Monday, August 27, 2018

Dealing With Our Glass Addiction

I recently had an interesting experience at the dentist with my girls. The office we visit is specifically geared toward kids, so their waiting room is really fun—with TVs, iPads, toys, and games. We arrived a few minutes early, so the girls made their way to the iPads and began playing with a coloring app. Fun, engaging, and interactive play. All was right in the world.

But then one of the dental assistants realized that the TV was off and boldly declared, “You guys need a movie!” To which Zoe politely responded, “I think we’re okay.” I was so proud! They had turned down watching a movie in lieu of continuing to color. But instead of listening to Zoe’s request, the worker chose to just turn on the movie anyway (in case they changed their mind, I assume).

And I just knew what was going to happen. I knew the TV would soon distract the girls from their positive, artistic, engaging activity. And sure enough, within minutes the girls had turned in their chairs and were glued to the TV screen. I asked Zoe if she wanted to keep coloring and she lamented that the movie was distracting.

The solution was easy—simply asking the workers to turn off the movie—but I found myself thinking about, and disappointed in, the addictive power of the screen in our culture. We are parked in front of screens all day, every day—from phones to computers to TVs—and we don’t even realize how addictive these glass idols have become. And I’m not meaning to be critical of this dental assistant, because I’m just as addicted to screens myself, but you know there’s a societal problem with screen addiction when a 6-year-old tells you she’s okay without a movie playing and you turn it on anyway, because…you know…“you’re a kid…and what kid doesn’t want to watch a movie?!”

Now I’m aware of the ironies in this story—that the girls were coloring on an iPad, that I’m typing this article on a computer, and that you are reading this article on some sort of screen—but the inevitable prevalence of screens in our society simply means we need to be wise about how we utilize these technologies. We must be aware of what our screens are doing to us, our brains, our families, and our faith. And we must be willing to make sacrifices in our lives that will help us limit the all-consuming power of the screen.

For example, Mandy and I have recently decided to rid our main living space of our TV and replace it with a piano. We’ll still have TVs in our home and will still watch our fair-share of mindless television, but our hope is that removing that screen from our main communal space will help us make wiser and more intentional decisions about when and how often we watch TV.

So, how are the screens in your life being used or abused? Are there any unhealthy practices or rhythms in your life around screen time that need to be remedied? And will you have the courage to make those changes for the sake of yourself, your family, and your faith?

Monday, August 20, 2018

Honestly...Mediocre vs. Honestly Mediocre

There’s an author and blogger named Carey Nieuwhof that pastors a large church in Canada and has become one of the leading voices for church leadership and growth in North America. I read his blog regularly and he often provides helpful thoughts about pastoring, leadership, and being a healthy church. But I also find many of his articles focus way too much on size, greatness, and success.

There’s a blog post he wrote recently that is making the church leadership rounds entitled Seven Signs Your Church is Honestly…Mediocre. In the article, Nieuwhof essentially argues that “many churches are neither great at things or terrible at things. They’re just…mediocre.” He proceeds to provide seven causes for mediocrity in the church, with the understood assumption that mediocrity is bad. But the “mediocre” ministry he’s referring to are things like mediocre worship music, poor quality live streaming of worship services, and lame church websites.

But if church “success” means having professional quality music, technology, and websites, then count me out of trying to be “successful.” Those aren’t the organizational values that I would use to measure success. Sure, I want to do ministry with excellence. Absolutely! No question! But I’m more interested in our church being true to who we are as a church, even if the rest of the church world would call our ministry mediocre. I’m only interested in us being who God has designed us to be as a local body of Christ.

So, in that sense, while Nieuwhof calls many churches “honestly…mediocre,” I’m more than fine being honestly mediocre (that phrase must be read with no pause and an emphasis on the honesty part). As long as we’re being honest to who God has made us as a church family—not trying to look and act like the cool church down the street—then I’m totally fine being called “mediocre.” Let’s stay consistently committed to growing as disciples of Jesus and to reaching out into our community with his good news, and let the chips fall as they may. If we grow as a church…awesome. If we never get big and “successful”…that’s okay too. Let’s try to be excellent in the organic, natural, honest ministry that God has called us too—and be okay if the world calls that “mediocre.”

If you're interested, HERE is a critique of Nieuwhof's article from Michael Frost

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Good Reminder in an Unexpected Place

Last night my family went to a fun, family event in Bozeman: a movie night on the jumbo-tron at the MSU football stadium. We laid out blankets and chairs, and sat on the field with a thousand other people, eating popcorn and watching the new kids’ movie, Ferdinand. What a great night!

Now, for those of you who haven’t read the children’s book or watched the movie, I’m about to spoil some of the plot. Essentially, the movie is about a massive bull who would rather smell flowers and roll in the grass than be a world-renowned star in the bullfighting ring. Ferdinand doesn’t have a violent bone in his body, but is constantly hounded and harassed about his need to fight. He’s relentlessly mocked for his weakness and cowardice—for being ‘soft.’ To exist in his world is to fight. That’s just the way things are. If you don’t leave the ranch in a trailer heading for the glory of the ring, you eventually leave in a trailer heading to the meat-packing plant. There’s only those options: kill or be killed.

The Empire is everywhere. It mocks weakness and tempts us toward violence. It sells the false narrative that violence, power, and control are normal. It hypnotizes us into believing its lie of ‘might makes right’; tricks us into thinking there is only one way to the top.

But Ferdinand doesn’t buy the lie. He is never persuaded to violence. When he’s paraded into the ring of death, to kill or be killed, he constantly and insistently chooses peace over violence. And even when the matador has finally cornered Ferdinand—the unwilling participant in this imperial sport of violence and death—the mighty bull plops onto his haunches and refuses to fight back.

And the beauty of Ferdinand’s non-violent resistance to the violence and evil of the empire was that he won over the crowd, who insisted on his life being spared. Peace had conquered violence; death had been defeated.

Ferdinand is Jesus. I proudly worship a non-violent savior—who refused to fight back amidst mockery, suffering, and death—and in doing so, exposed the impotency and cowardice of the empire and made a way for death to be defeated and a new life-giving way to emerge. And Jesus invites us into this same way of creative, prayerful, non-violent resistance to the status-quo of the empire—the quest for money, power, and self-gratification. We are called to lay down our swords, absorb the violent barbs of the empire, and reveal to the world a new way of peace and love.

I know it’s just a movie, but may we have the courage of Ferdinand—to stand up to the powers and ways of the world that directly oppose the way of Jesus. May we be strong enough to be weak; brave enough to be peaceful; heroic enough to step out of the false-binary of ‘fight or flight’ and find a new Jesus-centered third way to engage with the world.