Jeff Haanen




Linked Together

How Businesses Can Take Meaningful Action on Forced Labor Through Greater Supply-Chain Transparency

My coffee cup sits next to my glowing laptop, steaming. My iPhone sits on a paper task list. I splurge today and get a mocha. Wearing a black vest, blue zip-up pullover, jeans, and sneakers and feeling comfortable, warm, and well-fed on a rainy day, I wonder for just a moment: Where exactly did all these comforts come from?

It’s disturbing to find out that each of these rich-country comforts I so often enjoy—coffee, chocolate, rechargeable batteries in smartphones, and the cotton in my clothes—has been implicated in using forced labor somewhere in a long, complicated, and oftentimes opaque supply chain.

When I hear the phrase “supply chain,” I think of the inconvenience of sold-out toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic. Sometimes I think of container ships coming from China, bringing untold numbers of widgets to American shores.

What I rarely consider, however, are the questions surrounding supply-chain transparency. How responsible am I for using and enjoying a product that well may have been made by a modern-day slave? And how would I even know if this was the case? And what can business do about it?

Forced Labor Is a Problem for Everyone, Including Business

Forced labor is hauntingly common in the modern world. Matt Friedman, CEO of the Mekong Club, a Hong Kong–based organization, works with a range of businesses and partners to prevent modern slavery within their supply chains.  Friedman notes that in 2011, the United  Nations estimated that the number of people in modern slavery was 21 million.  The new revised figure that recently came out in November 2022 is 50 million. This increase resulted from better data and more people falling prey to trafficking during the pandemic.

When I hear the word “slavery,” I often think about transatlantic chattel slavery from the 16th to 18th centuries. Yet today, slavery wears a different mask. Friedman painted a picture for me of how a worker is first deceived into, and then trapped in, forced labor.

Imagine you’re a Nepalese man who earns $50 per month. A recruiter says you can make $250 per month working in a factory in Malaysia. You say, “Great—where do I sign up?” He says the process costs $1,500, but he’ll lend you the money to make it happen. The rough calculations still make sense.

But once you get to Malaysia, you sign an employment contract you can’t read, you earn $125 per month rather than $250, and your debt actually is $3,000. After working for a year, you realize your debt is only growing with interest, and you ask to go home. But your manager confiscates your passport and says you must keep working until you’ve paid off your debt. If you go to the local police, it’s your word against the company’s. Hope turns to despair, and you’ve become a modern-day slave.

Sometimes these workers’ conditions look like a cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the topic of Siddharth Kara’s book Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives. Sometimes people are trafficked through wide-ranging criminal networks moving them from Latin America to the United States. Other times, forced labor is even state sponsored, as in the case of the estimated 100,000 Uyghurs in western China reported by the US Department of Labor.

What’s clear is that the practice persists because it’s so profitable. Human trafficking and forced labor are second only to drug trafficking in profitability. The US Department of Homeland Security estimates forced labor makes about $150 billion in annual profit. And on a pound-to-pound basis, humans are often far more valuable than drugs. Ashleigh Chapman, founder of the Alliance for Freedom, Restoration, and Justice, says, “[Somebody] can sell a drug or a weapon only once. . .  But [you] can sell a child 20 times a night.”

Despite widespread condemnation of modern slavery from governments and civic leaders across the world, forced labor is growing, not shrinking. And though it’s obviously a human rights issue, highlighted by everyone from the United Nations to International Justice Mission, it’s a huge problem for business, for at least three reasons.

First, if a large business is found to have forced labor somewhere in its supply chain, that can crush the brand’s reputation, especially given that 83 percent of socially conscious young consumers say they want to support brands that align with their beliefs. If you sell clothes and, say, the French government files a lawsuit against you for committing “crimes against humanity” by using cotton made by slaves, needless to say, you have a big public relations problem on your hands.

Second, if forced labor or human trafficking is found in your supply chain, it can be hugely expensive. Australia’s Westpac, one of the country’s largest banks, was hit with a $578 million fine for enabling payments between known child sex offenders. Governments are holding companies accountable for not only whose payments they process but also whom they hire and purchase from.

Third, government regulation against forced labor is ramping up across the world. The US is cracking down on child labor and passing legislation on supply-chain transparency and human trafficking. Australia, Britain, Canada, France, and Germany have strict legislation regarding forced labor and supply chains. Clean and transparent supply chains are necessary to doing business with Europe and the wealthy West. Conversely, US Customs and Border Protection can seize a shipment if there is forced labor at any stage of its supply chain.

Yet supply chains can be anything but transparent. Say you’re Microsoft, and you have 58,000 suppliers. How would you know if any of them used forced labor? Or say you’re a college student launching a fulfilled-by-Amazon e-commerce business. How would you know which of the goods you purchased on Alibaba were made by modern-day slaves?

Investing in Supply-Chain Transparency

“I’m descending through a cloud layer to reveal the city of Marawi, Philippines. . . . The crew of 11 under my command is tired from night after night of combat missions,” remembers Wes Lyons, a general partner at Eagle Venture Fund and former Navy officer. “The radio crackles with our tasking for the day: ‘. . . ISIS . . . children . . . bait for an ambush . . . find them before it’s too late.’”

Lyons became passionate about combating human trafficking after a harrowing experience hunting ISIS in the US military and seeing firsthand how the vulnerable are exploited globally. After his experience in the armed forces, he sought ways to combat forced labor and human trafficking through investing in scalable, sustainable solutions. One such solution is Evidencity, a “Knowledge as a Service” provider that “seeks the truth about your network of professional relationships: customers, suppliers, or vendors.”

Samuel Logan, CEO of Evidencity, worked in the 2000s as a journalist specializing in black-market economics. He wrote stories about coyotes moving immigrants to the US, drug dealers shipping cocaine via plane to the Caribbean, and secret networks in northern Mexico trafficking people in manufacturing. “Illicit economic actors overlap with licit economic activities,” Logan told me in an interview. “Say you have a 20 foot semi-truck, the last 5 feet are golf balls and the other 15 feet are human cargo. The company controls the trailer, but the truck is loaded by a subcontractor. The only person that knows about the people is the guy running the loading dock at 3am.” Rooting out forced labor, Logan came to see, would require a hybrid approach, combining data and on-the-ground investigation to find out what was going on.

Logan says there are three options for understanding whether there’s forced labor in your supply chain. The first is a tool such as Sourcemap, a supply-chain mapping software. Yet the challenge here is that since companies self-report, not all the information may be entirely accurate. The second option is a big data solution. Upload an entire supply-chain spreadsheet, and tools such as AI can highlight areas of risk, principally by region. So if you have 30 suppliers in Bangalore, India, big data will tell you where to look, but not how.

Third, and this how Evidencity works, is a hybrid solution that combines big data and a boots-on-the-ground approach. Say you’re a golf products supply company in Mexico with 1,000 suppliers. By monitoring criminal watch lists, derogatory social media posts, and sanctions and using other tools, you can narrow down that list to 120 flagged suppliers. Evidencity has a suite of products that, depending on the customer, takes a list anywhere from a basic review to a deep dive. From there, Evidencity takes a consultative approach, and, leveraging networks in 88 countries, it can find investigators to get offline information about potential practices involving human trafficking or forced labor.

