Thinking Out Loud

July 31, 2016

Growing Up In a Social Media World

Quantifying your Popularity

We spent several hours in the car yesterday, and a Saturday morning program on CBC Radio totally rocked our world with this idea, for which the quote below is approximately how it was worded:

For the first time in history a child or teen can quantify their popularity.

This can’t be healthy. What does a parent say? It’s hard to argue with a number. It’s difficult not to compare numbers. Does this become the child’s measure of self-worth?

 

 

May 15, 2016

Open But Cautious

There’s a phrase that I think I first heard used in some Christian and Missionary Alliance settings about the gifts of The Holy Spirit: “Open, but cautious.” Simply put, it represents people who are open to Spirit-led expressions of faith and doctrine but with the caveat of keeping their eyes wide open (or perhaps having one eye on scripture).

While my wife and I don’t attend weekly worship in a Charismatic or Assemblies of God-type of setting, I would say I am very much onside doctrinally inasmuch as I (a) am not a cessationist1, (b) believe in the limitless power of God to do the things people count as impossible2, and (c) believe that the things of God should touch our emotions as well as our minds3.

That said, when info about this camp came across my Twitter feed last night, I found it disturbing:

Signs and Wonders Camp

As regular readers know, I’m a huge believer in summer camp ministry. Find a camp, make sure it’s affiliated with Christian Camping International or Christian Camp & Conference Association or your denomination; and then send the kids as soon as they’re able to be away from home for a few nights. (I even wrote recently about some long-term benefits to be gained, apart from the spiritual immersion value.)

I also recognize that in Children’s Ministry (or KidMin as its now often referred to) there needs to be a point in the curriculum where you emphasize the distinctives of your doctrine, and if your kids are being raised in a Charismatic church, you want them to both have an education and have experiences with different facets of that environment.

So, I like Pentecostals, like camping and like KidMin. So what’s the problem?

Open, but cautious.

I’m not sure; I would just rather it was an adventure camp, or a horsemanship camp; or if you must title it after the teaching theme, a discipleship camp or a Christian leadership camp. I’d rather pin the emphasis on the giver rather than the gifts. I would prefer to focus on the normal Christian life rather than the occasions where God breaks in with the supernatural. I also don’t want to raise expectations for kids about the whens, wheres, whys and hows of sign gifts that could lead to disappointment.

Maybe I’m just a lousy Charismatic. Maybe I’m not attuned enough to the language and culture of some of today’s popular doctrinal streams.

Hopefully I am a realistic Christian who still believes in the ability of God to do the impossible; but with the awareness that the thing that makes the exceptional the exceptional is that it doesn’t happen every day.  So parents, would you send your kid to Signs and Wonders camp?

Signs and Wonders IHOP


1 I have actually never owned a Cessna, nor do I have a pilot’s license. More seriously, I do not see the end of the apostolic age or the completion of the canon of scripture signalling the end of certain gifts.
2 This said, my faith can be as weak as the next guy’s in certain situations, not to mention a trademark Canadian pessimism that at times permeates my prayer life.
3 The things of God should touch our hearts and our emotions, but often they don’t. Spiritual complacency and apathy are always crouching at the door, and when a preacher tries to rev up an audience into emotional frenzy, I am often the first to want to shut down completely.

April 26, 2016

Camp Memories (2)

“This is Natalie. She has no English. She will learn, yes?”

With that, her mom left the registration desk and drove off leaving her little 11-year old girl in our care for six nights.

But we didn’t know the registration story until three days in.

Natalie (not her real name, at least I don’t think so) turned out to be a handful, but not in any hyperactive or disciplinary sense. Simply put the girl appeared to be a young nymphomaniac. She was very affectionate to the male sports instructors. She was very touchy-feely with some of the male counselors. She seemed to have no limits in rubbing against male senior staff members like a cat.

Not having the vocabulary to verbalize even the most basic things, she communicated physically. In ways that were inappropriate. In ways that suggested there was lot more to this than just a language barrier.

