Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Voice. . . And What It Said. . .

I was a casual observer of "The Voice," the NBC singing competition that - in my opinion - was much more engaging and fun than "American Idol." If you followed the show, you know that Javier Colon was crowned "the voice" on last night's show. I caught the final moment thanks to some timely channel flipping. I'll admit it. . . the Phillies/Red Sox game was just a little more important to me last night.

So let me clarify why I think "The Voice" was a little more engaging and fun than the other show. There was the involvement of the coaches. The personalities had a chance to blossom and bloom. The production was better. Again, just my opinion. But these are a few of the reasons why I found the concept fascinating.

There was, however, a down side. If you watched "The Voice" from a posture of Christian critique you may have noticed the show's edge. I'm not a prude, but "The Voice" is a great example of a cultural piece that both reflects and directs - or mirrors and maps - life in today's world. Things were said, done, and sung that were quite telling. These are things we should be seeking to see and hear so that we are better equipped to say, do, and sing the Kingdom of God in ways that truly engage the culture and its confused commitments. This is our missionary task.

If you're a person who takes this task and calling seriously, I would encourage you to make it a priority to get your kids - who see and hear what's said, done, and sung as nothing but normal - to think critically and Christianly. Engage them in thoughtful conversation where "The Voice" is filtered through the lens of God's Word. Teach them to celebrate the good. Teach them to prophetically challenge that which is not good.

Need a starting point? My channel-surfing two nights ago took me back to "The Voice" and it's second-to-last show between innings of the Phillies/Red Sox. I got stuck on "The Voice" and Pitbull and Ne-Yo's performance of "Give Me Everything" - currently the #2 song on the Billboard charts. Telling. Remember, it maps out life for viewers and mirrors life in our culture as it already is. You can watch it below. I've included the lyrics beneath the embedded video. Do we have anything at all to say, sing, or do in response?

Me not working hard?
Yea, right! Picture that with a Kodak
Or, better yet, go to Times Square
Take a picture of me with a kodak
Took my life from negative to positive

I just want y'all know that
And tonight, let's enjoy life
Pitbull, Nayer, Ne-Yo
Tell us right

Tonight I want all of you tonight
Give me everything tonight
For all we know we might not get tomorrow
Let's do it tonight

Don't care what they say
All the games they play
Nothing is enough
'Til they handle love

Let's do it tonight

I want you tonight,
I want you to stay
I want you tonight

Grab somebody sexy, tell 'em hey
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight

[Verse 1: Pitbull]
Take advantage of tonight
Cause tomorrow I'm also doin' bad
Perform for a princess
But tonight, I can make you my queen
And make love to you endless
This is insane: the way the name growin'
Money keep flowin'
Hustlers move aside
So, I'm tiptoein', to keep flowin'
I got it locked up like Lindsay Lohan

Put it on my life, baby,
I make you feel right, baby
Can't promise tomorrow
But, I promise tonight

[Pre-Chorus: Pitbull]
Excuse me
And I might drink a little more than I should tonight
And I might take you home with me, if I could tonight
And, baby, Ima make you feel so good, tonight
Cause we might not get tomorrow

Tonight I want all of you tonight
Give me everything tonight
For all we know we might not get tomorrow
Let's do it tonight

Don't care what they say
Or what games they play
Nothing is enough
'Til they handle love

Let's do it tonight

I want you tonight, I want you to stay
I want you tonight

Grab somebody sexy, tell 'em hey
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight

[Verse 2: Pitbull]
Reach for the stars
And if you don't grab 'em,
At least you'll fall on top of the world
Think about it
Cuz if you slip,
I'm gon' fall on top yo girl (hahaa)
What I'm involved with
Is deeper than the masons
Baby, baby, and it ain't no secret
My family's from Cuba
But I'm an American Idol
Get money like Seacrest

Put it on my life, baby
I make you feel right, baby
Can't promise tomorrow
But, I promise tonight

[Pre-Chorus: Pitbull]
Excuse me
But I might drink a little bit more than I should tonight
And I might take you home with me if I could tonight
And baby imma make you feel so goof tonight
Cause we might not get tomorrow

Tonight I want all of you tonight
Give me everything tonight
For all we know, we might not get tomorrow
Let's do it tonight

Don't care what they say
All the games they play
Nothing is enough
'Til they handle love

Let's do it tonight

I want you tonight, I want you to stay
I want you tonight

Grab somebody sexy, tell 'em hey
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight

[Outro: Pitbull]
Excuse me
But I might drink a little bit more than I should tonight
And I might take you home with me if I could tonight
And imma make you feel so good tonight
Cause we might not get tomorrow

Monday, June 27, 2011

Yes, I Shock The Dog. . . .

