I’m going to start building an evaluation into every youth group outline:

What helped you?

What could have been more helpful?

I’ve done this at the end of retreats for awhile now, but it seems valuable to make it part of the week-to-week communities of students we work with too. How else do we level up the work we’re doing with these particular students at this singular time?

Don’t wait for a complaint. Invite it. Evaluate.


Monitoring Google Activity

I monitor Daughter’s Google activity. She’s 11, and it’s not hard to do. She has been told. It’s not creepy.

It’s mostly YouTube searches and views, but those provide a valuable insider view into the things she’s curious about. Sure, there’s plenty of pre-teen stuff like clips from “Dance Moms” and purely practical searches for “how to take better iPhone photos” and “how to cook spinach” (!).

But there is also the odd search for “How to make friends,” “How to win an argument with your mom,” and “How to make your bff jealous.”

Google knows that this 11 year-old is curious about these things, and that’s all the reason you need to monitor and regulate kids’ use of technology platforms. They’re going to be fed content and advertising to exploit that curiosity, and they won’t even be aware of it.

I know about this curiosity now too, though, but I most certainly wouldn’t know about it if Google didn’t keep this record and allow users to review it. And what do I do with it? I ponder it. I add it to my very thin collection of things I know my kid is thinking about. I allow it to inform my sense of the person she is becoming.



Gossip fouls the water supply. The guileless complaint I register to a neighbor or coworker about another neighbor or coworker alters the water we’re all drinking from, even if nobody else ever hears it. My damaged ego or ill will is a toxin, and, as with all toxins, it needs a safe disposal mechanism: a journal, a confidant completely outside the community, a therapist (here it’s worth warning against allowing yourself to be someone else’s gossip disposal mechanism; if you have any stake in the person they’re muttering against, best to shut it down).

Reconciliation starts with prevention.


Left Out

The groups of people that made you feel left out when you were young don’t have the power to do that to you as an adult. Adulthood means taking responsibility for your own experience and choosing the terms of your participation in causes and groups. When you get that “left out” feeling, it’s worth asking if its genesis is truly external–a group of people and their behavior toward you–or if it isn’t internal, a holdover from adolescence that you’ve outgrown.

Maturity means enlisting people in our causes and our communities more and seeking to be accepted into others’ less.



Read this essay by Craig Mod in Wired about his long, mostly tech-free, walk across Japan. Reading it inspired me to take a long walk on the nearby riverfront trail last night and to leave my phone pocketed the whole time. Like Mod did, kind of:

I set very strict rules for this walk. The first set of rules limited my inputs. I would use only a tiny sliver of the internet. In practice this meant going cold turkey on all social networks and most news and media sites. I used a piece of blocking software on my phone and laptop called Freedom. I created a blocklist in Freedom and named it “THE PHONE IS A TOOL YOU DUMMY.” It prevented me from opening The New York Times app or Twitter or Facebook, virtual spaces all too easy to fall back into when approximately three seconds of boredom enter your frame.

Craig Mod, “The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan”

But here’s what occurred to me during my own walk: I hadn’t read the essay. I’d listened to it on Audm, an app that plays long form magazine articles, audiobook style. Audiobooks were a no-no on Mod’s walk.

What’s more, I learned about Audm from John Dickerson, one of the hosts of Slate’s “Political Gabfest” podcast. The app was his “cocktail chatter” at the end of the episode two weeks ago. That’s another thing Mod banned from his ambulation: podcasts.

This is the realization that came over me leaning on the rails of the Foster Avenue bridge over the North Branch of the Chicago River, that the inspiration for this moment of tech-free leisure owed its existence to the interaction of at least two artifacts of internet tech.

Maybe one of the things technology can be good at is getting us away from technology?



One compelling reason for spending time abroad is the deepening of one’s understanding of their native country. Case in point: during the nine months I lived in Northern Ireland, I read Beloved by Toni Morrison and understood things about America that my upbringing in a western American suburb (of Denver, no less–“Denver” is the name of Beloved’s protagonist) had been unable to teach me; I needed to be somewhere else to see it clearly.

Thus a lasting impact of my time in Ireland is the writing of American Toni Morrison.

Rest in peace.



If historical amnesia is a serious threat, then so is its opposite. I don’t know the technical term for it, but surely the condition of interpreting too much of the present through a filter of past memory has a catchy scientific label. Maybe “overmnensia?”

Those who are ignorant of the past may be doomed to repeat it, but those who are only able to experience the present as a reanimation of the past are doomed in a different way. They can’t account for the uniqueness of this moment. They are forced to exaggerate some threats, but also to underestimate others.

The present is not the past. It’s much better. It is also, in it’s own way, worse.



Yesterday we did what we know too well how to do now, insert silence and prayers for victims of gun tragedies into the Sunday service. My colleague did it with sensitivity and care.

I expect that when we do that it’s to speak to the shock and anger we’re all feeling after reading about it and watching nonstop news coverage. But some people in worship may be experiencing the tragedy directly. Yesterday a worshiper approached me after the service to thank us because she’s from Dayton, and, had she been home this weekend, she and her friends would have been right where the shooting took place. Her friends were there the previous evening. She was shaken, and I told her I was glad she was among us for worship, especially on this day.

It’s just a reminder the my assumptions about how people are affected by these events are often flawed. Mass shootings are multiplying in such a way that every new one not only traumatizes new victims in different communities but also reanimates trauma in all the other places that have been victimized. There is no immunity anymore.

It seems we need to lead worship now with that assumption.



The difficulty you don’t account for in working at a frenetic pace and taking on task upon project upon task is stopping. Because of course you can stop; you can make strategic changes to the organization or to your personal life to free up time and energy from the commitments cramming your calendar at present. But your brain and your body–even your spirit–are keyed to all those commitments, and you will not easily adjust to their absence.

An hour freed up from some prior obligation will easily be filled with another one. Otherwise, a voice in your head will whisper an accusatory question: “Why aren’t you doing more?” It will suggest you’ve become lazy and direct your attention to all the activity happening around you and on Pinterest and Instagram.

I think the feeling of effectiveness we’re chasing in our work (including our work running our households) is 1) a mirage–we will never feel effective enough–and 2) insidious to our spiritual health, which of course means our mental and physical health.

Busy is a choice. But busy for what?