Businesses can also use other tools to address forced labor and human trafficking. Investors can use broad tools such as World Wide Generation, which collects data on companies that track with UN Sustainable Development Goals, of which sustainable supply chains are one part. Companies can hire businesses such as Arena CX, a platform for business process outsourcing that provides alternative jobs for people in areas most susceptible to forced labor. The Mekong Club has worked with partners to innovate tools such as DiginexLUMEN, which helps companies collect standardized and comparable information about working conditions through anonymous surveys.

Businesses now have a suite of options to shed light on their supply chains, as well as a practical ethical and financial reason to do so.

Taking Action

“The first question I get,” Lyons told me, “is ‘what can I do?’” Most—including me—want to know practically how they can address forced labor in their supply chains.”

The first action step we can take is building awareness. “You cannot address an issue you don’t understand,” says Logan. Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources to help you better understand the issue. You can learn about the types of goods child labor produces and which fast-fashion trends depend on forced labor. You can learn how many slaves work for you and which products you purchase likely depend on modern slave labor. You can read books such as Where Were You? A Profile of Modern Slavery and listen to podcasts about reforming systems of care, identifying slaves in everyday life, building multisector partnerships, and advocating change. Education is the beginning of change.

The second step is pursuing vocation, or taking action right where you live and work. Vocation suggests that we can’t do everything, but we can do something. And that something is right in front of us. Take, for example, Kurt Johnson. Johnson is CEO and founder of FreightPOP, a software startup for shipping and transportation management. Because the majority of trafficking goes through trucking, Johnson and his investors at Eagle Venture Fund saw an opportunity. Being at a crucial nexus in the supply chain, Johnson decided to display on FreightPOP the truckers who had received training from Truckers Against Trafficking, a group that educates and equips truckers to recognize and report human trafficking. “Would you like to show your customers which truckers have been through this training? All things being equal, they may pick your company to ship their products,” Johnson told me in an interview. Johnson found one small area where he could make a change, and he took action.

Of course, few people actually work in supply-chain logistics. But if you’re a teacher, you can educate students about human trafficking. If you’re a nurse, you can learn to see the signs of human trafficking in hospitals. If you work in HR, you can hire an engineer who has survived human trafficking. If you attend a church, you can host a study on the topic and how your church can address the need. Vocation is a summons to respond to a call to love your neighbor wherever you are and whatever your field of work.

Finally, invest in change. Sometimes, this may include divesting yourself of public equities or businesses profiting from forced labor in, say, the solar panel supply chain. Other times, it may mean investing in for-profit businesses committed to designing market-ready solutions for eradicating forced labor from supply chains. By investing time, charitable capital, investment capital, and influence, businesses can take meaningful action on forced labor through greater supply-chain transparency.

Linked Together

Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Am I responsible for the products I consume, the supply chains that bring them to me, and the people’s lives affected along the way? As I sip coffee, wear comfortable clothes, and type on my laptop, I cannot help but think that the global economy has linked us all together in a common fabric of a single, human story.

We are buyers and sellers, employers and employees, suppliers and purchasers—but most fundamentally, brothers and sisters who all yearn to breathe free.

This article first appeared at Eagle Venture Funds.


The Coming Metaverse

The Internet is Becoming Three-dimensional. How Should We Respond? 

“What? Facebook changed its name to Meta?” 

I remember thinking how bizarre this sounded when I first saw the news on my smartphone on the morning of October 28, 2021. The idea that one of the world’s most powerful companies was going all in on virtual reality – what it called the “metaverse,” a term coined by sci-fi author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book Snow Crash – felt strange, and somewhat dystopian. Am I really going to put on a headset and live in a virtual game-like world, eschewing the physical world all around me? I furrowed my brow in confusion, returned to my coffee, and woke my kids up to get ready for school. 

Less than a year later, Meta was in the news again – now, though, for investing billions in a mostly empty metaverse. Mark Zuckerberg’s big bet on the world bringing its social interactions to virtual reality – as it did with social media – seems to be fizzling at epic proportions. Some reviewers of the newly released Oculus Pro, Meta’s most recent virtual reality headset, said it’s good for gaming, but probably not much else. Sure, it has devotees in the gaming world, but after laying off 11,000 people and losing a staggering $800 billion in market value, I couldn’t help but wonder: is this just an enormous miscalculation of a tech giant, or is something else going on here? 

For me, I had a hard time separating dystopian visions of virtual reality and what was really going on in the market. Hollywood hasn’t helped. Stephen Spielberg’s 2018 film Ready Player One, set in 2045, paints a picture of humanity living in OASIS, a virtual reality simulation used to escape the real world. More recently, Amazon has produced The Peripheral, a story about Flynne Fisher’s connection to the future through a virtual reality headset. Complete with decaying buildings, cunning villains, and a depressing vision of tomorrow, for a non-tech professional like myself, virtual reality seemed shrouded in power, wealth, and escapism.

When I started to dig in and pull back the veil, something far less sinister – and far more expansive – started to emerge. The metaverse refers to the world of computer generated extended reality, or XR, which contains augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality (AR, MR, and VR). Users engage with AR and MR through apps, tablets and iPhones, and with VR through headsets. I experienced AR for the first time when touring Gaudí’s Casa Batlló in Barcelona. Looking at a tablet while walking around the house helped me envision everything from furniture to how nature inspired Gaudí’s art. Not exactly dystopian. 

Extended reality technology has been emerging for years – and slowly improving. What seems to be changing is the tidal wave of interest from corporate America, and how businesses anticipate using virtual reality for the future of work. In a Time magazine article, Matthew Ball writes that in the first six months of 2022 the word metaverse appeared 1,100 in regulatory filings; the previous year saw just 260 mentions. McKinsey and Company estimates that corporations, private equity firms, and venture capitalists made $120 billion of metaverse-related investments in the first five months of 2022 and have the potential to generate up to $5 trillion in value by 2030. For the first time, in 2021, VR headsets outsold all video game consoles combined. Corporations like Marriott are beginning to advertise in the metaverse, and some restaurants are even using AR to tempt hungry customers.

Adoption may lag behind what Meta would like to see, but something is shifting, and it’s a shift all the tech giants are preparing for. Apple is planning its own AR/VR headset, now set to release mid-2023.  Google is making major investments in AR and VR, seeing applications in everything from maps to students in the classroom. And Microsoft has been lurching its way through building its Hololens, its mixed reality tech for business. The metaverse may be unfortunately empty right now as a social world, as the European Union just discovered after throwing a very expensive party for no one. But the growing consensus is that virtual reality will change the way we work – and it could be sooner than we think. Gartner, a global consultancy, believes that 25% of people will spend at least an hour per day in the metaverse as soon as 2026. And a 2022 PWC study found 51% of companies already have a VR strategy, and 67% of business leaders say their metaverse experimentation will be fully integrated across their business in the next few years. 

The future probably won’t look like the dystopian world of Ready Player One. But it also probably won’t exclusively look like laptops and web browsers. The merging of the digital world and the physical world is at our doorstep.

The question we need to ask is what kind of world will this be?  

An Immersive World 

To answer that question, I went straight to the entrepreneurs and investors creating the metaverse. 

The first person I spoke with was Quinn Taber, the Forbes 30 under 30 founder of Immerse, a metaverse platform that launched with a focus on language learning. When learning Arabic in 2017, Taber was introduced to VR and saw an opportunity: virtual reality could help foreign language learning and break down barriers to human connection rather than create them. “VR is best used when it’s contextualized, where you go somewhere, and where changing your persona can help learning,” Taber says. 

Taber believes that virtual reality doesn’t always make sense, but it can offer a significant level up from the 2D world of laptops when five qualifications are present. Taber calls these characteristics “the five affordances.” 