I know the folks from PETA probably don't like them, but I'm a big fan of the electric dog fence. I bought and installed mine about 16 years ago when we welcomed a big, beautiful Golden Retriever pup into the family. It quickly became clear that Tucker believed he was destined to be the alpha dog in the pack known as the Mueller family. What ensued was a battle between Tucker and me for alpha dog prominence. Sure he was beautiful, lovable, and a joy-of-a-dog. His relationship with my then young son Nate was like something out of a Disney movie. Those two loved each other.

But Tucker loved to do his own thing and run. . . which always led to moments - that sometimes stretched into hours - of panic as we chased, waited, chased, and waited for him to come home. On several occasions he crossed busy streets. . . and made it. At other times he would disappear for hours and then come home covered in burrs and all sorts of smelly stuff clumped in his fur as a result of his roll-dujour.

Eventually, I sprung for the electric fence thanks to a half off sale at K-Mart. After burying almost 600 feet of wire around the perimeter of our yard, I loaded the batteries into Tucker's new shock collar. (Hint for installers - DON'T stand directly over the wire while you're putting the battery in with the fence turned on and the contact prongs pressed firmly into the palm of your hand!) After a few days of training, Tucker was now able to run free in the yard while staying within the boundaries, a good thing since when we had to tie him out he would pass time and eliminate canine boredom by digging holes that almost reached the water table. Our life had become a routine of chase the dog and fill the holes.

The sad ending came when Tucker finally figured out that he wanted to break the boundaries we had established for him and roam beyond the safe confines of our yard. Yep, he started bolting through the shock and disappearing for hours. When we finally had to put him down at the age of 5, we were heartbroken. He had run one too many times and gotten into some poison at a local farm, and it was killing him.

Eight years ago - after a couple of years without a dog - we got Sully the Cockapoo. He's a great dog. Because we had the fence already installed, the shock receiver went on Sully's collar and he was quickly trained to stay in our yard. Last weekend, a neighbor called to tell me that Sully was in her yard. Hmmm. I changed the battery in his collar. The next day, he took off beyond the boundaries and went up the street. Hmmm. Maybe it's not the battery. After doing some diagnostics, I discovered the old wire was most likely broken. Since I couldn't locate the break, I decided to install a new wire. Lisa and I worked for a few hours to bury the new wire and it's all good again. Sully is sticking around. He knows where to go to stay safe. He knows where not to go to avoid the shock.

Last night as I was laying in bed thinking about my dogs and how much we've loved and enjoyed them, I was thankful for the invention of the electric fence. What a great thing! Sorry PETA. We can keep an eye on Sully once again. We love him and we don't want him to wander. We want him to flourish in this little kingdom known as our yard. We want him to be safe. We don't want him to get hurt, run over by a car, or destroyed by poison. So, we've established boundaries. And when he leaves them. . . well, we worry and fret. . . and, we go looking for him. . . all of us. . . calling his name and hoping he'll come home.

And then I was thankful for the truth, guidelines, and boundaries that God has given to me. They are for my good. They flow from his grace, mercy, and love. It is within those boundaries that I can know true freedom. That's where I can flourish. Still, I try to break the boundaries and run, thinking that I know better. And when I do, he comes after me.

Sully's collar isn't an instrument of torture. It's a sign of our love.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Christian Celebrity. . . Good? Bad? Both?

Just got an email asking me to write a short piece on the pros and cons of Christian Celebrity. Yep, we're a celebrity-obsessed culture and that celebrity-obsession is certainly a big part of life in the church culture. We've got our big-time Christian celebrities. We've got our local celebrities who pastor churches. And we've got a growing number of people marketing and "branding" themselves as they jockey to build a following.

The editor wants me to write on the pros and the cons. I sat down this morning and started to jot out a list. Very quickly, the page filled up. . . and everything on the page was a con. I can't think of one pro. Am I missing something? Has my cynicism blinded me to anything redeemable related to Christian celebrity?

