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Mommy! Can you log off and play with me?: How do our hi-tech habits impact our children?

I hate to admit it, but I am guilty. I am guilty of teaching my children how to use technology badly. For instance, my daughter is sitting right next to me in the car and I spend the whole ride home on my cell phone, completely ignoring her. Or my kids and I sit in our living room on a rare evening with no scheduled activities, and we each quietly type away on our laptops, every now and then posting comments on each other's Facebook page.

I guess its no surprise. After all, we are a highly wired, virtually connected family. The question becomes more uncomfortable, however, as I read new research coming out from cyber scholar Sherry Turkle. According to Turkle, we can't use technology in a way that is unintentional or unbalanced and hope it doesn't sift down to our kids--because it does. "After five years and 300 interviews, she has found that feelings of hurt, jealousy and competition are widespread. Her findings will be published in “Alone Together” early next year by Basic Books."

The finding that just breaks my heart is the intense hurt children feel when parents make a choice to talk on the phone or check their laptop instead of pay attention to their children. While some kids act out in order to demand that attention back, many simply suck it up and learn how to deal with it, feeling a little less worthy every time their parent takes that call. And you can be sure that when those children grow up, they will do the exact same thing with the people who are important in their lives.

In addition to kids feeling ignored, displaced, and basically unworthy of their parents' attention, kids of high-tech parents have a hard time developing a healthy sense of boundaries. And those boundaries can be important. In some of the research we did in 2007, we asked college students what they felt was the most important kind of rules they wished their parents had placed on them as middle school student users of technology. They overwhelmingly said they wished their parents had set stricter limits. They felt like they were now at college struggling with the discipline required to turn off the technology and disconnect when the situation called for it. They wished their parents had helped them develop that discipline when they were younger. Unfortunately, parents who are themselves unable to disconnect have a difficult time teaching discipline and limits to their kids.

I guess the moral of the story is that we can't expect to raise kids who have the discipline to disconnect and engage in real-life, interpersonal interactions when we aren't able to role model that in our own lives. Imagine what kind of powerful statement is communicated when you put away your cell phone each time your kid hops into the car. It communicates worth to your child and the fact that you have power to control your technology. Imagine that at the same time you have strict limits on how long your child can be on the computer or when they can use their cell phones, you follow the same limits and model healthy boundaries. Being intentional about how we use technology is not easy. But next time you reach for the phone or pop open the laptop, check to make sure you are balancing the need for your virtual connection with the need to model healthy choices to your kids.



The Remarkable Life of Aaron Kendall

A number of my friends have asked for a copy of the eulogy I wrote for my son's funeral this afternoon. I decided to post a copy of it on my blog, even though it has little to do with technology.  I also wanted to thank all the people who have shown my family and I such love and support over the past week.  God's family is absolutely remarkable.

