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1) This is actually real.  www.carlashes.com

2) If this exists, the next thing has to be truck mustaches.  That’s all I’m sayin’.

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It’s not easy to become an adult.  It’s a process and a struggle, and it definitely doesn’t happen overnight.  More importantly, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Becoming an adult happens in, through, and with the communities that are a part of.

In the last post I said that I’ve recently discovered two movies that express a lot about the struggle for adulthood.  The first was “Away We Go”.  The other is called “Lars and the Real Girl”.  It sounds a little strange to say that it’s about a guy who falls in love with a sex doll, because it’s really not about sex at all.  In fact, there’s no sex in it at all.  In reality it’s about a guy who struggles with a delusion where he creates an identity for this doll and thinks that she’s alive.  To work through this delusion the entire town winds up surrounding him and going along with his delusion.

While the movie pivots around Lars’s delusion it really deals with Lars’s struggle to figure out what it means to be an adult.  There is a pivotal scene, of which there is a glimpse in the trailer, where Lars asks his older brother how he knew he was a man.  The striking thing, for me, is that his brother doesn’t have a perfect answer.  It’s a process, even for him.

What’s more striking about this movie, especially compared to Away We Go, is that there is a clear connection between Lars’s struggle for adulthood and the community that surrounds him.  The only way for Lars to work through his issues, and step into something resembling adulthood, if for the community to walk with him through the struggle.

This seems to be an underrated thing for most people and most communities.  While many emerging adults put on an air of self-reliance, mainly because we think we should, the reality is that the community holds the key to solidifying their identity as an adult.  In a very real sense, someone is not really an adult until their core community tells them that they are.  Especially for those who stay in the communities where they were born and grew up, it’s very easy to remain ‘Bill’s boy’ or ‘Janet’s daughter’ well into mid or later life.  For many, they don’t even have the opportunity to be real adults until their parents die.

Of course, the flip side is that communities will come around the next generation of adults in order to support and guide them into adulthood.  One can hope this will happen.  But I think it still remains to be seen.

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Just because I’ve been living in the same place for over a year doesn’t actually mean that I know what I’m doing.  I often put on a pretty good appearance but the truth is that some days I just sit there and think, “How did I get here?”  Life has sort of seemed to just have happened.

I’m twenty-nine, recently fully employed, as a pastor no less, and I’ve been married for 6-years.  But the question of whether I actually qualify as an adult is an almost ever present question.  For that matter, it feels like I’m part of an entire generation for whom the definition of adulthood has completely changed.  Needless to say that’s creating some interesting anxieties.

Great art has the ability to capture a feeling or an idea that you didn’t even know that you had or could articulate.  In the last year I’ve discovered a couple of movies that have really captured some of my feelings in this regard.  The first one is a movie called “Away We Go”.  It’s a movie starring Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski.  Their characters Burt and Verona find themselves pregnant somewhat unexpectedly.  They also find themselves completely untethered to any particular location and proceed to go on a road trip to decide where they want to live.  They’re trying to decide where they want to make their home, not just where they want to live.  What’s refreshing is that the main couple are relatively normal, functional human beings.  Everyone else is crazy, but they’re normal.  The way that my wife put it is that things aren’t perfect because they’re together, but they’re better.

The core question, or struggle, of this movie is the struggle to figure out what it means to be an adult.  It’s a process of identity formation.  Or more generally it’s about claiming your live as your own, including all of the stuff that’s in it.  There’s a scene where they’re sitting together and veronica asks if they are screw-ups.  (It’s partly in the trailer, check it out.)  At this point in my life, that sentiment resonates with me perfectly.  I’m right at that point where work and family and home are all mediated by a level of uncertainty of identity.

Perhaps because it’s because I’m at a point of transition in my life.  Maybe it’s because I’m coming to terms with being a stable, married, gainfully employed human being.  But this movie really spoke to me.  I’d definitely check it out, but be forewarned, it is a move for adults.  Not obscene, but with plenty of adult language and things that just don’t appeal to kids.  Nevertheless, if you want to understand the world of emerging adults, this is a great window into that world.

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Every now and then you can see someone predict the future.

