Transitions


Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan.

Genesis 15:31

In this Genesis account, Terah moved from Ur to Canaan with his whole family. That is what I would consider a transition.

For the past year, my family has urged me to consider moving back to Raleigh, a place we called home for my 45-year law career.  It is only 70 miles away from Pinehurst where we have lived the past 12 years. It has been a great place to live, but my wife always has had one foot back in Raleigh with her network of friends.

My wife and my daughter who lives in Raleigh finally convinced me that returning to Raleigh was a logical and rational choice for us at this stage of our lives.  They didn’t leave any bruises, but it was clear what they wanted.  

In less than a month from the time when I finally said “uncle” and conceded that moving back to Raleigh was a good idea, we sold our house here 10 days ago and bought one in Raleigh within a week. I have described this rapid process as surreal.  It has happened so quickly that I have had to reflect on how God’s hand was in it. 

The house we bought in Raleigh is an example.  One of my sons found it online and sent the information to us to look at. He thought that it would be “perfect”.  It was a little out of our price range, but I was game to look at it because it did seem perfect every other way.  It is located in a neighborhood we knew well – in fact, we knew many of the neighbors.  Several potential buyers had shown an interest in the house, but each one said that the timing was not right according to the realtor.

For us, the timing was perfect. Any one of the interested buyers could have easily scooped it up before we had a chance, but this was more a factor of God’s timing.  The Raleigh real estate market has been very tight, and it is unusual for houses not to be snapped up if they are priced fairly and in a good location. 

My wife is thrilled, which makes me happy, although leaving Pinehurst is bittersweet. We have a great Church; I love singing with the worship team and we’ve made many close friends here but going back to Raleigh will be something of a homecoming.  

From experience, I know that this is a time in our lives that will be stressful, as many transitions are. The old Holmes-Rhea Test inventory provides different stress point totals for events of life. Moving gets you 38 points and another 25 points for remodeling.  Get enough of those points and you are stressed out. If you get over 300, you have a 50% chance of  Burnout. Not good. 

The Next generation has gone through their own sets of transitions.  The Millennials arrived in the workforce right as the economy tanked in 2008 and jobs were scarce.  Many lived with their parents and some still do. It’s not on the Holmes-Rhea test, but I would submit that living with your parents might rate several points on the scale.

There is actually a modified Holmes-Rhea test for Generation Z.  They have modified the events to non-adult categories. Not making the cut in an extracurricular activity rates 55 points for example.  Becoming a full member of a church grades out at 31 points. 

If you are mentoring Generation Z or a millennial, you should look at the test.  Some of the events are not what you might expect in terms of how stressful they may be, and the stress impact much more than you thought. It will aid you in helping the next generation through life by realizing what they are up against emotionally.

Life is full of transitions which is accompanied by some level of anxiety – often a fear of the unknown.  I have always dealt better with events where I know it is going and what will happen as opposed to something that is out of my depth and unpredictable.  When I got prostate cancer, my life went upside down as soon as I got the diagnosis.  Yet dealing with a known disease was easier than the suspense of not knowing after I got tested.

The next generation reacts differently to many things that older generations take in stride. The Holmes Rhea “non-adult” test is instructive.  Here are some of the higher point categories:

Death of a parent                                                                                           100

Change in acceptance by peers                                                                      67

Not making an extracurricular activity                                                           55

Begin dating                                                                                                    51

Breaking up with boyfriend/girlfriend                                                            53

Becoming involved with drugs/alcohol                                                          50

Hospitalization of a parent                                                                             50

A total of 300 points over a period of a year puts one in the “red zone” and “at risk for illness”. Scanning the list, one can see how the next generation is stressed by different things than the other generations.

Just last week,  the fourth student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh committed suicide during the fall semester alone.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. This occurred early in the fall semester mind you, long before the stress of exams sets in.  

The point is that the next generation are not bullet proof when it comes to stress. They may be going through transitions of their own such as changing jobs, going to college, getting married, having a child, or even just moving.  Their reaction may be greater to each of these than what you might expect, and we should be sensitive as to how they are dealing with them. 

A personal footnote. I will be slowing down on these posts over the next couple of months while we go through the laborious process of buying and selling a house and moving.  It’s taken me 2 weeks to complete this post and I’ve realized that I have too much on my plate to do a weekly post.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Mentors are not mental health experts, but they are able to determine when a mentee is under stress due to circumstances.  Being able to come alongside a mentee at a difficult time may be an invaluable benefit.

FURTHER READING:

Four NC State Students Commit Suicide During Fall Semester  – NY Post

Next Generation Stress Test

WORSHIP: In Christ Alone– Getty

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Atomization

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.  Ephesians 6:14  

In science, to atomize is to divide a substance into very fine particles or atoms.  In culture, the term atomization is a description of what happens to our social order. Its definition is “the act or process of splitting into smaller parts, sections, groups, etc.; fragmentation or disintegration: The atomization of society into isolated individuals, who find nothing above them but the all-powerful state.”  

Sound familiar?  How about the disintegration of the family over the past decade?   It is not a new concept, because classic Marxism under Lenin had an intentional design to disrupt and dismember the family, or, to use the term correctly, to atomize the family unit.  It’s the old story of united we stand and divided we fall.   There is so much truth in that statement.  