Aaron Kendall

Aaron’s journey began on a snowy evening in February. To no one’s surprise, his mom spent the afternoon trying to find a substitute teacher in between contractions, while his dad spent time phoning friends and relatives.  Everyone knew that Aaron was special from the minute he was born.  With a heart rate of over 300 beats per minute, the nurses’ quickened pace seemed to subtly contradict their smiling faces and reassuring words. Within an hour, Aaron was transported down to Children’s Hospital with a diagnosis of Wolf-Parkinson White Syndrome, a common heart problem that periodically speeds up the heart.  “No problem” said the doctors, “lot’s of kids live normal lives with WPW.” And within a week, Aaron was home with his family, living the life of a beautiful newborn.
    That first month was special as Aaron’s red hair grew long and curly and he learned how to use that beautiful smile. He was healthy, active and growing strong. Then, in an instant, everything changed. That snowy night, Aaron’s mom and dad said their prayers and tucked Aaron into bed.  Little did they know, his heart had begun to race.  When his mom went in to check on him a little later, she found a gray and lifeless child.  CPR was given, the ambulance came, the men worked on him, and they took little Aaron away.  From that night on, Aaron’s life course changed from what his mom and dad had charted for him. They began on a journey together—just like an adventurous sailing voyage, no one knew exactly how to sail, how to drop anchor, or where they were going.  But the thing was—they were in it together and they would never be alone.
    Aaron came home from the pediatric intensive care unit 3 months later accompanied by nurses, tubes, medicines, social workers, and a list of things to do to keep him alive. Within the chaos and storm of those first few months, God began to demonstrate how he would care for Aaron (and his family).  One after another, He sent very special people into Aaron’s life. Whether it was the Mary Poppins nurse who sang songs to Aaron from morning to night, the New Age PCA who would massage Aaron’s forehead with essential oils whenever he looked concerned, the Happy bus driver ladies who greeted him each morning with music and smiles, the Dedicated teachers who believed in his ability to do more than just sit in his chair, or the Faithful friends from church who would make animal noises and talk to him every week, God surrounded Aaron with people.  These people helped raise him, love him and, many times without realizing it, helped care for his family as well. 
    Aaron’s journey took a new course when he moved into the group home in Roseville two years ago.  It was a miracle he found a place like B2. Really.  A miracle. Paid for by the State of Minnesota (his family says thank you) and only 10 minutes away from anxious and guilt-ridden parents, Aaron was immediately surrounded by new friends, stuffed animals, and very special people who did more than care for him.  They opened themselves up and cared about him. It wasn’t long before his family saw new enthusiasm in Aaron’s eyes.  His smile was wide as he went on excursions to parks, parties, and 3D movies. He had found a very special place to call home.
    The last two months were a difficult part of Aaron’s journey. It was during this latest storm that Aaron and his family felt the deep devotion from his ACR family. Whether it was hospital visits where staff would read books and sing along with sing-along tapes or training sessions where staff learned how to do new and sometimes uncomfortable procedures, Aaron and his family never felt so supported and lifted up as they did when they saw another ACR staff go out of their way to make things better. 
    Aaron experienced lots of transitions and uncertainty over the past month, but through it all he showed resiliency and charm. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before his new caregivers in Red Wing were making animal noises, reading books, and humming as they left his room.  That’s the thing with Aaron.  He had a smile for every occasion and reminded everyone who stopped to listen that there was joy to be found in each and every little thing.
    And that’s where Aaron’s journey came to an end.  It concluded as unexpectedly and dramatically as it began. When we look back over his remarkable voyage we can see that we were never in this alone. It took a community to raise Aaron.  His life was filled with love and people who saw the remarkable child who thrived within his imperfect body. And the thing is, Aaron seemed to understand God’s way of doing things a little more clearly than the rest of us.  Whether it was his bright smile or infectious laugh, Aaron saw the beauty in things.  He took us on an adventure that brought us to an extraordinary place. We are far stronger and far more understanding of God’s deep love and God’s mighty power than we would have been if this journey would have taken another course.  Who would have expected that this smiley faced, red-haired, freckled-face boy could have accomplished so much in just 20 years.



Are you Becoming Your Facebook Profile?  

I gave a presentation last night at the Friends of the Bethel Library meeting and one theme seemed to come up over and over again.  That has to do with how our use of online social networks make our lives more public and our identities more co-created.  I began with the notion that many freshmen students share--it isn't real until it's on Facebook.  In other words, Facebook becomes a place where students can build a cohesive narrative of what is happening.  Together they can figure out things like "is it cool to wear flip-flops in winter?", "is playing a lot of video games good or bad?", "is it o.k. if I miss a lot of class?", and "should I keep dating my boyfriend?" With every picture they post, a clearer perspective of who they are and how they fit into this community develops.  On one hand, Facebook allows students to become part of a community in ways that were not possible before.  If they aren't socially charming or outgoing, that's o.k. because they can be part of the narrative simply by sitting in their room and posting fun sayings or cute pictures.  Facebook helps builds cohesiveness because students see things at the same time and experience the same things together--much like what happened to our country when we all sat together and watched the Twin Towers fall on 9/11.  Facebook builds a cohesive narrative.

The second thing is that Facebook builds what Sherri Turkle calls "a tethered self".  This tethered self is one that is constantly connected to the broader social web.  Whether it be through the computer or the smart phone, our social companions are always with us.  This public way of living can change us.  Instead of thinking through certain decisions, weighing the implications, we simply ask our social companions what they think. What car should I buy? What should I make for dinner? Where should we go for vacation? which classes should I take? I could make up my own mind, but its easier to just get my friends' opinions. Another implication to living a public lifestyle is that we feel obligated to share our feelings. And I mean every feeling. If I'm frustrated with my roommate, sad about a test, worried about the future, or guilty about a behavior, I had better share it with my social web. In other words, if I am having a feeling, I need to find a friend. Or I need a friend, so I need to find a feeling.

Think about some of these implications.  Instead of feeling something, thinking about it, mediating on what God is trying to show me, considering how I might be at fault, then strategizing how to respond, I simply whip out my cell phone and share my feeling with my 100 best friends.  As we live our lives in an increasingly public way, we lose that sense of self that stands in between the relationships.  We lose a sense of who we are and who God wants us to be.  Instead, we become who our social web says we should become.

