Closed For Busyness

A radio program listed the worst places to visit on Christmas. The reason: Everything shuts down.

I can recall the news as a teenager that Tower Records would be open on Christmas Day! As a teenager I thought that was awesome. When I was younger I remember Sundays were days that not many things were open. Things have changed.

Now we have Black Friday sales that start on Thanksgiving Thursday, Sundays are open for business (although with shortened hours), and I won’t be surprised if the list of places open on Christmas start growing over the years.

Traditionally Sundays and Christmas were closed down for religious reasons. With the push away from religion in societies around the world, the protest for practices related to religion grew. In the U.K. the Sunday Trading Act of 1994 was put in place allowing shops to open on Sundays with restrictions on hours of operation. In the U.S. it started much sooner, but there are a few areas that still prohibit most retail stores from operating on Sunday. An interesting one is Bergen County, New Jersey. This county is one of the few remaining in the U.S. that recognize Blue Laws. Bergen County is one of the larger retail centers of the New York Metropolitan Area. The area of Paramus is the economic foundation of one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. bringing more revenue than any other zip code in America. Even with that status, they have laws that restrict most retail businesses to operate on Sundays.

I don’t think it has to be for religious reasons that we shut things down. I think it creates a culture and mindset that is healthy for our society. Rest. Refocus.

In the 1896 Chief Justice Stephen Johnson Field is quoted to say:

“Its requirement is a cessation from labor. In its enactment, the legislature has given the sanction of law to a rule of conduct, which the entire civilized world recognizes as essential to the physical and moral well-being of society.”

My wife will argue that I am probably in need of my own advice. Rest. Slow down. Refocus. Reflect. Close for busyness.

This Christmas, I hope you all had a restful and meaningful Christmas, free of busyness. As we head into the new year, may you find regular days to close for rest. -jason

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To BElieve or Not to BElieve

I had the “Santa talk” with the kids a few weeks ago.

Three kids fidgeting in their seats as I explained Santa. We explored real and not real. “Is daddy real?” “YES!”, they all agreed. Well, that’s a relief. “Is Mickey Mouse real?” “NO!” No, Mickey Mouse is a cartoon. “Is Santa Claus real?” With confused looks, as if they knew the right answer, but were unsure of how to answer that, they gave a mix of yes and no. I went on to explain that Santa was not real, but the reason we acknowledge Santa was to remember the spirit of giving. I went on to explain about the legends of a man named St. Nicholas. I told them how people remember his generosity by a tradition of giving. I told them that they will still get a Santa gift from us and I wanted them to start thinking about one person they could give a Santa gift to each year. I explained how remembering the birth of Jesus was the central focus of Christmas for our family. We give gifts because of the gift we were given in Jesus. Many questions and stories followed my presentation, but in the end, I’m pretty sure they still believe in Santa.

There are certain things that you just cannot convince people of. They will either believe or they won’t. At Christmas I think of the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ. We understand how great a gift we have been given when we realize how desperately we need Him.

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.” Romans 6:20-21

This is where it starts. The belief that we are all dead in sin. All of creation, all of nature is under the curse of sin. Sin, the rejection of God and all His righteousness.

Jesus says in Luke 13: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

1 John 1:8-9 teaches us: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So we believe that sin has sentenced all of us to death, every single one of us. The Good News is that we are called to repentance that leads to life. This is the gift! It’s a gift because repentance is only available because Christ has died as the atoning sacrifice for all who believe. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Like my kids and Santa, I cannot make them believe and I’m not sure I want to MAKE them believe. At some point they will come to that conclusion themselves (maybe) and hopefully our talk will help with that revelation. In the same way, what I say will not make you believe, but when you come to that revelation through the Holy Spirit, hopefully this will help you along. I never want to try to force anyone to believe at risk of an insincere or misguided faith. Only the Holy Spirit convicts and transforms. Salvation and repentance, that is a gift of God: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9 Merry Christmas to you all. -jason

What’s In It For Me?

My transition back into the Department of Education has been, well, a little rough.

There could be many variables that have caused me to feel this way. One aspect of this job that I am learning and growing in is the age group. I have worked previously in two high schools and a middle school. Now in Elementary school, I am having to discover new strategies.

When I arrived, the previous Behavioral health Specialist had a store in place. Students could earn tokens to purchase items in the store. They earned tokens by achieving expected behavior. This is not a new concept for me. I have heard about this system used in homes and in schools all round the country for behavior modification. The reasoning is that incentives will give children/youth something to work toward so they will learn to modify their behavior to obtain the reward. This is a very common strategy used by behavioralist of various fields.