Today, we have the internet. Simple searches can reveal patterns. We know that sometimes a child that young has probably had their sexuality button switched on by abuse of some type. We talk about those things more freely. The internet, in many respects, makes everyone an expert on subjects that formerly have been left to the professionals.

middle school youth ministryBut flashback a few decades and those supports didn’t exist. In fact, it took several days for our assortment of instructors, counselors, kitchen crew, maintenance workers, and senior staff to combine their stories to form an overall picture of what had been happening at camp. People started comparing notes, and the anecdotal base grew rapidly.

Fortunately, this was an era where the staff, though very large, had a strong sense of morality and ethical integrity. These days, it seems that everywhere you turn there are stories of people in children’s ministry or youth ministry landing on the front pages of local newspapers. It would not surprise me to hear of camps hosting children like Natalie with totally different outcomes.

I got invited to the senior staff meeting. I mostly sat in silence except to say, “I’m not sure how she knows the difference between a 16-year old staff member and a 16-year old camper.” I went on to say, “I think we’re okay with our staff because they’ve been screened carefully, but don’t know that a camper might not take advantage of her.”

The meeting continued and eventually it was decided to quietly communicate the situation to the entire staff base — some 150 people — to make sure staff kept their eyes open; to make sure that any and all contact with male campers was being supervised.

Another half week later, Natalie got picked up and the staff breathed a collective sigh of relief as her mom’s car drove out the front entrance. In the ten minutes that followed I heard at least three people simply say, “It’s okay; she’s gone.”

I know this camp, and I know that in the intervening years there were probably a few more Natalies. I would wager to say that the number of kids who have been in abusive situations, even in seemingly-respectable upper-middle class homes is probably slowly increasing, and the number of adolescent and pre-adolescent kids acting out their sexuality is growing accordingly. But liability concerns dictate that camps, Christian and otherwise, make sure that staff at all levels are trained in negotiating various complex situations. For the most part, camp staff are doing the right thing.

For our camp staff, what was the issue here? Was the problem Natalie, or Natalie’s mom; the way she simply dropped her off and made a hasty exit off the property?

I went about 20 years and never thought about Natalie. But recently, as online reports about crises in youth ministry and children’s ministry seem to get darker and more frequent, she came back to mind, as my personal poster child for post-abuse. Sure, maybe some of it was hormonal, and I know that there are occurrences of kids acting out in this way simply because that’s how they’re wired, and I know that the lack of verbal communication messed up the dynamics that week; but despite that, I remain convinced that something in her past had triggered her precocious behavior, though our summer staff that year never knew what it was, and never will…


…On Saturday morning the kids leave and just hours later, you’re hosting a new batch of children, and dealing with different issues…

April 9, 2016

Podcasts and the Migration from Literacy to Orality

Filed under: children, Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

Keyboard from steampunkworship dot com

There was a pastor whose blog I enjoyed reading about ten years ago. About five years ago, I think his keyboard stopped working. The blog still exists, but only to post video clips from his sermons. Other bloggers are using their blog solely to post their weekly podcast.

Inherent in podcasting is the right to ramble. Listeners get the nuance that’s missing in a traditional blog post (and this is one of the great liabilities of email) but they have to take the time to wade through the host(s) stream-of-consciousness narration. There’s no concision, a quality that decades ago Noam Chomsky had predicted would be, moving forward, a key asset in communications. A great concept that’s probably a seven or eight paragraph blog post instead becomes a 53 minute podcast.  Andy Warhol’s comment that “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes;” might be modified to, “In the 21st century, everyone will have their own talk show or be the host of their own radio station.” 

Nobody writes, ergo nobody reads.

Our discretionary time is spent on our screens: The one we carry in our pocket; the tablet, laptop or PC; and the 42-inch one in the living room. Our discretionary income goes to the various service providers who make these devices possible. 

Books? The problem isn’t eBooks, the problem is that nobody is reading. Especially men. The time has been used up on screens. The money has been spent on screens.

Add to this the damage being done to the written word due to:

  • texting
  • spell check
  • predictive text
  • visual media: Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, etc.
  • diminished attention spans
  • screen fatigue
  • reduced educational standards

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but if that’s true, a picture also replaces a thousand world.

