What We’re Tracking This Summer: Social Interaction

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Last summer I shared a reading list we prepared for our children and how we planned to encourage, track, and reward time spent reading.

We still want our kids to read. They enjoy reading. We’re glad! And we’re already off and running in the reading department.

But this summer we’re facing a different challenge: saccharine substitutes for social interaction that are made available through technology. We limit screen time and only subscribe to a couple of different streaming services. Television is not our greatest temptation and is far from our default activity. Instead, our biggest time vortex is text messaging, YouTube, and a couple of other social media services. In our household we’ve limited access to social media, but we encourage our children to interact with their friends and stay in touch through a messaging app. We see the connections and conversations as positive. But we’re aware of the pitfalls.

What’s our foremost concern? At Forbes, psychologist Mark Travers writes, “Social media can create a false sense of connection and belonging. Online interactions lack the nonverbal cues, physical presence, and emotional intimacy that are crucial to building and maintaining meaningful relationships.” Online interactions are illusory. They aren’t a zero calorie substitute, but they are a lite version of social interaction. You feel like you are in community, but those connections lack the depth, satisfaction, and opportunities for growth in social aptitude that in-person interactions yield. We want our children to connect with other human beings beyond the limited capacity that the online spaces allow.

Many of our summertime in-person interactions are built into the calendar. We’re participating in camps, church life, teams sports, sending our kids to the pool, encouraging play with neighbors, trips, and family time around the dinner table.

But to make sure we’re balanced, we’re adding evaluation and intention to our weekly planning conversations.

What will we track, and how? Each week, Molly and I plan to cover a recurring to-do item during our weekly family meeting: “Evaluate Kids’ Total Social Interactions for the Week, Create Opportunities.” After taking a quick tally, we’ll adjust our plans accordingly.

Routinely taking stock will help us see how we’re doing. Locking down screens is a step in the right direction. But we have to do more than cap screen time. We’ve generated a list of activities our children can choose from (with their help) during downtime. However, we’ll also proactively plan time with friends, people they’d like to deepen their relationships with. We’ll invite their input along the way.

A little bit of boredom is okay. Boredom is often the first step on the way to expressions of creativity. We want our kids to rest, unplug, relax, and find renewal during the summer months, too.

We also want them to learn the art of conversation, to make connections, practice friendship and develop social skills. The best way to do that is presence with people. As parents, we create those opportunities for connection. That’s our responsibility. Then, we cross our fingers. The rest is up to them.

Church “Home”

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

A few weeks ago our family visited a nearby church on a Sunday morning. Following the service of worship, we were delayed long enough in the foyer/lobby/narthex area to catch the eye of one of the ministers serving on the staff. This person approached us, smiled, and introduced themselves. This is a very large congregation, and, as such, the greeting was hedged softly by an acknowledgement that we might have been around the church for a very long time and had not yet met, or maybe even that we had met, but the meeting was not recollected. But if we were new, this person would help us get connected, and by connected, this person meant involvement in a Sunday school or a small group.

At this time, our family had only recently entered a change in circumstance where we are no longer tethered to a local congregation. Molly nor I are on a church staff. We’re now free to visit congregations as we decide, and so far, we’ve chosen to visit friends serving in various places throughout our community (we enjoy encouraging pastor friends) or attend a service of worship where our children will see their friends. Molly is an elder in the United Methodist Church, and though she is not appointed to a pastorate, she is a member of the Central Texas Annual Conference, and soon she will join the membership of a local Methodist church.

Back to our Sunday morning visit. The minister greeting us asked us, repeatedly, if we had a “church home.” We evaded. We dodged. We dipped and sidestepped and deflected and qualified. It was only later we realized we didn’t have an answer, and that our lack of an answer yielded a lot of confusion.

We do have a “church.” But we do not have a “church home.” We are not members of a local fellowship. Not at present. We have not been in this position in twenty years, where we were actively discerning with whom to join in ministry apart from a designated or assigned or appointed pastoral leadership position.

I think church membership is important, even if the meaning of church membership is seldom explained or considered in depth. Anyone who professes Christ, who is a Christian, is a member of the body of Christ, and is, therefore, joined to his body. Membership formalizes what we believe to be true through faith.

Membership carries with it not only certain rights, such as the ability to vote on congregational decisions, but responsibilities, such as demonstrating maturity in Christ, evidenced by humility, servitude, gathering with the fellowship for worship, giving generously of one’s resources, practicing hospitality, knowledge of the Scriptures, engaged discipleship, fervency in prayer, passion for evangelism, fruitfulness in ministry, and more. Formally joining a local body is aligning oneself with a theological reality. When I have met a Christian person who is a consistent visitor in any congregation where I’ve served, I have encouraged them to join, not only as an encouragement to the existing membership, but as a means of accountability and edification for the person yet to join. Strengthen the tie, and you up the stakes.

As we look ahead, I am resolved to be prayerfully discerning, seeking, and focused regarding church membership. We are not looking for a “church,” or even a “church home,” even though I know what is meant when we are asked such things. Rather, I am looking to join a membership. I am looking to be a participant in congregational life, not a resident, or, worse, a consumer. What am I looking for?

Christlike character displayed by those in leadership.

An inner confirmation from the Spirit of God.

A commitment to discipleship among congregants and pastoral leaders.

Humble sharing of the gospel, and a desire to see others come to faith.

Preaching of the Word.

A love for children, and a respect for the aged.

A worship leader wearing trendy sneakers, a tastefully untucked flannel shirt, and a ball cap with appropriately worshipful tilt. Very low on the list of priorities. So low as to be nearly imperceptible. (I jest. I jest. About which part? I’ll leave you to wonder.)

