH for tickets!). Talk about a trip down memory lane (my alma mater) ... but it's not the memories that stuck with me, it was a phrase spoken by a commencement speaker that has me wondering if our changing times are truly a time for change.
A very gifted, very funny, very articulate young woman had the entire gymnasium laughing and appreciating the graduation moment. Near the end of her speech, she made a great point - that, to have the best kind of life possible, we ought to consider how we might "provide happiness" to those around us. It was a great sentiment and sage advice. But I wondered, is this how we all feel about our calling to love each other, that our aim is to "provide happiness"?
The speaker was very good at capturing cultural sentiments, and I think she grabbed an attitude floating in the air these days and gave it definition. It raised a few questions for me:
These questions continue to rattle in my brain. I know that I've approached past service projects with this "provide happiness" assumption. But I think God calls us to something more complete, more real. I think He calls us both to feel and to act. He calls us to have compassion. And I think I need to bring my grade up!
Last week, I polled our group to find out what you might like to talk about. Overwhelmingly, DEPRESSION/ANXIETY received the most attention. So, pull up a chair. Let's talk.
First, let's remember who we are. We are created by God, each of us. We are fearfully made (in other words, with respect and great care). We are wonderfully made. When we were born, we were designed to have reason, will, and emotion. And, however we exercise each of these, we each have God's attention in a unique way.
But, second, let's be honest. Many of us struggle ... to enjoy life, to think before we act, to balance our emotions. And, that's okay, too. Especially because you are learning. Did you know that adolescence is a time in life that is supposed to be emotionally challenging, even overwhelming, at times?
Third, please keep in mind that - no matter your challenge in life - God intends to walk you through it. He doesn't always make our lives easy; but He does always promise His presence. I can't explain why that's the setup, but I'd guess that we need a relationship with Him way more than we need an easy ride in life. I think that's part of what it means to be human.
Finally, I've put together a short list of things to think about. Do you struggle with depression or anxiety? Maybe this list will help you understand the answer to the question In what way? Or, maybe you have a friend or family member who struggles with depression or anxiety? Maybe this list will help you ask the question In what way? In any case, here are a few things to think about ...
Friends, there is nothing more precious than life. Consider that God knit each of us uniquely, and realize that the value of your life cannot be measured by success (or failure) or circumstance (or feeling). Yet, for many reasons, young people today question the value of their life; suicide casts its shadow on nearly every school, family and church in our area.
Take for example, the young man (19) I was able to meet in December at a youth workers' meeting. We had a brilliant conversation about career dreams and serving in his church. And a week later, for reasons unknown, he took his own life. His death shocked ... everyone. To me, he was an acquaintance. To others, he was so much more. Today, he is missed by all. And the loss prompts me to pass along some insightful thoughts.
While none of us can assume responsibility for another's choices, we can all take seriously the relationships which God has granted to us. We can lean into friendships, family and peer networks with sincere concern for those around us. We can ask how each other are. And we can listen closely for hurt that is hidden and unspoken. Please take time to read these 4 posts from Walt Mueller about the warning signs of teen suicide:
If you are ever concerned about someone you know, and you feel you need help or encouragement to reach them, let's talk. Perhaps God has you in their life as a lifeline.
This post is for students. Parents, you are welcomed to read along ...
Well, Christmas is upon us. There are two moments I really enjoy during Christmas. The first is seeing my wife smile at our kids. (That may or may not be relatable.) The second, is discovering a gift - any gift - with my name on it. (I think you know what I'm talking about!)
Consider that God has left two gifts for each of us to discover during the Christmas season. For some of you, Christmas is an eruption of get-together's and reunions. For others, it's a quiet time with little pressure and even less plans. For the rest, there are small spurts of hurry mixed with extended stretches of calm. However your Christmas season paces itself, there are two things you can discover, if you are willing, no matter the situation:
First, discover God. He is "the reason for the season," as the saying goes. Christmas is His story, and that story has been playing out for a long time. There are a lot of ways to stay God-focused during the holiday.
When you discover God and the people He has given to be part of your story, you will discover that you have a purpose and a role to play in each day. And I think that's why many of us (including me!) are tempted to choose mobile-platform distractions. Discovery and purpose require effort and courage. But it's so worth it! So, to discover these gifts, allow me to offer these 4-6 key words of instruction:
Merry Christmas, friends! If you need anything this holiday season, feel free to reach out.
I came across a book that simply must be read. So I want to share it with all of you, who have been checking out this blog.
