How Do You Minister To Millennials?

I get the question all the time from people, “How in the world do you minister to millennials?”

This is a rather complicated question with an even more complicated and (honestly) incomplete answer. To begin to answer this question, let me first lay down four preliminary working definitions.

Four Things To Consider When Doing Ministry To Millennials

First, Millennials are people born between 1980 and 1995 (Or in some cases 1980-2000).  These are adults who are between 21 and 36 years of age today (Or 16-36 today).

Second, Millennials were largely raised under a cultural parenting paradigm of child-rearing influenced by Dr. Benjamin Spock. In Spock’s estimation, parents needed to make children the central touchstone of any parenting approach.  Essentially, children are not to be directed by parents, but are to be accommodated by parents. The prototypical example of this approach is that when millennials sat down to evening dinner their parents gave them options for dinner instead of providing a single meal for the entire family.  If Bobby doesn’t want what parents are eating, then Bobby gets to select mac and cheese, pizza, etc…

Third, Millennials have grown up in an American society whose highest cultural value is personality.  I wrote about this recently at our church blog.

Americans used to hold to a common supreme individual cultural value — character development. The classic example from this time period of character development is a story about a young puritan girl who wants to help a homeless beggar to find a hot meal during a particularly brutal New England winter. The young girl waits until nightfall so as to be able to help the beggar under a cloak of anonymity. She finds some bread and meat, puts it into a basket, and stealthily places the food next to the beggar before slipping away unnoticed.

This girl from the example was trying to obey Matthew 6:1, which in the NIV reads, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

This portrait of a young person stands in stark contrast with a current portrait of a millennial. Consider this description:

No good deed ever goes unnoticed in the millennial generation because there is a fear of missing out (FOMO) of letting others known just how cool and generous you are. And the true motive as to good deeds has never been less clear in the eyes of the recipients of the good deeds. Is this person genuinely wanting to help? Or are they trying to increase their followers, likes, and clicks? Does this person even care about the larger issues of homelessness, institutional poverty, charity? Or are millennial selfie adults more concerned with image, perception, and personality?

You can read more about this here. But safe to say that our present culture is not one that expects to have the reward of steadfast character derived from a significant season of disciplined spiritual development.

Fourth, Because millennials have grown up with loads of options in every facet of life, they have always experienced a phenomenon known presently as FOMO — fear of missing out.  In other words, millennials are skilled at constantly weighing the opportunity cost of any particular decision in all areas of life at every moment of their waking existence. The prototypical example of FOMO occurs when Joe asks Bob on Sunday if he wants to hang out on Tuesday and Bob replies, “Sounds good, text me on Tuesday to confirm.” Note that Bob has not confirmed that he and Joe are hanging out on Tuesday.  Bob has seen this event on Tuesday as a place holder in his calendar.  Bob may confirm with Joe on Tuesday. Or, Bob may see another event come along that is better that hanging out with Joe.  By agreeing in principle to Joe’s offer without totally locking in to Joe’s offer, Bob keep his options open to maximizing his life experience.

Putting It Together For Ministry Purposes

So, with these four loose working definitions in mind, let me lay down a basic guidelines to ministering to millennials.  I have borrowed the majority of these tips from my friend Shane Pruitt who wrote earlier in the Baptist Press:

  1. Invite and lead them towards participation. As Shane writes, “Remember, the younger generation is not the future of the church — if they’ve been redeemed with the blood of Jesus, they’re the church right now. Let them have some ownership of the ministry and be patient with them when they mess up, possibly a lot.”  They likely are not interested in coming to learn from you in a lecture relationship.  They are likely to learn from you as they participate with you in ministry.
  2. Offer them solutions to big hairy problems.  Often times we want to talk down to those we minister to.  Again, millennials have experienced everything you have experienced, only they saw it at an earlier age.  Sex, drugs, death, divorce, depression, etc… They already know about these categories.  So lean into it.  Share your frustration with each with them (maybe not sex…but you get it).  What they want is what you have — perspective.  Offer them your perspective on how to solve these and other big problems in life.
  3. Invite them to a cause worth dying for.  Mentoring for character development doesn’t sound good to millennial ears.  Mentoring for the purpose of getting developed to love those in poverty, or to minister to those in a prison system, or to reach the nations with the Gospel is something millennials can get on board with.  They may not call it “character development” but they will recognize the tools and development needed in order to tackle big causes.  Character development will occur, but as a side benefit instead of as the main benefit.
  4. Shape their categories.  Broadly speaking, millennials don’t know much about anything for various cultural reasons.  They want doctrine.  They want to know clear categories for interpreting life.  They want to know global truths, not regional beliefs.  So take them deep into scripture and into doctrine.  Millennials have shown an excitement around Calvinism and Catholicism in particular.  But there is still room for Arminian thought and other voices in doctrine.  Bottom line, if you aren’t thinking about why all of this matters, then you are not thinking about what millennials are thinking about.  Think about big ideas and invite millennials to join you.

