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I’ve been watching the news and watching sports and I’m frustrated with the way we talk to, or maybe more accurately at, each other. I don’t know what to do about that, and I feel pretty helpless. I don’t want to add to the noise, because there’s a lot of it. But here are my thoughts in list form:
Again, I’m just a dude who occasionally writes things down. I don’t have any answers. I do sincerely want to be able to listen and to view things the way Jesus views them and to love others the way He did.
“Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”
That’s quite the headline. And it’s a good article in The Atlantic that you should read. I’m looking forward to reading the author’s (Jean M. Twenge) forthcoming book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us if for no other reason than I’m a sucker for a title that takes up three lines on a page.
The argument is simple, though – since 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, teen suicide rates have gone up. Teen social activity has gone down. The key moment, she argues, occurred in 2012 – the year American smartphone usage surpassed 50%.
There is a lot in the article – it’s the cover story of the September issue of The Atlantic. It’s well researched. Other people have questioned her research methods and asked some questions that, at least in the article, she glossed over. Those are valid concerns, but I’ll let other people ask those questions. My primary concern is this: what is our response as Christians? Most of the reaction I’ve seen as this article has gone viral (and there’s a certain irony that shouldn’t be lost on us that an article about how our smartphones are killing us has gone viral) has been panic. Outrage bloggers have picked it up and run with it. People who were already anti-kids having smartphones were vindicated, and people who generally praise technological advances have been relatively silent (this is purely anecdotal).
The most consistent questions I seem to get asked as a student pastor have to do with technology. What’s the youth group’s technology policy? At what age should I give my kid a phone? We’re concerned our kids spend too much time on their phones – what do we do? The question behind the questions, I think, is “how in the world do we disciple our kids in this ever complicated digital age?” And I don’t intend for this to be a defense of all things technological. We shape our technology, and our technology shapes us. There’s no doubt about that.
The good news is that while smartphones make the issue a bit more complicated, it’s actually not a new issue at all. The problem with an article like this, and Twenge may go into more detail in her book than the Atlantic article allowed her to, is that it seems to ignore a bunch of other factors. Yes, 2012 may be the moment American smartphone usage surpassed 50%, but what are some other factors? What’s happening in the economy? What’s happening in our schools? Are there any trends besides, or maybe in addition to, smartphones that might be influencing our kids? What do these trends – loneliness, suicide rates, etc. look like in other age groups? And, at least for Christian parents, there’s a glaring angle missing.
John Calvin called our hearts “idol factories.” And while smartphones themselves may be idols, I think the real heart of the issue so to speak is the access our smartphones give us to our idols. And that’s not just for our teens! It’s true of every age group. Our deepest desires are still to be fully known and fully loved. Smartphones haven’t changed that. They may have exacerbated it, but they haven’t changed it, and the good news is that our idols, not our smartphones, are killing us.
It’s good news because it’s an age old problem, with a tried and tested solution. It’s not an easy solution, nor is it necessarily an efficient one, but the answer is being parents. Deuteronomy 6 establishes our responsibility to our kids – teach God’s commands to our children. Talk of them when we sit at home, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise. Bind them as signs on our hands and write them on the doorposts of our home. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Our phones can give us opportunities to do just that, from the things we read to the ways we interact with people.
Our responses are almost always extreme. We see things happening and we either run away from them completely or dive in without looking. Neither one of these are particularly healthy. As parents, the responsibility is to help disciple our kids to understand how to glorify God in an increasingly digital world. That requires a lot of things – discernment and grace being among the most important. In 1 Chronicles 12, we learn of the men of Issachar – men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do. They understood the world they lived in. They knew God and the promises He had made to His people. And they knew what Israel should do in light of these things.
That’s our call as parents, pastors, siblings, friends…whatever our role may be. Understand the times. Understand your kids. Remember the promises of God, and remember the things He has told us. We are created in His image, and among the biggest implications of that is we are made for relationships. Karl Barth said Christians should hold a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, but to always interpret the newspaper through what we read in the bible. This is as true as it has ever been!
But it’s also a call to grace. We have to admit that we don’t fully understand this world – it changed so drastically and so rapidly total understanding would be nearly impossible. We also have to understand that our kids don’t know any different – I’m in the generation that saw the Internet first start to be as widely accessible as it is, and I remember the awful dial-up modem sound, but I also hardly remember the pre-online world. People just a few years older than me do, and people just a few years younger than me don’t remember it at all. It changed (or at least seemed to) that quickly, and we barely had time to understand how this technology was shaping us. So we have to be gracious with ourselves, to admit what we don’t know and to admit when we’re wrong, and we have to be gracious with our kids. Yes, they will at times seem like entitled brats when it comes to phones and tablets and whatever else, but we’re all entitled brats. That’s why sanctification is as beautiful as it is – as entitled brat adults raise entitled brat kids, Jesus is working through it and making us a little less entitled and a little less…brattish?
