God and Magic

I was looking back through some of my favorite article clippings and web links this past week from the past decade or so and I ran across one, from which I just had to share an excerpt.

It is from an interview with Rabbi Harold Kushner in the January 1999 issue of Educational Leadership magazine. Some may recognize Dr. Kushner as the best-selling author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People and other popular works.

In the article, the interviewer asked Kushner how a parent rather than a teacher can “help a child experience God?” Here is Dr. Kushner’s answer:

“Somebody once asked me how to convince a 9-year-old to believe in God. I answered that you can’t convince someone to believe. The question is: how can you teach a child to recognize God?

A task for parents, not teachers, is to create a catalog of moments in which children can recognize that God has intervened in their lives. When they have been sick and they get healthy, when they have done something naughty and they are forgiven for it, when they have gone out of their way to do a favor for somebody else and they feel good, when they see how beautiful the world is on a sunny day or after the first snowfall of winter, those are experiences of God.

Children need two things to nourish their souls. They need a sense of ritual and they need a sense of magic. If parents don’t give those basics to their children, it is the same as not giving them basic nutrition. I consider it a form of child abuse.

A child’s world is overwhelming and out of control. Doing things in a prescribed way gives them a sense of reliability. Whether it’s church every Sunday, candle lighting on Friday night, or certain prayers, they need predictability.

And they need the magic, the sense of specialness. In my own tradition, it might be just holding a child up to kiss the Torah as it is carried through the congregation. In the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, it might be the incense, the robes, the mystery, the music.

The sense that there is a reality beyond the reality of everyday life and that there is something wonderful about this – that is what nourishes the soul.”

Of course, you can gather why this resonates so much with us at Faithkeepers. Because at our core, our mission is to provide you with resources – ideas, encouragement, symbols, and more. It’s all about helping each other ensure that a strong faith takes shape in our children and young people as they grow up, through habit (practices) and through a sense of personal discovery (the “magic” Kushner speaks of).

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Faith-building is a contact sport

The past several weeks, we’ve been producing videos of people from different age groups and backgrounds – Jeff Collier, Michael Watt, Susan Scrupski – to serve as a resource for parents and sponsors to use with your children. The thinking is that when your kiddo won’t listen to you, perhaps they’ll listen to someone else – the more voice, the better.

But the other thing these faith stories have done for us is provide another source to inspire us grown-ups – the parents, sponsors, and other adults whose duty it is to be role models and support networks for the faith formation for our children. We, too, can learn from the stories of others.

A couple of different sources brought the importance of story-telling further to light this that I wanted to share.

First, a report released this week by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation discussed how people who are fighting chronic illnesses, once they are online, are much more likely to blog or participate in online discussions about health problems. “It’s really literally saved my life, just to be able to connect with other people,” said Sean Fogerty, 50, who has multiple sclerosis and was quoted in the story about the study.

My key takeaway is that often, people with such crippling problems are unable to physically get out to meet with others from whom they can receive comfort and with whom they can socialize and share stories. The internet has become an incredibly valuable tool to connect these people with a sense of community.

Second, an upcoming event notice from Priority Associates caught my attention, because of its basis in a universal story of love, loss, and renewal, as shared by Kristin Armstrong. Kristin is something of an old “sorority sister” for my husband Steve, because he and she were members of the same Leadership Austin class, in 1996-1997. So, we have a fond spot for her and her story.

As the event notice describes, very few of us get to live out our “fairy tale dreams” of our childhood of getting the perfect job, marrying Prince Charming and living in a foreign land.  But Kristin Armstrong did!  In 1997, while working for an Austin advertising and PR firm, Kristin met her “Prince Charming,” world famous cyclist Lance Armstrong.  One year later they were married and on their way to the French Riviera where they lived and he trained for the Tour de France.

Unfortunately, after 5 years of marriage and 3 children, the marriage ended in divorce. Kristin went through dark times, trying to sort out who she was and how to rebuild her life.  Now an author of 4 books, a freelance writer and a marathon runner, Kristin has been interviewed on Oprah, CBS, ABC, and other national TV shows and magazines on how to survive the break-up of a relationship.

Kristin is now forging a new life and will be talking about how she dealt with disappointment, failure and faced the harsh realities of life, and found her true identity.  She’ll be sharing how her faith in God became the foundation that helped her rebuild her life, forgive, and move on.

Man or woman, cute-as-a-kitten or tough-as-nails, no matter who you are, chances are at some point in most everyone’s life, we’ve all felt insecure, lost in our way, and experienced failure or the pain of a difficult relationship breakup, with loved ones, peer groups, organizations, or others with whom we built strong bonds.

The fact is, faith-building is a contact sport, because life itself is a contact sport. You don’t live it alone. Check out our events page to get more of the details about the event led by Kristin; it’ll be a good one.

Using Current Culture for Faith

I had a visit yesterday with one of the Austin representatives of Priority Associates. They and Search Ministries put together a great breakfast meeting a couple of weeks ago – over 230 men before 8:00 am in the morning – to hear an inspiring talk by Dr. David Cook, a professional sports psychologist, talk about his practice with famous pro athletes and his personal mission to spread the faith.

