Jurassic World Is Not About the Dinosaurs

With the release of the new movie, Jurassic World this week, I decided to read the original book by Michael Crichton which he wrote in 1990. As I got into the story I realized the book’s real focus was not dinosaurs. Instead, it is a riveting critique of the idea that science has the final authority on truth.

Crichton, who died in 2008, was a prolific writer who wrote a series of books that expressed an ongoing theme, he believed scientists had become more concerned about profits than discoveries that furthered the health and welfare of humanity.

In Jurassic Park, Crichton’s voice is heard in the words of Ian Malcom, a maverick mathematical genius. He was hired as a consultant to advise John Hammond, the rich entrepreneur who wanted to advance the field of genetic engineering, no matter the cost. Rather than be burdened by government red tape, he bought an island where he was free to do what ever he wanted in the name of science. His goal was to create a controlled environment where he could show the world the amazing things that could be done, even bringing dinosaurs back to life.

Throughout the book Malcom utters a series of remarks that skews the notion that scientists can control their creations. Malcom (i.e. Crichton) makes the case that the idea the physical universe follows a predictable, observable pattern has been overturned by mathematical discoveries like chaos theory and fractals. He also believed you can’t control nature. Living things will do anything to survive. Here are two quotes that sums up the theme that runs through the book:

“You decide you’ll control nature, and from that moment on you’re in deep trouble, because you can’t do it…Don’t confuse things. You can make a boat, but you can’t make an ocean. You can make an airplane, but you can’t make the air. Your powers are much less than your dreams of reason would have you believe.”                                                                                           (p. 351, Jurassic Park, paperback, 1990).

“My point is that life on earth can take care of itself. In the thinking of a human being, a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago, we didn’t have cars and airplanes and computers and vaccines…it was a whole different world. But to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing…Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet – or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.”
(p. 369 Jurassic Park, paperback, 1990)

So if you happen to go to the theater this week to watch dinosaurs break free of their constraints and eat some humans, be well advised that Crichton’s ideas have far larger implications. For him the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are a metaphor for how science without ethics and boundaries has the potential to unleash environmental catastrophes that in the long run won’t bother the planet one iota. The real problem is not what we are doing to the planet. Its what we are doing to ourselves.

If you take your iKid (the generation born since 2000) to the movie, here are a couple of questions for reflection:

  1. Why did the scientists create the dinosaurs?
  2. What scientific advances do you think are creating a better future?
  3. Which ones do you think are dangerous?
  4. Do you think we should use genetics to create new creatures? (Like combining the DNA of a monkey and a jelly fish so the monkey glows in the dark)
  5. How do we decide which discoveries are good and which ones are bad?

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age

The Problem with “Nones”

Over the years, the Christian community has been very creative in the terms it uses to categorize people who are not coming to church. “Unbelievers” was in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s. These were the people who did not believe in Jesus. The church’s job was to convince them to believe by using tracts like the “Four Spiritual Laws” to change their minds. In the 1980s and 1990s, the term “seekers” was used to describe people who did not come to church but were interested in spirituality of some kind. So churches created seeker services that did not expect attendees to do anything but listen to a band play contemporary music, watch video clips, and listen to a message with fill-in-the-blank outlines. The goal was to help people become seekers of Jesus.

Now the people who do not affiliate with a particular faith tradition or go to church are called the “nones.”   According to Pew Research Center’s recently released study on America’s Changing Religious Landscape, which reported on the rapid decrease in people who are part of mainline Protestant churches, the number of the religiously unaffiliated adults, the so-called “nones,” has increased by 19 million people since 2007. Now there are approximately 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S., which makes them larger then Catholics or mainline Protestants. While 11% of older adults are in this category, more than 36% of young adults do not participate in a religious faith community.

The most damning finding from the survey is that while 85% of adults were raised as Christians, a quarter of these no longer claim a religious affiliation. Former Christians now represent 19% of the U.S. population. This is in contrast to mainline Protestants, who have declined from 18% of the population to 11% since 2007.

