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As we continue to talk about love as a choice and not as a feeling, Sunday's echo experience brought us to one of the most challenging teachings of Jesus: the call to love our enemies.
Luke 6:27-38 records one of the times that Jesus issued this challenge. This is a revolutionary teaching about love. Jesus turns the conventional ideas about love and fairness updside down.
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In a culture where love is all out of whack, "self-love" has been distorted as well.
When Jesus included the call to "love your neighbor as yourself" in his list of the greatest commandments, he was assuming that people do in fact love themselves. This is a pretty safe assumption to make - we as creatures tend to love ourselves first and foremost, and to put our own interests above the interests of others.
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This series in Echo, we have been talking about love, which is not a feeling, but a choice. When Jesus was asked what was the heart and soul of this whole religion thing - what is a relationship with God all about, the conversation turned to the "great commandment." Love God with everything, and love your neighbor as yourself. This week it was all about…
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Love is in the air at ECHO! We just wrapped up our first week in our "Love This!" series. Some thought from last Sunday that are worth talking out with your teenager:
Sometimes people talk about falling in love, like falling into a puddle or something...as if it were an accident; completely uncontrollable. This attitude sometimes makes us think that love is some mysterious feeling that we cannot harness – like “the Force.” We hear songs with lines like “you can’t help who you love,” and the general attitude of our culture is that…
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: boundaries, controlling boyfriend, controlling girlfriend, partenting teenagers, Teenage Romance, teenage sexuality
It’s complicated. Our high school students have been in a conversation for the past few weeks about dating and relationships. No one can ever honestly try to relate to the opposite sex and come away with any other conclusion. Men find women mystifying. Women find men frustrating. The differences between people abound, and relationships can be a major source of confusion, frustration, and drama. It can leave you wondering: is it worth it? I think it is complicated because all our relationships have been damaged by sin. We often think about the way that sin damages our relationship with God, but one of the clear ideas in the Bible is how sin damages our relationships with other people. I am including our individual sinful choices, the way that we hurt one another, use and abuse one another; but I am also including sin in the corporate sense of our culture’s posture of rebellion against God. This means they will all be affected by selfishness, ugliness, and human imperfection. The result is a struggle to relate to one another in healthy ways – to establish community where often choose isolation and to learn to love despite our innate tendency to lust.
There is a very interesting cultural phenomenon occurring right now as we learn to date and relate in a digital world. Teenagers have been pairing off and breaking up for generations, but never before has their constantly evolving relationship status been made so public. You can watch relationships develop and unravel, complete with photos, status updates, and status changes. This enables everyone from friends and teachers to grandparents to have a front row seat on the relationships of others. Talk about being a DRAMA major. This is an area of cultural evolution that has dramatic implications. Dating is DRAMA. In the time I have been in youth ministry, as well as when I was a teenager, I have seen students confused, hurt, and mixed up by this reality more than any other.
Don’t jump to conclusions: I am not “anti-dating.” I am not opposed to teenage relationships, but I do think some caution and a few warnings are in order. What we have been trying to do in echo for the past few weeks is have a conversation and challenge some things that our culture takes for granted that might not be true. There are pitfalls that await you and that you could possibly fall into and get ripped up by. Romance is a HUGE part of life – when right, it can lead to so much joy and peace it will blow your mind. When wrong: hurt, heartache, pain, jealousy, bitterness, and more await you.
