Do As I Say Not As I Do

I regulate my children’s media intake. We only got a tablet  a year or so ago and it’s one kindle fire for the whole family mostly reserved for long roadtrips or very occasional usage. We limit tv and movies and are thoughtful about what content is consumed in that time. My children also attend a classical school where they encounter very little technology and even then only occasionally. Limiting these things seemed like a pretty logical step for me but it’s also recommended by most in the medical field and research backs it up pretty strongly.

Then I started researching the why. See, I am an educator and educational technology has gone far beyond a buzzword to become an assumed asset to the classroom but that seemed rather illogical.

How could digital media be bad for children in personal use but perfectly fine to expose them to on a daily basis in a captive setting when we were supposed to be engaging their minds? Spoiler alert: it can’t. Digital media is changing the way our children process information. This is not an opinion or theory it is a fact with an expansive, and yet growing, field of research to support it. If you are unsure where to begin sifting through research I will be including a list of resources at the bottom of this blog.

But then I was confronted with another fact. If it is not good for developing brains it’s likely not neutral to adult brains either. Spoiler alert: it’s not. So was I leading by example? It’s easy to say, “I’m an adult, I can control myself.” or “My brain is done developing, I don’t need to worry.” but that’s because it’s very easy to deny facts we do not want to confront.

The reality is I need to unplug just as much and just as often as my children. I am aware of the irony of writing this on a digital media platform using a laptop. I truly am. But as I became convicted I needed to lead by example I decided I needed some concrete boundaries.

See phones and tv have been around a while now and I was having trouble connecting why they would be inherently more addictive than in the 80s or 90s until I listened to a talk on media ecology by Dr. T. David Gordon.

Two factors stood out: First, tvs and phones were stationary. To use them you must be tethered to one place, something most of us tend to avoid. We used them less in most cases because we weren’t willing to miss out on the whole world to wait by them.  Now, they are with us always, or least they can be. Another was the nature of the beasts themselves, tv camera angles remained stationary for 30-40 seconds instead of 3-4 and shows were on when they were on. Not many people liked every single show on tv so you were limited to certain viewing hours simply because you wouldn’t like the shows on in many time slots. Now, you can choose your own personal brand of distracting, mind numbing programing any time of day or night and the idea of binging it is completely normal.  Phones had one function and could only distract us by interacting in a very personal way with another human. Now, you can do almost anything on your phone, the possibilities are very nearing limitless.

Faced with the reality that the phones and tvs of my childhood were not those of my today I was also faced with the reality that the way I grew up (no limits on technology), not longer applied.

As I write this I am sitting at my new writing desk. I bought it to essentially turn my laptop into a PC when I am home. This is where my laptop lives now and if I want to use it I will have to sit on the backless stool, my body regularly making me aware if I am here to long.

I also deleted facebook & facebook messenger from my phone since I can’t imagine a scenario where someone would need to reach me in an emergency but also would not have my actual cell phone number. I don’t want to find myself distracted from real life by digital life and those little dings. The dings can wait but life can not, in fact it is notoriously impatient, passing us by with or without our permission or acknowledgment. I want to ensure I am leading by example, not telling my children to do as a I day, not as I do.

*This does not mean that I think technology is inherently evil or harmful but our constant consumption of it, and our replacement of worthwhile ventures like education with a watered down digital substitute ARE dangerous. We will continue to use digital media but in more thoughtful ways and amounts than ever before.*

 

Resources

Books

Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids – And How To Break the Trance – Dr. Nicholas Kardaras

The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder – Richard Louv

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You – Tony Reinke

Alone Together: Why We expect More from Technology & Less From Each Other- Turkle

The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans & Jeopardizes Our Future – Bauerlein

Articles & Sites

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? 

Screens in Schools are a $60 Billion Hoax 

Media Ecology Resources

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Santa & the Perpetuation of Privilege

****Disclaimer: If you celebrate Santa this is NOT a personal attack on you but it is a request to spend some time in prayer and consider a different viewpoint. I don’t want you to think about YOUR family and how Santa works with YOU I want you to think about society as a whole and the big picture narrative he perpetuates. You are likely able to defend how YOUR family does Santa but can you defend the big idea? When you really read what i’m saying, you truly think honestly and objectively, (checking the white hot rage you feel because I dare question such a fun tradition), can you say this is a good, healthy thing we should keep doing? Let’s find out?****

How do you explain to a child the need for Toys for Tots, Angel Trees, Operation Christmas Child, etc ad nauseam in a world where you also perpetuate the notion of Santa? Why should they want to give gifts to bad kids? Because if those kids were good Santa would bring them gifts. In fact Santa gives many middle and upper class children extremely extravagant gifts like trips to Disney or trampolines or video game systems so the poor kids that get socks or a drug store toy were probably also kind of bad. OBVIOUSLY they deserve less or Santa would have given them big ticket gifts like all the well to do children (who also tend to be white so not only is this classist, it’s a bit racist).

