Going Mental


Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. 
Psalm 71:18

The phrase going mental is a cliché and idiom for getting angry and even being a little crazy.  The recent pandemic has triggered a lot of incidents that can only be described as “going mental”.  

In a normal year, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) reports a handful of airline incidents when a passenger goes a little crazy.  This past year, it has soared almost 10 times to more than 2,500 incidents.  That’s unprecedented.  Nerves have been frayed, and people are more fragile than ever.

Some of the incidents are head shakers, like the passengers who went ballistic when they couldn’t bring falcons on board as a “support animal”.  Really?

Forbes Magazine attributed the causes of airline incidents to four major factors.  The first is that airlines are flying with fewer frequent travelers (the bulk of travelers pre-pandemic were business travelers). 

Secondly, they attribute some incidents to changing mask rules over the past year, which causes confusion. Thirdly, they suggest that people have “pandemic fatigue”. Lastly, they attribute it to increased violence in society with no consequences. I will explore that topic in a later post.

Of course,  the penalties for bad behavior – particularly over not wearing masks – is severe – often fines up to $52,000 depending on the conduct.  Airlines also have policies where unruly passengers will be banned – either for a period of time or for life – from ever flying again. 

With all due respect to the Forbes article, I would submit that the articles on unruly passengers are missing another component – one that I have warned about previously:  the pandemic has triggered an epidemic of mental illness. Unruly passengers on airlines are but the tip of the iceberg.

According to one study, 4 of 10 people in July, 2020, reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, up from 1 out of 10 back in June of 2019. A KFF Tracking Poll in 2020 found many adults reporting negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, including “difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption (12%) and worsening chronic conditions(12%)” due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. 

There have been increases in suicides, particularly in the next generation and surprisingly in young girls which was trending up before Covid. Anxiety and depression are right behind that which is particularly sobering because the next generation has shown tendencies to be the most anxious generations ever.

Many in he next generation were brought up in an environment which has been designed to smooth out the bumps of life. Helicopter or Lawnmower parenting comes to mind.  The unintended consequence is that the bubble wrapped young person has not developed defenses or resiliency to withstand events like Covid.

In other words, the next generation are often sitting ducks, and the pandemic increased isolation which has reduced healthy social interaction.  I’ve called it the Perfect Storm.  Although Covid is beginning to wane, the experts warn that the mental health issues are likely to continue for many years.

As parents and mentors, it is hard to watch, but each can be part of a solution.  For things like depression, the first step is to develop an awareness of the symptoms.  Once you realize that someone is depressed, there are lots of things that can help, including anti-depression medications. 

For the record, I have been on an anti-depressant medication for more than 30 years because my systems ability to manufacture serotonin is depleted from a couple of burnout episodes in the early 1990’s.  Much of depression comes from external stressors and  life difficulties.

The stigma of clinical depression often makes it a topic that people don’t want to talk about, but they must if the next generation is to get the help they really need. Death by suicide worldwide costs 700,000 lives a year, which is one person every 40 seconds.  Suicides are a world-wide public health issue.

Where mentors can help is to reach out to the next generation and walk alongside them. I spent last week at a Dude ranch where I interacted with a number of Gen Z members. It was a good time to get some first-hand research.  Everyone I asked would relish having someone to mentor them. No exceptions. 

That means that the demand for mentoring still exists, even in Gen Z. Millennials have always been overwhelmingly open to mentoring, so this was confirmation that the need still exists. In this post-Christian and post-truth world, the next generation is looking for someone or something to believe in that will last.  

Letting them know that their lives are precious in the sight of the Lord can be comforting and valuable. It is a gift a mentor can freely give away. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  As a mentor, you are in a great position to walk alongside someone in the next generation who may be facing difficult or overwhelming things in their life. 

FURTHER RESEARCH:  Four Causes of Increased Aviation Incidents – Forbes

The Worst Airplane Passengers in 2020 – Forbes

FAA Proposes Big Fines for Unruly Passengers

Airlines Have Banned More than 4,000 in Past Year – CBS News

Is the Country Experiencing a Mental Health Pandemic – Psychiatric Times

The Impact of Covid on Suicide Rates – NIH

Implications of Covid on Mental Health and Substance Abuse – KFF

Gen Z Burnout

Symptoms of Depression – Mayo Clinic

WORSHIP: Goodness of God – Bethel Music

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Yo Dude

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

This will appear while I am near Yellowstone Park at a Dude ranch with two of my granddaughters.  Several years ago, Sis and I made a conscious decision to arrange trips with each of our grandchildren – sometimes in clumps because there are nine of them.

By the way, a Dude is a slang word for someone who dressed up as a westerner but was really a “city slicker”.   For those who don’t ride horses frequently, it is a place to learn how to ride western style. 

So far, our trips included a European trip with Sarah, a dude ranch experience with our four grandsons.   Our last trip was before Covid with two older granddaughters which was a musical tour from Nashville, Tennessee through various cities in the southeast that had music venues, ending up in New Orleans where jazz is the focus.

We let the grandchildren have input on what and where they want to do something. We want it to be their idea, not ours. Obviously, certain venues may be off limits, particularly to grandparents who aren’t as young or agile as they once were.

