What is Social Media REALLY Doing to Us?

21 12 2011

I keep my finger on the pulse of real teen culture, all the time. I’m constantly talking to teenagers and preteens, surfing “teen” internet sites, reading articles and books about teens, reading the novels that teenagers are devouring, and researching what teenagers are in to.

So trust me when I say that I’m seeing some pretty strong red flags from today’s teenagers, when it comes to social media.

Much like the way that Abercrombie & Fitch lost its appeal when middle-aged moms started shopping there, Facebook and Twitter’s shiny newness and loyal adoration is losing footing amongst the teenage set, who increasingly complain to me about how “idiotic” the whole notion is, and how they are “so sick of hearing people say stupid things” online and in text messages.

Boy, I couldn’t have guessed that–kids would get sick of the drama that hounds them every day at school when it follows them home, in the form of Facebook, Twitter, and never-ending texts?

Doesn’t take a genius, folks.

But complaints and annoyances aside, I can’t help but ponder the effects of social media on our culture as a whole.

For one, a natural sense of privacy is being unraveled left and right, all over the place. People regularly carry their phones into the bathroom with them and continue texting and talking and posting, even if they’re in a public restroom. If you don’t believe me, then maybe you haven’t been to a movie theater or mall bathroom in the last year or two. I’ve seen teenagers do this in my own apartment. What should be arguably the most private place in your daily life is being infiltrated by people with bad manners and no sense of dignity.

I won’t even mention the fact that I know several teenagers who put their cell phone in a plastic baggy so they can continue texting while they shower…oops, I did.

Obviously, a lot is being discussed right now about how poor spelling, sentence construction, and even critical thinking skills are being dumbed down by people who text shortened words, slang, and half-thoughts more frequently than ever. But I sense that bigger issues could stem from communicating solely through short texts–we could not only lose the emotion behind words, but also the ability to truly decipher the meaning of others’ words. If all you ever do is text with someone, how do you know what they really mean when they say, for instance, “I’m going to kill myself?” Without reading their body language, tone of voice, facial expression, or observing their delivery of the phrase, one could easily misjudge the seriousness or humor of the situation.

Sure, social media is a valuable tool for sharing the often overlooked details of life with those you love. In my case, as someone who’s lived in 5 different states and lives apart from both sides of my family, I’m able to stay connected with friends and relatives all across the country. But it could be argued, overconnects us and gives us a false sense of importance. Why else do we think that others care what we had for breakfast, where we went shopping this afternoon, what we purchased, what shows we’re watching on television, and how our hair looks today?

As cute as it may be, do we really need to know what others think of their baby’s garbled sentences, or what books they’re reading, or that “we’re making chocolate chip cookies today with mini-chocolate chips–yum!”?

Isn't this enough for the world to know about me?!

I’m startled by the upcoming changes in Facebook’s new “Timeline” platform, which will splay my entire life across the internet–unless I take quite a bit of action to patrol photos, messages, friends, and status updates in advance. As Facebook’s Mick Johnson said, “As you scroll down, you’ll see your posts, photos and life events as they happened, back to the day you were born” and co-founder Mark Zuckerburg adds, “What Timeline does is show all the recent activity and then as you back in time it starts summarizing the things you’ve done in your life”.

Sure, on one hand, that’s compelling. No doubt many of us will have pleasant memories, inside jokes, and forgotten friendships drift back into the limelight. But since when do I need an automated system “summarizing the things I’ve done in my life”? Why does anyone want to see my entire life, “back to the day I was born”?

I’m more than the sum of my Facebook posts and photos–and I fear that the result of this may be just that: we’ll judge each other as the sum of our Timelines, and nothing more. We’ll know every detail of our days, every awkward stage, every like and dislike, every boyfriend and best friend, every family member–but will we actually know what each other’s laughs sound like? Or how we crinkle up our noses when we react to something unpleasant? Or how we sing off-key, hate when people chew on pens, or how we jiggle our foot when we’re antsy?

In other words, what happens when only the highlights (or low points) of our lives are on display to the entire world?

