Monthly Archives: January 2012

Thoughts on Social Networking – What I Wish I Would Have Said

The panel on social networking was this past weekend, and I learned something. Over the past several months I can’t count how many times I’ve read the statement that Generation Y are digital natives and the rest of us are digital immigrants. It has always sounded like one of those things people say when they’re trying to scare parents into buying some sort of cyber-nanny program, or a subscription to “Internet Terrors All Parents Should Stay Up Nights Worrying About.” In short, I didn’t take it seriously.

I went into this panel experience thinking my audience was going to be active social networkers looking for ways to honor God and set boundaries in their usage. Instead I found myself in a room full of digital immigrants – some in culture shock and others just looking for a guidebook to help them “find the bathroom” so to speak. The problem is that I didn’t figure that out until the time was almost up.

So if you were there, or if you feel like an alien every time you stick your toe in the internet surf, this is what I wish I would have said.

Driving is the most dangerous activity in which we participate on a daily basis. We all understand that, and we take precautions. We buckle our seat belts and put our kids in car seats. We drive the speed limit (or close to it) and stop at stop lights and obey traffic laws. When our children are old enough we enroll them in driver’s education and teach them defensive driving and supervise their driving and set boundaries. We do all of those things, and we still drive regularly. The internet is a tool, like your car; the use of it carries risks, but with informed use and an awareness of the risks, it can be far more of an asset to your life than a terror.

Additionally, we need to understand that social networking specifically is a valuable tool. Gossip, slander, pornography, gambling, bullying, narcissism, and the like all existed before the internet. They are a product of sinful people living in a sinful world. Gossip and meddling was a problem in the first century church, and was a problem among the Puritans in both England and America, and was a problem in the 1950’s (when it was blamed on the telephone). We must always guard our tongue (even when it is actually our fingers. I think you know what I mean.) and keep ourselves from evil, regardless of the medium in which we communicate.

Almost 40 years ago, when my mother followed her new husband (my dad) from Australia to Canada, telephone calls were prohibitively expensive and the mail took weeks. When I was born my parents made Super8 films of me and sent them to my grandparents, which were out of date by the time they arrived. Today, because of social networking, my parents and my parents-in-law can feel included in the lives of their long distance grandchildren. My aunt in Australia, my sister and mother in Ontario and Jonathan’s family in Saskatchewan and BC can all see pictures of special events within a day or two of them happening. Missionaries can be in regular contact with their sending churches for free instead of spending hundreds of dollars to mail out quarterly newsletters.

Like our cars, the benefits of social networking are legion and immigrants or not, we need to learn to speak its language.


Some Thoughts on Social Networking, Pt. 2

This is the second post in a series about social networking in which I answer three questions given to me to prepare for a panel discussing biblically informed use of social media.

Part One: What principles guide your use of social media? Can be found by clicking on that link.

This is Part Two:

What opportunities and challenges do you encounter in your usage in light of biblically-informed wisdom?

I’m going to deal with this in reverse order to the question, discussing challenges first and ending with some wonderful opportunities.

There are so many challenges in social networking: wasting time, gossip, meddling, self-absorption, just to name a few; but I struggled with all of those things before I connected to the internet, and would struggle with them still if I disconnected from all social media tomorrow. The biggest struggle I face that are a direct result of my participation in the social networking world are voyeurism/exhibitionism (in the non-sexual sense of those terms).

Facebook was specifically designed to create an atmosphere in which people would willingly submit the intimate details of their lives to the general public for the amusement and titillation of all. While it has grown beyond and become more than that original purpose, that first intent has shaped not only every application for Facebook, but all of the social networking platforms to some degree.Voyeurism is not a side effect of the social networking experience, it is a primary effect against which we must guard.

I like to think that I succeed in avoiding the worst of  the voyeuristic side of things. I avoid “trolling” facebook looking for blatant “gotchas.” I have unfriended people when their posts seemed to be offering far too intimate a peek behind the curtains of their lives or if I find myself  looking specifically for details of someone’s life that they have chosen not to post.

The exhibitionism, however, is more of a challenge for me. This is not primarily because I crave attention (although, let’s be honest, I do) but because I believe there is value in sharing our lives and I struggle with drawing the lines in the right places. Scripture tells us that one of the reasons for our suffering is to comfort others. We can neither be a comfort to, nor derive comfort from others if we don’t share our struggles honestly. However we must exercise discernment in separating sharing from airing laundry, grumbling and complaining, or outright inappropriateness. I don’t believe that I crossed that line in sharing our miscarriage the way I did, back at the beginning of the blog, but do I cross it with my flippant tweets about my children, or comments and blog posts about our seminary life that don’t point anyone to find comfort in Christ? This is an ongoing question that I ask with every blog post, and should ask more frequently about my tweets.