And so we come back to the question – how do we disciple our kids in the digital age? With discernment. With grace. Lots of grace. Let us see the good things about our kids, and let us see the ways phones enhance those and help our kids thrive. Let us understand, at the same time, their sinful nature and be honest about the ways phones tempt them. Let us take seriously the God given positions of authority and humbly pursue the most Christ honoring ways of exercising those. There will be times when that means taking phones. Guidelines will have to be set and enforced. There will be levels of maturity that will be expected. These are for our good and theirs, but we have to remember that kids don’t need friends in the digital world, they need guides. If we’re giving our kids smartphones and then sending them out into the world saying “good luck,” we’ve already lost the battle, and you don’t need an Atlantic piece or a research project to tell you that.
And read! Read a lot. There are a lot of great Christian authors studying this stuff, and they’re writing really good books about it. Here are some I would suggest starting with:
The Next Story, Tim Challies
The Tech Wise Family, Andy Crouch
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Tony Reinke
The reality is we live in a world where smartphones exist, and they’re only going to get smarter. If we’re not preparing our kids for that, someone else is.
Before this gets too far along, I know pro wrestling is scripted. I know that, above all else, it is entertainment, and in that sense, is not a true “sport.” So I’m not the middle aged guy standing up in a high school gym and telling an indie wrestler “It’s still real to me, dammit!” That’s not me. I also know that I’m 30, almost 31, and I should probably just give it up. But I don’t think that’s me, either.
I’ve always been drawn to it, though. I’ve always hooked on to the guys who were telling what I thought was my story. I remember when, as a seventh grader who felt like an absolute loner, I saw Sting for the first time. Besides just looking really freaking cool, I could relate – all of Sting’s friends turned on him and he was fighting, alone, against a gang of bullies. Sure, I liked a lot of other guys – Rey Mysterio, Jr. always put on great matches, Goldberg was a sight to behold, and Chris Jericho was the kind of annoying brat that made watching TV fun. And fun it was – until Sting showed up. Then I locked in. It was more than just fun, it was more than pro wrestling. It felt like someone understood my life and was attempting to explain it, even if it was beefed up, dressed in black spandex and white face paint, and carrying a black baseball bat.
Yeah, it sounds kind of lame, but I was in 7th grade. What else was I supposed to do?
I quit watching wrestling around the time WCW folded, which was April of 2001. I loosely paid attention, but the Monday Night Wars were over, the Attitude Era of WWF safely behind us, and I was growing up. But somewhere around 2010, I got sucked back in, and shortly after that, I met another guy who was telling my story.
Daniel Bryan wasn’t anything special. He was an average guy who didn’t have the look of anybody else on the WWE roster. But the dude could wrestle and the dude connected with the fans. That’s one of the cool things about pro wrestling – it gives people the chance to connect with their favorites. And for whatever reason, I connected with Daniel Bryan, especially his run up to winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XXX.
Every so often, pro wrestling stories intersect with real life, and that’s exactly what happened with Daniel Bryan. He was the classic underdog – the on screen characters Triple H and Stephanie McMahon didn’t want him to succeed, so they threw roadblock after roadblock at him. But you also got the sense that the people who made the decisions behind the scenes didn’t want him to succeed, either. He didn’t have the look. He wasn’t a big powerful guy. He wasn’t particularly great cutting a promo. But he was one of us. And so we cheered him and cheered him and cheered him until the cheers couldn’t be ignored anymore. We’ve all been there – we feel like we’ve had teachers, or bosses, or people in other influential positions who didn’t want us to succeed. Stone Cold probably made that storyline famous, but there were a lot of us who didn’t want to respond by beating everyone up and drinking beer. We wanted to respond simply by just doing what we loved and doing it well.
And so, at Wrestlemania XXX, in front of 90,000 people, he held the championship belts high above his head. We chanted “YES! YES! YES!” along with him.
And now, it’s over.
Shortly after winning the title, he got hurt. And he stayed hurt, so he had to vacate the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He tried to come back, and he did, winning the Intercontinental Championship. But that was short lived, and finally, this year, he had to retire. Forever.
The news hit me hard, in much the same way I expect Peyton Manning’s inevitable announcement will hit me. It hit me the same way that losing Michael Scott and the rest of the crew from The Office hit me, and the way that the ending of Parks and Recreation hit me. Daniel Bryan is, in a lot of ways, a hero to me. I may be done with wrestling after this.
