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Coexist?

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There’s a vehicle in my neighborhood on the edge of the University of Central Oklahoma campus (where most of the houses are rent houses and occupied by students from there) with this bumper sticker on the back window. I drive by it many times every week, sometimes several times a day. And each time I drive by it, I think the same thing: Not going to happen.

It’s a wonderful wish, though naive. It would be great if we could all just get along. Several of the religious and philosophical perspectives depicted on this bumper sticker are open to coexistence. But several of them are not.

In my experience, the “Peace Movement” was not interested in coexisting. I was around for its entrance into culture with the peace sign, marches for peace and peace demonstrations in the 1960s. It always got to me that many of these peace demonstrations disintegrated into open combat that was not always initiated by “the Establishment.” There really wasn’t any interest in coexisting. What started as an anti-war movement in the 60s is today now mainly nostalgia among people who weren’t there for its inception. It’s peace sign makes for a cool sticker.

The Gender Issues group has become much more organized in the last 10 years, and they are very much NOT interested in coexisting. You don’t need my commentary on this. Just look around and read the news. Or should I say, “Read the opinions that look like news…”? Sorry. My frustrated bias is showing.

Islam, believe it or not, stands a somewhat better chance of coexisting than the others I’ve mentioned. In Jordan, Christians and Muslims have coexisted from the first days of Islam. Christians , not Muslims, were there first, which isn’t surprising when you think about the proximity of Jordan to Jerusalem, the birthplace of Christianity. Even today, with the growing tension in other parts of the Middle East between fundamentalist Muslims and non-Muslims, the generally peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims is intact.

In other places, though, there is virtually not hope for peaceful coexistence between Muslims and any other religious group. If you ever get a chance to read the Muslim equivalent of the Bible, the Koran, you can’t miss passages that command the annihilation of anyone who refuses to convert from any other belief system to Islam. This is not just a fable circulated by conservative Christians in an effort to draw battle lines. Again, just pay attention to the news. Some Muslims here in parts of America are making sizable and substantial threats that are expressions of this teaching of the Koran.

Jews have been forced through nearly their entire history as a people group to coexist, from Abraham up to today. But in their history, they have also responded with force when pushed to their limit. In the record of the Pentateuch and Joshua, they initiated aggression against other people groups. Today, they are responding to the threats coming at them with force, by force.

I think I’ve sufficiently insulted most religious and philosophical groups by now.

Let me add another to the list. Christians.

I’m not talking about the moral problems with the Crusades. I’m not talking about the wars between Catholics and Protestants of the 1500s, where people (lots of people) died. I’m not looking far back in history. I’m talking about my own 67-year history with Christianity.

I’ve seen Christians in high conflict with other Christians. Physical pushing and shoving, cussing, physical threats, violent overtures. And that’s between people in the same congregation!

This inappropriate and emotion-driven behavior is only a symptom of what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the “US vs THEM” mentality that I’ve seen and experienced in nearly all my long experience with Christians. Granted, I grew up in a very conservative and legalistic branch of the Jesus tree, but I’ve seen it in other branches, too. The concept was/is, “If you’re not one of us, then you can’t really be a real Christian.”

Although it never came to marches and demonstrations or riots and physical battle lines, the non-coexistence was/is there. I wonder how many congregations have been torn apart by this mindset? Too many. And how many lives were pushed far away from the grace of God by the gracelessness of these tearnings? Way too many.

These days, in an election year, there’s another crowbar in the mix. Political preference is now one of the things that breaks up what should be unity and love among God’s family. Who you vote for, in some cases, is as important as whether or not you’ve been baptized.

Coexist? I’m not seeing it.

There’s only one way we’ll ever be able to coexist, and that’s when we express the belief by both words and actions that every person, regardless of skin color or ethnicity, regardless of their geography, regardless of their political views, regardless of how very different from ours their opinions and views are, are all created in God’s image. Every human being bears the image of our Creator, and because of this, all deserve to be treated with respect.

Please don’t understand me. I am not saying that every view is as valid as every other one. This is not my belief. It’s also not consistent with the teaching of Scripture. God’s design is the standard. Truth isn’t fluid. Neither is error. If God called it sin, it’s sin, regardless of who did it or in what cultural context it was committed.

What I’m saying is that the only way we’ll ever coexist is to respect one another. This is the only way we will ever be able to have any kind of rational dialogue about our beliefs and convictions. Without it, that kind of conversation cannot happen.

And, by the way, this same principle of respect applies to every marriage and home. It looks different in different cultures, but it has to be present for a marriage and family to thrive and be healthy.

When moms and dads respect each other and their kids, they will still have standards of behavior. There are still things that bring negative consequences. The standards don’t go away. But without respect, consequences will never do what they were designed by God to do, to create a doorway to discipline.

There’s so much more to this in marriages and families, and I’ve already gone far past my word limit. So I’ll stop. It’s worth coming back to, though. And I will. But not today.

One last idea. None of the respect that I’ve been talking about is possible without us seeking God and praying for Him to create it in us. No respectful dialogue is possible without our partnership and cooperation with His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, initiating and sustaining it. So start there. With a prayer for God to use you as a vessel of His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. You may not change the world, but there’s a pretty strong possibility you’ll change your world.

R E S P E C T

Aretha Franklin - Wikipedia

In 1967, the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, released a hit that has stood the test of time. “Respect.” If you’re not a Baby Boomer, you might not have ever heard it. Unless your parents had the good sense to introduce to the really good stuff… If you’ve never heard it, or if you just want to hear the good stuff again, here it is. It’s way worth the click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=6FOUqQt3Kg0


“Respect” became an anthem for civil rights. It’s the heartbeat (I mean the genuine one) for the movement that literally rocked the country in the 60s and 70s. I think it needs to become an anthem for 2020.


There’s a lot of passion, a ton of emotion, lots of action in our world today, but respect is in short supply. This is obvious if you watch cable news of any kind. They splatter the conflict and division all over your screen at least 48 times in a 24-hour time period. They have to. In order to sell advertising, they’ve got to keep your attention for all 24 hours of the day and night. And, frankly, there’s not enough actual news happening all 24 hours to fill the time, so they just repeat the loop as many times as they need to in order to fill the time. And sell the ads.


I have a huge bias against what has come to be called the Main Stream Media (MSM). I fyou think it’s great, that’s your business. But what I’m writing about today isn’t about the MSM. I have absolutely zero control over that. I don’t even have any significant influence over it. The best I can do in either of these categories is to just not watch it. So I don’t. It assists my recovery from depression and anxiety. And I’m not joking about that.


