Friday, September 30, 2011

His Lips Were Sealed. . . .

Last week I caught the tail-end of a radio interview with Ralph Branca. If I had heard his name before, I didn't remember it. I do, however, know the name of Bobby Thomson. . . the man used his bat in 1951 to help the Giants win the pennant with the legendary home run known simply as "The Shot Heard Round the World." Branca has the notorious distinction of being "the goat" who served up the pitch Thomson hit. If you haven't seen the amazing footage of the moment, you can watch it here. . . and see where it's rated in terms of amazing baseball plays. It's at #1.

For 50 years - since that day in October 1951 - nobody knew what was really going on. Thanks to a Wall Street Journal reporter named Joshua Harris Prager, the truth about the hit and the Giants amazing comeback to win the pennant was finally revealed in 2001. It seems that about halfway through the season, the Giants had developed an elaborate scheme for stealing signs that not only turned their season around, but elevated stats for many of the players on the team, including Bobby Thomson. When they were playing at home, the Giants employed a high-powered pair of military binoculars hidden behind a window in a darkened room in the team's center field clubhouse. After seeing the catcher's sign, an elaborate series of wires and buzzers sent info to both the Giants' bullpen and dugout. From the bullpen, a towel was used to signal the batter. From the dugout, players yelled code words to the batter to let him known what pitch was coming. If the batter missed one signal, he could rely on the other. When the Giant's were playing away, the team found ways to employ the system from the outfield bleachers. It turned their season around. Bobby Thomson knew a fastball was coming. In that game as in so many other Giants' games that year, the team cheated.

Three years after serving up the pitch that ended the dreams of so many Brooklyn Dodger fans, Branca was told the truth. It was verified several times both immediately and over the years. Branca's friends and family encouraged him to blow the lid off the story, but he refused. He didn't want to be a cry-baby or sore loser. So, he remained dignified in his silence. Then, Harris broke the story and Branca was free to talk.

Yesterday I read Branca's brand new book about that day - A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace. The book was stirring, challenging, and thought-provoking in some amazing ways. There's something deeply Godly about maintaining your integrity, showing grace, and keeping your lips sealed when speaking up would only serve to clear your name and reputation. We know that the Lord has said, "Vengeance is mine."

At the end of his book, Branca says that he has yet to forgive those who conjured up the scheme, but he's working on it. Ralph Branca is now 85-years-old. His story is one we need to hear and tell.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Twitter Movie. . . Well, Sort Of. . . .

This ongoing journey to evaluate culture through eyes of integrity and faith sure does take some interesting twists and turns. When people exercise their fallen creativity new thingss pop up every day. . some that make you laugh and some that make you cry. Recently I've been focusing in on all things digital and technological, wondering out loud how those things effect us and our kids. I've been reminded of Marshall McCluhan's prophetic words. . . "the media is the message" . . . and his brilliant analysis of how media work us over completely. . . a reality we usually don't spot until we're totally sold out to the stuff that's working us over completely. So I love it when there's cynicism, sarcasm, and satire that takes on this stuff we're so willing to casually ignore and overlook.

Which leads me to this. . . . something I discovered on the Internet as I was working through the all-too-obvious and not-so-obvious ways that Twitter works us over completely while indulging our tendency for idolizing ourselves and inviting others to join us in worship. Make sense?

Give this little trailer a look and then see if you get it. Then, consider how Twitter may have also "gotten" you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Making Myself Up. . . Again. . . .

Back in the 1980's I had to intervene in a bizarre situation involving one of our youth group kids. I caught wind of the fact that this tender young middle school girl was telling kids at school that she had just signed a major modeling contract. It was a lie. A perfect storm of cultural forces had combined with developmental vulnerabilities and some difficult personal circumstances in a mix that left her desperate for attention and validation. I guess that in her mind desperate times called for desperate measures. A couple of gullible people believed her. Most saw right through her attempts at deception, leaving her in a worse situation than the one she had been in when her fantasy world took root and started to grow. It was a mess.