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Don’t Exchange Packages, Give Gifts

If you have ever read Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages, you will remember that some people in this world receive and interpret love in the form of receiving gifts.  By way of self-disclosure, I am one of those blessed people.  I love gifts. I love receiving gifts.  I love it when someone knows me well enough to give me just the right gift. This is so much the case that, for many of us love-as-gift people, we can remember almost every significant gift received and can also recall many of the little gifts given for seemingly no reason at all.  And to be clear, I don’t love stuff.  Simply giving me something when you could have given me the right thing does not communicate love.  No, love (in my worldview) is a well-thought out gift given at the appropriate time in the appropriate way.

Which is why I think people need to consider the weight of importance that Christmas plays in the process of communicating love through gift giving.

A few years ago a preached a sermon that addressed this issue head on.  I was then as I am now — concerned that many people don’t give gifts.  Instead, they default into merely exchanging packages.  And there is a significant difference between the two. Think about it.  When you receive an energy bill it usually comes in a package — an envelope.  But rarely do you draw the family together to sing songs whilst you open your energy bill and then wonder at the amazement of what all could take place upon seeing this beautiful gift.  No, you have simply opened a package.

Gift giving is an entirely different experience all together.  It is marked by a significant process of exchange wherein both gift giver and gift receiver rejoice in the exchange.  Think about any gift you have given — aren’t you tempted to argue that giving the gift was as much or more joyful than receiving the gift? Gifts are different than packages.

But back to my concerns.  I have identified at least three competing motivations that distract us from giving good gifts and turn us into package exchangers.  And the result of this perversion of gift giving is significant:

  • Some give out of duty. This is not a gift, it is a chore.
  • Others give out of fear. This is not a gift, it is a peace offering.
  • Still others give out of a desire to seek favor with the recipient. This is not a gift, it is a bribe.

A good question to ask yourself, especially as you move into the Christmas season is, “What is my motivation in handing out this package?”  Is it duty? You sense an obligation to keep up with the Joneses in the form of reciprocal giving?  Or is it out of fear — my kids will hate me if I don’t give them this certain thing?  Or is it out of a desire to seek favor — I need to make it up to my spouse/son/daughter since I have been a lousy spouse/dad?

One of the continually amazing things about God the Father is that He has demonstrated gift giving as love for us in the way He sent His Son to the earth.  John 3:16-17 says this, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

It pleased God as the Giver to send His Son to earth to live a perfect life, teach perfect Truth, and to die and rise again.  And the recipients of this Gift — humanity — rejoice in both the gift, the exchange, and the Giver of the gifts.

So this Christmas, may you imitate God in the way you give gifts to your family and friends.  May you have as much or more joy in the giving than those who will experience joy in the receiving.

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At Christmas, Jesus Came For Our Condition

One of the great things about the Christmas season is that no matter who you are or where you come from, once you enter into Christmas you will begin to associate the season with the ideals of peace and hope and love and joy. Whether you are listening to a Mariah Carey album or singing through Bing Crosby’s classic rendition of Silent Night, these themes will come to surface in your mind and you will find yourself unconsciously meditating on the Advent.

But the hidden curriculum of this unconscious meditation of Advent is designed to lead you to consider afresh what the ideals of peace, love, joy, and hope mean, both in terms of their experiential nature as well as in terms of their Biblical origins.

Recently, I was able to take my church congregation through an refreshment course of sorts through the Advent themes. When it came to the theme of Peace, we were in amazement about just what The Father was hoping to accomplish in bringing the Prince of Peace to earth as a baby.

Consider this reality of human nature.  Humans operate in a basic sequence of being: They have a condition that produces behavior and this behavior leads to the shaping of a perspective.