What I’m writing about today is the lack of respect in marriages, families, relationships in general. Disrespect and lack of respect (which is pretty much the same thing) are endemic in all of these contexts. And wherever you find disrespect or lack of respect, you’ll find anger, resentment, bitterness, malice. It sucks the life and health out of every relationship.


Let me get biblical. St. Peter wrote this in his first letter to some churches in Asia (what is today Turkey): But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 1:15 NIV)

It’s the last word in this verse that I’m talking about. The last three words, actually. Gentleness and respect.


Peter is applying these two attitudes specifically to how we bear witness for Christ, but I think they are also big keys in relationship health. Is there a relationship that won’t be strengthened by gentleness and respect? The answer is No.

In family life, there are times when gentleness and respect feel like the last thing that’ll work. Getting that kid to stop throwing a tantrum and pulling stuff off the shelves at the grocery store probably happen by you tenderly appealing to them to stop. You may have to be very direct, even forceful. You may have to punish them to get their attention so that you can discipline them. I’ve never known a kid who didn’t need to be punished and then disciplined. Sometimes that won’t feel very gentle or respectful to them (or you). Believe it or not, though, effective punishment and discipline can happen with gentleness and respect.


You won’t be able to pull this off if you’re driven by anger and frustration. These two things rarely produce gentleness and respect. I can’t think of a time when they ever did in my life, anyway. In my experience, I have to somehow push the anger and frustration back before I can be gentle and respectful.

Gentleness carries a few things in its meaning. Calmness is one. This is why anger and frustration are generally hindrances to it.


It’s also about kindness and carefulness. Neither of these are assisted by anger and frustration.


And then there’s the word I started with, respect. One of the things that’s in short supply in our culture today, and sadly, in families, too.

You already know what respect means, right? I was a little surprised that it took me some thought to come up with a decent definition of it. What’s yours?


Well, I looked it up in Merriam Webster and got two important words that are connected to it. Consideration and Esteem. As with gentleness, anger and frustration virtually never promote either consideration or esteem. When I’m angry and/or frustrated, pretty much the last things I’ve got in my mind would be consideration and esteem.


Consideration’s root is “consider.” This means to think about. In fact, it means to think deeply about something. One doesn’t consider something with a cursory glance. It’s impossible to consider something without focusing on it, and that usually means slowing down and pushing the other noise aside. Which is one reason it happens rarely.


Esteem is all about value. To whatever extent I value you, that’s the extent of my esteem for you.

It’s not rocket science.


So why is it so hard to be gentle and respectful?

It’s not just one or two things. There are lots of reasons why it’s so hard. But there are a couple that I think may be at the heart of it. The first is PRIDE. Pride will always be a barrier to gentleness and respect, because it always puts me first. That makes esteem difficult and consideration unnecessary. I think you can make a pretty good case for the idea that pride is the root sin of all sin.


The second thing is HABIT. There are those blessed few people whose temperament and upbringing have shaped them so that they’re gentle and respectful instinctively. The rest of us have to work to cultivate these two noble characteristics.


We live in a world that doesn’t promote this habit. The number one habit it promotes is “Hurry up.” The number two habit is “Get what you want.” They often gang up and say “Hurry up and get what you want!” Godly habits will never accidentally take hold in that environment.


Being gentle and respectful will go against the flow. It did in Peter’s day. Why else would he have pointed them out as he did? They’re against the flow in our day. And if we want them to emerge in our habits of life, it will require an attenuation of our intention. We don’t flip a switch for these things to be in the fabric of our lives. We weave them into it through the agency of daily habit.

So here’s my challenge. Offer a prayer for God to pour out His grace on you so that in partnership with Him, you can begin to build the habit of responding to the people in your life with gentleness and respect. Then cooperate with Him and His grace by being intentional about focusing on gentleness and respect. Start there, and see what God will do with that.

Papa

Father's Day Gift Guide: The Healthiest Ideas for Dad | Vitacost BlogAlmost 16 years ago, I heard “Papa” addressed to me for the first time by a little guy who couldn’t even walk yet.  Ginger hair.  Winsome smile.  Strong will.  He had my heart before that, but he melted it when he called me by that name.

Now, he’s a strappin’ teenager who’s got his own pickup truck, works along side his dad farming, and can hit a golf ball almost as far as me.  (I may only have another year or two to be able to beat him in stroke play…)  He loves God, loves farming, loves his moma and dad and sister, and really loves his Nana.  And he still calls me Papa.  I love it.

I’ve had this same melted-heart experience with all three of my other grandkids.  Every time they call me Papa, I love it like the first time I heard it.

Before I was a Papa, I was a dad.  Duah…  Our three daughters are all grown with their own independent lives and families now.  They give me a terminal case of dad-pride.  I only half-jokingly say, “It’s such a blessing that they were raised by their mom, and that I married that far over my head.”  A friend of mine says I “out-kicked my coverage.”  Indeed, I did.  And our three daughters prove this.  They’re my heroes.  They’re rock stars in their respective worlds.

I didn’t know what I was doing as a dad for the first 15 years of our family life.  I made it up every day as I went along.  And often poorly.  I’ve already confessed to you that I was absent far too often, trying to be the surrogate dad for every kid in the county, trying to build a reputation as a world-class youth minister and meet everybody’s expectations, while Debbie was left to be both mom and dad for our girls.  I carry remorse and regret for this, but my girls have given me a get-out-of-jail card for it, and have forgiven me.  I’m very grateful for this.  And glad they turned out so much like their mom.

When I closed out a 17-year youth ministry career and started working in family ministry, I realized I had to make some changes.  The two most significant changes were 1) be a much-improved husband, and 2) be a much-improved dad.  If I was going to have the audacity to tell other men how to do this, I’d better get these things in better shape in my own life.  So I did.  I went to work on these two things with my full intention.  I read dozens and dozens of books.  I went to seminars and workshops.  I went to enough Promise Keepers events that I could almost have been given a perfect attendance pin.  I carefully watched men who seemed to know what they were doing in these two areas and took notes (sometimes literally).  I decided that learning to be a great husband and dad was my full-time job and everything else in my ministry life would be an outflow of that.

At that point in time, I didn’t know much about God’s grace.  I just knew that I wanted to be a better husband and dad, and that I was willing to make the payments on this, as best I could.  God honored this.  He gave me so much more than I could ever have deserved.  In retrospect, the most important lesson I have drawn from those years in my life is simply it’s all about grace.  You’ve got to partner with God and go to work, because there’s work involved, and lots of it.  But the outcomes are the result of His grace before your effort.