I don’t have enough time to sift through all the implications of the effect that social media will have on upcoming elections, careers, and reputations. But think about it–the future president of the United States is coming from my age group. No doubt he or she is deeply involved in social media right at this moment. All those silly inside jokes, off-color comments, embarrassing photos that they’re posting right now will be displayed for the world to see in the future.

Arguably, the campaign for public offices begins as soon as you activate your Facebook or Twitter account, no matter what your age–because once it’s out there on the internet, you can never truly take it back.

The fact that what you say in the heat of the moment, a drunken state, or in jest could permanently ruin a friendship, a run for office, your education, career or reputation, is a daunting one. 

We all have ups and downs in life, and we make errors in what we say and do. But when every thought that comes to mind is immediately transcribed and published to upwards of 700 “friends”…or when a stupid decision is broadcasted to your entire university…or when every co-worker sees the picture of you doing something idiotic…what’s the long-term effect?

Besides, as writer Dick Staub succinctly summarizes, we are now living in a world where “networking replaces craftsmanship”. As he writes in his own blog

“Today, thanks to technology, everybody can distribute written words, musical compositions or homemade films. Some of these are quite good and deserve a broader hearing and viewing; some are not, probably most. But most think they are worthy and good! (Think of the talentless contestants auditioning for American Idol). This monster of boundless indiscriminate self-expression is due in part to America’s educational philosophy of affirmation absent objective critique. Kids have been told they are really good at things they are absolutely not good at. Technology allows them to give it a go anyway! The elitist, snooty gatekeepers of the past are being displaced by the often intellectually and creatively clueless consumers of the present. They decide what is worthy, though generally ill equipped to distinguish craft from crap.”

So I ask again–what do YOU think social media is really doing to us?

 





7 Observations about Today’s Middle School Kids…

8 11 2011

I’m still recovering from our annual confirmation retreat, which was a few weekends ago.

Yes, still recovering. I’m old. My 26-year-old self can’t pull those all-nighters like I could just a few years ago in college.

Earlier this month, I spent my beautiful fall weekend running a huge retreat for our 7th and 8th grade students, at a camp about an hour and a  half away from our church. I spent pretty much the entirety of my waking moments meticulously running through checklists, transportation arrangements, schedules, songs, props, and handouts…not to mention constantly giving direction and instruction, problem-solving on the fly, breaking up rowdy fights between 7th grade boys, hugging crying girls, speaking and teaching, checking in with leaders and musicians and tech people, shouting through a megaphone, and acting as liaison between our group and the camp staff (translation = every time a kid wanted to go shoot arrows at the archery course, I had to stand and supervise to make sure no one came home missing an eye).

It was a great weekend. I managed to get about three whole hours of sleep each night in my room of non-stop hyperactive girls, I only got hit in the face with a dodgeball twice, and only one student dared pull a prank on my water bottle.

I use this time, each retreat, to scrutinize each wave of students. I love to learn their culture, their norms, and their group’s personality, as well as what they struggle with, what they need, and what they’re growing up to be.

Here are 7 of the observations I made about this particular generation of students:

  • We are, without a doubt, seeing the impact of strictly scheduled kids who are completely immersed in technology. Kids don’t really know what to do with true free time. These kids are so used to being told what to do, every second of their day, that they don’t understand how to think on their own or structure their free time at all. They also wouldn’t stop asking about the schedule. It’s clear that they are used to keeping their own schedules and knowing what’s happening each day, and even though we told them “not to worry about the schedule”, they did.
  • I think these kids crave a release from their technological world. We don’t hear many complaints about it not allowing cell phones at our retreat anymore, whereas it was a constant complaint just a few years ago. Kids seemed all too happy to be away from the “stress of keeping up with Facebook and their texts from friends”. I just wrote an article about this at my youth ministry column at thESource, if you want to dive into this topic more here.
  • These kids are more noticeably distant from adults and older teenagers. Even our high school students, who helped out as leaders at one of these retreats for the very first time, noticed this and commented on it. Our middle school kids were polite, but distant. I wonder if this is a reaction to the fact that they are constantly ordered around by adults, with their highly structured teams, clubs, and other organizations—and deep down, maybe unknowingly resentful that these adults don’t care enough about them to force them to unplug, take downtime, and quit the activities that they can’t mentally and physically keep up with.
  • This group of students is losing the ability to read and write at the level that should be standard for their age group. Many was very rudimentary in their ability to think critically, fill out answers, and spell. I know this is the generation that is the techie generation, and it’s clear to me that using autocorrect and not learning how to write things out by hand is eroding their ability to spell, construct sentences, and even their handwriting itself. I fear for their college professors–and the future of literature.
  • Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The old adage I’ve heard that a student has about a minute of undivided focus for each year old they are (so, about 12-14 minutes at a time for these kids) seems to be shortening. They want everything instantly, and they get antsy even if they have to wait in line for something. They lose focus in the amount of time it takes to hand something out to their group.
  • I think these kids are absolutely dying for individual attention. It’s a trademark of their age, of course, but it seems like even the smallest amount of personal, one-on-one time just completely lifts them up. One really cool thing we did this year was have all of our small group leaders pray individually with kids, while we were doing our closing worship service—so each student there was prayed for personally by an adult. Many kids were crying, even though most of the adults spent only a few moments praying with them. I wonder if this is another effect of them feeling like they are over-programmed and expected to produce results in most everything they do—that simply by having an adult love them, without expecting anything from them in return, is something they aren’t used to.
  • At one point, when I told the entire room that we had had a prayer team of 80 people (including 60 teenagers who had gone on the retreat before), praying for them by name for the entire month of October, I saw jaws drop open. I think the idea of being a part of something that’s a legacy is something that’s important to this group–which makes perfect sense, because the technology they’re so used to is so temporary that they crave something that lasts for a long time. Kids were coming up to me and telling me they were excited to get to pray for this group when they became teenagers, and many were asking me if they could come back to the retreat as teen leaders in the future. I think this wave of kids will be very interested in their personal genealogies, and will be captured by the idea of being a part of something that’s bigger than themselves.

All observations aside, I need to add one purely emotional statement that comes straight from the gut:

I love these kids and leaders.

Even with the kids’ wild dodgeball-chucking energy, and that twinkling in their eyes that indicates that they just poured a cup of sugar into my ice water, and their insistence that we stay up “just a little bit longer” to tell stories in our room late at night, and our leaders’ good-natured assistance with pranks, stealing creepy dolls out of rooms when no one is looking, and hiding candy bars in their Bibles…they make retreats like this a blast.

And now, for the first time in weeks, I can relax…and leisurely sip my sugar-free water.





How NOT to Talk to a Cop…at Midnight.

29 09 2011

If only I had more free time on my hands–you’d hear a lot more of my mundane adventures in real life.

Take, for instance, last Friday.

We had a youth event for our middle schoolers called “Flour Frenzy”. Where did the inspiration from this fantastic event come from? Not from my brain, unfortunately. Basically, I finally succumbed to the pressure of my male students who have been begging to throw “flour bombs” (cupfuls of flour wrapped in thin tissues) at each other for years.

I texted my leaders a few days before the event and told them that they’d finally get to throw something at the heads of the kids who have been annoying them for the last three years.

So it didn’t surprise me in the slightest that a record number of leaders were clamoring to come for this event. I’m pretty sure some of them strapped on bulletproof vests and did warm ups to get ready to battle these kiddos.

The battle commenced, and we were all literally coated in thick white flour from head to toe. It was every teenage boy’s dream–he could throw things at girls’ heads as hard as he could, and the bomb dissipated with a dramatic “poof”, leaving everyone unharmed and in hysterics.

Suddenly, with a dramatic “poof” of its own, the skies opened up and poured down rain on our flour-drenched bodies as we stood outside in the parking lot.

You don’t have to be a professional baker to know that when you mix dry flour and water, you get a beautifully thick, gummy, sticky paste. Which is exactly what ended up all over us.

When the first drops started splattering down on me, I had just been jumped by one of my high school leaders. She dumped an entire cup of flour into my tightly done ponytail–and then ground it in to my hair, just so make sure she didn’t miss turning every inch of my head white. (She succeeded, quite well).