In my mind, the use of the term “nones” is a convenient term that lets the church off the hook. We can say they aren’t coming to our churches because they have lost their faith or because they don’t believe in anything. I believe that “the nones” is a pejorative term to use for a group of people who don’t buy into our notion of what it means to follow Jesus. For those us who are steeped in the theology of John Wesley, the idea that someone is a “none” is completely foreign to the concept of prevenient grace (before a person knows Jesus, God’s grace is present in his or her life).

I think people have turned away from the church because of “us.” Maybe they have chosen not to participate in church life because they are not interested in our unrelenting debates about who is “in” and who is “out.” Instead of finding our houses of worship places of grace, they have encountered toxic personalities they do not want their children to emulate. Could it be they can better live out their faith without having to put up with people whose goal in life is to get rid of the pastor who doesn’t measure up? Or maybe they refuse to listen to preaching that constantly judges them and their friends’ lifestyles as being sinful and unchristian.

In all the articles that have tried to shed light on this issue, the one by Reba Riley on “Losing My Religion: America’s ‘Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” hit me the hardest.  She says, “I see thousands of stories of brokenness. I see the millions of people who crash into religion when they go looking for God. I see people so tired of being spiritually bruised that they give up on faith altogether.”

She brings home a point that is often lost in the desire to fix blames. “People who leave or are left by their faith lose a lot more than a place to go on Sunday morning. They lose relationships with family and friends, social status, tribal approval, self-esteem.  They lose their God, their identity, their certainty, their gravity.”

This week, I have been hanging out with Paul Moon, the founding pastor of BrokenBuilders, a United Methodist Church birthed in Manhattan six years ago. The church now has three sites and six worship services. The primary attenders are young adults, the group that is missing from the vast majority of our churches. The Rev. Moon says the number one goal for the church is to create safe communities. Rather than launch worship services or small groups, the starting point at BrokenBuilders is creating space for community to form. People who gather in these spaces can be anything: Buddhist, Muslim, agnostic, gamers, or Christian. It doesn’t matter. As people identify shared interests, they may start a yoga class, launch a theatre group, or create a worship experience.

The leader’s role is not to create a program or run people through a series of Bible classes. Instead it is to pray constantly and to give room for the Holy Spirit to touch peoples’ lives. Moon says, “We should acknowledge we don’t have any influence over young people in their culture. Our role is to ask the Holy Spirit to come and work in their lives. We are called to create space for people to experience the grace of Jesus. Transformation is not our goal; it is a byproduct of our experience with God.”

So as we grapple with a growing population of young people who have left the church or who have never been part of the church, perhaps prayer and seeking God’s wisdom is the place to start — not with rollouts of new programs or initiatives to reach the “nones,” but with humility and a self-awareness that causes us to take stock of our own attitudes, actions, and words that hurt, damage, and destroy people’s faith in God. It could be that a lot more of us than would care to admit are very close to joining America’s fastest growing religious group.

Who is Tending to the Minds of Our Boys?

”An intelligent mind acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”

Proverbs 18:15

As I entered the local Barnes & Noble bookstore the other day I was greeted by a beautiful table covered with books with and an inspirational sign that said, “Inspiring Stories for Unstoppable Girls.”   Try as I might, I could not find a similar display for boys.

I first encountered this bias in our publishing and book world when my daughter, who is now in her twenties, got her first American Girl book back in the late 1990s.   Started by the Pleasant Company, American Girl books tell the stories of characters like Kirsten Larson, born in 1854, a Swedish immigrant who settles in the Minnesota Territory, and Josefina Montoya, a young Mexican girl living in New Mexico who was born in 1824.  The books come in a set of six books with colorful pictures, whose historical fiction is designed for 8-to-11 year-old girls. But the books are just the start. Girls can also buy dolls based on the books as well as furniture, clothes, and accessories. Bought by Mattel in 1998, the brand has expanded to include American Girl Stores, where girls can buy the books, dolls, and costumes as well as dine with their dolls in a specially themed restaurant.

