Access to Information

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It was a Sunday afternoon and my daughter and I were running errands. We were halfway between home and a store I wanted to stop by. In a “senior” moment, I asked my daughter if we could stop by home to check on how late the store was open. Before I even realized what I had said, (I wanted to go home and call the store or look up their information on their website) she had taken out her phone, searched for the store and told me we had an hour before they closed.

I grew up in an era with phone books – yellow pages for businesses and white pages for home residents. My mom loved phone books, and she taught her kids well. As the saying goes,”She let your fingers do the walking” and made use of this valuable tool located right in our kitchen cupboard. In the 1980s, phone books were a source of information.

My kids don’t know the difference between white pages and yellow pages, and laugh at the idea that a book, updated once year, could we valuable for getting people’s numbers, findings specialty stores or even discovering a shop’s hours. This information, as witnessed with my daughter, is all at their finger tips. All the time, everyday.

So what, you might ask. What does it matter how one finds phone numbers or store hours?

It matters because the world has shifted. My daughter doesn’t only have access to the yellow pages in her phone, she’s got “the world” in her hands. Think I’m over exaggerating? Think again.

This fall, while said daughter was in a class on Martin Luther, mom became a great resource. For about five Tuesdays or Wednesdays in a row, I’d get a text, email or even a call, asking for help. My daughter was struggling with the assigned reading in her religion class, usually a reading I had in print in my office. She’d written a 2 page reflection, but wanted me to “look it over” and offer critical feedback. (A theologian’s dream – quite possibly!) To offer good feedback, I needed to “refresh” my own reading of these texts. And guess what I did? I Googled it.  And, lo and behold, I found the texts I needed. All of them. Imagine that.

Today, all kinds of information is available at our fingertips – in our Smartphones, in our iPads and in our laptops. Getting essays by Martin Luther, for example, is not a problem. The issue at hand is, like it was for my daughter, finding a good conversation partner. What does this mean for faith formation? What does this mean for Christian education?

This experience with my daughter has helped me rethink what it means to be a teacher of the church. Yes, I’m teaching church leaders, but I don’t think it matters if it is a “soon-to-be” pastor or a 13-year old or an educated lay person. Studies show, we can get access to information. But who will be a guide? Who will help people make their way through the maze of information? Who will ask good questions? Who will be there for conversation?

The world has shifted. As one “teaching” about the Bible, theology and what our church believes, I have to remember, I am not the dispenser of information – my role has changed. These days, what’s needed is a guide. one to accompany learners in their journey of faith. I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but I’m trying. And I’m making mistakes along the way.

Two easy things to do to get started:

As you ponder what this means for you, think about an area you don’t know anything about, but want to. (I recently needed help with some aspect of knitting, for example.) Maybe  you have a particular “situation” or problem you want to address. Maybe it’s a really big issue, and you want to know how to get started. What did you do? Where did you turn? What would you need? What kinds of questions would you have? Maybe the exploration is a place to begin.

Next, listen. In the “normal” places and in the “abnormal” places. Listen to what people talk about in the coffee hour between services or before or after confirmation. What insights do these comments have for you as you think about being a guide. But also listen at coffee shops, at the basketball game or when you are out to eat. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a clue as not only the questions, but what tools these folks need to access the information they are looking for.

Terri

Digital Storytelling

Watch this…

Got your attention? 

We, God’s people, are invited to be sharing the good news of  the gospel – to all people, all of the time. Yet so often many of us aren’t sure how. What if we – adults, kids and young people – once again became active storytellers? Not only in “telling” the story, but also in crafting how we are telling the story. In a participatory culture, with access to lots of digital tools, and a little imagination…I think we, just like Caitlin Jensen did above, can do it.

One of the things my Faith Formation in a Digital Culture class explored was digital storytelling. If you are not familiar with it, it’s simply a digital version of telling a story and it uses images, sounds and words. What if in this digital age, we, ministry leaders, recommitted ourselves to telling God’s story…and helping others do the same? Think about it.

(For more see: Center for Digital Storytelling or 

 

What Young People are Teaching Me

This afternoon was Senior recognition night for my daughter’s high school tennis team. It’s been a hard, short season for my daughter which started with leg surgery and is ending with her playing great tennis. Let’s just say it’s been a full 6-weeks. With only two matches left of the season, the end of the tennis season is in sight, as are her days playing high school tennis. Today was the first of many “endings” that will be celebrated this year.

Yesterday was our first small group meeting at our church. Having “timed out” with my own daughters, I now have returned to leading in the middle school ministry. Sixth grade boys, nine of them. My husband and I are co-leading the group. (The last time we co-lead was when our college senior was in preschool. Wow!) Last night was an evening of beginnings, or at least marked the beginning of a new year. Even though the boys go to different school, the boys know each other from sports or other activities. And me, I know several of these boys because some years back I sat in this same room with their parents when they were in 6th grade. YIKES I’m old (or at least I felt old last night).

