Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Importance and Proper Use of Words: Quality Time vs. Quantity Time

Donuts at Ultimate Club. :-)
This concludes a 2017 series on the importance and proper use of words. 

In ‘90’s, the concept of “quality time” was a popular cultural topic. As our society became busier (even before ubiquitous internet, smart phones, and the prevalence of long-distance commuting), some psychologists and pundits advocated for spending quality time with one’s children in lieu of shrinking hours in a day in our modern world. Stats accompanying this social trend cited the emaciated time that parents (especially fathers) spend with their kids—some claiming seven minutes a week—with the implication that as long as we know we have limited time, we might as well make it a quality experience.

Being a somewhat relational person myself, I’ve never been a fan of the above argument—that one can make up for busy-ness by simply justifying next-to-nothing time spent with a loved one, friend or mentee as “quality.” Yes, I firmly believe that life is short; I freely admit that my own goals and responsibilities often shortchange my time devoted to others (often favoring tasks or personal goals); and I agree with author Gary Chapman that Quality Time (“giving someone your undivided attention”) is one of The Five Love Languages. But in my experience, there are no detours to get to quality time. We need to go through the ages-old route of “quantity time.”

Here at JUGHEADS, that’s why we offer snack and game time: not only to juggle together, but to eat and play together (however haphazardly, especially for late-arrivals and early departures). That’s why we offer special events, such as Jingle Jam, juggling festivals, gigs, our summer picnic & parades, and the Showcase. That’s why our SLT has a fall retreat and meets monthly. And that’s why we celebrate our graduating seniors every year at JJ, since it is special to extend one’s quantity time commitment through the end of high school.

I’m a Type A personality in most everything I do. Even my days off are marked by my daily disciplines of Bible reading, exercise, chores, neglected tasks, etc. However, the sweetest thing about those days off is that I often have about 3-6 hours of completely discretionary time to catch up on reading, contact a friend, host a family for a movie night, or enjoy a long conversation with Wendy over Sunday brunch. Similarly, the rhythm of activities at JH is always purposeful—warm-ups, meetings, records, rehearsals—but even those activities are designed to bring a quality experience to the members and leaders. Our staple offerings use quantity time to get to the quality time of a myriad of connections, a place to belong, a home away from home, and young lives made better and equipped with long-term virtues to spread “quality” to many others they meet for a lifetime.

I’ll end with two favorite related cliches: “Love is spelled ‘T-I-M-E,’” and “Everything takes longer than it does.” Quality time comes through quantity time. Be purposeful even on days off with down time to spare, but be careful to not pretend that connections can be made, nurtured and sustained like a microwave, drive-thru, or by osmosis. For such a time as this, JH exists to offer quantity and quality time to children and youth while encouraging families to do the same.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Importance and Proper Use of Words: Urgency vs. Importance

This is my 9th of 10 columns on the importance and proper use of words. 

When I was a newlywed and young youth director, a wise associate pastor gave our church this admonishment: “Never let the urgent things in life usurp the important.” Although he only preached occasionally, the words of Tom Steller resound with me to this day. 

So how does one differentiate between what is “urgent” and what is “important”? I propose that urgent things are constant and ubiquitous: daily responsibilities, texts, emails, phone calls, appointments, chores, homework, jobs, etc. Important things are more transcendent: things that last beyond the short-term. Priorities of import may seem like “still, small voices” in our lives but nonetheless ultimately deserve the lion’s share of our hearts’ attention, even amidst the inevitable urgencies that require more quantity of time most days.

Way back in my 30’s, I read two books that changed my life in this regard: Margin by Richard Swenson and A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. In the former, Swenson, a medical doctor by training and former practice, diagnoses our problem (especially in America) by what he calls “the Overload Syndrome.” We’re often simply too busy to focus on important things. His prescription is to create intentional “margin” in every area of life, all toward the goal of balance. He warns, “Our rush toward excellence in one quadrant of life must not be permitted to cause destruction in another.” Swenson teaches that balance is a more noble goal than hyper-focused excellence (which always leads to “negative excellence” elsewhere), and he challenges the reader to consider how to balance the major categories of life even if more ego-feeding or tangible achievements suffer. In other words, Swenson essentially challenges us to choose the important over the urgent.

Sittser’s book is of an even more sober nature, dealing squarely with devastating grief due to loss of all kinds, from the loss of human life to the loss of relationships, health, or dreams. He writes that when we experience a major loss, especially a death, time stops: “We live life as if it were a motion picture. Loss turns it into a spapshot.” Suddenly, often with no warning, what we thought were such urgent and often time-wasting pursuits (e.g., immersing in daily screen time) seem insignificant. We grieve, we contemplate our own mortality, and we’re forced to change priorities. Those of us observing others’ trials would be wise to grieve with those who grieve. Solomon wrote, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Eccl. 7:2, ESV). Laying to heart life’s end is important.