Living a public life can be fun and can provide terrific ways to communicate the things that are important to us. What we need to be aware of is that when we increasingly become the person our Facebook profile says we are, we miss out on the depth of understanding our complexity, our unique giftings, and our ultimate purpose. Instead of shaping ourselves in the image of Jesus Christ, we begin to shape ourselves into the self that has been conveniently socially constructed for us.  Sometimes, there is a big difference.  Sometimes taking  time to untether, de-publicize, and disconnect may be just what we need to really find out who we are and why we are here.


Do Video Games Make Us Smart?

Last week I participated in a public debate that considered whether technology is making us dumb (e.g. The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein).  I, of course, was tasked with the argument "technology is actually good for us".  Needless to say, it was not an easy task--until I came upon "Everything Bad is Good for You" by Steve Johnson.  One of his most compelling arguments has to do with the increasing cognitive demands of video games.  According to Johnson, video games are truly making us smarter.  While that argument is not the most obvious, after spending spring break with my gamer son and a new video game he thought I might "like", I am drawn to agree with him.

Because my son feels like one of his jobs is to train his mother in the intricacies and beauties of living in a high-tech world, he introduced me to a new game he thought might just be my speed--in other words it wasn't very hard, involved cute little aliens, and required very little hand-eye coordination. He got me to the beginning point and said "now, mom...all you have to do is get your guy over the chasm and into the other room.  You may have to replicate the guy and get a jet pack, but that's pretty easy. I'll let you work on it for a few minutes, then I'll come back to see how you are doing." I figured well, I do have a PhD, after all, how hard can this be? After being killed at least 50 times, I yelled at the t.v. screen and declared "I quit!"  I could see the disappointment in my son's eyes.  He showed me how to do a few basic maneuvers and I said "well, you didn't tell me I could do that!"  His response was "mom, you're supposed to figure that out for yourself. That's part of the game."

He was right.  Video games are not for those who want to sit back and tune out intellectually.  Most games are full of cognitive complexity. They require patience and step by step goal setting with layer after layer of problems to be solved.  The gamer has to figure out the rules of the game (the days of things like chess where you know the rules ahead of time are long gone).  He or she has to determine the "physics of the virtual world".  In other words, by trial and error, he or she figures out what it takes to fly, speed, shoot, walk, fight, and stay alive.  According to Johnson, gamers begin by exploring the world; they then define problems, make hypotheses, test them out, revise hypotheses and act upon the findings.  Does that remind you of anything familiar?  That would be the scientific method.  That's right, as our kids are sitting around with controllers in their hands and blank looks on their faces, they are actually refining important problem-solving techniques that have a direct application to real-life issues.

As I was making these arguments in my recent debate, a young man raised his hand and asked if these skills  are really transferable or valuable?  The same could be asked of the types of problems we have students do in math and science classes.  After all, how many times, in real life, will our kids have to figure out if 2 trains left a station 100 miles apart and one traveled 60 mph......?  The point is, we are training our kids how to think.  How is that different than what the video games are doing?

My conclusion? There is ALOT more to video games than what most people assume.  Though they may have addictive powers and may contain violence and lots of well-endowed stereotypical women, they are also challenging our kids to think in ways that are much more significant than checkers or Uno. So the next time you see a kid (or a spouse) sitting and playing a video game, take a breathe before you tell him or her to get off that thing and get a life.  He or she may just be getter smarter with every level that is conquered and every task that is mastered.


Jesus' Facebook Page

You have to visit this link.  It has a great description of the Passover week from a Facebook perspective.  As we complain about how things like Facebook have diminished our depth of thinking and relationships, I think this parody demonstrates how this new medium can unearth some new aspects of people's stories and help us experience things in a different way.


Crazy Love and Peaceful Nights: A Big View of God Makes a Difference

I am in the middle of reading Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love. It is a powerful book because it begins with an important premise: how you see God really does matter. In my own life, I see, over and over again how my sad little view of God’s power actually prevents me from trusting him and truly following him with every part of who I am.  God is so much bigger and more risky than what I can hope to understand in my highly scheduled and strictly controlled days. This is an understanding of scale.  And I believe in our highly mediated and highly synchronized culture, it is especially difficult to gain a realistic and life changing view of a holy, omnipotent, eternal God.

I especially like how Francis Chan begins his book.  He acknowledges how our way of doing things demonstrates an inability to process God’s power.  For instance, think about how we tend to approach interactions with the creator of the universe. “Solomon warned us not to rush into God’s presence with words. That is what fool’s do….we are a culture that relies on technology over community, a society where spoken words are cheap, easy to come by, and excessive” (p. 25). What we need is to spend time worshipping in a way that communicates our weakness and inability to articulate.  The thing is, it makes a difference.