I’ve known other guys who seemed to be as serious about being good dads and husbands as I was, whose marriages didn’t flourish, and whose kids crashed and burned.  I’ve known of guys who’ve written good books about this stuff, whose own personal lives, marriages and families didn’t turn out happily-ever-after.  Sometimes they were a bloody mess.  Sometimes people who work all the right formulas don’t get the outcomes they had hoped for.  I’m not throwing stones here.  Just making an observation.  I can’t (and won’t) judge these people.  I know better than to do that.  But for God’s amazing grace, I’d be among them.

On this Father’s Day Eve, I want to throw out two challenges.  First a challenge to dads.  Suck it up, buttercup.  Get with it.  Lay your pride and your comfort aside and do the WORK of being a dad.  Do things for your wife and kids that take you out of your LazyBoy and out of your comfort zone.  Give up some of your stuff (literally and figuratively) so there will be more of you present with your wife and kids.  Admit to yourself that it’s not all about you being happy, and then act like that’s true.  Step back from all the things you do for them and yourself long enough to ask yourself this strong question: What’s it like to be on the other side of me?  If you don’t like what you get as an answer, quit whining about it and start working on it in partnership with God.  If this seems harsh, get over it.  Life’s hard.  And if you want to be a great dad, you’ve got to be deadly intentional and make some serious sacrifices.  That’s it.  Mike drop.

And then a challenge for wives and kids.  Be your husband’s/dad’s biggest cheerleader.  Focus on the positives you see in him.  Celebrate him.  If there’s still time, go get him a Father’s Day gift he would like, not the one you want to give him.  Get him pro-quality golf balls or fishing equipment, or power tools, not socks and cargo shorts from the sale table.  Remind him you’re glad you married him, Mom.  Remind him you’re glad God made him your dad, kids.  Remind him of this by saying it out loud in his presence, to his face.  He might not know exactly what to do with it when you do it, but believe me, hearing it matters to him.  More than you can imagine.

Black Lives Matter

I believe that black lives matter.

I think I have believed this since the time I was old enough to know that there were black people. Since I grew up in very small towns in rural Oklahoma and then rural Kansas, where I never actually saw a black person, this dawning awareness happened when I entered Jr. High in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where there was a black community. This was in the 60s. And even in a University town, there was considerable racial prejudice, but very little racial unrest that I ever knew about. I was ignorant of black culture, but I wasn’t bigoted toward it.

I grew up believing the words of the old song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are all precious in his sight.” As far as I knew, these words were true. I still think they are.

I believe that black lives matter.

I do not believe the Black Lives Matter movement is legitimate, though. I will perhaps lose friends and followers with that statement, but I think you deserve to know. I don’t believe this organization’s name honestly describe their mission. It may have started to inspire equality, but by now, it’s more of a political hand grenade than a compassionate show of solidarity and support. You don’t have to share my belief about this. You have every right to believe whatever you want to about it.

But, still, I believe that black lives matter.

I also believe that yellow lives matter. So do brown lives. And red lives. And, yes, so do white lives.

I don’t want to be misunderstood in this. I do not believe racism has been eradicated in America. It’s still here. Still harming people. Still dividing communities of all kinds. It’s still an obstacle to equality. (By the way, I do not know of a culture which has no racism. I’m not a sociologist, but have done pretty extensive travel around the world. It’s been present in all the cultures I’ve ever traveled to. Though it was not always a bias against black people, it was an ethnic bias, and thus, racism.)

I have friends who have been directly impacted by racism here in the U S of A. Their lives have been made ugly and unnecessarily more difficult. Far more so than if they had been born into a Caucasian family. They have experienced discrimination and barriers to career and professional growth and mobility. They’ve been boxed out of opportunity because of the color of their skin. This is wrong. There is no excuse for it.

Theologically, the standard for equality stands firmer and taller than in any other arena of thought and practice. The New Testament, the New Covenant, proclaims that all are equal. All people and people groups are equally loved by God. And all are equally in need of His grace. Here’s the best part: His grace is poured out for all races, all peoples, all nationalities, without regard for their origin or ethnicity.

Have Christians lived up to this? No. Not as salt and light in our culture. Not as a community of people. Not as churches that are supposed to be living under the rule of the One Who made all of us equal and died to save every person, with no regard to their color. We’ve done poorly with this.

We want to think that our commitment to God is as high as we know how to make it, and that treating everyone equally is part of that commitment. I can say all the churches I’ve ever been affiliated with want this, at least emotionally. And some of them are pulling it off. But not all.

Not because they make any particular ethnic origin an issue. Not intentionally or consciously, anyway. “Please come and join us,” the biline of their signs or Sunday bulletins say. They want to mean this. It’s their emotional intent.

But for most, a more honest statement would be, “If you’re enough like us, you’ll really like what we do here, and we’ll eventually get used to you. So give us a try.” If you’ve ever tried to break the shell of a church like this, you know that it’s not really about ethnicity, although ethnicity may be a significant part of it.

It would take someone with a better education and deeper background than I have to pinpoint the many causes for this. And there are many. But I’m convinced that at the root, the cause for this kind of artificial inclusiveness that cloaks exclusivity is at the heart of all racisism, inside and outside of the church. I can identify it in one word: S I N.

Well, of course! You can pretty well point to sin as the cause of every broken part of the world and its systems, can’t you? Yes. Yes, you can. Sin broke the world and it keeps us broken.

I believe the specific sin that keeps racism alive and well is PRIDE. Pride says, “You’re not, and you never will be as good as me. And because of that you don’t deserve what I deserve. I will make sure you don’t get there, too. If you can somehow prove to me that you’re somewhat as good as me, we’ll see about releasing some good things in your direction, but just know that you’ll never be able to be that good.”

The other side of this coin of pride is, “You’re no better than me! I’m just as good as you, and I deserve everything you get. In fact, I deserve more than you because you’ve been holding out on me for centuries! You owe me! And I’ll fight you about it.”

You can make a case for both of these perspectives. You can do this intellectually. In fact, shelves are full of books that do this. But you’ll have a much better impact if you make it emotionally. And, really, an emotional case is much easier to make and keep gathering momentum with.

But the problem with this particular coin, the coin of pride, is that it’s useless for bringing health, wholeness, love, joy or peace into any life. It can only produce a counterfeit of these things. A shadow of them, a poor immitation of them, at best.

We could spend the rest of our lives looking at the problem and diagnosing its causes. And it might be beneficial to do more analysis. But that won’t fix the problem. Racism will not be fixed by creating a more thorough understanding of it as a sociatal problem. Yes, “A problem well-defined is half-solved.” But only half-solved. The other half of the formula is DOING SOMETHING ABOUT SOLVING THE PROBLEM.

Until my pride is broken, until it is, in the words of the King James Bible, “mortified,” racism as a sin-problem in my life will never be solved. That’s what makes racism so gnarly. It can’t be solved by making laws and policies. It can’t be solved by more research. It sure can’t be solved by making it more publicly visible. Social media and mass media have put it in our faces 24/7 and instantly, as it happens. That hasn’t fixed anything. While it may have highetened awareness, what it most stimulated was more fear and anger.

