Thursday, February 5, 2009

Twilight. . . .


What's the most humiliating thing a father can do to his 16-year-old son? I think I figured that out. It went down last week. I'm laying on the couch in our family room. My head is propped up on two fluffy pillows. I've got a nice fleece throw keeping me warm. There's a crackling fire in the fireplace. It's a little bit snowy outside. I'm reading a novel. Perfect.

Then, Nate walks into the room and flips out. . . . humiliated. You see, he catches a glimpse of the cover of the book. Twilight. Paralyzed, he's not sure whether to report me to the police or throw me out of the house. All I remember is that he rattled off a series of fast-paced sentences laced with disgust, all of them starting with "I can't believe. . . . .!" In between there were accusations thrown around about my intelligence, my manliness, my use of time, and comparisons between me and three-quarters of the female population at his high school.

Yes, I read and just finished Stephanie Meyer's best-selling Twilight, the first in a four-book series about teenagers and vampires. Can I say that I was finally bit by the urge to read the book after weeks and weeks of seeing it on front and center book racks everywhere I turned, and hearing it come up in conversations too numerous to count. I resisted for a long time. . . after all, when was I going to be able to carve out the time to read the book? Eventually, I realized that if I was going to continue to study youth culture, the microscope had to land on this literary phenomena.

I got a little more serious about the endeavor about a month ago, when I sat down for lunch with a seminary president. Before talking about theological education, he asked me what I thought of Twilight. Pleading ignorance was all I could do as I typically refuse to comment on things I haven't experienced first-hand. He told me that his teenage daughter was fascinated by it all, and he and his wife were wary, if not fearful. I gave him the standard "read it and discuss it with her" answer, but walked away knowing that sooner or later, I would have to hit the couch with the book in hand. So, I picked it up and started reading it on a flight to Orlando. . . which of course, made me look a bit odd to my fellow passengers.

I was heading to Orlando to speak at a Christian School. I was speaking to students about making good media choices and developing media literacy skills. I was speaking to parents about their kids. I mentioned during my talk with the students that its important to read, listen, and watch critically, and to evaluate everything from the perspective of a Christian world and life view. To illustrate, I mentioned that I had just started reading Twilight on the flight down. Ripples of reaction went through the room. The reaction from the guys proved that my son Nate is a very normal 16-year-old male. The girls appeared validated and most likely saw me as, well, one of them. The majority of my follow-up conversations with students that day were about Twilight and what I thought of the book. Not surprisingly, many of my conversations that afternoon and evening with parents focused on my comments to the kids. One alarmed mother even accused me of telling her daughter it was okay to read Twilight. She calmed down after I had a chance to put my comments in context.

So, what do I think of Twilight? Keep in mind that I've only read the first book and that I have yet to see the movie. . . a fact that I'm embarassed to admit. After reading the book, I can see why it's a best-seller, especially among female adolescents. It's a story about adolescent struggles, confusion, and love. But it's also a book about good and evil and the human struggle to do what's right. I asked several girls who had read the book and wondered what I thought about what they thought of the book and its message. To a girl, each one said it's a book about right and wrong, choosing to do what's right, and sexual abstinence. It doesn't glorify vampires. They are correct. You see, my concern with something like this is what readers take to the book, and then what they take away from the book. Without a strong Christian world and life view and without having skills in thinking Christianly and critically about media, young readers most likely will not take away from the book what I took away from the book. For them, it's just a riveting love story. But when reading this story as one caught up in God's unfolding historical-redemptive story, there is much to celebrate in the book. For me, I was reminded of the fact that even though God has adopted me as a son and made me over, my depravity is still kicking at the door and wanting to rear its ugly head. I'm in a battle. . . something that the Apostle Paul talked about constantly. And to win the battle, I have to recognize that the battle does indeed exist. That's just one theological truth that the book drove home for me. And by the way, it was a bit difficult to put down. Can I admit that?