Let me share a very personal and current example. I have recently been faced with some soul-wrenching decisions and unknowns about where my 20-year old son will live when he leaves the hospital. I feel my heart break every time we meet with the social workers.  So how have I slept at night when I could lie awake worrying? How have I continued on with my days when I could be completely eaten up on the inside? Well, at first I tried praying through every possibility.  I tried pleading for wisdom. I tried confessing my sins. I tried prayer chains and sharing my distress with my small group.  While all of those things were probably good, you know what has carried me? Worship. I have spent hours in the Psalms, on walks, and in solitude.  I gave up trying to formulate the perfect prayer. I just started worshipping and meditating on the powerful God I serve. And you know, the bigger my view of God becomes, the less I worry. The more I see his majesty, the more I see his hand at work. And the more I acknowledge his power, the less I agonize about my options.

How we see God really does matter. I would challenge you to, right now, to spend some time worshiping our amazing God. You might be surprised at how it might change your entire world.


Avatar vs. Humanity

We saw Avatar in 3D the other day.  I hate to say it, but I LOVED the first few minutes where I felt physically transported into a fabulous new world. I felt completely surrounded by trees and jungle and tall blue people. I could feel the sun on my face and hear the blue people whispering behind me. Even though my seat got a little uncomfortable after the first 2 hours, I remained captivated right up until I took the glasses off, walked out into a dreary Minnesota day and hopped into my car with brake and transmission problems. You know what the real message of Avatar was—the one beyond the whole “Pocahontas on steroids” thing—that being an Avatar was cool.  In fact, it was better than being human.

I listened to Dr. Carla Dahl give a presentation on human sexuality the other day at Bethel University and she made some very insightful observations about how we are becoming increasingly separated from our human bodies. It becomes all too easy to make decisions about our body that we hope don’t impact our soul.

This dualist way of thinking is nothing new.  So what is the problem? What do we lose when we trade in a holistic approach to living for a brave new world made up of avatars and art? Doesn’t our human body simply slow us down and get in the way?  By substituting an “uber” reality for the limiting reality of dirt, disability, and disappointment, don’t we gain a new freedom and control?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure scripture agrees with the Avatar approach.  We are commanded to love the Lord with all of our heart, all of our mind and all of our strength.  There is value in a holistic, focused approach to life. As much as our body slows us down, it makes us who we are. As much as our real-life social context might limit us, God put us with these people for a reason.  James Cameron can’t artificially create human presence—no matter how cool the 3D glasses look.  Our humanity is something that can only be shared with one another by being there.  Sometimes it is important to turn off the television, flip off the phone, log off the computer, take out the ear buds and reconnect with the things that make us truly human.


Farmville, Webkins, and the Appeal of Reality

DICE 2010: "Design Outside the Box" Presentation

This clip is a presentation given by one of the foremost game developers, Carnegie Mellon University Professor, Jesse Schell, talking about how games will need to change in the future.  While it is in no way related to faith (and contains some rough language), he makes a couple of really interesting observations.  For example, he notes that there are more Farmville players than total Twitter accounts.  Farmville is a little Facebook game played by millions and millions of users. He also talks about the unexpected success of things like Club Penguin, Mafia Wars, Wii Fit, Webkins, and applications that allow video game users to display their game trophies. What makes these things so appealing?  According to Schell, each of these game applications is based on something gamers haven't been given in a long time--reality.

Schell predicts an increased convergence of games and reality.  Playing virtual games with our real life friends and playing with virtual animals who can be held in our real-life arms is a trend that seems to be bringing back some degree of balance to our mediated lives. The bottom line is that fantasy is made more fun when reality is part of the mix.  This seems to be one of the few observations I've found that suggests the trajectory of increased mediation may not hold.  When it comes down to it, we may actually have an inner urging for a life based in real-life relationship and true-blue experiences.



An Awakening

I did something this morning I haven't done for months.  I turned off the Kathy Smith workout DVD, I got my tennis shoes on, I opened the front door and I went outside for a walk. Keep in mind a walk is a pretty big deal around here since the Minnesota winters keep us pretty bundled up between October and April.  It was still only 36 degrees, but spring is definitely in the air. I heard a bird chirp and I breathed in real-life air. It is true that there are still piles of snow.  The salt and gunk make everything look a little dirty and the Christmas lights and broken plastic snowmen seemed a little sad.