The trend of atomization and isolation has been around a while, but it worsened under Covid where people isolated themselves due to government mandates. School and restaurants closed. We were to stay 6 feet away from anyone else.  If you had Covid you had to isolate yourself for initially 10 days, and later just 5. 

We now have a culture that separates us from each other.  iPhones and smartphones have introduced texting and social media as an alternative to face-to-face conversations. We are the worse for it and it has affected the next generation more than any other in negative ways.  Add to that the divisiveness of political discourse which creates a “we/them” mentality. 

 A recent article in the Federalist highlighted how totalitarian societies use loneliness as a means of separating and controlling people which only adds fuel to the fire. It’s straight out of Nineteen Eighty Four, the Orwellian novel where Big Brother spies on everyone and keeps them separated to be sure they have no impure thoughts that might run counter to their power structure. 

The Federalist article takes a chapter from a new book titled The Weaponization of Loneliness: How Tyrants Stoke our Fear of Isolation to Silence, Divide and Conquer by Stella Morabito.  The book asks the question of whether or not you keep your opinions to yourself.  If you do, it may be because you fear ostracism or being cancelled, a key tool in the toolkit of a tyrant. 

One only has to look at the cancel culture particularly on the college campuses which often sidelines one viewpoint which I first wrote about over 2 years ago.  It hasn’t gotten better, and dissenting views are often squashed, and speakers disrupted.  Cancel culture is toxic and is “inherently exclusionary and antithetical to the principles of free speech and democracy.” 

I have watched this unbundling of our culture with dismay.  Even in social situations, I am cautious with certain people not to “trigger” them with a comment that might upset them and set them off.  It means some friendships will always be at arms-length lest we should offend them with our opinions.  I’ll bet I am not the only one that has this issue.

Identity politics was used by Hitler in the Third Reich leading to gruesome outcomes with the European Jewish population. Suppression also occurred (and is occurring) in China during the Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong. You might remember the famous picture of a protester standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.  I remember that well because my law firm had an office just blocks away from that event in 1989.

Today, we are facing another cultural revolution, but this time it is in the guise of democracy.  The damage is the same with the constant onslaught on the family and Christian values. Big Tech constantly bans political speech on social platforms like Facebook. Even mentioning the Covid in the wrong way will get you suspended. 

Just ask my friend, Steve Noble, who has a Christian radio show which is broadcast live on Facebook.  He recently got suspended by YouTube and received a warning from Facebook because he dared to have an interview with someone who was opposed to the Pandemic policies espoused by the Federal government.

The next generation is caught in the middle of these trends.  When you look at their attitudes in various media like Pew Research and Barna, they have obviously been impacted. Socialization has declined. Isolation is up resulting in high levels of loneliness, anxiety and depression. Suicide has skyrocketed.  It is an assault on the next generation in ways we haven’t seen before. 

If you only get one side to a story, you will likely be influenced to assume it is correct. But when media censors free speech and debate, who is going to counter wrong stories (note I did not use the term “misinformation” which is a misnomer).  A lot of folks are afraid to speak up for fear of scorn and opprobrium by others. It stifles speech and cuts off debate so there is no critical thinking allowed. 

The Christian in this world has of work to do to counter this attack on the family and our freedoms.  These are attacks not just of flesh and blood, but of dark satanic forces at work in subtle ways. Paul was right in Ephesians – we need to stand firm and be equipped to fight every day and night.  Prayer and devotion to the Word of God are the only offensive weapons we have so we must use them in practical ways. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Your younger mentee is under attack but may not realize it.  You can come alongside and help light the path for him with your wisdom and experience.

FURTHER READING

The Atomized Society – Rothman

The Weaponization of Loneliness: How Tyrants Stoke our Fear of Isolation to Silence, Divide and Conquer – Morabito

To Stop Totalitarianism, We Must Understand How it Weaponizes Loneliness – Federalist 

Cancel Culture Is Toxic – Research Brief 

WORSHIP: Battle Belongs – Wickham

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It’s not good

God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1: 25

Just a few verses from the above from Genesis 1, God realized that man should not be alone and he said “it is not good for man to be alone”.  Everything else up to then had been good.

There are lots in things in life that are not good for us.  I remember my mom telling me to eat my vegetables because they were “good” for me.  I seem to recall that anything that tasted that bad couldn’t be good for me, but maybe that was just me.

I have written much over the past 6 years over the downsides of the internet, social media and the like.  It has impacted our culture in many ways, including breaking down our sense of community and it has stifled face to face conversation.  A recent study showed that 12% of people didn’t have a close friend, up from 3% just a few years ago.  I attribute that partly to the internet, although the study didn’t say that per se.

A recent article that caught my attention was a UK Coroner’s ruling that the death of a 14-year old’s suicide was directly attributable to the internet. In his determination, he basically said that the teens death was due to the “negative effects of online content”.

With my 45-year legal background, this is the first time I have seen a ruling that directly implicates social media and the internet for causation of suicide by self-harm.  I predict that there will be lots of litigation over this, and for once, I think that is a good thing to reign in social media which does a better job censoring political speech than harmful content absorbed by the next generation.

My wife and I have often thought that the violence portrayed in many of the online games and movies has had a negative effect in de-sensitizing the next generation to doing harm to others.  That’s based on observation and not a study, but most of those who do school shootings are into dark internet stuff. 