Fortunately, we are in good health so that hasn’t been a limiting factor. The girls, Frances and Maggie, both 12, wanted to go to the Dude ranch where their brothers went a couple of years ago. There brothers are so jealous that they are going this year as you can see in the picture.

The thrust of each trip is to spend quality time with our grandchildren. For me, I missed out on the grandparent experience. It was a different time and my grandparents (those that were still alive) lived in California and while we lived near New York City. It was too expensive to travel back and forth, so we missed those opportunities getting to know them at an age where we could remember.

I regret that, even though I had no control over it. My grandfather was a fascinating man – a good writer whose occupation required him to move constantly. His job was to open up new offices for a brokerage firm, and then move on to the next city. My father went to 22 schools before he entered college, some of them more than once. To me though, it was a lost opportunity to spend quality time with my grandparents.

We have a lot more control of connecting today with relatively cheap travel costs. The important thing is not the trip, but the fun of experiencing life together.  Our grandsons loved the dude ranch – it was a novel experience for them, and it has helped them grow up together as cousins. 

At the end of each trip, I have been taking the many pictures and putting it in a picture book that you can make online, and then giving one to each of the grandkids as visual memory to hang on to. One picture is worth a thousand words. 

Memories are made although sometimes you have to take initiative to create the opportunity to make them happen. It doesn’t have to be a dude ranch. It can be something a lot simpler and possibly less expensive. Of course, Sis is a centerpiece of these trips – she is competitive in a good sort of way, so life is always a game, and kids love games.

This trip has a new element. When we were at the Dude ranch before, Sis and I both thought the same thing:  our son in law, Ben Fischer, would love being there. So we asked him. He said yes, and then my son Richard (Maggie’s Dad) decided to join.

All was in order until my oldest son, Bill – an uncle with no kids going – decided to come, too. All was good. It was a time for our two sons and son-in-law spend quality time with each other, too.

The lesson is for all parents, grandparents and mentors who want to connect with the next generation. Designing an activity, trip or event is not all that hard to do.  They can see you up close and personal. They often take non-verbal clues at who you are by your actions, not just what you say.

Years ago, I took a mentee on a ministry trip to Togo, and our experiences were memorable.  For a generation seeking role models and mentors, this is one thing that anyone can do. The result may impact a life for eternity.  

MENTOR TAKEWAY:  One way to get to know your mentee (and vice versa) is to do something together in a natural setting, like going to a sporting event or some other planned trip.

RESOURCES:

7D Ranch – A Family Experience in Wyoming

WORSHIP: I’m Going Free (Jailbreak) – Vertical Church Band

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Gen Z Habits

I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God to bring salvation to everyone who believes.Romans 1:16

A fascinating thing that I have learned about the next generation – initially the millennials – is that they have the same habits and act the same all over the world. The millennial in Africa is not that much different than a millennial in Richmond, Virginia, or Los Angeles, or even Pinehurst.  

I stumbled across this when visiting sub-Saharan Africa and showed a presentation on millennials to a pastor in Cameroon.  He looked at my power point presentation and said that he saw similar attributes for the most part in his country and throughout Africa. He is now using my power point presentation – slightly modified – in his ministry to other church leaders.

Generation Z (Gen Z) were born between 1995 and 2010. They are similar to millennials in terms of being uniform throughout the world. I attribute this to the digital environment which provides an inter-connectedness that didn’t exist before. 

Think back – the internet was not mainstream until the mid-1990’s and the World Wide Web wasn’t available to the public until 1993.  iPhones didn’t exist until 2007. Things like FacebookTwitterInstagram and other social media apps are less than 20 years old.

For that matter, cellphones didn’t really become mainstream until the early 1990’s.  Fast forward to today where most in the next generation have their own smart phones. They live on social media platforms or they are texting each other, even when they are sitting a few feet apart. 

So how do we reach Gen Z based on their unique habits?  One way is to understand what makes them different and figure out ways to communicate with them that will engage them to participate.

I came across an article written by Dillon Smith, a 22 year old, who outlines 7 habits of Gen Z. It is instructive.  He starts by saying that Gen Z “spend more time online, go outside less, and care about wildly different things than our parents did when they were kids.”  He admits he still spends an enormous of amount of time on YouTube, Instagram or TikTok, and that trend is probably not going away.

The 7 habits start with the ability to watch exactly who, what and when they want to. Everything is captured via YouTube or other means so they can dial in when they want. Dillon notes that watching Church online is often because parents demand it, or, more hopefully, because they care about what you have to say.   

A member of Gen Z has a 6-second attention spanwhich is less than a goldfish which has a 9 second attention span.  That means that 10 seconds of “boring” will cause them to tune out.

The second habit is something I have written at length about. In order to connect, Gen Z needs to get to know you. It’s about relationships which build trust. A weekly sermon is insufficient, so producing more personal content online is important. Several on YouTube have mastered this like Matt Carriker on his OffTheRanch channel which has over 15.26 million subscribers. 

The third is that Gen Z is into self-branding – seeking an identity to promote to others. Not sure this is a good idea because it is so me-me-me centered instead of thinking of others first. For churches, that might mean taking the focus away from the Sunday experience.

The fourth habit is Gen Z hates when their parents infringe on them on social media. Not surprised at this. That’s why TikTok has exploded. Maybe having someone young at Church attempt to tackle TikTok.   Just sayin….