What makes racism and the evil it causes one of the most difficult problems to solve in a society is that it can only be eradicated on an individual level. One life, one heart at a time. As if that weren’t hard enough, it won’t go away with one good smack. It will, like all systmeic sin, go away and come back and go away and come back. Until one day, by the power of the Spirit of God at work in me, it will finally be mortified. But there’s no magic formula or incantation to make it instantly go away and die. There’s no prescribed prayer to overwhelm it. Just humble, sincere prayers of repentance, and daily partnership with God as He completes the work He began in me.

And then there’s this: I don’t get to decide to mortify racism in anyone else. It’s about me, not my wife or boss or neighbor or kid. They have to choose it for themselves. My choice is for me, and no one else.

But with my individual choice, I make a difference. I make a difference because of how I relate and interact with a person of any ethnic origin orhter than my own. I make a difference in that person’s life. And there’s a chance the example of my life can be an influence in someone else’s life.

I can make speeches about it, write blogs about it, buy TV time to proclaim the value of it. And all these things have some value. But unless I’m living out a life that expresses the truth of that old song I wrote about up at the top of this long blog, everything else, including my emotional intent, is useless, wasted motion.

So here’s my challenge, in the words of St. Paul: “Let us live up to what we’ve already obtained.” (Philippians 3:16 NIV) We certainly need more information about other people’s real needs, but we don’t need any more data regarding racism and its destruction. We’ve got all the information we need on that. We’ve already obtained more than adequate information about it. We’ve got the first half of the formula. Now let’s move on to the second half and DO WHAT IS RIGHT SO THAT WE CAN BE PART OF SOLVING THE PROBLEM.

Here’s a suggestion if you need one to get started. Begin with a prayer from you own heart and mind, asking God to shine the light of His truth into every corner of your heart and expose any racism that’s there. And then ask him to give you grace to repent. He wants to give you every resource you need to respond to every person, red and yellow, black and white, as the person He loves so much He chose to die for them. In partnership with Him, live our your prayer.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

You Give Love A Bad Name

Flashback Friday: You Give Love a Bad Name by Bon Jovi - Music ...

You’ve got to be old, or listen to Classic Rock radio, to recognize this title of a Bon Jovi hit. Ah, the pathos of love gone wrong…

Almost every time I hear this song played on my car radio, it makes me wonder how many times I’ve given the One Who is Love Itself a bad name by how poorly I’ve loved. I suppose in one sense, one time is too often. Unfortunately, I’ve done poorly at this far more than once. But, hey, so have you.

The heartbeat of the New Testament and the drumbeat of the New Testament church was Love. Jesus said His followers would be identified not by how often they were right or how well they obeyed, but by their love (John 13:35). It’s supposed to be the defining mark of a Christian. Often it is. But there are too many times when Christians give Love a bad name. Sometimes (OK, often) we fail to live up to our name (which means “little Christs) not because we don’t preach love enough, but because we don’t practice it well.

The Apostle Peter (you remember him. The guy who hacked off the ear of Malcus, the servant of the High Priest, in the Garden the night Jesus was betrayed…) wrote in what we have as 1 Peter 3:8-9, Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

I’m thinking, after days and nights of riots, looting, hateful speech and tweets, these two verses would be a good thing for Christians all over the country, regardless of their race, color, political persuasion, gender or denomination to revisit and make a serious attempt to embed them into our lives. There’s no instant or magic solution to the division and anger that are being expressed and then transmitted in real time into our homes, phones, laptops. But if we began practicing these ideas seriously, even if we do it imperfectly, don’t you think the bonfire of hatred could be doused?

More close to home for most of us is the fact that virtually every problem in a marriage or family life can be addressed toward effectively being solved by the ideas in these verses. When husbands treat wives and wives treat husbands in these ways, deep hurts can heal and affection can flourish. When moms and dads treat kids in these ways, wounds and roadblocks to healthy family life can be healed and pushed aside.

Because I don’t believe more knowledge will fix the brokenness in my life or yours, I’m suggesting a very concrete application here. Go back through the list in these two verses and see the individual behaviors and attitudes, one at a time:

be like-minded, This is about tuning in to the other instead of expecting them to get what you’re saying, because you know what you mean by it. Refer to Dr. Chapman’s The Five Love Languages for some good help on what this is about. And practice Stephen Covey’s Habit Five: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

be sympathetic, You have to slow down and observe the other to be sympathetic. There’s no such thing as drive-by sympathy. Notice the sorrow and difficulty in the other’s life. You’ll have to take the focus off yourself to do this.

love one another, There it is. The defining mark of actual Christians. No relationship can be healthy without love as the primary motivation. One of the best questions to ask yourself and then answer with your behavior is, “What would someone who loved them do?” Just a thought.

be compassionate Compassion is more messy than judgmentalism. The word literally means to come along the side of the passion (the emotion, the feelings) of another. You’ll rarely see compassion without sympathy.

and humble. Humility is the means by which we access God’s grace. It’s what makes it possible for us to experience it. And it’s what makes it possible for us to pour it out on others. Pride (the direct opposite of humility) will always demand to get it just the way you want it. Humility doesn’t have to have it just the way you want it.

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing How many families and marriages are working off of the insult script? LOTS! We give ’em and we get ’em. Sometimes they’re uproariously funny. But unless you’ve got uncharacteristically thick skin, even a funny insult hurts. And hurts widen the gap between hearts. Learning how to return insults and injuries with blessing is a very difficult skill to acquire, but it can make a haven of grace and peace out of a war zone in your home.

And it just might do the same in a riot-torn, anger-filled neighborhood that’s smoldering from violence.

But until you and I internalize this truth, it’s just another wonderful short passage from the Bible that would be nice to see in other people’s lives. So I’ll expand my challenge to this: DO THE THINGS THESE TWO VERSES TELL YOU TO DO.

I don’t expect these things to be the general rule for all people’s behavior. As much as I might wish it would be, that’s an unrealistic wish. But I’m convinced God expects His children to rule their lives and behavior with them. These aren’t just a handful of nice human relations concepts that Peter dreamed up on his own. These are from The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. They are God’s word to us. We can’t afford to ever blow off God’s word to us. So back to my challenge: DO THE THINGS THESE TWO VERSES TELL YOU TO DO.

I’ve got great news on this. Nobody wants this to happen more than God, Himself. He wants to partner with you and me. He wants to give us all we need to be able to make our lives demonstrate these divine words and live them out in our relationships. Not just theoretically or philosophically, but in the actual behavior of our lives. So in humility (I think we just thought a little about that…) reach out to the One Who can and will transform your heart and mind. And then join Him in the partnership for changing your world.