I’ve written many times over the dangers and downside of the ubiquitous smart phone which has now been linked to lower grades. Social media has also been a topic in my post titled “Un-Social Media”.  One of my first posts was 5 years ago titled “Digital Darkside” where they were discovering new mental illnesses caused primarily by the addiction to the digital world.

We are now seeing the negative results of this new world and its obsession with the digital world.  The UK case where the coroner made a ruling that the suicide of a 14-year-old was directly attributable to what she was absorbing from social media is a game changer.  I am hopeful that it will lead to reforms in the media industry to police themselves, but it should have happened long before this. 

The suicide rate for the next generation has sky-rocketed in the past several years.  It is now front and center – I have mentioned it as a problem in 38 of my posts over 6 years, so it is not new.  But having a coroner rule that social media kills is a huge development in changing the legal landscape for social media.  No more can they say things like we have controls, so it doesn’t happen.  Well, it does happen, and our next generation are dying from it.

All of this social media stuff is new.  Facebook didn’t start until 2007, which is the first year that the iPhone was introduced.  No one knew what impact Facebook, Instagram, TikTok would have on our culture. At first it was a means to keep up with your friends (that’s what I still use it for).  But somewhere along the way, the social media companies turned a blind eye to the damage they were doing.  That is about to change.

As a believer, I am saddened to see the loss of so many of the next generation who have gotten sucked into anxiety, depression and often suicide by online activity.  I have to applaud my daughter for her sense that the digital world is inherently harmful to kids. She has been a longtime advocate of controlling the input her kids were able to see – going all the way from having no cable TV at home and none of her kids had phones until they reached high school.

She was smart to see the negative trends, and her kids (my grandchildren) are the better for it. One of her daughters, Sarah, goes to a school where cellphones are not permitted on campus. When visiting the school, my daughter noticed something subtle.  The students walking across campus were engaged with each other rather than walking along like zombies staring into their phones.   

The UK is just the beginning of making changes – some changes may (and probably should) come from government regulation.  But I think the chance of liability by social media companies for suicides is going to lead to reforms that will help the next generation from something potentially toxic. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Your mentee may not see dangers in the overuse of the digital world. Those dangers are real, and you can guide them into a healthier use of smartphones and social media.

FURTHER READING

UK Teen Died after “negative effects of online content”

London Coroner Ruling 14-Year-Old Death Suicide Resulting from social media: The Wild West is Over. Fox News

The Dangers of Drug Dealers on social media

Facebook Directly Linked to Decline in Mental Health – Study

Suicide Rates for Next Generation

Social Media and Mental Health – Study

WORSHIP: 

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Good Grief


“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 
1 Corinthians 15:5

Many who read this may not remember the Peanuts cartoons drawn by Charles Schultz. It was a mainstay of American newspapers. One of his characters, Charlie Brown, was always the guy out of place.  One of his famous sayings when he got frustrated or exasperated was Good Grief.  I want to focus on the second word in this post.

This is not intended to be a dissertation about grief. There are many resources, and many churches have grief counselors who can be very helpful.  Instead, it is my journey over the past 78 years dealing with the loss of a loved one.  I learned that, in life, there is no such thing as “good” grief.

The first loss that Sis and I suffered was the death of her parents. Her mother died in 1982 due to terminal cancer. She spent her last year on this earth being made comfortable at home.  Sis and our youngest son, Richard, then 5 years old and in kindergarten, spent so much time with her at her home that Richard actually graduated from two kindergartens – one in Shelby, NC and the other in Raleigh where we lived.

That year had a profound effect on me – it led to my becoming a Christian after watching my mother-in-law deal with her terminal illness in such a remarkable and brave way. As a Christian, I learned about eternal life – something that had escaped me before.

My parents unexpectedly died a decade later. My father died of a pulmonary embolism as a result of routine hernia surgery. Although it was 30 years ago, I remember telling my mother who was bedridden in a medical facility due to a stroke. She had aphasia and couldn’t say more than 3 or 4 words at a time. The shock on her face in reaction is forever etched in my brain.

I spoke at my father’s funeral, and, then I made a mistake. A week after he died, I got on a plane and went to Tokyo on a business trip. Instead of dealing with my grief, I escaped into my legal world in a foreign country.  The lesson learned is that everyone has to go through grief in their own way.  If you skip over it, as I did, you only postpone the inevitable.  

After my father’s passing, I became my mother’s primary caregiver and visited her daily in the Springmoor medical unit. I started bringing my dog, Rosie, a long-haired dachshund, who quickly became the center of attention for my mother. Conversations were hard because of her aphasia, but she loved to just pet our dog and you could tell she loved having me bring Rosie along.  

A recent article in World Magazine highlighted the impact canines can have in helping those who are grieving to be comforted by a tail wagging dog in the aftermath of the school shootings in Uvalde, Texas.   No words are necessary.

There are five widely accepted stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. I didn’t make these up, and not every grief situation, but the depression one was one that got me.  It is a deep sadness for what has happened where very little will cheer you up. At the time my father died, I had been dealing with burnout, and his passing did not help the equation.  

Recently, we watched my wife’s brother deal with Advanced Alzheimer’s and ultimately pass away last June.  His widow spent the last several years being his caretaker over the last two years were particularly difficult as my brother-in-law went from being reasonably conversant, aware, and mobile to just the opposite in a fairly short period of time. 