In Samantha's case, the damage was limited to her face-to-face friendships and those in her wider school circle who had entertained news of her ruse with passing curiosity. Most of them laughed it off and wound up thinking less of her than they had before. Thankfully, a group of us were able to intervene and help her turn it all around, starting with helping her understand that she needed to embrace the reality of who she was in Christ. If Samantha had been living in today's world, I'm afraid she would have been able to dig herself in so deep that major fallout would have occurred, perhaps even with consequences that would have gone unchecked for the rest of her life.

In about 48 hours I will have finished the first leg of what's been my part in an exciting new journey here at CPYU that we're calling The Digital Kids Initiative. My goal has been to understand and process the good, the bad, and the ugly of life on the Digital Frontier in terms of how it effects kids and culture. . . all through the framework of a biblical world and life view. Some suspicions have been confirmed. Some have been challenged. And my eyes have been opened to some stuff that I never really knew was happening.

One of the most alarming realities of life on the Digital Frontier is the ability I have to make and re-make myself. . . over and over again. The Internet lets me fabricate and "customize" myself to meet my needs. Face it. . . we all like to be liked. Facebook knows that. That's why the "like" button plays such a prominent role on the social networking site. The desire to be liked peaks in adolescence. Sadly, today's adult world is so filled with dissatisfied selves that the peak doesn't necessarily drop off. Rather, it levels out. So, kids and adults alike use the Internet to dull our dissatisfaction with ourselves as we try on multiple selves, reinvent ourselves, and make ourselves up. Like Tammy Faye Baker, we put on so much makeup that the person the world sees is not us. Reality is, if we'd shed the makeup we've applied, the world wouldn't know who we really are. . . but that's the whole point, isn't it?

Some research from the Girl Scouts found that 74% of girls agree that "most girls my age use social networking sites to make themselves look cooler than they are." Researchers found that girls downplay several positive characteristics of themselves online, including their intelligence and their efforts to be a good influence. That's what happens when culture sees vice as virtue. The research also found that girls with low self-esteem are more likely to say their online image doesn't match their in-person image. The Internet makes this all so easy thanks to the "disinhibition effect." You see, we're so much less inhibited online because we think people can't see what we're doing. But we really don't need research to convince us that this is happening all around us, do we? No, all we need to do is think about our kids. . . and ourselves.

I love what Quentin Schultze says about this: "The digital world suffocates virtue by allowing us unbridled freedom to be all things to all people. . . to give ourselves over to the highest bidder or to the most persuasive master." In effect, we see ourselves as brands to be developed, tweaked, marketed, and sold. . . or so we hope it sells. In the end, the temptation to adopt these patterns of living become almost overbearing as the Internet really does reward the most clever and aggressive marketers among us. People of integrity, truthfulness, character, and virtue get left in the dust. . . at least for now. In his book The Dumbest Generation, Mark Bauerlein says that "the screen becomes not a vein of truth, but a mirror of desire."

It all boils down to the fact that we are dissatisfied with who we are. We feel like we don't measure up. If we get to close to others, we're afraid our real selves will be exposed. Consequently, the real us keeps people at a distance greater than arm's length, while we invite others to embrace the avatar who's hijacked our profile picture.

I guess the real question is this: Should the Christian be spending so much time on image management and the marketing of one's self? And, shouldn't we be teaching our kids to avoid this pattern like the plague that it is? It's troubling. . . and we should know better.

Monday, September 26, 2011

But Will It Fit In My Coffin? . . . .

Last week I was thumbing through a local ad paper when I spotted news on an auction that was happening at the end of the week. As I carefully read through the list of items to be sold, a small collection of antique cars caught my eye and my interest. I love old cars. Always have. So much so that whenever my birthday rolls around I remind my wife and kids of my favorite models and model year. It's almost a 100 percent joke on my part, as there's a fraction of one percent that would really like to wake up to a 1964 Corvette in the driveway. Red please. The closest I'll ever come, however, is to watch the Barrett-Jackson and Mecum auctions on TV. . . which I quite often do.