Guess what happens when you add water to flour that’s been finely ground into your hair?

It looks so innocent--but used properly, it's a deadly weapon.

Yep. I was sporting a lovely white headful of sticky goo, that quickly dried into a brittle helmet.

Once we finished cleaning up that night, our leaders headed to our usual place for debriefing and hanging out to enjoy each other’s company–Steak N’ Shake, a small diner a few miles down the road. We’ve been going there on a regular basis for a few years now, so the managers and waitresses all know us by name and even know the dishes we order each time. It’s as close to an idyllic Mayberry small-town experience as I’m sure I’ll ever have.

When we traipsed our way in on Friday, our waitresses laughed at the sight of us all covered in flour. We tried to brush it off, but I made no attempt whatsoever to tackle the heavy mess on my head.

We sat around, enjoying milkshakes together, when a trio of rough bikers came in the front door. Our best guess is that they were strung out on drugs, because they took one look at us and one of them started shouting across the restaurant at us like a, um, crazy person. She had to be persuaded by the manager to calm down, and spent the next hour glaring at our table of teens and adults and swearing under her breath.

When we eventually got up to leave and the trio was still giving us the evil eye, we decided to wait to drive away until after they drove off, just so they didn’t follow us home and try to slit our throats in our own driveways.

Ok, so that was my personal thought. I’ve been watching a few too many episodes of Criminal Minds, apparently.

Four of us leaders stood huddled together, talking in the parking lot and keeping an eye on the ruffians paying and walking out the front door. Being my usual highly-perceptive-and-only-slightly-paranoid self, I watched them as they walked across the street into an abandoned parking lot. It was then that I noticed them acting strangely, and standing next to a car that had apparently been parked there for some time. The people in the car started talking to the troublemakers who had been in the restaurant with us, and the next thing I knew I heard voices shouting.

When I saw one of the men reach over and start rocking the car furiously, and then slug the driver, I knew there was trouble brewing.

Quick as a flash, two people scrambled out of the car and pounced on the others who had started the fight. Within seconds, they were screaming and one guy was on the ground, getting kicked in the stomach repeatedly and pummeled in the face.

By this point, my cell phone was already out of my purse and I had already pressed “send” on my call to 911. As we watched the fight unfold just across the street from us, I described the situation to the dispatcher. Within seconds, we heard sirens blaring down the street–but not in time to catch the men in the car, who took off.

We watched the blue and red lights blur past us and counted one, two, four, six, eight police cars barrel into the empty parking lot and surround the instigators.

Yes, folks, nothing like this ever happens in Oakville. Every single police officer in the vicinity decided to check out this unusual action.

One of the police cruisers came over to us as witnesses, and told us to stay put while they dealt with the suspects. So, we stood and watched for about half an hour until that officer came back to ask us some routine questions.

Keep in mind–at this point, I’m covered in white dust and my head is a pure white, crusty disaster.

Oh, and it’s midnight now.

I’m glad you remembered–because I completely forgot about how bizarre I looked, as I stood giving my statement to the officer.

To his credit, he didn’t bat an eye at my obviously strange appearance. However, that only makes me wonder about what he normally sees from people. I’d hate to think that maybe I’m on his “Craziest Witness I’ve Ever Encountered” list, but perhaps that’s the case.

Oh, to live in infamy with the Oakville Police. My dream.

So, to recap, the lessons learned from this experience:

1) Carry a large hat in your car to disguise your appearance next time you have to make a police report in the middle of the night

2) Don’t wear white powder on your person when around druggies, because it’ll only needlessly excite and/or provoke them

3) Don’t turn your back on a high schoolers who has access to something destructive, especially if you hit them in the face with a flour bomb just mere minutes earlier

Oh yeah…and that horrible, disgusting, powdery, crusted-over flour that was stuck in my hair? It took six shampoos, six conditioning treatments, and two deep conditioning treatments to get it all out.

Yummy.





“Cassie, you have fun…at times.”