I consider it a grace that I've heard this author speak publicly about his prior book (which is also excellent), and his track record with Christianity Today certainly lends credibility. What I love most, however, is that Andy Crouch writes with his humanity on his sleeves and begs the question, What do we do with all our technology? Whether you or I realize it or not, we are constantly answering this question. Sometimes we are allowing the tech to answer for us. In other moments of clarity, we are telling our tech how to behave. What kind of moment do you find yourself in, even as you read this blog post?
Without question, our Christian faith (with all its ancient roots) should be informing our tech decisions. Trouble is, while our Christian faith ought to shape our worldview in the same breath that it informs our practices, our Christian culture often attempts to identify best practices and bypass a formative worldview discussion altogether. And this is what The Tech Wise Family excels at - bringing Christian worldview into kitchens, onto couches and into conversation. Crouch's 10 principled, open-ended invitations will invite you into your best practices with firm roots in a Christian understanding of the world.
These 10 principles are developed and elaborated upon fully in the book, but to raise your interest, I pose them here. Whether a student, a parent or a supporter, please consider the wisdom of Crouch's "Ten Tech Wise Commitments" ...
1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
2. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.
4. We wake up before our devices do, and they "go to bed" before we do.
5. We aim for "no screens before double digits" at school and at home.
6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than use them aimlessly and alone.
7. Car time is conversation time.
8. Spouses have one another's passwords, and parents have total access to children's devices.
9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
10. We show up in person for the big events in life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another's arms.
Obviously, there is a lot to think about here. So get the book, and read it. Slowly. And, if you (like me) are craving on ongoing conversation about developing these worldview-informed principles into real practices, comment below. I'll be keeping a tally on who wants to talk more, and I will gladly host the conversation if there's enough interest.
Note: I've had enough conversations with students to know that you will benefit greatly from this book. If you're a student, don't be turned off by the presence of the word family. Your friendships (and families) will be deeper and more rewarding if you learn these principles and take them seriously. Parents of teens, read this book, and invite your young person to read it also; together you can shape, perhaps for the first time, a tech-wise home.
At midweeks this November, we've asked this question -Who is Jesus?
There are a few ways to go about answering the qeustion. A person could list stats (born to Mary, just a few years before 0 AD, in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, etc.) or survey modern prevailing opinions about Jesus' importance (he's inspirational, he's too ancient to be relevant, his adherents are too fanatical to be helpful, etc.).
There is also an ancient path of answering, one that returns to the wrestling of opinions that sprung up in the wake of Jesus' death and resurrection. This path branches into two streams - believers assertions and non-believers presumptions.
This ancient path of believers is important, since the believers were often explaining their conclusions about Jesus in order to both illuminate their conviction and to challenge non-believers' presumptions. Consider also that their path is the closest to the actual history of Jesus' life and ministry. Eyewitness testimony, confirmed narratives and buy-in lend credibility to every assertion they made. What is more, their answer placed value on this question both in their day and ours. Any of the other options for answering the question Who is Jesus? seem to short-circuit into the presumption that the answer only matters in the moment in which the question is asked. As if the way something affects me is the only measurable value in the world! The ancients challenge such narrow thinking, claiming that Jesus forever changed the landscape of human life, whether we see it or not. So, to Scripture we go.
Hebrews 2:14-18. Consider that God, unique and transcending what he created, became man to actually help the human condition. Who is Jesus? He is God become man, fully sympathetic to our difficulty and fully sufficient to help.
Hebrews 4:14-16. A sympathetic, engaged Jesus inspires confidence in us. We recognize that our relationship to God is not only begun in Jesus but also sustained there. Grace and mercy are accessible, so long as Jesus remains the great mediator between God and man.
Hebrews 7:23-28. Jesus changed a tired system into certain confidence. So long as his resurrection holds true, his unique role remains as the mediator between us and God. Our sin is consistently and permanently atoned for, and the mechanism of our relationship with God is now personally orchestrated in the person of Jesus.
So, who is Jesus? He is our sure hope for relationship with our Creator, everywhere and through all times. That is how we answer the question.
I want to direct your intention to a New York Times "Internetting with Amanda Hess" clip. She's talking about a genre of "selfie-improvement" apps. Her article is important for the questions she raises, the assumptions she challenges and the trends she observes. There are a few snapshots of models that highlight the celebrity world of social media, but primarily the video demonstrates how these beauty apps alter the author's own face to appear more ... beautiful?
I strongly recommend watching this with somebody else and then talking about what you hear and see.