Without meaning to middle and upper class Americans have spent decades unintentionally telling their children that poor people are bad. Poor people need charity because they don’t deserve nice things (or Santa would give them nice things!) but we will pity them and give them things anyway since they can’t help being bad, it’s out of their control. There is simply no way to sugar coat the fact that Santa actually encourages children to see economic disparity as a deserved label and equate comfortable/rich with good and struggling/poor with bad.

I know, I know Santa has become his own religion and some of you are clutching your elf on the shelf, ready to stab my eyes out with peppermint sticks but before you do…ask yourself why you have so much devotion and passion toward a fictional character? I am NOT attacking you or how you celebrate specifically, I promise you are not personally victimizing the poor. But I am challenging you to evaluate the bigger picture and what your role in it should be. Is it time to say goodbye to the big lie?

[Yes, many poor people use Santa too and yes they are part of the issue too but they are not sending the same message to their children. Many are forced to be honest with their children because they can not explain away the hurt their child feels when their gifts don’t quite match up. Others go into debt trying to keep the “magic” alive for their child. None of this is good.] 

My Own Advent Conspiracy

*This blog is not for everyone, if this just sounds awful to you, read the disclaimer at the bottom. I am positive this is not right for every family, but it is for mine. I am simply presenting an alternative to the common celebration for those who feel they want something different.*

I tend toward minimalism, not as some deep philosophy or set of rules to live my life but just because I find that in almost every case having less is actually easier. Less to clean, less to put away, less to spend, less to waste…just less.

So last year as we sat in our church listening to them explain their Advent Conspiracy my heart was pricked. We didn’t buy gifts for the kids when they were babies just an ornament and a stocking then as they got toddler age a stocking and a $20 or so gift. It still felt like I was buying them stuff just to buy them stuff because…I was supposed to buy them stuff.

The “Advent Conspiracy” our church does is to push against the buy, buy, buy of the season and encourage families to maybe cut back on what they give their kids or family and donate a portion of that money to the Advent Conspiracy fund. Instead of giving in to the societal pressure to buy more they suggested we spend more time together, pray more, focus on Christ more and give that extra cash to a worthy cause.

Last year’s substantial fund was enough to help support some humanitarian efforts in central Asia and a good start toward renovating a building in Turkey so that Syrian refugees will have a community center/school. It will help students, who are not being welcomed into the public schools easily in the area, to continue learning, have a safe, clean place together and regain a sense of community.

Our extra $10 here, $20 there helped do that. This year the funds raised will finish the support needed for the community center and send workers and funds to Corpus Christi which still has hundreds of displaced families who simply can not rebuild alone. (Getting insurance in a known hurricane zone can be more expensive than their mortgage so sadly many did not have any at all).

I decided just doing this little bit was not enough this year. This year I wanted to take on our own advent conspiracy project. What if instead if buying any gifts for my own family we chose to give Christmas to a family in need? Well, I can tell you it’s been fun. Each family member will still get their small red stocking stuffed with trinkets, socks, underwear and snacks but that’s it. My kids are excited to see what we buy the other family, help wrap it and put it under the tree until I meet the social worker next week to pass off the now giant pile.

I don’t share this to pat myself on the back, on the contrary I am now convinced we can do even MORE. We can adopt a family and give to Advent Conspiracy and do Operation Christmas Child and something else I don’t know yet because we still manage to get fast food a few times a month and we still don’t go without one single thing we need so there are still places to tighten our belt and help our fellow man.

I DO tell you this because I want to encourage those of you who felt like me but haven’t taken the leap yet. You worry what people will think and say but you are convinced this season is so much more than presents. You are right. You worry your kids will be resentful. You worry you will look cheap giving smaller gifts to your family members. I can’t promise none of those things will happen. But I can promise you will find joy in the giving, joy in the absence of commercial trappings, joy in the spirit. My kids are more excited than ever… and they still have multiple grandparents to spoil them so even without me they will get plenty. I don’t think our family has cared at all what we buy them, they seem to like that we put a lot of thought and creativity into our low budget gifts. I can’t promise you it will be the same for you but I want to encourage you to try it.