As you might expect, American Girl has become a very profitable enterprise and has done a great job introducing girls to the world of books as a fun and lively experience, especially for those whose parents or grandparents can foot the bill for the dolls that cost over $100.00 each.

But you will not find an American Boy series of books or stores that help capture the imagination of boys. Somehow because they are boys, they are supposed to figure this out on their own without the encouragement of the book world. My son who is in his young teens has found some series to be interesting like the Percy Jackson books and 39 Clues. But other than that, few books capture his attention.

He and his friends would much rather play video games and talk about the characters in the games than discuss anything they would find in a book. It seems as a culture we have ceded the minds of our boys and young men to the influence of the creators of video games, whose most popular titles such as Call to Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Bloodborne invite them into a world of violence and mayhem.

As parents, we see an ongoing battle for our boys’ minds. How do we get them to read when the publishing market is all too content to cater to girls? How do we balance boys’ desire to play video games, whose online interactive features encourage them to connect with one another, with the importance of reading for the development of their imaginations and learning to focus? Why is it when I Google “Books for Girls,” I find sites that talk about empowering girls, but when I Google “Books for Boys” I find sites that merely recommend good books or “great” books?

I don’t have a ready answer for this except to say that our boys need to be empowered as well. They need to feel they will be able to offer something positive to the world in the future. Just like today’s iKids girls, our iKids boys need to be encouraged to read during the most important period of brain development a human ever goes through, from ages eight to fifteen, when the brain develops its ability to think, to make decisions, to discern what is good and evil, to value relationships, and to make choices about faith and belief.

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age.  For more info go to http://iKidsgen.com

9 Acres of Guns. Really?

Signs around Nashville are proclaiming “9 Acres of Guns” as the ardent members of the National Rifle Association descend upon the city. Some 70,000 strong will boldly brandish their right to carry their guns – no matter where they want to go.

So enthralled are the city leaders to have them as our guests, that the newly opened Nashville Convention Center will allow people to carry their guns inside the Convention Center.  In breathless anticipation, I share will you their excitement as found on their webpage:

“With over 550 exhibitors covering 450,000 square feet of interior and exterior exhibit hall space, educational seminars, celebrities, and fun filled special events, bring the whole family- there will be something for everyone! Spend the day exploring the products from every major firearm company in the country, book the hunt of a lifetime in our exclusive outfitter section, and view priceless collections of firearms in our gun collector area. You’ll also see knives, wildlife art, shooting accessories, hunting gear, ATV’s, and much more!”

At the center of it all is the “NRA Freedom Festival” where NRA members can celebrate their fun filled pursuit which has resulted in:

In an attempt by TN politicians to curry favor with the NRA, the Tennessee legislature has been trying to perfect its “Guns in Parks” law, which would allow gun toting hikers and picnickers to carry their guns into parks, even when local governments have banned them. One version that got passed even gave allowance for people to carry guns into the halls of the TN state capital. After thinking it over, they took that provision out.

Williamson County, which is in the suburbs of Nashville, passed its own resolution in response.  They plan to post signs in its parks that tells gun owners not to bring guns into their parks when children are playing in sports leagues and in organized school outings.

While few would dispute the right for people to have a gun, the NRA and its adherents have taken this right to an extreme that daily puts our children in danger. With over  8,000,000 guns being sold a year in the United States, no reasonable person can say that people don’t have access to lethal firearms.  But whose talking about reason? So as the NRA revels in all things guns, I invite the rest of us to pray for our children and support those who say enough is enough.

The Dangers of Texting: What are we teaching iKids about driving?

