The “Selfie” Generation

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So “selfie” is the word of the year for 2013 according the Oxford Dictionary’s release this week.  To many this is not a big deal.  To many more it speaks volumes about our culture, about technology, and about young people. I myself find it almost as interesting that “selfie” is even a word much less the fact that it was the word of the year.  I also wonder how the Oxford Dictionary determines what the word of the year is.  I mean is there a vote?  Is it based on how many times it appears on Facebook and Instagram in a said year?  Is there a panel of experts that select the word of the year?  I also wonder if they have a ceremony much like the Emmy’s or Oscar’s or Grammy’s where book and word lovers around the globe gather and wait in anticipation to see who will take home the coveted prize “Word of the Year” (and if so, I wonder what the other nominees were?).  Anyway, I digress.  As I have thought (obviously, entirely too much) about this, I do have a few observations I thought I would share:

 1.  This is a reminder and a result of the fact that this generation is image driven.  Len Sweet has been writing/talking for years that in order to connect with this generation in worship one of the characteristics of that worship is that it must be image driven.  Images have  ALWAYS been powerful – “A picture is worth a thousand words” – but now images are easily captured on smart phones and instantly shared with others via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  Instagram is the “flavor of the month” when it comes to social media right now,  and that is due partly at least to the fact that our culture is so image driven. 

 2.  Although it seems that this generation is more self-absorbed than previous generations, I believe it just has more tools to prove it.  One of the marks of the adolescent years of human development is the importance of answering the question of identity.  Erikson was the first to bring this to our attention years ago, but we have seen evidence of this struggle throughout history.  Teens are in an identity crisis and the answers they discover in their teen years are often lifelong answers about who they are as an individual.  How can we expect young people to answer that critical question of development without being at least somewhat self-absorbed?  That would be like asking someone to figure out what really was in the McRib sandwich and that person NEVER looking at an actual McRib sandwich.  Even as adults we still enjoy seeing ourselves in pictures, our names in the paper, or on TV.  This generation just has the opportunity to “broadcast” their image quickly and effortlessly because of the technology they possess.  I dare say that if we had smart phones in the 80’s, there would have been lots more pictures of big hair, parachute pants, and Air Jordans. 

 3.  The final thought is a question…How can we help this “selfie” generation realize that their BEST SELF is the self that reflects Jesus?  That is the critical role of pastors, youth workers, parents, mentors, and adults in general when it comes to connecting young people to faith.  We were made in God’s image.  We are worth more than gold to Him.  He loves EACH of us so much that He KNOWS us intimately and desires nothing more than for us to KNOW Him intimately in return.  When we can connect young people with their identity ,not as the world sees them, but rather connect them with their identity in Christ, then this self-absorbed generation becomes less like our generation and more like the God that created them.  Suddenly, a shift happens and they become focused on how their “self” can impact others FOR the kingdom.  Maybe when that happens enough, we can make a new word of the year.  Maybe the word of the year for 2014 can be “othersie”.  I’m starting the campaign now!  Any other words for next year?  Would love to hear your thoughts!

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NASCAR and Integrity

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There’s a saying that says “you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy”.  I am living proof of the truth of that statement.  I have lived in medium sized cities in the upstate of South Carolina for all but 7 years of my life.  However, there is something that stirs deep inside me when I get out of the city and into the country.  Whether it is in the woods hunting, driving down a country road, or on a camping trip, there is something great about being in the country.  As part of my country upbringing, I was around race cars from an early age.  My uncle raced at small town dirt tracks on Friday and Saturday nights and we (my brother and I) thought we were cool when we could be part of his “pit crew” and push around tires that were bigger than us.  And once a year my grandpa would splurge and buy tickets to the Labor Day race at Darlington Speedway for his four sons and his only two grandsons (my brother and me).  So from an early age, NASCAR has been in my blood.  I follow it closely to this day.

As you might imagine, I was intrigued by the outcome and aftermath of the Richmond race a couple of weeks ago leading up to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  If you missed it, you can read about the penalties that were levied against Michael Waltrip Racing to bring you up to speed.  The nutshell version is that Clint Bowyer (a MWR driver who was  all but locked into the chase) spun out intentionally in order to allow a teammate (Martin Truex Jr.) to secure one of the last spots in the Chase.  After an investigation, it appears that there was a spontaneous decision made by the team to manipulate the outcome of the race in order to get an additional MWR team into the Chase.  After being fined a large amount of money, Michael Waltrip admitted to the cheating, but held firm that it was a split second decision made in the heat of the battle.  NASCAR eventually disqualified Truex from the Chase and allowed the drivers that were adversely affected by the incident to take their rightful place in the 10 race playoff.

All of this got me thinking a LOT about integrity!  I have often heard that integrity is who you are when no one is looking.  I don’t know the persons who made the split second decision to cheat in the race at MWR and this is not an indictment on their character, because they may be fine, upstanding people.  However, I think it is surely an example of the appeal of our “win-at-all-costs” society.  The goal of making the Chase for this race team had become such a motivating factor that when an opportunity arose to further insure their success presented itself, there was not one person who acted upon the voice of fairness…the voice of integrity  when it mattered.  I wonder how many of us as Christians make decisions each and every day that are based, not on the integrity of our heart, but rather are swayed by the demands on our lives to perform at work, at home, or even in the church.  I know I have tendencies to lose focus and end up making the decision with the most favorable outcome and not always the RIGHT decision.  My prayer is that God will guide me to make the RIGHT decision even when it seems so easy to make a decision that leads to accomplishing things while hurting or cheating others.

Have  you ever had to make a choice in a similar situation?  How did you make the decision?  Was it easy?  Did you do the right thing?  Would love to hear about it.

Finding Hope In Nothing Less

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend the Symposium on Youth & Culture at my alma mater, Spartanburg Methodist College.  The Symposium featured keynote addresses from Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean and Dr. Darwin Glassford.  Both of our guests offered timely, expert analysis ofearth-hope1 the current youth culture and the opportunities and challenges that face the church in light of the shifts in culture that have and are taking place.  I don’t have the space or the ability to recap the breadth of the learning here, but I was impacted by one particular comment that Dr. Dean made and it has stuck with me over the last couple of weeks.  Allow me to share a bit of background to help you understand why the comment struck me.  As I have gotten settled in to my position as Congregational Specialist, and especially with a specialization in youth ministry, the question I have been asked most is “how do we (as a church) get and keep youth and young adults?”  I have answered that time and again with a question: “why do you want them?”  I would then share with the leadership of churches my belief that if a church only wants youth and young adults to “save” the church, or to prolong the life of the church that youth would never come, but rather would be attracted to a church that truly, genuinely cared for them, loved them, and wanted to share Christ with them.  It seems to be a common perception that the way to”save the church” is to capture youth and young adults to be the savior.

Enter Dr. Dean at the Symposium on Youth & Culture.  In the midst of one of her keynote addresses she made the following comment:

” In order to save the church, we don’t need youth….we need hope!”

Read that again.  It is a true, accurate, convicting and powerful statement.  The theological ramifications of the idea that youth will “save the church” are obvious.  After all, the church is created to worship THE savior of the world.  The church is the bride of Christ.  Surely there is good logic in trusting HIM to save the church than trusting any group of sinful, misguided humans.  So what is our HOPE found in?  It is in Christ.  And to save the church and to reach and keep youth and young adults I believe our strategy should be simply to connect people (young, old, and in between) to a life-altering relationship with Christ.  I am reminded of the old hymn….

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

May we find our hope in NOTHING LESS.