It's on mornings like this, however, that I begin to appreciate what a mediated life I really live. As I walked, I began to feel clear.  I had no music playing, no t.v. or computer to look at and no clock dictating my every step. It was me and my neighborhood. There is something significant that happens when we step out from our environmentally controlled homes and workplaces and put aside the technology that fills in our days.  We come one step closer to connecting with reality--not the pre-processed, virtual kind of reality, but the real kind.  The kind where we have no technology sitting between us and creation. The kind where we catch a bigger glimpse of who our creator is.

This kind of reality gives us silence and a space to think.  It gives us fresh air and the clarity to breathe. Its on mornings like this that I wonder what I sacrifice as my world becomes increasingly contained and mediated.  Walking in a brisk Minnesota morning reminds me that God has so much more for me than highly scheduled days, exhausted evenings and a life that settles for controlled and superficial experiences. Reality can be a little uncomfortable (yes, my cheeks were pretty much frozen as I walked back up my driveway after my walk), but sometimes that clarity and that space are exactly what we need to reconnect and wake up to the adventure that God has prepared just for us.



Time is not the Answer

Newsong: Life in My Day

My cell phone's ringing and I'm running late
The morning traffic's got me
Time is ticking away
A few more hours is all that I need
Seems that there are just enough days in the week
But then it hits me
TIme is not the answer
You've given me all the time in the world
All that I need is..

A little more life in my day
A little more of Your life
A little more faith
Need a little more life in my day
A little more life to show me the way
If I'm gonna be in the world but not be of it
Lord I need more of You in all that I do
With a little more life in my day


Although I've heard Newsong's song before, I finally heard the words the other day.  What a challenge they present! Time is not the answer--you've given me all the time in the world.  What I need is a little more life in my day. If we could only worry more about squeezing out every bit of life from each day instead of squeezing out every spare minute--how would life be different?  How would my priorities change?  Would I stay on my cell phone as I walked past friends? Would I keep watching T.V. as my daughter sits down next to me? Would I hop on e-mail every time I sit down to my computer? That's not what life is all about. It is about significance.  It is about relationships. It is about loving God with my heart, mind and strength--everything.  As I get ready for work this morning, I will try and remind myself each time I look at the clock that time really is not the answer.


holy holy holy: an unmediated approach to worship

This past Sunday I was watching as my worship leader sang a beautiful song of praise.  At the end we all sang "Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty" It was nice.   My church delivers a very complete worship package.  I can sing along with my leader on the screen, who is beamed to me from a location somewhere far away.  He usually has lovely pictures of doves and clouds scrolling behind him.  During the interlude, I pause as I watch the electric guitar guy really rock the old hymn. My emotions swell along with the drummer's beat.

As nice as this pre-processed worship experience is, it dawned on me that worship--true worship--probably can not be mediated. Just watching moving pictures or listening to electrified music is not worship. And just like the technology that is put between me and my pastor mediates and changes our relationship, so is my worship experience changed when it is mediated by someone else doing the worship work for me. Real worship happens when I enter in.  When my entire body, mind and soul becomes engaged in praising God, that is when I catch a glimpse of the awesome power of God--that is when I catch a glimpse of a God who is overwhlemingly bigger than any problem or hang up I might have.

Unfortunately, those true worship experiences don't happen that often.  I tend to get caught up in the technology and the experience that has been pre-processed for me.  It makes me lazy and only involves part of my being.  But every now and then, I let it go. I remember why I am really there--not to be entertained but to participate--not to have someone else bring me to the throne of God, but to enter in myself.

So, I think this Sunday, I won't think so much.  I won't worry about what everyone else is doing.  I won't wait for the billowing clouds or the musical interludes.  I will be committed to humble myself and enter into the presence of the Almighty God.


iPad Ponderings

"Cool!"  That's what I told my husband. "I can't wait to get this thing!" This cool new iPad would look beautiful next to my iPod, iPhone, iTouch, iMac, PS3, PSP, DVR, and 4 TV's.  Yes, I could sit in bed and read a book with my iPad.  I could check my e-mails, my Facebook pages, and write a blog in between boring descriptions in the novel I am reading. As a consumer, I am giddy.  As a person who is supposed to be more analytical, I guess I need to stop and consider what this sweet-looking device means for the world.

First of all, Marshall McLuhan's voice rings in my ears...the medium is the message.  Well, the medium is a sleek, shiny gadget with a touch screen and colors that will make my book reading more toteable and certainly more sophisticated.  The message, however, may be that the multi-functional device will make my reading time multi-purposed. The upside is that I no longer need to spend my time JUST reading--imagine how much more productive I can be.  The downside, however, is that reading a book is one of the very few things I do that is concentrated, single purposed, and focused. The new iPad may be the next step in taking away what little focus I have left in my life.