If these human beings are not saved and shaped by the Holy Spirit, then the Bible describes a particular variety of this basic sequence of being: A sinful condition produces sinful behavior, which begets the shaping of a sinful perspective.

Now, consider what the media, literature, and pop-psychology suggest as a solution to shape this basic sequence of being.  Numerous television personalities speak to the need for modifying one’s perspective to free one’s mind to receive peace and happiness.  And, an even greater number of books focus on behavior management as a means to peace and happiness.  But how many of these pop-psychology experts speak to the need for change of condition?

After all, if it is true that condition breeds behavior which breeds perspective, then why don’t these thought leaders address the cause of the issue, rather than simply staying their course of addressing symptoms alone? Don’t get me wrong, I agree that behavior must be managed and that perspective must be modified.  But why should humans work so hard to deal with symptoms instead of the root cause?  Isn’t this a picture of anxiety? The word “peace” would seem to require an entirely different approach.

Now consider the Biblical narrative.  When God comes to earth in Luke 2 the Bible says that it was good news of great joy for all people and that the result of this coming was “peace.”  Peace occurs when humans are aligned in the basic sequence of being — as condition and behavior and perspective are grounded in one all unifying reality. And this is precisely what Jesus came to achieve.

Jesus did not simply come to help us manage our sinful behavior–a sort of Christian way of moving from one pitfall to the next. Jesus did not simply come to help us modify our perspective–teaching us to detach from the material world as some sort of Jewish Buddha.   Jesus came for our condition–and in the process came to shape our behavior and perspective.

  • He lived a perfect life, showing us the way we may live.
  • He taught on the reality of living before God, showing us the way we should think.
  • And, he died on the Cross and rose again, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves–changing our condition through salvation.

So this Christmas, the reason we celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ is precisely because Christ followers have the unique opportunity to experience true peace–in a condition, behavior, and perspective–that centers on the greatest gift that the Giver of Gifts has ever given.

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Want More Thankfulness? Try More Giving.

Thanksgiving is a strange time in America, for it affords many Americans an opportunity to practice spiritual disciplines without knowing that these are spiritual disciplines in the first place.  During Thanksgiving Americans will slow down, pause, reflect, and command our souls to give thanks for that which we have received in the previous year.  Many will pray for the only time in a calendar year.  Others will gather with family and friends and practice community for the first time.

Some will even reflect, “Gee, this is nice. I wish we could be more like this throughout the year.”

If this was your sentiment after leaving the Thanksgiving day table, then you are in luck.  You can practice these Thanksgiving disciplines throughout the year.  And one of the ways you can increase in your thankfulness is to increase in your giving.

A few weeks ago I gave a little sermonette about giving to my congregation (see the video above).  The basic idea behind this sermonette is that we experience a tension between giving and lifestyle.  We can either privilege lifestyle and give out of the remainder of our disposable cash or we can privilege giving and live out of the remainder of our giving fund.

Now, before you say, “That seems irresponsible to not consider lifestyle first!” let me just make this point:

In the last year, I have said “Man, I ate too much” or “Man, I spent too much money” more often than I care to admit.  My suspicion is that many readers have done the same.  What this means, in effect, is that I often regret my lifestyle choices.  I regret eating too much and spending too much.

However, I never regret giving too much.  I have never met anyone who says, “I regret giving to Compassion International and seeing a child break the chains of institutional poverty.” I have never met a person who says, “I regret funding that missionary couple and seeing all the life transforming work done in that particular country or among that people group.”

When it comes down to it, I often regret living too much.  I never regret giving too much.

So, if you want to have Thanksgiving year round…might I suggest prioritizing “giving” in the next calendar year?  Why don’t you try to give until it hurts your lifestyle and then watch as your restricted lifestyle drives you to gather with other friends and family members to express thankfulness on a more regular occasion.

If you are going to regret something next Thanksgiving, may it be that you ate too much turkey, not that you gave too much to Kingdom causes.

———–

Looking for some specific ways to practice giving? Here are some Kingdom causes that are close to my heart:

Christian Neighbor’s Church, a multi-ethnic community helping the least of these in Waukegan, IL.

Hoops for Hope International, using basketball camps to spread a message of hope across the globe.

Nathan and Christine Smith, working with ACA to provide top-flight medical care to rural parts of India.