The local auction featured a 1967 Corvette, a 1957 Cadillac. . . baby blue and white. . . and a couple of other old cars. Since I had Saturday off last week, I decided to head down and check out the action. With the cars going last, I had a chance to socialize with some friends I hadn't seen in awhile and to watch some folks spend lots and lots of money on assorted stuff, furniture, land, and a house. The Corvette went for about $30,000. The Cadillac - which was a car I would have loved to take home to tinker with - went for about $24,000. That's why I don't own either of those cars or anything like them!

On my short drive home I got to thinking about my desire to own an old car and wondered what it would be like. I thought about the "why" behind my desire. I wonder if we collect things because they make us feel good. I know we're prone to accumulate all kinds of stuff (material goods, experiences, etc.) with the belief that somehow those things will fix us and fix what's wrong with our world. We believe that if we go to bed owning this or that tonight, somehow tomorrow will be so much better. Never happens though. Then I realized that all the cool stuff I saw auctioned off on Saturday had once belonged to somebody. That somebody had died and all that stuff remained. Now, that stuff's been auctioned off to a couple hundred people who someday will leave this earth without their stuff as well. I guess being an auctioneer is a pretty secure job.

The great irony of all this is that on Saturday I received a package in the mail from Zondervan. It was a new book by one of my favorite authors, Paul Tripp. This one's titled Forever: You Can't Live Without It. Excited about the book, I sat down and started reading. Paul's done a great job of reminding us that we need to live in light of eternity. Here on this earth is not all that we have. And when we live in light of eternity something happens to us in terms of our view of material stuff, our understanding of marriage and family, the way we approach parenting, and how we deal with suffering. It's so, so true. Understanding the reality of why we're here, what went wrong, how God has intervened to make things right, and the future that those who are in Christ face. . . well, it all makes so much sense. No, there's be nothing wrong with me having an old car. The problem would be rooted in what I would allow the car to become to me and what I think the car would do for me. If I somehow see a purchase - of anything! - as redemptive, life-giving, fulfilling, or salvific. . . well, I have worked to fill my empty heart with something that can never fill it, and I will only wind up more empty. As Paul says, all our dreams are "gas" that will only vaporize in our hands.

Lisa and I often ponder travel and experiences in this light as we banter back and forth about where we haven't been, what we haven't experienced, and where we'd like to go. Her frequent mentions of "someplace tropical" where the water is really blue have never been realized by us. Someday we'll get there. When we talk about it, we realize that the "someday" might be in this life, or it might be in the forever. What a joy to know that our years on this earth are not all that we have. The new Heaven and the new Earth are going to be amazing and beyond belief. I joke when I say that I'll be able to drive her to the beach and the blue water in my 1964 Vette. I'm guessing that once we're there, the amazing wonder of what is will immediately eclipse the greatest dreams our imaginations could ever conjure up. . . and those dreams just won't matter anymore.

We live in a world that believes that all there is to life is the here and now. That perspective kills us. I want to recommend Paul Tripp's Forever to you. Read it and be changed. And for those of you who work with kids, this is a book that offers the antidote to what ails so many of them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

PETA and Porn. . . Unbelievable! . . . .

It was so ridiculous that I had to read the little story several times over. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is looking for ways to effectively promote their message of animal rights and vegan eating. OK. . . I get that. Not a surprise at all. But it's how they're doing it that's both stunning and telling. PETA is going to launch a new website - - a pornographic site intended to raise awareness of the group and get a new/expanded audience exposed to their message. PETA reps say that whenever they use racy stuff, more people pay attention to the plight of animals. It seems that by drawing people to nudity, they'll be drawing people to understand animal rights. More proof that sex sells.