The second possible problem is that this new gadget adds one more layer to the complexity and consumerism I like to call my modern life.  I hate to say it, but sometimes the simple things are the best.  As I search for more places to stuff my old phones, dead computers, analogue tv's, chords, adapters, and headphones, I can't help but wonder if I really need all this stuff.  After all, sometimes chopping an onion with a knife instead of a Ronco slicer-dicer might be the choice that simplifies my life. And sometimes reading in bed with a book--the old fashioned kind with real pages--may be the solution that keeps my bank account in better shape, my closet easier to use, and my life less complex. As hard as it is to say, sometimes I don't need the newest and the fastest and the best. Scripture has ALOT to say about how we spend our money.  (Something about where our treasure is our hearts will soon follow.)

So, does that mean that Steve Jobs has introduced just one more way to sabatouge our future and destroy our humanity?  Well, probably not. I guess it means, however, that I can wait a little while longer to see if this cool new toy will really add some value to my day or just clutter up an already overcrowded life.



Just Another Day in Intensive Care

Once again, I sit here watching a ventilator breathe for my son.  While I hadn't expected to include a lot of health perspective in my blog on technology and faith, I can't help but be struck by the overwhleming presence of technology in my son's recovery. That, in turn, has an enormous impact on my faith. 

As much as we have always tried to keep my son's life as uncomplicated as possible, this recent trip to the ICU has reminded me how very fragile his life is and how close we live every day to chaos.  Today, he has a machine breathing for him, a tube feeding him, and a bed that turns him every 10 minutes to help clear his lungs. I sit here on a Sunday morning, contemplating God's love for my son. Put quite plainly, my son wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the technology that often complicates his life. Just like God works through nature and simple beauty, he also works through ugly and cluttered technologies. He works through the curt and dismissive doctor at the same time he works through a mother's loving caress.  God is here in this hospital room and, even though he may be difficult to hear through the noisy machines, he ministers to my heart more clearly than he does on a silent summer day.  I guess this may be the ultimate joining of live-giving technology and soul-refreshing faith. 


The Role of an Audience: Live Video Feed Sermon and Clapping

I attend a large church that has a main campus with two satellite campuses.  The music is live at the satellites, but the sermon is seen through a 5-minute delayed video feed from the main campus. The large video screens and full-size view of the pastor makes the experience feel "almost" real.  The illusion holds, that is, until something happens like yesterday.  The pastor said something and the audience clapped to show approval for what he said.  It was clear, the audience at my remote site didn't know what to do.  Should we clap for someone who wasn't actually there and couldn't hear us?  Was the clapping really for the other people sitting in the small sanctuary? What was the role of the clapping?  Or, in a broader respect, what was the role of the audience?  Did the pastor really need us?  Did we really need each other?  After all, we watch a sermon video--what is the diference between that and watching a sermon video at home?  Would I clap at home?

These are just some of the questions I struggle with as I attend a church I have grown to appreciate immensely.  The church is relevant and effective.  It is making a difference in our community. But how does a mediating technology like the video feed impact the experience?  After all, it is a big church, 13,000 people, and if I saw the pastor in person, he certainly wouldn't see me or change anything based on my presence. So whether I experience him in person or through a video feed probably doesn't impact him.

One thing author and pastor Shane Hipps suggests is that this kind of set up communicates something very specific about the gospel.  It says that only a few individuals are skilled enough to preach.  Only a few professional musicians are skilled enough to sing. The rest of us must acknowledge our limitations and simply take in what we are presented.  I'm not so sure. 

When I am part of the audience in a remote location, I am still there, worshipping with other people.  I am still experiencing some sort of community.  After all, watching a movie alone in my living room is different than watching in a theater with a crowd full of people.  The theater experience "connects" me to a larger community.  It helps me "feel' things in a richer way.  An audience also helps focus in on things that are particularly important, whether it means laughing at things that are funny or being completely silent when things are significant. Maybe the role of the audience is more important for the audience members. The sermon may be mediated, but the group experience is not.  Maybe that is just as important.  So, the next time the audience struggles with whether they should clap for a video person, I think I will join in, to remind people that I am there and we are all in this together.


A Day in Intensive Care

As I write this blog, I am sitting in my son's intensive care hospital room, surrounded by every imaginable piece of technology. There are machines that monitor his heart rate, oxygen levels, and blood pressure. Other machines feed him, deliver his medication, look deep into his chest, and identify abnormal heart rythms and brain waves. My son has a cold. Unfortunately, because of his severe handicaps and chronic illnesses, the doctors feel it is necessary to monitor him for all sorts of potential problems using the technology they have grown so very fond of.