  • First, would it help to go anywhere? For example, would it be easier to learn about the moon on the surface of the moon rather than one-dimensional text and images in a book? 
  • Second, what could you learn if you could be anyone? When would it help to walk in the shoes of somebody who’s, say, a different gender or ethnicity than you? 
  • The third qualifier is manipulating the laws of physics. When would it help to, say, shrink yourself down to the size of a microchip or a red blood cell? 
  • The fourth situation where virtual reality comes in handy is high stakes situations. VR can help in training the operation of, say, heavy machinery or a fighter jet. (The military has used VR for years.) 
  • Finally, VR can be a helpful tool if you want to buy and sell digital goods. (You can now finally afford a Tesla, or a designer purse.)

Early in his entrepreneurial journey, Taber realized language learning checked off each of those boxes. Learning a language in a virtual environment can immerse you in a foreign country, allow you to be, say, an Arabic teenager (rather than middle age white male), and interact with others in a low-stress environment while learning vocabulary and grammar – while getting real-time feedback from other users. 

Taber believes virtual reality holds real promise for education, and it’s getting real traction. Immerse was recently highlighted at the Metaverse Summit, and plans to expand into brand partnerships, creating virtual worlds for advertising partners like Westin Hotels. Yet Immerse stays principally rooted in research about improving foreign language learning through VR. As the son of an Iranian mother and former worker with Syrian refugees, Taber says, “I always dreamed of creating a company that was scalable, profitable, and impactful.” Motivated by increasing access to language tools, Taber sees VR as an opportunity to serve those who otherwise couldn’t access quality, affordable language learning tools.

Renji Bijoy  sees virtual reality’s strength not in education or language learning, but instead in transforming how we work. Bijoy, 29, is the Founder & CEO of the similarly-named Immersed, which allows users to work on multiple computer screens in virtual reality.  Immersed is the only app in the metaverse used 40-50 hours per week because it centers on work rather than play. “Immersed allows you to work remotely more productively,” says Bijoy, which has been a major challenge at least since the pandemic. 

For Bijoy, mixed reality (you can see virtual screens as well as your actual office) and virtual reality allow users to better focus. Popular initially with coders who need multiple screens yet few distractions to write software, Immersed got attention from Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and professor of computer science at Georgetown University. Newport wonders if VR may be a way to cut out the bells, red bubbles, endless emails, and other distracting features of the modern workplace. “When it comes to knowledge work,” writes Newport, “we long ago stumbled into the digital wastes east of Eden. Now that we’re here, we should be open to whatever might help us regain some clarity.” The “immersive” nature of a VR headset can be one way to cut through the non-stop noise. 

Jake Thompson, managing partner at Sovereign’s Capital, a values-based venture capital firm that invested in Immersed, says, “You have to think about VR not in competition with reality, but with Zoom and web browsers. VR is not a substitute for real life; it’s about faithful presence to the tasks before us in this world.” 

This potential for greater collaboration than a video call has some leaders experimenting with VR in unlikely places. “The metaverse could help us create one virtual campus,” says Joel Morris, the president of Union School of Theology in Wales. “It could enhance the virtual experience – not just connecting one-on-one, but a whole community together, collaborating, throughout the world.” After a donor gave a dedicated gift to Union School of Theology to help them innovate their online education, Morris is now experimenting with how the metaverse may improve training for ministers and church planters. And he’s not the only one. Ten universities, ranging from Morehouse College to New Mexico State University, are now testing classes in the metaverse, “traveling” the Underground Railroad or sitting on the judge’s bench deliberating the fate of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Josh Chapman is the co-founder of Konvoy Ventures, the third largest venture capital firm in Colorado, which focuses exclusively on gaming. Currently, he writes, VR is anti-social. Though he’s bullish on the future of virtual reality, as you can imagine, he believes the technology (as do others) has a long way to go. Right now, it’s too isolating and he believes it won’t be broadly adopted until the social experience improves.  Yet, he, too, is hopeful that the technology could be improved to make it more social, for gaming applications as well as educational. 

Could, for instance, a low-cost virtual reality solution be designed to help the one-third of Americans experiencing an anxiety disorder who can’t afford therapy? Could kids who hate math learn to love it through VR? Could an apprenticeship program teach a mechanic more effectively through seeing the location of a carburetor while wearing, say, Google Glass?


The technology, most agree, is still early. It’s not going to replace your Macbook anytime soon, and those virtual shopping malls are still mostly empty. 

Those who are getting traction in the XR space are staying human-centered and market-responsive, focused on using technology to solve everyday problems – just what customers want. We may still be in the “wild west” of the future of a 3D internet. Yet with use cases from remote work and team collaboration to rethinking the online college experience, virtual reality is here to stay, and quite possibly coming sooner than you think to a company near you

Evaluating Virtual Reality   

I once had a mentor who told me when I was dating my future wife, “It’s better to go into marriage with eyes wide open, and when you’re there, keep them half shut.” For new tech, however, I’d say it’s worth dating for quite a while (maybe forever), and honestly evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of the latest world-changing tools with eyes wide open.

Let’s start with drawbacks. First, it’s expensive. The Oculus 2, though getting cheaper, is around $400, and the new Meta Quest Pro is $1500. That’s a hefty price tag for those who could easily imagine life without a headset. 

Second, we’re still learning how extended use of VR affects the body. It’s safe to say that 24 hours straight in the Metaverse is a bad idea. But how much is ok? How does it affect the brain long term? The data is still coming in (and the bad hairdos from wearing something on your head all day). 

Third, it can feel isolating, which may cause mental health issues. As we noted, isolation helps block out workplace distractions, but for most Americans who are getting more and more lonely, that’s no good. VR has a long way to go to make it truly a communal, social experience. 

Fourth, we live in a physical world. Bright philosophers like Matthew Crawford have noted that virtual reality makes us believe we can overcome the laws of gravity or the realities of having flesh and bones. Yet, here we are, in a physical world made up of engines, tables, trash bins, mountains and bodies. Even as the digital world continues to blossom, we must learn to live in a physical world that resists our will. 

Fifth, virtual reality can be used – like any technology – for all sorts of evil things. Preying on children, stealing money, spying on employees in order to control rather than serve. Web3, virtual reality, and the metaverse will require a whole new set of regulations to keep bad actors in check. 

Finally, the biggest critique of virtual reality is that it’s escapist. America (and other countries like Japan) already has a national crisis of men disengaging from work, family, and education. If VR makes this even worse, we’ll have to ask hard questions about how technology can help to re-engage rather than retreat. 

Fair enough. Virtual reality has potential drawbacks. 

But there are real benefits, too. Take, for example, education. A biology lab at Arizona State found that student learning and engagement significantly increased when using virtual reality. This makes sense: what student wouldn’t want to swap dry, technical textbooks for swimming around in the body to see first-hand an aberrant protein that is making a person sick? Or learn Latin in ancient Rome from Julius Caesar himself? I’m no futurist, but I predict that early experiments in higher ed and VR will expand rapidly, and one day push out pre-recorded lectures, Zoom screens, and threaded discussions as the future of online education. The underwhelming experience of pandemic-isolated students learning at home in front of Zoom will one day bow to a 3D, immersive classroom. And that future may not be all that far off; Immerse had 45,000 VR users download their language learning app in the last six months. 