I first read this story yesterday morning. The day before I had spoken at Abilene Christian University on youth culture. In a session on the need for relationships, I had mentioned some specific ways that fallen expressions of sexuality have taken root and grown in our culture. . . destroying lives while at the same time delivering the empty promise to redeem and fulfill. I talked about body image issues, objectification, the sexualization of everything, and pornography. In my remarks about pornography I mentioned some of the fallout that we can expect as a young generation of kids - who have been exposed to and are seeking out this stuff in an online world filled with pornography of all types - come of age. I highlighted these main points:

-Greater exposure at younger and younger ages. That's right, kids will see more and more at younger and younger ages.
-The envelope stretched to extremes. What they see will be more and more extreme in terms of what is depicted and portrayed.
-Desensitization. In other words, the more they see, the more they'll need to see as tolerance builds. . . just like it does for a drug addict.
-Pornography as a matter of personal preference. That's just the way it is in a postmodern world. It's not a matter of ethical rights or wrongs. Rather, I can choose whatever I want to be right for me to be right for me.
-Normalization of depicted values and practices. In other words, the stuff I saw when I was in fourth grade will be the stuff I do when I'm in middle school, high school, college, or just later in life. The seeds being planted now will bear some pretty ugly fruit.

I guess the big question for me is this: How can an organization that is committed to protecting animals promote that message by harming humans. . . children even. . . and not see just how wrong that approach really is? Come on PETA. . . you've got the word "ethical" in your name. You should know better. And I wonder. . . will you be posting any pornography featuring bestiality? Or, would that be unethical?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Scoop On Gaming. . . .

There's a point near the beginning of my Download seminar (a look into the media world of today's teens) where I try to help parents and youth workers see just how much and how fast the media world has changed. I give a little "then and now" visual tour of the media landscape. . . the things we had then compared to the stuff they have now. You know. . . an old tethered/wired phone compared to a mobile phone. . . an old black and white TV console compared to a high-def 3D TV. . . a shot of the Pandora Internet radio platform compared to a transistor radio. It's a little bit of tongue-in-cheek tour designed to show just how much media technology has advanced. . . and is till advancing.

One little stop on my visual tour highlights the world of gaming. After showing a picture of a bank of high-def game platforms and hyper-focused kids, I mention that we had games too. I show a Twister spinner. That usually gets a little bit of laugh. Of course, that's how many of us older folks met our spouses, right?!? "Left hand blue, right foot green. . . . oh my. . . looks like we're now in a serious relationship!" Then I mention the fact that we too, had high-tech video games. . . and I show an actual working Pong screen. Another laugh.

Video games are on the national radar today as "Gears of War 3" hits retailers and will most likely set some new records. It's big stuff for the gaming community. While thinking about today's debut, I remembered a question a curious mother of a gamer asked me a few weeks ago: "Why is this such a big deal for my son?"

As part of our new Digital Kids Initiative here at CPYU, I looked long and hard at the world of video gaming and discovered there are some pretty compelling reasons for the attraction. To be honest, if I was a kid in today's world I would most likely be right there with the rest of them. Here's some of what I discovered. . .

-They are fun. . . and they are quality. What kid doesn't want to have fun? With so much pressure on kids to be and do certain things. . . and grow up way too fast. . . there's nothing wrong with seeking out and having some fun.

-They involve problem-solving. Kids need to exercise those developing brains so that they keep developing. Research says that 52% of teens report playing games where they have to think about moral and ethical issues. 43% report playing games where they have to make a decision about how a community, city, or nation should be run.

-They offer an escape. If life for today's children and teens wasn't difficult, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing with my life. It's gotten so difficult for many kids that they are looking for a diversion. . . anything. . . something to take their mind of a difficult existence. A chance to live in alternate realities allows them to temporarily forget their lives.

-They allow them to network and socialize with friends. . . locally and globally. This is the new playground for adolescents during a time when social connections take center stage.

-They offer connections with a community. With the family, church and other institutions failing our kids, the world of the online game gives them a place to belong with other like-minded kids. As your connections grow, you wind up being missed if you aren't there.

-They offer a place to succeed. The gaming world is a place where improved skills give you chance to achieve, be a winner, advance up the ranks, and experience success. Not only that, your accomplishments can bring affirmation in the community.

-They give you a chance to have some control. If you are a young person who feels powerless, this is a place to have some power. You're the boss here.

-They offer you a place to be someone else. The virtual world of the game allows you to live out fantasies that you might not indulge in real life. You can live a parallel existence. You can, in effect, have a "do-over". . . over and over and over.