Lately I have noticed a new trend, stoplight texting. It happens at almost every major intersection with a signal, especially when there are more than three cars waiting for the light to turn green.   You have probably experienced it yourself. When the light turns green, at least one car just sits and doesn’t move as the cars in front of it goes through the intersection. Then the person will look up from their phone (sometimes after I gently honk) and speeds through the intersection before the light turns red. Invariably, because of their bad smartphone habit, the light changes before I can go through the intersection and I am stuck at the red light.

You may think this is just a minor inconvenience, but a new study conducted by AAA about teenagers and distracted driving shows that our texting and driving habits are having disastrous results. What makes this study so compelling is that it is based on 1,700 videos that were recorded as teenagers were driving. They discovered distraction was a factor in 58 percent of all crashes, including 89 percent of road-departure crasheds and 76 percent of read-end crashes. Before this study, it was thought distraction was responsible for only 14 percent of all teen driver crashes.

How big is this problem? In 2014, about 963,000 drivers age 16-19 were involved in automobile accidents, with 383,000 injuries and 2,865 deaths. With just over 20 million teens age 16-19, this means almost 5% of this age group was in an accident. Most significant almost 60% of these were preventable. The two biggest distractions they discovered was talking to someone else in the car (15%) and cell phone use (12%).

An earlier study by the AAA found that adults were far more likely to be using their cellphones while driving. While only 20 percent of teens reported using a cell phone while driving in the last month, forty-three percent of adults ages 25 – 39 reported doing so.

This study points to a much larger problem with our use of our techgear and how it is affecting the way we think and interact with the larger world. Matt Richtel, in A Deadly Wandering, A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention, tells the story of Reggie Shaw, a college student in Utah, who fatally struck two rocket scientists as he was texting and driving. One of the first cases that was actually prosecuted, Richtel uses this example to explore the wider issue of attention and how our digital life affects our brains and the way we make decisions.

In the book he interacts with leading neuroscientists to discover how our use of smartphones and tablets is affecting the way we think. In this example he shows how powerful our devices are. “There are few impulses as basic and inescapable as the one that urges you to turn around if someone taps on your shoulder. You must discover if the person is an opportunity or a threat. When your phone rings, it is a proverbial tap on the shoulder. You want to find out who it is. You need to. Your bottom-up survival system demands it.” (p. 215)

But our devices don’t just ring when someone calls us. They are designed to send pings and dings to us whenever we receive a text, a message, or an alert from our favorite news source. As a result we live in a constant state of distraction.

When coupled with driving, this creates a dangerous mix. Reggie’s story illuminates the problem with texting and driving. Most people just don’t send one text. In fact, texting, especially if it is done in the midst of a heated argument or intense debate is an ongoing discussion. Before he crossed into the wrong lane and crashed into the oncoming car, Reggie had been involved in a series of texts with his girlfriend.

Dr. David Strayer, a researcher in the area of attention and performance, gave testimony at Reggie’s trial. What he said is worth repeating. In his research he used an important term, “inattention blindness.” He said, “Depending on the complexity of the driving task, it may take fifteen seconds or more after you’ve push ‘send’ before you’re fully back in an unimpaired state.” (p. 274)

Reggie, who had been having problems remembering what had led to the crash came to a revealing thought after hearing Dr. Strayer’s testimony. “What if I was so preoccupied that I actually didn’t know what was going on?” (p. 275)

And that is the problem. As much as we would like to think we can handle multiple inputs at the same time, our brains are not designed for the demands of the digital age. We can only focus on one thing at a time.  As the iKids Generation, whose leading edge is 15-years-old gets ready to drive, now is the time to teach them the importance of driving distraction free before it is too late.

So what should we do?