27 06 2011

I opened my suitcase and was assaulted with it: the smell of damp, warm, bug-infested, dirt-coated clothing.

I sat there and wondered if there was a setting on my washer that said, “I think there’s something living in my dirty clothes”.

You know, right next to the buttons that say “Medium load, light wash” and “Heavy load, heavy wash”?

Wishful thinking.

We’re finally back from our summer middle school mission trip to St. Petersburg, Florida. We took 28 kids and 10 leaders on the never-ending trek to meet up with the

Our entire team, including our Floridian teammates, after serving at the homeless shelter...

youth at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (where a former pastor and great friend of ours currently works). It was an incredible experience–I was so blessed to have a simply amazing team of adult leaders, and had the joy of seeing two young high school apprentice leaders blossom on this trip.

You can check it out yourself with the blog we had going during our trip here.

And our kids–I told them on the last night of this trip that they just blew me away. The number of housing changes we faced in the course of our one week trip (we unloaded and reloaded the trailer exactly 10 times), the extreme heat we faced (sweat was just dripping down my face the entire time we were outside), and the difficult conditions we faced when we camped for 3 nights at Fort DeSoto National Park made for a challenging trip for middle schoolers and adults alike. But these kids sailed through it with hardly any complaining, and were united as one by the end of our trip.

In all truthfulness, their constant good behavior, plucky attitudes, and diligent servant hearts gave me hope for the future. Just thinking of all their inside jokes and hilarious antics puts a smile on my face right now.

Another thing that put a smile on my face was reading over our “Care Cards”, a tradition we started last year on our mission trip in Colorado. We hung up bags at our campsite with students’ and leaders’ names on the outside, and everyone was responsible for writing at least one affirming note to each person on their team over the course of the week. Overall, that meant that our kids had to write 38 different notes in just a few days–but they rose to the challenge and wrote things so sweet and meaningful that nearly every kid I saw reading their cards on the last night had tears in their eyes.

I had some serious tear-jerkers myself, even unexpected ones from the goofy class clowns who were on our trip (maybe someday, someone will be able to explain to me why that type of student sticks to me like glue on these trips? It’s not like I’m at my best when I’m lugging around a 4-lb binder with the complete information for the trip everywhere I go and counting children constantly…).

However, mixed into the cards that had such powerful words that they brought me to tears, I had some truly hilarious cards from some of the kids, too:

“Dear Cassie: You are a great, awesome leader. And I love your husband.”

“Cassie, You’re a great leader and you’re really good at not getting mad when bad things happen.”

“Cassie is an interesting, cool young lady who is caring, fun, and loving and can have fun… at times.”

“Dear Cassie–remember to breath.”

Oh, the truthfulness of kids.

In all honesty, this was a difficult trip for me–for the first time, I wasn’t working with a mission organization and was planning the entire trip from scratch. We went farther away than we usually do on mission trips (with bathrooms stops, we drove nearly 20 hours each way), we camped outside in the middle of summer for 3 nights (during which, more than once, I compared myself to Bear Grylls, the gritty survivor of extreme

Our kids, hanging out in downtown St. Pete....

situations), and we ended up taking a student to the emergency room for stitches as well as having to repair a vehicle that got backed into a tree and shattered a window. Our food orders were messed up and we had to scramble to refigure how to feed 60 people, the raccoons at the campsite stole our salads and s’mores supplies every night, and I was the dirtiest and stickiest I’ve ever been in my life. I swatted bugs until my arms were sore and still came home with 134 bug bites (yes, I counted–I need to have a good reason when people ask me why I’m scratching like a dog with fleas!)

But, despite all the headaches and stress and responsibility, the Holy Spirit powerfully moved. And the kids and many of the leaders grew tremendously.

I saw so many of them discover themselves and find out that they have talents and skills they never knew they possessed.

I saw kids who seemed like nothing but goofballs connect to Christ in powerful ways.

I watched students who haven’t ever been away from home make deep friendships and have the time of their lives on this trip.

I watched young men and women cry as they realized the depths of God’s love for them.

It was simply amazing.

