Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

What Parents Wish Teens Understood about Social Media… and Vice Versa

4175247254_0d1d063004_o_0I’ve recently had occasion to spend time with groups of teens and parents talking about spirituality in the smartphone age–how we set good boundaries and habits, how we bring our healthiest selves to that endeavor, etc. I started out asking each group, “What do you wish your [parents/teens] understood about your feelings about technology and social media?”

I had this idea that I’d write one blog post from each perspective. But as these conversations went on, I realized that was the wrong approach, and unnecessary. Because generally, teens and adults would say the same thing to one another. Here are a few themes:

Both think the other spends too much time online. Parents are worried that their teens are interacting more and more through a screen and not building healthy habits for face-to-face interaction. But youth are just as likely to say that their parents are on Facebook too much, or can’t get through a meal without checking email or responding to a text.

Both were worried about the tech world being a “burden” for the other. You can see why parents would worry about how all this screen time is affecting young minds (and sleep cycles). But youth talked about this too. One young person said, “At least for us, a lot of our screen time is social. But it seems like my parents are always working and having to check in.”

Both see the value in tech-free times. One of my conversations was with a church youth group, and it was the youth themselves (in consult with their advisors) who came up with the tech-free policy for their meetings: they turn in their phones at the beginning and get them back at the end. They also listed many of the same “sacred spaces” where phones and tablets should be off-limits as their parents did: the dinner table, whenever an important conversation is taking place, etc. One parent who heard the teens’ comments about this quipped, “If you value tech-free time so much, why do you holler when we tell you to turn it off or take away your devices?” Touche. Then again, complaining about parental boundaries is a time-honored task of the teenager. What’s more, young people don’t like being interrupted in a task any more than we do. Take a phone out of their hand mid-text and they will complain, just like we testily respond “Just a minute!!!” when someone demands our attention while on our phones.

Both admitted an impact on attention span. This expresses itself a little differently in different generations—like teens before them, today’s youth have multiple “inputs” going at once, much more than adults do—but both teens and adults feel the effects of “monkey mind.”

Both understand the difference between the curated persona and the fullness of life. The youth talked about their parents “bragging about us on Facebook,” and in turn the parents lamented the litany of selfies their kids took in order to get the right one. In a sense, though, we all understand the rules of the game: what we put online, and see online about others, is not the complete story. Then again, both groups said there’s a difference between knowing that intellectually and feeling it in our gut. It still hurts when other people seem to be living their lives better than you are.

Parents worry how this affects a child’s emerging sense of self and self-worth–rightly so, I think. But while this is just a hunch, I wonder whether young people will actually be better at handling this as adults than we currently are, because they’ve had the time and the mental elasticity to learn how.


I know there’s a difference between what people say and what people do. We all know the “right answer” to this stuff–whether we take it to heart in the heat of the moment, when the text is calling to us, or when we want that shot of affirmation from Instagram, is another matter. I also know that kids who attend a church youth group aren’t necessarily a random sampling of teens. But I found it comforting that the puzzles and struggles of the digital age are pretty universal across generations. Ultimately it highlighted the need for good communication. I firmly believe that teens will be much more likely to embrace norms that they’re a part of negotiating. Here’s a set of good resources to start that work, from the Note to Self podcast.

And for our part, we adults can do a better job of modeling healthy behavior. It reminds me of a parenting class I took years ago. We were asked to write down the attributes we wanted our children to have when they were grown up—maturity, generosity, compassion, etc. After sharing our lists with one another, the facilitator said, “Great–that’s your list to work on. You want them to have a spirit of service? Cultivate that in yourself.”

If you want your children to have a healthy relationship with technology–and have healthy relationships through technology–we need to start with ourselves.


Photo by Lauren Randolph for On Being.

Improvising Life: A Guest Post by Adam Walker Cleaveland

EdenHappy to welcome Adam to The Blue Room today! Adam shares the story of a great new ministry venture, Illustrated Children’s Moments, which he began just a few weeks ago. I’m sure it will be of interest to many of you who work in congregations. And for my non-churchy readers, it’s a great example of the ways that life doesn’t always go according to our best-made plans. We often need to pivot… change course… improvise! 