Early innovators like Immersed are showing that virtual reality has the power to transform the workplace, too. The implications for, say, training new workers are promising. From electrical safety training to forklift operations, companies are preparing to make a major leap forward to training and developing their workforces through virtual reality and augmented reality. It’s not just for Pokemon Go anymore. The future of work will employ extended reality to produce, connect, train, and educate. Indeed, even today, giants like Koch Industries and Wal-Mart are already using VR in worker training. 

Eventually, virtual reality will create new markets, and with that, new jobs and economic growth. Entrepreneurs should now prepare for the future of business, and social reformers should be asking how to include low-income workers in the digital economy of tomorrow. (And on a lighter note, VR may finally herald in smell-o-vision. Watch out, WoodWick candles.) 

Some aspects of virtual reality I personally find odd, like church in the metaverse. Why not just walk down the street and brave meeting a real-life person? Church – like all of our most precious human relationships – requires being in the flesh. But if I could get my fourth grade daughter interested in math, or find help for my own anxiety issues at a fraction of the cost of going to a prohibitively expensive therapist, or help frontline employees develop new skills in order to spur on career advancement –  isn’t it worth experimenting with a new technology – albeit, with eyes wide open?

Who Are We Becoming? 

Your vision of virtual reality really comes down to your philosophical view of technology. There are, in my view, essentially two poles to avoid. One is technological determinism, or the view that technology has a mind of its own and is actually deciding our culture’s values for us. Every evil-robot movie you’ve ever watched is playing on this fear. The fear is that as AI or other technology gets more powerful, we’ll simply be pawns and find our world ruled by machines. The natural response here? Smash the machines. People have been doing this since the industrial revolution. 

The opposite view is instrumentalism – the idea that technology is just a tool or an instrument, without any inherent purpose. The phrase “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people” expresses this view. Since the beginning of time we’ve had new technology such as, say, shovels, that we can use to either dig an irrigation canal or knock a neighbor on the head. Don’t blame technology for human choice, so goes the argument. 

I think we miss the point, however, if we see virtual reality and simply double down on our pre-existing anti- or pro-technology biases. New technology is generally neither a cure-all or a cancer. It’s an extension of human potential – and human morality. We should neither fear new technology nor be enamored with it. 

The question we need to ask is: what is this technology for? I mean that not only in the sense of “what problem does this solve for a customer?” but what does this technology help me become? Isolated or connected? Productive or lazy? Addicted to a game-world or educated for my future? 

Though widespread adoption of virtual reality may not be immediate, I do think it’s coming. We can either avoid it or ask better questions. 

Around dinner last week, I asked my four daughters what they thought of virtual reality. My oldest had played a game on the Oculus at a sleepover with her middle school friend. Between bits of meatloaf she shared her enthusiasm for the experience. “It was awesome. It was like you were really there!”

After some healthy banter over the benefits and drawbacks of VR, I then asked, “When this technology comes to your school or a sleepover with friends, how do you think using virtual reality will shape your character?”

That is the question the tech giants need to ask – and keep asking – as we open the windows to a brave new world.

This article first appeared at Eagle Venture Funds. To get updates for more articles on impact, investing and entrepreneurship, subscribe on the Eagle website.


The Struggles of Men Are a Problem for Everyone (Christianity Today)

From school and work to fatherhood and friendship, we need a vision of manhood that both sexes can celebrate.

Years ago, a friend told me about an awkward conversation with a female coworker. In between 5meetings, he had mentioned a Wall Street Journal article about declining college enrollment for men across America, a trend so advanced that men now trail women by record levels and colleges are ramping up their efforts to recruit men. Expecting a sympathetic response, he was caught off guard when she declared, in a nonplussed tone, “And now whose fault is that?” 

At this point, he remembered that his coworker was a strong advocate for women’s rights. He guessed her harsh response was pinned to a belief that sympathy for men would detract from women’s longstanding struggle for gender equity. Yet he didn’t want to picture these causes as locked in a zero-sum contest. As he put the question to me one afternoon, “Can’t we care both about women’s rights and vulnerable men and boys at the same time?”

It’s a good question. 

Richard Reeves’s ground-breaking book Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters, And What to Do about It makes a convincing case that men across the modern world are indeed struggling and need our attention. 

Losing Ground

Reeves, a Brookings Institution scholar, marshals an array of eye-opening statistics to make his point. For instance, did you know that girls regularly outperform boys in education? Girls are 14 percentage points more likely than boys to be “school ready” at age 5, and by high school, girls now account for two-thirds of students ranked in the top 10 percent, according to GPA. The gender gap widens even further in higher education: In the US, 57 percent of bachelor degrees are awarded to women, and women receive the majority of law degrees. In contrast, men are significantly more likely to “stop out” (pause their studies) or drop out of college. 

Men are also losing ground in the labor market. Labor force participation among prime-age men (25–54) has dropped by seven percent in the last half century, due at least in part to automation and a shift away from well-paying manual labor jobs to a service economy. The median real hourly wage for working-class men peaked in the 1970s and has been dropping since. And while it is true that men tend to make more than women, Reeves shows that the gender pay gap is largely a parenting gap, in that it has all but disappeared for childless young adults. We primarily have women, not men, to thank for rising middle class incomes since the 1970s. 

And dads are increasingly in short supply. Traditionally, the male role was culturally defined as a provider for the family. But with greater economic independence for women (a good thing), men are increasingly unable to fill the traditional breadwinner role. “The economic reliance of women on men held women down, but it also propped men up,” Reeves writes. “Now the props have gone, and many men are falling.” If men aren’t necessary as providers anymore, many men question whether then they’re really necessary to families at all. 

What’s puzzling scholars is that interventions to help men seem to not be helping. Take, for example, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Thanks to a group of benefactors, students in its k–12 education system can get their tuition covered for almost any college in the state. Women in the program experience large gains, including a 45-percent increase in their college completion rates, but men, as Reeves observes, “seem to experience zero benefit.”  

Researchers have found similar results elsewhere. A student-mentoring program in Fort Worth, a school-choice program in Charlotte, a program to help low-income wage earners in New York—each show significant gains for women and girls, but not for boys and men. When asked why this is, researchers simply say, “We don’t really know.” Something is wrong with men. And it’s a phenomenon Christians—both men and women—need to seriously consider. 

Male Malaise 

Of Boys and Men has won awards and garnered widespread praise, and for good reason. 

Reeves isn’t content to simply point out a dispiriting social problem and be on his merry way. He offers solutions. He argues eloquently that we should adopt policies that start boys a year later in the classroom to give their brains time to develop. He makes the case that we need to get men into “HEAL” occupations, meaning jobs in health, education, administration, and literacy—both because these jobs track with forecasts about the future of the workforce, and because they help remove the stigma against men in traditionally “female” jobs, like nursing or elementary education. 

Beyond this, Reeves argues, we need to make a major investment into fatherhood. “Engaged fatherhood,” he writes, “has been linked to a whole range of outcomes, from mental health, high school graduation, social skills, and literacy to lower risks of teen pregnancy, delinquency, and drug use.” It’s time to think about paid leave for dads, equal child-custody rights for dads after a divorce, and father-friendly, flexible job structures. 

Reeves has written a tremendously thought-provoking, well-researched, and convincing book on the plight of the modern man. As a policy wonk, he proposes policy solutions. And yet, as a Christian, I couldn’t help thinking past the question of what to do, essential though it is, and wondering more about the question of why. What kind of male malaise is spreading in our culture? 