I'm grateful for what this is - a timely question that calls us to reconsider what we accept as beauty to behold. As young people forming opinions of the world, it's vitally important to shop in the right market for beauty. While it may not be as trendy, I'd suggest a chair in a church service where God's praise is sung and Scripture is considered to be a great market for discovering beauty. In fact, it just might be the safest place to develop beauty on the planet.
Originally published at www.collaboratestcharles.com's blog on August 1, 2016
Snapchat is, by far, the most trending social media platform among teenagers I know. And, I have to confess, I think it’s great!
Snapchat made a name for itself early on as being unfiltered, unsafe, and undesirable since the whole platform revolves around the idea that a user shares a picture or video which "disappears" after 30 seconds. While there has always been some concern as to where the digital files disappeared to, compared to Facebook this taboo and an invitation to be naughty. But things have changed, I believe.
Compare Snapchat, a peer-to-peer platform, with other networking media (like Facebook or Instagram, for examples) and you will find that Snapchat’s experience has to do with direct peer interaction instead of growing your network. Said differently, on Facebook a user is constantly encouraged to network with more people – just pay attention to the “People You May Know” feed … and realize how many listed there you don’t know! Or Instagram, which thrives on people finding new users and posts on a regular basis. Snapchat, by comparison, only tries to connect you with people already in your contacts. It is a closed network, comparatively. Yet as businesses are beginning to leverage Snap-accounts it's possible the feel of Snapchat will shift over time.
Further, what used to be a concern – that if I lost my mind and sent my friend something personally embarrassing, they could “screenshot” the image and hold it against me (or worse, bully me) indefinitely – has been tweaked with a simple update. Now, if I screenshot your Snap; you are notified by your Snapchat account. I haven’t heard of too many issues since then.
Snapchat has also recently added “My Story” which is a rough-cut way to capture what you experience in a day. Think Facebook Timelines, without the pressure of appearing presentable.
Other features include skins, geo-tags and Snap-cards. Skins add various illustrations to posts. Geo-tags identify your location or activity with a unique image available only in certain locales or during certain times. Snap-cards are relatively new and allow users to tag their posts with information like addresses, contact information, website links, etc. Each of these create layers of complexity to this otherwise simple platform and it keeps people engaged.
The only part of Snapchat that I find lamentable is the ever-growing (and highlighted) commercial news, magazine, and internet-blog driven content on the My Story page. The news slant is heavy, and the entertainment content is mostly internet trends, fashion and food. There has also been a been a rise in sensational and sexualized content. So, if that’s your cup of tea … personally, I like a different flavor.
Yes, I like and use Snapchat. Since everything that comes through your Snapchat feed is from people (or businesses and organizations) you have chosen to include, it follows then that it’s up to me and you to choose our friends wisely? Now there’s a lesson for the ages.
Originally posted at www.collaboratestcharles.com's blog on July 25, 2016, with minor updates here.
Quick Note: I really, really like Instagram. And I also really like being honest about my experiences. You need to know that both of these things are true of me before you read on …
I joined the Instagram community a few years ago. At first, I thought I had some responsibility to be savvy and aware of this rising star among the self-publishing app genre. It didn’t take long, though, until I jumped onto the network just to look at the myriad of pictures. From mountains to four-wheel-drive rigs to MLB snapshots to friends’ travels, Instagram has it all. It’s like channel-surfing, without all the commercials for medication, and at three times the speed!
A FEW FEATURES: One key feature allows every user to “follow” other users who post content they enjoy. The totality of content posted by those you follow shows up in a chronological timeline called “my feed,” and it’s a sweet way to both keep up with interests and/or kill time. Of course, you can also be “followed” and share what you’ve posted with others.
Additionally, users can tailor photos with “filters” that digitally alter the look and feel of a picture, in the same way a digital developer might emphasize warmth or light contrasts. Naturally, Instagram encourages artistic renderings to be developed and shared. You publish and curate your own collection, in a sense.
The third layer to what a user can do with regard to publishing content is twofold: tag other users in your network to directly share the picture with them and/or add hashtags to their descriptions and comments (for examples, #beautiful or #standuptocancer ). These hashtags create a virtual cataloguing system for the total of all photos published by all users on the network. Really, it’s an innovative way to put your ideas or brand out there for others to discover, should you be so inclined.
Fourth, you can “like” photos you find appealing, and other users can do so for yours. This feature is a way of providing feedback to each user, and it is also used to calculate suggestions in the Explore interface (more about that below).