I share this as my biggest struggle, and yet, it has also been my biggest opportunity in social media. Because of this blog primarily, and then my increased online presence, I have been encouraged by, and been an encouragement to, women with whom I would never have otherwise made contact. It started out as just conversations about infertility, but now I get emails from people saying they have been encouraged in motherhood and in their seminary journey. I stay at home with three small children all day, and that is my primary calling from God right now; but through social media, the Lord has also allowed me an opportunity to step out of the bounds of my home, without stepping out of my door, and it is something for which I am very thankful.


Oh. Let’s Not Do That Again

Last week was flu week at casa Cowan. The cheesedoodle started us off on Tuesday with repeated spectacular gastroenterological displays. The poor little guy couldn’t keep anything more than a couple of tablespoons of liquid in his stomach for 12 hours. In between he just lay on the couch and signed, “thirsty.” It was really horrible.

Wednesday was the snickerdoodle. Fortunately it didn’t last that long.

Thursday was me. Ugh. If I could have just lay on the couch and signed “thirsty,” I would have. In fact, when I put the children to bed at 7:30, I got into bed too and fell asleep before they did.

Friday was Jonathan and while he didn’t have the sheer number of technicolor spewing episodes the cheesedoodle did, he was hit harder than any of us, and didn’t fully recover until Saturday around dinner time.

Sunday morning the mackerdoodle complained that her stomach was hurting and she didn’t want to eat breakfast. She proceeded to sit at the breakfast table and sing happily. If we hadn’t just gone through week of the plague we would have ignored her; however we decided to be cautious and keep her home from church. I came home from church to find her running laps around the basement. “So she’s fine?” I said to Jonathan. The facial expression I got in return spoke VOLUMES.

We went upstairs and I made lunch while giving Jonathan a rundown of the sermon. Just as I was about to call the children for lunch, there was an unmistakeable sound of cough/gagging followed by that sickening splat. In one fell swoop the mackerdoodle managed to compress all of the cheesedoodle’s combined episodes into one great big, long, enhanced episode. In 3D. With surround sound.  When it was over, she said, “Oh. Wow. That was surprising. Now can I lie on the couch and watch TV, like cheesedoodle got to ?”

We said yes. She wasn’t sick again. In fact, she got tired of lying on the couch after 45 minutes and was dancing around the living room within an hour.

I have wiped every surface in my home with disinfecting wipes more times than I can count. I have washed sheets and sprayed Lysol spray and handed out airborne at every meal and we still all managed to contract the flu one at a time. It goes to show two things: You just can’t keep a family completely healthy, and the Lord is kind to have handed this out one at a time instead of hitting the entire family in one miserable festival of mutual suffering.

Let’s not do that again for a while, though.


Some Thoughts on Social Networking Pt.1

If you’re curious about my participation in the SOPA strike, you may want to read this post  or this one which lay out the problems with the bill fairly well.

I’ve been asked to be a part of a panel discussing biblically informed social networking. I can’t imagine what would make someone think I have an opinion on that subject. (cough, cough alittleoverconnectedmaybe? cough, cough) Anyway, I have been sent three questions to get me thinking about things before the panel begins, and thought, what better way to prepare for a panel on social networking than to blog my thoughts then tweet that blog?

I’ll answer them in three posts. Those posts might be consecutive. Or my kids might do something excessively cute which would, of course, taking posting precedence.

So here’s the first question: “What principles guide your use of social media?”

The primary guiding principle for all believers should be to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The question I have to ask myself on a regular basis is “Can I participate in the social media craze and still meet that goal? If so, what does that look like?”

The fact that I am currently as connected as I am means that Jonathan and I have answered the first question with “yes,” although some people we love dearly have reached the opposite conclusion and I respect them for staying faithful to that conviction. Where the rubber meets the road, however, is the second question.

Here are some ways that I try to glorify God and enjoy Him in the social networking arena.

