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For King and Country On Creativity in a Pandemic and Learning to Weep With Those Who Weep

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Joel and Luke Smallbone had to cancel a tour this year. Most touring acts did, of course, given the state of the world. But not every act has taken to quarantine with the creativity and energy that the brother duo better known as For King and Country did. They promptly set about recruiting some high profile friends like Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin to make a lockdown music video, while also focusing on pushing their own understanding of the world to new highs. The brothers sat down with RELEVANT (over Zoom) to talk about their new song, their pandemic interests and how they’ve learned to weep with those who weep.

Like a lot of bands we’ve talked to in the pandemic, you two really had to roll with the punches. You got pulled from promoting your new album mid-tour. How did you deal with the disappointment?

LUKE: Obviously anytime you have expectations and hopes and dreams for something and those get dashed, there’s hurt and there’s sadness attached. And I think if you don’t feel that, then maybe you weren’t passionate enough about your dreams and your hopes.

But one of the things that’s different about this is, it’s one thing if your state is going through this and you’re feeling punished because you live in the state and this is happening here. It would be one thing, even if it was my country is going through this. It’s a whole different thing when the entire world is going through the exact same thing.

I have great grace for the fact that look, this didn’t pan out the way that we thought. But this is the same exact situation that everyone else is going through. For me to be butthurt about my aspiration of doing this doesn’t help much, and it certainly doesn’t help my soul. And so I think we’re just trying to figure out a way to say, “Hey, this is what we’ve been dealt. What are some ways that we can innovate? What are some of the things that otherwise we would never be able to have dreamt up?”

What have you dreamt up? 

JOEL: We did the music video for “Together” with Kirk [Franklin] and Tori [Kelly], which was quite a feat in and of itself.  The choir, Kirk, Tori — we literally sent a box in the middle of quarantine to Tori in California and Kirk in Texas with a camera and a backdrop and a ring light and said, “Set this up in your living room.”

You basically Blue Aproned them a music video.

JOEL: Yes. That’s what it was. I’ve got to hand it to them. They were really great sports about it. We had an instruction manual on how to do it. So we did that. You can dream as big as you want to dream. but it’s the execution that is the difficult part, as you well know.

Have you all had time to process everything else going on? Obviously, the pandemic has forced us inside and then, in addition, we’ve had to take stock of some ugly parts of American history. 

LUKE: I do read history a little bit differently now. I think the first conclusion I came to when all of the racial tensions things started to really spike to the level that they are now, is how little I know and how truly naive I am.

I think my first hope would be, that we wouldn’t see it as sides. And then the other thing is, in the Bible it talks about the people when they’re mourning and they’re hurting, you mourn with them. And in some cases, I don’t have the answer. And everything that I’m looking on social media, I don’t see anybody else that has the answer really either. But one thing I do know is that when somebody is hurting to come alongside them and hurt with them. And that seems to provide some sort of help. It seems to provide some sort of healing in the process.

Obviously, you had no way of knowing that “Together” would take on a much bigger meaning after you released it, given current events. Is it ever hard to release music into the world like that, knowing you don’t have a lot of control over how its meaning might evolve over time? 

JOEL: There are two sides to that. On one hand, you have the people just looking for the potholes in the song, the lyric or they’re like, “Well, you missed it.” The critique. The critic. And then on the other side, which is the more dominant side and the more beautiful side, you have this group of people that actually see a song and an idea through their own lens. One of the great, radical beauties of music is that Luke and I can write a song with the team about something that is very specific to our experience. And then someone completely in a whole different country, in this case, in a different political situation, racial, social, spiritual situation can take that same song and apply it to themselves. And it can mean something else.

This is bigger than Luke and me. These stories, they’re not our stories. They might have been our stories at one point, but the moment you release a “God Only Knows,” for example, it becomes Dolly Parton and Timbaland’s story. This became Tori’s and Kirk’s and the choir’s story.

Do you feel extra pressure as an artist to speak into these times? Especially knowing that everything will be taken in through a lens of what’s going on right now?

LUKE: I don’t know if pressure’s the right word. I think there is a responsibility to acknowledge. Look, if you’re going to just continue on and pretend as if nothing’s changed or that the conversation hasn’t changed, you’re doing more to hurt than help. But to actually engage, I think is helpful. My brother and I, as males, I love to fix things. My wife comes to me with a problem, I love to solve it for her. But usually, when you’re solving something and you’re fixing something, you are the solution. You are the one who is coming and saying, “I have figured this out.”

This is one of the situations where I think that the solution might be in the questions. The solution might be in the being. And I think that you have to ask those questions, you have to show up for those. But I think that the temptation for anyone is going to be, “Hey, I’ve got this. I’m going to label it this way. I’m going to change the language here. I’m going to call it this instead of that.” I’m just not convinced that that’s all that helpful.

JOEL: I think the reason we like our corners and our spiritual, political, racial corners is that it feels safe. I can define it. It’s figured out. But this is not about sides or even about safety at this point. It’s about understanding. It’s about humility. It’s about weeping with those who weep.

You can find out more about “Together” and For King and Country here.