In a piece for the journal National Affairs, Reeves offers a succinct answer. “The problem, he writes, “is not that men have fewer opportunities; it’s that they’re not seizing them. The challenge seems to be a general decline in agency, ambition, and motivation.” Though this problem appears particularly bad for working-class men, professional men too are experiencing a broad, global slump in desire. 

Since Reeves himself argues that policy interventions are rarely helping men, I couldn’t help but wonder: Have shifting economic and cultural norms around male roles have caused not just a social crisis, but a spiritual one?

Humility and Compassion

What does it mean to be a man? It’s a hard question for evangelicals to answer. Many Christian men know what they shouldn’t be. They shouldn’t conflate Jesus and John Wayne, say, or join the ranks of Christian nationalists. Despite their biological wiring to be more aggressive, risk-taking, and sexually-driven than women (there really is science behind this), they know they shouldn’t be domineering or unfaithful. In short, they shouldn’t live down to the stereotypes of what we often call “toxic masculinity.” 

It’s easy to mock chest-beating men’s ministries or criticize the “good old boys club” in a local chamber of commerce. It’s much harder, though, to come up with a pro-social definition of masculinity. Yet many men who’ve lost their sense of direction and purpose long for exactly this: a vision of manhood that both women and men can celebrate.

Of course, there are wonderful examples. Peter Ostapko’s beautiful Kinsmen Journal, a magazine heralding faith, fatherhood, and work, comes to mind. As does Arthur Brooks’s call to faith, work, family, and friendship. I think even an appreciation of the art of manliness can help. Yet these calls to healthy masculinity are too rare. 

Christians can get to work here. We can normalize conversations among men about both work andfatherhood. We can-and should—invest more time in friendships. We can support lower-income neighbors and coworkers, we can embrace sexuality as a gift of God within marriage, and we can redefine “men’s work” to better include a wider array of occupations. 

But can we graciously have a theological conversation about God’s design for both men and women? Can you imagine if women’s ministries discussed Of Boys and Men and men’s ministries discussed Beth Allison Barr’s The Making of Biblical Womanhood? Humility, after all, is a core virtue of the Son of Man. 

I’m not sure this will happen any time soon. But after reading Reeves’s balanced, thoughtful book, I can confidently say that if you’re a woman and you know a man, he’s probably having a hard time. Show him compassion. 

And if you are a man, well, let’s at least find a way to struggle together.


This review of Richard Reeves’s Of Boys and Men first appeared in Christianity Today.

CultureSpiritual FormationWork

Anxious America (Part 3)

Advocate for greater access to mental health care through the workplace.

“In my way of thinking, the most important kind of medicine we can practice is the kind of medicine for those who otherwise wouldn’t otherwise receive care,” says Abraham Nussbaum, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who also works at Denver Health, a public safety net hospital. But because mental health services are often not covered by insurance – or are arbitrarily limited by most insurance plans – those who receive mental health care are predominantly wealthy and white. “This is a long-standing social disaster,” says Nussbaum.  

One solution to improve access to mental health care is the growing number of options provided through the workplace. 

It’s becoming more common for employers to offer mental health support to their employees as a workplace benefit. For example, workplace chaplaincy has been a life-line for many blue collar employees. Corporate Chaplains of America serves over 500,000 people and their families nationwide. Marketplace Chaplains employs 2,025 chaplains who serve at 5,461 locations and touch nearly 1.3 million employees, family members and patients. 

There are also a growing number of tech tools and communities available.  Stephen Hays, the founder of What If Ventures, a mental health venture capital firm, had an encounter with Jesus that freed him from a lifestyle of addiction. Today he invests in companies that move people from mental illness to mental wellness to mental performance. 

His research has found that the mental health ecosystem is vast. Companies such as Calm, Headspace, Mindstrong, and Pear Therapeutics have reached substantial size.  Types of companies include digital therapeutics, telehealth, business-to-business benefit providers, peer-to-peer platforms, non-tech businesses, measurement and testing companies, and companies focusing on mental health, wellness and sleep.

Some Christian companies, such as Abide, a biblical medication and sleep App, have reached millions of people, as have devotional apps like Others are just launching into the space between mental health and soul care. William Norvell, a former partner at Sovereign’s Capital, recently launched Paraclete, “The World’s First Soulcare Platform for the Workplace.” Norvell, who has also struggled with addiction, says, “In seasons of life where I had community I was always able to find pockets of light creeping into the darkness.” Paraclete offers businesses “on-demand, confidential conversations” through coaches who help employees with spiritual and emotional needs. 

Whereas government leaders have focused largely on equitable access to public services and preventing more severe cases of mental health like suicide, workplaces are often becoming a primary place to advocate for and receive mental health care. 

Rediscover the link between emotional health and spiritual formation. 

“It’s impossible to be spiritually mature by remaining emotionally immature.” This punchy subtitle comes from Pete Scazzero’s best-selling book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Scazzero, his protege Rich Villodas, author of The Deeply Formed Life, and a host of others are sounding the bell to dissolve the barriers between emotional and spiritual health. 

Brian Gray, the VP of Formation at Denver Institute for Faith & Work believes that growing anxiety calls for a deeper daily spirituality based on the classic spiritual disciplines. “It was the wise man who put Jesus’ words into practice that built his life on the rock,” referencing the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ call to practices, not just doctrine. Because work is a major source of anxiety for most people, a part of Gray’s work is forming leaders to live out the spiritual disciplines at work, further dissolving the barriers between daily life, emotional health and spiritual vibrancy. 

Others are drawing on medieval traditions like Ignatian spirituality to address anxiety and mental health issues that church leaders face. Patti Pierce, a former staff member at Menlo Church (formerly Menlo Presbyterian Church) started a nine-month program called SoulCare after seeing several colleagues fall to sexual temptation. The program, which introduces ministry leaders to practices on interior freedom, paying attention to the movements of the soul, and living a “with God” life, has spread to Orange County and Denver, under the name the Praxis. “I found that the movements of the Ignatian exercises, which are based in the life of Jesus,” says Pierce, “really helped people experience Jesus, not just have cognitive information about him.”

The renaissance of spiritual formation, led in the past generation by leading figures like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, addressed the growing evangelical desire for a deeper spiritual life past preaching and singing on Sunday. Today, those threads are being rediscovered as a lifeline for those searching for more enduring answers than what popular psychology and self-help books can provide alone. 

Our hearts and souls, our emotions and our spiritual lives, are woven together and need to be addressed together. “Ignoring our emotions is turning our backs on reality,” says Scazzero. “Listening to our emotions ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God.” 

You’re Not Alone 

In an age of increased anxiety and depression, where mental health struggles seem to be an almost universal experience, Christ uniquely offers the world neither distraction nor temporary remedies, but everlasting good news: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid,”(John 14:27).  As a result, I believe the church’s unique contribution lies at the intersection between therapy and spiritual formation, mental health resources and the life of God.

The church also uniquely offers an anchor for a tormented soul. “The deepest truth of who you are is that you are known and loved by God,” says Kinghorn to those struggling with chronic anxiety or mental illness. “And nothing about your situation can possibly change that.” 

As I think about my own anxiety, I still experience the tingling neck, racing heart, and shortness of breath. Honestly, it still feels like there’s something wrong with me. 

But I’m learning not to avoid it and flee. Instead, I try to exercise, do meaningful work, be patient with others, and open up to friends. I’m leaning into the slow disciplines of naming my feelings, practicing welcoming prayer, and seeking community. And when I need help, I now just ask for it. 