I had hatched the idea of a trip out of the country – in our case to Portugal which I had never visited.  When I mentioned it to my sister-in-law, Missy, she got excited and lit up emotionally.  I knew I had struck on something that she could look forward to despite her situation.

We took the trip to Portugal in September – for 11 days. My wife and Missy spent a lot of time reminiscing over the times together with Joe, my wife’s brother.  It brought smiles, and I think helped both of them process through his absence in our lives going forward.  The picture above is from our hotel in Viana de Costelo in northern Portugal with my wife and sister-in-law in the foreground.

Why write about this in a blog on mentoring?  Children are particularly impacted and it is estimated that 10.5 million children are dealing with the loss of a parent or caregiver just because of Covid alone. Life is full of surprises, some of them unexpected.

The next generation will face the death of a loved one or close friend.  Grief is right around the corner.  The greatest cause of death of younger people today is drug overdoses and suicides.  I know that there is a swath of friends and family affected. In most cases, they are unprepared for dealing with their grief.

From my own experience I know that grief is real. It cannot be postponed or ignored. You can go into denial, but that doesn’t help you deal with it. I learned that lesson with my father, and my recent experience with my wife and sister-in-law which showed a healthy way of dealing with grief.  

As a mentor, you may have a mentee who has lost someone close – a sibling, close friend, parent, or grandparent that has affected them deeply.  You should be sensitive to the fact that the process of grief takes time and each person’s time frame may be different. 

The title, of course is deceptive. There is no “good” grief.  Dealing with the loss of a loved one is a personal journey which is often best handled with caring family and friends. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: There is a strong chance that your mentee has (or will) deal with the loss of a loved one. You can be a great resource and source of comfort to help them find acceptance and meaning. 

RESOURCES

Support Resources

Canine Comfort – World Magazine

WORSHIP:  Beneath the Waters (I Will Rise)  – Hillsong

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Through the Glass Darkly


For now we see through a glass darkly. But then shall we see face to face. Now I know in part. But then shall I know just as I also am known.
 1 Corinthians 13:12

Whenever I set out to write a blog, I hunt at the ideas that have come up over the past couple of weeks.  Some of them standout as post material; some don’t make the cut.  Every now and then, I come up with a blank (I think they call that writer’s block where you literally sit over the keyboard, and nothing comes to mind).  

That’s not the case this week, and I actually had several good post ideas, but probably none better than from James Emory White who writes a blog titled Church and Culture.  White is the senior pastor at Mecklenburg Presbyterian in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I have enjoyed his blog for several years. He is a noted author and speaker.

He is like me – scouring many sources for ideas about how culture affects the next generation. Given our Romans 1 world, there are lots and lots of topics worthy of a 900-word post.

James Emery White’s post in question is a topic I have touched on but didn’t realize the depth that he uncovered. It is titled Dark Academia.  I titled this post on that theme because “through the glass darkly” means that you have an obscure or imperfect vision of reality.  It comes from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church which is set out in the passage above. 

For us, on this side of the Cross, we have an imperfect or obscured vision of what is going on in the world – often in secret or dark places.  The post follows an article by Marianka Swain in the Telegraph.  I thought about Jesus in John 8:12 when he said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Light dispels darkness.

White’s post discusses the dark side of academia – dusty libraries in Oxbridge with “secret tomes, long haired youths writing meaningful poetry, ….and turbulent inner lives, and, at the sinister end, cult rituals performed by eerie candlelight.”  Not exactly something you would want kids getting into, but a TikTok labeled #darkacedmiahas been viewed 2.6 billion times.

On Instagram, you will find 1.7 million dedicated posts.  The largest book seller in the U.K. notes that books with dark academia themes sales have been up 325% since 2019.  This data surprised me – it’s not something I was neither aware of nor track.

The most popular books in the genre discuss “magicians, wizards, caretakers of lost knowledge from ancient civilizations, or putting supernatural spins on Jane Austin fare.”  You might dismiss this as no big thing. James Emery White, who studied at Oxford, says otherwise, and sees it as a “potential gateway drug to the occult”. He goes on to say that the genre triggers a “thirst for mysterious knowledge.”

White shifts his post to look at Norway where there has been a precipitous decline in the belief in God, and a counter surge in the fascination with ghosts and spirits. Even the Norwegian Royal family, who are required to belong the Evangelical Lutheran Church have “flirted with ghosts”. One princess of the royal family teaches people to reach out to spirits.

Roar Fotland, a Methodist preacher in Norway puts it this way: “God is out but spirits and ghosts are filling the vacuum.”  I have written about the Wicca movement in the U.S. which has taken Satan and sanitized him for the masses and is attracting the next generation in its popularity. 

In Worldview, I noted that 94% of parents have a worldview called Syncretism which is a blending of multiple worldviews where none are dominant. I provide a list of the differing worldviews, one of which is focused on the Eastern Mysticism. There is also a trend of the next generation becoming the “Nones” – that’s the self-description they put on themselves when asked which religion they follow in census inquiries.

The dark academia theme is more insidious than one would think because the next generation is following it on TikTok and other media platforms.  The views on TikTok and Instagram mean a lot of them are watching and absorbing a very counter-Christian narrative. 