-They get you hooked with their open-ended nature. Many of today's games never end. They just go on and on and on. You never get to say "game over" . . . which means it can go on and on and on at deeper and deeper levels.

I know that lots of parents of gamers are concerned about what their kids are playing, how much time they spend playing, and why the games are so increasingly important to them. Some of us might even tell our kids to "turn it off!" I know that those instructions are necessary and well justified from time to time. But maybe there's a time and place to first ask the question, "Why did you turn it on in the first place?" It's another great way to get to know the cares, concerns, and needs of our kids.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Watching Our Language. . . .

The Philadelphia Inquirer's John Timpane recently wrote a piece on the words we use and don't use anymore. Timpane's report on Merriam-Webster's changing lexicon offers a great reflection of just how much our world and culture is actually morphing from one thing into another. Our words do reflect who we are, where we've come from, and where we're going. Believe it or not, the folks at the dictionary publisher surf pop culture to see what words are new, what words need to be dropped, and what words are on-deck. It's all quite telling.

Some of this year's changes are especially interesting to me as I continue work on our new CPYU Digital Kids Initiative. New words include tweet, robocall, social media, crowdsourcing, and m-commerce. . . a term used to describe transactions one makes on their mobile device. While new technologies are in, old technologies are out. . . making some of us feel really old. A couple of omissions include record changer and microreader. Yep, the old record player and library microfiche machines are now housed in the Smithsonian! An on-deck word that should have been included this time around is sexting.

The changing nature of relationships in today's world haven't been overlooked either. New words include bromance, cougar, helicopter parent, and boomerang child.

The rate of cultural change is snowballing. And just when you think you're catching up you discover that you might be using all the wrong word that aren't even words anymore, and not using all the words you should be using. . . which only gives your kids more reason to see you as hopelessly outdated and out-of-touch.

Oh well. So now we go to bed each every night wondering what tomorrow will bring. . . what words will be in and what words will be out. At least Merriam-Webster has included a new word that reflects developments that are helping more and more older folks sleep - continuous positive airway pressure. Are you clueless on that one? Well. . . go ahead and look it up!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pat Robertson. . . Who Is He Speaking For? . . .

Did you see the news about Pat Robertson this morning? Again, it was something he said that put him in the headlines once more. I realize that whenever someone the media doesn't like says something that the media doesn't like, it's bound to become a prominent story. This time - as at many other times - Pat Robertson has said something that should make deep and committed followers of Jesus cringe.

It was during the "Bring It On" segment of yesterday's show. Pat is fired a series of viewer questions and he answers. I'm not sure if he answers on the spot or if he's seen the questions ahead of time. I sure hope it's the former! . . . especially in light of one of the answers he gave yesterday. The question was about Alzheimer's Disease and a spouse. During his answer (which you can watch in the first few minutes of the video embedded below), he's interrupted by a co-host who has the same question I have. Still, Robertson stumbles around and comes up with something that's deeply disturbing.

Our vows - unless we've rewritten them - define a love-commitment that goes on and on and on - in sickness and in health - till death do us part. I know Pat speaks for some, but I certainly don't think he's articulating the will of God in his answer this time around.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bothersome. . .

Like you, I spent some time on Sunday flipping around to some of the various televised 9/11 remembrances. For most of the time, our family was stuck on MSNBC's rerunning of the actual live NBC broadcast of those horrible events as they unfolded. We were mostly silent as we pondered the tragedy and massive loss of human life. At times someone would make a comment or ask a question. Maybe the best word to describe our mood was solemn.

We also spent some time watching and listening to some of the "ten years after" commentary. Since it was the first full day of the NFL season, we saw flyovers, moments of silence, and patriotic flag-unfurlings at games around the country. Maybe the best word to describe the mood of these events was tasteful.