As I do, I’m reminded of a central truth of the historic Christian faith: we are not alone.  


This article first appeared in The Reformed Journal. 


Easter is More than a Metaphor (Op-Ed for the Denver Gazette)

When I think of Easter, I think of the pink crabapple trees blossoming in early April along the north side of Caley Avenue in my home town of Littleton. 

I think of Easter egg hunts on budding green church lawns packed with girls in pastel dresses and boys in clip-on ties, carrying baskets filled with eggs, chocolate, and plastic green grass (that ends up on my carpet). I think of Easter brunch: fruit, egg bakes, and mimosas. And I think of leisurely walks through garden centers, smelling fresh soil, fresh seeds and new beginnings. 

Yet for me at least, the metaphor of Easter as a mere symbol is falling short. This year was simply filled with too much pain. 

This last year, I remember looking into a hazy, yellow sky and feeling the ash fall on my face from raging Colorado wildfires. I remember a friend of mine telling me about the piercing anxiety he felt as he watched from his balcony the dumpster fires move closer to home after the George Floyd protests. I remember walking along Civic Center Park and running my fingers along the splintered plywood now covering the windows of the old Denver Post building on 101 West Colfax. I remember the ghostly feeling of walking through an empty 16th Street Mall on a sunny April afternoon. I remember the tears my daughters cried when I told them their summer swim team, the Franklin Fish, had been canceled.

And this week, I remember the 10 lives lost in the Boulder King Soopers shooting, opening yet again the 20-year-old wound of Columbine that casts a shadow over our “best-state-to-live-in” reputation. 

Springtime sentimentality is no match for the harsh finality of death. 

And yet, Easter is not a metaphor. 

American poet and novelist John Updike once wrote:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all

It was as His body;

If the cells dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

Reknit, the amino acids rekindle

The Church will fall.

In other words, the Christian church and faith rests on a single, historical event: the resurrection of Jesus’ physical body. 

Updike writes, “Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping transcendence,” alluding to the categorization of Christian faith as myth. The resurrection was not like a spring garden nor a parable of well wishes. Christians assert, “the same valved heart / that – pierced – died, withered, paused, and then / regathered out of enduring Might.” 

The early apostles struggled to believe in an actual, physical resurrection. Thomas famously said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John the apostle reports Jesus’ reply: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 

The New Testament authors were making a clear claim: Jesus was no ghost. He could be touched. He ate food with his disciples. He had a body. Here was no ancient mythology of life, death and rebirth. Death itself was being unraveled by the Author of Life. 

Denver can feel like a polarized place, like the rest of our country. Yet on Easter morning, men and women across the city declare a single truth with a rare unity. 

From the Episcopalians at Saint John’s Cathedral to the evangelicals of Fellowship Denver Church; from the multicultural worshippers at Colorado Community Church to the Pentecostals at Potter’s House; from the Anglicans at Wellspring Church in Englewood to the Wesleyans at Trinity Methodist tucked between skyscrapers at 18th and Broadway; from the professionals at Cherry Creek Presbyterian in the Tech Center to the homeless at Denver Rescue Mission to the online worshippers quarantined in their homes from Northglenn to Castle Pines — for one morning, each echo the words of an angel, “Do not be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see.” 

So what? What does the resurrection mean for a city still aching with emptiness, loss, and pain?

I believe it means three things. First, it means death is not the end. Second, it means that Christ has come not just to give meaning to life after death, but to bring his life to this world. His bodily resurrection is the beginning point of a new way to be human. And third, it means that the hard work ahead of reopening restaurants, helping students catch up, and rebuilding our economy is indeed work worth doing, because God seems to think this world is worth saving (John 3:16). 

Easter may not be a metaphor, but it is a new beginning. It reminds us that today is a time to plant, to hope, and to begin new projects that can bloom, like a budding crabapple blossom lining the streets of a waiting city. 

Jeff Haanen is the founder of Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the 5280 Fellowship, a nine-month experience in spiritual formation, professional development, and civic engagement for emerging leaders in Denver. This op-ed first appeared in the Denver Gazette.


Race and the Gospel: Lament and Hope

The week after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, I got on the phone to call several of my Black friends to see how they were doing. One of our alumni from the 5280 Fellowship, a Black woman working for the state of Colorado, shared her devastation. “I’m not sure how to describe how I’m doing,” she confessed. “I’ve felt numb for most of the week and today the tears won’t stop flowing. I find myself in a space of deep lament, anger, and hurt yet again.”

A day later, I talked to my friend Darius, formerly an executive pastor and now a leader at a local credit union. We spoke on a day when thousands of protestors gathered in Denver’s civic center. “Jeff, thanks for asking about me. I feel…angry, and I want to join them. But tonight, I’m not going to. I have to be in this for the long haul,” he said to me. “After the news cycle and protests end, and most individuals go back to their norms, my Black family would still be navigating many of these racial tensions.” His voice was laced with weariness and pain.

These two conversations reminded me of sessions in the 5280 Fellowship we do each year on implicit racial bias with senior leaders in Denver. I remember Brandon Washington, the lead pastor of the Embassy Church in Denver, telling us the first time as a teenager his dad gave him “the talk.” And the “talk” was not about girls — it was about how to respond as a large Black teenager in Texas when being pulled over by the police. This was a talk my father never had to give to me.

My mind also flashed back to a beautiful, yet heart-wrenching, conversation we had years earlier with Professor Dayna Matthew, a CU law professor who decided to take a job at the University of Virginia. “I’m just tired,” she said, referring to the experience of being a Black woman in Colorado. “Being Black in Colorado is constantly exhausting. I just don’t want to explain my painting of buffalo soldiers to every person who walks in my front door.”

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” says the Psalmist. “How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:1-2). The heart-wrenching prayer of David mirrors the pain I’ve heard from our African American friends and colleagues in the Denver Institute community.

And considering the history of Jim Crow laws, redlining, mass incarceration of Black communities, and the persistent racial divisions, even in the church, this lament and frustration is understandable. (This video from Phil Vischer on Race in America is worth watching twice, and then sharing with others.) In the words of Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn, America is complicated

Christians believe that all people are made in the image of God, that all are loved by the Savior, and that sin has seeped its way both into both our hearts and our systems. Christians long for the day when people from every tribe and tongue and nation will worship the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 7:9). Yet we also believe that God calls all his people to “learn to do right; seek justice for the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).

At Denver Institute for Faith & Work, we are committed to the breadth of the gospel, which means that Jesus’ death and resurrection heals both our distorted hearts and unjust systems, ranging from workplace policies to cultural norms. Now is a time to tell the truth, to seek justice for the oppressed, and to remind ourselves that the gospel of reconciliation must include issues of race, lest we be guilty of believing a truncated gospel. Truth and reconciliation belong together.

Yet, in humility, as an organization that’s been predominantly white and that’s also located in a predominantly white state, we believe that now is the time to learn and do the long, slow work of responding to racial injustice. We have homework to do. 

For me personally, this means reading books like Free at Last? The Gospel in the African American Experience, A Testament of Hope, The New Jim Crow, The Essential Writings of the American Black Church, and the forthcoming Reading the Bible While Black. It means watching films with loved ones like 12 Years a Slave, Just Mercy, Selma, The Forgiven, Green Book, and Harriet. It means pursuing real friendships across racial lines. It means talking to our children about the history of slavery in America. At work it means taking renewed steps to look at whom we have on stage, whom we have in leadership, and how we, corporately, “hate evil, love good, and establish justice at the gate” (Amos 5:15). It also means acknowledging disparities  in power in our workplaces, the vast differences in how we experience our work, and the willingness to rethink vocation from a broader lens. 