My kids don’t believe in Santa but they do believe in God and it has given them a heart for their fellow man. If I can encourage that compassion and sacrifice, teach them to live below their means and share their excess then this little experiment in going against the Advent Conspiracy is beyond worth it.

*****If you are not interested in this that’s ok too, this blog isn’t so much for you. To some people the idea of presents or santa or X tradition is so tied to Christmas that what I’m saying feels wrong to them. If that’s you that’s ok, you do you, no judgment. But for those who feel like me there shouldn’t be any judgment either.******

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More isn’t Better & Good isn’t Necessary

Do you have opportunities to do good things all week? I know I do! Do you have opportunities to do more all week? I do!

Good is good, right? So…. I should do it…because it’s good.

And more of good is even better so I should do more, right!

Wrong.

More isn’t always good and good isn’t the same as necessary. Good must always be examined in light of best. Your good may be someone else’s best. Your saying yes to good may also hurt your best.

Let me explain.

Say I could volunteer at a women’s shelter and I could work with college age students and I could help in my church nursery. All great things right? But which one am I going to be best at? For me it is the work with the college age students. Can I invest time there and also volunteer at a women’s shelter or work in my church nursery? Maybe if I didn’t also have a full time job and two young children….but I do. But guess what? Someone out there doesn’t have a full time job and two young children OR they do but their best is helping at a women’s shelter so they are passing on the college students I am heading for.

Busy is the enemy or growth, especially for a Christian. There is a reason for the cliche saying that if the enemy can’t make you bad he will make you busy. The reason is it’s true.

People all need love, young people, older people, babies, rich, poor, religious and not, nearby and far away. They ALL need the church to show them Christ’s love. But I can’t be the church alone and I need to stop trying! I had gotten to a place where I wasn’t doing my best. I was a stay at home mom so I felt I HAD to help everywhere help was needed so I was volunteering in a children’s class and the nursery and awana and on special projects and I wasn’t really investing anywhere. I wasn’t spending time praying for, thinking about and fellowshipping with those I was ministering too. That’s where the real growth happens, relationships that encourage discipleship.

I had to learn, all over again to say no to some things. To walk away from many good things. To turn down more things. But i’m not saying no to protect an idol of time or self interest, I’m saying no to prevent an idol of ME. When we believe WE have to fill every need we are thinking too highly of ourselves. Saying no is an exercise in humility. I pride myself on being capable of a great many things (i’m a jack of all trades, master of none) but just because i’m capable does not mean I should. Instead of agreeing to mediocrity in many areas I am striving for excellence in one.

To be the wife, mother and teacher I have been called to be I must be very selective, protective even, of how I use my time. I must choose wisely the things I can do well and still continue my callings.

I know this problem is not unique to me, or women, or even Christians.

Tonight I pray, Lord help me to be a Mary in a world that encourages me to be a Martha. Help me to see the important tasks set before me and focus on them, leaving the things which can wait to wait. May I be consumed not by busyness but by glorifying you through all I say and do. 

A Halloween Conviction

I used to love Halloween. I would dress up, sometimes making elaborate costumes for myself other times putting together multiple costumes per year (like 3 or 4). I also never missed a haunted hayride..or a few… and would drive an hour or two to go to my favorite haunted houses. I really enjoyed it.

Notice all the past tense?

I’m not sure when it happened but slowly I became increasingly uncomfortable with Halloween. It’s not just my faith, although that plays a part, that changed how I see the holiday. It’s a combination of my faith against the backdrop of an increasingly dark world and a society that seems to embrace evil, hatred, and all manner of unseemly things.

Looking back, I think it started years ago when the “Saw” movie franchise was popular. It did not seem at all like something I would enjoy so I didn’t not watch them..until 2006 when they had released a third so I decided to try the first one and just see what everyone was obsessed with. I was left in shock. Did people actually enjoy this? Revel in seeing humans tortured? Pay to see people murdered, maimed and tormented in disturbing ways? Why? What does this say about them? I’m sorry I couldn’t get past the idea people saw this as “entertainment” and I will openly admit I judge people who enjoy those movies. I honestly don’t trust people who do, I wonder what dark part of them embraces that.