The Truth Hertz pt. 2 – Some Resources

Using Resources Around You (No Matter Where You Are!)

If you didn’t get to read my post, Sometimes the Truth Hurts, click on here and take a look: https://homeworkwithst.com/2020/05/28/sometimes-the-truth-hertz/, It’ll give you some context for this.

I think we’re living in a time much like Dickens wrote about in A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. There’s so much about where we are culturally and societally that is about as bad as it’s ever been. So much division and hate. It’s very distressing for me.

But in some other ways, it’s as good as it’s ever been. One of the best things about this moment is how technology has made so much available to us that in times past was far more difficult to come by. Specifically, resources for learning and growth. And more specifically, learning and growth in marriages and families. That’s what I’m writing about today.

When I closed out Sometimes The Truth Hertz, I promised a listing of resources that I recommend. So here we go.

First books. I realize that few men read books without pictures. And that even books with pictures are a struggle for many. No offense, but most of you who say you just can’t read need to get over that and start reading. You don’t need to read 120 words per minute. You don’t need to read a book a week. But if you don’t grow the habit of reading, you’re cheating yourself out of some potentially incredible growth.

Women purchase and read more books than men do. So I have come to learn in my counseling that when I recommend a book to a couple, the wife will likely read it, but not the man. It’s not about men not being as smart as women. And it’s way not about men being more broken than women, so don’t go there with it. It is what it is. That’s all.

So having accounted for that, there are so many great books about growing healthy and whole marriages available today, from a Christian and biblical world view. Here are a few of my favorite ones:

The DNA of Relationships, by Gary Smalley
Love Is A Decision, by Gary Smalley with John Trent
The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman
Cracking the Communication Code, by Emmerson Eggrichs
His Needs, Her Needs, by Willard Harley
Love Busters, by Willard Harley
Boundaries, by John Townsend and Henry Cloud
What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women, by James Dobson (this is an oldie but goodie; some of the same information as in Men Are From Mars, but from a thoroughly Christian perspective)
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, by John Gray (this is not a Christ book, but it has some very insightful help for the difference between how men think and how women think)
A Kiss On The Lips, by Dr.s Les and Leslie Parrott
Reconcilable Differences, by Jim Talley

OK, that’s enough to keep most people busy for a long time. Most of these are available in audio format as well as in print. If you have a commute to and from work, listening to audio books is a smart way to go. Virtually all of these are available on audio format.

There are also a ton of good videos available. Many of them, in part or in the whole, are available at no charge on the Internet. Others can be purchased, downloaded or streamed at a cost. Here’s a short list:

Laugh Your Way to A Better Marriage, Mark Gungor
Here’s the first session on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=ntk1Tl7dscI
You can purchase the entire seminar at https://markgungor.com/products/laugh-your-way-to-a-better-marriage-1
Love and War, John and Stasi Eldredge For purchase: https://www.christianbook.com/finding-marriage-youve-dreamed-participants-guide/9780310889618/pd/889618?en=google&event=SHOP&kw=dvd-studies-20-40%7C889618&p=1179710&dv=c&gclid=CjwKCAjw8df2BRA3EiwAvfZWaM7GUzazYLT9Bdv034656HDf4w9SmO0ipnDlYHAMxIcc_f7Wmnc9EBoC6dAQAvD_BwE
Staying In Love, Andy Stanley The ideal way to get this is through Right Now Media, if your church or a church you know of makes Right Now Media available to you: https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/234
For purchase: https://store.northpoint.org/products/staying-in-love-dvd

Dr. Henry Cloud has many helpful marriage videos available online at no cost (some as short as 3 or 4 minutes). Just Google Henry Cloud Marriage Videos.

My favorite conference for marriage is Weekend to Remember. They host these fantastic weekend experiences all across the country. Here’s the link to the Family Life website: https://www.familylife.com/weekend-to-remember/
I have seen real miracles happen in and for couples here. It is an expense that is actually an investment. I can’t say emphatically enough that you and your spouse should go to the Weekend to Remember!

This is so not an ultimate list. But it’s enough to get your started.

There’s really no reason for your marriage to end up like Hertz. None of these resources will rescue you, though. They’re nothing more than tools. If the stress fractures are severe enough, you may need the help of a godly counselor. But even he/she can’t rescue you, no matter how godly, trained and skilled they are.

Rescue comes from the grace of Christ, as you partner with Him to make choices that will bring healing and health to your marriage. Start with a sincere cry for His help. Ask Him to guide you to the right resources – books, videos, conferences, counselor. And then make it your business to follow His lead.

Heavy Hearted

Being Sad Is Actually Good For You, Psychologists Now Reckon

If you have a TV, a radio, a computer or a smart phone that connects to the Internet, you’ve seen the reports. I’ve seen more of them than I need to see. Stores, restaurants, police stations in flames and shambles. Lifetime effort and savings in ashes. Grown men and women smashing and grabbing. Pent-up anger erupting in senseless violence. And not just in the city where an unconscionable atrocity was committed by a man who was sworn to defend and protect. The anger and violence has spilled into the streets of cities all across our country.

Forgive me for venting about what thousands of others (many of them more articulate and more well-educated than me) have written and said about these things.

I am saddened by the fact that these things have happened at all, and that the angry violence continues. I’m saddened that so much of the anger in this is rightful. I’m saddened that the crime and violence that is being perpetrated is being done by grown adults who, if they have a conscience, have gagged it for the convenience of looting and pillaging. And I’m further saddened by the fact that the agency that reports itself to be the source of truth-telling has forgotten how to tell the truth in favor of selling more advertising on their 24/7 networks.

My heart is heavy for the country I love.

I honestly do not care what the color of the skin or the ethnic origin of the people I see on my news feed is. To me, this is immaterial. Although main stream media outlets promote the idea that this is racial, I DO NOT CONSIDER THIS TO BE RACIAL. I saw a meme on social media that said, “This isn’t about skin; it’s about sin. This isn’t about race; it’s about grace.” I believe this is the truth.

There are reasons for the anger. Real reasons, not invented ones. There is still a racial divide in our country. Racism still exists. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, dream of people being judged for the quality of their character and not the color of their skin is still a dream. I think a case can be made that progress has been made toward this noble dream in the last 40 years. But there is still far to go to make the dream a reality.

You’ve got your own list of things about this that sadden you. I wonder how many innocent lives will be deeply wounded by the lighting and relighting of this powder keg?