Regina White, building relationships with college students in Slovakia in hopes of transforming a new generation for Christ in Europe.

LifePoint Church Missions, we partner with local churches in places like the Philippines and Haiti to plant churches that plant churches.

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The Economics of Compassion: Refugees, Abortion, and Social Media Debates

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The social media town hall debates have been something fierce in the aftermath of the Paris bombing.  The terrorist attack has heightened the ongoing debate about America’s position with respect to migration, specially refugee migration.  Several state’s governors have closed the door to refugees, including my home state of Texas.

The agreement/disagreement with this move has tended to align along political tendencies, at least as far as my Facebook feed suggests.  Conservative friends have largely taken a hard pass at the prospect of their state taking in Syrian refugees.  The driving motivations behind this position are twofold: fear and economics.  Many fear that some of the refugees are ISIS wolves in Syrian clothing.  Many others are concerned about the econometrics of the influx of new family units in America. My progressive friends have largely advocated for compassionate open arms for Syrian refugees  The driving motivations behind this position are also twofold: “life matters” and “this is the moral thing to do.” But these particular adversarial disagreements in social media spaces strike me as a bit odd. They are odd because it appears that we have something of a role reversal in play between the political tendencies.

Here is what I mean: Let’s flash back to May, 14 2015 when the House passed the ban on abortions after 20 weeks. My progressive friends were opposed to this ban on the basis of two motivating factors: fear and economics.  There was fear that this ban would restrict women’s rights or result in more dangerous abortions occurring in unclean spaces. There was lingering concern that more unwanted babies would mean an economic burden to the women who give birth, specifically in economically disadvantaged areas. On the other hand, my conservative friends pushed for this ban, motivated by two factors: “life matters” and “this is the moral thing to do.”

So, if all of us can agree that “life matters” and that “there are moral truths” and that we need to consider the economic impact of individual and collective decisions and that fear is a real thing in many an individual’s heart, then why can we not apply them consistently across issues?

Seriously, if all employ the same motivating values, then it seems we should do one of two things: we either permit both Syrian refugees and babies to enter America or, we agree to implement a program of denying refugees and aborting babies.  Again, let’s just be consistent here, at least at the level of our Facebook conversations.

Or, let me put it all in the positive — lets just all agree to come up with an economic system that puts most of our fears to rest and then immediately adopt a system of allowing babies to be born and refugees to have a safe space to live for a season.  If you are for refugees, then be for babies.  If you are for babies, then be for refugees.  

And in the end, can we all just agree to allow babies to be born?  After all, I have never seen a baby take up guns and bombs so that they can kill people.  I’m not suggesting that all Syrian adults are terrorists or anything close to that absurd claim.  But let’s be real about the nature of babies.

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Red Cups, Black Lives, and A Clear Conscience: A Christian Review Of This Month In America

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For me, this month in America in 2015 is representative of the dynamic nature of our historical and social location.  Red Cups have become a point of discussion with respect to social change and respecting a sub-culture’s value system.  Black Lives at the University of Missouri has become a point of discussion with respect to social change and respecting a sub-culture’s value system.  And while the media presentation of both incidents has varied with respect to seriousness-levels, the incidents provide an interesting foil for conversations about race, social change, media, protest methods, and generational conflict in America.

RED CUPS

Let’s begin with the red cups.  On Nov. 5, Joshua Feuerstein, an Arizona evangelical Christian, posted a rant about the new cups on that paragon of clear-headed debate — facebook — and argued that red cups without snowmen, snow flakes, or wintery weather designs (all established Christian symbols, mind you) is representative of the current American culture’s war on Christmas.  And as my buddy Issac brilliantly summarized — 15 million Facebook users viewed his rant, and therefore the media interpreted it as “The whole of Christendom spoke with univocal support of Mr. Feuerstein’s grievances, taking up arms in this war on Christmas.”

Except that the 15 million views did not correspond to the reality of the Church’s position on Starbucks.  In fact, several Christian groups expressed emotions ranging from indifference, to apathy, to “get over it” at this corporate move.  (Confession, my intern and I went to Starbucks yesterday and enjoyed some venti red-cups o tea).