One of the primary reasons I write this blog is to display cultural influences on the next generation, whether good or bad.  This one is in the latter category, and parents and mentors should be on the watch for signs that your mentee is dipping into mysticism or the occult.

This is a trend we need to keep our eye on as the next generation are obviously into. As Jesus said, “I am the light of the world”.  In His image, we should be the light of the world to those in the next generation ensnared in darkness.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Many things may influence your mentee, but this is a dark episode that needs discussion and direction.

FURTHER READING

Dark Academia – James Emory White

Through a Glass Darkly –  Sullivan

WORSHIP:  Blessed Assurance –  Third Day

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Global Trends

Why didn’t I listen to my mentors, or take my teachers seriously?   Proverbs 5:12 (The Message)

One of the resources that I read for this blog are the reports from George Barna of the Barna Group.  They are insightful and often helpful in getting into the mind and feelings of the next generation.  For mentors, this is particularly helpful. I have said in the past that differences with the next generation go beyond generational differences but are actually cultural.  

With that understanding, I attempt to lay out these differences (communication, values, feelings, emotions) so that connecting with the next generation is easier. If you understand where they are coming from, it will help you to connect at a deeper level.

The latest Barna report provides insights into things I have written about, but which are probably worth mentioning again.  These reports span the Gen Z to millennial age group of young adults between 18 and 35. Both have similar responses and Barna refers to both as The Connected Generation which is a joint venture with World Vision.

The first Barna observation based on global studies is that lonelinessisolation and anxiety were commonplace before the existence of the pandemic.  Barna notes that in 2019 only one in three felt they cared for those around them, and the same percentage felt that someone believed in them.  One in four said they felt isolated and lonely.

I can only think back to my first Gen Z mentee.  When we sat down for the first time, I always asked my one question:  Tell me about your life and how you got to where you are?  Then I took notes, sometimes pausing to ask a clarifying question.  At the end of our first session, this mentee looked at me and said: “No one has ever paid this much attention to me.” Based on Barna, I think that is a generational comment, not just from one person.

Barna goes on to say that almost half have a fear of failure, are uncertain about the future and worry about being successful.  As you can see, I have written posts on all of these topics in the past 6 years.  Barna quotes an author (Jefferson Bethke) who says, in effect, that the promise our culture is giving the next generation is to follow “an individual dream or promise.”

Bethke continues: “The meaning or connection you get from neighborhood, from family, from living in one location your whole life, from religion … all these things that really anchor you are staring to go away, one by one.”  In other words, we are living in a disconnected world, and it is having an impact on the next generation.

Barna’s next point is that there is now a crisis of leadership where the next generation, for whatever reason, are not stepping up to leadership positions which would give them experience later on in life. Yet 82% of those polled said there are not enough good leaders out there now. This was a global response, and in addition, one third believed that “what it takes to be an effective leader is changing.”

The next generation is looking to the Church “to provide real, tangible, meaningful opportunities for development”.    The CEO of Barna continues with this thought:

“They want the church to be a laboratory of leadership, not just a place for spirituality. They want their faith to intersect the realities of life and, as budding Christian leaders, they want to address real life issues.”

I want to second that thought.  The church (and all its individual members) has an obligation to pass it on to the next generation. They need to do so within the context of a culture that is declining around the world so that means they have to be “real” with the next generation in helping them to grow into effective leaders.

The last point of Barna is that a large percentage (17%) felt that the Church didn’t provide an opportunity to fight injustice.  That’s a loaded issue, given the push for Social JusticeEquity and other woke values being infused into our youth by our educational system.  No matter how you feel about those topics, you must realize that the next generation have bought into them hook, line and sinker.

What attracts millennials to church?  Some come because of friends, but many are engaged in churches that have a focus on God’s restoration of the whole creation and “reconciliation with God through Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection.”

As you can see, I have written posts on almost every topic raised by the recent Barna article. These are trends I have been following for over 6 years. I think they are important to follow because they hold the keys into attracting and retaining the next generation in the Church. 

An encouraging trend is that the millennials are returning to the church, sometimes through online services only, or a mixture of personal attendance and online.  One author, James Emory White believes that the hybrid church (online and in person) is here to stay.  I applaud his forward thinking in reaching the unreached in new ways.

In reading the Barna report, I could not help myself think about how mentors in the lives of the next generation could help the equation in so many ways. One problem:  there aren’t enough of them.  If you haven’t thought about being a mentor, now is the time to invest into the lives of someone younger. It would be a valuable contribution for the kingdom.

MENTOR TAKEWAY:  Mentors have played a role in every culture, from the time Jesus mentored the 12 disciples, and Paul mentored Timothy, Titus, and others. That model works today, too, with members of the next generation who will be our future leaders.

FURTHER READING

A New Chapter in Millennial Church Attendance – Barna

3 Key Insights About Young Adults Around the World – Barna

Hybrid is Here to Stay – James Emory White

WORSHIP:  This is My Song – North Point Worship

For more information about Mentor Link, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Smartphone Dilemma

Blessed is the one who has found wisdom, and the one who obtains understanding. Proverbs 3:13

Several years ago when my boys were in their teens, we went on a father son ski trip to Lake Tahoe.  My friends came with their sons too, and we had a glorious time on the slopes. That was at a time when I could keep up with them. That time is long past.