What are the most common mistakes teenagers make when it comes to dating? Here is my opinion:
- It’s dangerous when teenage romance is too intense. If your teen stops hanging out with his or her friends and their boyfriend or girlfriend becomes the center of their universe, they are in headed for trouble. Romantic relationships rush ahead quickly, but teens need to learn to ride the brakes. When a relationship stops being fun and starts being “serious,” a line has probably been crossed. We encourage teens to be careful about overusing and abusing words like “love” and “commitment.” I am not saying you cannot experience real love as a teenager, I think you can. I am just saying that those are really intense words, and you shouldn’t abuse them. The constant warning in Song of Songs, which is a Hebrew Love Poem in the Bible, is “Do not awaken love before its time” (2:7, 3:5, 8:4). This warning is major part of the celebration of love throughout the book in its proper place. This is more than just a simple “don’t,” it is about understanding the forces at work and the intensity of our wiring as human beings. You are built for connection, so it should not surprise us that we desire deep and intense connections. Yet this design of God has been distorted by sin and selfishness, and we require some boundaries to protect our hearts. I am talking here about late night phone conversations and constant connection through text and social networking. I am talking about being inseparable as a teenage couple. Teenagers need space, it is healthy. They need space to figure out who they are individually and to appreciate other relationships. The only relationship that should have this level of prominence in ya teen’s life right now is God.
- It’s dangerous when teenage romance is too Involved. I am talking here about the controlling, “I need to know where you are every minute” or jealous or possessive kind of relationship. This isn’t healthy. If your teen can’t have a conversation with another girl or guy without their bf or gf freaking out, they are too involved. People should not “own” others as teenagers. They should not need another teenager’s “permission” to do anything. If that is true, they have given someone else a level of authority over them that is improper at this age. It is tempting to be flattered by jealousy, but don’t fall for it. Severe jealousy is an expression of ownership and possessiveness. This is not about concern, it is about control. It is not love being expressed. Love is a relationship of mutual respect and equity. Controlling behavior should not be tolerated. I have witnessed girls text and call their boyfriends dozens of times in an hour. They manipulate and pull stunts to control their boyfriend. I have seen guys intimidate and bully their girlfriend. I have also seen guys that can turn on tears instantly to manipulate and control, even to the point of threatening suicide. If your teen’s relationship sounds like an emo song, help them get out of it! Trust me on this, such behavior in a 17 year old will only get uglier and more severe with time. How do you know when there is a problem? How can you help your teenager recognize the problem? We taught that they should watch for warning signs: If you feel like you shouldn’t have a good time without your bf/gf around, you might have a problem under the surface. If you are ever interrogated by your boyfriend or girlfriend, there might be a problem lurking under the surface. When your relationship stops being fun, when it stops giving you energy, there is a problem. Whenever you are afraid of your boyfriend or girlfriend hearing something you said or seeing something you are doing, there is a problem. If you start feeling burdened or weighed down by your significant other, it is time to adjust the relationship or end it. The last thing you want is a relationship defined by control, fear, and instability. One more important caution here: infatuation has a way of blinding you to another person’s character, especially their faults. If your parents or your good friends are seriously concerned about your bf/gf, LISTEN to them. Take their concerns very seriously. They may be able to see things you cannot. Love is built on trust and respect. If you do not treat each other with trust and respect now, it will not get better later.
- Teen relationships are dangerous when they are too Intimate. It is natural for everyone to want to express physically the intimacy you feel emotionally, but this can get really complicated quick for teens. There is a time and a place for physical intimacy, but high school isn’t it. I have never met anyone that ever said: “I wish I had been more intimate with my high school boyfriend.” Yet I meet people all the time that are filled with regret about their sexual activity as a teenager. So often people have to deal with guilt and frustration because of boundaries tested and compromises made in this area. He wants to go further, she doesn’t, or she does and he doesn’t. There is a great cost to experimenting sexually except in one situation: marriage. We teach teens that intimacy is dangerous without the covenant of marriage to protect and channel it. They are dealing with something powerful, so it has the potential to cause great pain. The power of sexuality is protected by chastity before marriage and by fidelity after marriage. This is the channel that prevents the flood from being destructive. Ask this question: how well do you want to know the body of someone else’s spouse? How well would you want someone else to know your spouse’s body? Every person you date is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s future husband or wife.
Questions for Parents:
- How well do you know the romantic life of your teen? How much do you want to know about their relationship status? Are you waiting for them to come to you, or are you pursuing your teen on this issue?
- What do the lines of communication look like on the issue of romance and sexuality in your home? How often do you initiate these conversations? Your teen needs your guidance here more than anywhere.