So. . . I need some help. Some input. Some insight. Maybe even some correction. Weigh in. . .

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reality and Ruin. . . .

Yesterday, I finished reading Prophetically Incorrect: A Christian Introduction to Media Criticism, by Robert H. Woods Jr. and Paul D. Patton. Simply stated. . . a great book on thinking critically, Christianly, and prophetically about media form and content and the role it all plays in our lives. Yesterday, I also sat for three hours talking to two pastor friends. During the course of our conversation, one lamented the role that reality television is increasingly playing in our culture. At one point during the conversation I mentioned that I think reality TV is ruining people. . . both the people who seek self-exploitation by showing their "real" selves to the world, and the people willingly exploited by watching the stuff.

This morning I was reminded of the prophetic, common-sense warnings issued by David Elkind almost 30 years ago - in his books The Hurried Child and All Grown Up and No Place to Go - when I encountered the video clip embedded below. . . a video clip from that creepy reality show "Toddlers and Tiaras." This one offers a look into what reality TV and a self-obsessed and misdirected mother are doing to young Eden Wood.

When I tracked the clip down on YouTube I couldn't help but notice the first comment posted beneath the video: "This is some sick sh__!" Agreed.

In their book, Woods and Patton say this about media: "Mass media in consumer-driven, market-oriented economies play a priestly rather than prophetic role in an attempt to attract audiences for advertisers by mainly reinforcing rather than challenging a culture's dominant consciousness. We argue that North America's dominant conciousness is characterized by an ethos of consumerism. Given this priestly function, popular media function like churches, insofar as they connect people with stories that reflect what they believe." They go on to define our prophetic role as followers of Jesus who are willing to confront the errors and injustices of the dominant consciousness, stuff that we are mostly numb to. They write, "What cuts through the numbness is our courageous willingness to embrace the negative or talk about what is wrong with the world. The embrace of all that is wrong with the world brings one face-to-face with all that humanity (and one's self) is capable of. The embrace illuminates in striking ways the consequences of humanity's (and one's own) greed and arrogance. . . . In brief, becoming burdened by embracing the negative is the necessary catalyst for criticism and redemptive change."

Sadly, that's not a practice that marks the contemporary American church. Rather, we're eating all this reality-stuff up just like everyone else. And while we sit front and center watching the ruin of reality stars, we're also ruining our selves.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What Have We Become??? . . . .

When I'd want to get my youth group kids to stand back and really take a critical look at something that was a big part of their lives, I would invite them into a little exercise that could have been called "alien ethnography." I would encourage them to see the all-too-familiar in a new way by asking them to step out of their cultural selves, become inhabitants of another planet, and then "land" in the midst of themselves to observe, record, and process what they encounter. Weird. I know. But it was helpful.

Sometimes we need to step back, sacrifice our subjective attachments and ignorance, and take a long hard look at where we've come from, who we are, and where we're going. Now that we're swimming in a relatively new and uncharted ocean of reality TV, voyeurism, and celebrity-worship, I think it's good to climb out of the water to take a look at how the water we've been swimming in is shriveling our selves.

Brian Williams ushered us into an alien ethnography of sorts last Friday night with introduction of the report on what's happening with our cultural obsession over the Anthony trial. I'm not following what's happening in Orlando, nor do I want to. But I couldn't let this one pass.

So, separate yourself out and land in the midst of this report. Give it a good look. It offers a short and discouraging peek into what we've become.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Heartbreaking. . . .

I was in college when one of my buddies said something to me that captured a universal truth in a way that I had never considered it before: "We're all worshippers. We all worship something. We've been born to worship. . . and worship we will." Some of us make a conscious choice of worship object, and we build our lives around that. Others wind up worshipping something without giving it all much thought. It just happens. In one way or another we all - as Dylan once sang - "got to serve somebody."

Earlier this week, Tim Challies posted a little video that captures our worshipful nature and the strange twists and turns it can all take in our contemporary world. This one features a talk by Jim Gilliam entitled "The Internet is My Religion," which Gilliam gave at the Personal Democracy Forum 2011. It is passionate, it is pointed, and it is heart-breaking.

