Don’t Leave Kids to Face the Battle In Their Devices Alone

It’s been a while since I talked about Social Media. I’ve been enmeshed in it for the last couple of months dealing with the logistics of running a church’s accounts. There are a lot of rules, and very few reliable sources to learn those rules before the rules change entirely. At the same time I’m diving in head first, I also find myself avoiding social media like the plague on a personal level. Why? Because it makes me angry. I don’t really enjoy being angry… but it’s a little addictive. There’s a kind of rush, a dopamine hit every time we find ourselves outraged and indignant. We get to feel holier than thou for a few moments as we mentally crush the argument or other comment… some of us do a little more than just mentally engaging.

There are a lot of pros and cons for young people and social media. On one hand, kids can begin to learn internet citizenship and responsibility in engaging in polite, respectful dialogue with perspectives from all walks of life. They can also learn reactionary anger and impulsiveness as they try to engage with the greatest single collection of hatred, anger, vitriol and filth ever created by human hands. They can learn how to impress the importance of an idea while receiving instant feedback for their creativity and artwork. They can also find themselves on the receiving end of instant mockery and name-calling simply for sharing their love of something dear. Kids can drink deeply from the well of knowledge and experience that lives on the Web, or they can find themselves sucked into a well of lies, deceit, and smut that lurks in plain sight.

A point was made recently that regardless of how private the settings on a child’s account are, that child can still access the wide range of offerings on social media sites. Sites like Tumblr, Twitter, and Reddit don’t often do enough to gate off more lewd or dark content. Other sites are very similar in that the user has nearly all the responsibility for what they see, even if they cannot themselves be seen.

I don’t want to fear monger – so I tend to advocate for parental presence. Parental Controls can be a nice tool, but it’s not the all-powerful genie that solves all of the potential risks. Instead, parental presence, while taking a lot of work, can often head off problems otherwise ignored for ease of use.

Presence creates a sense of comfort, safety, and security. A child can explore knowing that their parent is nearby and that they can ask questions and seek understanding. However, the ability to ask questions is entirely based on how safe a child feels asking that question without fear of being mocked or judged harshly. Can your child ask you anything and receive a clear, effective answer without mockery or overreaction? No, really, anything? Ok, imagine your child (regardless of age) asking the following questions:

“Mom, somebody asked me to send naked pictures… what do I do?”

“Dad, what does the word $#@* mean?”

“What is [insert sex topic here]?”

“Someone said I was fat and ugly. Am I?”

Do you have an answer? How do you feel right now?

God is present with us. It’s one of His greatest gifts to His people. He was present with Abraham, in the Tent of Meeting, in the Temple, in Jesus, in the Church. We are the recipients of “God with Us.” God doesn’t balk at our questions, our doubts, our angry shouting. God’s presence is constant, even when we cannot feel it. God suffers alongside us, he hurts with us. And, as parents, we get to do the same. We ache with our sick children, our heart is broken when theirs is. We take the pain as well as the joy of parenting.

Put in the effort. Be present with your kids. Trust and communication are based on relationship. The more time you invest early, the stronger your relationship will be.

A Nation of Scaredy Cats

We, as Americans, have become scaredy cats. All of us. Home of the brave, my foot. You and I both know we can’t turn on the TV or radio or open our homepage without some new Chicken Little remarking about how another piece of the sky has fallen. Sure, it’s been a long time coming, but what frustrates me most is who seems to be the most terrified about life right now: Christians.

Really? The people who serve the King of the Universe, the God who made the earth and everything in it, the Savior who faced down Rome’s wrath and rose on the third day victoriously condemning, deposing, and defeating the wickedness and violence that he bore on the cross, are the ones sitting in abject terror at every newscast and Facebook story?

Sorry… I get a little worked up on this one. Fear is the perfect opposite of what a Christian should base their life. We’re told that perfect love drives out fear. Why? Because fear leads to contempt and hatred – which often leads to violence and destruction. Fear caused Peter to deny his very best friend and mentor. Fear causes us to deny our savior, too. Love leads to understanding and compassion – which leads to service and generosity. Love led Jesus to welcome Peter back with a fish fry on the beach.

Matthew 25 makes a strong case for getting outside of ourselves and serving others – the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the poor, the prisoners, the outsider, the children. Do we recognize Jesus in the least of these? Or are we afraid because we see where one bad day could land us?  Do we reach out our open hands in generosity, or clench our fists, avert our eyes, and pretend everything is fine?

Jesus didn’t fear having his reputation questioned for the good of others. He touched lepers. Spoke openly with women and welcomed them as disciples. He ate and drank with tax collectors and other miscreants – to the point that some groups called Jesus a drunkard and demon-possessed. Sure, Jesus was wise and chose his battles with intention and purpose, but he didn’t fear the repercussions.

If we are following the lead of Jesus, comfort should never be an expectation. Expecting an easy ride should be seen as the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself. Jesus’ path drove right through the cross – and so does ours, for that matter.

There are so many things that drive us to fear, but if we fully understand the love of God and His command to love others we will be able to proceed with a Spirit of power, and not fear, that God has placed within us. Don’t fear those you serve. Don’t cower before the wars and rumors of wars. Don’t allow fear to become your god – the thing that drives all of your thoughts and actions.

How do you model courage- or fear – in your life? Which of your political, theological, or social views are built on a foundation of fear? How can you rethink them? What can you do today to help your child live courageously in Jesus?

So How’s Your Easter Going?

Well, here I am coming back, blinking in the bright light of day after being holed up for several weeks in preparation for Easter. (If the minister comes out of his hole and is scared of his shadow, is that 6 more weeks of winter? Or is that just the groundhog?) Anyway, I hope your Easter was full of joy, hope, explosive worship (metaphorically, of course) and time with family.

Remember, though. Easter isn’t just one day. Easter, traditionally, is a long feasting period between Lent and Pentecost. And if we’re intellectually honest, Easter is, well, always. See, we meet on Sunday to celebrate and remember our risen King. Each week we tell the Easter story through communion/Eucharist and the proclaiming of the good news – Jesus is alive and is King!

But do we leave Easter on one day a year? Do we live like we serve a King who has expectations, who has a mission, who has a clear guiding purpose for His church? Or do we slink back into the before times?

Celebration is great, but Easter is a starting gun. Sure, it’s the ultimate defeat of the powers of sin and death and we fear them no longer. It’s also the starting point for a lot of work. Jesus is King. It’s our God-given role to let the world know that fact. It’s also our God-given mission to live like ambassadors of that King. Ambassadors live honorably, generously, and in such a way as to bring honor on the ruler or nation they represent. An ambassador can make or break a diplomatic mission.

May your Easter continue on through this season. May you celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ reign and may your life as an ambassador bring Him honor. May the powers of sin and death bring you no more fear.

(And may your Easter candy last juuuust long enough while adding no calories to your diet.)