(APP)ropriate Limits

Over the weekend our church youth group had an overnighter (not to be confused with an all nighter as we did eventually sleep) and for the first time working with teenagers I felt out of the loop Ok let’s be honest, I felt like I was getting old. The kid (another term you use for teenagers when you start getting older) told me about an app called Wattpad. Wattpad is a social platform for writing and sharing stories. I was surprised I had never heard of it before because up until this point I thought I had kept up fairly well with social media.

I’ve had a Facebook for several years, blog inconsistently and even insta (I’m told its no longer necessary to add ‘gram’ to the end.)  Yet, as the conversation continued  I realized how out of touch I really was. Apps I’ve heard of but didn’t see the need for such as Vine, SnapChat and Twitter were part of the everyday world of a modern day teenager. Not only is YouTube popular but certain broadcasters reign supreme. It’s a far cry from my flip phone days and its why anyone working with youth who has spent more than two years into their adulthood needs to realize they’re detached from youth culture.

Recently a ‘new’ (I use the term loosely understanding that its probably been known in the teenage world long before it was known in the adult world) app called After School has been making news headlines. Its another story about teenagers abusing their phones based on the belief that their activity is anonymous, untraceable and impossible to bring about unwanted consequences. One news organization reported that the app ‘featured porn and bullying’.

But here’s the thing.

By itself, the app doesn’t feature anything. The only thing the platform offers is an opportunity for its users to use their free will to create information.

It’s the same situation Adam and Eve were presented with in the garden. Through six days of creation, God created a platform. Initially this platform was unscathed and didn’t know violence or pain. Until they realized they had another option and selfishness crept into their hearts influenced by that serpent, they had every intention of doing good and being in a perfect relationship with their creator.

After the fall, Adam and Eve were hoping to remain anonymous  too.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:8-9

We know that they were eventually exposed and so are a lot of teenagers who think they can hide. The exposure has given law enforcement a new question-what kind of consequences these teenagers should face? As it stands teenagers who share nude photos can be charge with possession and/or distribution of child pornography. This kind of charge carries a hefty sentence of years and years in state prison.

Apple’s reaction to the news that teenagers were abusing the app was to temporarily remove it from the store only to re-introduce it again with a 17+ rating and small purchase fee. Not outright removing the app angered many parents and professionals.

But here’s the thing.

I think apple did the right thing. In fact, I think they did what parents and professionals should be doing. As I said earlier, Apple created a platform, its users decided what to create within it.  It’s users are responsible. We as adults need to remind adolescent’s of the choices they have to make, clearly explain the consequences (because the teenage brain has a hard time seeing ahead) and when necessary set a limit for them. In this case, Apple set the limits but frankly its our job to do that. Apple doesn’t know your child better than you do.

Ever since the fall of man, there is an innate curiosity or sinfulness that shows itself especially during the formative years as it is coupled with the teenage brain that is rewarded for thrill seeking behavior and convinced ‘nothing bad can happen to me’. I remember learning how to use a dictionary in school and my first thought was to start looking up every bad word I could think of. It seems as if  there is something dark to discover the mind will thirst to find it.

In the same way guns dont kill people, phone apps also have the potential be used for good or bad. We dont give guns to the mentally impaired so why do we freely and without limits give powerful, society impacting, life altering digital devices to teenagers whose brains have yet to fully develop? Unless they have early onset maturity which usually stems from excellent parenting (something so rare these days) a phone with internet access might just be too much for a developing teenager to safely handle without limits.

And its not Apple’s job or the government’s job to determine those limits. It’s ours and we can’t afford to be out of touch with technology or our kids.

Abandoned

I’ve been watching videos on YouTube of urban explorers who were willing to take the risk of not just trespassing into long forgotten buildings and houses but also posting their experiences on YouTube. Many of the videos are shot just miles from my house in Detroit, which is considered by many to be an urban explorer’s Disneyland. Some of the videos are pretty eerie, especially this time of year when spooky is on the menu. Abandoned hospitals, houses and military facilities stand (just barely sometimes) as markers of our history, mistakes and failures. As you can guess, none of the buildings were closed and left to ruins for positive reasons.

Throughout all the videos there is at least one thing in common; a phenomenon commonly referred to as ‘natural decay’. This not only includes the eventual demise of the structure as it rots due to lack of maintenance but it also includes nature re-claiming its former territory. Where men once tore down trees and leveled the land to make room for their mansions, nature has returned to reclaim its right to ownership. As Jesus put it “Do not store up treasure on Earth where moth and rust destroy… (See Matthew 6:19).

This process of natural decay usually begins slowly but it’s interesting that the only reason it is initiated in the first place is because nobody fought to maintain the property any longer. Although I can’t do a whole lot of urban exploration myself because it would not be physically safe for me, I have experienced some level natural building decay in an old church building our youth group played a role in restoring on a summer mission trip. It didn’t take too long for things to fall apart, water damage, plaster walls crumbling and a tree growing in the attic.