Facebook, 2006: We just picked up a great deal on a used car. 5-years old. 4-door sedan. Only 40,000 miles. The body is in great shape, and we love the aquamarine color. Powerful 6-cyl engine. And we literally got it for a song.

Facebook, 2016: Look what we got! [posts picture]

English is eroding, and I suspect other languages in technology-infused countries in western Europe, Asia and South America aren’t faring much better.

Dads: When is the last time your kids saw you sitting in a chair reading a book?

I want to develop several aspects of this theme in some different ways over the next few days, we’ll consider this a brief introduction. Feel free to leave comments here or via email if you want to weigh in on this one.

 

April 3, 2016

We Were Created to Create

Created to Create Spring 2016

Last night I went to see a kids musical production being performed in a church that was almost within walking distance of my house. We don’t have children in that age cohort anymore, but I wanted to be supportive and the proximity of last night’s show — the first of three performances — left me without excuse.

If you had come with me you might have seen a kids play with a couple of missed lines, several audio problems, and some awkward scene changes, but I saw so much more; so very much more.

created to create logoCreated to Create is an initiative of our local chapter of Youth Unlimited, formerly known as Youth for Christ. Their focus with this creative arts program is inclusive of kids normally younger than you find at any given city’s branch of YU. This was, I believe the third such show they’ve done, and the second one I’ve seen.

What struck me last night was the producer/director’s commitment to excellence. The whole program was, I’m told, something that was conceived in her mind over a year earlier and incorporated content from three different primary sources, plus some original dialog and the addition of humorous video inserts throughout the show.

One of those video clips was filmed in Lake Ontario; so it had to be shot at the beginning of rehearsals in September, with great faith that the casting would stay the same over six months later in April.  Some actors played multiple roles — no small challenge — while others took on their parts rather convincingly, given that for some of them this was their first time in a dramatic production of this magnitude.

The thing that struck me the most was how, by the third and final act, these kids very much had their audience. The inside of the great fish was convincing, even if executed solely with Styrofoam pool noodles and black light. If you had been a neighbor or a relative of one of the kids and didn’t really know the Biblical story, there was enough of a message here that you got both narrative and practical application. In the finale, when ‘Old’ Jonah and ‘Flashback’ Jonah joined hands at the end to take their bow, I think the audience was fully aware of the thought and work that had gone into the production and completely convinced that the 90 minutes had been well worth their time.

We serve a God who inspires us with creativity. True, it hits some people more than others, but I believe we all have a measure of imagination inside us that can be used to inspire others.


Bonus item: Though not recorded at the show, here’s a song it contained, from the Newsboys: In the Belly of the Whale.

March 6, 2016

Preparing Your 10-Year-Old for College

Filed under: children, Christianity, education, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:41 pm

Christian Camp

Christian CampingToday we were treated to lunch, and the subject of college and university experiences (both our own, and that of our children) was the main topic for about 15 minutes. One thing we agreed on strongly was this: The kids who have a summer camp background have a huge advantage over the kids who don’t have camping experience.

They are better equipped to deal with independent living (in the sense of living away from home) but also in the sense of communal living (in the sense of being in a dorm or student apartment). They also have a confidence that comes from wider and deeper living experiences.

Parents… send your kids to camp! My advice: Make it a Christian camp. In the U.S. click the link in the graphic at right for the CCI (Christian Camping International) directory to find a camp near — but not too near — you. (Just enter your zip code in the field at the right of their page; a similar site exists for Canada.) Will your child get homesick? Ask yourself which is easier to deal with: A homesick 10-year old or an 18-year old homesick college freshman? Choose the former to avoid the later.

If your kids are Jr. High or High School youth, start right away with a weekend spring camp experience. Contact a local church that has a vibrant youth ministry, or a branch of a parachurch organization like Youth For Christ or Young Life.

