Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: children

Saving our Imaginations from Fortnite

I am reading A Wrinkle in Time to my son, Oliver, who is 7 years old. One of my goals is to teach him to use and develop his imagination. I actually stop as we’re reading to encourage him to be still and actively imagine what he’s hearing. It’s hard for him to not fidget with something or even be drawn to other books and images in his room. I remind him, “We’re being still and practicing seeing the story in our minds. What does Calvin look like?” (I’m really glad he hasn’t seen the movie). On our family vacation this summer we listened to the Chronicles of Narnia in the car and he claimed to be able to read his book about dragons and listen to the story on the car speakers at the same time.

I think I’m a bit like Oliver sometimes. Paying attention is a difficult task. I spend a lot of time on my computer and always have way too many tabs open in Chrome. I am prone to popping between tasks and too often lack the stillness for the clarity of thought I desire. I want to listen to God and engage my own imagination in any number of creative tasks, but I am, as I think most people are, chronically distracted.

fortnite and coopted imaginationA big new distraction the gaming industry recently cooked up is Fortnite. It’s a shooting game where players skydive onto an island and gather resources to kill each other. Some kind of plasma storm forces them into a tighter and tighter circle and they can build platforms and ramps out of the resources they gather (that’s the “fort” part I think).

I found out about Fortnite through my nephews earlier this year but when I heard this incredible episode of On the Media about Twitch, the social media platform for gamers, I took a deep dive to find out why and how so many people are interested. If you are an elementary school kid like Oliver it is one of the top topics of conversation. Millions of people watch professional gamers play this game. There are tournaments with prizes in the millions. The most famous professional gamer in the United States is Ninja AKA Tyler Blevins. He reportedly earns a million dollars a month. He got really, really famous when, in April of this year, he played with Drake. Seven million people have watched the YouTube video of their game so far.

I want to save my son’s imagination from Fortnite. Imagining violence is the biggest reason. I don’t want him to be desensitized to violence by repeated cartoonish head shots and rocket explosions. I don’t want him to dream about how to kill anyone, even if only in a game, but it’s more than that–I fear the overwhelming swell of enthusiasm for this game will steal his imagination. Instead of imagining anything, he can see it all. It’s loud; it’s fast; and everybody loves it. He loves it and he has never even played it. It IS indeed creative, but too complete, I guess. There’s not much room for his brain to do anything because it has all been done for him. The artist who made Fortnite are not giving an invitation into anything. They are as 20th century writer George MacDonald said in his essay, “The Fantastic Imagination“, writing “THIS IS A HORSE” on their art (and on our minds).

Don’t mess with this dude, George MacDonald

“Suppose my child ask me what the fairytale means, what am I to say?”

If you do not know what it means, what is easier than to say so? If you do see a meaning in it, there it is for you to give him. A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, on the other hand, is so far from being a work of art that it needs THIS IS A HORSE written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it do not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much. At all events, the business of the painter is not to teach zoology.

As admirable as the creatives responsible for Fortnite are (I love their worldwide campaign with the llamas), the main force behind Fortnite is not art but business. Companies are going to great lengths to tap the veins of a generations’ desires as they have with Fortnite. But instead of awakening something in their imaginations, they feed us back their desire like a soon to be foie gras duck. If they find something we want, they slap a “THIS IS A HORSE” label on it and shove it down our throats in every conceivable medium. They took our dreams, made them very real, and then edged out the competition by dominating our imaginations for as long as possible.

Imagination is key to being a Christian. The cooperation of mind and heart with God takes contemplation, stillness and creativity. It is not always so clear what God might do next and we who are committed to following that next thing must have unclaimed space in our heads for the project. Other things crowd it too–worries, earning a living, etc.–but Fortnite is the most recent in a string of increasingly demanding and enticing competitors for our hopes and dreams. You might have a future in professional gaming, son! Maybe Fortnite is your ticket to the big time! Lord, save us.

Lord give us space, rest and real hope. Awaken us to what is already in us and where you already are. Stoke our imaginations and make something new. 

 

 

Why I Ditched the Grown Ups for the Children

The week before New Years Eve I schemed up a plan at the last minute to ditch the grown ups at our morning Sunday meeting.

I’m usually involved in a significant way at our meetings (I am the pastor, after all) but it has been years (close to a decade probably) since I got to be with our children during a Sunday meeting. The children are a very significant part of our church, so I needed to go and be involved in a significant way with them. We ended up throwing a surprise New Year’s Eve party complete with a balloon drop, games and prizes, pudding parfaits, ball drop, and countdown to noon (EST but midnight in Vietnam) all made by the kids. We surprised the grown ups and made them yell and celebrate something new with us. The most fun, I kept telling the kids, was that WE made it for THEM. It was a gift.

Children have gifts to share with the community.

Some of you might say, “Of course.” Others might be saying, “Huh, yeah, I guess they do.” Let me enumerate a few.

Children easily express themselves.

In joy or sorrow, children are close to their celebration and grief. Everything is cause for some eruption. Learning to regulate is still in the future for them, but that process often goes awry as we grow up and we, the adults, end up too regulated, our emotions shriveling for lack of expression. Children remind our hearts of their capacity for the full spectrum.

Children know how to trust.

Jesus called little children to the attention of the adults who followed him on more than one occasion. It seemed a special feature of Jesus’ hope for us that we relate to God as a parent. He taught us to pray “Our Father” he told us that “unless we become like a little child we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Children trust their parents even if they are untrustworthy. I have a vivid memory of going over to a new friend’s house when I was about 10. His little brother, who was probably 6 or 7 told me, “My Dad knows everything.” Being the youngest in my family, I had never been exposed to such foolishness. “Of course your dad doesn’t know everything,” I thought, but having enough compassion intuitively not to be responsible for this boys disillusionment, I said nothing, just wondered. Trust like that kid had in his dad is not far from the faith we need for the darkness of the world.

Children need us to express our faith. 

“My Dad knows everything.” The corruption, destruction and rot have their limits. Somewhere, somehow, God contains it, sustains us and plows a path for us through the drifts of icy death dealing to other side of death, and maybe just tomorrow. Our children’s fragility is a gift to us in this harsh reality. They need our gentleness and we need their need. What future are we creating for them? What hope are we demonstrating for them? What faith do we have to show them? Will our Heavenly Father save us? Will our Heavenly Mother care for us. Our children know what we believe. They can smell it. They need our faith because the world is not safe. We are in Christ, though. You can be, but you need the tribe of Circle of Hope to maintain and grow it.

Children are good at being themselves.

At the party, the children offered us these gifts just by being themselves. In Circle of Hope in South Jersey we do not have a curriculum for our children. We have a tradition. We have a routine, which is helpful for our togetherness, but the content is our life together. We tell stories from the Bible but more importantly, we DO the Bible by forming our tribe, our extended family in Christ, just by being ourselves together and including others in our fun. Having a project on New Year’s Eve was great for building our team. Everyone played a part. We dealt with our limitations, we sorted through conflict, we loved one another, we listened to each other, gave and received honor, and went a little wild together. We made a mess and ate too many cookies. We danced and whooped. The Kingdom of Heaven is near!

Circle of Hope receives this gifts and creates an environment for them to be received and for children to grow.

Our theology about how we raise children is well developed but under communicated. I encourage you to read this page on our website, which is a brief summary of how we think our community is a great environment for children to grow up into a life of meaning and faith. If you’re really into it, like on the Children’s team or a parent yourself, you would be interested in our Children’s Plan, a more extensive document about how we practically create and maintain that healthy environment for our children.