So where is the disconnect?  Consider that there is a generation of Americans who inherited a culture that was not necessarily homogenous in its cultural outlook and they worked hard to bring about cultural change:

  • These Americans fought in World War II to bring about the end of racism in the form of Jewish genocide (You know, a similar racism that #BlackLivesMatter is trying to end.
  • They worked to end of state-sponsored terrorism in the form of German occupation of Europe (You know, a similar terrorism that the world is dealing with in ISIS).
  • Many of this greatest generation used political organization during the Eisenhower administration to add the phrase “under God” to the pledge of allegiance (You know, the same political organization method employed by #ConcernedStudent1950 this week).
  • This is the generation that views Christmas (and to some extent Hanukkah) as a national holiday time when businesses should close their doors to promote community, family, and friendship (You know, like REI is trying to do with Black Friday).

This generation also raised their children (Boomers) and their grand children (Gen-Xers and Millennials) to utilize their methods of social change and to embrace their cultural values.  Furthermore, a small pocket of American culture still holds the values (and I suspect that Mr. Feuerstein is part of this pocket of Christianity).  So, we should not be surprised when this small pocket of American culture utilizes methods (media protest) to raise awareness of their private value system (winter is for Christians, not for generic holidays).

So let’s all just RELAX (copyright Aaron Rodgers) and say this together for the umpteenth time on this blog: We recognize that in a tolerant society, everybody is entitled to express their opinions on how culture should operate.  By that same token, just because someone has an opinion doesn’t mean everybody in America is compelled to get on board.

It is with this latter statement that I suspect that many people became up in arms.  There is a tone in Mr. Feuerstein’s rant that seems to expect everyone in America to get on board with making Christmas a national holiday. It is to this tone that I must reeducate my readers on the reality of our context.  The Greatest Generation (largely Christian in religious orientation) died to secure freedom in America.  And that freedom in American has resulted in various religious and non-religious identities making their way into our national fabric and existing during this month in 2015.  And Starbucks knows their market well and is merely attempting to market to a religiously diverse customer base. End of reeducation.

What does this mean? It means that war-on-Christmas Christians have legitimate beef with the current trends of American culture relative to our historical past.  But I would also remind us that not everybody in America shares Christian values or an awareness of our immediate history.   I would encourage my war-on-Christmas friends to simply keep both of those tension points in mind as you make your coffee purchases this week.

BLACK LIVES

From red cups, we move onto Black lives.  If you are unfamiliar with the timeline of events, ESPN.com has provided a helpful one. Essentially, several racially-charged incidents have been reported (in some form or fashion) over the past few months and the administration of Mizzou has consistently failed to act in a manner that satisfies the reporting system and the concerned student body.  So, in response to this inaction, one graduate student Jonathan Butler, went on a hunger strike to raise awareness of the simmering issue.  Mr. Butler would not eat again until the university system president Tim Wolfe resigned his post.  Impacted by his witness, members of the Mizzou football team refused to play in an upcoming match against BYU — the implications of which would have meant the university taking a million dollar loss.  At this point, the system president resigned and Mr. Butler (thankfully) began eating.

Again, take note of the similarities of the red cups and the black lives at Mizzou:

  • A customer of an organization holds a personal value system (people should be treated with respect, regardless of race, etc…)
  • Said customer (or customers) finds personal value system violated by the organization’s leadership decision (In this case, failure of the administration to act on reports of racism).
  • Customer uses media to help bring attention to the violation of value system.  Customer also recruits other like voices to generate added momentum for the cause.
  • In response to the media storm, some people are offended and other people are offended that people are offended.

But there is one major similarity that has not been addressed in media coverage.  It is the one thing that I think explains much of the confusion over the issues.  Mr. Butler and Mr. Feuerstein are both Millennials born between 1980 and 2000.  And here is the thing about millennials and social change — Millennials want change and do not feel that they need to wait around and earn their dues before bringing it about (a feature of previous generations of social change).  It is this aggressive forcefulness of organization that often incites the most backlash, largely among Boomer and Gen-Xer (Born 1965-1979) commentators. I wonder how much of the red cup controversy and the #ConcernedStudent1950 movement is about disagreement in methods of social change due to generational values as an extra layer on personal value system.  My suspicion is that generational values are setting the pace for these kinds of events and that this pace is uncomfortable and unsettling to many a Boomer and X-er.