A lot of people have written better thoughts about this than me. No one will read this, and that’s fine. It’s just my voice, shouting into the silence, saying that yeah, wrestling is dumb and scripted. But Daniel Bryan is proof it’s not fake, and I think it’s safe to say the business is forever changed because he was in it. Yeah, it’s dumb and scripted, but I felt a connection with The American Dragon.
Thanks for the memories, Daniel. And we’ll always have New Orleans.
I haven’t written much in a while. I’m not exactly sure why – busyness at times, laziness at others – but I haven’t.
Lately though, I’ve been wanting to write, and a Facebook post a friend of mine wrote has made me think deeply about landscapes, specifically how they are used in Scripture.
Oceans, the wilderness, mountains, forests, rivers…wherever they’re mentioned, they’re mentioned for significant reasons. They carry both physical and spiritual meaning. So over the next…however long, I want to write about them.
It’s kind of a project, I guess.
I am starting to realize more and more that I really don’t have much to say about important things. I’m still learning so much, so outside of some very limited-in-scope thoughts about things I am not qualified to speak on, I haven’t had a lot to write about.
Then I realized the SEC Network drops in 10 days, and it’s going to be available on the International Space Station. SEC football. In space.
As a red blooded southern male, I am beside myself in anticipation for the upcoming football season. In 24 days, I’ll make the trek to Atlanta to watch the Rebs take on Boise State. The time between now and then will be filled with studying for ordination exams, writing lessons, and kicking off another semester of ministry that, honestly, I am quite looking forward to. But in this moment of down time, I really, really want to write about sports. So here we go: My totally unscientific and largely uninformed ranking of the 14 SEC quarterbacks.
Before the list, though, it needs to be mentioned – there are only 5 returning starters in the SEC. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, and Georgia’s Aaron Murray are all gone. That’s a lot of star power gone, which means there are a lot of unknowns coming into the year. So what I’m going to do is rank the five returning starters (Dak Prescott and Maty Mauk not included, because they weren’t full time starters), and then try to make heads or tails out of the other 9. Here we go:
5. Maxwell Smith, Senior, Kentucky – Maxwell Smith is a returning starter, but of the returning starters, he’s the most likely to lose his job. I don’t really know why, but he missed three games, and he split time with Jalen Whitlow, who transferred. So Smith is more or less the starter by default. He completed 57% of his passes for 1,276 yards, 9 TDs, and 1 INT. Those aren’t awful numbers, but Kentucky went 2-10, so it’s not hard to see him losing that job. Patrick Towles, a redshirt sophomore, is apparently a pretty real threat to Smith. I can’t see Kentucky winning more than 2 or 3 games again, so it might not matter all that much.
4. Brandon Allen, Junior, Arkansas – Allen isn’t #4 on this list by default. He’s entrenched as a starter, but he completed less than 50% of his passes for 1,552 yards, 13 TDs, and 10 INTs. He missed the Rutgers game, but Arkansas lost their last 9 games. They’ll have a strong running game, so he won’t have to go out and put up Manziel numbers, but if they’re going to improve, he’s going to have to be better. He did seem to improve as the year went on, at least on paper. He finished the year going 47 for 78, 485 yards, 4 TDs, and 3 INTs against Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and LSU. So maybe he can keep improving some? Bielema isn’t known for his great passing offenses, and while that’s not entirely fair, that reputation probably won’t change this year.
3. Jeff Driskel, Junior, Florida – Driskel is an enigma to me. The talk is always how talented he is, but his best season was pretty pedestrian. 2013 didn’t give us much to go on, either, because he got hurt in the third game of the year, but he was off to a 2 TD/3 INT start. But he’s right here because he’s better than whatever UK or Arkansas will put out.
2. Nick Marshall, Senior, Auburn – I flip flop between Marshall and Wallace, but Marshall just isn’t a good passer. He completed a shade under 60% of his passes, which is good, and he threw for 14 TDs and 6 INTs, which is also really good. He’s a great trigger man for Auburn’s offense, and he’s probably most effective as a runner. If you take away three plays from their season – the end of the game against Mississippi State, the ridiculous play against Georgia, and the shenanigans surrounding the Iron Bowl, then we’re talking about what a nice story Auburn was, going from whatever their crappy record was to 8-4 and a nice bowl game. But while Allen and Smith would be at the very bottom of the league, Marshall would be at the top because of how effective he is running that offense, even if he isn’t the best passer. If their ground game can produce like it did last year, Marshall should have another strong year.
