Volume and Velocity

In the last year or so I’ve come to appreciate jazz. Now, let me be clear. I’m not a musician although I wish I were. My tastes in music are eclectic. I do not “understand” jazz, if that’s the right thing to say. What I know is that some jazz makes sense to me in some remote place that I can’t explain.

There is one song that my whole family enjoys – even as much as I do. That’s saying something because I have a tendency to torture them with music. But one song stands out – we all like it, even our eleven year-old who is famous for claiming to hate jazz. But all of us like the song Mumbles by Clark Terry and Oscar Peterson. If you’ve never heard it – let me just tell you – the title captures the song. There are no words really – just, well – mumbles. It has a quick, upbeat tempo and it captures the way my wife and I feel a great bit of the time.

What I mean is that, between work and trying to raise our sons (something we are very thankful for by the way) – the end of the day sometimes can’t seem to come soon enough. In fact, by the end of the day, for my wife and I the idea of conversation, of going in-depth, sitting and having quite conversation and sharing all the intense feelings that we have for one another – well – sometimes all we can get out sounds more like mumbles.

We take our role as parents as a great responsibility  (as hopefully most parents do). Our goal is to raise men – not boys or children. We are trying to figure out what that means each day – but we are committed nonetheless – even if we don’t know what we are doing exactly. We are trying  to point them toward maturity as young men and as Christians. It is a challenge to say the least.

But parenting has always been challenging (as I’ve been told). I can’t imagine going through some of the things that other generations went through – world wars, depression, etc. In some respects raising kids today is simpler. In some ways, however, the challenges today are totally different and hard to compare to previous generations. A lot of that has to do with, what Donald Guthrie referred to as the “volume and velocity.”

Those two words capture so much of what it is like to be a child today. There is so much coming at them from all sides at such speed and such quantity that it is “humanly impossible for them to take it all in,” as Guthrie commented. It is easy to see.

My children are 12, 11 and six. In their lifetimes the iPhone has already changed multiple times – not to mention the iPad. We get books on things called a Nook. We bank online. Their friends have cellphones and email addresses.There are entire networks set up for the on TV and Satellite radio. An entire industry exists to capture the imagination and attention of kids – to get the dollars from their parents wallets. They play games on Wii – where they have a Mii. They stream movies on Netflix.

At the same time, even as technology throws out its own set of demands they are need to be on top of things artistically, athletically, and academically – and even spiritually. Oh and they need to learn a language and excel in the sciences and be able to write, type, and do amazes searches on the web. All the while they need to be able to deal with all the images that are coming at them – even as their endure the changes in their bodies (for my older two). I can’t even begin to list all the things that are coming at kids.

I don’t know how they can do it. I can’t do it. I can’t keep up with everything. How in the world can my kids?

The world my sons are growing up in is very different from the world I grew up in. It makes me think about what I have to do as a parent to understand the culture of my own children – and I’m existing in it. In some respects it feels like a foreign world – but I’m supposed to be a native.

I don’t think I am alone. I think most parents feel this way. In fact, perhaps the song Mumbles should become the anthem of parents across the U.S. On second thought, perhaps it ought to become the National Anthem. I think kids and parents alike feel like their mumbling.

It occurs to me then how important it is, not just for families to turn things off and stop running around, and grab a meal together. It is important for our kids to have safe, quiet places in their lives. In other words, rather than trying to take it all in we might want to find ways to keep it all out for a while, each day. I’m not advocating hiding in a cave – but we need to do something to help our children process what’s coming at them. Perhaps a great way is to help them turn it off for a bit.

It is probably all the more important for worship to be a place that is devoid of the volume and velocity that comes from the world around us. Maybe, just maybe, the notion of a sacred place and space needs to be taught to our children. They have never had that before, no place is safe from ads and promotion, from the mass of attention grabbing side-show that we call American Modern culture. But worship should be a place of transcendence and a place that has a singular focus – the worship of the triune God. It isn’t just important for them of course – is it important for parents as well. Perhaps it becomes all the more important for us to hold true to the biblical notion of a sabbath rest.

Our culture is our culture. We can try to avoid it and we’ll fail for sure. It is all around us. We can talk about changing it but at the same time we have to figure out how to thrive and flourish in it. It might be that the best we can hope for is that we change the way we handle culture as a family. We are here and now and we can’t look back and wish we lived in another time – a time that was slower, calmer, simpler (if it ever existed). So, I think we have to help our children. Perhaps parents have to learn to be thoughtful about the world and help their kids to do the same. Perhaps then we can help our children to avoid growing up in a world where they are destined to get the mumbles like their folks.

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