The fifth habit is partially a product of a Woke world – if you want to reach Gen Z, “having a diverse church is not optional”. If you want a diverse church, you might look at the Church Pulse podcast where they said : “Young adults aren’t leaving the church, they’re leaving the white church.”  

The sixth habit is that Gen Z is experiencing a decline in mental health and they know it. This is where mentors can lean in, because a sermon series isn’t going to help a generation who are “plagued with anxiety.”

The last habit is disturbing and sad.  When speaking to non-Christians, Gen Z needs to lead with an apology.  Most in the 16 to 30 age range have had experiences about how the church has hurt them or their families.  This is a far cry from what Paul says in Romans 1:16

Dillon Smith tweeted this last week:  “Too often it feels like I am a Christian in spite of the Church rather than because of the church.“  He was shocked at the large response and retweets from Gen Z Christians who felt the same.

Dillon suggests that the church needs to a positive message telling what they are FOR, not what they are against.  I agree. Christianity is not about being negative, yet somehow that message creeps in.

I have always thought that reaching the next generation is going to be a challenge to old ways of doing things.  We need to be creative to reach this vast audience which is soon to be the largest segment of our population. 

Dillon Smith’s article just reinforces what I have been writing about for several years. Reaching the next generation is likely to happen outside the four walls of the church. Mentoring them is an arrow in the quiver of any church yet most churches have neglected developing or encouraging mentors.  

MENTOR TAKEWAY:   Gen Z will listen to a mentor who has developed a relationship with them and whom they can trust.

FURTHER READING:  Off the Ranch YouTube Channel – Carriker

Seven Trends of Generation Z that Your Church May be Ignoring – Dillon Smith

9 Important Insights about Generation Z –  Josh McDowell

WORSHIP: Goodness of God – Bethel Music

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Civil (ization)

                                               

 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.Proverbs 15:1

The word civility shares the same root word as citizen. Citizens of a common nation survive largely because they enter into an implied contract that they need each other. Individual citizens have a role to play for the collective benefit and laws are created to balance mutual responsibilities to one another. 

These are interesting times in our world. Almost without exception, every topic, every issue has two sides. Yet, I continually see an erosion of the ability to discuss them in a rational non-angry way. Putting “civil” back into civilization is the basis for our society to function smoothly.

In 2009, Mark DeMoss founded the Civility Project. He asked 585 members of the U.S. Congress to pledge to use only civil rhetoric in public discourse.  The pledge required a person to be respectful of others whether or not you agreed with them, and to stand against incivility when it occurred.

After 2 years, only 3 had signed up, and the project was disbanded. Instead of getting positive responses, DeMoss received emails from both sides that were vitriolic and profane.   

That was 12 years ago. It’s not hard to trace how we got here.  Much of our incivility today comes from a Marxist movement which, at its center, desires to divide us by race. That one theme is the center of much controversy. 

Antonio Gramasci would be proud – he was one of the early Marxist thinkers who changed the original Marxist idea of creating cultural divisions through the exploitation of economic classes.  Instead, Gramasci realized that the western world lent itself to creating divisions based on ethnic or racial issues rather than economic ones.

His thinking can be seen in Prairie Fire, the 1970’s manifesto of the Weather Underground, a designated domestic terrorism group. It is available on Amazon today. I detailed its contents  hereand they are worth a look. Many Weathermen leaders were prosecuted, and many more dropped from public view and returned to academia where they have had an impact over the past decades. 

One convicted alumni of the Weather Underground – Susan Rosenberg – currently sits on a board that raises money for the Black Lives Matter movement. The 1619 Project and current Critical Race Theory is part of the new ideology which is more theology than ideology, making it hard to counter. 

The point is that academia has been instrumental in creating racial tensions, and it continues today with a vengeance.  It has poisoned the minds of the next generation into accepting a doctrine which is based on historical fallacy and is anti-God, anti- family and not biblical. 

I recently spoke to a friend who is the sole white woman in her office. She feels isolated and is openly scorned because of her race, something she has no control over. She doesn’t know how to respond to criticism, fearing any pushback will only blow up and escalate. 

While I don’t have magical solutions, I thought I would tackle how we inject civility in a very uncivil culture.  One key is being polite – exercising grace to those around you even though they may not deserve it. For Christians, being filled with grace is a good witness. 

The second suggestion is to disagree without showing disrespect.  One of the great lines from The Gambler, a country and western song is: “Know when to hold them and when to fold them.”  Sometimes disagreement may require turning the other cheek. Put another way, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

As a believer, you have the right to your opinion. Jesus didn’t bend on essential truths that He asked us to live by.  Conflict is unavoidable, but combat is a choice.  Before we move into combat, one might want to try and have an opportunity to understand the differences. That might mean building bridges, not blowing them up.

The racial controversy is a difficult topic even between Christian brothers who actually love each other. I attend a bible study on mornings which is composed of about 20% minority participants. They are all my brothers. Last year, we asked them to speak about their personal experiences of discrimination.

It was heart-wrenching, and many tears were shed. We just listened and lamented with them. Their experiences should never happen in a country that was designed to provide freedom to all races.  My own daughter in law is Asian and has endured discrimination over her lifetime as well. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. 