But at one point later in the day I was flying through the channels when I stopped on a station that usually leaves me scratching my head. On Sunday, the head scratching jumped into high gear as the Home Shopping Network peddled a medallion engraved with the New York skyline pre-9/11. I don't know her name, but she was one of the many generic sales-models that usually sell fake precious metals and gems to a host of home shoppers. . . many of whom, I'm sure, will buy anything and everything sold in TV. But on a day when we needed to ponder the imperfections and broken condition of humanity, here was HSN seemingly cashing in on tragedy to make a buck. The sales pitch went on and on as the number of items sold rose. To me, it seemed almost like a souvenir stand had been set up next to Ground Zero as the dust was still settling. . . and the proprietor of the stand was barking out her sales pitch loud and clear. Maybe the best word to describe what I was watching was bothersome.

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. But aren't there times and places when we shouldn't be trying to make a buck. . . especially off of tragedy? Maybe we're so used to marketing, selling, and spending that stuff like this has just been normalized and accepted.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Matters Of Size . . . .

Buried in a sea of seminar research and writing, my mind wandered today while writing a little section on social networking and how it feeds our Narcissism. We love to let other people know what we're doing . . . every little detail. Oops. . . I just told you I was writing a seminar today. Still, there's a point. As I was thinking through the sometimes ugly ways our hearts and desires connect to and use (maybe abuse is a better word here) social media tools, I got to thinking and writing about liking to be liked. You know. . . the little "like" button on Facebook. . . a brilliant idea by the way. Going places where I'm always going to be liked is pretty doggone desirable! Why isn't there a "dislike" button? For the simple reason that such a button wouldn't serve us well. For example, Lady Gaga's Facebook page has over 43 million "likes". . . and not one "dislike." Who would have thought?

I got to thinking about metrics and numbers and how we now rely on them to gauge our success or failure. We do that in the church you know. Twenty-five years ago I came out of a day spent at a National Youthworkers Convention wondering where I stood on the youth ministry success/failure scale. A series of firsthand and overhead conversations that day always came down to the number of kids in your youth ministry. I'd answer the question with a number and then wait for a response. . . which could be read through words, tone, and body language as to whether or not the other person saw me and our ministry as successful or not so much. A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a pastor who told me the size of his church thinking that size matters quite a bit in my mind. Sure, if I'm honest I have to admit it can be a struggle. But the truth is that deep down inside this kind of stuff churns around like a piece of rotten food that just won't settle. You know it's just not right.

As I mulled that over, I remembered that Derek Melleby had lent me his copy of Eugene Peterson's memoir, The Pastor, a few months ago after we had one of our many conversations about this very topic. Derek, I'm sorry that the book has been sitting on my desk since then. It's been a few months. But I remembered today that you bookmarked a page containing a letter Peterson once wrote to a pastor friend who was leaving his current church to lead a "more promising" congregation that was three times the size. I read that letter today and it felt like a good dose of stomach-settling stuff. I thought I would pass it on in its entirety:

Dear Phillip,

I've been thinking about our conversation last week and want to respond to what you anticipate in your new congregation. You mentioned its prominence in the town, a center, a kind of cathedral church that would be able to provide influence for the Christian message far beyond its walls.Did I hear you right?

I certainly understand the appeal and feel it myself frequently. But I am also suspicious of the appeal and believe that gratifying it is destructive both to the gospel and the pastoral vocation. It is the kind of thing America specializes in, and one of the consequences is that American religion and the pastoral vocation are in a shabby state.

It is also the kind of thing for which we have abundant documentation through twenty centuries now, of debilitating both congregation and pastor. In general terms it it the devils temptation to Jesus to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple. Every time the church's leaders depersonalize, even a little, the worshiping, loving community, the gospel is weakened. And size is the great depersonalizer. Kierkegaard's criticism is still cogent: "the more people, the less truth."

The only way the Christian life is brought to maturity is through intimacy, renunciation, and personal deepening. And the pastor is in a key position to nurture such maturity. It is true that these things can take place in the context of large congregations, but only by strenuously going against the grain. Largeness is an impediment, not a help.

Classically, there are three ways in which humans try to find transcendence - religious meaning, God's meaning - a part from God as revealed in the cross of Jesus: through the ecstasy of alcohol and drugs, through the ecstasy of recreational sex, through the ecstasy of crowds. Church leaders frequently warn against the drugs and the sex, but, at least in America, almost never against the crowds. Probably because they get so much ego benefit from the crowds.

