The Release of Disney Infinity 3.0 Begins the Season of Star Wars Mania

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When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise for $4 billion dollars in 2012, many assumed Disney would focus on reviving the Star Wars franchise by producing another round of movies. But this was only part of the plan. What Disney really wanted was the characters and the stories. For characters and stories have always put the magic in Disney.

Disney’s first cultural icon, Mickey Mouse, became the template upon which all future characters would be built. In 1928 he starred in Steamboat Willie, the first animated film to use synchronized music and sound effects. As the movie captured the imagination of popular culture, Walt Disney did what he did best — he teamed up with merchandisers to put Mickey Mouse in every house in America. Along with stuffed animals, Mickey appeared on pencils, in books, on children’s clothes, pillows, and sheets. Soon he had his own syndicated cartoon in the newspaper. But nothing said he had arrived better than the release of the iconic Mickey Mouse Watch, which sold over 11,000 units on its first day, a record for its time. But that was just the start. By the 1950s Mickey had his own television show, the Mickey Mouse Club, and a starting role in his own theme park, Disneyland, in California.

So when Disney purchased Star Wars, the production of movies was only one piece of the franchise pie. From now till the release of Star Wars VII The Force Awakens on December 18, 2015, a whole series of video games, animated TV shows, and books will be released to build momentum toward the opening of the movie.

Disney has even created a slogan and website called “Star Wars A Force For Change,” which promises to harness “the strength of Star Wars and its global fandom to empower people to come together to make a positive impact on the world around them.”

With the release of the video game Disney Infinity 3.0 Star Wars, Disney takes its popular toy-to-life video game to another level.  Included in the starter pack is the first of three Star Wars play sets that capture the breadth of the Star Wars story.  The starter pack comes with Twilight of the Republic, in which Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano battle during the latter years of the Clone Wars (episodes 1 – 3). The intergalactic adventure takes the characters to four planets, during which they battle droids as they try to save the republic from the separatists.

At the end of September the next play set, The Rise Against the Empire, will be released. Here gamers will be immersed in the original Star Wars movie universe (episodes  4-6) as they get to be Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia fighting against the Galactic Empire.  Then in December, in conjunction with the release of the newest movie, The Force Awakens play set will feature two new characters, Finn and Rey, that will allow gamers to play the in world of episode 7.

But this is only part of the story.  More than 100 playable characters will be included in the series, which at $14.99 a pop is quite an investment, along with the $64.99 starter pack and the $35.99 you pay for each additional play set.  Disney knows it will hard to resist the desire to play as Darth Vader, Yoda, Chewbacca, and Han Solo in a Star Wars experience that puts the gamer in the midst of the action.

Beyond the play sets, Disney Infinity also includes the groundbreaking Toy Box that allows gamers to create their own worlds using Star Wars images.  But more than that, in the Toy Box, Yoda can also hang out with Elsa from Frozen or Woody from Toy Story or Hulkbuster from Marvel’s universe of characters.

While it’s easy to see this as an attempt to separate parents from their hard-earned money, not to be lost is Disney’s profound understanding of the appeal of Star Wars to grandparents, parents, and children alike.  For Stars Wars is not only an intergalactic adventure, it also is an intergenerational cultural experience that started in 1977.

People in their fifties and sixties can easily remember their first experience of the release of episodes 4 – 6, when “let the force be with you” became part of the cultural lexicon of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Those in their thirties and forties became immersed in the story in the 1980s and 1990s with the advent of Video Tapes and DVDs that allowed them as kids to watch the movies over and over again in their home theaters.  In 1999, the series got new life with the release of episodes 1 – 3, which introduced the series to a whole new generation.  Now with Disney Infinity 3.0, the grandchildren and children of Star Wars fans have the opportunity to be caught up in the story in a totally new way.  Not only will they be able to watch the movies, toy-to-life video gaming allows them to become the characters as they interact in the Star Wars universe.

With the release of Disney Infinity 3.0, Disney has redefined the Star Wars experience.  Rather than buying a particular game, it becomes its own game system, which can be played on any gaming platform from the Wii U to the PS4, from the Xbox One to the PC.  If you have a grandchild or child, don’t be surprised if you find yourself investing in Disney Infinity 3.0, because deep down, you know if you have it, you’ll get to play it too.

Questions for church leaders:

  • How do Bible stories and characters become an intergenerational experience?
  • How will you handle the cultural phenomenon of all things Star Wars that will reach its zenith right before Christmas?
  • Will you ignore it?  Reference it in your preaching? Create a study?

 

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.

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.

iKids on Flipboard’s New Website

Today Flipboard has launched a new website that allows you to collect and keep track of your favorite topics on the web. Developed first for the iPad and later for smartphones, Flipboard is a great app for keeping track of the ideas that are most important for to you and your work.

I have used it to create some of my own magazines where I have been collecting articles around topics that are of importance to me. If you haven’t tried it, I invite you to take a look.   If you are new to Flipboard, when you find a magazine you like, click on “follow” and it will be added to your collection of sites.  You also can add Flipboard to your tablet and/or smartphone.

