Question of the Day: Do you follow the news?

At different times in my life, I’ve taken a sabbatical from the news.  I don’t listen to NPR; I don’t watch any news shows, including the “comedy” ones like the Daily Show; I’ve even been known to take lengthy breaks from facebook.  As someone vulnerable to depression, there are times I honestly can’t take it – I feel too vulnerable to the bad news bombarding us, and I feel too helpless to do anything that will make a difference, and I feel as a person of faith I should care, but I just don’t have it in me.  But then comes the pressure of obligation, especially as a pastor:  Shouldn’t I know what’s going on in the world?  Even if most of it is bad?  But then, didn’t Jesus just deal with what was right in front of him?

I heard this podcast from Freakonomics:

And I realized it’s a really good question:  Why do we follow the news?

Here are my questions:

  1. Do you follow the news?
  2. If you don’t, why don’t you?  Did you make a conscious decision not to, or does it not interest you?
  3. How do you feel about NOT following the news, if you don’t?
  4. If you do follow the news, have you wondered why?
  5. What would you say you get out of the news?
  6. What do you do with the news you hear?

I’m very curious about what you will say!

Next post:  What Margaret Heffernan, author of “Willful Blindness: Why we ignore the obvious at our peril,” has to say about our limited brains, and how that might affect our interactions with the news.

Parenting Advice: Let’s Just Chill

This past week or so I’ve been bombarded by parenting advice and analysis – Maybe if you are on Facebook, you saw this article:


If you missed it, here’s a summary: “A recent study has shown that if American parents read one more long-form think piece about parenting they will go fucking ape shit.” 30127406.html

Now that we’re all fed up with snow forcing way too much family-togetherness,  everyone has an opinion about our parenting styles – what we do wrong, what we do right (mostly what we do wrong.)    Let’s take a sampling:  

Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework
And other insights from a ground- breaking study of how parents impact children’s academic achievement, by Dana Goldstein


Because guess what?  It doesn’t make any difference in their long-term performance and success.

Then there’s this one that analyzes what we’ve been told a million times already:  Helicopter parenting isn’t good for anyone.  Our kids need to take risks, get out there, be unsupervised.  Good thing none of US are helicoptering around!  This from the article by Hanna Rosin, “Why not just leave our kids alone.”


And then this one, by Christine Doran, reminding us to let our kids explore the great outdoors:

Don’t get me wrong – I love reading (skimming) these articles.  What I don’t love is how easily I feel condemned, or like it’s already too late for me, since my kids are now 14 & 16.  But then I realized: “tried and true” practices of parenting change every decade, if not more often.  Believe it or not, our grandparents made it through their childhood.  Remarkably, people have been parenting in all sorts of different ways and homo sapiens sapiens haven’t died out yet.  Chances are your kids – and mine – no matter what we’ve done right (letting them play unsupervised football in the neighborhood for hours – yay me!) and what we’ve done wrong (let my daughter hang in her room, unsupervised, for hours and hours on-line with her phone and my computer – boo) our kids are going to make it.  In spite of our anxiety they won’t play the right sports or instrument or learn a second language or make the right friends or go to the right preschool or get high enough SATs to get into a competitive college to have a successful career.  Research shows that’s not what the current batch of 18 – 35 year olds want, anyway, and no one knows what it will take to be successful in this brave new world.  No one ever does, and it’s always a brave new world.  

In 1899, parenting expert Granville Stanley Hall suggested, “We need less sentimentality and more spanking.”  When we shifted from nannies to mothers, women were warned not to “coddle.”  Then 1930s permissiveness shifted to the “self-sacrificing, indulgent TV mothers of the 1950’s” followed by the benign neglect of the ’60s.  (From Brigid Schulte’s book “Overwhelmed.”) 

Now look at us:  North American parents spend not only more time at work, but more hours in hands-on parenting than most any other era or country.  

So, when these articles get you feeling bad about what you have or have not done, take heart.  Next year, there will be different advice.  But here’s some advice for right now:  Don’t parent out of fear or anxiety.  What values have staying power?  In our house, the mantra is, “Be kind.”  Find what your family’s motto is, keep it short and simple, and stay true to that.  Don’t worry about the best GPA, academic success, travel team, college acceptance.  What really matters now and for every tomorrow?  For me, it’s “Be kind.”  What is it for you?






Let’s talk some dope (amine)

Remember the Pythagorean Theorem?  Yeah, me neither, until mathematician April reminded us in Sunday School class.  It’s the set-in-stone mathematical law that if you add up the angles of a triangle, it always equals 180.  (The angles are where two legs of the triangle meet – how close or far apart they are.  A circle = 360.)  You learned this in school, trust me, and you learned it as an absolute.  Every triangle’s angles add up to 180.  

And then, April blew my mind.  Se told us this never-to-be-disputed mathematical law only works on a flat surface.  If you draw a triangle on the surface of the earth, the angles will add up to more than 180 degrees.  WHAT?  Yep, context matters.  What I’ve believed my entire life.  What a thrill to hear my sense of the world confirmed by a mathematical theorem!

But this is not a blog about math.  No, this is a blog about my brain, and how this new idea  sent a surge of dopamine straight through my neural pathways, making me feel excited and happy.  Okay, this also reveals the nerd I am – that a new exciting idea is my form of a drug rush.

But here’s the question:  What gives you a rush of dopamine?  What excites you?  Do you even know anymore?

Daniel Siegel in his latest book, “Brainstorm:  The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain” suggests our (adult) frustrations with teens come in part from our envy of their passion.  The resting level of dopamine drops in adolescence, but is much more easily spiked.  Hence, their passions are easily excited, and we see that, and as adults, we miss that for ourselves.

In the book “Overwhelmed: Work, love, and play when no one has the time” by Brigid Schulte, she presents all the research on the importance of playtime not for children, but for adults.  If we want to be creative – and let’s face it, our lives demand creative problem solving at home, at work, in our relationships – We need to play.  And she rightly points out how hard it is for adults to play, yet how crucial it is.  

So why don’t we?  Well, who has the time?  The research says playing makes us more productive and creative.  Obviously we’d be happier and better off if we played.

But for those of us living a life faith in this culture, our every minute is measured by our immediate productivity.  “Playing time” looks like “wasting time.”    What will people say?  That we’re lazy, frivolous, childish.  

Plus for those of us who are Christian, our Puritan heritage immediately puts a stop to play.  Consciously or not, we think we must “Come, labor on – Who dares stand idle” as the (awful!) Protestant hymn suggests.  O, we’ll play, sure, – once the list is done.  Once all our responsibilities are fulfilled.  Except the list, and our responsibilities, by their very nature, never will get done.  

Instead:  The research on work, on how our brains are wired, on adolescents, on mental health all agree:  We must play.  And for Christians, we can drown out the “Come, Labor On” message by turning to the God of the hymn, “Morning Has Broken:” which says, “God’s re-creation of the new day.” If we are to be about God’s work in the world, well then, we are called to participate in “re-creation,” that is, “recreation.” 

So, when was the last time you had a dopamine rush?  Do you remember what caused it?  Have you gone seeking it by trying new adventures, going outside your comfort zone, pushing against your edges?  And in spite how exciting I found the limitations of the Pythagorean Theorem, all the research says the dopamine rushes that restore us involve our whole being – Not just our mind – but our bodies, too.  Which is play.  Image