One additional note. Millennial plans often lack an end game to their social change protests.  Compare the Mizzou protests with that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King had a Biblical narrative in mind as his shaping reality.  His end was clearly stated – that kids of all colors could one day live in unity and harmony. No doubt, his view of Biblical heaven is what drove his movement.  His view of Biblical heaven on earth is what formed his end game.  It gave his movement an identifiable metric. So back to the Red Cups and Black Lives.  What is the end game for Mr. Butler and Mr. Feuerstein?  Does Mr. Butler want a permanent space for students of color to be able to dialogue and pray about race in America?  Does he want a whole new board for the Mizzou system?  What defines a long term win for Mr. Butler’s movement?  This remains unclear to the public (although it may be clear to him).  And to Mr. Feuerstein?  What is his end game?  That Starbucks would embrace Christianity as the official holiday of winter?  That Christians would unite against coffee?  Again, the end game is unclear.  But with both gentlemen, I have to ask the larger question — what narrative is driving your movement?  Dr. King let the Bible drive his movement, and look at what took place.

Now onto the important differences.

  1. Americans are in disagreement on whether Christianity should be a privileged religious system in American culture.  However, Americans are largely united in the belief that racism is bad. So when a millennial tried to bring about aggressive social change on an issue of disagreement, he can expect to A: not see much social change and B: see a disproportionate backlash of dissent.  Mr. Feuerstein saw conservative Christians, moderate Christians, liberal Christians, non-Christians, Jews, Atheists, and other religious groups disagree with his cause.  Mr. Butler, on the other hand, could rally the entire nation to his cause, since everyone basically agrees that racism is crappy behavior and needs to go away.  Thus, the only pushback Mr. Butler and his movement saw on the cause itself was from a student 100 miles away in another town.  Oh, and that student was arrested.
  2. Starbucks is not a residential community. Sure, a coffee shop might be the third space between home and work.  But it is strikingly different from a university setting where students live in university housing and attend classes on university campuses, and eat in university cafeterias.  There are official student organizations dedicated to maintaining a healthy atmosphere of collegiality on campus.  There is an entire organizational layer of administration dedicated to student retention.  So an offended customer at Starbucks is different enough from an offended customer living in a residential community. If the roles were reversed and starbucks heard consistent complaints about racism in a particular store. Would the CEO step in to deal with it?  Would he step in more quickly than the system president of Mizzou?  I would hope that the president would act more quickly, since it is a residential community.  But my suspicion is that a CEO or GM would step in more immediately due to concerns about profit.  Or if Mizzou decided to move towards a generic holiday messaging on campus and did not single out Christmas as a preferred holiday?  If christian students complained, would the system president act quickly? And what would he do?  He would probably make sure there was a space among equal spaces to recognize Christmas without disrespecting Hanakuh, Diwali, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, etc… Thus, here is the big difference.  Starbucks has to lead towards the collective customer base.  Mizzou has to lead to the individual customer base.
  3. Black Americans are disproportionately discriminated against in American culture. In so many areas.  Just google search it.  You will be heartbroken at what comes up.  Discipline in public schools, law enforcement, cultural norms, you name it.  And so understand this: black students who attend universities (the vast majority of which are disproportionately white in student makeup) already go to university having experienced some layer of discrimination for most of their lives.  And then they arrive at a campus — a place that is supposed to be an environment of learning with an administration that supports and secures their learning environment — and they experience a continuation of racism.  I am not sure that white Americans will ever understand this phenomena.  I hope that white americans can respect this reality and help work towards change.

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Hover Technology Gets Real

In light of Back To The Future 2 Day several videos have lamented the reality that there is no working hoverboard technology. Over at Lexus, the automakers have finally developed a working hover board a la Back to The Future 2.  Check out the youtube clip below.

The technology uses a combination of magnets and lots of liquid nitrogen to create some form of propulsion for the board.  It glides over a special concrete park as well as water.

If this is possible, perhaps there is still hope for the Cubs to win the World Series. Let us pray.

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Giving The People What They Want: A Review of Jalen Rose’s New Book

In his first book Got To Give The People What They Want: True Stories and Flagrant Opinions From Center Court, former NBA player and current ESPN media personality Jalen Rose does three things well:  He offers a rare perspective on a bygone era of growing up in Detroit, Michigan in its seemingly last days of vitality and vibrance, he provides a plausible, if not compelling argument for the tragic and often misunderstood nature of college basketball recruiting scandals, and he makes an impassioned call for social responsibility in an age of rampant narcism and isolation in American life.