One of the fathers had an older son – I would guess he was in high school.  At dinner one night, the conversation revolved around what rules, if any, that parents should use with smartphones. I was all ears, because we didn’t have to contend with cellphones with our kids. It was an interesting conversation as my boys were discussing the issues.

The one takeaway from that conversation was that the older son had a cellphone, and instead of participating in the conversation he was constantly engaged looking at his cellphone.  That is a typical problem, and it has caused a lot of parental heartburn. 

Fast forward and the issue have not gone away and in fact may be bigger than ever.  A recent blog highlighted one of the issues. It is titled Advancing Time: The Smartphones Role in Dumbing Down America.  The term “dumbing down” comes from slang from the movies in the 1930’s. It meant to revise the script of the movie “to appeal to those of little education of intelligence.”

In other words, that meant dropping the content to a 5th grade education.  I experienced that some time ago when I was asked to edit a book on real estate and was told to write my legal language to the level of a seventh grader. Somehow, taking a bankruptcy phrase like “equitable subordination” doesn’t translate easily into a seventh grade educational level.

Part of the problem with smartphones is the idea that everyone deserves one.  A survey showed that 58% of 12-year-olds (6th graders) have smartphones. That study was in 2004 – it is now 75% of 12-year-olds. The higher use has not been beneficial, and schools are now assessing their policies as the come out of covid back to in-person learning.

There are two issues – one of them is that the phone is an automatic distraction. Given that Gen Z has an attention span of 6 seconds, it doesn’t take much to distract them.  So, that means they are not paying attention, among other things.

The second issue follows the first:  the distractions couldn’t come at a worse time when kids are playing catch-up from learning loss having been learning on-line. Studies show that on-line learning has been detrimental to the learning of kids in schools. So, now that the Covid emergency is over, schools are grappling with what to do.

My 16-year-old granddaughter is going away to school this fall. Her school is in Delaware and is a small school with some 350 students.  My daughter showed me their catalogue which was intriguing. After several pages of pictures of the campus and kids doing activities, you turn the page and the question is posed: “What was unique about the pictures?”

The answer was not obvious, but I liked it. What was unique was that none of the kids had a smartphone. None of them. They are prohibited on campus.  When my daughter and granddaughter visited, my daughter noticed something else. 

She observed that the kids on the campus were very focused with each other during conversation.  These kids are learning to handle interpersonal relationships without a distraction.

The policies in other schools that are being placed go from total abstinence (with penalties). A Rutgers study reported that “students in classrooms that allowed personal device use scored an average of half a grade lower, even if those particular students did not use personal devices.” That was true even for the 4% of students who had a smartphone but didn’t use it.

Some schools have adopted an “Away for a Day” where the students are to leave their phones in their lockers or at home. Either way, it’s a win based on studies. Screen time has increased by 17% a day after Covid. And it’s not just the time that’s important, it’s what they are watching. 

Diana Graber, an author and expert on kids and technology said: “with children getting news from unvetted TikTok videos instead of trustworthy, more accurate sources.” Her book is titled Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology.

These are issues for mentors, parents, and grandparents. Smartphones can be a good thing, but the downside is there. The next generation doesn’t need to lose ground in school or in life due to a smartphone.

Our next generation needs the best education available, and the Rutgers study which I cited show that just the possession of smartphone in class has detrimental consequence.  The educational and intellectual loss will follow them into adulthood where they will have to compete with others who actually learned something in school.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Many mentors, like me, are from an older generation who didn’t experience smartphones growing up.  What you do have is the wisdom of experience and helping your mentee realize that the smartphone can be a negative in his life and career may be an important thing.

FURTHER READING:

Advancing Time: The Smartphones Role in Dumbing Down America

Survey on Cellphones in America (2004)

More than Half of all Children have a Smartphone (2019) – NPR

94% of High School Students used Phones During Class

Not So Smart With Cellphones in School

Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology

WORSHIP:  New Wine –  Hillsong

For more information about Mentor Link, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Aunts and Uncles

Be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 1 Timothy 4:2

An African expression is that it takes a village to raise a child. That is so profound yet simple. In a world where there is a breakdown in family and more and more children are being raised in a single parent environment, I believe this is one solution to mentors – family members stepping up to fill roles that aren’t being provided.

You can even expand it – even if the next generation has both parents, there are often topics that they can’t or won’t discuss with their own parents but are open to discussing with others like their relatives – grandparents included.

In the MentorLink world, I am in frequent contact with a group of internationals from all over the world. Fairly standardly, I am referred to as Uncle Bill.  It is a term of friendship with a familial overtone. It makes me smile, actually. 

Decades ago, my eldest son thought about applying to a government agency that required a background and security check.  When he got the application, it required him to provide all of his family members names – siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. For my side of the family, that was no problem.

When he asked his wife who is Taiwanese – the first American born in her family – she was at a loss to provide the actual names of her relatives in Taiwan.  All she knew was that they were referred to as “No. 1 Aunt” or “No. 3 Uncle”.  She had no idea what their full names were.  My son realized that it was hopeless to try and get all of the names, so he abandoned applying for the agency.

My point of this is that aunts and uncles have differing roles in other cultures. In Africa, boys seek out an uncle, which is not the same as a mentor. He often opens doors for his protégé and may even provide financial help but is not expected to be a person who will sit down and mentor.

While mentoring need not be done by family members, I came across an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal titled Be the Favorite Aunt or Uncle You Were Destined to Become.