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2 days ago
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5 Negative Things You Want Your Kids to Say

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Would you buy a parenting book promising to help you raise unhappy kids? Of course not! As a parent, you certainly want your kids to be happy. In fact, much of our time, effort, and money in parenting goes to making our kids happy.

But what if happiness is overrated? What if sometimes, what you really want is unhappy kids? I would argue that occasionally-unhappy kids mean you are parenting your kids well—that you are doing something right. Here are 5 negative things you should want your kids to say that prove they are unhappy.

1. “I’m bored.”

It is not your job to keep your kids busy. In fact, it’s your job to fight against the pull toward busy-ness.

Parents often feel like it’s their job to entertain their kids by keeping them happy and occupied. However, study after study has shown that some degree of boredom is actually healthy for kids and stimulates creative thinking and inventiveness. As philosopher Bertrand Russell noted, “A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.”

It is not your job to keep your kids busy. In fact, it’s your job to fight against the pull toward busy-ness.

2. “That’s not fair!”

No doubt you’ve heard this from your child. But our kids need to learn that life does not deal in equity. Some people have to struggle greatly while others struggle very little. Life is not fair and we can’t wait for it to be fair to find some meaning. We don’t want to intentionally frustrate our children, but we also don’t cater to them. “That’s not fair” can just as easily mean “that’s not what I want.” So we should do what we believe is good for our children and, along the way, help them deal with the reality that life is not always fair. In spite of that, they can still live full and meaningful lives.

3. “I’m so mad!”

Why would we want our children to get mad? Well, there are things in this world that should make us angry. We want our children to understand that some things are just and some are not—and that anger is an appropriate response to injustice. We also need to help our kids deal constructively with anger. They’re human; they’re going to get angry. As a parent, it’s important that you take those opportunities to help them learn how to deal well with their emotions.

4. “It’s so embarrassing!”

My kids most often feel embarrassed when they don’t fit in or meet some societal expectation. Of course, we don’t want our kids to be social rejects and deal with public humiliation. However, moments of embarrassment create opportunities to discuss how much they value the opinions of others (and how much they should). It’s a chance to help them discover a true sense of self.

5. “It makes me really sad.”

This statement, perhaps more than any other, is one we desire to avoid with our kids. We don’t want them to be sad. No one likes feeling sad. And yet, as a human, it is unavoidable. Our kids will get sad. What’s tragic is when they feel like they can’t be. When our kids are sad, we want them to be able to acknowledge and express it. We need to affirm that being sad is OK. We must help them process grief and move through it.

Sound off: What other ‘negative’ things do you want your kids to say?

The post 5 Negative Things You Want Your Kids to Say appeared first on All Pro Dad.

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3 days ago
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The Encryption Wars Are Back but in Disguise

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A government push for access is ostensibly about fighting crime, terrorism and child porn. Yet it could put all of us at risk of unwarranted surveillance

-- Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

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5 days ago
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The Security Value of Inefficiency

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For decades, we have prized efficiency in our economy. We strive for it. We reward it. In normal times, that's a good thing. Running just at the margins is efficient. A single just-in-time global supply chain is efficient. Consolidation is efficient. And that's all profitable. Inefficiency, on the other hand, is waste. Extra inventory is inefficient. Overcapacity is inefficient. Using many small suppliers is inefficient. Inefficiency is unprofitable.

But inefficiency is essential security, as the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us. All of the overcapacity that has been squeezed out of our healthcare system; we now wish we had it. All of the redundancy in our food production that has been consolidated away; we want that, too. We need our old, local supply chains -- not the single global ones that are so fragile in this crisis. And we want our local restaurants and businesses to survive, not just the national chains.

We have lost much inefficiency to the market in the past few decades. Investors have become very good at noticing any fat in every system and swooping down to monetize those redundant assets. The winner-take-all mentality that has permeated so many industries squeezes any inefficiencies out of the system.

This drive for efficiency leads to brittle systems that function properly when everything is normal but break under stress. And when they break, everyone suffers. The less fortunate suffer and die. The more fortunate are merely hurt, and perhaps lose their freedoms or their future. But even the extremely fortunate suffer -- maybe not in the short term, but in the long term from the constriction of the rest of society.

Efficient systems have limited ability to deal with system-wide economic shocks. Those shocks are coming with increased frequency. They're caused by global pandemics, yes, but also by climate change, by financial crises, by political crises. If we want to be secure against these crises and more, we need to add inefficiency back into our systems.

I don't simply mean that we need to make our food production, or healthcare system, or supply chains sloppy and wasteful. We need a certain kind of inefficiency, and it depends on the system in question. Sometimes we need redundancy. Sometimes we need diversity. Sometimes we need overcapacity.

The market isn't going to supply any of these things, least of all in a strategic capacity that will result in resilience. What's necessary to make any of this work is regulation.

First, we need to enforce antitrust laws. Our meat supply chain is brittle because there are limited numbers of massive meatpacking plants -- now disease factories -- rather than lots of smaller slaughterhouses. Our retail supply chain is brittle because a few national companies and websites dominate. We need multiple companies offering alternatives to a single product or service. We need more competition, more niche players. We need more local companies, more domestic corporate players, and diversity in our international suppliers. Competition provides all of that, while monopolies suck that out of the system.