I’m not completely against this. I see how it is effective in some situations. The field of autism seems to have benefited greatly from the practice of token systems. Behavior modification has proved successful in this setting. In life in general there are some incentives that people work toward. In the restaurant business servers will put in the extra effort in expectation of a higher tip. Interestingly, when I worked at Alan Wong’s Restaurant tips were pooled. For many that was not a desirable system. No matter how hard you worked, you received a set percentage of all the tips collected. Some might expect that would cause servers to work less. Instead, the effect it had on the community of workers, was accountability. Co-workers will get on another worker that was not “pulling their weight” in the community.

An article that I came across highlighted the dangers of reward systems. It’s one opinion of many, but worth considering. The author suggests. “Priming kids to expect rewards for good behavior can harm their social skills in the long term.” The theory suggests that rewarding core social behaviors (responsibility, courtesy, respect) will build a mindset that will always leave them asking, “what’s in it for me?”

While I am not completely against reward and incentive systems, I believe we need to consider how it is implemented and what we might be teaching our youth. Something we are trying for our kids is to have them complete set chores with no payment, but just as a functioning member of our family. Once those are done, there may be other tasks that they can get paid for, but not until their set chores are complete. There are things you just have to do. Responsibility. On top of that, there can be incentive if you choose to put in the extra effort.

There is a shift in our society. There is a word that I hear floated around in many circles, “entitled”. With the practice of a reward for everything and for everything a reward, we can tend to produce entitled adults. Doing things just because it is the right thing to do becomes an exception. We are inspired by acts of kindness, because it is increasingly rare. Social norms are lost as we ask ourselves, “What’s in it for me?” -jason

Casual Sex, Serious Consequences

My youth sexual education was mostly peer influenced. Ignorant conversations about sex with peers, pornography and even public media moving closer to pornographic imagery, these are the things that I was exposed to. The eighties had an uptick in movies like Casual Sex and Porky’s that painted a very loose picture of sex. In today’s movie scene we mock the 40-year-old virgin and are appalled in sitcoms with the character who has not had sex in a month. This is normal behavior in our societal standards. I am convinced this type of thinking strongly contributes to the sexual misconduct that is being uncovered recently. It may be casual sex, but there are serious consequences.

Admittedly this is not a parallel comparison, but it is interesting to me that when there is a deadly shooting many look to change in policy and overarching value shifts. It’s a community problem. When there is sexual deviancy, we don’t look at societal influence but focus solely on the individual. We need to, in all situations, look at both the part and the whole.

On an individual level we can look at biology. Men, we have all heard, have sex on their minds constantly. I’m not sure how that is measured and how valid some of those statistics are, but I did get some interesting information at a recent conference. The presenter was speaking on brain chemistry of boys and girls. She stated that boys experience a burst of dopamine at the anticipation of sex, greater than the actual act of sex. This is why pornography is a mega industry that will continue to find its way in the hands of adolescent boys everywhere. On an individual level, for men in particular, we must understand this propensity for irrational thoughts and action when it comes to the chemical effects of perceived sexual encounters.

On a larger scale, how do we address this information? I believe we need to reevaluate our societal views and values on sexuality. This is not a religious plea, it’s a plea for humanity. Our openness and loosening of moral principles in the area of sexuality are NEVER excuses for sexual deviancy, but we must not neglect the pathways we create.

In seminary we studied about Emperor Nero. Scary dude. One area that was discussed was his twisted sexual appetite that only grew over time. My theory: The anticipation of a sexual encounter fueled his desire for more and as the all powerful emperor of Rome, it required more perversion and extremely deviant behaviors to achieve that.

Fast forward to today. Sexual misconduct is being uncovered and exposed in many high profile people. We are appalled as a society and we should be. How could this happen? Well, look at the world we live in. A sexualized society of casual sexual encounters and we are normalizing this. High profile men who are absorbed by their power and status push the limits of that anticipatory pleasure seeking rush. It happens once. They want more. The Nero effect unfolds. It takes more and they push things further.

Sexuality is not the only value system that is weak and destructive to our society. Certainly there are many others. This one area of casual sex is threatening our society. Personally, I have seen how deceptively destructive it is to relationships. We must demand that the beautiful expression of sex be preserved in a committed, monogamous and loving relationship. The way we value sex directly impact how we value people and relationships. This is the fabric of community. There is absolutely NO excuse for sexual misconduct, but I urge you all to consider how casual sex has serious consequences.  -jason