Watch live streaming video from pdf2011 at

This little clip packs a powerful punch with loads of thought catalysts and talking points. For me, Gilliam's odyssey and honesty spark sadness, compassion, and loads of questions. Gilliam's message is for the church. It should make us think deeply about how we do things and where we fall short. I would love to hear more from Gilliam about his upbringing, his church experience, and the things that left a sour taste in his mouth. Gilliam's message offers insight into how people are thinking, living, and worshipping in this rapidly changing world of ours.

This is one worth talking about.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rewarding? . . . Really? . . . .

Just like I wondered how my Dad ever survived a childhood without television, my kids wonder the same about my early years spent in the tech-free desert of the stone-age period known to them as the 60s and 70s. Technological advances have occasioned the notion - once more - that previous generations lived in relative existential squalor compared to the blessings, advantages, and rewards of being born when we were born.

Sure, the presence of the Internet, digital media, and social networking are things we only dreamed about or didn't even have the capacity to imagine. It's all some pretty remarkable stuff that we use to great advantage. But lately, I've been exploring the dark side of it all. There's the highly publicized dark side that includes things like pornography, Internet gambling, etc. But what I'm talking about here is the more hidden dark side that we typically miss. Ironically, when we miss it, we're usually right there in the midst of it.

Nicholas Carr offers a compelling and interesting analysis of some of these dark corners in his well-written book, The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains. He says that the Internet "provides a high-speed system for delivering responses and rewards - 'positive reinforcements,' in psychological terms - which encourage the repetition of both physical and mental actions. . . the Net's interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others." True, very true. But then Carr writes this. . . and it really got me thinking: "It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment." Wow. Again. . . true. . . very true.

I wonder how nourishing many of those pellets really are? I think that much of what we obsessively press levers for is little more than pellets of crap. Seriously. This happens when our dark sides take us into the dark side and again, we don't even know it. . . . or at the very least we fool ourselves into thinking that it's really not all that bad.

Once again, it's helpful to heed lessons from Anthony Weiner, who I think we should see as the poster boy for where we're headed as a culture, as communities, and as ourselves if we don't think more seriously about these matters and how they relate to our faith. I'm also aware that Weiner might not be the poster boy for where we're headed, but the poster boy for where we already live.

This morning, the New York Times' Ross Douthat has an op-ed piece that's pretty doggone insightful and thought-provoking on these things. It's worth a few minutes of your time. Douthat says that yes, "technology really does affect character. Cultures do change from era to era, sometimes for the worse. Particular vices can be encouraged by particular innovations, and thrive in the new worlds they create." Douthat goes on to say that it isn't smut, lust or infidelity that's the Internet era's defining vice. Rather, "it's a desperate, adolescent narcissism." And so, many of the grown-ups we know (ourselves?) who should know better, are still acting like a bunch of self-absorbed kids.

I like how Douthat ends his piece: "Facebook and Twitter did not forge the culture of narcissism. But they serve as a hall of mirrors in which it flourishes as never before - a 'vast virtual gallery' . . . whose self-portaits mainly testify to 'the timeless human desire for attention.' And as Anthony Weiner just found out, it's very easy to get lost in there."

Maybe some of the things we've been lulled into thinking are rewards and blessings, are really only curses. That's all the more reason to think Christianly about technology and social media. Keep using it all. . . but let your faithful thinking guide and direct faithful living in the digital frontier.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Internet Infidelity. . . .

The Anthony Weiner drama continues to unfold. While some are saying the story needs to simply go away, I disagree. It's a story that needs to stay, be deconstructed, and be pondered as it's really a story about the convergence of fallen human nature, new technologies, and issues we all must face and address in our own lives. It's a story about things here now and a story about the shape of things to come. How we respond to this story today will shape whether or not these same issues are even story-worthy in the future.

Our Lancaster, PA Sunday News ran this headline on the front-page a couple of days ago: "Internet infidelity?" Reporter Suzanne Cassidy sought answers to the question as our culture debates whether or not Weiner's actions constitute cheating or adultery. After all, Weiner never met, touched, or had intimate physical contact with any of the females who received his sexually explicit photos and messages.