It’s amazing what damage can happen to buildings that sit around, do nothing, and are never used.

The same thing can happen to a faith that is never utilized. It can become cold, dark, vandalized by intruders and a victim to natural decay with little recognition of what it once was. James warns us about this process when he says ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2:17).

I love how Paul in his various letters to the churches in the New Testament describes faith as an activity like walking.

‘Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.’ Romans 6:4

‘Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worth of the calling with which you have been called. (Ephesians 4:1)

‘For you were formerly in darkness, but now you are Light of the Lord; walk as children of Light.’ (Ephesians 5:8).

It’s not natural for any of us to maintain a relationship with Jesus. It goes against our original sinful nature that will slowly start to take over again the second we stop walking. Jesus showed us how to keep walking when He quoted scripture in response to Satan’s attempt to vandalize His heart in the desert (See Matthew 4) . Yet, more than just an ability to memorize and quote scriptures, this pointed to the active relationship Jesus had with the Father.

I can’t imagine Jesus going a day without talking to his Father, but I know have when things have gotten ‘too busy.’ But eventually through a natural decay, ‘too busy’ lends itself to full-on abandonment. It’s a scary place to be and urban exploration videos serve as a warning to never stop walking with Jesus, never let our sinful nature try to re-claim our hearts and minds. Instead, we should remember the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 2:12-13 and be active participants in the process of sanctification with a healthy fear and a reminder of what could happen if we don’t.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his purpose.”

Utopia

‘People are the most complex people to work with’. It’s a simple and silly phrase but it’s been racking my brain lately. For social workers, ministers and all of us in the social sciences, there is a particularly unique stressor we face; the ever-changing constantly in-flux attitudes, behaviors, opinions and desires of the people we serve.

People are complicated.

I don’t typically watch ‘reality’ TV but lately I have been getting into a show called Utopia. The basic premise of the show is a group of different people with different backgrounds and beliefs come together to form a new society. I’m sure the characters were carefully selected and wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing is scripted but the premise does speak to the uniqueness of the individual. Each episode is filled with the frustrations of differing opinions on how money, time and efforts should be spent and what would be best for the society. There is basically constant arguing and it’s anything but a utopia.

We often demand on our way. In our society of American culture we have a strong sense of internal justice to the point of condemnation. We have a tit-for-tat mentality, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. The same is true for the way we think about injustices, you bloody my nose and I bloody yours back. After all, it’s only fair isn’t it? Even the Bible tells us ‘A tooth for a tooth’.

As a youth worker, I have often encountered other youth workers, parents, teachers, etc. that have used this same mentality in their work with the youth under their care. The youth they work with may yell, scream, and be uncontrollable so the adult yells and screams right back hoping to control the kid when in reality all they are doing is becoming uncontrollable themselves.

This morning in church my pastor was talking about gentleness an idea from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ Matthew 5: 5. In our selfish attempts to get what we want we often try throwing a fit. Kids do it and adults do it to, it just looks a little more refined. Yet, according to this Bible verse we will ‘inherit the earth’ by doing just the opposite, by being meek or gentle.

Remember how God got Elijah’s attention? “ After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” 1 King’s 19:12

I’m learning that it’s true especially when working with youth. A whisper often gets the desired outcome more than a scream. A relationship built on trust, kindness and gentleness is a catalyst for positive outcomes.

Richard Foster in his book, Celebration of Discipline, has this to say-

‘In submission we are at last free to value other people. Their dreams and plans become important to us. We have entered into a new, wonderful, glorious freedom- the freedom to give up our own rights for the good of others. For the first time we can love people unconditionally. We have given up the right to demand that they return our love. No longer to we feel we have to be treated in a certain way. We rejoice in their successes. We feel genuine sorrow in their failures. It is of little consequence that our plans are frustrated if their plans succeed. We discover that it is far better to serve our neighbor than to have our own way.’

People are complicated and gentleness doesn’t make them any less complex but what it does do is it makes them valued, respected and reflects the love of Jesus. In essence, it is the foundation of a real utopia; A world where the only person who gets their way is everyone else. I’m pretty sure there is a bible verse or two about that too.

I do it too

Youth who have Autism (or anyone who does for that matter) exhibit very strange behaviors.

Or do they?

When something doesn’t fit into the mainstream category of ‘normal’ we tend to label it, we tend to fear it. If you saw a person with Autism in public displaying a behavior you didn’t understand as a result of condition you’ve never heard about, it might be natural for you to have some reservations about being around that person. Well, I am here to give you some good news; there is nothing to fear!