But a crowd destroys the spirit as thoroughly as excessive drink and depersonalized sex. It takes us out of ourselves, but not to God, only away from him. The religious hunger is rooted in the unsatisfactory nature of the self. We hunger to escape the dullness, the boredom, the tiresomeness of me. We can escape upward or downward. Drugs and depersonalized sex are a false transcendence downward. A crowd is an exercise in false transcendence upward, which is why all crowds spiritually pretty much the same, whether at football games, political rallies, or at church.

So why are we pastors so unsuspicious of crowds , so naive about the false transcendence that they engender? Why are we so knowledgeable in the false transcendence of drink and sex and so unlearned in the false transcendence of crowds? There are many spiritual masters in our tradition who diagnose and warn, but they are little read today. I myself have never written what I really feel on this subject, maybe because I am not entirely sure of myself, there being so few pastors alive today who agree. Or maybe is is because I don't want to risk wholesale repudiation by friends whom I genuinely like and respect. But I really do feel that crowds are a worse danger, far worse than drink or sex, and pastors may be the only people on the planet to encourage an imagination that conceives of congregations strategically not in terms of its size but as a congenial setting for becoming mature in Christ in a community, not a crowd.

Your present congregation is close to ideal in size to employ your pastoral vocation for forming Christian maturity. You have talked about "multiplying your influence." My apprehension is that your anticipated move will diminish your vocation, not enhance it.

Can we talk more about this? I would welcome a continuing conversation.

The peace of Christ,


I think size does indeed matter in ministry. . . but maybe not in the ways that we think it does.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Maryland's Football Uniforms. . . And Contemporary Culture. . . .

Nothing could be more exciting than watching Cliff Lee pitch against the Braves. . . or so I thought last night. I found something pretty amazing when I flipped over to the Maryland - Miami football game on ESPN. If you happened to catch the Terp's uniforms you know exactly what I'm talking about. They were so outlandish that they prompted love them/hate them debates that I'm sure will be water-cooler fodder all over the place today.

If I might weigh in with my personal opinion. . . at first glance I loved them. They're out-of-the-box, over-the-top, incredibly creative. I'm sure most viewers lacking context wondered what in the world was going on. Because I vacation with my family in Maryland every summer, I immediately recognized the Maryland State Flag running all over the field. I might be biased toward the uniforms as they remind me of the flags flown all over the place at our vacation destination. Yes, my favorable response might actually be evidence of the fact that Pavlov was right about those salivating dogs!

Before the season started, Maryland's new coach Randy Edsall paraded an array of new uniform styles and combinations in front of the press. Seems that Maryland was going to surpass the Oregon Ducks for on-field style supremacy. There's a part of me that loves this kind of stuff. I've always loved uniforms. When I was a little guy, I spent alot of time looking at the NFL mini-helmet collection that was mine thanks to an offer on a box of Frosted Flakes. The colors. . . the logos. . . OK. . . I know. . . weird.

Today, I'm thinking about uniforms and helmets once again thanks to the University of Maryland football team. This time around, however, I'm thinking about the cultural significance of what we saw last night. Here are a few initial thoughts about what this uniform stuff tells us about who we are and what we value . . .

-It's all about the choices. We live in a world where the "same old same old" gets really, really boring. We need choices and we need change.

-It's all about individualization and customization. Ironically, we still all walk to the beat of the same drummer in our peer-driven desire for something that's different from what other people have or do. We want to express ourselves. We decorate our cell phones with customized skins and ring tones. Menstruating young girls can now purchase tampons in a variety of bright and expressive colors. . . seriously.

-It's all about style. I need to grab attention. Choices, individualization, and customization all allow me to create my style, my look, my persona.