Also, don’t miss the special offer for Blue Room readers at the end of the post!

By Adam Walker Cleaveland

It was spring of my senior year of high school. I was Hugo Peabody in our school’s version of Bye Bye Birdie. Life was good. I had a fun date planned for prom. In other words, it was the perfect time to get whooping cough.

While I was stuck at home for a few weeks, I wrote a 10-year plan of my life. Seemed like the obvious thing to do. My 10-year plan looked something like this:

  • Graduate college with a religion major
  • Get married the week after graduation
  • Move to Africa to be a missionary for a year
  • Go to seminary
  • Get a PhD
  • Teach at a seminary for the rest of my career

Thing turned out a bit differently than I had planned. My path has had twists and turns, fun surprises and blessings, deep grief and confusion, joy and much more. The most recent twist and turn was leaving a church I’d been serving for two years. The church wasn’t a great fit for me, and I’m glad to have made the decision. But I didn’t have any concrete plans for what to do.

About two years ago, I decided to spend time focusing on rediscovering my childhood love of drawing. I received a Clergy Self-Care Grant from the Chicago Presbytery, and used it to take some online classes and buy art supplies.

I loved drawing. I could get lost in my doodles, zentangles and watercolors. I was doing some good work. I started looking for ways to incorporate art into my ministry. And one Sunday before worship, I quickly sketched out a drawing to give the kids when I led the children’s moment.

The kids liked getting something to take with them that reminded them of the story, so I did that again the next time I led a children’s moment. And I kept drawing. Parents started telling me their children would put the drawings on the refrigerators and talk about the story throughout the week. Some parents even snagged an extra copy for themselves and placed it in their devotionals.


As ministry at my last call was ending, I started dreaming about how this rediscovered love of drawing could become a part of my ministry, and at the same time, bring in a few bucks. I thought there might be other pastors and Christian educators who could benefit from my illustrations and approach to children’s moments.

Two weeks ago, I launched Illustrated Children’s Moments.

It turns out I was correct.

In the past two weeks, I’ve welcomed over 700 subscribers to my email newsletter, gained some good traction on social media, made 82 sales, and my illustrations have been used in over 50 churches. I’m doing illustrations for both the Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary texts, and I’ve received many positive comments.

I’m sure God was chuckling a bit at me when I sat down to write that 10-year plan. If you had told me, when I was 18, that I’d be an artist/entrepreneur/pastor, I don’t think I would have believed you. But being open to the surprising ways God works has led me to a place where I am now using gifts I had forgotten about, and I’m meeting an important need that people in churches deal with on a weekly basis.

If you are interested in this original artwork that can be used for children’s moments or newsletters, emails or bulletins, please stop by my new website: Illustrated Children’s Moments. You can follow us on all the normal social media channels as well: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr. Or you can shop at our store. When you sign up for our email newsletter, you’ll immediately get a link to 5 free illustrations. Sign up here!

SPECIAL OFFER for Blue Room readers, today only! Adam has offered readers of The Blue Room Blog an offer code for $1 off any current illustration in his store. That means some will be free and some will only be $1. You can find them here. Code is blueroomblog .

Adam Walker Cleaveland is a pastor, artist and entrepreneur who lives in Chicago with his wife Sarah, also a pastor, and their 3-yr old son, Caleb. Adam is a Parish Associate at Highland Park Presbyterian Church, a Program Mentor at a new alternative education opportunity for kids in Evanston called Hackstudio (it’s seriously cool – check it out) and is doing a lot of drawing. You can follow Adam on Twitter at @adamwc or on Facebook here.

Do you know someone who’s improvising their life? I’d love to feature them here, so let me know!

Rising to Your Level of Misery

dirty-jobs30They can’t pay you enough money to do a job you hate.

I have a lot of lasting memories of my grandfather–homegrown tomatoes, “Heart and Soul” duets on the piano–but that’s the primary piece of wisdom I remember him passing along to me. And it’s a good one.