The second thing we need is specific regulations that require certain inefficiencies. This isn't anything new. Every safety system we have is, to some extent, an inefficiency. This is true for fire escapes on buildings, lifeboats on cruise ships, and multiple ways to deploy the landing gear on aircraft. Not having any of those things would make the underlying systems more efficient, but also less safe. It's also true for the internet itself, originally designed with extensive redundancy as a Cold War security measure.

With those two things in place, the market can work its magic to provide for these strategic inefficiencies as cheaply and as effectively as possible. As long as there are competitors who are vying with each other, and there aren't competitors who can reduce the inefficiencies and undercut the competition, these inefficiencies just become part of the price of whatever we're buying.

The government is the entity that steps in and enforces a level playing field instead of a race to the bottom. Smart regulation addresses the long-term need for security, and ensures it's not continuously sacrificed to short-term considerations.

We have largely been content to ignore the long term and let Wall Street run our economy as efficiently as it can. That's no longer sustainable. We need inefficiency -- the right kind in the right way -- to ensure our security. No, it's not free. But it's worth the cost.

This essay previously appeared in Quartz.

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7 days ago
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6 days ago
resilience and adaptability

Just-in-Case Idols

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Sam checks his retirement account twice each day. He saved for thirty years, and with the boost of a rising stock market, finally has enough to retire. As long as stocks don’t plunge. This fear keeps Sam fretting over his balance.

Jeremiah warned about this: “You, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem” (11:13).

Judah’s idolatry is remarkable. They knew the Lord was God. How could they worship anyone else? They were hedging their bets. They needed the Lord for the afterlife, because only the true God could raise them from the dead. But what about now? Pagan gods promised health, wealth, and fertility, so why not pray to them too, just in case?

Can you see how Judah’s idolatry is also our temptation? It’s good to have talent, education, and money. But if we’re not careful, we might shift our confidence to them. We know we’ll need God when we die, and we’ll ask Him to bless us now. But we’ll also lean on these lesser gods, just in case.

Where is your trust? Back-up idols are still idols. Thank God for His many gifts, and tell Him you’re not relying on any of them. Your faith is riding entirely on Him.

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24 days ago
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8 Challenges of Raising a Son in This Generation

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Raising kids is tough. And raising a son into a man in today’s society can be especially challenging. Manhood looked much different a few generations ago. It was expected that men worked hard, respected women and children, protected their own at any cost, and their word was their bond. Boys who saw their dads live out these principles every day were ingrained with many of the same manly characteristics.

But over time, things changed. Sitcom dads have become nothing more than running jokes. Bold manliness is often discouraged rather than encouraged by our culture. These things make for some serious challenges for dads of boys. Here are 8 challenges for every dad raising a son in this generation.

1. Challenging him to think for himself.

There are many voices vying for your son’s attention, trying to tell him what to believe and who to become. Your voice needs to be one of the boldest in helping him to learn how to become his own man.

2. Encouraging him to stand for absolute truth.

The world is on a mission to neutralize all “truth” as being equal—to create a world in which we all can believe whatever we want and we can call all of it true. But your son must understand that truth, by its own nature, is exclusive. Otherwise, truth is nonexistent. Regularly have conversations with your son about your perspective of truth concerning the world around him.

3. Reminding him of what true manhood looks like.

Some may think manliness comes from learning how to spit, or shoot, or shout. Help your boy to know that true manliness is not found in proving something but in how one respects another as well as in how he respects himself.

4. Teaching him how to manage his time wisely.

Some boys who’ve become grown men are still spending more time playing video games than investing in their own families. This is a problem, regardless of what the time-stealing culprit is. A wise man recognizes that he is a steward of the time he has been given and he most likely learned that lesson young.

5. Showing him how to be responsible and dependable.

Good fathers hold their boys accountable for their words, actions, and commitments.

Good fathers hold their boys accountable for their words, actions, and commitments. Rather than coming to their rescue with excuses or blame, they help their boys rise to the occasion of character, even when it’s hard.

6. Exemplifying what makes a gentleman.

The art of being a true gentleman is not so much taught but caught, and it’s becoming rarer with each generation that passes. So, model it for your son. Open the door for the ladies in your family. Be polite. Use please and thank you and your boy naturally will follow your example.

7. Coaching him toward healthy relationships.

Nothing will affect your son more than his closest relationships. And nothing has the ability to make or break him more than how he handles those relationships. But we live in a society that is so broken when it comes to relationships. Teach your son while he’s young how to show respect and grace, to forgive, and to let go when necessary.

8. Training him to walk personally with God.

I believe that living a life of dependence upon God is not a sign of weakness but a sign of true manliness. Help your son come to know he is not alone so that even once you’re gone, you’ve instilled within him something far greater than yourself.

Earn some points: Are you married? Share iMOM article 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Raising a Son with your wife.

Sound off: Which of these do you find most challenging in raising a son in this generation?

The post 8 Challenges of Raising a Son in This Generation appeared first on All Pro Dad.

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84 days ago
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