Friday, March 12, 2010

Drive Time

I grew up in a household with no car, so I’ve never really embraced the American love affair with driving. But I have definitely come to appreciate the conversations that can take place when an adult appears focused elsewhere and a teen is riding shotgun. Those long pauses seem less awkward when you’re driving, and questions can hang a long time while kids decide if they’re going to bite.

Some of my most memorable youth ministry moments have been in those rides to and from retreats, or dropping the last student off after a ride home from an event. Kids will say some significant things when they think you’re looking the other way, and questions that might get a one word answer in other settings sometimes have room to breathe when the radio is playing softly, there are voices in the back seat, and the miles are sliding by.  

Sometimes I invite a more challenging-to-know guy to be my navigator, insisting I need his help, which may be true, but it’s also true that once a guy is talking about where to turn and what sign to look for, he may also find himself talking about what’s going on at school, who his friends are, why he likes the music he likes, and what he did last weekend.

Ah – which brings up the new world of cell phones and ipods. What happens when casual conversations between adults and teens are replaced by frantic texting and inescapable earbuds? If kids don’t know what they’re missing, if they don’t know the quiet comfort of sharing their lives, and hearing the adults around them share their own as well, they can’t be blamed for holding tight to the fragile connections their cell phones and ipods offer.

Monday, March 1, 2010

When You Sit Down

“When you sit at home” – The instructions from Deuteronomy assume times when parents and children sit at home and talk together. For generations that time has been the family meal. In some cultures the family still eats every meal together – breakfast, lunch, dinner. Sometimes even a late afternoon snack. But for most Americans, the model, until recently, was dinner each evening, and a mid-day meal on Sunday.

Does it matter?  The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has been tracking that question for more than a fifteen years now, and the results are consistent, and inescapable:
Over the past decade and a half of surveying thousands of American teens and their parents, we have discovered that one of the most effective ways parents can keep their kids from using substances is by sitting down to dinner with them.
Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven per week), those who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week) are:             
  •  twice as likely to use tobacco or marijuana; and 
  • more than one and a half times likelier to use alcohol.                                                    
Growing up, family dinner was non-negotiable. Be home by 5:30 or else. The conversation was wide-ranging: subjects covered in school, political events of the day, my grandmother’s thoughts on the passage she had read in her morning devotions. Sometimes she handed one of us the Bible to read the passage she had in mind, other times she just noted a verse or two. Or asked a question: “I read this this morning, and I’ve been wondering about it all day. What do you think it means?”

Friday, February 26, 2010


One of the things I love about the Anglican tradition is the liturgical calendar – the idea of rhythm throughout the year. Lent, the weeks from Ash Wendesday to Easter, is a  season of soul-searching and repentance., a time to slow down, take stock, simplify the schedule. Traditionally, the forty days of Lent are meant as an imitation of Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days (Sundays aren’t included in the count, since they commemorate the resurrection. For some, they’re feast days – but that’s a different discussion).

Some years I’ve given up chocolate, or coffee, or sugar, or all three, a way to pull myself back into balance after the binging on cookies through the holidays and Girl Scout cookie season. This year, I chose not to give up any specific thing, but to focus more intentionally on time – really taking time – to think, pray, read, reflect, prepare.

Our church is also focusing on time: life in the balance. And as if by design, the weather has been assisting, with snowfall after snowfall. Today, again, schools are closed, roads drifted, snow falling, wind stirring little cyclones of white that swirl across the yard.

This morning, with coffee in hand, and binoculars nearby to inventory hungry birds venturing through the snow in search of seeds, I’ve been reading Think Orange, a book by Reggie Joiner about the need to weave church and family more closely together. His thesis is that churches on their own are ineffective in discipling children and youth – as he points out, most churches have less than 40 hours a year of direct, strategic interaction with children. That’s probably a generous estimate, and the truth is, not much can be accomplished in such a small, scattered amount of time.