Beliefnet
Doing Life Together

church-1912652_1280Do you go to church? When you ask your friends this question, what do they say? Does religion influence your life on a daily basis?

A number of people you might informally poll may represent a trend we are seeing across the country. People may say they are spiritual, even that they believe in God, but do not go to church. In fact, only 36% of Americans said they go to an organized church service when they were polled by Gallup.

While 74% of Americans still identify as Christians, they have less faith in organized religion than they did a decade ago. Around 21% say they do not practice any formal religion.

Religion loses its influence in a culture when it is not practiced regularly among the masses. Take most television shows and movies–our daily pulpit. You rarely hear religious views written in to scripts. For example, people can be dying and there is no mention of an afterlife. Relationship problems never mention prayer or values that could help people in crisis. I just saw a science fiction movie about space and the universe and there was not one reference to God. Really, you are alone in the universe and you never consider the possibility of God? Unfortunately, this is often true of most media. And media promote values and a views of life that influence behavior.

The importance of practicing a religion is that it influences our daily lives and the way we treat each other. Religion grounds us with important values. And the way a person is discipled into their faith usually requires some religious training and learning. So the more we don’t participate in church or organized religion, the more we tend to drift away from the apologetics of our faith. Then religion doesn’t inform our actions. The fall out of this is often mental health issues that we don’t connect to the resiliency and hope that true religion brings to peoples’ lives. Religion, is not a weakness as Freud once posed, but a way to organize your life with meaning and purpose.

A new year is coming. Perhaps going back to church is a goal to consider. The more discipled in the issues of faith we become, the more we can influence our culture for good and bring hope to people. And right now, that would be a welcomed influence.

office-583841_1920You bring your laptops to class. It’s a given, right? And some of your classmates may actually be using them for the classwork being discussed.

I often sit at the back of the lecture hall when another professor is lecturing. I can see the students on their computers while the lecture is being given. Some have downloaded the power point and are following along. Others are on Facebook, Amazon, shopping, and doing various other things. I often wonder, how is this impacting student learning? Is this helping or hurting the students?

Researchers at Michigan State studied the impact of laptops on student learning and found interesting results. Apparently, good grades and laptop usage do not go together.

According to their study, if you want to excel, close the lid and pay attention in class. Even if you open your laptop to download the slides, it impedes learning.

Researchers found that surfing the Internet in class was linked to poorer scores, even among motivated and bright students. Students who logged in were zoned out, surfing social media, buying on-line and doing other distracting activities.

In the study of undergraduates in a 50 minute class, students spent an average of 37 minutes surfing the net unrelated to class. So while the idea of perhaps taking notes on your laptop (not as effective as hand writing notes) may be the purpose of opening the computer, the temptation of distraction appears to be great. And that distraction is impeding learning. Perhaps professors need to rethink how laptops are used in class, especially if there are no assignments related to using laptops.

And if you are a student, try closing the lid and giving your full attention to the professor. It just might make a difference in your test scores and actual learning. Once again, technology can be a great thing, but can also be an unnecessary distraction.

advent-514849_1920Watching the TV commercials and Christmas movies, you could easily forget about the true meaning of Christmas. So part of the challenge during this final weekend of Christmas is to be intentional about the holiday and focus on the spiritual significance through all that surrounds us. Here are 3 strategies to help avoid the commercialization of Christmas.

  1. Advertisers see your children as consumers who will persuade you to buy their products. So they target kids to do just what many do—hound parents for specific toys. It’s great to purchase that trendy toy or wanted gaming system, but if you do, tie it to the greatest gift ever–Christ was born. For unto us a Savior if given. Enjoy the gift giving with your kids but use it to point to God’s gift to us.
  2. Support real life activities that involve giving to others, e.g., preparing and taking food baskets to the poor, serving in a soup kitchen or mission, buying and wrapping gifts for the needy, singing at a nursing home, making cookies for neighbors, etc. Take your children with you to deliver goods or serve at a mission. Help them understand that it is better to give than receive.  Model it this time of year.   A small gesture like putting money in the Salvation Army’s ringer bowl is a message to children that giving to the needy is important.
  3. Read the Christmas story and attend special church plays and musicals or a Christmas service. Draw children’s attention to the spiritual side of Christmas because the culture will not do this. The pull towards materialism is strong but parents can change the focus. Again, this requires intention on your part.

The key is to keep bringing the focus back to the real meaning. You can celebrate the commercial aspects, but keep focusing on the importance of Christ’s birth. Merry Christmas!

christmas-1869902_1920I am divorced and think my ex spends way too much money on Christmas gifts for our two young kids. This is causing tension between us. It feels like a competition I can’t win. I find myself spending too much because I don’t want to look cheap. He has more money than I do. I think he buys the kids expensive gifts because he feels guilty for leaving. How do I get him to be more reasonable?

Getting along with an ex seems to require more intention during the holiday season. To deal with this issue, you need a no competition rule. Instead of trying to one up each other, focus more on how to make the time with the children meaningful and pleasant. Both of you must work together for the sake of the children instead of using them to make a point.

Meet your ex for coffee and talk about gift giving and see if you can work together on a gift list for the kids. If you can’t do this in person, then try email. If there is an expensive gift, then suggest going in on it together. Don’t bring up other issues. Stay on point and try to coordinate the giving. If he refuses to work with you, talk about the impact of this on the kids. Resist giving his counseling!

If he continues to buy the children’s affection, be careful not to say this to your children. Simply say, “Wow, really nice gift from daddy,” and drop it. The tension is created by your anger or upset for his lack of cooperation. You may be right about his motivation but to hang on to that resentment only hurts you.

So, present the issue to him, suggest ways to work together for the sake of the kids and see what he does. With or without his cooperation, you can let go of anger/resentment, release the tension and give it to God. Spend only what is reasonable in your budget and don’t make it a competition. Sometimes when there is a tug of war, the best strategy is to drop the rope. And whatever you do, don’t involve your kids in this issue. Keep in mind that your children won’t remember who bought them the most stuff, but will remember who helped make the holidays a positive and memorable occasion.