I was thinking about Grandpa’s advice when I read a recent piece in the New York Times, Rising to Your Level of Misery at Work. In it Arthur Brooks talks about the tendency to get promoted past the place where you find joy and passion in your profession:

People generally have a “bliss zone,” a window of creative work and responsibility to match their skills and passions. But then the problems start. Those who love being part of teams and creative processes are promoted to management. Happy engineers become stressed-out supervisors. Writers find themselves in charge of other writers and haranguing them over deadlines. In my years in academia, I saw happy professors become bitter deans, constantly reminiscing about the old days doing cutting-edge research and teaching the classes they loved.

Brooks says many people respond to this happiness gap by drinking heavily. What he recommends instead is finding a way back to that bliss point. As my mother said recently, “Whenever I was feeling sad, I had a friend who told me to remember the last time I was happy and then return to what I was doing then.” I like it.

But it’s not easy. Maybe the last time you were happy was before the chronic illness struck, or during your marriage that has now ended. In the case of work, sometimes shifting things away from misery means lost income you’ve come to count on. More deeply, we’re conditioned to see success as a function of progress. Moving back is synonymous with failure.

This article was tugging at me for several days last week until I finally figured out why: both my husband and I have been in this situation in recent years. In his case, he revised his job description to better reflect his gifts and his value to his industry. In my case, I have been invited to apply for positions that would make sense on a certain assumed trajectory: You’ve been a pastor of a small church? How about a larger church? In one case, I got pretty far along in the process before realizing that the job, as wonderful as it was, was not mine to do. Of course, not every job is pure bliss–even the bliss zone has its headaches. But as I joked to a friend soon after taking myself out of the running, “That’s a good ulcer. It’s just not my ulcer.”

In my husband’s and my case, we didn’t make these moves because of some special cleverness on our part. It was the practice of Sabbath over the course of many years that showed us the way and helped us clarify what we love, what we value and what we want our lives to look like. That’s what makes it such an important practice. I’ve preached on the story of the Hebrew people as slaves in Egypt and how Pharaoh heaped more and more work on them. And I said, “Sabbath isn’t about being well rested so you can go back to Pharaoh’s job site. Sabbath is about realizing that you don’t want to make those bricks anymore.”


Photo is Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs, whom I wrote about in a post awhile back called ‘Follow Your Bliss’ and Other Myths about Call.

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This Week’s Muffin: Egg and Stuff. Plus Bonus Scone Recipe

Here in NoVA, the weather is cool and sunny, perfect for running. Meanwhile I have 51 days left before I can run again, thanks to my stress fracture.

It’s killing me.

I’11238217_10153571509468164_3411294251634816625_nve been trying to make the best of it by connecting myself with my sole sisters in Moms RUN This Town–Springfield. Two weekends ago I offered up our house as a halfway point during some friends’ 20-mile run (see picture). I actually didn’t bake for that one–I provided what the runners suggested, which was oranges, potato chips and (brilliantly) Nutter Butters.

But this weekend I did bake. A group has been doing the Cross County Trail, a 40-mile trail across Fairfax County they’ve been doing in segments for a couple months. I made it through three segments with them before I got injured. Saturday’s run brought them within 10 minutes of the new house, so I invited them to come over afterwards. They came bearing a housewarming card and a hilarious (and cuddly) throw pillow in cheetah fabric. Perfect.

I wanted to prepare stuff they could take with them if they needed to eat and run. I’ve been wanting to try those egg muffin things I’ve been seeing all over Pinterest, and they could not be easier. Lots of versions out there, but here’s what I did.

  1. Grease your muffin pans. (I found the silicone worked great for this.)
  2. Crack an egg in each cup. Add whatever you want. I added torn spinach leaves, grated cheese, salt and pepper. I pressed the spinach into the raw egg so it wouldn’t scorch on top, though that was a pain and next time I might take my chances. Maybe the oven is humid enough that they’d just wilt.
  3. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until egg is set to your liking.
  4. Refrigerate until you’re ready to eat: microwave for 20 seconds or so, and serve atop toast or between two halves of an English muffin. Love it.

I also made these Lemon Blueberry Scones. They were delicious but quite tart, perhaps because the blueberries I used were pretty tart. I think if I made them again I’d use milk instead of lemon juice in the glaze. I also needed to add more flour than the recipe called for because the dough was sticky. That could be because my daughter and I doubled the recipe and got something wrong, but in any case, be aware of that. Delicious though.