Some of these seemingly ‘strange behaviors’ are actually easier to understand than you might think because well, you and I do them too! Now, first let me get some things out of the way. This post isn’t to make light of the complexity of Autism or the hard work of those continuously researching this condition to help us better understand how we can help those whose life’s are impacted by it. I also do not want to make light of how devastating the fear of this condition has been. Indeed, many tragic years of forward progress have been lost to the fear of Autism. Today this fear presents itself typically in more subtle ways but at the height of institutionalization, countless people were treated as anything but. Thank God these horrid places were closed allowing for momentum to swing in the direction of progress. This post is written in hopes of keeping that progress going.

One of the most commonly displayed behaviors that persons with Autism exhibit is called ‘stimming’. Stimming is the repetition of physical movements, noises or manipulation of objects. Some of the more common example include hand flapping, snapping fingers and rocking. Nobody is 100% for sure why someone with Autism engages in these types of behaviors. However, there are a few theories out there, very few of which are easy to understand. So I’m here to offer a more simple explanation. It’s not scientific at all and I’m not going to back up my idea with academic research. It’s a simple idea based off ‘a-ha’ moment I had.

Cruising into work on a beautiful blue sky day with easy and smooth flowing traffic, I found a favorite song on the radio and cranked it. It was too good of a feeling, the warmth of the sun rays, the smell of a freshly cleaned car, the feel of speed in the steering wheel, the wind hitting my hair and of course the sound waves flowing into my ears. Overwhelmed by the intake of my five senses I had to respond. I started tapping the steering wheel, bobbing my head and singing along. What I was experiencing internally could not be contained anymore, allowing itself to an external response. It clicked for me and maybe it will for you too. Think of stimming as nothing more than an external response to an internal sensory overload; a scenario we know people with Autism experience far more often than most.

It’s just an idea. But I like this idea because it narrows the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ making it more like there’s just us. Everyone experiences sensory information (to a certain degree or another) and everyone responds to it. Our responses all look different even among those not diagnosed with Autism but we all still share a common trait; humanity. So relax, take it easy, people with Autism aren’t scary, they’re just people. And we need to be careful to label them as anything else. Labels are dangerous because when we as adults in the presence of youth give out labels such as ‘idiot’ to the driver that cuts us off or ‘stupid’ to the waitress who messes up our order then what labels are kids likely to give themselves when they make the necessary mistakes that come with learning and growing up?

So the next time you see a kid waving their hands around and you see it as random instead picture it as excitement and remember that you display the same thing when you clap your hands or throw them in the air at a concert. The next time you see a person with Autism rocking themselves see it perhaps as self-comforting, something you and I do when we have a speech to give but we’re so overwhelmed with nervousness that we can’t keep our feet still. Heck, the next time you see a person with Autism, just see them as..

a person.

What’s it matter?

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This last week I had the opportunity to accompany our church’s youth group on an urban mission trip. The city that we went to is one that has been the center of attention for the last few years for all the wrong reasons; Detroit. It’s a city right down the street from me but in a whole other world that makes the life I’m living seem pretty comfortable.

We worked alongside with an inner-city church that recently bought an old Greek-Orthodox turn Church of God in Christ (COGIC) church. You could easily tell it was originally Greek-Orthodox by the ornate inlay in its arched ceilings, cupola dome, bell tower on the western side and sanctuary on the eastern. At the same time the presence of the COGIC was found in the stained glass windows that contained designs featuring the denominations seal and facial profile of its founder.

Going unused since the early 2000’s the church, like many old buildings in Detroit, fell victim to copper thieves. This raping of infrastructure eventually led to water seeping into the plaster walls and rotting out the metal mesh it laid in. Part of our job was to get the loose material off of these walls, which was easily done with just the tap of a paint scraper. Another task included trying to scrape off glue residue from the marble floor because it had at one time been covered with carpet.

The other reason why we were there was to help facilitate a VBS program put on for kids from the projects. I don’t use that term lightly, these were kids that came from an apartment complex more dreadful in appearance than any housing situation I have seen. The brokenness of these families spilled over into the attitudes and behaviors of these would-be, should be innocent children. Walls existed that a week of impact could not tear down.

After tirelessly scraping off a small section of the tacky glue from the marble floor, I found our youth pastor working on one of the many crumbling walls of the church. I was reluctant to but asked a question that youth group volunteers who are supposed to be supporting the cause,  probably aren’t supposed to ask; What’s it matter? Why are we doing this? What’s the point? Our group of a dozen or so would never be able to restore the church to the extent it needed. We didn’t have $20,000, we didn’t know how to plaster walls and our floor scraping would be much more efficient with a large floor buffer.

His answer was simple but resonated with me; ‘Every little bit of progress we make is less work for someone else.’

It was true not just for the work we were doing on the building but also with the kids. Those kids probably won’t remember the exact dates of that week, what church we were from or even any of our names but it is a few more good days and good experiences they will have. Every little bit of progress we made in telling them about Jesus was a little less someone else would  have to do.