  1. The leading edge of the iKids (born since 2000) is fifteen-years-old and will be hitting the road next year.   This generation who sees digital technology as their birthright will need specific guidance from parents, teachers, and youth leaders on how to drive without being hooked up to their techgear. They will need to be taught how to focus on the road and to pay attention to what is happening around them while they drive.
  2. We should be asking car manufactures what business they are in — making cars or digital platforms? Putting digital interfaces with access to social media sites, internet service, and mapping apps in dashboards next to the driver is a recipe for disaster, especially for young drivers. It invites and encourages distracted driving, putting every person on the road at a greater risk of being in an accident.
  3. Parents need to ask what they are teaching their children about driving. If they are constantly talking and texting (even at stop lights) while they are behind the wheel, they are teaching their children that driving a car is just an afterthought, not a skill that demands our full attention.  They must realize they are the primary teachers of driving and their children will follow their examples, examples that could lead to deadly consequences when their children start driving.

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age
iKidsgen.com

What “House of Cards” Teaches Churches

If you are a real fan of House of Cards, the political thriller staring Kevin Stacy as Frank Underwood, you will finish Season Three by the end of this week.  Last year 668,000 households finished the series in three days or less. Today Netflix releases season three with Underwood having ascended to the Presidency.

Two years ago Netflix changed entertainment as we know it by releasing all 13 episodes of season one season of House of Cards the first day. This revolutionary approach to TV directly challenged the broadcast model of rolling out a series by showing an episode a week. It also catered to the new way Americans like to watch their TV, binging on one series at a time.

In our busy, techgear distracted lives; there is something about immersing yourself in a story that is quite satisfying.   A generation ago, people would get this experience by reading a book. They would buy the latest blockbuster like Gone with the Wind or Shogun and read it late into the night. Today’s twenty-somethings can remember the pleasure of getting their hands on the latest copy of Harry Potter and locking themselves in their rooms until they made it through over 700 pages of text.

But rather than reading book, we inhale each TV series as the characters and images burrow deep into our consciousness. While broadcast TV is trying to combat this media trend by launching their own online services like CBS TV, the model of once a week viewing is going by the wayside.

The media habits of today’s children and youth (the iKids Generation born since 2000) are greatly affected by this approach as well. If their family has Netflix or Amazon TV, they are used to watching their favorite series, one show after another. They are very much growing up with the idea of instant entertainment at their beck and call whether at home, in a car, or eating at a restaurant. It almost doesn’t make sense to them that they would have to wait a week to see the next episode of their favorite series.

Most churchgoers view worship much like they approach entertainment.   For those who are older, going to church once a week at the same place and time is much like it was when they turned on the TV to watch their favorite show on a Sunday night. Worship is just part of the regular routine and schedule of the week.

Dawn Chesser, Director of Preaching Ministries at Discipleship Ministries says, “It is critical to keep pushing on the essentially corporate nature of worship, especially in an age of such individualistic lifestyles. The nature of binging in whatever form it comes is I do it when I want to and I do what I want to, according to MY schedule and MY particular taste. There is a lot of ME in there and not much we, and it is important to caution against thinking about worship as only being about ME.”

But what happens when people no long follow a routine for their entertainment options? One week they may watch House of Cards and the next last season’s Game of Thrones or The Good Wife.   And the next week they may take their child to see a movie after their child’s soccer game.

In fact the idea of a regular routine is also at risk. After all, when does the workday start and end? When we are 24/7 connected to the office or to our customers, work never ends.

To connect with our binge watching, routineless population churches will need to teach people that worship is not just another entertainment option. That worshiping with others matters.   Even more profound, worship is not about fulfilling our needs but engaging with others in the worship of God. It is a means of grace.  In the greater picture, binge watching is a symptom of a much greater issue, how we use our time.

Taylor Burton Edwards, Director of Worship at Discipleship Ministries says, “Using the means of grace matters — and it takes time to use them, time that will not be there if we do not actively encourage the participation of the people in all the means of grace, including corporate worship, but also searching the scriptures, personal and family prayer, fasting or abstinence, and the ministry of the word, read or expounded, to name just a few of those listed in the Third General Rule. Each has its own integrity, all are necessary, and of them, only corporate worship is corporate worship. Worship is not a lifestyle. Rather, worship symbolically represents the lifestyle we are to have as members of Christ’s body in the world.”