However, if I have to hear us cycle through a van count one more time, or smell the scent of sunscreen mingled with bug spray once more, I think I might have a mental breakdown…





The #1 Sin of Church Workers?

27 05 2011

I know, you haven’t heard from me in a while. I’ve been busy.

This whole spring-rolling-into-summer-rolling-into-summer-camps-and-VBS-and-mission-trips-and-confirmation-stuff thing is pretty much the most chaotic time of year for those of us in youth ministry.

But trust me, things haven’t slowed down in my mind at all, even though I’ve neglected my blog here in the last month.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ministry and what sort of legacy I want to encourage my youth to have in their own lives. I happen to have a couple of kids who aspire to be in ministry someday, so I’ve been pondering what the most important bit of wisdom I could possibly impart on them could be, in view of this long-term goal.

After a lot of careful thought, I think it comes down to this single shred of wisdom:

Remain humble.

It seems so simple. Anticlimactic, almost.

Yet I think that the sins of pride and arrogance are the ones that cripple church workers the most.

The very nature of a pride issue cuts one off from being teachable or moldable. From ever admitting wrongness or failure. From sharing the credit with others. From truly connecting with other people. From ever apologizing. From rolling up the shirtsleeves and doing the gritty, hard work that’s required—because, after all, it’s beneath you or it’s not your thing.

Pride makes it impossible to try someone else’s idea. It isolates from being open to God’s promptings. It makes it difficult to work with others. It prevents others from coming to you—because who wants to confide in or seek counsel from someone who sneers down their nose at you?

Most shamefully, arrogance can lead us off of the real path of God’s work and instead focus our eyes inward, on our own kingdoms, accomplishments, and successes—whether actual or merely perceived.

By the very nature of the problem, it’s impossible to try to convince someone that they do have a pride issue. Anyone who offers an honest opinion, a helpful remark, or even a harsh criticism is brushed off by those who think they know better than anyone else.

Pride says that people are just bodies to control. Pride whispers falsity. Pride dominates and boasts and refuses to actually care about anyone but itself.

I definitely know that there are incredible, humble, servant-hearted people out there. I thank God for those people—they are the salt of the earth. I have many of them in my ministry, and I absolutely couldn’t function without their constant encouragement, love, and care for others.

But lately, I’ve realized more and more that pride is a stronghold for many in the ministry. Pastors, youth workers, students across the board seem to struggle with being possessed with an arrogance problem.

In fact, in my opinion, pride is the number one sin that has a grip on those in the ministry.

Is it possible to start out with the purest of intentions, and become something that does a disservice to our loving Savior?

Absolutely.

Which is why we must constantly be on guard with our actions, and aware of what we’re allowing into our hearts. We must regularly and honestly evaluate ourselves, and ask those we trust to evaluate us. Sin can—and does—swallow us whole, without us being aware that it’s happening. And only our ever-patient, ever-loving, ever-forgiving Savior can help us guard our hearts and minds from this deceit.

Jesus had the harshest criticisms for the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law. When I was younger, I didn’t understand that. Now that I work in a church, I completely understand. As people charged with the task of sharing Christ with others—with leading and teaching and exhorting—we should be the biggest proponents of humility.

Instead, it’s the trap that Satan has carefully laid for those in the ministry—and he has snared many in its deadly clutches.

When I was in college, I was a resident assistant for two years. During our month-long training in the summer before school started, we were asked to help prepare the school for the arrival of students by cleaning the dorms. On a skin-searingly hot summer day, we spent ten hours scrubbing mold from refrigerators, plunging toilets, mopping floors, painting hot metal railings, moving back-breaking piles of mulch, and repainting parking lines in the student lot.

As I stood with a gallon of bleach in one hand and a brush in the other, panting in the heat, I kept looking over at our directors. Although they were the loudest cheerleaders for doing this service project, they had been sitting all day in the shade, sipping their ice waters. They didn’t do a thing the entire day—in other words, their talk didn’t even come close to matching their walk.

And when we had finished up what later became known as “Slave Labor Day”, they were the ones to receive the accolades from the university for working so hard.