So what do we do with Twilight? My simple answer is this: if you're a parent or youth worker who's got kids interested in the book or who have read the book, read it yourself. . . and then talk about it with them. What a great opportunity to think with your kids. What a great opportunity to model how to bring the light of God's Word to bear on everything in life. What a great opportunity to seize a teachable moment. If you're a youth worker who's ministering to loads of Twilight fans - and if you're a youth worker you most likely have lots of Twilight fans in your group - why not get a Twilight discussion going? Again, this is a great opportunity to get talking about life, good, evil, right, wrong, and the need to exercise Biblically-informed media discernment. My great fear is that if we simply make the assumption that this should be avoided (book + vampires = evil), then we will not only miss a great opportunity, but we'll be sending our kids off to process the book without the benefit of our guidance and direction.

Have any of you read Twilight? And, what do you think? What have you done with the kids you know and love in response to Twilight?

Oh, and by the way. . . I want to be a reponsible youth culture watcher. That said, how humiliated do you think Nate will be when the UPS man knocks on the front door to deliver the box from Amazon containing the other 3 books in the series that I ordered?!? I'll let you know how it goes.

20 comments:

Beth said...

Ah Twilight. I've read all the books. I liked the first, and really only the first. The other books weren't as good. The biggest thing that bothers me is I don't think there's a healthy view of boy/girl relationships. Edwards is basically a stalker. He goes into Bella's bedroom and watchers her sleep??? Creeper! A lot of his behavior boarders on the unhealthy. I must say it's fostered some great discussion with my two teenage daughters who have read it. We've had great talks about the relationships in the books. We've also had talks about living an eternal life on earth and what that would mean. Most of the teens at church haven't read it, but I've had great talks with my own kids because of the books.

Anonymous said...

While I haven't read these, I have seen the reaction to these books and others like them. In one case, and I realize it is extreme and hopefully rare, a male student tried to become a vampire by actually drinking blood three times to try to become addicted. While it's 'fun fiction' I think it portrays dark spiritual in a fun and romantic way. I view this as dangerous because of the way it can draw people in, even if it is not as deep as the student I worked with. Most of what I've seen as a result is middle school girls who are enthralled in these stories and easily antagonized by the fact that their youth pastor has not read them.

Chris S. said...

While I have not read any of the series, my jr. high staff person has and has enjoyed them. One thing that was surprising was to hear him talk about the embedded Mormon theology in the books.

Mark Dickinson said...

I've not read them but have seen the movie and my daughter (15) has read them. Walt, I agree that a lot of what one takes from a book (movie, TV show, etc.) correlates to what one brings to it. My guess is that the above story (the teen trying to get addicted to blood) says more about that teen's pre-book mindset than what "Twilight" 'did' to him. The real question, to me, is: how are we , as youth pastors and parents, doing at teaching a biblical worldview? With the correct pre-book worldview, nearly any story can be enjoyed for it's storytelling and one can correctly identify those parts that don't match-up. Without this pre-understanding, we allow ourselves to be guided by fiction and become frantic when we see our ship suddenly off-course(the Harry Potter debacle or DaVinci Code hysterics). A ship will not veer off-course, even in a storm, if it has a correct chart, compass, and navigator.
God Bless you in your work!
Mark

Anonymous said...

I have read three of the four books and seen the movie. Almost all of my youth both girls and boys have either read them and seen the movie or are reading them. I used the story to illustrate Gods love for us and his redemptive sacrifice. There is a lot in the story that can be used to illustrate Christian points. However, we also discussed that vampires and werewolves are not of God. I think youth workers need to read and watch what their youth are watching so that they can discuss the good and bad things from them. If you haven't read the books and you try to discuss how they are not Christian material your kids should be reading, they won't take you seriously because you honestly don't know what your commeting on.

Rachael Day said...

I actually read all the books last year when I started finding a number of the girls in my ministry reading them. They are a fast and easy read and entertaining. And I definitely agree that it is not hard to see why they are popular.

Some of the negatives of the books that I have discussed with me students include: love NOT being all consuming and uncontrollable, and about how looks should not be such a huge focus in a relationship.

