Friday, December 14, 2007

Learning to Love Life

I love being with my family...

...Though being intentional and fully-present is always an ongoing discipline to be practiced.

...Yet, more and more I simply enjoy being with my family... at home... doing nothing... but playing and exploring life...

Here are a few things...

...I'm Loving this Holiday Season:

      • Wrestling with Micah
      • Dancing with Naylah
      • Making Pancakes on Saturday Mornings with the Kids
      • Creating Oatmeal and Coffee Every Morning with Naylah
      • Watching Life & Journeyman with Charissa
      • Seeing Avi Smile and Giggle
      • Gett'n Down With the Whole Family to Jam'n Music in the Basement
      • Observing my Children Discover Life
      • Laughing with Charissa at our kids, each other & the silly'ness of Life
      • Playing Mario Kart: Double Dash with the Whole Family
      • Simply Being Together - Having Nothing to Do...
Here is a little video featuring some of our seasonal celebrations...

Menorah Hora - A Jewish Celebration

Now for the Snowball Fight...

Family Snowball Fight

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Parents Buying What They Don't Want to Buy...

According to The Barna Group, born again Christians in the U.S. are predicted to spend $1 billion on media products for children younger than 18 this Christmas.

, many of them are concerned about the media content of the products they buy.

  • 70% of those who bought downloads for their kids’ mobile phones were concerned about the content
  • 46% of video game purchasers were concerned about the content
  • 33% of CD purchasers were concerned about the content
  • 31% of magazine purchasers were concerned about the content
  • 26% of DVD purchasers were concerned about the content
  • 24% of computer software purchasers were concerned about the content

"Obviously," if parents are concerned about the content, they should not buy it. Unfortunately, somewhere between a quarter and a half of all Christian parents still buy the media products.

Questionable content often shapes culture in unquestionably negative ways. It makes the jobs of children’s pastors and youth ministers more difficult when even the Christian students subject themselves to negative influences, particularly when parents are the ones buying the bad influences."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Warning! :: Sesame Street 1969 is Not Suitable for Generation Z

We are in the process of totally ReDesigning our children's ministry space, as well as the whole scope and sequence of what transpires on a Sunday morning for our children. This is going to be an exciting venture and I can easily become adrenalized merely envisioning what the creative-interactive-hand's-on integrative-multi-sensory worship-learning-engaging-connecting with God environments are going to look like...

As someone who spends a good deal of time thinking about communication, culture and ministry, as well as frequently taking in a new episode of Sesame Street with the kids, I found the following post on a blog hosted by Bombay Creative.

Culture has certainly changed over the past 40 years. The New York Times reports that DVD Volumes 1 & 2 of “Sesame Street’s” original episodes come with the following warning:

These early “Sesame Street” episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.

Why? According to Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente, Cookie Monster smokes and eats a pipe during “Monsterpiece Theater.” And other characters may seem too grouchy, depressed, slow, or drugged. The NY Times also notes:

On the very first episode, which aired on PBS Nov. 10, 1969 — a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but . . . well, he could have wanted anything.

The DVD warning is a reminder that our culture has become much more politically correct over the years and our streets have become much more dangerous for children.

From a ministry perspective, what worked 40 years ago certainly seems out of place today.

1969 Sesame Street Intro

Compare that to a Recent Sesame Street Intro

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gates, Walls & Self-Perception

There is an ancient proverb that says, “As one thinketh within his heart, so he is.”[1] Though phrased a little awkwardly for our times, this ancient maxim is loaded with application for our media saturated culture. The word for heart utilized in the original text is nephesh[2], which is the Hebrew word for soul. The Hebrew concept of the heart encompasses the seat of emotions, the core of one’s being, the mind and emotions. Some would even say that the soul would also store the shaping influences of one’s life experiences. The interesting aspect of the verse and that which acutely relates to our understanding of how each of us has been formed by our surrounding environments has to do with the word “thinketh.” Not exactly a word that makes its way into the everyday vernacular. Thinketh, is the Hebrew word shaar. The fascinating thing about the word shaar isn’t so much the linear translation as think, rather the embedded word picture that would have been striking to the first hearers of this saying.

Shaar literally means, “to split or open.”[3] It was a place of access. Another translation is the idea of one “acting as a gatekeeper.”[4] Ancient proverbs were deeply visual sayings, especially given they were generated and shared in a oral-storytelling culture. Proverbs were profound, subversive and rich in imagery. This particular adage would stir up vivid images of a city surrounded by huge walls. Cities were typically characterized as such. Often there were only a few avenues of entrance into the city. These entrances were guarded by trained watchmen and gate-keepers.