Their arrogant pride ultimately turned an entire staff of student leaders against them, in pure disgust. And no amount of team building or pep talks could ever restore the respect that was lost in one day.

If that can happen, I shudder to think how many people we’re turning off from Christianity because of our pride issues.

People’s eternal lives are being impacted.

All of those people in the world that shout “hypocrites” to us? I get it.

Pride. It’s a dangerous pitfall—and that’s why I tell my student leaders over and over and over again that they must remain humble.

I recently saw a quote online that said, “We’re called to be fishers of men, not keepers of the aquarium.” I’ve found myself repeating that constantly.

He didn’t call me to lord over a church.

He didn’t call me to put myself up on a platform.

He didn’t call me to consider myself better than the rest of my synod, other churches, my staff, or the students and families I work with.

God didn’t call me to be a keeper of the aquarium, but to be a fisher of men.





Things I Probably NEVER Should’ve Said Out Loud…

24 03 2011

While in the office today, chatting with some of my male coworkers, they confessed that they think I’m a very intimidating person.

Dare I mention that one of these coworkers saying this was my own husband?

When I pressed the issue–genuinely a bit concerned, I might add–they wouldn’t stop laughing long enough to give me serious reasons why they view me this way. I think they were snickering at my disbelief.

Finally, one of my coworkers stopped giggling long enough to say, “When you write things like, ‘I’m going to chop your fingers off’, that scares people!”

Hm. Good point.

Let me explain…it’s not as bad as it sounds.

I think.

Back away from the cookies....

About two years ago, I had a problem with people from the office sneaking into my candy and cookie stash that I was saving for middle school events. When I dragged in several large cookie trays one day and had to leave them overnight, I was obviously concerned for the welfare of said cookies. So, I did what any other creative young individual would do, to deter people from creeping into my cookie stockpile:

I wrote a note saying, “If you steal a cookie from here, I will chop off your sticky fingers and feed them to you.”

It worked. Not a single cookie was stolen.

However, I haven’t lived it down since then. It gets brought up at least once a week around here.

I had another one of those, “Oops, I probably shouldn’t have said that out loud” moments a few weeks ago, as I was teaching a Communion Instruction class at church on a Sunday afternoon. As it was a large group and I was busy with organizing paperwork and prepping for the long lesson I’d be teaching, I had a few young students standing around me, pestering me mercilessly.

Since I was about ready to get up and teach the large class of students and parents, I had to get this youngsters to leave me in peace for a few moments. So I asked them to leave me alone and go sit down.

I actually don’t remember what I said, to be quite honest–but plenty of witnesses later reminded me of exactly what I said:

“Hey, go sit down or I’ll have to stab you with a pencil.”

Their response? “Whaaaaat?! You wouldn’t stab us, would you, Cassie?”

Me: (glancing around the table) “Well, you got lucky today. I only see pens here. Go away.”

I know, you’re wondering if I would actually stab a sixth grader with a pencil, aren’t you?

Come on–I don’t want to ruin my pencils. Silly.

I think the problem stems from the fact that I’m coupling my sarcastic and witty humor along with the fact that I work with such a turbulent and boisterous age group.

Often, I’ve caught myself saying things at youth events like, “Don’t make me throw you off the roof, pal” and “If you don’t put that basketball away, I’ll shove it up your nose”.

You think I’m joking? Ask my kids.

Or my coworkers.

Or…anyone that knows me.

I’ve become infamous lately for the “Focus Fist”, an effective (albeit cruel-sounding) form of silencing a large crowd during Bible study. The “Focus Fist” actually used to be the much more humane “Focus Fox”, where I held up my hand and formed an adorable little fox by extending my index and pinky fingers and clamping the other fingers down into a little snout. The purpose of the “Focus Fox” is to distract the group just long enough to refocus them. And it’s usually quite effective.

But, after an extremely long day at work and an evening capped off by attempting to lead a Bible study with the most tenacious group of ten and twelve year olds you’ve ever seen in your life, I abandoned the “Focus Fox” and instead waved my fist at them. Thus, the “Focus Fist” was born, and a new youth group tradition was started. And quickly spread to other youth groups a few weeks later, at a retreat.