This is a difficult hospitilization because I struggle with whether the doctors and all of their technology and medicine are really helping my son or actually making him worse. Because his "healthy" state is never very far away from his "sick" state, the doctors tend to opt for safe rather than sorry and plug him into the high-tech, biophysical approach to health care at the smallest sign of trouble. However, when all is said and done, it is probably the soft songs sung in his ear, the cuddly stuffed animal cradled in his arm, or the KungFu Panda video playing on the tv that provides the deepest healing.

Technology has saved my son's life on several occasions and I thank God for talented medical technicians. However, I also thank God for the kind words spoken by the neurologist, the sweet caring provided by the nurses, and the patient humility and diligence shown by the group home workers. We can never forget the person who lies amidst the technology--whether it is in a hospital room or on Facebook. God has created us to respond to one another in deep and meaningful ways. We can't let technology overshadow our need for one another or reduce our willingness to open up and communicate in a way that touches the heart.


The Changing Shape of Scripture: How Technology Impacts Our View of the Bible

I recently attended a lecture by Bible professor Dr. Michael Holmes at Bethel University.  He described how the physical form of the Bible has changed over history.  He left us with a question--how does the form of scripture impact how we use and understand it?  It is a great question highlighted by the attached Youtube video.

Take for example ancient tablets. These things were actual rocks with words carved on the flat surfaces.  Needless to say,  an entire set of writings would be pretty heavy.  As a result, very few communities had access to anything more than part of scripture.  The rest was communicated orally because most people couldn't read anyway. So the question is, how was their faith experience different? 

For one thing, scripture reading and teaching was a corporate event.  Individuals would have to depend on the priest to do the interpretation.  That gave a lot of power to the priest but also emphasized the community over the individual. Could you imagine never having the experience of sitting by yourself in a corner with your Bible and having a nice little quiet time? That contemplation happened in a group and it happened orally.  People had to memorize scripture if they wanted access to it ouside of the Sabbath.  In a certain sense, when someone memorizes and talks through scripture, it seems to stick. An oral approach to scripture certainly has some great benefits.

Once the printing press came, that oral culture began to change.  Individuals suddenly had access to their own Bible. Can you imagine how exciting that would have been to get your very own Bible? The Bible would be a precious thing.  Maybe that meant that each word was more precious than it is today, or maybe it meant that the Bible itself became something so precious it wasn't to be touched and certainly didn't apply to the trivial and dirty things of everyday life. The biggest change was that scripture reading became an individual event.  Individuals could read and interpret things on their own. It is possible that this one piece of technology did more than anything to move Christianity from a corporate to an individual experience.

So where does that leave us today? With the iPhone, we can read the Bible anytime and anywhere.  With Google and sites like, we have access to information about exegesis, archeology, history, translations, and various interpretations--all at our fingertips.  These new technologies certainly help us become more informed consumers of scripture.  I wonder, however, if they might not add to the fragmentation that seems to exemplify our culture. I know when I read my daily devotional, I often neglect to read more than a small passage.  I rarely put it in context with the overall flow of the entire scripture. It is also possible that when reading scripture takes the same form as Googling good Italian restaurants, the reverance of the Bible is lost. On the other hand, because the Bible travels with us, perhaps it will ultimately become more part of us. We don't have to stop and have a preplanned daily devotional time, we can have devotional time whenever we have a few minutes. Perhaps, as referenced in the Youtube video, the technology will just get in the way of the message. When it comes down to it, the Bible is an inherently text-based medium.  As our culture moves more toward images, I wonder how that will effect the discipline of daily reading and memorizing of words. Perhaps the ideas rather than the actual words will become more important.  Perhaps the stories will be more emphasized than the doctrine.

According to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message.  If that is the case, the form the Bible takes really does make a difference. 

So where do you think we are headed?


Unplugging the Noise: Making Space for God's Quiet Voice

When is the last time you sat in complete silence?

For me it happened one evening in the middle of last winter. My husband and daughter were out doing their respective things. I was at home by myself, enjoying American Idol, checking e-mails and Facebook, watching my little plastic Christmas tree with the fiber optic lights turn bright shades of green, purple and red. Right at the time Simon Cowell was going to say something nasty, it happened. The power went out. I sat and looked at the dog, wondering what to do. I lit a few candles and waited. Nothing. A small seed of panic began to sprout. I called the electric company and they informed me the power might be out for an hour or two. The sprout of panic grew. I realized I had no idea what to do. I couldn't watch t.v., listen to music, read a book, or talk to anyone. It was just me and the dog and the dog was intent on sleeping. As minutes passed, I began to calm down and actually became accustomed to the quiet. I was alone with my thoughts for the first time in a long, long time. God had given me a gift. He had given me a true quiet time. I spent the next hour in prayer and thought. I began to feel more peaceful, more refreshed. Eventually, the lights, the t.v., the computer and the tree flashed backed on and quickly re-filled my life with noise--noise that suddenly felt invasive and artifical.