A couple of months ago a man named Jesse Schnell gave a presentation to a bunch of video game designers at a convention called DICE.  The link is here and you definitely need to watch it.  I also wrote a previous blog about this here, which is also worth checking out.  The important part of his talk (at least for this blog post) is his prediction about the convergence of real life and video games.  Two of the big points were 1) that the Facebook game ‘Farmville’ (and many other kinds of games) is representative of real life and digital life colliding in an amazing way and 2) that eventually, video games could hold the possibility of making us into better people.

Here is evidence of both of these points.

1) Farmville and real life.

My wife bought a bag of carrots the other day that had a sticker where you could get free ‘cash’ in Farmville.  Real farming + virtual farming = just plain weird.

2) The Self-organization game

Epic win is a phone app to help you keep your life organized that is disguised as a game.  Yep, now you can level up through your life.

I don’t know that I have really anything profound to say about all of this but is still strikes me as kind of abnormal.  It’s just odd to see someone tell you that something is going to happen, and then all of a sudden actually see it happen.

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Fair warning, this might be something of a nerdy post.

There was a day when the point of video games was to escape the realities of our world and immerse ourselves in fantasy.  To some extent this is still true but in the last couple of years, the real world and the digital world have begun to collide in some pretty surprising ways.

Recently, I’ve run across two videos that have illuminated my understanding of the relationship between the physical world and digital world.  The first is a video of a speech given by Jesse Schnell, a video game designer and professor of game design and Carnegie Mellon University.  You can watch the video at the link below.

Jesse Schnell at the DICE convention on the future of gaming.

He covers a lot of things in his 20 minute talk but here are the important ideas that I would pull out

1) He outlines the importance of simple interactive games like facebook games.  They are huge and generating unbelievable amounts of money.  For example.  Their are more Farmville (a simple game on Facebook) players than there are total number of people with Twitter accounts.  What’s more, Famville is generating millions of dollars a month.  That whole discussion blew me away.

2) He argues that the popularity of these types of games is due to the fact that they are connecting people back to reality.  It’s not just that Farmville is fun to play, but now you can see how good all of your friends are and play against them.  He goes into this in more detail in the video but the basic idea is that our lives have been so disconnected from reality that we are now searching for any bit of connection to reality that we can, no matter how simplistic or gimmicky that it might be.  Here’s where I think he hits the nail on the head.  This is a compelling argument to me.  His last main point is more troubblesome to me.

3) Combined with the fact that technology is becoming so cheap and even disposable (he argues that everything from our cereal box to our toothbrush will have a computer, screen and internet connectivity within the near future) he argues that game designers have the possibility to design games and point systems that help us be better people with real time feedback and rewards.

So, let’s give him the benefit of a doubt.  Never mind that he never determines what the definition of “better person” is.  Never mind the fact that he doesn’t discuss the unbelievable possibilities for abuse with what he is suggesting.  Let’s say he’s right, gaming can help us be better people.  So what does that actually look like?

Here’s where the next video comes in.  It’s from the TED website (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design) and features Jane McGonical.  She too is a game designer.   She talks some about the history of Games, the psychology of going on adventures within games, the fact that we are better people (more skilled but also more altruistic) in games than we are in real life, but also how gaming might have a real impact on making the world a better place

She ends her talk by talking about 3 different games that she’s worked on that influence how people think about and act toward the environment, to a game where when you complete the game you will actually have a certification from the World Bank to do development work.  That game is called Evoke. Her perspective really gives some more flesh to the seed of an idea that Jesse Schell starts.

Overall, I’m still skeptical of this all.  I find Schnells insight that we are disconnected from reality and are trying to fill an innate hunger very important.  I just don’t buy the idea that we then need design games that help us feel more connected to reality.  I think we just actually need to quit playing the games and get more connected with reality!  While I admire both of their hopes for altruistic gaming, the idea of thoughtful rejection is never entertained.  To resist the pull or progression of the technological worldview is never questioned.

I guess we shall see what the future brings.

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When it comes to politics I try to, first and foremost, ground myself in Biblical understandings and commands.  Specifically, I try to let Jesus be my guide.  As a result, there are some things that I happen to line up with Republicans on and others I line up with the Democrats.  Still others I line up with Green party candidates and even sometimes find myself in the same camp as some of the libertarians.  I’m usually willing to have a civil and honest debate with just about anyone on any issue.