Part of this personal mission for Dr. Cook involves his current quest to bring to life a major motion picture, Links of Utopia. One of the things we’re encouraged by is the increasing sophistication of believers like him to use the culture to witness the good news.

George Barna was among the first during the current internet age to research and document the critical importance of employing music, movies, games, the internet, and other modern media to reach children and young adults, where they spend an increasing majority of their waking time.

We couldn’t agree more. That’s our journey here at Faithkeepers – to equip you with inspiration, recommendations, and resources to give your kids (as well as family, friends and colleagues) a chance to add healthy culture to their lives. It’s no different than adding healthy foods to your daily diet.

Speaking of daily diet, we hope you enjoy another in our series of faith stories, this one shot at an Austin Tex-Mex favorite, Maudie’s with a long-time friend, Susan Scrupski.

In her “day job,” Susan is the founder and chief analyst for the 2.0 Adoption Council. There are few positions that one could have more prominent than Susan’s to put you at the pulse of how companies are using the most ground-breaking technologies to make the products and services that shape our culture.

But, Susan is also a mother, community volunteer, passionate advocate for those things she cares about, with a deep spiritual core that she shares in her story. You can get to know her better at her personal website, “Taking it Personal.”   We hope you are inspired by her thoughtful comments, perhap hearing some situations that are familiar to your own life.  Share it with others and, as  always, let us hear from you!

SXSW: Faith edition

The next ten days are a special time in our hometown of Austin, Texas. For it’s the time of an annual festival referred to as SXSW (said “South by Southwest” or “Southby” by locals) that is one of the biggest events of its kind in the U.S. and many say one of the most significance in the world for the cross-section of new music, internet, and film.

The festival is about 20 years old now and, in its early years, was dominated by the music portion of the program. But, over the years, as Austin became more of a high tech “third coast,” the festival has attracted the software and internet crowd to the point where the Interactive portion is arguably equal to the Music portion of the festival in importance to its industry.

In recent years, film too has grown, due to great efforts by Texas-born film makers, investments by Austin leaders and other developers in studio infrastructure, and the lower cost of producing a film in Texas. It doesn’t hurt that a few high profile celebrities, with recent Oscar winner Sandra Bullock perhaps currently at the top of that list, call Austin “home.”

So, in the light of such a pop culture, media-intense gathering, it is so interesting to observe the picture that one can gather of faith, spirituality, belief at the event.

The good news is that it is by no means absent. For example, there are interviews of a couple of musical acts that have a faith-based dimension to them (in both cases, Christianity) featuring the groups Deer Tick and Superdrag. There is even a music panel on the subject of spirituality, entitled “Spirituality for Nomads.”

You might find the description of the “Spirituality” panel interesting. It says: “Touring has been described as 23 hours of drudgery for every one hour of on-stage high-energy bliss. Life on the road can be exhausting – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Find practical ways to recharge your batteries and enjoy better relationships with band members and your industry support team.” What a cool theme!

A couple of other faith-based highlights worth mentioning include a nice touch of hospitality by the Southby staff to mention locations for worship within walking distance of the main festival venues (although there are only two referenced and they are both Protestant churches) and the Carver Center’s screening of a program of films for free admission, a couple of which have spiritual subjects.

One film of note is “Little Willie Eason and His Talking Gospel Guitar” (2005), describing how a man of belief takes the stage of the street and a House of God Church south of Miami to highlight the man who introduced the pedal steel guitar as an instrument to express his deep-seeded faith. It’s at 2pm on March 14th, at the Carver Center.

If there is any part of the festival that is a little disappointing (although not entirely surprising) it is the absence of any faith-focused panel or presenter at SXSW Interactive. You would think there would be something along the lines of “Church 2.0” or at least a major mainstream denomination speaker discussing how they are using social media to reach their millions of members. But, nada.

Looking on the bright side, there’s room to grow. And, in that light, I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible at this year’s SXSW festival; maybe we can get faith on the platform in 2011. Meanwhile, if you want to catch my musings through the conference, follow me on Twitter.

Your kids are listening (they just may not want to hear it from you)

Thank you to everyone who provided encouraging feedback for the “Where I’m At” faith story that we debuted last week with Jeff Collier. This week, we are sharing a “Where I’m At” video shot with Michael Watt.

Whereas Jeff is an ambassador for the Net Generation, Michael is an ambassador for the Baby Boomers. He has a son in college and a daughter in high school and, although a native of California, has lived the last decade-plus in Texas.

Michael is a successful technology industry financial executive, having served in positions at HP, Toshiba American and Dell, where he served as president of Dell Financial Services, among others. One of the things that we encourage you to do with the videos of Michael and Jeff, especially with your older children – tweens and above – is suggest that they spend 5-10 minutes watching one of these video segments.

Then, afterwards, perhaps you can ask them what they thought about it the next time you have dinner or are out grabbing a sandwich together. Our hope is that watching these stories from other younger and older voices will help your kiddo hear something that strikes at their faith in a new and deep way.