Rose has fond memories of his upbringing in Mo-Town and he is a capable narrator of the culture of the neighborhoods, streets, and scenes.  His family members worked in the car industry.  His friends all played basketball and football and baseball.  He grew up blue collar and African American in a world that was predominantly blue collar and African American.  Therefore, he didn’t know any different reality until he matriculated to the University of Michigan, which was largely suburban and white in terms of its student body makeup.

How Jalen got to Michigan is as much a story of “it takes a village” as it is a story of “good genes” meets “hard work.” And, this upbringing was full of conjunctions.  Although he was fathered by NBA all-star Jimmy Walker, Jalen was raised by his mother.  Because he had two elder brothers and an older sister, his was the upbringing born out of the tried and true parenting practices of a battle-tested mom.  Although did not grow up with a father, he did grow up with an Uncle Len, older brothers, and a community of male role models who helped him achieve his goals.  One such role model was Ed Martin, the now disgraced booster who gave money to Michigan basketball players.

In Rose’s eyes, Martin was just a friendly man in the neighborhood who wanted to make sure that all the basketball playing kids had winter coats, food in their stomachs, and sneakers on their feet.  It just so happened that 4 of Martin’s kids were college athletes.  To that statistic, Rose goes all Socratic in his logical unpacking of the situation:

“Picture your favorite college basketball player. Now picture his mom or dad or uncle or godfather giving him some spending money, or a new Jeep. What’s the difference between that and Ed Martin? I didn’t have a father to help support me. Neither did most of the other players. We took whatever help we could get” (p. 134).

In Rose’s view, students may not have the same structure of resources (read “nuclear family unit”) but that doesn’t mean that other members of the community (read “willing male role models”) should be prevented from stepping in to help provide.  The only issue in question involves the nature of Mr. Martin’s business in securing funds, which he did mostly through gambling. In Jalen’s estimation, however, this was an illegitimate way to help fund a legitimate cause. And it provided the basic template for how Jalen would spend the rest of his post-basketball life.

Having been helped by so many kind older male role models, Jalen has developed a passion for giving back to the community – especially one that is so disadvantaged relative to the rest of American life – Detroit.  In 2011, he started the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit, Michigan with an ambitious goal of an 85% graduation rate for a class of students who are generally reading at a 5th grade level upon entering 9th grade.

With this vision in mind, Rose stops writing his autobiography for a moment and begins to preach to his peers in the sports and entertainment industry. The extended quote is worth the read:

“[Professional Athletes] today set up foundations and charities, and they give away a ton of money. But the truth is that way too few guys actually have their heart in it. They might write a check, but they don’t pay attention to where it actually goes and where it could have the most impact. (Which means it might be going to some sham foundation, or some place that doesn’t really know what it’s doing.) The players show up at charity events because they have to, and they leave as soon as they can. If they’re getting their minutes and their money, they don’t pay attention to anyone else—not the fifteenth man on the bench, and certainly not those who are impacted when the government shuts down or there’s a natural disaster.

We’ve got to be better than that—a lot better. So many players come from places that need help. Yes, change starts with money. If an athlete finds a cause, he’s going to pour money into it. But also if he cares, he’s going to bring attention to the issue, he’s going to get others involved, and that’s going to bring more money in, and round and round we go.

So how do we get there? We can’t force athletes to give money away or to adopt a cause. We need to go back a step and do something even simpler: we need to find a way to get players to pay attention more. They have to look up and listen to what’s going on around them, what’s happening to their family members, what’s happening to their friends back in the hood” (p. 247).

Ultimately, Rose wants his story to be a clarion call to others to give back.  Thus, the title becomes a bit of a double entendre. Jalen gives people what they want in the form of inside information about the behind-the-scenes world of sports and entertainment.  But the wealth and influence generated by his career allows him to do what he really loves – gives people what they need.  And this makes for a fitting bookend to his life. By building upon the template of Ed Martin, Jalen has improved the process of community development.  In contrast to his Mr. Martin, Jalen is now able to legitimately raise funds to help with a legitimate cause.  And in the process he has provided a strategy for athletes and celebrities moving forward — giving the people what they want and what they need.