Perhaps the closest we get to binge worship is Holy Week, when a person can walk with Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, can dine with him on Maundy Thursday, can die with him on Good Friday, and can celebrate him on Easter.  Of course, people still need to show up at the right place and time, but if they do they will embrace the totality of Jesus’ meaning and purpose in their lives.

Foremost in all of this is the story. Whether its House of Cards or a blockbuster book, what grabs our attention and solicits our passion is a powerful story that compels us to experience human emotion and challenges us to look at our lives in a new light.   While many of us will indulge in 13 hours of Frank Underwood and his devious ways, a greater story is taking place during this season of Lent as Christians immerse themselves in the story of Jesus. Not just to hear a story, but to live changed lives.

Three Takeaways:

  1. See worship as part of the corporate lifestyle of living in Christian community
  2. Live the means of grace throughout the week through small groups, missional encounters in your community, prayer, and connections through social media
  3. Embrace binge worship by marketing all the worship experiences from Palm Sunday through Easter as Holy Week so people can connect the dots. Offer all the services. If you have a small staff, just opening the church for silent prayer on Good Friday gives people an opportunity to live the story.

For resources on Holy Week:

Holy Week Resources from Discipleship Ministries

Holy Saturday on Twitter

 

When Trying to Win it All Fails the iKids: The Little League Fiasco

Tim Corbin, the coach of the Vanderbilt Baseball team, whose team won the college world series last year, made a very interesting comment in an interview he did on 104.5 The Zone. When asked why a high school baseball player should choose to go to college rather than to sign a professional contract and play in the minor leagues, he replied “in college kids can make mistakes, grow from them, and learn from them.”   He went on to add that once you enter professional baseball, if you have a bad year, your career could be over quickly. In college you have a second chance.

Corbin’s comments are worth considering when we look at the world of iKids sports. Today, it was announced that because of cheating, the Chicago Jackie Robinson West Little League Team  has to give up its 2014 national title. It seems the leaders of the league expanded their boundaries to allow them to include more top tier ten, eleven, and twelve year-olds on the team from neighboring leagues.

The real losers in this story are the little leaguers who have now lost their innocence and their pride because of the scheme hatched by the adult leaders of the league to increase their chances at winning. So who’s to blame for this fiasco? Let’s zero on three contributors to this situation.

  • First, goes to ESPN who broadcasts the series and produces a show that at once celebrates the accomplishments of preteens but also exposes them to fame and ridicule in the national spotlight. Rather than playing for fun, today’s little leagues are more focused on making it to the big ball game and developing elite players.
  • Second, goes to the increase of the professionalization of youth sports. Carol Mithers, in an article on “Are Kids’ Sports Too Competitive?’ reports that 30 to 45 million iKids participate in sports each year. As organized sports leagues have become big business she says, youth sports “has changed in troubling ways. Not only are players joining competitive leagues at very young ages, more and more of them are choosing to specialize, focus, and train intensively in only one sport.”
  • Third, goes to parents whom in their desire to help their children succeed, pressure their children to become the next stars. And its not just the parents, throw in coaches who are eager to prove themselves on the ball field and you have an unhealthy pressure to succeed at all costs.

As registration starts for spring sports parents around the country will be signing up their children for baseball, softball, and soccer.   Millions of iKids will hit the fields with youthful enthusiasm and a heartfelt desire to make their parents proud. Its up to the parents, the coaches, and the organizers of these experiences to focus on what is most important, the physical, mental, and spiritual development of the iKids that are under their care.

While winning is an objective that all would like to achieve, learning how to play the game, staying within the bounds of rules, and sportsmanship is something everyone needs to learn. More importantly, Corbin gives us a template to emulate, creating an atmosphere where its okay to make mistakes because those around you – your teammates, your coaches, and your parents are there to pick you up so you can try it again.