Other things. Many other things.

Finding a church is easy. There are many churches.

Belonging to a church isn’t hard. There are many degrees of belonging. You can visit and be welcomed. You can become a longtime attendee and feel you belong.

But committing to a church, and serving in a way that builds up the body, that’s a challenge.

Our family longs for stability. We seek consistency. We want to be rooted. We even want a faith community that feels like home, even while we’re contented with having a church.

Wherever we land, if that church is to become a home, it will need ministers (and members) like the one I described in my opening paragraph, people who are courageous enough to walk up to a stranger, extend a hand, share a smile, offer a greeting, and serve as a shepherd. Churches cannot become homes, for anyone, without hosts, without those who in small ways image forth the Christian conviction that God came in Jesus Christ to expand the household of faith, and that Jesus went to his death, and was resurrected, to go and prepare a place for us, to claim and welcome us, to embrace us as God’s beloved, members of an eternal family, companions on the road leading to the New Jerusalem, and citizens, now, in the kingdom of heaven.

“We got a breeze!”

Image by Rebecca Matthews from Pixabay

This past Monday morning my son went out the garage door to shoot hoops before school. As soon as he exited the door, he re-entered the house, and shouted up the stairway, “Dad, we got a breeze!” After playing an early afternoon soccer game with temperatures in the upper 90s on Saturday, and enduring another warm day on Sunday, cool air settled over Central Texas Monday during the overnight hours. During my morning walk, it was 57 degrees. I wore a vest for the first time this fall.

David’s eruption of enthusiasm for the change in weather has remained my favorite moment of the week. I already knew the weather was cooler before he announced the fact. But his discovery and declaration warmed my heart. It is as though he walked into something that was too good not to share with another, and the other he chose was me.

I found this moment an entryway into meditation on praise and celebration and gratitude, on awe and wonder and childlikeness. We had found ourselves in a prolonged heat wave and then woke one day to find moving air that no longer felt like a blow dryer but instead relieved and refreshed our bodies. Without announcement, conditions changed. The realization was felt before it was thought. I wonder if that is what it was like when a lame person Jesus commanded to stand up and walk stood up and walked, or a man with a withered hand stretched out his arm and found strength, or a blind person commanded to see opened their eyes and perceived. First, incomprehension. Then delight.

The day’s graces are not always a cool breeze, so evident you cannot miss them. But sometimes they are. And when they are, we not only invite others to share in our joy. We return thanks to the gift giver. We praise the Lord.

Flip Books

J’s been making flip books in art class and her teacher shared videos from Andymation as examples.

This is super cool.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to artifacts, things that we make and leave behind. I have a collection of notebooks that contain journal entries, sketches, photographs, collages, hand written notes, ticket stubs, and the like. I’m hanging on to J’s flip books, too, and other artwork the kids have made.

For the Many Good Things

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

Thankfulness is a feeling. It’s also a discipline, habit, or choice. You can be thankful without feeling thankful. You can express thanks because it is right. But the giving of thanks is sweetest when you feel it and choose it, when you perceive that an expression of gratitude is proper, and, without hesitation, you say the words, make the gesture, bow your head low, and wonder at the fullness of joy that has flooded your heart.

This year has been one of transition and change. Molly and I are in new roles and new jobs. Our children have grown and changed. We continue to be blessed by friends and neighbors, and to experience the ongoing wonderment that comes as relationships deepen and change in ways that only do more to sweeten and enrich the lives we have been given.

We’re celebrating Thanksgiving with my side of the family this year. It has been a while since our group has seen cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. The kitchen will be busy tomorrow, the house will be filled with good smells, and before the day is through I will have eaten far too much. I’ll have watched more football tomorrow on television than I likely have in the preceding two years combined. I’ll delight in small things, like telling silly jokes or playing a game or assembling a puzzle with a niece or nephew.

For the many good things this year has brought, and for the many more good things to come, I am thankful.

If you’ve been a reader of mine for years, or for only a short time, I hope you will take stock of things for which you can be thankful. Number a piece of paper from one to ten. Then, fill in the list. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 exhorts us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Some circumstances are more conducive to the keeping of this command than others, some things are easier for us to be thankful for than are others. Nevertheless, there are always things, small or great, for which one can give thanks.

We can give thanks for things like our next breath, or the cognitive capacity to philosophize concerning whether present circumstances warrant the giving of thanks. I don’t want to take the former for granted, and I don’t want to miss the significance of the latter.

As human beings, we have been given some capacity to evaluate whether or not we find a thing praiseworthy or good. Sure, there is a subjective element to such a judgment. But, as a believer in truth, I think there is an objective good there that can be discovered, rooted ultimately in God, the giver of every good and perfect gift. If you chase thanksgiving far enough, you’ll find yourself in praise.

So I’m thankful this year, once again, for the usual things. I’m thankful for faith, fellowship, and for Jesus. I’m thankful for family, church, community, employment, and good health. I’m thankful for coffee and books and the natural world. I’m thankful for those nearest to me, who for these next few days will be my family, but I am also thankful for those who are “far.”

As years have passed and settings have changed, I’ve been amazed to reflect upon the many friendships that have been made, how many wonderful people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. While I’m thankful for “things,” I’m most thankful for people. Which is amazing, because at one time of my life, I can recall not liking people all that much. God has changed me. There has been a mutation, and for the better.

I’m thankful for being thankful, for feeling and choosing thanks, not only because it is commanded, but because thankfulness is in and of itself a good, a doxological reaction, an offering, a blessing in response to blessedness, a sign. Good gifts point to a Giver.

Give the Giver thanks this Thanksgiving. Give glory for the glory. It’s what you’re made to do.