-Uniformity isn't really necessary in a postmodern world. Of course, everyone who's on the same team will be wearing the same thing. That hasn't changed. But the Maryland uniforms we saw last night were not mirror-imaged. I remember how the little Pittsburgh Steelers helmet in my childhood collection bugged me because it wasn't uniform. It only had a decal on one side. Last night we saw that taken to an extreme from the top of their helmets to the bottom of their pants. We can now be all over the place and uneven morally, spiritually, ethically, and on our uniforms.

-Marketing and consumerism rules. I see this every time I check out the Majestic Store at Citizen's Bank Park. When I was a kid, the Phillies had two uniforms - home and away. Each of those uniforms shared the same hat. One uniform was white. One uniform was gray. Now, there is a dizzying array of anything and everything. Why is that? Well, just check out the aforementioned observations and add to that the fact that we buy it all. There's lots of money to spend and lots of money to be made.

The University of Maryland has begun something that won't stop very soon at all. Keep at eye on it as it spreads like wildfire. And. . . . think about it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Smack On Our Tweeting Fingers. . . .

Later this month I'll be hunkering down with a group of youth workers for about 150 minutes at The National Youthworkers Convention in San Diego. During those 150 minutes I'll be sharing for the first time some of what I've learned during my five months of concentrated research on the Digital Frontier and how it's affecting us and our kids in a brand new "Digital Kids" seminar. I keep having to remind myself that I've only got 150 minutes in San Diego because I'm still hunkered down here on the home front. . .for another 4 weeks. . . compiling research and writing the seminar!

One of the principles that keeps coming up as I've been researching is what Marshall McCluhan prophetically wrote about back in the 1960s when he worked to convince us that "the medium is the message." McCluhan would agree that media's content does shape us. But the media itself alters our lives in huge ways. For example, the invention of printing meant that we no longer had to commit things to memory as books and the knowledge they contained on their pages was only an arm's length away. Make sense?

That said, we must wisely and Christianly consider how the media/technology glut that's flowing out of the cultural fire hydrant in today's world is shaping us, changing us, and sometimes messing us over.

In the midst of all this I haven't been able to shake the fact that Twitter offers a prime example of how careful we must be. Quentin J. Schultze wrote his Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age four years before Jack Dorsey created Twitter in 2006. Dorsey's Twitter has morphed into "Exhibit A" of what Schultze calls our "succumbing to informationism: a non-discerning, vacuous faith in the collection and dissemination of information as a route to social progress and personal happiness." Long before Twitter even existed, Schultze wrote that the dissemination of information has become "an incessant noise that repeatedly diverts our attention from greater matters." For the Christian, that's something we need to recognize and remedy through redemptive use of things like Twitter. No, we don't need to condemn Twitter to Hell. Rather, we need to smack some sense into our Tweeting fingers so that our use of the micro-blogging platform brings honor and glory to God, rather than honor and glory to self. . . or the kingdoms of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Consider these words from Schultze's Habits of the High-Tech Heart: "More and more people have the power to exchange messages and access databases, but fewer people seem to know what life means or how to live it well. . . . Instead of knowing well, we spend more time merely messaging - quickly sending and receiving email missives, downloading and uploading digital files, and surfing through cyberspace. When we message too much, we begin to lose intimacy with others, the natural world, the Creator, and even ourselves. Faster messaging can be instrumental good - such as getting stock market quotes more quickly - but it is far less likely to be a moral good. Morally conducive forms of knowing, such as conversing and contemplating, are lost, thoughtful, and personal. . . . An overdependence on messaging reduces human communication to an instrumental means of satisfying our own immediate desires."

So, I think I'm going to get bold in San Diego. . . and Atlanta. . .and elsewhere. I may say some pretty direct things that I - first and foremost - need to hear. As Christians, we are called to stand apart. . . to be in but not of the world. . . to use technology and media structures in ways that honor and glorify God. . . to be obedient and redemptive. . . to seriously and carefully consider every new thing that comes down the pike rather than jumping in with reckless abandon void of forethought. . . to model all this for the kids we've been entrusted with. . . kids who are only beginning life in a world that will only get more technological and information-based as the years pass. I might be laying my fingers out on the table and invite you all to join me. . . and then we'll share a much-needed smack.