Beginnings and endings. The lives of our young people are filled with them. Some beginnings are major ones – new school, change of friends, moving – other ones are less dramatic – ending a sports season, changing classes each trimester, riding the wave of friends. The same can be said of endings. Having beginnings and endings as a regular part of one’s life is hard in many way, yet it also provides openings for new starts, reforming habits, and igniting new relationships.  

As I look at the lives of adults, their lives are much more stable. Sure, much of that is good, but some of it makes adults both boring and stagnate. How often are adults meeting new people and making new friends? When was the last chance you had for a “do over” or to develop a new pattern? Sure, the things adults worry about are “more serious” then young people, and maybe their decisions are of greater consequence, but really…could we learn a thing or two from young people?

Tonight, let me suggest five lessons we can learn from young people:

1. Moments of recognition are important. Tonight the coaches spoke into the lives of each Sr. Some of the things they said were obvious (like their athletic ability), but other things were more subtle (thinks like your sensitivity for others or your communication skills are really good). Everything said were important, not only for the individual, but also for the whole community. We could use more moment of honoring each other.

2. Dreams are important, and come in all shapes and sizes. Sixth graders and Sr have dreams. Be it being asked to prom, getting a goal in hockey, learning math, or attending a particular college, young people have dreams. Adults don’t always ask about them or take them seriously, but they have them. What does it mean to be people who cultivate dreams? What does it mean for adults to dare dream?

3. Life has ups and downs, count on it. Spend much time around anyone 13-18 and life’s a roller coaster. One day they can be flying high and the next they might hit bottom. These highs and lows are expected (not always appreciated, but expected). Some of the main work of adolescents is to learn skills to navigate these moments in life. But what if adults began expecting life to be filled with highs and lows, and actually got on the roller coast and enjoyed the ride? Sure, it’s hard some days, but maybe it might also bring us more joy as well.

4. Life is better together. That’s not surprising, but many of us adults are so focused on what we have “to do” each day/week we miss the people in our lives. How often do you get the chance to spend time with your peers, your colleagues as people? So many activities middle schoolers and high schoolers are involved in foster community – team-building, bonding, shared life together. Might adults learn something here?

5. The future is important, but the present is what counts. Sometimes parents (myself included) get frustrated with young people because they get so caught up in the moment they can’t think about the future. Now don’t get me wrong, we do need to keep the future on the horizon, but adults can be so focused on the future they miss the present. And living in the present is a valuable gift.

Do we have eyes to see?

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Yes, I’ll serve…but where am I needed? And what is needed?

After listening to numerous people, inside and outside the church, I’m convinced one of the reasons serving collapses into service projects or mission trips is because most of us don’t know enough about the real circumstances of our context. And without an understanding, our vision is limited – and we are blind to the needs of people on the streets we drive each and every day.

Now, there are many ways to discover what the real circumstances are in our communities, but at the core are two things – education and vision.

Education

I’m a geek…I like numbers, not for numbers sake, but because numbers provide a picture of what’s happening. When new census numbers come out – I get excited and I like to look them over, talk with others about them, and share what I think they mean with those around me. Numbers aren’t bias and don’t offer solutions – but numbers report what is and invite us to see the world in particular ways. Looking at numbers can awaken us, and our communities, to the realities and the changes taking place in our midst. Said differently, looking at the “numbers” for one’s community is a way to education us about what’s real.

For example – People in my area don’t think there is much poverty. And in some ways they are right. With regard to poverty, my county is below average at 6% versus the 11% in MN and 14.3% in the US. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/27000.html.) So they are right, right? Yet a deeper look reveals a startling reality. That 6% represents families with children under 18. And for families with children until 5, the number goes up to 7.1%. Stop there and one might think that’s the average across all family units. However, that’s not true. For single parents, the number is higher. For families with a female as the head of household, poverty is 15.4%.  And for those same households with children under 18 it’s 21.2% – for those with children under 5 it’s 34.8%. That’s over 1/3 of households of single mothers with small children. (http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_11_5YR_DP03) The numbers present a sad reality. Is that OK? What if people in my congregation knew this important, what would they think? What would they do?

(To check out what’s real in your context – see American Fact Finder on the census website – http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml.)

Vision

My experience also reminds me, numbers (or education) rarely are enough to motivate changes in behavior. So there’s got to be something else. Right? That something else is eyes to see – or vision.

Let me explain. My daughter’s elementary school was fortunate enough to have a part-time social worker. In our suburban context, in which many did not believe poverty existed, she was a gift to the school, to students, and the community. The social worker’s role was to come along side students and make their learning experience the most it could be. This included interpersonal issues, personal care plans, and getting students resources they needed. She was there to serve all students, not just some students. One of the needs she discovered was the need for food. So the whole school system went about attending to this issue in many ways. This included involving the students and their families in process. Suddenly the numbers had faces, and the people in my neighborhood had eyes to see! The people going hungry were our neighbors and in our classes, with particular stories and situations.

As we, ministry leaders, seek to ignite service in our communities, let’s embrace our role as educators and vision casters. Let’s help people discover the realities in our midst and the ways it impacts the lives of people in their community.