- How can you help your teenager establish the right boundaries emotionally, physically, and relationally? What do you want these to look like? Remember it is always easier to give freedom than to take it away once they have experienced it.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: digital responsibility, internet boundaries, internet use contract, parents/teen conflict, teen internet use, texting
There is a ride at Epcot Center, Walt Disney World called “Spaceship Earth,” all about communication. It starts off showing cave drawings and smoke signals, goes forward in time to show the invention of the printing press, then the telegraph, telephone, and eventually the internet. Years ago, the futuristic dream they show to depict the far-off horizon of communication technology was a kid video chatting with someone in Japan. Of course, this actually happens all the time today! I am sure they have since changed the ride to make it something more futuristic. Think back to a time before twitter, skype, facebook, oovoo, instant messenger, instagram, texting, cell phones, computers, land lines, and even the printing press. Every time we there has been an advance in communication technology, it has had a major impact on our culture. Why? Because words are powerful. This means we have to cultivate the skills of digital responsibility in our teens.
Our teens have been granted the title of “Digital Natives.” Unlike us, they’ve been born into a hyper-connected world filled with things like Facebook, social networking, status updates, tweets, texts, touch screens, and blogging. Technology has not only changed the landscape, it’s changing the nature of growing up, which in turn is shaping our teens, including the way they think, talk, and act. Let me get the conversation started by listing some areas of concern for me as a youth pastor:
- Safety Concerns – at some point every parent has shared the nightmare of their child interacting with some lecherous stranger online. This is a very real concern, but I think the danger goes deeper than this. Privacy is a lost reality in our culture, but it is something we need to teach our teens to treasure. Teens are growing up in a world that encourages them to share personal things publicly, sometimes over HUGE platforms. They can do this INSTANTLY, IRREVOCABLY, and to an INNUMERABLE number of people at a click. For issues of safety, privacy, and for the good of others, some things should not be shared digitally, ever. Things like your personal information, home address, cell phone numbers, details about vacation dates and who is where, etc. Social networks and platforms like twitter and facebook often include location information via 3rd party apps. This can lead to potentially unsafe situations, especially because it is very easy for things to be more public than our teens think. There are ways to keep some data private on facebook, but twitter is more difficult. Little things like screen names like hotcheerchic99 or something like that can convey information you don’t intend to share. Passwords get hacked, teens forget to log-out, and worse. Oversharing is a safety concern that most teens do not think about.
- Relational Concerns – the digital world makes staying connected very easy, but it can also create some problems. There is something to be said about the loss of face to face communication – why do we think it is okay to do something like break up with someone via a text? My experience with texting as the preferred method of connection is because teens can do that while they are doing something else. They also feel like it is more private and anonymous, and easier to keep from others. This can backfire! We recently had an issue where two people thought they were communicating privately via twitter, but they were actually blasting the tweets out everyone. It was a very personal conversation and should not have been shared that way. Another area that concerns me is the way that teens craft their online identity. It is very common for teens to post provocative pictures online. When you ask them, they aren’t doing this for sexual attention (or at least they don’t always admit it). It often comes from a desire to look older or just to fit in. Teens need to understand that the persona they put online will have an effect on the way other see them and treat them. Teens are often much more bold and reckless online than they are in person. We call this “digital courage,” but it more often looks like “digital stupidity.” They use poor judgment and post something harsh or inappropriate that can hurt themselves and others. Digital communication is not the best means for sensitive communication, especially conflict resolution. This is a lesson our teens needs to learn.
- Reputation management – it is a fact that colleges, employers, and other authority figures in the future will be influenced by the digital personalities of our teens. There is just too much information out there for people not to want to take advantage of it. This could have a direct impact on our teens’ future opportunities. Think about for instance the way that political debates are often happening via social media. This is all going to be searchable VERY soon (facebook just announced advances in this area on 1/15/13). Here is the bottom line: you are responsible for every bit and byte of communication that ends up out there: words, pictures, videos, blogs, sound bites, tweets, and texts. We HAVE to talk about this with our teens. If you teen has access to the digital world through a smartphone, laptop, or whatever – they need to understand the risks very well.