1. Bo Wallace, Senior, Ole Miss – Wallace completed 65% of his passes for 3,346 yards, 18 TDs, and 10 INTs. Bo’s the best returning quarterback in the SEC statistically. It’s a bit more impressive considering he hasn’t been fully healthy since getting to Ole Miss. The end of the regular season left a bit of a sour taste in Rebel fans mouths, with the offense only generating one offensive touchdown in two games, but the season was capped off pretty nicely against Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl. The question for Wallace, and the entire Ole Miss offense, is the offensive line. Laremy Tunsil is the best LT in the conference, and if Aaron Morris can stay healthy, LG should be pretty solid, but the right side of the line is up in the air. Gone is Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan, but Laquon Treadwell, Vince Sanders, and Evan Engram come back. So if Bo’s really healthy, like they say, and the OL can get him some time, Dr. Bo should be able to lead the Rebs to another solid year.
This is a bit of a crap shoot, but two guys stand at the top of this list – Missouri’s Maty Mauk and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. So beyond that, who knows? Three of these are “situations,” because I have no idea what is happening in any of them.
9. Tennessee’s situation – Tennessee just isn’t going to be good. They recruited well, but I just don’t know that they’re going to be good any time soon. Justin Worley is probably the best of their options, but he’s not all that impressive. Josh Dobbs finished the year when Worley went out with an injury, but he wasn’t great either. So…who knows?
8.Vanderbilt’s situation – I’m kind of assuming Patton Robinette wins this job, but apparently there’s a legit 4 way battle going on. Stephen Rivers is an intriguing prospect, because of his brother and because he’s huge. Robinette has experience, but Rivers apparently has the talent and only one year to play.
7. LSU’s situation – As I just mentioned, Stephen Rivers is gone. Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris are competing for the job. Most people seem to think that Harris has the edge, which wouldn’t surprise me, but going into the SEC with a true freshman quarterback is a scary thing, even if he was a highly sought after prospect. LSU’s quarterback play has left a lot to be desired over the last few years, so…again, who knows?
6. A&M’s situation – Kevin Sumlin knows QBs, and Kyle Allen should be a really good one. He lacks the mobility of his predecessor, but then again, so does everyone. My bet is Allen gets the nod, but I base that on nothing. But I have faith in Sumlin as an offensive coach, so he’ll have one of those guys ready to go. I also think that the biggest loss is Mike Evans, but we’ll see.
5. Hutson Mason, Georgia – Mason is this high because he was forced into action last year and looked pretty good. He’s kind of a rare breed in the SEC this year, as he’s a true drop back passer in a true drop back system. Georgia’s situation is pretty similar to Alabama’s in that there are some great running backs around their QB and a great OL in front of him, so whatever his weaknesses are will be masked in some ways other QBs weaknesses won’t.
4. Jacob Coker, Alabama – To me, Coker is the most intriguing potential starting QB in the SEC. Apparently he and Jameis Winston had a pretty legit QB competition at Florida State, which Winston obviously won, so Coker transferred. Alabama still has the best OL in the country, a phenomenal defense, and a stable of great running backs. He doesn’t have to be the most talented guy out there, but he may actually be the most talented guy out there. I don’t really like Alabama, but I am looking forward to seeing how he does as a starting quarterback in the SEC. Of course all of this is irrelevant if Blake Sims wins the job. Sims has some experience, but not much.
3. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina – Thompson got a decent amount of reps 2 years ago, and played sparingly last year. He seems a lot like Coker and Mason, who have a lot of talent around them. That’s really all I have to say about him.
2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State – Prescott and Mauk could be changed out here, but Mauk gets the nod for reasons I’ll discuss in a second. Prescott is a great runner, but he’s a pretty average passer. If he’s going to be the guy State fans are hoping he is, he’s going to have to get better throwing the ball. He’s also going to have to stay healthy. He missed two games, and with a quarterback who embraces contact like he does, injury is always a concern. State ended the season with some momentum, so the hype surrounding him is totally understandable (though I think way over the top). He’s got some weapons – Jameon Lewis is really good and the SEC’s returning leading receiver, De’Runnya Wilson has a great name and has shown flashes, and Marcus Green is a really good tight end. Health, accuracy, and the offensive line are the major concerns here.
1. Maty Mauk, Missouri – When James Franklin went down last year, I think everybody thought Missouri’s run was over. And they did lose the South Carolina game, but Mauk was lights out in those games. Keeping a championship run alive and staying healthy are why I put him here over Prescott, but you could pretty easily argue this gets flipped back because Missouri lost 4 of their top 6 receiving targets. Mauk also did it as a true freshman.
This is a really hard list to come up with. Every single one of these guys has major question marks, and several of these jobs won’t be settled until well into the season. Coker, Marshall, and whoever LSU trot out will have a chance to lead their team to the SEC championship from the west simply because of the talent around them. My bet is on Thompson and South Carolina representing the East, but I wouldn’t sleep on Mason and Georgia, either. Florida may pull it off, but it’ll be more on the defense than Driskel.