Recently, Marvin Olasky profiled a chapter from a book titled “Why Didn’t We Riot” by a black professor at Davidson College which is located in North Carolina. The book is World Magazine’s runner up for book of the year in 2020.  The chapter is worth a read because it is one man’s story of his experiences – similar to what we heard on a Friday morning from my black friends.

Clearly, I am sympathetic to the injustices that have occurred to blacks and minorities over time. But the narrative being pushed that it is all the white race’s fault and that they are oppressors and blacks are victims is not a bridge but a battle. As Tony Dungy says, “God wants us to build bridges, not walls, wherever possible”.

The next generation have been steeped in these racial narratives to the point of indoctrination. They don’t know history and favor socialism which is the goal of Marxism.

There are difficult discussions ahead, but ones that will have to happen and hopefully, grace and civility will be the centerpiece.  As Christians, you can understand past injustices, but you also know that the solution is civility leading to bridges not division.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentors are in the perfect position to dial into these kinds of issues by providing a correct historical and biblical solution to race.  

FURTHER READING:  Antonio Gramasci: The Godfather of Cultural Marxism

Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism

The Crazy True Story of the Weather Underground

Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World – Mouw

Why Didn’t We Riot: A Black Man in Trumpland –  Isaac

The Child Soldiers of Portland – Rufo

WORSHIP:  Grace Flows Down – Nockels

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Identity

And he [Christ] himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NET)

I wrote on this topic on 5 years ago based on millennials finding their identity based on what they did, as opposed to who they were. Finding your identity is largely self-definition according to Zygmunt Bauman in his 1996 essay titled “From Pilgrims to  Tourists – A Short History of Identity.”

Bauman’s essay makes some interesting points. In the rural culture of villages before the industrial revolution, no one really worried about their identity. He writes: “The modern ‘quest’ for identity is a response for the inability of people to clearly project who they are to others.”  

Bauman describes the post-modern identity in the late 20th Century. He described the ‘Pilgrim’ who had fixed boundaries and direction, but that the new moderns were “flexible, mobile and unattached”. Thus, moderns would not be tied down to old anchors such as “fixed addresses, professions or relationships (like spouses and children).”

Bauman created with four types of identity:  tourist, stroller, vagabond and playerThey all had one thing in common – they all resisted traditional values of investing in “daily work of building a resume, a business, a family” according to Richard Gibson. 

Bauman’s tourist and the stroller are both observers – they are passively involved in the world, just taking it all in. The vagabond was the bane of modernity – he has no set destination in a world defined by what you do. He is always out of place and a maverick.

The ‘player’  is in the game to win and there is “no room for compassion, commiseration or cooperation.” A player lives from game to game – no long term goals involved.

Gibson critiques Bauman’s work and says, among other things, that he finds there are a lot pilgrims with traditional values around. Thank goodness. But Bauman, in 1996, couldn’t see what the digital age would do to his identity types.

Gibson adds the ‘I-Marketer’ who is building a digital brand on social media. “Life is now a [media] marketing campaign in which the product is you.”  Self-promotion is “in”. 

Gibson replaced Bauman’s ‘stroller’ with a ‘strider’. A stroller is an observer, or as Bauman notes, a stroller is “in the crowd” but not “of the crowd”. A strider, on the other hand, does everything intentionally and is part of the show. Going to church or entering a race for a cause or charity is not just for exercise but to have a public witness to the crowd.  

These characterizations are superficial.  They continue the trend of defining yourself by what you do, not who you are. They also lack any spiritual component which was present in the original Pilgrim.   The post-modern goal is to “find out who I am” without a broader inquiry of values or a spiritual context.

No doubt, in another decade, sociologists will come up with newer identities, not just ones shaped by recent technology. I pray that more Pilgrims will surface. 

I read these kinds of essays to get a look at how a post-modern, post-Christian views the world. This is where the millennials and Gen Z are, so I see these as insights into their worldview and mindset.

recent survey showed that 43% of millennials “don’t know, don’t care, [and] don’t believe in God.”  Less than half of millennials believe that you treat others as you want them to treat you. That’s down from 90% four generations ago – the “silent” or “builder” generation – who were born after World War I. 

I am now 38 years after my own faith experience.  My identity before was a lawyer trying to earn a living for my growing family. When I became a Christian, I learned that God had given me a purpose and had gifted me in certain ways for the benefit of the Kingdom, not for my own purposes.

When I came across the above passage in Ephesian 4 (plus others in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12),  I found my gifting which pointed me in the direction God wanted me to go. 

Early on, I struggled with my new perspective. God put me in leadership positions both in my church and my law career that I had shunned before. I also struggled with becoming the spiritual leader of my household, a role I didn’t know I had.

The identity issue, from a Christian standpoint, is not so much “who” we are but “whose” we are. We have an identity in Christ – in all that we do. That is what unifies us. We are sons and daughters of the King. 

While our paths and careers are different and diverse, we all have roles to play in the Kingdom. We have been gifted differently but we have the same Kingdom purpose. Realizing those gifts and talents can help us find what God was up to when He made you.   And the bible is clear that we are gifted not just for the here and now, but also to reach future generations.

The next generation has a singular postmodern focus on determining “who I am” as opposed to the modernist focus on “what you do”.   They need models to show them that they have a larger purpose in life than just finding an identity. That’s where mentors can come alongside and help guide them.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentors can help a mentee realize his strengths, gifts and talents, and also to provide a spiritual context for finding his or her identity and purpose.