- Information Available to Advertisers – I know we all hate to read the “privacy policies” of companies like Google or Facebook, but they are pretty important. With 3rd party apps, they are sharing and accumulating data on all of us. Claims that this data is “anonymous” might be technically true but misleading. One cultural watchdog gave this warning about the apps marketed to children on smartphones: “The transmission of kids’ information to third parties that are invisible and unknown to parents raises concerns about privacy, particularly because the survey results show that a large number of apps are transmitting information to a relatively small number of third parties. Indeed, using the device ID and other information obtained from multiple apps, these third parties could potentially develop detailed profiles of the children using the apps, without a parent’s knowledge or consent.” This is terrifying, and I don’t think I really understand the direction things are heading.
- Media “Addiction” – I am talking here about the dependency and habitual use of media that teens believe they cannot live without. This is characterized by uncontrollable and compulsive use that has negative health and or social consequences. This is potentially serious. If your teen resists limits that you set on media (which most will!), you need to spend time understanding “why.” Social networking is incredibly alluring to teens, who often fear that they will miss out on something big if they disconnect. It is where so much happens – the gossip, the flirting, the news…they don’t want to be the only one out of the loop.
Something we always try to emphasize is to be prepared with a preventative response to keep our teens from harm, and a redemptive response to help them process their world. The truth is that even our best efforts at prevention are going to fall short, so we need to be ready to guide them to critique, interpret, and redeem the realities of their culture. I am sure we all have thoughts on this subject, and I’m also sure we can all share stories of how our teen has been impacted by “digital irresponsibility.” So what do we do?
- Be digitally responsible yourself: Be a role model. Monitor and evaluate your own use of social media and the digital world. Your example is more powerful than you know. Set an example by using media the way you want them to use it. Don’t bring your phone to the dinner table, and set limits on the amount of time you are online. Get off facebook, be careful of what pictures you post yourself. You can do this immediately by watching the clock and imposing limits on connection. This should include the use of cell phones/smart phones. It is OK to have “phone free zones,” or even to unplug for a day/week/month occasionally.
- Spend time in the digital world together: Be a guide. We talk often about consuming media alongside your teen. This should be no different. Push through the stiff arm and involve yourself in the conversations they are having online, via text, or wherever. They need your help here, they need your wisdom. If their friend was in your home when they had a fight with your teen, you could hear and guide your teen toward an appropriate response. Who will remind them not to be selfish or uncaring, or to resolve conflicts with grace and maturity when these conflicts happen “secretly” by passing digital notes back and forth? They want to keep you out of it, but they need adult help to navigate the digital world. I can always tell when a teen does not have a parent as a friend or follower on an online network by the content they are willing to share! If your momma wouldn’t be proud of it, don’t hit “send” “post” “tweet” or “reply!”
- Lead them toward limits. When you teens are young, “think for them” because they aren’t wise enough yet to limit themselves. As they get older and wiser, encourage critical thinking and processing about the digital world. Lead them with questions and teach them to be responsible in the digital world. The important thing to remember here is that it is much easier to give them freedom and autonomy as they demonstrate maturity and responsibility than it is to take freedom and autonomy away once they have had it. Start young and get in their digital business. If you see them having with maturity, you can recognize that and trust them with some freedom and independence. You need every one of their passwords. It is your phone, it is your computer; they get to borrow it as a privilege if you decide they are responsible enough to use it. This isn’t because you don’t trust your teen, but because the digital world is potentially dangerous and they need some adult eyes over their shoulders until they are shrewd enough to navigate the dangers alone. You need to be very familiar with the safety and privacy features of the digital platforms your teen is allowed to use.