Here are three Flipboard Magazines I have developed.  I invite you to try these out and create your own collection of ideas that matter to you.

iKids
http://flip.it/vvxXM
Learn about the digital life of children and teens, those born from 2000 – 2017
With over 1,500 articles, you will find articles on gaming, digital technology, brain development, health, and spirituality.

Innovative Leadership Project
http://flip.it/TFjno
Creating innovative leaders at the heart of local churches – churchleaderUMC.com
With a focus on work and productivity, this collection of articles delves into issues of work/balance, creating healthy habits, organization, running meetings, and tips for being a creative leader.

Millennials Trending
http://flip.it/Wqrxi
Urban Life and the Spirituality of Young Adults
My newest collection looks at the newest research on young adulthood, especially as it relates to Second Generation Americans, social media, education, and financial issues related to this generation.

The Diverse iKids of CA

 A significant change is taking place in California that signals a remarkable shift in its population. In times past, California’s population growth came from outside the state. After WWII, huge numbers of people drove west on Highway 66 from Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, and other mid-western states to move to the golden state. “California here I come”, was a popular line for a song extolling the benefits of its weather, jobs, and an opportunity to reinvent yourself.

Starting in the 1980s a new wave of people arrived from outside the state, this time from countries like Mexico, China, the Philippines, Tonga, and El Salvador. These first generation immigrants brought with them their rich cultures, foods, traditions, and languages that have transformed California into a creative tapestry that makes it a hub of innovation, diversity, and change.

But since 2000, the inflow of new residents has plateaued. This is most clearly seen in the population of its youngest generation. Since 2000 of 90% of the iKids Generation, those born since 2000, were born in California. Dowell Myers, in a USC Price report on “California’s Diminishing Resource: Children,” says, “Almost all CA children are born and raised in the state, unlike in past decades when many migrated from other states or nations. As these children grow into adulthood, they are beginning to remake the state. The historic transition to a “homegrown” majority is so recent, that its significance is not yet appreciated.”

While over 29% of California iKids have a least one parent who was born outside the United States, over 90% of them are Second Generation Americans. When looking at ethnicity some surprising information emerges. 91% of Whites, 94% of Blacks, 95% of Latinos, and 85% of Asians and Pacific Islanders iKids were born in California.

What does this mean for the future?

  1. In the past California’s growth was based on the inflow of new people from outside the state. Now is growth will be determined by the success of its own homegrown children. Economic success in the future will be based on how well California educates, trains, and equips its own children.
  2. While 52% are of Latino descent and 11% are of Asian descent, these Second Generation Americans see the world much differently from their parent’s generation. Churches, businesses, and educational institutions should realize the young Latinos and Asians of California are different than their parents. For most of them their primary language is English, they resonate with the American popular culture, and they share an American worldview.
  3. Because there are less people coming from outside the state, the percentage of children to the overall population is going down. This will be most clearly seen in the coming decades as the older adult population will skyrocket. In 2010 there were 22 senior adults per 100 people age 25 to 64. By 2050, when this generation will be in their prime earning years, there will be 46 older adults over 65 per 100 people who are 25 to 64.

Another study from the Pop Dynamics Research Group at the University of Southern California focused on the importance of developing intentional strategies for Second Generation Americans as they enter what they call the “Training Age” from age 18 to 24. This is when young adults go to college, trade schools, and have their first experience of work. From 2010 to 2030, 98% of the job growth in California will be attributed to Second Generation Americans. The study says, “This underscores how vital the second generation will be both as a source of labor forces and as the major source for replenishing the work force that would otherwise be depleted through increasing numbers of retirements.”

One of the primary places this information impacts is on California’s churches whose primary strategy over the years has been to reach newcomers to the state.  In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s the focus was on welcoming people from other states who carried with them mid-western worldviews and  were primarily white and black.  In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the focus was on reaching new immigrant populations by offering ministries in their native languages and who reflected the cultural heritage of the country from where they came.

Today’s generation of young people under the age of 30 in California are Second Generation, homegrown residents. They are the ones who are finding it difficult to find a place in California’s overcrowded colleges, who carry with them huge student dept, and will find it difficult to find housing in an expensive and competitive real estate market.  The future of the church will depend on its ability to connect with its homegrown population.  To reach this generation churches will need to pivot their approach to focus on the cultural norms and expectations of a diverse young adult and youth population whose main identity is Californian.  Not the California of the past, but a new California whose values and worldview is being re-imaged by a Second Generation whose cultural diversity defines them.

iKids Presentations Ready to View

Six 30-minute presentations on iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age are now available for your viewing.  Each prerecorded webinar takes you through a series of slides and images that will allow you to go deeper into the iKids material as you think about the implications of digital technology in the lives of those born since 2000.

Led by Craig Kennet Miller, the author of iKids, the presentations are based on the iKids book and the Six Values for the Digital Age PDF, a free downloadable study guide designed for use with small groups, Sunday School classes, and group meetings.

Go to https://ikidsgen.com/ikids-webinars/ 

Or click on the “iKids Presentations” Tab at the top of this page to access the material.