We live in a day and age when those who still believe moral absolutes and standards exist often times wonder "how far is too far?" Our inclination to indulge ourselves while still recognizing that there are fences and boundaries turns us into "moral surveyors" who set stakes which mark boundaries that we then walk up to and never cross. . . assuming all the while that if we can somehow discipline ourselves to keep from crossing that one millimeter wide threshold. . . well, we're still safe. Those of us who grew up in the church debated and discussed those lines as they pertained to sexuality all the time. As a youth pastor, I overhead and stepped into those discussions on a regular basis. I'm now convinced that for both myself and for my students, we were nobly seeking to combine obedience and faithfulness to God, with the overwhelming urges we were feeling and wanting to indulge. Bad news about it all is this - this ethical jockeying didn't end with our last day in adolescence.

So, we still play these games on a number of fronts. I'm guessing Anthony Weiner knew that he was playing with fire, but he was being very, very careful with the matches. His story, however, reminds us that we shouldn't even be playing with matches.

Suzanne Cassidy's article offers some tremendous insights from the folks she interviewed. One local marriage and family therapist, Joan Sherman, said this - "If you have to hide what you're doing from your spouse, it's probably cheating." Agreed.

I recently penned an article for Youthworker Journal on emotional affairs. My intent was to warn youth workers for the simple reason that they are very, very susceptible, especially in a day and age when we have the ability to connect to others in quiet and hidden ways via technology.

Several months ago a friend told me the sad story of having to deal with a sibling who pursued an emotional affair. It was devastating to an ever-widening circle of people, starting with those closest. Nobody won. Another told me an identical story and then asked me if I had read Dave Carder's book, Torn Asunder: Recovering From An Extramarital Affair. I had never even heard of the book. Still, looking ahead to a world where this kind of stuff was sure to be even more widespread, I ordered the book. It's arrival turned the heads of my kids. . . understood. . . but their seeing the book afforded me the opportunity to seize the teachable moment and offer some warnings about universal temptations that they would most certainly have to face at some time in their lives. Better to recognize that fact and prepare now, rather than having to try to muster up a God-honoring response when you find yourself stuck in a situation with your defenses running on fumes.

I went right to the chapter on emotional affairs that had been recommended by my friend. My friend also told me that in processing his sibling's journey that he had learned and seen that emotional affairs can be far more dangerous and damaging than a sexual affair or one-night-stand for the simple reason that a person's emotions are wrapped up and around what's happening. I had never thought about that before, but it makes total sense. In conversing about Anthony Weiner last evening, my daughter-in-law mentioned that she had once seen the results of a survey which indicated that married women would rather hear that their husband engaged in a one-night stand over and against hearing that he had been having coffee with his secretary. I'm not sure you can really rank the two, but the fact is that both are really damaging, dangerous, and wrong.

Let me pass on a couple of recommendations. First, I would recommend Dave Carder's book, Torn Asunder. And, I would recommend it to everybody. Okay, I know. . . the subtitle says it's about "recovering from an extramarital affair." But books like these are helpful for us all. I find it to be very helpful to learn as much as a I can about dangerous roads people have traveled as an exercise that God uses in my life for preventive purposes. You learn some great guidelines for what to do and what not to do.

Second, I would grapple with, ponder, and enlist some technology-use strategies recommended by Tim Challies in his book The Next Story. Tim writes, "Be visible; be accountable; be real; be mature. And always distrust yourself. It may sound harsh, but be willing to doubt your motives, your heart."

My name's not Anthony Weiner. But he and I suffer from the same disease. We all do. Which is why we need to stay away from the matches.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Do You Own Your iPhone. . . Or Does Your iPhone Own You? . . .

All this month I've been hunkered down doing research for our new "Digital Kids Initiative" here at CPYU. It's our attempt to think Christianly about this brave new digital world that didn't exist just a few short years ago. What is it? Where did it come from? How are we living in it? What is it doing to us? What should we be doing with it? And, how should our faith inform our journey across this new frontier? These are the questions we've been working to answer.

I'm currently in research mode on this project. . . plowing through a pile of books and other documents. My book stack was interrupted the other day with the arrival of Tim Challies' new book, "The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion." I've come to appreciate Tim's heart, mind, and ability to think deeply and theologically on matters of faith and life. Tim's the kind of young thinker who is choosing to land and anchor himself in all the right places. What's resulting is some very significant thought and guidance that the church should heed. Tim - and I know he's not alone in this - is a breath of fresh air. There are a growing number of young Christian thinkers like Tim.