- Establish a Family Contract - Something we have found helpful is developing a family contract for the digital world. Something like this might work for your family, or you could modify it or develop your own. This makes the rules clear to all and provides a talking point for the various areas of danger and concern.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: game addiction, gaming industry, redeeming culture, teen culture, teen gaming, video games, world of warcraft
Echo’s Parent Summit was held last week, where we had an interesting conversation about the cultural impact of the rise of the video game. Our ministry is strong in helping young people to interact with their culture with a critical and redemptive eye, teaching them to discern the worldview behind their media and other cultural voices and then decide how to respond in light of the claims of Christ. We often go through the exercise of discovering the worldview of a commercial, song, film, or video. One thing I have not done is to do the same with video games, because until recently I have underestimated the culture shaping potential therein.
While watching TED talks (which coincidently come to my living room via an internet stream through a gaming console) I recently saw a short film by a 20 something about the influence of video games on his worldview. You can watch this very interesting video here. This is a perspective from someone immersed in the digital world to the point that it greatly shapes his worldview. He noted, for instance, that he and many of his friends have logged more hours driving cars in video games than they have behind the wheel of an actual automobile. This is just one example of a seismic shift in our culture, where people actually find their home in the digital world and sometimes prefer it to the actual world. This is true of MMORPG games like World of Warcraft or Second Life, and it is true of console games like Call of Duty and others.
This is not just a “time out” from real life for them, they are beginning to form actual friendships and identify with virtual communities as much or more as they do with physical (real-life) communities. The cultural impact of such habits cannot be overstated. Youth culture watchdogs used to point to the Oscars and the Video Music Awards to take the temperature of youth culture and identify upcoming trends. Now, the video game industry is greatly and reliably outperforming both the movie industry and the music industry! If you follow the money, you will find out who has the most interest in shaping the hearts and minds of a generation. Look at this website for some surprising data about the dollars and cents of video games. This is what is capturing their wallets, and if it captures their wallets it captures their attention.
David Perry, a game developer delivering the talk at TED said this: “What game developers are talking about at gaming conferences are emotion, purpose, meaning, understanding, and feeling. Can a video game make you cry?” So, because I take seriously the charge to shepherd the hearts of teens, I want to thoroughly investigate anything that has their attention. With this excuse so easily available, this busy husband/father/pastor/seminarian bought a gaming console (for research, I swear!). Here are my initial thoughts (from a non-native to the current gaming world):
1. The games are surprisingly cinematic. They are telling stories: grand, immersive, sophisticated stories. Gone are the days of Mario searching for the princess in carbon-copy side scroll dungeons. The graphics are so lifelike, the sound is ultra-realistic, and the artificial intelligence is getting better all the time. These games tell stories that are full of depth and moral complexity. They are anything but childish. Teens and young adults will spend HOURS immersed in these stories. Story is one of the most powerful forces in our culture. Stories matter because stories are the language of the heart. They instruct very effectively, as any teacher knows. Jesus himself knew the power of a well-told story to change the human heart. I am not saying that these stories are sinister (some of them might be inspiring!), only that they will certainly prove to be influential. Gaming provides a way for me to enter into the story, making it even more powerful. Even the controls eventually fade into “autopilot.” After playing them very a short amount of time, you reflexively and automatically interact with the story without realizing you are cuing this button or that.
2. These games are addicting. I remember living through the release of Halo, the first big hit from Microsoft in console gaming. I had friends who struggled with flunking out of school because the game was so seductive. Gaming gives the player a level of immersive escape, taking them to another world and allowing them to perform deeds they could only fantasize about in real life. They are very powerful. One could easily understand how millions of adults spend hours playing them every week. The temptation to escape the problems of this world by going to a world you can dominate or control shouldn’t be ignored. Gaming is a great place to turn when trying to escape real world problems or real world suffering. The problem is that these problems will still be there when you log off. This is an important part of our evolving culture, and it is easy to forecast game addiction becoming something requiring clinical treatment. What is it that makes them so addicting? A researcher studying the impact of gaming on our culture gives these 4 realities that the gaming world supplies:
a. Urgent Optimism – Extreme self-motivation. The desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope for success. Gamers always believe an epic win is possible and worth trying.