Since I am never sure that articles in the Journal can be accessed without a subscription (some can and some cannot), I will unpack the article in some detail.

The subtitle kind of tells it all: “Valued mentors – non-judgmental listeners -and a whole lot of fun. Aunts and uncles play important roles in families. Here is how to be a great one [aunt or uncle].”

The article starts with an anecdote from a 28-year-old who had a relationship recently broken up. She felt a conversation with her parents might be “awkward”, so she contacted her aunt and uncle whom “she knew were a second set of adults who love me and want the best for me.”

That anecdote got the author to consider the topic, so she started asking readers and others for advice “on how to be a fantastic aunt or uncle”.  Some suggested just spending time together or listening without being judgmental.

The strategies advanced are applicable to mentors, not just aunts and uncles.  They include:

  • Start Young.  Develop a bond with nieces and nephews. For the mentor, that means developing a relationship, and the earlier the better to develop trust. 
  • Don’t undermine the parents. Give them support. I have even talked to parents of my younger mentees to let them know what I am about and the role I would play in their child’s life.
  • Have an “open-door” policy.  That means be available, sometimes 24/7 in emergencies.  When a child needs advice, they will show up, particularly when they feel they can’t ask their parents. 
  • Maintain trust.  Let me repeat that:  Maintain trust. That is the essence of the relationship.  Life is full of thorny issues and have difficult answers. Going back to the “listening without judging”.  You’re not the parent, and if it’s an issue the parents should know about, help them find a way to tell them. It’s not your job and going behind their back may destroy trust

I have said many times that mentoring (or being an aunt or uncle) is not rocket science. You can be an encourager and a sounding board for the next generation who are desperately looking for good advice and a listening ear. Through practice, you can learn to ask good questions.  

Asking questions is an art unto itself to be practiced because it will cause your mentee, niece or nephew to think more deeply about whatever issue is concerning them.  You may not have the answer – your answer is sometimes not what is needed. What is needed is for your mentee to come to his or her own conclusion of the right direction. 

As the song below notes, when you are mentoring it’s not about you. “A little more like Jesus, a little less like me.”  Well said.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  You might be an aunt or uncle, or in my case, a grandparent. If so, your nieces and nephews need you to step up and get involved in their lives.  It’s an investment that will pay dividends that you may never see in the future.

FURTHER READING:

Be the Favorite Aunt of Uncle You were Destined to Be – Elizabeth Bernstein (WSJ)

WORSHIP: Less Like Me – Zach Williams

For more information about Mentor Link, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Digital Spirituality

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. Psalm 119:130

In watching the next generation grow up, I have tracked a marked push away from religion. There are lots of reasons, not the least of which is that they are often self-centered to the point of believing they can be self-reliant.  That’s OK until they hit a bump in the road. Then what?

The data is pretty clear. Back in 2018. I wrote about the increase of the “Nones” which is a designation chosen when people are asked what their religion is.  It comes from the U.S. Census which is done every 10 years. What is interesting is that 78% of those identifying as none were raised in a home where they were raised in a particular religion.

Generation Z is even more in the “none” category with 13% now identifying as having no recognized religion (2016).  Fast forward five years, and Pew study says that 30% of adults in America are now religiously unaffiliated.  That number is 5% higher in just the previous 5 years. Not a good trend line, in my opinion.

We’ve known we are living in a post-Christian world.  How does that happen?  Well, quite simply, parents and families are not doing a good job in helping the next generation to embrace Christianity (or any other religion).  It’s our job to pass it on.  If it doesn’t get passed on, it dies.

When the pandemic hit, overnight the world went virtual, using Zoom, Skype, and other software to meet and interact over the internet.  For some, it was an opportunity which hadn’t presented itself before. I attend a Friday morning bible study in Raleigh which was started by Danny Lotz some 42 years ago.  Having moved to Pinehurst, some 70 miles away, my attendance dropped unless I was visiting my daughter in Raleigh.

Then it went on Zoom, and all of a sudden, it didn’t require me to go to Raleigh. In addition, I was able to invite many international friends from all over the globe to join us, and they gladly joined in. A 7 am bible study in Raleigh is 4 pm in Chennai, India. It starts at noon in West Africa and around 3 in Kenya (East Africa).

What happened next was amazing. The internationals loved being in an American bible study, and the Americans equally loved embracing the internationals whose cultures are so different than ours. It was a marriage made possible by Covid when Zoom became a platform of communication which was available to everyone around the globe.

Churches went online at the same time, and people didn’t have to leave their houses to practice their faith. One group in particular – the millennials – have gravitated towards the online services, many of whom are interested in organized religion but without having to attend in person according to a study in Ontario.   

This study was the first to actually look at who participates in remote services and how it affects their faith.  Many found that attending religious services – even digitally – improved their mental health. 

Pastors in the post-Covid environment have been wondering what has happened to their attendance in the reality of the “New Sunday Morning.” The implications are striking, particularly for the millennials who have generally been saddled with having declining religiosity.  

Now, a Barna study has shown a dramatic improvement in that area with millennial church attendance going from 21% to 39% in the past four years.

For Gen Z, the increase was 8% from 24% to 32%.  For once, the range of church participation among all generations – Gen X to the Boomers – is now within 10% of each other, although for the Boomers (those from 55 to 75), it actually decreased.