  1.  I say nothing in any forum that I would not say to someone’s face when passing at church or in the supermarket. Facebook and twitter are not the place to discuss differing theological views, rebuke sin or air family laundry. I haven’t always been good at this, but over the last 18 months have been intentionally changing my approach to facebook specifically.
  2. God has called us into family and church relationships. Social media does not replace those things. If I speak to people online, but never when I see them in person at church or around the neighborhood, I am sinning. The internet is *not* a community.
  3. Social networking is a tool.
    1. Just like I don’t use a hammer and pliers interchangeably, I try to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each platform and use them appropriately.
    2. I work very hard to use social networking, rather than these sites controlling me. I try to exercise the same level of moderation I use with food, alcohol and other forms of entertainment.  When I find my facebook time rapidly accelerating (can anyone say “Words with Friends?”) I step back for a day or two and get some perspective.

In addition to these general principles, I also have some blog specific guidelines.

Blogging:

  • I blog in submission. When I raise biblical issues Jonathan always reads the post, discusses it with me, and corrects me if the need arises.
  • I want God to be the hero of the blog, not me or my kids. I don’t succeed, but it’s something at which I am working.
  • Blogging is not my journal. It’s not therapy. It’s a public picture into my life and what God is showing me.
  • I will never blog anything that my kids would be embarrassed to read in 10, 15, 20 years.

So there you go.

Do you have any guidlelines for your use of social media?


Ends of Ropes and Signs of Hope

To begin this post I will outline all of the ropes of which I have reached the end, but hold on with me through the perceived whining, because it does result in my learning things, and a funny story about my doodles.

Rope 1: The partial and inconsistent potty training of the cheesedoodle is driving me crazy. People keep telling me “He’s only two and a half,” which is actually the problem. The average age of potty trained boys in Western culture is increasing generationally but human anatomy hasn’t changed.  The conclusion I’ve reached is that boys are capable of being potty trained younger, and our culture must have a flawed approach to the process. Trying to identify the cultural blindspots associated with this issue, however, is liking asking a fish to identify how wet it is. I am a product of my culture, and thereby unable to see past it. The result is alternating days of throwing up my hands in defeat, declaring him “not even three” and putting him in a diaper, followed by days in which I am determined to find the key to unlocking the diaper chains even if it kills everyone in the house, because “he’s already two and a half!”. Tuesday he used the potty faithfully until we left the house, then pooped in his pants for the childcare workers during bible study. END OF MY ROPE!!!!!!!!!

Rope 2: I feel that I am taking two steps forward and two back when it comes to house keeping, and every time I am completing one chore, there are thirty seven others that are not being done because I am doing that one. Jonathan is taking a week long Jan Term class that runs from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm every day this week. Tuesday he didn’t have lunch because I didn’t “get around” to making one. END OF MY ROPE!!!!!!

Rope 3: The situation with our house in Georgia has been deteriorating since June, and we are now back down to two tenants. When we bought the house it appraised at $140,000  – significantly more than we owed on it. We thought we were making such a wise decision and a clever investment. It’s currently on the market for $112,500 with no interest at all. END OF MY ROPE!!!!!

As all of this (and the daily demands of just life with three dependent little people) was piling up on me, and I reached the end of my rope (and then watched said end rise above my head as I passed it going down) it occurred to me that when I reach the end of my rope, it’s a sign that I’m holding onto the wrong rope to begin with.

The result of this “epiphany” was a day spent (I’m so embarrassed to even write this) thinking to myself, “Coming to the end of my rope. Let go of my rope. Cling to God’s rope.” If that doesn’t sound like a youth camp t-shirt slogan, I don’t know what does, and the sad thing is that I didn’t even recognize it for the lunacy it was for almost 24 hours. I know better than “just try harder,” or “find the right rope,” but the harder I tried to pull myself out of the hole I was sinking into, the worse everything was going. I was snapping at my kids, snapping at myself, ignoring my housework (because that really showed the dishes who was boss!) and was generally an unpleasant person to be associated with. The rope kept getting shorter the harder I tried to hold on.

I was finally forced to preach the gospel to myself.

I am found in Christ.

I am not pulling myself up by a rope; I am abiding in the Vine!

I am not hanging over a precipice; I am safely in the hands of the creator of the universe and no one can snatch me from Him.

I am not barely surviving; I am living the abundant life!

I wish that I could say that once I let go of all my rope related thoughts and began to once again focus on Christ that the cheesedoodle potty trained himself, the house in Georgia sold and someone bequeathed me a house elf. That’s not what happened. I’m praying for wisdom in potty training. I’m praying for a miracle for the house. I mopped my floor and loaded my dishwasher. And then:

Wednesday night is midweek at church which is a late night for the kids, but not unmanageably so. Jonathan had a committee meeting to attend, so I was going to get the kids home by myself and into bed and he was catching a ride home with a neighbor. I herded them all out to the van, got every one of the buckled, got into the driver’s seat, got myself buckled in, reached for the ignition and realized that I didn’t have any keys.