A FEW CAUTIONS: And for all these features, I recommend the app. But I also have to be honest, there has not been a day since I’ve joined Instagram that I don’t encounter this reality, too: photo exposure is built into the system. I’m not talking about developing 35mm film or capturing the starry night’s dazzling rotation; I’m referring to the network’s penchant for allowing others to present objectionable material without warning.
If a person tags you in the comment section of a photo, you will eventually see it. We all have friends who find humor in pictures that are better to be avoided; if you’re on Instagram, prepare to write-off that photo from that friend until you choose to have that conversation.
Or, if you follow the hashtag from a picture you like (say, #capson by MLB from the past month), you’ll see all photos with that same hashtag. User beware, apparently others are warped enough to put objectionable stuff where innocent users will find it.
The third caution I’d offer is the Search/Trending/Explore tab of the interface. If you use search for hashtags the previous warning applies. If you use search for people, I think you’ll be safe though you’ll certainly encounter some interesting characters and there isn’t exactly a rating system to know who stands for what. The Trending part of this interface recently changed, and now grabs video clips the Instagram algorithms think you might like (based on previous people, views and likes in your history). Similarly, the Explore part of this interface is even more confusing, presenting a seemingly endless stream of pictures based on photos you’ve liked, photos you’ve viewed, popular photos and users in your region/nation/world, and similar categories that apply to people in your network.
So note, even if you have the highest morals, when you follow something as morally neutral as a major sports league or like a photo of a mountain taken by a 17 year old cousin, you are subjected in the Explore interface to content that is popular among other followers of the same league or other interests of that same 17 year old family member. Also note, and not with surprise, high morals are in short supply these days. (It seems the reigns of what gets brought into my feed have been recently tightened, but the algorithms should still be understood to be impersonal and amoral, thus not-helpful or mindful.)
Last caution, I promise. The network relies on users to flag objectionable stuff. When you’ve discovered content you would rather avoid, you are now faced with a choice: walk away by navigating to greener pastures or “report” it. To report something requires that you click on the picture thumbnail, which takes you to the posted photo itself, and from there you must select the menu and then “Report” where you also identify why such material is offensive. Did you catch the irony? To flag something objectionable so that others aren’t subjected to it you must first view something objectionable … or cover your eyes and hope you hit the right buttons.
At the end of the day, my impression is that Instagram is designed to expose every user to photos – photos they are looking for and photos that delightfully surprise them. But the network is only as good as its publishers, and sometimes photo exposure produces a darker picture than you logged on to find. For this reason, please be very careful about encouraging young users, assume that all users carry some amount of shame for content they’ve encountered, and bring it all into the light of Jesus Christ – where every experience is fully developed.
Originally posted at www.collaboratestcharles.com's blog on July 18, 2016)
There is an interesting, albeit ironic, dynamic that accompanies social media use. On the one hand, most social media networks and interfaces are driving toward intuitive controls, publishing tools, and response mechanisms; it’s all made to work without the need of a help file. On the other hand, many social media users engage in ways that are counter-intuitive at some points. Tired from busy weeks, many stay awake too late engaged with their networks. Or “tired of drama” (as the cliché goes), who hasn’t observed a friend become an accomplice in the “drama” while posting online? What is more, many very good people exist in online spheres that will undoubtedly confront them with R- and X-rated material because others on the same network lack regard for what is appropriate. Does this sound intuitive to you?
I’ve been fortunate to have conversations with both teens and adults recently, and what strikes me is that these ironies aren’t lost on anybody, though each handles it differently. Adults in my circle seem to view such ironies as cautions to be thoughtfully addressed or reasons to avoid social spheres entirely, while the teens I’m graced to know tend to view these ironies as oversimplifications of a complicated social atmosphere. Apparently irony isn’t a reason to vacate a social network. Instead, these ironies are construed as opportunities to own your brand, so to speak.
I have to say, I appreciate both perspectives. On the one hand, viewing the apparent irony in a negative light leads to avoiding self-inflicted wounds and seems obvious. Yet, on the other hand, perhaps there is value in approaching such ironies with a positive eye for opportunity. Especially in Christian circles where we encourage one another to be light in dark places and salt among tasteless palettes, maybe we belong in the middle of such irony. Maybe it’s best to not judge what is apparently muddled and look for what is providential. Maybe that is our brand.
Which brings me to a point of commitment: if there’s one thing I know about every adult (including myself) and every teen I’ve chatted with, it’s that we’re lousy providence sleuths apart from the wisdom that grounds itself in the fear of the Lord. As in every generation, it is apparent we need that most.