It was that peak into an ugly part of humanity that began my journey to breaking up with Halloween. Slowly I noticed more and more themes of disturbing adult content being pushed down for children, murder and gruesome acts being trivialized and even celebrated and an intolerable focus on evil.

In a world full of evil and pain and murder and hate I, for one, do not want to give any more energy and time to darkness. I don’t want to surround myself with negative, sinister, wicked imagery and I don’t want my children exposed to it. 

I will let my children trick or treat this year but even that formerly innocent activity is wearing on me, last year I had to block their view from inappropriate costumes and decorations.  As I walk my Sleeping Beauty and undecided historical figure (he’s still torn) around for candy this year I am going to do some soul searching as I decide if it needs to be our last.  Maybe we will save our costumes for comic-con and the ren faire…

The halloween of my childhood was still largely one of vampires, frankenstein and witches. It existed in a world where terrorists were not beheading captives and posting the videos to youtube. A time when scary movies that bothered to show blood resembled something akin to a ketchup bottle spurting everywhere not the hyper-realistic, disturbingly intense fare of today.  Halloween no longer seems like campy fun and the scary, disturbing places it has gone are not roads I desire to walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be a September 12th American

When I think of an American I don’t think of the exceptions, I think of the rules. The media loves to find the outliers in any situation because typical doesn’t sell. “One dies from eating lettuce!!!” is going to get way more attention than “Millions of people don’t die from eating lettuce.” Sadly, the same is true in their coverage of the American people. Who leads the coverage? Racists, anarchists, looters, mobs, gangs, and criminals, these people don’t really represent America anymore than a death from a salad represents the typical risks of eating healthy.

I want to talk about REAL America. The America most of us experience every single day. Real America has a lot of hard working folks. Salt of the earth people who will quietly do what needs to be done and ask for no recognition in return. I’m looking at you first responders, farmers, factory workers, teachers, nurses and more. I’m talking about the kind of people who dug through the rubble on September 11th, 2001 or jumped in their boats to rescue strangers after a hurricane. These are the hands and feet of America doing what needs to be done.

Real America has a heart too, it is easy to find strangers helping strangers, rescuing animals, donating to those in need, giving their time to charities and just being kind to their fellow humans. These acts occur by the thousands in every city, every day, you’ve probably been the giver or recipient of one yourself. I refuse to let the identity of REAL America be stolen by a hateful minority simply because they get all the attention.

If you are old enough just think back to one clear September morning where we all remembered what it meant to be American, to grieve with those who grieve, to help those in need, and to recognize the good in our fellow man. We reached out and held hands across pews, across religions, across genders and races and financial divides and we were a stronger people for it. September 11th will live on vividly in my mind as a somber day but September 12th? That will forever remind me what it means to be an American.

Broken is Beautiful

“You’re a 30 year old mom of two who teaches elementary school; college students don’t want to hang out with you.” That’s what the mean girl in my head told me as I looked at the info for my church’s international student ministry. Not old enough to be motherly, not young enough to be hip. I am at a stage in life that can feel awkward, but I knew the mean girl was wrong, in fact God had called me to this church for this exact purpose. Knowing the mean girl is wrong and silencing her can be different things though.

Socializing is not something that comes naturally to me. I am a very confident person…until i’m not. Put me in a professional setting and I am self-assured and collected, certain of my God gifted abilities. Ask me to dig into a deep philosophical question or summarize a complex idea and I’ll jump at the opportunity, thankful to utilize my God given intelligence. Give me a practical need and I will strive to meet it assured of God’s calling for me as a servant. But ask me to interact with people I don’t know well in a social setting? Suddenly i’m in fifth grade again and the mean girls are watching for me to do the wrong thing so they can laugh. I have to fight the urge to withdraw and force myself to engage.

I am comfortable with who I am but I am not always confident in my value to a world I increasingly don’t understand…. It is only by recognizing I was not made for this world that I am able to embrace my deeply flawed person as a vessel of a holy and perfect God’s will. My brokenness is the very attribute which allowed me to be shaped into a new creation and so it is only in my brokenness that I can find beauty. When I reach out in spite of my inabilities and insecurities it is in that act of self-denial that I see Christ (because it is certainly not me). Each time I push against what the world has told me I am I find strength in the action and rest in the obedience.

I am very thankful I silenced the mean girl. I spent this afternoon hanging out with one of our lovely international friends and watching my children begin to understand another culture in a meaningful way. We would have missed a blessing God had for us.