It was the watchman’s responsibility to recognize and identify visitors on the horizon, then report to the gatekeeper below where they perceived them to be coming from, intended purpose and their relational standing to the city. The gatekeeper took this information and then interacted with those wishing to make entrance into the city. The gatekeepers responsibility was enormous, for the destiny of the city depended on their discernment and wisdom. The ancients knew that everything that was allowed through the gates of the city would influence and effect the whole of the city, for better or worst, good or bad, blessing or cursing. For instance, a covered wagon full of manure carried into the city would quickly infest the entire city with a putrid smell by high noon. Regardless of the strength and fortitude of the city walls, it was this place where the city walls were “split open” that could easily lead to a titanic like crash.

The writer of Proverbs often referred to the human soul as a city and the walls there of. “Like a city whose walls are broken through,” writes the author of Proverbs, “is a person who lacks self–control.”[5] In Proverbs 23:7, the sage isn’t so much talking about a persons “mind” or what they think, rather he is talking about the things that influence the way one thinks. There is a distinct difference. He isn’t just saying, “as a person thinks, so they are,” though that’s true, the deeper meaning of the word shaar is actually digging a few layers below this reality. It’s not one’s thoughts that he’s talking about, but the realities that are influencing and shaping one’s thoughts. It’s the things that are given access to our soul (mind, emotions, experiences) that shape and determine who we are and how we respond. This is the case, whether we are aware of it or not. It doesn’t matter whether we expose ourselves to these powers consciously or unconsciously, be it intentionally or unintentionally.

It is imperative that the weight of this proverb be understood and internalized, otherwise we will remain hamstrung and incapacitated in our endeavors to live a life of biblical simplicity. For it is only as we understand the principles governing this verse and the practical in-workings by our surrounding culture on our understanding of value, success and personal worth, that we can begin to reorient ourselves to the truth. “We crave things we neither need nor enjoy,”[6] Foster tells us. He continues, “We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media has convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick…”

[1] Proverbs 23:7, KJV.
[2] Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon, reference no. 5315.
[3] Strong’s Hebrew Bible Dictionary, reference no. 8176.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Proverbs 25:28, TNIV.
[6] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 80.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Beauty is Distorted...

If we could only see and realize that the "images" we are so longing to be like, in actuality don't even exist - they're an illusion. Much like the Sport's Illustrated photos mentioned in the previous post. These images are paraded before us as if they are the norm, and that which we should aspire to, yet we are never told that in reality these people don't even exist - at least as they are shown on the cover.

Dove's Beauty is Distorted campaign is a brilliant revolution attempting to subvert the illusion of beauty and our never ending pursuit thereof. There campaign is a unique stance against the false image portrayed in advertising by revealing the process a model goes through before her image hits the billboard... The same is true of the process one under-goes before hitting the cover of some magazine at the check-out aisle.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Image is Everything... Counter-Currents to a Life of Simplicity

In the 80’s, when Andrea Agassi was at his prime, Canon did a commercial for their EOS Rebel camera, with the slogan, “Image is everything.” We’ve long since left the 80’s, but the slogan is perhaps more alive today than ever before. Moreover, it’s not only Canon’s phrase for living anymore, it appears to be almost everyone’s. Image is everything, the mantra for the New Millennium. This mantra, it seems, isn’t just for the media’s perpetual consuming self-promoting commercials, but for human self-preserving, self-promoting, self-esteem enhancing-make-me-feel-better-about-myself,
make-you-feel-better-about-myself purposes.

Image is everything.

From a very early age, we are all influenced by the power of these culture inflicted images. These images, by and large, shape our understanding of who we are, what we look like and if we appreciate or detest what we look like. Psychological studies establish that by age five a child has formed a comparatively distinct impression of themselves. The same studies reveal that self-esteem is not closely related to social position, family work background, education or any combination of such factors. A young child sees him/herself from the reflections of those close to him/her, mainly one’s parents. It is these reflections mirrored back into one’s soul in response to their interactions and activities that largely determines and influences one’s self image. These reflections attach themselves to the core of our being.

“We are trapped in a maze,” Foster writes, “of competing attachments.”[1] We are spellbound by what has been mirrored back to us through our experiences. “We are the most conditioned, programmed beings the world has ever known,” writes Dr. Tim O'Shea. He continues, “not only are our thoughts and attitudes continually being shaped and molded; our very awareness of the whole design seems like it is being subtly and inexorably erased.”[2]

The noteworthy indicator here is that all of this shaping and molding, though unconcealed, transpires very subtly to our awareness. For example, how do you know what you look like? Chances are, when you were only a baby a parent or significant caregiver held you up to a mirror and amid weird faces and goofy noises began pointing to you and the mirror repeating a series of chants to the effect of, “Who’s that…?,” followed by “That’s YOUR NAME…”

Over time, we began to understand that the image we saw in the mirror was indeed us and that was what we physically looked like. This awareness of ourselves is reinforced by pictures, videos and the like. These reflected images helps us to recognize who we are and what we look like, but they don’t in and of themselves influence what we think about what we see and how we feel about how we look. This type of conclusive internalization comes only as we observe others respond and react to who we are, how we act and how becoming and attractive we perceive they think we are. Additional calculations are made as we learn the curse of comparison to those around us, as well as the images presented to us via the various means of media.