The Fall Retreat is a weekend getaway for students in grades 7-12. We focus on community, Christianity and food! But, the real question, why are Retreats so awesome?
When I graduated at the turn of the century and received my first cell phone, texting was too expensive to be useful, phone calls were limited to 300 minutes per month, and the internet was still a novel innovation. My how things change! Today's teens are sometimes referred to as digital natives by those inclined to reach for labels. They swim in the fabric of a connected world, for better or worse.
As trends continue to evolve and cultural shifts impact young people, I've been grateful for the work of the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding. One way they're constantly helpful is via their Digital Kids Initiative. I'd encourage you to take a look at their downloadable resources page here.
Digital technology represents every opportunity from self-publishing to global communication, and every challenge from silent bullying to hidden addictions. In my opinion, our current social narrative is inadequate - the news points too quickly at problems without taking time to foster solutions, online media itself is rarely aware of its own footprint, users often wish they could disconnect and non-users feel concerned they ought to be connected - and rarely clamors to healthy perspectives. That's why I think that students and parents, alike, would each do well to be informed, aware and personally proactive. So, whether a digital migrant or native, check out the Digital Kids Initiative today!
(click the image to jump to the DigitalKidsInitiative.com website)
To open our midweek worship gatherings, we've been focusing on fish ... a fish, THE fish. Which fish, you ask?
THAT fish. The one in the middle of our group's logo. The one that reminds us what we're all about.
A long time ago (think 2nd century), Christians began to use the symbol of a fish to identify themselves, sometimes to discover each other (drawn in the dirt) and sometimes to declare that death doesn't win (drawn on tombs). It's a fitting symbol, when one considers how often fish pop-up in the Gospel stories. They are a roll-player all to themselves, witnesses to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The word "fish" is also interesting, in it's own right. In Greek, "fish" is IXTHUS (pronounced ick-thus), and easily forms a Greek acrostic for Iesus Xristos THeos Uios Soter (directly translated: "Jesus Christ Son of God Savior"). So it is that fish becomes wildly relevant to our conversation ... and our logo.
This year, we want to emphasize Jesus. We are talking about knowing, following and sharing our Jesus - our Son of God, our Savior - and little else. Well, that's not accurate ... we'll talk about a LOT else, but it will all come back to this single, fishy character that has the ability to transform our lives.
So, don't delay! Follow that fish!
Last night, at our midweek gathering, we completed our third week of back-to-school games. Granted, our first week was rained out, but we still had fun that night and each one following. To recount, last week we played Sock Wars (an un-wholly, pun intended) version of Dodge Ball, and last night we played Gaga Ball (a game which a friend of mine lovingly refers to as "middle school fight club"). It's been fun to mix as a group of 7-12 grade students, forgetting life for a minute and hurling objects at each other. But here's what I love most ...
Each game for the start of this year was chosen by our 7th grade class. Those who were part of VBS this past summer participated in their first ever Activity Team that week. And I think they rocked it! Each game they picked was first brainstormed, then prioritized, then planned and executed. Final analysis - great choices, and great fun!
So, start the slow clap for our 7th grade students. They're not only with us, they are us!
Sunday Mornings At Church (SMAC) is important time together. A lot of Sundays, we take a look at the Bible, or talk through some aspect of Christian life that's on our minds. But one thing we intend to get better about this school year is getting our hands dirty. In other words, where in the past we would talk about serving others and being generous with our time and attention, now we are planning projects that serve, are generous, and benefit others.
Our first event is a zero-entry (meaning you do not have to have any previous experience or skills to participate) project called Meals for a Million. Many in our community are participating; it's been advertised on JoyFM, for starters. Basically, we're packing as many meals as we can in 2-hours worth of time. Should be fun!
If you haven't signed up yet, here are some basic details you'll need to know:
Students & Families, the greatest day so far is coming THIS SUNDAY! August 27 is filled full with great opportunities!! Here's what you need to know:
Our Sr High students investigated and planned this day, and both Jr & Sr High are getting involved. At SMAC, we're active in regard to our faith ... one could say we're even SMAC-tive, lol.
Why are we Better Together? There are two reasons ...
Check Facebook Events on our page for more event details.
We're trying something new this schoolyear - a blog for communicating more. What is more? That's a great question, and I'm certain you can help me define more. Right now, I'm assuming that more will include:
Thanks for your feedback,