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, 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.

“What is faith?” and other easy questions

At some point in the process of faith formation with our children or other friends and family, it’s common that we reflect on key questions about faith and what they mean to us, personally.

Sometimes, this reflection occurs when we are stopped dead in our tracks, as in a child’s question at bath time: “mommy, how do you know there is a God?”

Other times, it’s a slowly creeping realization that your inherent view of your faith hasn’t changed much for many years. But, through a series of questions or events, you have begun to realize that you lack the deeper answers that you took for granted were’ always there, second nature to you.

Whatever the path towards reflection, all you know is that (for some reason) the “I just know” that you always said isn’t good enough for you anymore, even if it seems to satisfy your kids.

I thought I’d pose a few of these easy questions, sharing how I’ve tackled them, over a series of posts including:

  • What is faith?
  • Why is it important?
  • When does it form?
  • How do we keep it?

First, what is faith? I used to think that faith is believing without a shadow of doubt that God is a reality. When I was little, I knew for certain that God is real. But as I got older, I began to hear questions and listen to other points of view.

Like: If there is a God, why is there so much suffering? If God is real, why aren’t my prayers always answered? How can you say God created the heavens and earth in 7 days, when the scientific evidence clearly doesn’t support that view?

My faith was no longer certain; instead, I relied on my belief in God as something I could feel…just as love can’t be proven, but it can be felt. This was the answer I was standing by.

As I matured, however, I realized there were times I couldn’t even feel God. Those were times when hardships and health issues and death became a reality. Where was God? I sure didn’t feel that presence.

Once again I had to find a new answer. And so, faith became an act of wrestling, questioning, and (finally) after realizing there were no answers, I let go.

With nothing to cling to, except a small amount of faith, the size of a mustard seed, I began to see God as a mystery that I cannot possibly know. In the mystery, I saw the beauty of the world and it was good. I saw the diversity of people and it was good. I saw the diversity of religious institutions and cultures and it was good.

As I saw the beauty through the eyes of God, I began to appreciate ALL, even things that were different….different people, different viewpoints, different religions and the diversity is good. And because of it, I am always surprised by the wonder of this presence, this being (the Old Testament “I AM” if you will), this entity called God.

That is when I began to see the world in a new light; one where I was not the center of the universe, but where God was. I began to see God present in the polarity of peoples’ diverse views. As much as I wanted God to be on my side of an issue, I discovered that we are interconnected. And in the “connective tissue,” God joins diversity together.

If God is for me and you, how can God possibly be only one way?

So, what is faith? I think simple, powerful response in the Bible is right: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (from Hebrews 11:1) But, I also think my faith is a continual process of change. The continual process is in the discovery and redefinition of the phrases from the Bible passage “things hoped for” and “things not seen.”

What is it you hope for? What are the things you don’t see but believe are possible? Follow your answers to those questions, and you will find your faith.