This is not the first time we’ve seen riots and looting. It’s a repeat. This does not make it any less heartbreaking. In some ways, it makes it more heartbreaking for me. Have we not learned anything since the last time violent anger took to the streets to loot and destroy? Apparently not. Or at least not enough to make a difference.

Fixing this isn’t about making more laws so that it won’t happen. There are already laws in place that make it illegal. You can’t make it any more illegal than it already is. Projections I’ve seen are that thousands of arrests will be made. I don’t have much confidence in this projection. Hundreds maybe, but thousands? Most of those who broke the law will have done so with no worries of punishment. More laws won’t fix this any more than more anger will.

So what will? All of us should feel free to share our opinion on the nature of the problem and its effect on our country. The First Amendment is still in effect. But stating and restating a problem is only the front porch for solving it. In this case, I’m not sure I agree with the old adage, “A problem well defined is half solved.” In this case, well-defining the problem only gets us to the front porch, not even through the front door. I think it’s a long way from being even half solved. We’ve been identifying and defining the problem for more than a century. It’s not half solved yet.

This is the nature of a soul problem. Soul problems are more difficult than any other kind of problem. I believe they are impossible for us to solve. Theologically, if this soul problem could be solved by us, we wouldn’t need a Savior. Jesus’ coming, living, teaching, dying and coming back from the dead would all be wasted motion.

But we can’t solve this (and so many other) soul problems. We DO need a Savior.

I know it sounds like a Sunday School answer, but to actually solve the real root problem from which all the anger and violence we’re seeing in full eruption is Jesus. Only Jesus can reconcile and restore us. Attempts at racial reconciliation and restoration without the redeeming love and blood of Jesus is well-intentioned effort ending in failure. Wasted motion.

Regardless of race, creed, color, political affiliation or motivation, the people on the world stage here are human beings, made in the image of God. All of them. Every single man and woman whose images flood your feed. And even though many (most, maybe) don’t know it, or might not acknowledge it, what they want more than anything is to find a healing for the deep wounds in their souls.

I’m guessing an apology would be nice. It won’t fix the problem, but if it’s offered sincerely and without condition, it surely wouldn’t hurt. I know that even a finely tuned and well crafted apology won’t fix it, though.

The Bible word for what will change this whole deeply hurtful thing is REPENTANCE. It is the one and only doorway to solving this soul problem.

The repentance required here isn’t for just one side. It’s for all sides. For those who promote and practice racism. For those who promote the division and hatred for some twisted gain. For those whose anger has exploded into violence and rioting, outside or above the law. For those who sit on the sidelines and just watch it play out, but make no attempt to make a difference. So did I leave anybody out? Only one group. The people who are stepping into the conflict with the genuine love of Christ to be ambassadors of reconciliation on His behalf (who, by the way, you’re not likely to see in the news broadcasts). The rest of us must repent.

And then there’s this. Never mistake remorse for repentance. They’re two different things. Being sad that you did something wrong, or didn’t do something right isn’t repenting. Repenting happens when you actually turn from sin and turn to God. It’s not a feeling, but a doing. John the Baptist was talking about this when he said to the Jewish leaders in Luke 3:8, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” (NLT)

All of us can do this. I’d say start here. Take a few minutes and prayerfully ponder if you’re ready to repent of any racism in your heart. Some of us who think we don’t have any probably do…

Then take a few more minutes and ask God to show you how you can prove by the way you life that you have repented. Ask Him to do what He already wants to do: to work in you toward living out your repentance.

The racial divide and hatred won’t likely be healed with a rally of thousands. Or even a sting of them. It’s much more likely to happen one heart at a time, one person at a time. And who knows, maybe you and I can be useful to God for that.

Sometimes the Truth Hertz

Car Rental — Mountain Travel Symposium

If you’ve been reading or watching the news, you’re probably aware that Hertz has filed for bankruptcy. The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about this. It opened with this very insightful sentence: The coronavirus has been the proverbial tide going out, exposing who’s swimming naked.

The bankruptcy comes as a shocker to most of us who use rental cars in our travels. Hertz is, after all, a 102-year-old company that began “as a fleet of 12 Ford Model-Ts in Chicago and helped pioneer the rental-car business.” At its 2014 peak, Hertz’s market value exceeded $14 billion. I’d say that was solid! But over the past few years, it hovered around $2 billion. And these days, it’s way not there. The threat of bankruptcy sent it below $500 million. That’s not solid. And 2014 wasn’t that long ago!

I’m not an economist, so I’m not qualified to speculate on what the future might look like for Hertz, if there’s any future at all for it. But from what I’ve read, the slide and fall isn’t surprising to the financial community. It happened in a few years (6), but not over night. And not in one big cataclysmic collapse. Poor leadership and management decisions caught up in a relatively short time. Looking through the rear view mirror, even someone as uneducated in finance as I am can see that the end was predictable.

On one level, the Coronavirus put Hertz over the edge. But on another level, it was only the catalyst for what was probably inevitable because of poor leadership and bad decisions at the corporate level.

If you’re interested in more details and a pretty good assessment, you can read the article in the Wall Street Journal here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/hertz-was-already-in-terrible-shape-the-pandemic-finished-it-off-11590434631

So why am I writing about Hertz in a Marriage and Parenting blog? Simple. Because the Hertz story is similar to all the marriages and families I’ve seen crash and burn in the 46 years I’ve been in ministry. I can’t think of a single one that happened in one big event, over night. All of them had been crashing for a long time, even though they didn’t seem to show it. By the time we smelled the smoke, it was too late for most of them. The spiral had begun many decisions before we saw the crash. And when the crash happened, there was lots of hurt and damage to lots of people.

In my marriage counseling, I generally see couples somewhere between 6 weeks to 6 years too late. By the time a couple comes to see me, they’re usually already in deep yogurt. Usually only one of the spouses really wants to come in for counseling. The other comes under some duress. Either they felt they had no choice or they come so that they can say they did all they could when the whole thing finally ends.

The scenario is generally disappointing. “Fix us,” is usually the theme. More often, it’s “Fix them.” Because they’re the problem. If they could snap out of it, we’d be good. So snap them out of it. Me? Oh, I’m not the problem. They are.

You probably already know it, but in case you didn’t get the memo yet, it doesn’t work that way. I can’t fix anybody’s marriage. I can’t snap anybody out of it.

Virtually every mental health issue is worse across the board than before the Covid outbreak. Some are disturbingly worse. More suicide attempts and successes. More violence. More depression. More anxiety and panic. And more marriages are in trouble today after close to 80 days of “Stay At Home” than ever before.

Here’s my theory for why this is. Intense stress will always seek a weak spot. And when it finds it, it will expose existing weaknesses and issues. Ala Hertz’s crash and burn.