However, I recently found my religious tradition staring down the barrel of the Glenn Beck paranoia machine.

If you have been living under a rock for the last couple of years Glenn Beck is an outspoken commentator on Fox News.  He’s one of the key people who has been responsible for bringing a relatively fringe set of beliefs into the mainstream consciousness.  Basically he’s adopted the language and arguments of the militia movements and the libertarian movements and helped force out traditional Republicanism, at least on the Fox News network.

At the beginning of march however, he sent out a warning on his radio program that people should look for the phrases “social justice” and “economic justice” in their churches and if they find them they should run as fast as they can.  He goes on to say that these are “code words” for Nazism and Communism.  To be fair, glen does then go on to clarify that everyone’s probably heard a sermon on this but you really have to be worried if your church holds these things as core doctrines or teachings.

Being a Mennonite, whose tradition has held these things as core values for over 400 years, I naturally found myself quite befuddled to suddenly find out that I was really a Nazi and a Communist.

Sorry Glenn.  Wrong answer, try again.

Social justice and economic justice are a core part of churches across all denominations not because there is a vast Christian Communo-Nazi conspiracy.  It’s a core part of many churches because it’s a core part of the Bible and of Jesus.

For those of you who might actually be taking Glenn’s warning seriously, let me make my position clear.  Yes, I believe in Social and Economic Justice as core doctrines and beliefs associated with the Christian faith.  Yes, Mennonite Church USA would also hold these as core beliefs.  And Yes, I hope PVMC also holds these as core doctrines.

But rather than ramble on and on about the core relationship between economic and social justice and the faith, I’ll just let the Bible to the talking for me.

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Deuteronomy 15:7-11

7 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. 8 You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 9 Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. 10 Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

Micah 6:8

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Luke 18:22

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Matthew 6:19-21

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rustg consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rusth consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,g you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

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And that’s just getting warmed up.

As my friend Tim would say, “Glenn, Thanks for comin’ out.  Next time remember to bring your glove.”

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A while back I read an article about the development of Television.  The new form of media was initially heavily subsidized by the federal government, not because they thought it was essential for communication or entertainment, but because of the massive new opportunity for advertising and supporting the business community.

Translation: the reason TV exists is not for the shows, it’s for the commercials.

Fast forward to yesterday and the 2010 SuperBowl.  As many of us know, this is the most watched TV event of the year, and as such, acquires the highest price for commercials.  It’s a time to debut new commercials and to build up drama and controversy about which ones will or will not get played.  It’s even a legitimate marketing strategy to create a commercial so racy that it intentionally gets banned.  That then draws people to your website for the video…along with whatever you’re selling.  And no, the content of the commercial and the actual business of your company don’t have to be connected in any way.  GoDaddy.com is a company that sells website domain names and runs computer servers for people to rent.  (They’re so benign that even my two websites, alanstucky.com and mennoshirts.com are hosted through Godaddy.com)  They’re a tech company, but their commercials feature attractive women dancing around to a catchy tune.

Probably the most surreal experience of commercials this year comes from Hulu.com.  They are a website that consolidates most of the commercially produced online video content into one website.  I can watch things from Fox, NBC, and the SciFi network all in the same place.  (It’s the single reason why I don’t care that I can only get 1 TV channel….70% of the time)  This year, Hulu was advertising a special section of their website that would have all of the commercials all in one place.  In an event where the explicit reason for watching (the football game) has become less and less important and the real reason for watching (the commercials) has become more obvious, Hulu has finally cut out all of the cultural theater and has brought out the real reason for watching any of it.  In an even more amazing feat, Hulu’s “adzone”, as they’re calling it, is sponsored by Coca-Cola and features Coke ads in between the real ads.  That’s right, commercials while you’re watching commercials.  What’s more, because of the ability to embed online video content, hulu will get people (like me) to spread around these advertisements  for free.

All of this may be readily apparent to anyone reading this blog, but I just feel like someone has to name the absurdity of it all.  Will it stop me from watching the Super Bowl and participating in this cultural distortion?  Well, it didn’t this year.

Click here for Hulu’s Adzone.  You can find any ad you want!

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