So, before putting Tim's in the stack, I open it up and start reading. My heart leaps and I smile. This is what I've been looking for. This is the kind of stuff we've been pushing for here at CPYU since the get-go. You know, a thoughtful cultural critique that brings together good theology, the best of the social sciences, and deep thinking that looks ahead to where the road we're happily traveling now just might lead. The book never went in the stack.

While I think it's important to never respond to, critique, or recommend a book until you've given it a careful read. . . well, that's a rule I'm going to break in this case. All I had to do was read a couple of initial pages and I knew that this would be a book I would recommend to everyone, and require whenever I'm in the classroom.

The Introduction had me hooked. Tim describes how his love for all gadgets digital came under the gaze of his own critical and watchful eye, forcing him to ask questions like "Am I giving up control of my life? It it possible that these technologies are changing me? Am I becoming a tool of the very tools that are supposed to serve me?" Then, he goes on to suggest that Christians today are experience rich and theology poor. While we are well-versed in the experience of using technology, we don't have the theoretical or theological tools to make sense of the consequences of our use of technology. That's exactly the kind of gap we've been working to bridge here at CPYU in a number of areas. Tim goes on to work out what the overlap between theory, theology, and experience should look like for the follower of Jesus. This is really, really good stuff. Plus, it's accessible.

I'll finish reading "The Next Story" later today. As I've been reading, I find myself continually stirred and excited. If you're a parent or youth worker you need to read this book. As you read, think seriously about passing this information on to your kids. No. . . don't think about it. Do it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Story, Redemption, Momentary Escape, and HBO Go. . . .

This commercial makes me laugh. . . a lot. . . because if I'm more like one of the two guys in the spot, I'm the guy talking into the fan. Come on. . . you've done that too, haven't you?

It also makes me think. . . a lot. . . because of the reference to story and the way stories work in the world we now live in. I love movies. I love TV. I love entertainment. I also think that a little distraction and escape into a good story can be really healthy and really enjoyable. But it can also be unhealthy. One sign that we long to live in a better story is the gnawing dissatisfaction with the story we're in. But if those short thirty to 120 minute stories that we sit and watch become the best option for something better, then all we've done is succeeded at temporarily distracting ourselves. And when the distraction ends and we enter back into the reality of our own broken story. . . well, the gnawing dissatisfaction continues at an even deeper level. We endeavor to cap the leak that's part of our brokenness with all kinds of things - experiences, vacations, work, people, entertainment, etc. We can know it's unhealthy when we stand back and take stock, noticing that our attempt to escape our own story has continued with increased frequency, while at the same time, our dissatisfaction has gotten worse rather than being satisfied. In today's media-saturated world where our hand-helds give us 24/7 access to countless other stories, the frequency is bound to pick up.

We were made to take our place in a better story. And until we find our place in that story, we'll continue to run like hamsters on the wheel of "escape" that goes absolutely nowhere. So once again, I go back to this great painting from David Arms - "God's Story."

Thanks be to God for moving us from "loss" to "love."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Weiner Comes Clean. . . .

So the lead story on last night's evening news was all about the confession of New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. Yes, he did Tweet that photo and yes, it was a photo of himself. As I watched Weiner's tearful press conference my heart ached, not only for Weiner, but for the rest of us. I tried to imagine his journey to that podium, when it started, and the combination of factors that led to his choices. To be honest, there was once a time when I would have reacted to the story by lobbing self-righteous verbal stones in Weiner's direction. Life, knowledge, insight into self, and a load of people I know who march together with Weiner in this growing parade of consequences and self-induced shame . . . well. . . when we look into the face of Anthony Weiner and listen to his words, we should see and hear ourselves. None of us is above any of this, and we're all one bad choice away from having to stand behind that podium ourselves. And so, there are lessons to be learned from Anthony Weiner.

One of the most striking and insightful thoughts came from the lips of NBC's Brian Williams as he read the lead-in to the story. Williams talked about how we live in an "age of over-sharing." That little phrase is really worth pondering. No, technology is not a bad thing in and of itself. It's the human heart and how our hearts choose to use to use technology that's the issue. Do we use it in ways that bring honor and glory to the kingdoms of the world, the flesh and the devil? Or, do we endeavor and choose to use technology in redemptive ways that bring honor and glory to God?