FURTHER READING:  From Pilgrims to  Tourists – A Short History of Identity – Bauman

From Pilgrim to Tourist to….. ?   Gibson

Analysis of History: The Story of Premodernism, Modernism and Postmodernism –Kalan

43% of Millennials “Don’t know, Don’t care, Don’t Believe God Exists – Christian Post

WORSHIP: When God Made You – Natalie Grant

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Agon

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. 1 Corinthian 9:24-26 (NLT)

No, that’s not a misspelling. Agon is the Greek word for race in the above passage.  It is also the root word for agony.  It signifies a race where endurance and determination have to overcome times of difficulty which occur in any race.

If you have ever been a runner, that will make sense to you. I started running in my 30’s as a means of staying fit.  Every now and then, I would try some local races – a 5K or 10K, for example. If you are just running for exercise, you often don’t press, but a race is different, and training for one requires a different mindset.

The first race I ever ran was in Raleigh called, aptly, The Great Raleigh Road Race.  It was a 10K race which was a challenge to someone who had  never run a race before.  My goal was simple: I wanted to finish.  

I remember running at a pace which would easily enable me to get through the race.  As I approached the last part of the race, I felt I had enough stamina to speed up for a fast finish.  As I started to kick it, I passed a racer who was lying on the ground and looked blue – he had obviously overtaxed himself. 

One look was enough, and I slowed back down.  I did finish, by the way, standing up.

Paul, in the above passage, says run to win.  For me, it was a run to finish, but that was a “win” in my mind. Running was a new sport for me, but one that served me well over those years when I traveled a lot and other forms of exercise would have been difficult. 

Some modern educational philosophies run counter to the idea that competing at sports has a goal of winning.  Instead, win or lose, children are given participation trophies with the idea that it helps their self-esteem. I think that is misguided.

Being competitive has benefits  because learning about winning and losing develops resiliency in the long run. That is an important lesson that only can be learned through the personal experience of facing adversity (like losing a race or a game) and committing to improve.

One of the traits of the next generation is that many parents have tried to protect them in bubble wrap so that they don’t experience failure.  The “helicopter parents” come to mind. They hover over their children, so they only have positive experiences and live live in a risk-free environment.

Another is the “lawnmower parent” where the parent literally mows down every obstacle or bump in the road in their child’s way. Unfortunately, this leads to unintended consequences. Their children don’t face adversity, and thus do not learn to be resilient.

Many in the next generation are struggling emotionally and mentally with the pandemic and isolation. They have faced little failure or adversity and are often unprepared for events like this. They are the most scared of COVID, even though they are the least at risk. 

A friend of mine wrote a blog where he described his 90 year-old mother and the lessons he learned from her. One quote caught me:  “She made us laugh and believed that into each life some rain must fall.”  A child protected from all adversity doesn’t know how to react when it rains. 

Paul takes the race metaphor of running to win to a spiritual level when he describes the race of life to be a quest for the eternal prize. In a post Christian world, that is a message that has been lost to the next generation. Many are often too self-absorbed to see the larger picture.

What better place to take our God given talents and gifts to pursue kingdom goals to reach others?  What does that look like?  Well, it is more than just showing up in church now and then.  That would be like an easy jog in the park. 

To me, it means “running” with discipline and perseverance in serving those who need our help. It means accepting those different than us, loving those who disagree with us and yet never compromising our Christian values.  It might mean giving ourselves away sacrificially, or just doing little things that shows our character when nobody is watching. It might also mean being a mentor.

The next generation needs to learn to run with excellence. It is a path to a life fulfilled. They may need a coach or mentor to come alongside to encourage them when they face life issues or bumps in the road.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Your mentee is a gem in the rough who might need some encouragement or edges smoothed in order to attain what God has in his or her future.

FURTHER READING:  Helicopter Parenting: From Good Intentions to Poor Outcomes – Gottman Institute

The “Lawnmower Parent” is Destroying Future Generations – Mel

WORSHIP: Glorious Day – Passion

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Sex (Or Not)

 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.  1 Corinthians 7:2

This is not going to be about the gender debate, which is a separate issue. I have long watched trends and values of millennials and the next generation – actually the trends started with the Boomers from the days of the 1960’s where young people threw off biblical values when it comes to sex and marriage.

There are several trends at play. One of them is that the birth rate in the past year has dropped to the lowest levels since 1979, which was over 40 years ago. The birth rate has been trending down before COVID, but the pandemic and other factors played in. 

One of the other factors is that millennials have had a hard time finding their financial foothold since the recession of 2008 and are playing catch up. 

The low rate of births is not just a U.S. phenomenon – it is worldwide issue based on a Lancet Study.   They [Japan and Italy] are two of 23 countries – which also include Spain, Portugal, Thailand and South Korea – expected to see their population more than halve.”

That’s a very sobering long term trend. It will upend the social order in countries like Japan which has an aging population. Japan’s economic base of an increasingly younger population will be insufficient to pay for social services that will be needed by the larger retired population.

Professor Murray, in the Lancet Study, also notes that unless women start deciding to have more children, “eventually the species disappears, but that is a few centuries away.”  