So what do you do about the weaknesses this stress has exposed? I’ve read about two or three approaches. One is to ignore them and just make the best you can of a bad situation. This approach subscribes to the “This, too, shall pass” philosophy. Oddly, for lots of things, this is true. Often, it’s not a great way to go with marriage and family, though.

Another way is to make your weaknesses irreverent. This is one that gets a lot of print in business and organizational literature. The concept is that you work to leverage your strengths and work from them so that your weaknesses just don’t matter. I had a guy once tell me, “Go with your strengths and bag your weaknesses.” There’s some reasonable logic in this. In many business settings it works well. In my experience, though, not so much in marriage and family life.

The third way I’m familiar with is to address your weaknesses and do what you can to strengthen them. This method costs more effort and investment than the other two. In my opinion, it has a better chance of working out well in marriage and family life.

There’s a whole book in this idea. I’ll only unpack a little bit of it here, though. Starting with the fact that you can’t address something you haven’t identified or can’t identify.

Lots of the couples I work with in counseling know they don’t like their marriage, and that they’re getting more and more alienated from each other, and more and more hurt and hurtful toward each other, but they haven’t really identified the problem. They know they’re driving each other crazy, but they can’t really get much further than accusing each other of various crimes and misdemeanors in the relationship. These accusations may have real substance. They may have actually have been committed. But they’re generally not the problem. They’re expressions of the problem.

The starting point for me as a counselor is to help people identify the issues that are behind the stress fractures they’re experiencing. I do my best to not tell them what these are, but to help them discover them for themselves. This takes lots of patience on their part and mine. And it takes the work of the Holy Spirit to bring light to dark areas. This is why I like being a Pastoral Counselor. I don’t have to beat around the bush and hope and pray that the client will bring it up so I can speak into it. I can start there, unrestricted.

If you’ve discovered stress fractures in your marriage, I suggest you consider getting the help of a godly and wise counselor who is able to address the spiritual side as well as the psychological side of your life. Getting another set of eyes and ears on your situation, and having the careful guidance of a mature believer to help you identify your stress fractures and give them names could be the best first step for you to address the issues that stress has exacerbated, and then move toward addressing them so as to strengthen the weaknesses.

There are tons of good resources for this process available to you today. Books by the ten’s of thousands. Some of them are even good. There are DVDs and Internet streaming and podcasts and blogs. Many of them are good and helpful. You can’t just type in “marriage help” into your browser and take the first ones that come up, though. I don’t think I’d even say to go with a web search of “Christian marriage help.” Internet searches can be pretty indiscriminate and some things that report themselves to be Christian aren’t. So you have to be wise and careful. But when you connect with good resources – and for me this means ones that are rooted in biblical philosophy and practice – they can help you make great progress toward addressing the things that are holding you back in your marriage and family.

I’ve already used up all my words for this installment, but next time I’ll give you my list of go-to resources for figuring out how to identify and address the stress fractures that Covid-19 and the lock down may have exposed.

Smart Phones pt. 2

Caution Pattern Stock Photos, Images & Photography | Shutterstock

The irony isn’t lost on me.  I’m writing about the dangers of too much screen time while using the medium I’m using requires you to log in screen time to read it.  How oxymoronic.

In Part 1 of Smart Phones May Not Mean Smart Kids, I wrote about the negative effects of extended screen time, but I didn’t offer much in the way of interventions for it.  Too much screen time is bad for our kids.  Got it.  So what do I do about it?

That’s the right question.  And the answer isn’t mysterious.  One word.  BOUNDARIES.  The only way to step up to the challenge (which is a euphemism for the problem) of limiting your kids to reasonable and healthy screen times is by setting, enforcing and living with boundaries.

Oh, well, that solves it, right?  Well, no.  But it’s the place to start.

I first read John Townsend’s and Henry Cloud’s book, Boundaries, years ago, now.  It’s become one of my several go-to books.  I highly recommend it to you.  Boundaries apply to virtually every aspect of your life.  Your marriage, your family, your career, your church.  Boundaries will govern your life.  Either your boundaries or someone else’s.  If you don’t have reasonable and solid boundaries, you’re at the mercy of whatever is the most pressing issue coming from the most compelling person in the moment.

I’ll go theological for a minute here and say that as a follower of Jesus, you and I are commissioned by the Savior to steward our boundaries.  He intends for us to thoughtfully set and manage boundaries, with the values of Scripture as our constraints.  This is a complex way of me saying God intends us to apply His standards to how we lead our lives, and as parents, how we lead our families.  Boundaries are not optional in this endeavor.  They’re not a good thing to have in your back pocket.  They’re essential.

So let’s do some thinking about setting and keeping boundaries.

Tip number 1: decide where you want to set the boundary for screen time for your family.  How much time do you think is appropriate?  How much feels healthy for you?  You’ll want to have a conversation with your spouse about this.  It might need to not be a quick one, but it doesn’t have to be a shoot-out at the OK Corral.  You’ve got to be a team on this.  If you’re step-parenting, realize that you have no control over what happens at your ex’s house.  You’re not setting boundaries for them.  You’re setting boundaries for your household.  The one you get to lead.

So have a conversation with your spouse.  Think and talk objectively and observationally, not judgmentally.  This will help you not have a fight over it.  Accusations rarely move the ball down the track well.

Tip number 2: call a family meeting.  If your kids are preschoolers, they don’t need any background information about the new rules and boundaries. Just tell them that they won’t be able to use Mommy’s and Daddy’s devices as much as they like.  Tell them that you’ll be the one telling them how much they can and when they can use them.  Secondary Tip: never negotiate with a preschooler. It won’t work out well.

If your kids are in grade school or older, call the family meeting and tell them what the new boundaries are.  The younger your kids are, the less they can handle of the rationale for your decisions.  But by the time they get into middle grade school, most kids can begin to connect the dots enough that you can tell them how and why you came to your decisions on these boundaries.  Bear this in mind, though.  Most kids aren’t going to be excited about you setting limits and boundaries on their screen time.  So don’t expect them to be happy with the new boundaries.  Be prepared for resistance and stand your ground.

Tip number 3: negotiate consequences for violation of the boundaries.  This may not be fun, but you need to do it if you want to make this thing work.  My suggestion is that the older your kids are, the better it is for you to let them help you decide on consequences.  I wrote “help you,” because you’re the final word on it, not them.  And they need to know that.  But you’ll help yourself by getting their input.  You may be surprised that they may even suggest more severe consequences than you would have.

Call them consequences and not punishments.  Yes, they will probably be punishments, but this is a great place and time to introduce a biblical life concept: you reap what you sow.  There are consequences for our choices.  Good choices usually bring good consequences.  Bad choices usually bring bad consequences.  Punishment is a valid thing.  Don’t get me wrong.  But this is a good place to develop the vocabulary and concept of consequences.