It is imperative that we understand and internalize the sway image can and has had over us, otherwise we will remain hamstrung and incapacitated in our endeavors to live a life of biblical simplicity. For it is only as we understand the principles governing this reality and the practical in-workings by our surrounding culture on our understanding of value, success and personal worth, that we can begin to reorient ourselves to the truth. “We crave things we neither need nor enjoy,”[3] Foster tells us. He continues, “We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media has convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick…”

Consider that for every alluring photo included in “Sport’s Illustrated’s yearly swimsuit edition, roughly twenty-five thousand photographs are taken and discarded. And that is after starting with statuesque models who likely have undergone intense dieting, rigorous exercise, and scores of cosmetic surgeries – not to mention the lights, make-up, and exotic settings. Tragically, countless women hold such photos as the standard for beauty, with devastating consequences for their health, confidence, and sense of priorities.”[4] And, innumerable men hold such photos as the standard for beauty as well. Regrettably, these images are by in large merely figments of creative design, blemish manipulating, cosmetic altering, psyche-seducing, cheap counterfeits of intimacy without responsibility.

The Challenge of Simplicity

How will the people of God ever be able to courageously articulate new and more human ways to live,[5] if they are ensnared by the same trappings of the world in which they live, especially as it relates to a life of simplicity?

For many of us, the radical call to living a simple life is too much to swallow. Could it be too much to swallow because we’ve been numbed by that which we’ve been feeding on all along, that which has been entering the gates of our consciousness while our inner “gatekeepers” were being enchanted by the blitz and comfort of the spirits of the age of comfort and ease?

Foster’s suggestions for developing a rule of simplicity can be quite formidable. He counsels us to “reject anything that is producing an addiction”[6] within.

For me personally, television isn’t a problem, sweets aren’t an issue and I haven’t drank a Coca-Cola type drink in almost a year, but I do enjoy coffee. Actually not a morning goes by where my hand hasn’t reached out for a fresh mug of brew and sometimes again in the mid-afternoon. Am I addicted? Can I go a day without it? Depends on how many starbucks I’ve had in a week. More than three days straight can tend to create headaches the next morning, luring me back for another hit. Could very well be physiological indicators of a biological dependence upon the substance of caffeine. The question is, do I care and am I willing to diminish intake down to zilch?

Foster commends our rejection of “anything that breeds the oppression of others.”[7] Typically this is a non-issue, but the ramifications of this are grander than meets the eye. I just took off my shirt to see where it was made. The tag reads, “Honduras.” Was this shirt made “at the expense of exploiting Latin American peasants?”[8] I can’t say for sure, but I’ve been to Honduras, shopped in it’s markets and I’m pretty sure the person who helped manufacture the shirt I’m now wearing didn’t earn anywhere near what the person down the street at McDonald’s does. Is that exploitation? Do I desire to live a life of simplicity enough to refuse to buy these articles of clothing? I actually won this shirt at a 5k race this summer. Do I refuse the prize of winning the race? These too have proved to be some of my internal wrestling this week.

The Formative Place of Solitude

It isn’t until I begin to see how my view of things have been shaped by the world in which I live, contrasted against the values of the kingdom of which I’ve been adopted into, that my perspective begins to shift opening me up to new ways of living. It is then and only then that I begin to understand with Lily Tomlin, that “even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” But, these revelations often need an initiation that only comes through intentional solitude. “Solitude,” writes Calhoun, “is a formative place because it gives God’s Spirit time and space to do deep work.”[9] “Many other voices pull at us,” Calhoun continues, “seeking to own and name us, but in solitude we learn what it is to distinguish between the voice of God and the voices of the world.”[10] It is in solitude that we began to develop spiritual eyes and ears and begin to “see and hear”[11] things differently – from God’s perspective.

[1] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 80.
[2] Dr. Tim O'Shea, The Doors Of Perception: Why Americans Will Believe Almost Anything.
[3] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 80.
[4] Erik Lokkesmoe and Jedd Medefind, The Revolutionary Communicator: Seven Principles Jesus Lived To Impact, Connect And Lead, 74.
[5] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 81.
[6] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 90.
[7] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 94.
[8] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 94.
[9] Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Discipline Handbook, 112.
[10] Ibid., Spiritual Discipline Handbook, 113.
[11] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 98.

Image Credits
Image is Everything -
Attainable Beauty? -
Refection & Young/Aging Woman -