Which leads to my second trend of increasing cohabitation among supposedly “Christians” prior to marriage. Is this the new norm?  A Pew Study in 2019  showed that half of American Christians think that casual sex is “sometimes or always” morally acceptable.  I checked with my international friends, and this seems to be not just an American trend. 

While Evangelical Christians were less likely to accept casual sex, a new study shows that Evangelicals have a wider acceptance of cohabitation, rather than casual sex. In other words, as each generation goes forward, mores and biblical views  of the marital institution are being slowly eroded. 

Pew study in 2019 showed that 58% of white evangelicals approve of cohabitation if a couple plans to marry. In another study, forty percent of Evangelicals in their 20’s thought cohabitation was acceptable without an intent to get married. 

Our media and Hollywood have been complicit for decades in portraying sex outside of marriage as normal behavior. In most romantic shows on television or movies, a couple sleeping together is a shown as normal step in a relationship.  

As one of my astute friends commented, whatever is being portrayed as normal in the media, movies and on television today will result in a cultural change to that “new” normal in 10 years.  One only has to look back on television reruns to verify that observation.

I think that portrayal actually is a disservice to the institution of marriage because it places intimacy outside of marriage as “normal, expected and problem free”, according to Tony Dungy. 

It is an idealized and distorted picture, but one that even Christians seem to accept.

The goal of dating is friendship first – that’s the way it worked for me with my wife some 55 years ago. We became best friends (and we still are) who then became soul mates, leading to marriage. And then sex. We have lived through ups and downs, grown three children and have 9 grandchildren.

All I can say is the formula worked for us. She completes me in ways that is hard to express, just as God made Eve to complete Adam.

Changing the order by cohabitating before marriage can have long-term consequences, and according to the research, those consequences are not good ones.

Studies show that those who cohabitate were more likely to become less satisfied with sex over time. George Bernard Shaw warned that strong sexual attraction may exist between two people so incompatible in tastes and capacities that they “could not endure living together for a week, much less a lifetime.”

Other consequences: A study in 2018 by the Journal of Marriage and Family showed that couples that cohabitated before marriage were at greater risk of divorce. Given that the divorce rate hoovers around 50%, that means that only a small minority of those marriages will survive. Not good odds. 

How can this cultural assimilation be slowed?  The answer is for parents and mentors to emphasize the sacredness of marriage as a norm and worth preserving. That’s probably simpler said than done, but regular instruction by parents, ministers and mentors in the biblical model of the institution of marriage is a key. As I said, Paul’s formula, if followed, actually works.

They need to be taught not just the “what” (what the Bible says), but the “why”,  and  be shown “how” it is to be lived out. To many in the next generation, the Christian view of sex and marriage is like a foreign language, and the wider culture is winning the battle.

Paul is very clear in his letter to the Corinthians what the biblical view is on marriage and sex.    Christians should not be afraid to speak up about this cultural issue which is not beneficial to the long term survival of our species nor the creation of healthy long lasting marriages.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Mentors and parents need to stand in the gap for the next generation who have been lulled into thinking cohabitation is acceptable. 

FURTHER READING:  Birth Rate Slumps to Lowest Level Since 1979 – WSJ

Fertility Rates: ‘Jaw Dropping” Global Crash in Children Being Born – BBC News

Is Christian Co-habitation the New Normal – Christian Post

Half of Christians Think Casual Sex is Acceptable – Pew Research

Marriage and Cohabitation in the US – Pew Research

WORSHIP: When God Made You – Natalie Grant/Newsong

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Being Positive

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

One of the things I like about writing a blog is I get to choose topics and there is always something different to write about.  In this past year, I have attended a Zoom meeting online with the former wrestling coach at the University of North Carolina, Bill Lam.  Bill is in the sports hall of fame and his teams won the NCAA championships under his tenure.

One of the attendees on his Zoom calls is Erich Kopsch who also has a sports background and hosts a Facebook group that has a focus on PMI, or Positive Mental Attitude.  He uses short quotes from a variety of sources to underscore how our attitude really can control our destiny.  

I sent him a post about my golf coach, George Jacobus, who was really the first mentor in my life. Erich used one of the quotes on his FB page.  When he did that, it reminded me of things I didn’t say about George which have occurred to me after the fact.

I realized that in all of his instruction to me over the years, George always gave instruction as a positive thought, never a negative one.  In other words, he never said:  “you are doing this wrong” – which is a negative. His correction was always “do this”.  So, while you may not have known precisely what your mistake was, you always knew the right thing to do by remembering his instruction.

Basically, that’s accentuating the positive by making you focus on doing something rather than not doing something. Trying to correct a swing error by focusing on not doing something is a waste of time.  That lesson applies to life as well which I learned as I turned into an adult.

The U.S. Secret Service, in addition to having the responsibility of protecting the President and Vice-President of the United States, also have a function with the U.S. Treasury in combatting counterfeiting.  Instead of studying counterfeit bills, they study genuine currency. From that, they know what the real bills look like and can easily detect a fake one. Again, it’s a focus on the positive, not the negative.

Even in bringing up children, creating a positive role model is probably one of the best ways to demonstrate a picture to follow. Your actions often speak louder than words.  Being an encourager is important to the next generation. They need to have a mentor or parent cheering them on.

My wife, Sis, is probably the most positive person I know. She always looks at life through the lens of a glass half full rather than half empty. Her positive spirit and attitude have rubbed off on our children and I see the same traits in them with my grandchildren.  Studies consistently show that positive parenting will benefit kids later in life. 