I thought about this last night after watching the news. I jotted some thoughts sparked by Weiner's actions and Williams' words.

-Technology and Twitter. . . we waste so much of our time and so much of other people's time on this stuff. We make noise, we need noise, we choose noise, and we can't escape the noise. That's what all this stuff has done to us. But what we really need from time to time is some peace and quiet. What we really need is a disconnect from distraction so that we can start paying attention to the things that really matter.

-The age of over-sharing. . . we show and say far, far too much. Prudence, wisdom, discretion. . . those are all character traits that are disappearing. Using technology in redemptive ways requires them all to be cultivated and exhibited in increased measure. Without them, we become like the person described in Proverbs 25:28 - "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls."

-Technology. . . if not harnessed in our lives and managed with strict parameters. . . it will feed the monster of pride and self-idolatry that lives in us all. We begin to believe that we're above things . . like ethical boundaries or the dangers of entertaining that which is tempting. We begin to believe that people care about every one of our trivial Tweets, status updates, and posts. We not only believe that people care, but that people are actually waiting with great expectation for them. And if they are. . . well. . . shame on them. When this happens, the really important stuff gets lost in the clutter and noise.

-Narcissism is fed. . . leading us to think that we're at the center of the universe and everything revolves around me. I got to thinking about this yesterday while reading Erik Larson's current best-selling book, "In the Garden of Beasts." The book documents the ambassadorship of William Dodd, the U.S. envoy to Germany during Hitler's rise. In the book, Larson talks about how Hitler rose to the status of a god among the German people. At one rally in Nuremberg during 1936, Hitler worked the crowd into a frenzy then said, "That you have found me. . . among so many millions is the miracle of our time! And that I have found you, that is Germany's fortune!" As our "following" grows, we must be careful to see ourselves as we really are and to keep looking at ourselves from the proper perspective.

-The most beneficial awareness of self is not the kind that says "I'm important and people like me." The most beneficial self-awareness is the kind that reminds us of our deep and dire need for mercy, grace, and a Savior.

-Finally, the Weiner story is one that will be used, I'm sure, for partisan causes. However, we must remember that sin is no respecter of political affiliation.

Any other lessons in this?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Good Story. . .

My daughter-in-law Sheila emailed me a link to a great article this morning. It's about some friends who have seen God's mercy in the midst of great difficulty. That's them in the picture. We got to know them when their son Morgan spent a couple of years playing defense with Sheila's husband Josh (our son) on the Messiah College lacrosse team. Morgan's mom Deb is a flight attendant. . . trained to be cool under crisis I'm sure. And Ryan. . . he's the one the article is about. What a character!

I simply want to pass on this great story - "A Miracle, perhaps, but no accident" - written by E.B. Ferguson III for The Capitol. It hits home for me in a small way. I had two EMTs "happen" upon me while I was laying in the middle of the road 10 months ago. They were among the first there as they had been sitting at the light and saw me go over my bicycle handlebars. I never saw them that day, but I heard them and felt them as they stabilized me until the ambulance arrived. A trauma doc at the Kupfer's accident a coincidence? I don't think so. Read on. . .

Early this month, Lt. Tina Pitner was working her usual shift at Fire Station 35 on Forest Drive.

It was routine except that a paramedic student would be doing one of his required ambulance ride-alongs. The young man checked in, introduced himself and went on his rounds.

When he returned, he put his information folder on Pitner's desk so she could sign off.

"When I looked down and saw the name on the folder the hair stood up on my arm," she said last week.

"I said, 'I know you.' "

Ten years ago, Pitner treated now-23-year-old paramedic candidate Morgan Kupfer and his mother, Debbie Kupfer, following a car accident that nearly killed his younger brother,

Ryan. Pitner transported them to Anne Arundel Medical Center.

The younger brother was stabilized there and then rushed to Johns Hopkins Pediatric Unit in Baltimore, barely holding on to life.

"I have been doing this for 18 years," Pitner said. "And you don't remember most calls, but I remember that one to a 'T.' "

Ryan Kupfer beat the odds. But his family thinks it was the intervention of a higher power and scores of good deeds by untold hundreds of people who helped them on their journey back.