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The Instant Gratification Problem Meets A Prison Debate Team

 

My buddy Isaac says it to me on a weekly basis now — “We live in the instant gratification age. We don’t have to wait on anything.”

For instance: If we are in a staff meeting and someone needs to verify data before making an important decision.  Hit up Google on the smart phone.  Why? Because “we live in the instant gratification age. We don’t have to wait on anything.”

Or, if we are at lunch and someone attempts to recall the time that Albert Pujols hit a homer off of Brad Lidge in the MLB playoffs.  We check out youtube (also owned by Google) and locate the clip of Lidge’s soul breaking down as a result of the epic home run.  Because “we live in the instant gratification age. We don’t have to wait on anything.”

Or if someone in casual conversation mentions a that Garbage sang the song Connection in the 90s and someone else disagrees because they (rightly) recall that Elastica sang said song and wants to backup their claim. “We live in the instant gratification age. We don’t have to wait on anything.”

The internet has afforded us the ability to have real time information, to access unprecedented amounts of data, and to log and record almost every human interaction on the planet for all to view.  But at what cost?

Is there something ethically damaging about having all knowledge and information at your fingertips every day?  Has a necessary human function gone extinct with this new wave of technology?

Over at the Wall Street Journal, a reporter named Leslie Brody covered a debate between prison inmates and the Harvard University debate team.   The inmates are part of a rehabilitation program called the Bard Prison Initiative through Bard College “that seeks to give a second chance to inmates hoping to build a better life.”

One quote stood out about the prisoner’s preparation routine:

“Preparing has its challenges. Inmates can’t use the Internet for research. The prison administration must approve requests for books and articles, which can take weeks.”

So catch that.  The prisoners must wait for information.  They must exercise patience.  When a curious question enters their minds, they must dwell upon it, await their turn at a public computer, search for a resource to help them, request the resource, and wait for the resource to arrive.  And in that waiting, they get to continue to dwell upon their initial inquiry, refine their research question, develop a list of subquestions, and think through their project — all before the information arrives.

Then, once the resource arrives, there is a time limit to utilizing this scarce resource.  Inmates must commit information to memory, organize as they read, take good notes, and efficiently summarize what they read – All during the checkout period of the book.

And the result of this seemingly archaic process of information gathering?  Did the inmates get blown out by the Harvard students with instant access to tons of data?  Did the inmates wilt under the pressure?  Where the inmates incapable of putting together a compelling argument?

One Harvard debater had this to say about the inmate team: “They caught us off guard.”

  • Their preparation was on point.
  • Their logic was compelling.
  • Their communication skills were above par.
  • Their ability to think and organize on the fly was superb.
  • They caught us off guard.

Wait, how did a group of prisoners keep up with a Harvard trained debate team with such disparate access to information?  Shouldn’t access to information change the outcome?  Shouldn’t the instant gratification generation be able to mop the floor with this group of inmates with outdated research access?

Apparently not.

So here is the question I raised at the beginning: Is there something ethically damaging about having all knowledge and information at your fingertips every day?

I think so.  Instant gratification (with respect to information) prevents us from maintaining and developing certain critical habits for thinking people.

  1. Committing things to memory.  I can remember a time when I had upwards of 100 phone numbers committed to memory.  But today?  Just ask yourself – How many numbers do you have committed to memory?  Compare that with the numbers stored in your phone.  Which one is larger?  My suspicion is that your phone list is larger than your memory list. we live in a culture where information is stored digitally.  Thus, we have stopped memorizing numbers. We have stopped memorizing simple mathematic formulas (we can store them on a calculator or in Excel).  We have stopped valuing the act of memorizing pieces of information.
  2. Organizing as you read.  We tend to read for a specific answer instead of reading for understanding.   We treat all books as reference books and have largely lost the art of reading for the overarching narrative – the shaping structure of a work of written art that shapes our character.
  3. Exercising patience.  How many times have you gotten on an airplane that doesn’t have wifi and thought, “What am I going to do with all this free time?”  Partially it may have been that you hate flying.  But partially it may have been because you rarely have to practice patience in our culture.  But patience is a wonderful virtue that affords you time to process, think, unwind (mentally), and permit your mind to become “less foggy.”

These are three implications as they relate to instant information.  I wonder what other implications exist with respect to other forms of instant access in our culture.

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