We need our quiet times--times that are unplugged from the technology that tends to clutter our lives. Silence helps us re-engage with our thoughts. It also gives us space to listen for God's small, still voice to touch our hearts and our minds. These times of complete worship or complete pleading with God remind us how utterly dependent we are on him for every part of our lives--and there is something surprisingly refreshing about that. I challenge you to turn down the noise in your life. Find a space where you are enveloped in silence and don't be afraid of what you might find. For me, it only took an area-wide power outage to understand how much I needed a little unplugged quiet time in my life.


Lazy Days and Lazy Friends: The Facebook Effect

I just checked. I have 169 Facebook friends. Some people might call me popular--you know--well connected. However, as I take a look at all of my "friends", its not quite so impressive. Many of them are former students who I rarely see. Some are friends from high school who I never see. Some are family members who I see way too often (just kidding :), and some are people I'm not even sure how they got in there. Only a very small percentage of my Facebook friends are my real friends who I care alot about. So does that make the time I spend reading through my mini-feed a waste of time? Is Facebook in some way eroding my experience of friendship? Has Facebook truly become the great harbinger of over-mediated and under-committed friendships?

As much as many college faculty colleagues of mine would like to hold out Facebook as a symbol of all that is wrong with today's culture, I would have to disagree. At the same time, I do have concerns with how I see Facebook slowly eroding my willingness to shut off my lap top, pick up the phone, and be a good friend. Facebook, as with any other technology, is only as good or as bad as the choices I make with it. Those choices, unfortunately, are often difficult to isolate as I automatically pop open my Facebook page and thoughtlessly scroll through the daily events of my friends' lives. Without being intentional about my Facebook use, I may slowly lose the deeper sense of connection I get when I am fully engaged in the life of a friend. Especially when I get busy, I find myself settling. The thing is, God wants more for us--he expects more from us. Friendships--true frienships--take time. They are messy and require us to sacrifice the time and energy we work so hard to keep for ourselves. They require us to break out of our cozy telecocoons, padded with wall posts and mini-feeds. The primary commandment is to love the lord our God with our entire heart, mind and soul. The second commandment is to love others as ourself. That requires commitment to quit settling for the Facebook version of friendship.

So what might that look like? I'm not saying we should unplug our Facebook connection. What I am saying is that we should truly plug in to our Facebook connection. That means really paying attention to the status posts left by our friends. I have found to do this well, I need to focus in on just a handful of friends. I can't commit to becoming truly involved in the lives of all 169 of my friends. I can, however, respond to a few true blue friends. My husband is especially good at this. As soon as he reads something interesting on a post, he picks up the phone and calls the person. He finds out so much more about what is going on and he communicates to his friend that he or she is someone of value. When I see on Facebook that someone is having a hard day with the kids, I pray for them or offer to babysit. When I see a student is studying hard, I'll send a private note of encouragement. With a little bit of intentionality and commitment,Facebook doesn't have to turn us into lazy friends. Facebook can be the manner in which we search for new ways to truly connect.


My Brand New Blog or "A funny thing happened while criticizing teens"

A funny thing happened on the way to my last book.  I started by pointing to all the troublesome ways our kids use their technology and I ended up pointing directly at myself. Thats right.  I can now admit that I, too, have problems managing my technology. Let me make some confessions: Sometimes, I would rather get an e-mail or Facebook post from someone than actually talk to them in real life.  I would rather play an hour of Bejeweled 2 than read a book.  I label sitting with my family in a darkened room watching a DVD "quality time".  I check my work e-mails every night before I go to bed. And I still get chills when a screen descends from the ceiling of my megachurch and my pastor begins his sermon from an auditorium far, far away. Really. I love my technology. 

As I was studying the way technology is transforming our kids, I couldn't help but be struck by the realization that my technology was transforming me.  What was even more significant was that these transformations have had a direct impact on my faith.  It is quite possible that as I become better connected and more efficient with my technology, I am actually moving further and further away from a fulfilling, exciting and focused Christian life.  I would like to use this blog to contemplate different ways our technology impacts our faith--in both good ways and bad.  It is my hope that as we move into a wireless world, we take the time to take control of our technology and take control of the choices we have to use that technology in ways that are God-honoring and purpose-driven. 

So welcome to my new blog. Thanks for making the connection. TTFN

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