The accident
On the morning of May 20, 2001, Debbie was driving her two sons to church. Her husband, Mark Kupfer, already was ushering at Annapolis Evangelical Presbyterian. She turned onto Bestgate Road from southbound Generals Highway. A Chevy Suburban slammed into their Volvo.

Debbie and Morgan were slightly injured. But Ryan suffered a head injury that tore away the flesh from the right side of his face and severely injured his eye. Debbie got Morgan out of the car so he wouldn't see his brother. She told her older son that they could not help Ryan.

"But God can," she said.

And she began to pray, blood dripping from her own scalp wound.

Moments later she looked up to see a man leaning in their car.

"I yelled, 'Stay away from him, don't touch him,' " Debbie said last week on the anniversary of the accident.

"It's OK. I do this for a living," said the man, who happened upon the accident while taking his daughter to field hockey practice.

He looked at the boy. He wasn't breathing. So, the man opened Ryan's airway and probably saved his life.

Dr. David Gens, senior surgeon at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, was, literally, in the neighborhood.

"I saw the boy who hit them walking around in a daze. He was a neighbor of mine."

While the family believes providence had something to do with Gens arriving on the scene, he calls it luck and training. "It was their luck that a trained trauma surgeon appeared at the scene."

But it makes you wonder, Pitner said.

"One word comes to mind when I think of that family - faith. That was it from the moment I met them that day," she said.

Debbie regards other people who intervened that day as anonymous angels:

The woman who sat with her on the curb. "I know you are praying, but I am going to hold this Kleenex on your head. You are bleeding."

Another woman who got in her car and drove two miles down Bestgate Road to get Debbie's husband at the family's church.

"This woman comes up and asks me to help get something out of her car," Mark remembered. "I walked out to her car and she said 'Get in. Your family has been in a serious accident.' "

Standing vigil
The nurse at Johns Hopkins said Ryan was one of the worst accident victims she had seen.

They couldn't find the boy's ear. His eye socket was shattered. A chunk of his skull had to be removed to alleviate the inevitable brain swelling.

Six teams of surgeons worked 10 hours.

They found his ear behind a flap of skin. They discovered Ryan's optic nerve was somehow intact.

For seven and a half weeks after surgery, Ryan lay in a coma as his family stood vigil. They were spelled by church members and other family so they could try to resume a normal life.

"Morgan had to get to a practice or something, so people drove all the way to Baltimore to make sure he didn't miss it," Debbie said. The outpouring of charity was almost beyond words.

"I might have cooked six meals in that first year," she said.

One man in their neighborhood came by to cut the grass.

"He not only cut it but it had a pattern, it looked like Camden Yards," Mark said.

Another day, a box was delivered with a Cal Ripken autographed baseball and a Jonathan Ogden autographed football.

Annapolis dentist Dr. Louis Ruland was Morgan's lacrosse coach. He set up a fund to help pay for Ryan's recovery. (He put $1,000 in to start it.) Ryan's stay at the Kennedy Krieger Institute for rehabilitation cost $1,500 a day.

"People would come into the office and pay part of their dentist bill then ask if they could make a $100 donation," Ruland said.

For years, the Kupfers sent extra bills to Dr. Ruland.

The bills got paid.

Giving back
Ryan is 19 now.

Doctors thought he would not live. They said he would not talk (oh, he talks up a storm). They didn't think he would regain mobility. Ryan plays lacrosse.

"I play attack, it's awesome." He still wears a brace on his lower leg to help him get around.

His brain has adapted. Short-term memory is tough, and that may never fully recover. His father is amazed at his math skills despite the accident damaging the part of the brain normally responsible for those functions.

He attends High Road Academy in Prince George's County. He's a few credits short of graduation but keeps working to reach that goal.

He attended prom.

"I had a blast," he said. He especially enjoyed the slushies.

He has rediscovered a knack for art. An art teacher at his previous school, The Harbor School, gave him the freedom to do what inspired him. Two of his paintings were selected from a thousand entrants to be sold at a recent fundraiser.

He has a small room off the family room where he goes to create art and enjoy the quiet.

His brother, Morgan, soon will be a paramedic. He is driven not by the memory of that day but by what has happened since.

"I saw the compassion, the unselfish giving by all the people who helped Ryan," Morgan said.

"It makes me want to give back."