Even Paul realized the importance of having a positive mental attitude.  Instead of dwelling on the negatives (i.e. don’t do this), he accentuated the positive by saying focus on positive things in Philippians 4.  His list of positives ends by saying “think on these things.”

Great advice for the ages, then and now.  In my career, I saw positive things in people that I admired.  It could have been an attitude, a skill or a talent.  One of those people was a man named Sorton Jones, who was the Chairman of my law firm when we merged in 1985.  

Sorton had a writer’s gift that is hard to describe. At a time before computers were commonplace, he could write about something complicated like a merger using simple words and concepts that were so clear that there was no need to elaborate. 

As I honed my own writing skill in my professional career, I often thought of Sorton’s brilliance in taking a complex topic and writing about it in plain, concise and clear language. 

Again, the focus of my writing was to follow the positive example that Sorton demonstrated to me.  I still think of how important his positive influence was to me over the years.

Today, we have a next generation that, in many ways, are impacted by negative things going on around them. COVID is one, but there are other cultural things that have caused them to be overly anxious, depressed or even having mental health issues.    

They need some positive role models in their lives.  People like George Jacobus who taught me more about life than about golf. His lesson for me was that you were a gentleman first and a golfer second and not to get those two mixed up.   Being a gentleman carried with it the responsibility to maintain composure while playing golf and not lose your temper. 

In this day, adults need others to come alongside the next generation as mentors to be positive influences for their lives and their careers. I recall the lament of a millennial female friend of mine who said: “where are all of the mentors, particularly the men in the church?”

Good question. I have used her quote in my mentoring presentation for several years and it is a cry that is still out there. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  One of the traits of a mentor is to be a positive influence on the next generation. They might not have had positive role models in their life before.

FURTHER READINGPositive Parenting Can Have Lasting Effect for Generations –Oregon State University

WORSHIP:  The Stand – Hillsong

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Socrates

But understand this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of or comes from one’s own [personal or special] interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter1:20,21 (AMP)

Most people recognize the names of Greek philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and  Socrates.  Yet, most in the next generation have no idea what they contributed to Western civilization.

Socrates, for one,  was a Greek philosopher who lived 400 years before Christ. He is known today for his profound impact on western thought and philosophy.  We still use the Socratic Method of teaching. It still is considered one of the best means of teaching critical thinking

It’s a teaching model used by most law schools today.  Instead of dishing out content, its method is to ask questions – one after another – to promote discussion and reasoning.  Unlike the didactic method, which is the lecture model, it requires participation of the group.  

It is also the method favored by the next generation who learn best by collaborationThere is  a trend in schools to use “flipped” classrooms” which mimics the Socratic method. A teacher becomes a facilitator, guiding the discussion rather than handing out information. 

We do the same at MentorLink in our presentations. We use the Bible as the basic text to teach leadership truths but do it by having the participants read the passage and then we ask sequential questions to help them glean the content. It is a continuous Q&A.

We provide an opportunity for small group discussions with each assignment.  We have found this to be the best method for transformation because the students “get it” on their own and it has a more lasting impact. 

Socrates is not just significant because of his method of instruction. He also took on the Sophists of his day who believed that truth was subjective, and one should make decisions by what they felt was “true” inside themselves. 

There was no absolute truth and relativism dominated decisions. Sophists were teachers of thought, not of truth.

Socrates, on the other hand, believed that truth was objective and occurred outside of an individual. You were created with a moral compass and by using rational thought and analysis, you could determine what is actually true and what is not based on facts. 

Does this sound familiar?  We are running into sophists today. Many of them are in the next generation.  They haven’t learned the skill of critical thinking, and most of their decisions are based on their intuition, feelings and emotion.  

Sophists exist in the area of biology today. They turn a blind eye to objective biological reality that sex is determined at birth based on chromosomes and different sexual organs.. Instead, they have determined that if you feel that you are a different gender, Voila!  Totally subjective

The progressive push for being Woke is another manifestation.  While racism has been a problem since the beginning of time, the language used to deal with it is based on emotion.  Real facts or actual history doesn’t matter.  If you are white, you are a racist by definition and you can’t deny it. Oh, and now public roads are racist, too. 

A friend of mine, Jolene Erlacher, said that in meeting with millennials, approximately 80% make decisions based on emotion, not facts, reasoning or objective truth.

former law partner  recently said on Facebook, that it is up to each of us to “determine what is true and what is false.”  Effectively, he was saying  “truth is what I say it is. Period. No discussion, no dialogue, no critical thinking allowed. 

Said differently, subjective truth is not based on reality, facts or reasoning. If you are a sophist today, you get to determine your own facts, your own narrative and your own truth. That’s what Peter was fighting in the early church, and what Socrates fought in the 5th century BC.

Our media has become a classic example of sophistry in action.  Articles distort the facts (or, alternatively, ignore the facts) leading to irrational conclusions. When they are wrong, no one apologizes or corrects their mistakes. 

The death of a capitol police officer on January 6 is a prime example. His death, according to the media at the time, was due to being hit by a protester with a fire extinguisher. The media portrayed his death as the result of violent protesters who should all go to jail forever. Yesterday, the DC Medical Examiner reported his death was from natural causes and that he had no head trauma. That’s what one could call an “inconvenient” fact.