Barna’s research shows that the increase is largely due to non-white Millennials, which is an interesting new demographic. Barna goes on to say that this data might provide some insight for pastors looking to increase their participation by non-white millennials.

Or, as it is quoted “Maybe it’s time to consider what the new opportunities are for the future Church.”  The millennial “member” may not look or act like others.  61% of them are classified as “Holders” or those who stick with one church.  Another 23% were classified as “Hoppers” who have either “moved churches or attend multiple churches.”

That means that the idea of a member may have to be broadened to consider the varied tastes of millennials, one in four of whom is termed a “Hopper”, but not a “Holder”. 

In a post Covid world, almost 20% of Church attendance is online. Another 26% do a hybrid of some online and some in-person attendance.” Millennial adults are most likely to have embraced the hybrid approach of online/in-person attendance.

This is encouraging news. I would have said that not much good came out of the pandemic with its mask mandates, lockdowns, school closures and online learning which has proved to be an educational disaster with kids falling way behind. 

But the advent of online services and online bible studies is having an impact in the spiritual arena, one which I would never would have thought of without the data.  The house of the Lord just got bigger without enlarging or adding a single building.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Encouraging the spiritual advancement of your mentee just got easier. Some of them may never darken the door of a church, but they can attend online.

FURTHER READING

Why the Nones are Leaving Religion – Pew (2016)

About 3-in-10 US Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated – Pew (2021) 

‘Digital Religion’ is Sparking a ‘Spiritual Revolution’ Among Millennials – Study Finds

A New Chapter in Millennial Church Attendance – Barna

WORSHIP:   House of the Lord – Vertica Worship

For more information about Mentor Link, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Good Questions

 One of the critical needs of the next generation is to develop the ability to do critical thinking.  Their embrace of social and digital media dumbs down the information that they absorb (or not).  Without actually retaining lessons of civics, history, or any other topic, they are ill-equipped to articulate or even discuss topics that have nuances beyond a headline.

As stated in a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) “Critical thinking is the ability to analyze and effectively break down an issue in order to make a decision or find a solution.”

The author goes on to say that at the heart of critical thinking is the ability to “formulate deep, different and effective questions.”  I agree.  In fact, one of the tasks of a mentor is to help the next generation develop the ability to ask good questions. It is an art, not a science and it takes some practice and patience.

I have written often about both dealing with questions and critical thinking which are traits to be learned by the next generation.  They have to rise above digital media and have face to face interactions during both of these (less so with critical thinking).  

The HBR article links the two of these.  I came across it recently and felt it contained good advice for both the mentor and the next generation. It’s premise, summarized above, is about developing the skill of asking good questions to lead you to good decisions or a solution. 

The HBR article by John Coleman is from a talk by Clayton Christianson, author of the book How Will You Measure Your Life.  I plan to do a post from that book in the future.  In the talk, he reminisced over how he approached being an MBA student years before.  His lessons are valuable.

He realized that the MBA School was where he learned to ask good questions. In class, he would write down insightful questions asked by other students, and then study them later to understand how they were formulated.

He came away with several steps that he suggests will help all – mentors and mentee’s alike – to ask better questions.  The first of these is to “hold your hypothesis loosely.”  

The idea is that if you are too attached to your initial answer, you might not be able to modify your assumptions when the data leads to someplace else. “Critical questions, however, may force us to fundamentally reconsider our initial conclusions, and we have to be willing to do so freely without defensiveness.”

The second step is to “listen more than talk”.  Reminds me of the saying that God gave you two ears and only one mouth and maybe he was trying to tell you something.  Abraham Lincoln, borrowing from Proverbs 17 above, put it this way: “Better to remain silent and be thought of as a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

The point is that active listening is a key to good questions. Even I have to slow down in conversations and double my intensity at listening.  Successful listening permits you to “fully grasp an argument” which will permit you to test its logic. 

The third is one of the better steps. Always ask open ended questions.  Questions that can be answered by yes or no lead nowhere. “Do you like your job?” would be replaced by something like “Tell me the thing you love about your job and what could be better?”  I think you can see how the responses will differ.

The open-ended questions also can encourage group critical thinking, which is a very valuable tool. Alternatively, another step is to consider something that is counter intuitive. The latter is really an antidote to groupthink, where the group seems to be going in one direction and no one challenges that direction or their assumptions.  You need to be unafraid to pose the question. 

The next step is to “stew in the problem”.  Be less quick to answer or question until after you have pondered the problem or issue over time.  That’s been a key for me over the years. Many a time I have had some almost insoluble issue, which, after a good night’s rest, had an obvious answer come to mind.” Sleep can actually help your brain assimilate a problem and see it more clearly”.

Rather than diagnosing the answer in the moment, Christenson found it better resist urgency and instead “stew” on the issues over a period of time. 

And lastly, develop an ability to ask a hard follow-up question. It might be more convenient to take the first answer and let it rest, but often the nuance of the issue may need follow-up questions.  You might have observed children always asking “why?”  This is the same idea only at an adult level.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:   We can all learn to ask better questions, and by working with your mentee, both of you can learn better ways of asking good questions.

FURTHER READING:

Critical Thinking is about Asking Better Questions – HBR

How Will You Measure Your Life?  – Christenson

WORSHIP:  King of Kings – Hillsong

For more information about Mentor Link, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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