End of my rope? As I was sitting there wondering how I was going to abide in the Vine on this one, the mackerdoodle asked what was wrong.

“Mama doesn’t have car keys, baby girl.” I answered, doing my best to keep my voice in neutral.

“OH NO!” cried the makerdoodle. “We will never be able to drive our van AGAIN?!?”

With a deep breath, I turned around and smiled. “Isn’t it funny?” I said. I even began to feel it. “Isn’t it crazy that we did all of this and I don’t even have keys to the van? Now we get to go on an adventure and find Daddy in the church to get keys. Isn’t that funny?”

Within moments they were giggling, those older doodles of mine. Taking their cues from mama, as they had all week to the detriment of peace and harmony, they were now laughing at the crazy situation. As we returned to the church building, and I said hello to people to whom I had just said good bye, my mackerdoodle said, “Get this! We got all buckled into the van, and she doesn’t have any keys! Isn’t that HILARIOUS?!?”

Once we got the keys, the mood remained.The moon was a beautiful huge orange orb low on the horizon as we were driving home, and sometimes we could see it, and sometimes we couldn’t. Frustrated that she couldn’t always see this mesmerizing sight, the mackerdoodle asked why the moon was sometimes up and sometimes down. I answered, “It’s playing hide-and-seek with us.” There was a moment of silence as we caught glimpses of the moon dashing between the trees from one hiding spot to the next and the mackerdoodle said (dryly, but without whining) “I think it’s winning.” As soon as she said it, the cheesedoodle chuckled at his sister’s wit, and so did she.

I’m still praying for a miracle. I’m still wondering about potty training. I’m still feeling the pressure.

But I’m not at the end of anything. I am found in Christ. No ropes attached.


What Happens When You Put a Sticker on an 8 Month Old?

This sticker? On me? Are you kidding?

Tastes better than it looks

Ok. What's next?


Moving On

This is my fourth presidential election in the US.

I came in on a doozy with the Bush v. Gore election; an event that not only redefined the words “pregnant”, “hanging” and “chad”, but also cemented politics as my spectator sport of choice. The Bush v. Kerry election certainly didn’t have the same cliff hanging quality, but there was a lot of entertainment and quotable moments. I have to say, however, for sheer unexpected developments, the 2008 election that was supposed to be Romney v. Clinton, then was almost Huckabee v. Clinton and ended up being McCain v. Obama takes the cake. What with two wild card vice presidential candidates and some truly entertaining one liners, it was pure gold right up to the finish line.

In the four years since that electoralpalooza, there has been a shift both in the political arena and in me. We are now in a financial depression everyone seems to want to ignore. A group of people calling themselves the “Tea Party” flashed in the pan for a little while and then lived on in phantom ripples. The imminent threat of terrorism that hung over every word, image and breath of the 2004 campaigns seems to have receded from most people’s minds.  I, in those years, have become Presbyterian, had two more children, moved to another city in a different state, learned to cook, become passingly acquainted with cleaning and watched thousands of hours of children’s programing instead of listening to talk radio.

Tuesday was the 2012 Iowa Caucuses – the preseason game before the super primary nights begin in earnest. In the past, Iowa has been the first of many nights spent watching multiple news feeds and broadcasts trying to anticipate the choices of thousands of people I have never met. This Tuesday I watched an episode of Psych, removed the buttons from a shirt, played a few rounds of Words with Friends and went to bed. I didn’t even really care on Wednesday morning when Yahoo told me (as I was trying to check my email) that Romney had narrowly won.

I guess I’m moving on. Maybe it’s because nothing ever changes and in four years two different faces are going to be saying the same words. It feels too much like “Election: the sequel. This time we mean it.” Or maybe it’s because I’m growing up and and recognizing that this isn’t a sport and it isn’t entertainment; it’s the real world with long term consequences.

I would like to think it’s something like that. But it’s not. There just isn’t anyone on the field this time around that strikes my fancy. What’s the point in watching the game if you don’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak? I’m moving on, but I suspect I’ll be back, like any fair weather fan, if the play gets interesting enough. In the meantime, I’m working my way through Black’s Books and White Collar on Netflix. A girl needs some entertainment in her life, after all.


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