My legacy: one of fear and control. How nice.

I guess my coworkers are right. I’m quite an intimidating person.

Now, stop reading my blog or I’ll throw you off the roof, buddy.





“This Moment Is Unlike Any Other Time In History”

1 03 2011

Recently, I was chatting with my husband about literature. The conversation occurred when he stood looking at my office bookshelf, which is quite tiny and so crammed with books that I can barely pull one out without ripping my fingernails off.

Would that count in a worker’s comp lawsuit?

If so, I better note all those papercuts I get from doing mass postcard and letter mailings, too.

Tyler gazed over the titles of my books, and said to me, “Some of these books are probably the life’s work of some of these people. Do you think that their life’s work–their legacy in ink–matters to anyone else?”

Good question.

I think the real question is whether or not a book can truly transform your life. If so, the hard work and sacrifice to write the book is definitely necessary.

In my humble opinion, my life truly has been impacted by literature. I’ve been deeply provoked, challenged, comforted, and inspired by countless authors. In fact, I’ve written to a few authors over the last few years and told them how much their books have meant to me. I’m convinced that some of these authors and I would be kindred spirits if we actually knew each other.

One such book that has impacted me is Gabe Lyons’ book, The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith (I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for a review).

Holy cow, people. If you read one book this year, make it this one.

And trust me, I’m quite the book critic. I don’t highly recommend any old book–only the truly outstanding ones.

Lyons writes brilliantly and clearly, with honest passion and intensity as he tackles a complex subject: the future of Christianity in the upcoming generations. His optimism and belief that the younger generation desperately wants to be a “force of restoration in a broken world” and is embarking on a revolution to rebrand the name “Christian” as something that stands for authenticity, truth, beauty, and intelligence resonates completely with what I’m seeing in the world of young Christians around me.

Lyons states, “I believe this moment is unlike any other time in history. Its uniqueness demands an original response. If we fail to offer a different way forward, we risk losing entire generations to apathy and cynicism. Our friends will continue to drift away, meeting their need for spiritual transcendence through other forms of worship and communities of faith that may be less true but more authentic and appealing.”

Preach it, brother.

Through statistics, stories, and personal reflections, Lyons weaves together a gem of a book that hit the nail on the head so many times that I literally stopped and pumped my fist in excitement in a few places…however endearingly nerdy that may sound to actually admit.

Fine, I may have a bit of a geeky streak. Proof? I was in marching band, love musicals, and adore art history.

Counterproof? I hate Star Wars, Star Trek, and video games.

Let’s get back on track.

Lyons gets it. He has his finger on the pulse of young Christians. He knows what he’s talking about.

One of the most compelling chapters in this book was where Lyons explained the different types of Christians and the way they generally interact with the world. I read through the entire section, and started getting worried–none of these descriptions fit me. “Am I a total misfit?” I wondered.

Lyons then went on to describe what he calls “the restorers”:

“I’ve observed a new generation of Christians who feel empowered…They have a peculiar way of thinking, being, and doing that is radically different from previous generations. Telling others about Jesus is important, but conversion isn’t their only motive. Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love.

I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe others will see Christ through us and the Christian faith will reap a much larger harvest.

They are purposeful about their careers and generous with their time and possessions. They don’t separate from the world or blend in; rather, they thoughtfully engage. Fully aware of the seachange under way, they are optimistic that God is on the move–doing something unique in our time.”

It’s amazing, really–not only that Lyons described me and many of my young Christian friends to a “T”, but that Lyons echoed a sentiment here that I’ve been preaching to my middle school and high school students for a year now: God is doing something unique in our time.

Trust me. This is a must-read. It will challenge and inspire you, and give you hope for the future of our faith.

You can always judge how much I truly liked a book by how vigorously I wrote my notes in the margins. I circle, highlight, draw arrows, write my reactions and observations, and disagree with the text all the time–and leafing through, you can see just how much I wrestled with the text and therefore let it saturate my brain.

Guess how jam-packed the margins of this book are?

You got it: full.