This month especially celebrates giving thanks. My goal is to renew my efforts to create and steward margin, focusing on the important things and living a lifestyle more free from the bondage of urgency. Even an hour a day (a few minutes at a time) may be all we can muster for the important. But a little goes a long way.

The Importance and Proper Use of Words: Tragedies vs. Atrocities

This is my 8th in a series of 10 columns in 2017 on the importance and proper use of words, and how language influences how I lead this youth company. 

“Words mean things.” I often heard that phrase by a radio personality during my college years (even as I trained for my own hopeful radio career). Similar to my preference for a neat hairstyle and weighing myself to the tenth of a pound every morning, I prefer to be precise rather than sloppy (as I put it) with word use. Along with several other word-use topics this year, one of my personal soapboxes involves the over-use of the word “tragedy.” 

When I think of a tragedy, I think of something that happens to someone, such as a natural disaster, accidental (or disease-caused) death of a loved one, or a shattered dream, just to name a few. In the strongest terms, however, I do NOT call it a “tragedy” when someone is murdered, assaulted, abused, or otherwise the victim of a fellow human’s act of evil, whether on an individual or mass scale. Human acts of evil done to others are atrocities, not tragedies. (They may be both, but Justice demands word accuracy, and “atrocity” is not too strong a word for an intentional act of evil.)

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that within every human heart lies the capacity for atrocities. Even hating someone is considered like murder in Jesus’ eyes (Matthew 5:22) and lust is as sinful as adultery (Matthew 5:28). However, there are still legal and consequential difference between evil thoughts and evil actions. To think an evil thought is sinful; to act on it is an atrocity.

I’m not sure why so many in the media and even in our everyday conversations don’t differentiate more often between tragedies that “happen to” people and atrocities that are “done to” people. Like so many other words that are either misused or under-used, I don’t let that imprecision stop me from what I try to do in my own life and in the lives of those I mentor: learn to be content in the midst of tragedies, and pray for justice for those who are victims of atrocities (and for the perpetrators too, even if forgiving them in one’s heart). In both cases, trusting God is key to healing. “Give thanks in all circumstances...” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

On a micro-scale, may our Jughead families and staff be agents of healing for others with various tragedies (large and small) that we experience in life, and may we not only avoid being party to atrocities of action, but may we also guard our hearts and take captive every thought lest it lead to an atrocious act of evil. Character counts, inside and out. We try to nurture that here in many ways, every day. It’s about so much more than juggling.

The Importance and Proper Use of Words: Facebook vs. Face-to-Face

This 2017 series on the importance and proper use of words attempts to articulate the ways in which language influences how I mentor and lead this youth company. Whatever one’s worldview or quirks, may these topics serve to edify and challenge.

I’ve never had a Facebook page. This isn’t necessarily due to a moral aversion to it (although the gossip-oriented origins of its founding should give one pause); I just know that my personality is too obsessive to dare to have one, at least amidst my intense people-oriented career. I’m the only one of my siblings on both sides of the family who eschew Facebook, and I think all of my Millennial nieces & nephews have one even as other venues of social media are more in vogue with the under-35 generation (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat...I’m sure I’m forgetting some ;-).

I do know of some Millennials who are at least cautious in their use of Facebook, wisely noting that once something is posted online, it may be permanent. Posting photos of oneself in embarrassing situations or engaging in groupthink political rants may appeal to one’s friends, but it is dangerous when it comes to job prospects and losing others’ respect due to digital versions of TMI. My nephew was recently granted a phone interview with an exciting new job prospect. Nice, but the real prize was his follow-up in-person interview. A Facebook minimalist, he has nothing to hide online from his potential employer, and his current customer relations career surely served him very well in that interview.

As for me, I am face-to-face every day. Yes, I email and text, but to be present in a conversation seems sadly rare, and that’s an advantage of having a brick-and-mortar location for our juggling clubs in our age of increasingly doing business and communication online. Even though technology helps our lives in innumerable ways (just ask the Floridians currently out of power for days or possibly weeks), it can also become a barrier to real, flesh-and-blood relationships for which we’re designed.

The Apostle Paul ends his famous “love chapter” this way: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). Real life ultimately beats digital life every time.

We as humans need to know and be known. Choose face-to-face over social media whenever possible. That’s one of the benefits of JH. I thank you all for empowering your kids to pause their devices and “like us” by having human interface through the excuse of juggling and growing together, in person.