And as a Christian — in contrast to the secular narratives filling our news feeds — it also means embracing our gospel, which is a gospel of both redemption and hope. Christ himself is making “one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:15-16). Though divisions rack our society, the deepest truth is that, in Christ, we are one new humanity.

“Your call reminded me to process all of this in light of the gospel,” a Black friend recently told me, “and for that I am grateful.” 

I too am deeply grateful for Christ-centered Black leaders who are teaching me to see, think, lament, labor for justice, and endeavor to look again at work, culture, and race in light of the gospel.


Known By our Love? | 2019 DIFW Annual Report

Hi Friends,

As we were preparing this year’s annual report, we could have never predicted that three weeks in March would change everything. A virus spreads, millions are out of a job, and as the economy shuts down, nearly everybody’s daily work has changed. This is a time to lament. But at Denver Institute, we also believe it is a time to love. 

In this year’s report, I ask: are Christians in our society today known for their love? At Denver Institute for Faith & Work, our mission is to form men and women to serve God, neighbor, and society through their daily work. Leaning on Jesus’ Great Commandment, we believe our daily work is an opportunity to love God, serve our neighbors, and demonstrate the gospel to an unbelieving world. 

We live in uncertain times. However, as you’ll see in this report, there are reasons for hope:

  • Angela Evans, a 5280 Fellowship alumna and journalist at the Boulder Weekly, shares about her vocation to highlight vulnerable communities through her writing;
  • Last year, over 1,000 people came to events last year covering topics like “God, Energy and the Environment” and “Teaching Character Formation in Public Schools”;
  • Denver Institute was even mentioned by the New York Times as a thought leader in the national faith and work movement.

As we move into 2020 and beyond, would you consider financially supporting the Denver Institute community? Your gift goes directly toward creating more podcasts, short courses, events, publications, and transformative experiences. Your giving forms a community that can respond with grace, truth, and love to the greatest challenges of our time through their vocations. 

Thank you for your generosity. As the nations are in an uproar, my prayer is that we might, “Be still and know that I am God…The LORD Almighty is with us” (Psalm 46). 

With deep trust,

Jeff Haanen

Founder and Executive Director

PS. You can give by returning the enclosed envelope or by visiting


School Closures, Coronavirus, and How to Take the First Steps Educating Your Kids at Home

Your kids are home. You are home. You both need to get work done. What on earth does working and homeschooling look like? 

Millions of American kids are, for the first time ever, being homeschooled. As it turns out, I happen to be married to a brilliant thought leader in the homeschooling world, Kelly Haanen, the director of the homeschool enrichment program at Ascent Classical Academy in Lone Tree, Colorado. 

In this guest “post,” Kelly sent a note to parents of full-time K-12 students at Ascent classical academy, giving them tips about how to approach homeschooling for the first time. 

If you find yourself trying to reorganize your daily schedule around your work and your kid’s school work – all day long – this article is for you. 

As a homeschool parent and director of Ascent’s Homeschool Enrichment program, I want to offer you all a word of encouragement, and a few ideas, as you approach the next month of facilitating your students’ education at home.

First, I genuinely believe that amidst the chaos, we have been given an opportunity. For a few weeks we will be forced to slow down, to be present with our sons and daughters, and to learn alongside them. We chose to send our kids to a classical school because we care about what they are learning and who they are becoming. Second, balancing your own work responsibilities and their school work may be tough. But let me encourage you: you will be given tools and resources from Ascent teachers, you as parents are capable facilitators of your child’s learning, and the ideas below will help you create a flow and schedule for your day.

There are a million great ideas and resources out there; you may have seen the colorful daily schedules and offers for free online learning. Many of you are experienced teachers or previous homeschool parents. I don’t intend to add to the noise; I simply want to offer a few practical ideas that help us through our homeschool days.

I have four kids learning Pre-k through 6th grade material. I work part-time, and I’ve found that daily rhythms and structure are essential to keeping us sane!

Daily Structured School-Time Tips

1. Space. You don’t need to create an elaborate school room (much of our school day happens at the kitchen table). You do want to make sure you have a space where supplies are easily accessible and students can work without being distracted. Turn off whatever screens you can. If creating this space seems difficult in your home, give them headphones with classical music to help them focus.

2. Schedules. Many of you will be working from home and will need to find creative ways for you and your kids to get work done. Routines and consistency will be your best friends. Decide on the best time of day for you to give your kids 1-2 hours of attention, (note: most kids learn best in the morning hours) then stick to it daily, even if it means waking them up in the morning. Your older students will be able to work independently for much of their school time, but your younger students will need your help. My kids love to use this timer as we move through our school day.

3. Rewards. It’s okay to offer them some motivation! Make it simple – chocolate chips for math problems, stickers for completed work, extra outside time if they finish early, a learning game on the iPad, or more of anything that motivates them.

4. Recess. As you plan for your school time, make sure to include some breaks. Give them snacks and make them move their bodies. Send them to the backyard or download a workout app to use when they need to get moving.

What about the rest of the day??

Finding a few hours a day for structured learning still leaves us with lots of hours with kids stuck at home. While there are plenty of ways to spend unstructured time (creating, cooking, cleaning, reading, playing, pretending, exercising, educational apps, playing instruments, listening to music) most of us will need consistent time each day to work when our kids don’t need our attention. Here are two daily essentials in our home.

1. Outside time. Give your kids significant time outdoors. Bundle them up if it’s cold. Give them an umbrella if it’s raining. Send them to the backyard. Let them ride their bikes around the block. Tell them to collect leaves or pull weeds.  

2. Quiet (alone) time. I can’t stress this one enough. Plan in at least an hour when you send everyone to a separate space. My kids devour audiobooks during this time (download the Libby app to check out free audiobooks from the library). In our home this is a no-screen time, but they can play with Legos, puzzles, draw, knit, read or anything alone and quiet. We keep it simple and consistent.

Lastly, let them get bored – without a screen. It might be painful for a day or two, but you’ll be surprised how quickly they start coming up with ideas on their own.

My prayer is that none of you find yourselves exhausted and overwhelmed. Spend some time this weekend creating a plan with your kids. Developing a daily rhythm that works for your family is key! Reach out to teachers with questions. Ask me or a friend for help. Then go ahead and find some good movies on Netflix (Planet Earth, PBS programs, or movies based on classical literature are a great place to start) and relax! 

This too can be a time to learn the true, do the good, and love the beautiful. Feel free to reach out with any questions.

Your advocate,

Kelly Haanen, Director of Homeschool Enrichment

Ascent Classical Academy


The Coronavirus Sabbath: 9 Things to Do When Everything Is Canceled

Everything is shutting down. Not just major league sports, but swim practices, rec centers, local libraries, and office buildings. And public schools. In my home state of Colorado, even public schools are shutting down for at least two weeks.

This causes lots of problems. For instance, how are workers like barbers, mechanics, and home health care workers – those who can’t work from home – supposed to not only stay safe, but also care for kids who are home from school? Also, how long should employers hang on to employees in the midst of drastic short term revenue cuts? These are big questions that need answers.

However, for a brief window, the Coronavirus also presents an opportunity. As I write this, my office building has shut down, all of my kid’s soccer and swimming practices are canceled, and my calendar is opening pretty fast for the next two weeks. The cancelations have caused both anxiety and sadness in our home (we really enjoy seeing people in our community!) but I wonder: could we also see this unique time as an opportunity to deeply rest and restore our souls?