Because, anyone with tweens knows that it is often the time when children start to think mom and dad are “dumb” or get embarrassed by things you say and do. (Comics from the Archies  to Zits have been chronicling it for generations!) And, admittedly, we older adults have been known to do some embarrassing things. Come on…you remember something your parents did when you were that age!

But, this period of mild (or great) rebellion is a stage that we all go through as we start sorting out our identity, what we believe, and who we will become, as an ultimately independent young adult.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll continue to share these “Where I’m At” stories from Faithkeepers, aiming for an initial video – one each – from a member of each of the generations: traditionalists, baby boomers, gen x’rs, net generation, and the so-called “re-generation,” i.e., members of the youngest generation, who are the prodigy of the Gen X’rs.

As always, let us hear your ideas and what has worked for you in having faith discussions with your family and friends.

Faith Stories Debut

Like my husband Steve, I have the “paper of record” – the New York Times – set as the home page on the browser of my personal computer. No, I don’t agree with everything I read in it and I try to do my very best to scan multiple newspapers, magazines, blogs, and other sources of opinion to help me keep a more complete sense of current events.

But, one of the reasons that I like the NYT is because of the provocative blogs that it produces, such as “Idea of the Day,” “Economix,” and others. One of the recent ideas of the day, talking about the morality of widespread publishing of images of war, has got me to thinking how important it is to provide images of peace, understanding, and hope.

In that spirit, I’ve decided to produce a series of videos that features people of all age groups, sharing their points of view about faith, belief in God, and how they live out their lives as spiritual beings on earth.

The first of these videos features Jeff Collier, the founder and president of Zetify.com, a web services start-up for the Christian and “Christian curious” as he says it.

You might say Jeff is a walking ambassador for what demographers and other call the Net Generation – the age group of 18-25 year olds that is the “echo” of the Baby Boom generation. Some also call them the Millenials or Gen Y.

I hope you have a chance to watch the video and listen to Jeff’s story. It will make you think and give you hope about the Net Gen’rs and about the future!  And, I hope you will also give me feedback about the series, as we add more videos in the coming weeks.

We totally acknowledge the inspiration for the idea coming from sources such as NPR’s fabulous series StoryCorps and “This I Believe,” among others. We also totally acknowledge that we will never be Hollywood movie producers, as you will see by the video production values! But, if you can forgive the quality of the “medium,” we think you’ll find the “message” is powerful.

The “Connecting Wires” Leading to Faith

Some parents have joked that taking an infant or toddler to church is comparable to struggling in a wrestling match. Both parent and child leave the church with shirt tails hanging out, hair ruffled, and skirt shifted to the side. According to the latest research on brain development, this may be a battle worth the fight, for it could lay the groundwork for a rich life of faith.

Researchers have found that the environment has a tremendous impact on the brain “wiring.” Positive interactions with caring adults will stimulate the connections in the brain to grow, affecting how a child will learn and interact later in life.

While wrestling is not exactly a positive interaction, surrounding your child with positive, loving members of a congregation, including teachers, pastors, friends and families is valuable. These caring folks will spark the “connection” that wires your child to God and a life of faith. The solid foundation of love learned in the early years will decidedly influence your child’s actions and relationships later in life.

Just as intellectual or emotional development begins at an early age, so does faith development. Your job as a parent is to nurture your child’s faith, so that love and grace will support life’s journey.

Dr. Ray Pickett, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology, in Chicago states it this way: “Life itself has many deaths and losses. There are poor grades in school rejection of jobs, struggles with friendships and intimate relationships, physical and emotional abuses, illness and death of loved ones. Parents and mentors should help children realize that God is with them in these struggles, leading them to new things.”

Professor Pickett continues: “Out of death, comes new life. A loss of a job leads to a better job, loss of friends lead to a better understanding of who they are, loss of people brings new connections to others.”

How then can you support your child’s faith journey – in addition to wrestle in church? Here are some ideas and observations worth considering:

  • The faith of a young toddler is based on intuition and feeling. A child learns to trust and experience God’s love through your touch and the many ways in which you nurture your child.
  • Pray daily for love, forgiveness, guidance, patience and humor. Your child will understand God as you receive and show these gifts of grace.
  • Read simple books or sing simple songs about God’s love.
  • Take your child regularly to church. It may be a struggle at this age, but children learn through repetition and routine. Church is where your child will meet others who care for God’s children.
  • When you are in church, engage the child in the service. Help your child learn repetitive phrases such s “amen”, sit toward the front so your child can see, count the number of crosses the church, watch how people pray, etc.
  • Teach your child simple prayers to pray at mealtime and bedtime and share stores of your faith.
  • A child’s faith grows when you provide opportunities for practice. Helping with simple chores or helping people in need are two simple ways to show God’s love for others.
  • Embed your faith into your family identity and lifestyle.

 A child connected to Christ will experience the richness of love, grace, compassion and forgiveness. Why wait to teach your child about God’s love? Give this wonderful gift by “wiring their brain” with faith now.