Bonus: It is said you can accomplish as much or more in the spiritual life of a child with one week of camp than with 52 weeks of Sunday School.

summer camp campfire

March 1, 2016

Some Day My Prints Will Come

Filed under: children, Christianity, parenting, personal — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:51 am

memories on slidesMost of the pictures of my childhood were developed as 2¼ x 2¼ slides. It was the newest technology of the day, and the feeling was the “wide screen” offered a higher quality image than standard slides.* Every year or so, we would go down memory lane as a family by setting up the projection screen and the projector and watching one after another, possibly along with a few 8mm family movies.

Today, the film and slide canisters sit in a box somewhere. We have the projector, but I’m afraid to try in case the bulb goes. Replacements might be difficult to find.

My wife and I took a different route, developing pictures the old-fashioned way and placing them in an album. (Well, not totally old-school, later on we would send digital files out for printing.) Reliving our family memories is as easy as opening a book.

For those reading today, this is a cautionary tale.

Too many people have too many memories which are currently parked on various social media accounts or worse, sitting on the devices that captured the image on the day they were taken. You are dependent on the technology of the day which may or may not exist tomorrow.

For example, when the opportunity came, my Dad backed up our family movies to VHS. Our wedding is on VHS, and one of the two copies unspooled one day when we were rewinding the tape. (Be kind: Please rewind.) I’d like to transfer the VHS to a digital file, but I don’t want to have another tape get lost in the plastic shell.

And how do today’s digital files compare to whatever it is we’ll have tomorrow?

I realize the analogy has its weaknesses, there is no print-equivalent to movies, but in terms of our other (still) pictures, it’s been about three years now since we last sent a file out for printing.

We do print off a few on the home computer so that my mom can keep them in the facility where she lives, but even they, though done on proper photo paper, are rendered in ink-jet, not laser, which means they are extremely vulnerable. I fear a computer crash could just wipe out everything. 

Furthermore, there’s a great irony in the fact that while the new technology means that camera ownership (via phones) is at a record high, new technology means that so many of those memories stand to be lost when people change or even misplace devices.

Again, this is a cautionary tale. Nobody is paying me to say this. But go through your SD-card computer, or your laptop and pick a few images and create a file that your local photo shop can run for you.

I believe you’ll thank me some day.

memories slide


*This is an argument that is somewhat meaningless. Beta had superior picture quality to VHS, but lost the market war. Blu-Ray is considered much better than standard DVD, but again, the market favors the latter. In this example, the wider format slides simply never caught on. The projector we owned was capable of showing both types, a concession to this situation.

January 21, 2016

Losing Our Church Kids

img 012116

On a recent Focus on the Family interview, Kevin Leman said something to the effect that they’re now seeing behavior in middle school kids that previous generations didn’t manifest until early college. I think you know the kind of thing he’s talking about.

I don’t want to talk about that here today. I don’t want our minds to go there beyond a passing understanding that today’s kids are experimenting with sex at very, very young ages. (And drugs, too; he mentioned the prevalence of heroin in the suburbs because the richer kids can afford it.)

What I want to talk about is the idea that a kid — and remember we’re now talking middle school, so grades five to eight — begins a routine of sexual activity or drug use that also, running along a parallel track, begins an estrangement from God. Leman says that even the most church-immersed kid will do anything to fit in with his other friends; the ones at school.

Obviously, anything that the church is teaching at this point may become either objectionable or convicting. Nobody wants to hear all that moralism if it’s starting to stand in contrast to an emerging behavioral lifestyle. So they make excuses why they can’t attend weekend services or mid-week groups.

  • “I don’t feel well.”
  • “I have an assignment due tomorrow.”
  • “I need to take a week off.”

The thing is, the life and ministry of Jesus was all about hanging out with the people who were the most overt sinners in his time and place. No kid should feel that Jesus is the enemy, but they do. They are starting to recognize there is a cost to following him, and part of that cost is going to involve not doing what it seems that everybody else is doing. 

img 012116bThe other aspect of this is that depending on how your church allocates staff responsibility, it’s often the children’s ministry director who is now working with kids dealing with issues that formerly were the exclusive purview of the youth ministry director. Plus, youth pastors are generally more wired to track down a kid who starts skipping youth group and trying to get to the heart of what issues may be arising. A KidMin director may assume that the parents have any situation under control.