On the dusty sands of the Sinai desert, Moses descended from the mountain with a message from God. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8-9).

God gives the command to take a day of rest for three reasons. The first is trust. Sabbath is a chance to reorient our hearts toward trusting that God is the ultimate provider. It is an invitation to lay down ultimate trust in our money or our work as the source of security, and to release the chains of anxiety and restore us to our proper place as created beings, dependent on God the Father for every good gift (James 1:17).

The second is identity. Why not work every day of the week? Only slaves do that, suggests the Bible (Deuteronomy 5:15). God is the one who has redeemed his people from slavery, and Sabbath was to be a continual reminder of their liberty and identity as God’s people. Forced slow-downs like this current pandemic make me ask myself: have I submitted myself to a yoke of self-imposed slavery?

The third is justice. The Sabbath law includes a command to allow those with the least cultural power (children, servants, foreigners) to rest so that they “may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12). In the midst of Coronavirus, this word is particularly poignant, as many tech workers will “work from home,” yet many with the least power will have far less ability to choose their hours and work location. Issues of justice and power will quickly rise to the surface as the global economy begins to hemorrhage.

If you are one of those who finds yourself with more time on your hands in the next two weeks, what would it look like to take this time and use it intentionally as a Sabbath rest?

Here are nine Sabbath practices to consider as the world begins to shut down for the coming weeks:

1. Prepare.

The Jewish “Day of Preparation” was a weekly rhythm of preparing to rest well – and it required extra work. Jews would store food and goods so they wouldn’t need to purchase them on the Sabbath day. They informed Gentiles (non-Jews) of their intention to take Sabbath rest.

Consider taking just an hour or two and consider how you might restructure time in the coming weeks. Many people waste Sabbath with entertainment or “vacation,” trying to vacate their daily lives. Instead, pause, find a friend or family member, and sit down together to consider how you might use this time to quiet your heart and life. Be intentional with this time.

2. Feast.

The idea of Sabbath as dour law-keeping is from the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, not from God. In Jewish tradition, Sabbath was a time for richly eating and drinking. It was one of the “festivals of the Lord” which prohibited fasting and outward expressions of mourning (Leviticus 23). Sabbath was to be a “delight and joy,” recounting God’s grace toward his people (Isaiah 58:13).

In these next few weeks, you may consider having old friends over, or even neighbors who may feel particularly isolated. Yes, keep your physical distance, wash your hands, and be safe. However, nearly all state and local governments think that small gatherings with basic precautions are okay.

Consider having a lavish feast with co-workers, family members, or low-income neighbors as a way to express gratitude to God.

3. Worship.

In Lauren Winner’s short, accessible book Mudhouse Sabbath, she notes the difference between contemporary visions of a day or rest and the biblical vision of Sabbath. “Whom is the contemporary Sabbath designed to honor?” she asks, tongue in cheek. “Whom does it benefit? Why, the bubble-bath taker herself, of course!” In contrast, Winner says, in the Bible the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. The difference between “indulge, you deserve it” (the popular vision for vacation) and “drink in the joy of God” could not be starker.

As you plan your Coronavirus Sabbath, leave time for communal worship (especially in smaller groups under 100), for long and short periods of silence, for prayer walks, and for studying Scripture. Worship is the center of Sabbath.

And worshipping Christians in this cultural moment have a unique opportunity to show the world that not fear or disease is at the center of our world, but the Triune God.

4. Re-create.

Sports, hobbies, music – these all can play an important role in a Sabbath period. Jewish culture was built around its festivals and celebrations. Recreation as “re-creation,” rather than leisure or vacation, can be an ingredient in renewal. 

The Benedictine monks practiced ora et labora (work and pray.) They endeavored to be aware of God’s presence while farming, working, or even doing dishes. Can you do house chores or math lessons with kids during this time, yet quietly listen to God’s voice? Or internally are you “cranking work out,” nervous about all you’ll need to do when life returns to normal? The difference between the two heart attitudes is the difference between work and rest, Sabbath keeping and Sabbath breaking.

Yes, rec centers, stadiums, and theaters are closing. But the world outside your door is open for slow walks, long breaths, and deep smiles.

5. Remember.

Remembering was a core Sabbath practice for the Israelites. Even amidst the pain of unfaithful kings, the breach of covenant, and eventual exile, they found new life in remembering the Exodus and their nation’s birth out of slavery.

Take time to write down the good gifts God has given in your working life. Get out picture albums, call old friends or co-workers, or ask your parents about their first memories as children.

All is gift, said the Ignatius of Loyola. It often takes loss and forced silence to see this liberating truth.

6. Love your neighbor.

It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath,” Jesus said as the crippled man “stretched [his hand] out, and it was restored” (Matthew 12:9-12). The Pharisees saw this and conspired to kill him, calling him a law breaker. But Jesus saw that Sabbath was for the restoration of all his people, especially the poor, widow, orphan and foreigner.

During this next two weeks, consider visiting shut-ins (while, of course, taking proper precautions), visiting the grocery store for a neighbor without transportation, or caring for the kids of those who still have to work even though their kids are home from school.  My friend Dr. Bob Cutillo, a physician at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, once told me, “Don’t serve the poor. See through the eyes of the poor.”

As the Coronavirus transforms American life, take some time to think: how is the affecting the lower wage workers I know? Or the elderly? Or even my own neighbors?

Christians have the unique opportunity to demonstrate hope over fear in the time of Coronavirus.

7. Practice simplicity.

“Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free.” The classic Quaker song offers a counter-cultural freedom from the entertainment and accumulation-complex of our culture: to possess less and intentionally simplify your life is to experience deep freedom.

Could you take some time in the next two weeks to develop the habit of giving things away? What is causing anxiety in you? What could you use without owning? What could you just as easily share as possess?

8. Renew your mind.  

During Sabbath, consider taking time to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2). Read not only religious books, but anything from neuroscience to wildlife biology to the history of water rights in the West. Our careers have a way of making us technicians – we know everything about one topic, but remain in the dark about most of the world. Reignite your curiosity and sense of wonder.

Shut off the technology, and find paper books that you can sit with, engage, and genuinely enjoy.

9. Make plans to continue Sabbath rhythms after your “Coronavirus Sabbath” ends.

We’re created to work (Gen. 2:15) and Sabbath days are meant to end. This awkward Coronavirus scare too, will end, and soon enough, we’ll be headed back to normalcy.

But what about the rhythms of the next few weeks could you take with you in the responsibilities of “normal life?” What practices do you want to take up? And which do you want to lay down?

And with whom do you want to practice more sustainable rhythms of work and rest in the future? Judith Shulevitz’s The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time notes that Sabbath is a communal, not individualistic, activity. Could a spirit of Sabbath rest come to permeate even your working life, your family, your friendships and your community?

In our culture, most are engaging the Coronavirus with a spirit of fear and anxiety. Yet God says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” (Is 41:10).

Sabbath rest allows us to pause and see the great, colorful symphony that is God’s world. Even a “forced sabbatical” like this, when offered to God, can help us develop the spiritual muscles to hear the voice of God, see the beauty of creation, and embrace our place in it. 

Everything may be shutting down right now. But, even as we take proper precautions, as Churchill once said, let’s “never waste a good crisis.”

Photo credit.


This article was adapted from a chapter on Sabbath in my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life

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