Emotional thinking does not replace critical thinking. If my decisions were based on how I was feeling at the time, I would be making bad decisions on a regular basis.  Deferring to social media for an answer only leads one to asking others for their emotional input and is the blind leading the blind.

it might come as a shock to the next generation that Socrates is alive and well in our culture. Socrates was passionate about having critical thinking replace emotional responses from the sophists of his day.  A world dictated by feelings is a bad idea. 

The challenge here is that the next generation is historically ignorant about philosophers like Socrates who have a continuing relevance today. We, as mentors, can stand in the gap for them.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  One of the skills of a mentor is to ask good questions which requires the mentee to think about why he has an opinion. It is a good start to develop critical thinking.

FURTHER READINGSocrates and the Sophists

The Sophists and Socrates: A Complex Relation –VoegelinView

Devil’s Advocate – Rise of the Modern Sophist  – Jain

How Do We Prepare  for  the Collaboration Generation – Wired

What Does the Bible Say about Sophistry –  Bible Tools

Discovering What is True – Richard Simmons

WORSHIP: What a Beautiful Name – Hillsong

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Damage Control

Even when I am old and gray,
    do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
    your mighty acts to all who are to come. 
Psalm 71:18

I recently met a man who does HR consulting for companies, both large and small.  We got into an interesting conversation of our common interest:  millennials in the workplace. He said company after company were having issues with millennials that didn’t exist years ago.

He cited one company that elevated a 29 year old to be the supervisor of 14 people. He said that it was a disaster.  The young man may have had the technical skills and aptitude for the job, but he was totally without any social soft skills or, EQ.  EQ refers to Emotional Intelligence.  

Some people are wired without natural soft skills, but most of the millennials have become that way through no real fault of their own.  In my law days, I had one lawyer in my office who lacked any sense of social savoire faire which usually surfaced when he was working on a difficult matter.   About once every three months, I would have to go into his office and tell him “Tom (not his name), you’ve done it again.”  

His response was always one of surprise.  He had the interpersonal social skills of an anvil dropped off a ten story building. Once in a while he managed to verbally step on a staff person (figuratively, of course).  He was totally unaware which is the reason for my frequent intrusions.

The pandemic has only made it worse. Isolation from others (even via social media) has only deepened a problem that existed before, largely due to  digital natives who don’t have much experience with face to face interactions.  

A recent article from Tim Elmore struck me as one solution that I hadn’t thought about. The topic was SEL (Social and Emotional Learning). SEL is the skill set required to have reasonable social skills in all settings. Some people have it naturally; others have to learn the skills. 

What struck Elmore is that, for some reason, we have defaulted to the schools to teach SEL. One of the teachers at his event posed the question:  “How do we get parents to help us teach SEL when the children are at home?”  Bingo.

Elmore had one of those moments of what I refer to as the blinding glimpse at the obvious,  “Parents and communities ((not schools) for the entirety of human history” have taught these skills until they were collected up and labeled SEL and introduced in the schools. That was the way it was up until as recently as 30 years ago. 

Elmore looks at who should be in charge of the social and emotional development of our children. It is not a hard question nor a trick question, by the way. His conclusion:  Parents or adults other than teachers. He gives five suggestions as to how to achieve that. 

The first is to develop self-awareness. Try using things like self-assessments. The old model was Myers-Briggs Test, but now there are Value AssessmentsStrength Finder or The Big Five Personality Test.. Each is designed one to discover your uniqueness within a family. I have used these many times in mentoring and have found them helpful.

Self-Management with your family is the second where each member determines an area or two where they lack discipline (e.g. brushing teeth every day). Then each member commits for a week to practice three steps with a follow up session to see what worked/didn’t work.

The third is to develop social awareness by watching documentaries available online on topics that cover social issues that are not familiar to your family. Netflix has a list, but there are other sources, too. The idea is to discuss what life looks like for the people involved and how they felt about the issue they are facing.

Next is helping them build relationships. Have your next generation list on a piece of paper the people they consider part of their “support network”. Have them assign a role (only one role per person):  heroes (people that you look up to), mentors (people who coach); role models (people who do what you want to do) ; inner circle (those closest who are like family); mentees (those that learn from you); and partners (those that hold you accountable).

Are there any gaps or anyone on the list that one needs to reconnect to?  We really need all of those role players in our lives.

Lastly, and most importantly, help them make responsible decisions. Take an issue – even a local one – that your community is facing that does not have an obvious solution. Brain -storm to see how what options there are, what people should be consulted, how they would decide and what values drove them to their conclusion.  This helps develop critical thinking which is a skill that has declined in the next generation.

What is interesting is that each of these steps can be used by Mentors in helping their mentees prepare for a world where soft skills are needed more than ever.  Sarenz, in his book, concludes that taking time to develop and consciously engage in social skills results in having our deep core beliefs “drive our behavior automatically.”  Good stuff.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  One of the important and often forgotten roles that the next generation needs is a mentor willing to invest in their life.  Do it today if you haven’t already.

FURTHER READING:  Why SEL Has to Be More Than a Class – Elmore

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership -Learning How to be More Aware – Mind Tools

The EQ Intervention – Adam Saenz

WORSHIP: Moment of Awareness – CrossWise 

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