For parents, observing the pattern shouldn’t take long, but understanding the reasons may take some research. Who are his/her current best friends? What are they talking about at lunch or on the school bus? What are they watching online? What type of things happened at the Friday night party he/she went to; or the party before that?  

Keeping a healthy dialog going is key to knowing your middle schooler’s heart and mind. One thing said on the Focus broadcast was that the place for some serious discussions is often while you’re on the Interstate. The kids have nowhere to go. Get them to lose the earbuds for a few minutes and find out what is central to their world. 

But please, hear this: Don’t let their spiritual life die in the middle of a time of peer pressure and temptation. This is when they need an anchor.


I’ve wandered in a different direction today — looking at the child/church relationship — but you can listen to the program with Kevin Leman at Focus on the Family in two parts, starting with part one*; or in his book Planet Middle School.

*many of the citations above are actually from part two

 

January 2, 2016

It’s Not Just a Story – Part Two

"Jonah Leaving the Whale" by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600. Do our children treat the story as a record of a true event or do they mentally classify it with Jack and the Beanstock?

“Jonah Leaving the Whale” by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600. Do our children treat the story as a record of a true event or do they mentally classify it as fable, along with Jack and the Beanstock?

I didn’t set out planning a second part to Friday’s post here, but Bruce Allen put so much thought into his comment, I decided we needed to share it more visibly. This is a response to part one, however, so if you haven’t read that, click this link. He lives in Nova Scotia and owns and operates Time Zone Media which does communications work for a variety of ministry organizations and businesses.

••• Guest post by Bruce Allen •••

In our English-language-world, words come and go and even reverse their meanings, such as “wicked” which meant “wonderful” for at least a few years. There is a long list of English words reversed meanings or held captive. People who blow themselves up in crimes against humanity are called martyrs by their fellow zealots and the news media picks it up and repeats the word until the general population accepts the new definition: Martyrs are cold-blooded killers rather than those murdered. Older English speaking Christians may sort out those “reversed meaning” words but what about a younger generation that stares blankly at their cell phones while texting and doing “selfies?” How should Bible translators deal with a language in flux? Is a “wicked” king now an “awesome” king rather than an evil king?

When the time arrived for Christian leaders to jettison words from earlier eras, there was a lot of brain-storming by Bible orality ministries to figure out what would replace “Bible story.” For my work with the words Bible and Bible stories, I came up with Bible chronicles.

Dictionary: Chronicle – noun, a chronological record of events; a history.

Wow! History, events, and accounts all sounded serious enough words to be Christian so I bought the Bible Chronicles web address and launched my Bible story word revolution with positive vibes.

After using Bible chronicles for several years, I discovered that fellow believers could never remember our web address: BibleChronicles.org . Whenever I felt duty-bound to tell church goers that “Bible story” didn’t cut it in today’s changing world, they fretted and worried. After tiring of explaining, I abandoned the revolution and returned to using Bible stories.

When a word like story is so embedded in a language, it is difficult to suddenly abandon it for other words, especially when the general population is unaware of the Christian world of words and their meanings. As far as teaching our own children, maybe we could begin with not telling them that Santa is real. If Santa knows that we are naughty or nice, who needs God? And what about the Easter bunny and a host of other fables? Do we set our kids up to think we never tell the truth?

Whatever we parents are, our kids become. It may not be so obvious during the teen years, but give it a decade and they become like mom and dad. If they come to understand that we parents truly love them and that we love Jesus and believe his words, we are on solid ground.

Of course we need to teach by the example of lived day to day. We also need to teach them from the Bible and about the Bible. If we see on TV that ISIS just took sledgehammers to Jonah’s tomb in Nineveh, that is a good historical lesson. Who would put a tomb there if there were no Jonah?