Since we returned, I’ve been asked, ‘Were you ever scared?’ The answer is yes. I was terrified as I drove out of the city, north past eight mile, away from the pain of the children we met from the projects this week and into a world that retreats from the brokenness and keeps the light of Jesus in our comfort zone. That is what scares me the most; that nobody will continue the process we got to be a part of because as I found out, it does matter.

We Need Lunks

I wasn’t sure if my gym was open tonight because of the holiday weekend so I decided to Google it. I quickly and easily found the hours and so much more. Sitting underneath the hours of operation were several reviews. Several negative reviews. Having never had a negative experience myself, I was a little taken back and wondered if I had somehow overlooked my gym’s apparent atrociousness.

As I read through, I noticed two common themes. First, the positive reviews were written by your average Joe looking to occasionally use equipment they don’t have at home. They’re not looking to become body builders or take this exercise thing too seriously. They just wanted to go somewhere, drop in and go. The other and more predominant theme was written by those complaining about the place being an amateur gym. They see pizza days and tootsie rolls at the front counter as counterintuitive to the mission of getting healthier. More importantly, these people didn’t feel welcomed.

The gym itself refers to these people as ‘lunks’ a slang term defined underneath the giant lunk alarm on the wall of the gym as someone who grunts, drops weights or judges others and when someone does any of these things (in the eyes of the staff) the alarm goes off clearly pointing out the perpetrator.

Isn’t interesting what this gym has done? This gym that wants everyone to be a part of the planet, that has ‘you belong’ and ‘no judgment zone’ signs decorating it’s walls, by ostracizing these lunks has violated it’s very own mission statement. The only ones judged on this planet of non-judgment are the lunks who are probably the healthiest ones there anyway! The truth is, we need lunks. Sure, sometimes they can be annoying; lunks aren’t perfect but they do set an example, not in their grunting but in their commitment and dedication. In all honesty, us who are half-way committed to this thing called exercise could learn a thing or two from them.

Do you see the metaphor?

We live in a a culture, very concerned with being non-judgmental and its infiltrated the church. I’m afraid we have designed a place for those who want to be just morally fit enough to get into heaven but still fool around on the weekend. A place where those who believe Jesus wanted so much more than just going to church once a week -a complete lifestyle change- are ousted. Alarms go off when they push the norms a little too much or make anyone uncomfortable with the power of God’s word. But the truth is we need these spiritual lunks. Our culture needs them now more them ever; spiritual giants who know that you cannot just live off of milk, you need solid food (See 1 Cor 3:2).

Indeed, everyone can and does belong in the body of Christ but you see, without the lunks, without the spiritual leaders who daily pick-up there crosses and follow Christ, who have some moral backbone, we’d be simply missing the point of Christianity. It’d be like going to the gym once a week, eating junk the rest of the time and then condemning those who exemplify a healthier way to live. What kind of planet would that be? What kind of church would that be?

Reflections on the last 10,000 days of my life

About a month ago, a curious question popped into my mind; how many days have I been alive? Thanks to modern-day Google it is relatively easy to figure out this answer (yes, I could have done the math but leap years get complicated). As it turns out I was soon approaching a milestone. As of this Sunday June 22nd, I will have been alive for a total of 10,000 days.

Now, there is no way for me to do the math but I am in awe of the complex mixture of experiences I’ve had over these years. Within this span of 27.5 years I’ve had a few days of illness, a dozen days of sadness but hundreds of days of overcoming obstacles and thousands of days laughing and smiling.

Although He was waiting for me many days before I surrendered my heart, I’ve spent the last 5,000 days knowing the love of my savior, Jesus. Because of this one single factor alone, the last half of my life outshines the first half. This was hands down the best decision I have made in the last 10,000 days.

I’ve made plenty of other decisions during this span. Some of my biggest regrets include dropping out of high school, choosing my own will  over God’s wil and friendships lost to poor prioritizing mar the timeline of my past.

Although I have learned a lot of hard lessons from the wrong things I have done, what stands out to me even more are the things I didn’t do.
A recent example (Day 9,997) includes going out to lunch with a friend and seeing a trio of Navy soldiers a couple booths away, feeling prompted to pay for their meal and not doing it.

There’s a quote out there that says something to the effect of ‘At the end of your life, you’ll regret more what you didn’t do than what you did do.’ The biggest sins will be those of omission instead of commission. It’s like James writes,  If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (4:17).

So here’s to less regrets and to more obedience. More seeking the kingdom first so that everything else will fall in line; more days of joy and happiness. Here’s to the days of me chasing after Jesus being more than the days He spent chasing after me (Although I have a strange feeling He still chases after me and I’ll never be able to outrun Him). Here’s to day 10,001 which is probably 10,000 more than any kid with Spinal Bifida would have ever lived just 100 years ago.