OK, that was the more difficult part.  Here’s the most difficult part.

Tip number 4: Enforce the boundaries.

I believe the best way to do this is to make each child who is middle grade school age and older their own monitor.  Make them responsible for keeping track of their own screen time.  I’d do it with a chart on the fridge.

And then I’d follow Ronald Reagan’s advice: trust by verify.  Keep your eye on the clock and your kids’ screen time.  You don’t need to become the screen time cop, but you’ll have to help them observe the boundaries.  Hey, they’re good kids, but they’re still kids.

For younger kids, use the “5 Minute Warning.”  When they’re getting close to the end of their screen time, tell them they’ve got 5 more minutes.  It’s a courtesy, really.  That way they have a warning that they need to wrap up what they’re doing, instead of just getting their water cut off in the middle of something that’s important to them in the moment.

For older kids, I’d just say, “How ya doin’ on your boundary?”  That’s not the accusatory, “You better be watching your time!  Don’t make me come in there…”

You may want to set your boundaries in stone, but be sure you set your plans for holding to them in sand.  People change.  Needs change.  Don’t lock yourself in on things you’ll regret being locked in on.

So you can see, there’s no fool-proof way to enforce screen time limits and boundaries.  But if you approach it experimentally, and with a measure of maturity and confidence, along with God’s help, you can find a moving target, and hit it more times than not.  And that’ll be very good for your kids and for you.

Smart Phones May Not Mean Smart Kids

Xiaomi Mi 8 Lite test and review!I’m trying to think of anybody I know who doesn’t have a smart phone.  Can’t think of anybody.  How about you?  Here’s a word for your vocabulary-building this week: ubiquitous.  It means “everywhere.”  I’m thinking somebody should rename smart phones Ubiquitous Devices.  Nah.  That’ll never fly.  Too many syllables.

I’m a smart phone person, myself.  If it’s not in my pocket or in my hand, I feel naked and handicapped.  I use my iPhone all the time.  Sometimes I even make and receive phone calls on it.  Anybody out there get me on this?

Smart phones and wireless devices have made life better for me in so many ways.  I’d hate to have to go back to the days before iPhones and iPads and their twins from a different mother, the Android devices.  It would slow me down a ton.  I’m grateful for all the good things that technology has put in my lap.

But for families with kids at home, there’s a dark side of technology that every parent needs to know about and think about.  I’ll warn you, though, the truth about technology for kids and families is an inconvenient truth (to quote a very poor scientist from the last century).

Tons of data has been released from studies regarding the impact of “screen time” on children.  None of it is encouraging.  I don’t have the scientific background to write intelligently and authoritatively about the technical aspects of these studies, but I can report what they’re finding in two words: two hours.  These aforementioned studies all agree that the limit for children and screen time is two hours per day.  After that, there is nothing good that comes of time in front of screens.

Bad news here.  This “Screen Time” thing is about all screens, including the TV screen.  Wireless tablets, smart phones, computers, TV.  If it’s got a screen and your kid is watching it, two hours is the limit for positive outcomes.  Two hours, total.  Per day.

There are significant things that happen in a child’s brain as they look at images on a screen for an extended period of time.  Most of which are potentially very harmful.  When images are changing every 1.8 seconds or so, neuro pathways get overstimulated and stay overstimulated for a while, and this generally isn’t a good thing.  How long the effect and the negative aspects of it last depends on many factors, and is different for different individuals.  But the fact that this over-stimulation thing happens is a given.  It happens to everyone.  If you’ve ever had the experience of your kid getting especially feisty and grouchy after a session of video games, you know this brain-thing is real.

With video games, in addition to the screen time involved, the content and theme of the game is an important issue.  Gratuitous violence, sexual innuendos (or blatantly sexual content), inappropriate language (swearing and otherwise), story lines that have to do with executing crimes, and many other themes are part of the video game landscape, and if you want to keep these things out of your kid’s lifestyle, you’ll need to at least consider keeping them out of the game cabinet.  I’m not interested in telling you what games you can have in your home and which ones you can’t.  You’re the parent.  You make that call.  But, please, make a call!

There’s a lot more that can be said/written about video games, but my point on video games is for parents to know what their kids are playing and decide if what they’re playing is appropriate or not.  If it is, you might want to play, too.  But if it’s not, then step up and help them live within your boundaries.  And part of the boundary work needs to include how much time the games you say yes to can be played.

Back to the screen time issue.  I know that limiting your preschooler to under 2 hours of screen time per day will have some challenges for most families.  Especially if the kids have had free reign of devices.  You’re not likely to hear your kid say, “Hey Mom, can you cut me back to two hours with these things?”  You’ll probably end up with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth when you cut them back.

If you want to limit their screen time to 2 hours a day, you’ll have to have some replacement activities ready.  The younger your kids are, the more supervision they will need.  Duah.  So you’re not going to be able to set them up and go do what you want to do.  You may have to stay there and keep them from finger painting the kitchen or giving the cat a haircut.  And that will cost you time and energy.  Sorry.

When I typed “indoor activities for preschool kids” into Google, according to the message at the top of the screen, I got “about 94,500,000 results.”  Granted, not all of them are good.  Not all of them are free.  Some of them are just way not for you or your kids.  But, really, if you can’t find something to do out of 94,500,000 possibilities…

Back to the brain-thing for a minute.  The same part of the brain that is stimulated by cocaine gets stimulated by screen images.  If you’re thinking there might be some kind of connection there with addictions, you’re right.  Prolonged over-stimulation creates addiction issues.  And that ought to catch your breath.

If you do Facebook, you may have seen posts about teenagers going ballistic over having their devices taken away.  They have a small mental break-down.  Anxiety attacks.  Panic.  Fits of rage.

I’m not making any moral judgment about these kids.  I’m just making an observation that these are responses I’ve seen in addicts.  These are withdrawal responses.

Even if there weren’t these (and more) physiological/neurological issues involved, I think we’d need to take a close look at the screen time thing.  Among many other things, this one is my greatest concern.  Kids who spend hours and hours with screen time are not doing one particular thing that is essential to their development.  One thing that holds the potential to make or break them in their lives over time.  They’re not reading.  Or being read to.  You can make of that what you want, but for me, this is a big issue.  Huge.  Reading is an essential skill that has to be developed through practice.  Of course you’re free to disagree, but I believe if you want to set your kids up for their greatest successes in life, help them develop strong reading skills.  And even if your kid is exceptional, they won’t be able to do this while they have unlimited screen time.

All this has been about the problem, but not much (as in nothing) about what to do about it, other than set limits on screen time.  I’ve got more input on all this, but not until next time.