Christian kids need to be taught by parents that the world of Christians and Jews is rooted firmly in history – and with the war in Syria and Iraq, history is right in front of our biblical noses. Recently, tens of thousands of Christians have been driven from the city of Mosul and the Nineveh plain by the ISIS murderers. Why not find out about those ancient Christian churches and why they celebrate the Jonah fast? Why not tell the story of those Christians and then read the Biblical account to anyone who will listen – including our children? We have the best stories ever – they are in the Bible and they are true.

From Wikipedia:

Nineveh’s repentance and salvation from evil is noted in the Christian biblical canon’s Gospel of Matthew (12:41) and the Gospel of Luke (11:32). To this day, oriental churches of the Middle East commemorate the three days Jonah spent inside the fish during the Fast of Nineveh. The Christians observing this holiday fast by refraining from food and drinks. Churches encourage followers to refrain from meat, fish and dairy products.

Here is a video of ISIS smashing the tomb of Jonah. Scroll down the page to view it. 


Bruce Allen is a Christian communications consultant to ministries using solar audio Bibles to reach an estimated 3 billion people who cannot read God’s written Word. He is also a software developer who has created ToucanChat for ministries and businesses. A simple installation of Toucan Chat helps ministry workers connect with visitors on their website in real time. Bruce’s personal opinion in the “Bible story” article is his own and does not reflect the views of any particular ministry. 

Stephen Rue, Jonah in the Whale, oil on canvas, 26.25″x25″, 2006. Say what you will about Jonah, packing the waterproof matches was good foresight.

Stephen Rue, Jonah in the Whale, oil on canvas, 26.25″x25″, 2006. Say what you will about Jonah, packing the waterproof matches was good foresight.

 

 

 

December 31, 2015

It’s Not Just a Story

Is the story of Balaam and his donkey something that actually happened or just a story the Bible tells to make another point? It's possible to accept it as something that happened, but be sending your kids a completely opposite message through your choice of words. Image: Source

Is the story of Balaam and his talking donkey something that actually happened or just a story the Biblical writer tells to make another point? It’s possible to accept it as rooted in genuine events, but be sending your kids a completely opposite message through your choice of words. Image: Source

Several weeks ago I attended a Saturday morning breakfast organized as part of a national initiative, the Canadian Christian Business Federation. They are currently operating in six provinces here, and this was my second time at the local chapter.

Some of the best interactions in situations like this happen outside the boundaries of what was formally organized. It turned out that the person sitting next to me at breakfast was from Florida, where he is part of a Creation Science ministry.

We met up later in the morning at the Christian bookstore, and he was looking at Children’s products. I started talking about some of my recent conversations with parents on how as kids, we learn the ways of God through narratives. Adam and Eve. David and Goliath. Jonah and the large fish. Joshua and the Wall of Jericho. Three men in the fiery furnace.

At one point, I used the word story to describe these, and at that point he corrected me, and it’s a correction I’ve been very consciously aware of over the past few weeks. Better, he suggested to use the word account.

The problem with story is that in some peoples’ minds it is synonymous with tale or myth. Now, I realize as I write this, that there are some people — even among readers here — who do in fact see some of these as allegorical tales. Especially the creation narrative with which he works so closely. I suppose we need to save that one for another day.

I also realize that the New Testament in particular is full of parable. There wasn’t ever a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son; right? Or had this played out somewhere? Were there several prodigal sons? Or is the parable an amalgam of things that have actually happened at different times in different places?

There’s even a classic Old Testament parable, told by Nathan, that we could call The Farmer and the Lamb.

So how do little children — who are being taught things that are myths and tales in their English classes — separate fact from fiction? Can a Christian kid say categorically that there was a David, a Jonah, a Joshua? Or are they just reading these things as literature?

Much of our attention in the church at large is currently focused on establishing the authority of the New Testament gospels. We know the disciples were willing to die for what they believed; what they had heard and seen with their own eyes and ears, or the testimony of witnesses they considered to be reliable.

But what about the authority of the Old Testament historical books?  Are the children in our sphere of influence as confident in the story account of the three men in the fiery furnace, or in their minds, is it in the same class as the one about Goldilocks and the three bears?

By better controlling our use of language, and especially thinking in terms of scriptural accounts we are testifying to the verity of the people and situations described.

 

 

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