Spiritual care in your family? Media literacy can help! Ads and your kids..

I have come to believe that the media we consume shapes us in ways that speak to our inner lives as well as influences the way we behave in and relate to, the world in which we live.  I know that music which slows our pace and sings of peace and love, reminds us of nurturing these parts of our being.  By contrast, if we listen to and view only violent and sexualized media, our inner lives will become shallow and dissonant and our outer lives will have the potential to become sexualized and violence-based. 

Recognizing these statements are broad strokes that will require more explanation, I offer the notion of media literacy as we explore together over time, how media, no longer an add-on or moment of entertainment, has become a character of great influence in our lives.  

Media Literacy has a variety of definitions; one of them comes from the Center for Media Literacy (CML), the website and full-fledged effort of devoted people, until recently, led by Elizabeth Thomen, to look at how we receive, create and analyze media in our media specifically connected culture. That definition is:

Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.[1]

In its most simple terms – we consume a great deal of media to share information, education and entertainment.  Do we have a handle on the influence media has on our thinking, shaping of emotions, our inner and spiritual lives, and even how we act on feelings? Do we understand the rush to a consumer culture and how we use our resources?  

Tessa Jolls, President and CEO, Center for Media Literacy and Director, Consortium for Media Literacy, with respect and in memoriam of Elizabeth Thomen, said: 

“Liz always said, ‘We’re hopeaholics.’ I think that captured a lot because we kept going no matter what and we really hung on to that sense of optimism, and hope, and confidence in the rightness of our cause. In today’s world, I don’t think there’s any denying that media literacy makes total sense in terms of what we need as a society, and how we can move forward, and have dialogue, and have some methodology on how we discuss, relate, and build bridges to each other.” [2]

I believe it is time to help parents in the simplest ways to read the media they and we all consume, so that as informed consumers in a media culture – we have a center of gravity from which to spring rather than letting the wind blow and take us where it may.

Media literacy informs in simple ways by just asking the question (while watching/listening to an advertisement):

·      Who made this product and why did they make it?

·      What are they not telling me about it?

·      How much does it cost?

So, put an ad for a sugary cereal in your head; how would you answer the above questions?

·      General Mills, Kellogs etc., made the cereal to make money for their company

·      What is it made of, how much sugar can the body handle if you are 6 years old, where were the grains grown, where was the grain processed, how much were the workers who make the cereal paid (fair wages?), were pesticides used on the grains or sugar in this cereal?, etc. 

·      Depends, right? There might be a great many secrets about this product....?

So, get the idea? if you have a center of gravity that is faith-based and social justice oriented, you will want to use your resources that support things like: fair wage, organic farming, locally grown products, simple packaging etc.  If faith and justice are a center of gravity for you, use them to make consumer choices!

If the product is covered with a pink princess, funny bunny or fightin’turtle – that might be the  reason your child is having a meltdown in the grocery store! Your young child recognizes the logo character, relates to it, and wants the product with that picture/logo in his face (see above picture from Cornell University food brand lab reminding consumers grocery store aisles are carefully constructed for visual recognition).  As the adult, you have a problem in public if sugar cereal is not in the budget or on the acceptable food list. Media literacy means you watched TV with the kids, you saw the ads for the product and you talked about it together as being something that you do not spend your money on because it is not good for the kids or the planet (or your own reasons).

No media literacy means you cave in the grocery store, pick up the box of sugar cereal and cringe at breakfast for a week till its gone. Informed choices through media literacy? Good parenting idea!

Media literacy is spiritual care because it helps you avoid fights with your very own children, gives you time to inform yourself about a product the media advertised to your child, talk to your child strengthening your relationship in real world living, makes your relationship with your child more important than logo recognition or a funny bunny/fighting turtle/princess pretend character on a food product, and gave you a chance to act with love for your precious one.  How cool would that be?


Pastor Robin




Toy Guns

What was it that hurt us as kids in school when we were young?

It used to be bullying was a nightmare, or someone stole something from your locker or, caused you to drop your school lunchroom tray of food and you were hungry that day. 

As ugly as that all was for a student in any grade in school, we were still alive.  

The national narrative has changed.  And since Valentines Day, 2018, also known as Ash Wednesday in the Christian liturgical year of 2018, the Parkland, Florida, shooting has brought to our attention the question of student safety at school. 

This is sadly, far from the first time we have had to ask ourselves this question – since Columbine (now code for school gun violence), we have been asking this question. 

Parkland, Florida high school students are asking this question in a very specific way:  when will we see more laws enacted to protect us from gun violence? They are powerfully and courageously lifting their voices to mobilize students and adults to speak their truths about gun violence in our communities – especially the public schools where students and adults are supposed to learn, teach, and at a bare minimum, feel safe.

Students have risen up to resurrect the conversation about gun violence and people being killed in schools.  They are asking, demanding, that gun control cease to be regulated by the NRA who fund so many political campaigns, and be regulated by prioritizing life over death, guns, and money, through their congressional representatives in government.  

No one is attacking the 2nd amendment. No one is suggesting hunters should not hunt when deer season comes around.  But access to the kind of weapons that are killing children and adults in schools, churches, movie theaters and concert venues, must be transformed.

I cannot help crying at the spiritual, emotional and physical harm done to children and all those victimized due to gun violence.  If you join me in this spiritual pain, join me asking this question of something as basic as the toys we purchase in consumer culture: why toy guns? 

To the popular culture and spiritual lens point of this blog, I want to ask:
Why do children need these toys?


This is not your grandfather’s cowboys’ and Indians – which was damaging to the soul in my opinion with its racism acted out like a game by a generation of children in the USA.  And remember, too, that you did not walk around as a billboard for the product which means you were wearing the tee-shirt, carrying the backpack or eating the (label branded) granola bar of the branded violence you played as though a way of life.  Today, that is the case.  

Even if all that were not true, seriously ask yourself why the above “toy”, a “play” automatic weapon, would come anywhere near the children's toy box? 

I say, stop it.  Do we need to purchase these toys for children to play games of destruction and violence?  The children are not learning to plant seeds in a garden, create a meal from a recipe or study for a spelling test with this “toy”.   Remember, children learn what they practice and all of it matters.

If we want to see children learn as much about peace in this life as they do about violence, then we need to provide tools of peace, not just news headlines and toys of violence.  With love and peaceful intention, here are a few suggestions at your disposal:

Music (any instrument or singing voice)  writing (journaling, plays, recipes) , visual arts (draw, paint, sculpt), spoken word (memorize song, story, scripture) , sports (run, jump, reach), dance (tap, ballet and hip-hop), volunteerism (local food shelf, anything at faith community, Humane Society) , church (all of it)  and prayer (spiritual disciplines include play).

Ready, set, go.  There are no more excuses to allow violence as play to be a part of the normalized play in the world of our children.  Kids will fight, wrestle and tumble to work out differences; you will let some of this happen because we all need to learn coping skills and how to resolve differences; sometimes using the body is the only way children can express frustration and anger.  However, they soon learn (with your help) that violence toward self or one another is at the very bottom of the list to problem solving.  Since we affirm non-violent conflict resolution/transformation, why would we encourage violence as play with toys guns meant for one purpose - death and destruction? 

Be the love you seek.  Teach the children the same.  And please hold all those who have been victimized by gun violence in prayer that we might learn something as a family, community and nation to cease the violence toward one another.  This is the messaging I hear from the students from Marjorie Stonemason Douglas High School.  If you are reading this, you are a survivor.

I invite all survivors to act with passion, be effective, and learn to gentle our way into the future with the children we love.

Pastor Robin
(aka Rev. Robin Blair, DMin)