b. Social Fabric – More than an escape, Millenials are finding these gaming communities as a surrogate for a community that is harder and harder to find in the real world. The gaming communities are the places where “everyone knows your name.” This is a positive thing as much as it is a negative thing. These are environments of collaboration, knowledge refinement, ideation, dispute adjudication, and even accountability. This social fabric is a place where people of different ages and backgrounds mix based on virtual achievement and expertise. There are few other environments like it. Gaming takes a lot of trust to play with others. Think about all kinds of people coming together, getting organized into complex systems and specific roles to creatively solve a problem. Gamers create very tight social networks. Look at how simple games like “words with friends” and “Farmville” have smashed the gender stereotypes of gamers.
c. Blissful Productivity – A lot of gamers have the feeling that they are not as good in reality as they are in the game. In the game, they can be the best at something. Because they are the best, they are valued, needed, and respected. They can attain the admiration of others when they dominate them or help them. The average player of WoW plays for 22.5 hours per week. That is a half time job! The reason for this is the moving finish line. Gaming has a way of dangling the carrot a little bit further each time you achieve something. It rewards your win, but then it makes you anxious to race to the next achievement or level or item. Real life is full of failure. In gaming, this feeling is rare. Most of the time, the game tests you and challenges you but it does make sure you can succeed. Your missions are perfectly matched with your progress in the game. There is no unemployment in games; there is never a lack for something to do. It is SO satisfying to be on the verge of an “epic win” all the time. Parents need to recognize how powerfully seductive this reality is, especially to young men. Gaming can answer a deep longing of the male heart.
d. Epic Meaning – Gamers love to be connected to awe inspiring missions and huge world changing stories. Jane McGonigal notes that the largest single topic wiki, only rivaled by Wikipedia, is the WoWwiki. They are building an epic story! The COO of Blizzard Media, the company that makes WoW, when asked why people play WoW said this: “How often in your everyday world do you get to feel heroic? How often do you get to step into a world and do something big and meaningful? People need an escape from ordinary life, it’s just something people need.” What is implied in this statement is that our normal lives just aren’t good enough.
3. Their interactivity is culturally significant. Think about the passive forms of media that have dominated the broadcast era: books, music, television, movies. Although they offer multi-sensory experiences and awaken the imagination, they don’t ask for my input. Video games offer a chance to enter the story and make choices, to input and interact on a new level. They offer you the chance to dunk like your favorite basketball player, commanding an avatar that captures not only his likeness but his voice and attitude. They offer you the chance to journey to worlds that have never been explored because they only exist in the digital world. Taken online, they are very competitive. I have talked with many teens about the frustrations and temptations of the live and online video game experience– trash talk, bullying, cliques, and peer pressure all thrive in this subculture. What does this mean for classrooms that employ an outdated learning style? What does this mean for ministries that are still dominated by the “sit and listen” worship event? The question we need to be asking is how are teens (and adults) experiencing meaning through games? I heard one person argue that they would rather hire someone with a high level achievement in World of Warcraft than a Harvard MBA.
Why Does this matter, and what should we do? This matters because teens are VERY impressionable. This influence WILL shape them. The quote from the film I linked earlier that haunts me is this: “I’m not sure what the implications of my experience are…video games are fun, engaging, and leave your brain complexly vulnerable to reprogramming.” That is just it! No one knows exactly what the implications are of such a significant cultural shift. I know that I want to have the conversation as we figure this out with our teens! We always teach this strategy, something we borrowed from Walt Mueller: DISCOVER, DISCERN, and DECIDE. Don’t let them sort this out on their own. It requires that we listen to the stories that games are telling, and we discern how they are influencing our hearts and minds, and then we decided what to do. This might mean using gaming as a way to connect with our students, giving us a chance to critique or guide or rewrite “the map” for them. As parents, we can’t allow our teens to consume all of this in a vacuum. I know there are game age-ratings, but those ratings are very superficial when you consider the culture shaping power of gaming. It is not just the violence or the profanity that will have an effect on shaping their heart. It is the story. The ultimate medicine for the gamer is a real-life story worth living!