Are you on Pinterest? Here’s the link to my boards.

Two Christians Talk Faith on Network TeeVee… With No Sky Fairy in Sight

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 1.09.23 PM

Many years ago, when I was actively thinking about seminary, I remember hiking in Colorado with some college friends. One of these friends, a confirmed agnostic/atheist, was trying to get his head around this vocational choice of mine–but even more broadly, why an intelligent, educated person would have need for religious faith at all. “I guess I get it,” he said. “Your faith provides solace for you.”

I shook my head. Solace wasn’t quite right; in fact, I bristled against it. Solace was too limiting, like the spiritual equivalent of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s after a breakup. Solace felt like a pat on the simpleminded head in the wake of life’s mysteries and griefs. Solace made you feel better, but had no other utility. A faith that’s all about solace, I argued back, doesn’t change the way you look at the world, doesn’t move you to action, doesn’t transform a life.

Right or wrong, I heard insult in the word “solace,” like my friend was quoting the Apostle Paul, knowingly or unknowingly, ironically or unironically: When I was a child, I thought like a child; but when I was an adult, I put away childish things. 

This is the posture of anti-theists: religion is a childish thing. These are the folks who like to make jabs about all of us rubes praying to our Sky Fairy and adhering chapter and verse to a book that was written by illiterate goat-herders in the Bronze Age.

Anyway, the word solace came up again last night in a conversation between Stephen Colbert and Joe Biden, a conversation they were gracious to let millions of us eavesdrop on during night three of The Late Show. Both Colbert and Biden are men of faith, liberal Catholics, it’s safe to say; both have experienced terrible losses in their lives.

Their conversation about faith was nothing short of astounding. Colbert asked about Biden’s belief in God and how it helped him grieve the death of his beloved son Beau this summer. Biden gave a thoughtful and heartfelt answer that was full of solace but completely free of Sky Fairy.

He didn’t say, Well, God needed another angel in heaven. Or I guess my son’s work on earth was done.
He didn’t say, God has his purposes; we’ll all understand the plan someday.

He said–and I’m paraphrasing:

The rituals of the church sustain me and give me the strength to go on.

I pray the rosary, and it gives me comfort.

When I’m in mass, I am surrounded by a community people, yet I feel completely alone.

The last one was most remarkable to me. Isn’t it terrible to be alone? No–not if you need space to grieve, or just to find quiet in your own heart. There are so few places where we allow ourselves that space. Religion done well is one of those places.

Colbert and Biden, and so many others of us, aren’t in it for the Sky Fairy. It’s never been about the Cosmic Daddy for us, no matter how much the anti-theists want to make it about that. It’s certainly not about finding pat answers, from our Bible or from our God. It’s in the living. It’s in the struggle. It’s in the community.

Last night’s interview helped me articulate a more nuanced view of solace as one of the fruits of religious belief. I still think solace doesn’t fully encompass it. But nor does solace mean platitudes and cheesy explanations that somehow make the horrors of our lives less horrible because somehow God’s gonna make it all better. That’s not what Biden showed us last night. He’s still deeply broken in his grief–that’s evident. His faith is equal parts Psalm 22 and Psalm 23. And comfort and solace are nothing to scoff at.

One the gifts of doing the speaking work I do is getting to learn from other great leaders in the church. I preached at a conference with the great Eugenia Gamble some years ago and she closed with these words of blessing. I’ve used it far and wide since then, crediting her when practical to do so, though she thinks it came from the Franciscans first.

The words of this blessing came to me again while listening to the Late Show interview. To me they’re what good religion is all about. Forget the Sky Fairy and simplistic explanations and hollow solace. This is the nature of any religion or worldview worth its salt:

May God bless you with discomfort
with easy answers and half truths and superficial relationships,
so that you will live deeply
and from the heart.

And may God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and the exploitation of people,
so that you will work
for justice, freedom and peace.

And may God bless you with tears to shed
for those that mourn,
so you will reach out your hand to them
and turn mourning into joy.

And may God bless you with just enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you will do those things that others say
cannot be done.

Stephen and Joe have been so blessed. So may we all be.


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