I also try to find the positive aspects as well since these are characters who are becoming teen icons. For example, the main vampires in the story, don't kill humans, and when asked why they say that just because they are by nature monsters doesn't mean they can't aspire to be good. I have used this to talk to my girls about fighting against the sin nature, and that just because something feels natural and right doesn't mean that you should act on those natural impulses.

Also by reading the books I opened a door to get to accompany some of my high school girls to the movie and discuss the issues while they were fresh and relevant.

Steven Perez said...

Hey Walt,
I have read the entire series after hearing the buzz run through my Jr High Group. As for the movie, well lets just say it destroys all redeeming qualities of the book. You can read my thoughts about the series at www.theteenagesoul.com

Lisa Grant said...

Walt, I had to laugh at your foray into the Twilight realm. Like you, I knew I needed to read it and had been postponing it. I finally started it about a month ago. Unlike you though (and the rest of the world, apparently) I found the writing to be nothing short of Harlequin romance drivel. As an advocate for girls, I think these books feed their obsession to find their identity in a boy, rather than finding their whole life in Christ. That being said, I would never ban my children from reading the books. As you and others have commented, we need to guide them into a Biblical assessment of anything they read.

Meg said...

I really enjoyed the books, and I think they make for a great jumping off point for study with especially teen girls. Like the world not everything is great or wholesome, but it's a starting point for a lot of good discussion. On a miriade of topics such as absenance, redemption, the value of a soul (Edward thinks he is beyond salvation), what a healthy relationship looks like compared to Bella and Edward's or Jacob and Renesmee(book 4), characteristics of the perfect man (Jesus) compared to the guys in this book (Edward, Jacob, Dr. Cullen), human nature and sin....The Twilight books can be a great tool! I'd love to see a CPYU pdf about how to use it!

Rich: said...

Hey Walt,

Hope its okay... just a very quick response! Thanks for your article on Twilight and getting this discussion going. I did not read the book, but I did see the movie. I REALLY liked the movie.

Perhaps part of what is missed in the conversation about these kinds of movies is the idea that good traditional, historical hero types within our culture (policemen, doctors, ministers, the old Superman, former Batman etc. etc.) have lost their ability to speak and inspire. It is not hard to think about why this might be the case. They reasons for this are myriad. Many conservative, traditional Christians just don't get this.

In addition, because of the highly conditioned and overt saturation of visual stimuli (movies, wii, T.V. Games etc.) in the average young adult, the characters in stories and movies, they feel they need to engage mentally and emotionally have to be more cognitively kinesthetic. They want those characters to be tactile in their minds... AND they want to be able to relate to them as well... their failings, their successes...

Finally, I think that people simply like the "redemptive" theme that flows from "dark heroes." They relate to them better

I guess I enjoyed the movie because of the parallels that can be employed. In a sense, what is more Biblical than something that has a long history of being incredibly evil, rejecting and seeking its old nature, in order to overcome its history and evil associations and finding productive (redemptive) ways to compensate in a variety of ways in order to do what is good? Even to to point of trying to win those like them, over to their side and help those being victimized from those vampires who will not leave the evil side/nature? Is this the gospel? Absolutely not! But there are some remote parallels here. Are we not evil in comparison to God's goodness? Are we not expected to (through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit - clearly something not in Twilight) expected to overcome our evil nature, to call others from it as well and to help those being victimized by evil people? Are we not expected to use our unique abilities that we were born with towards this end? Considering all of the other er um crap Hollywood produces... there is something in this Twilight story that can be useful I think.

I understand Paul's admonition in
Philippians 4:8 (and related verses)

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things."

But I have to be convinced that there isn't something "excellent" or "admirable" in a story like Twilight. For me, movies and books like Twilight can provide a point-of-contact missiologically in a Post-Modern World that cares nothing for old out-of-date hero types, that no longer have the ability to speak, inspire, nor to relate to... NO MATTER HOW MUCH WE OR ANY OTHER CHRISTIAN MIGHT WANT THEM TO...

In the world of Missions, within third world countries, Missionaries borrow from the story culture all of the time to create points-of-contact. In a POST-CHRISTIAN culture, why should we not be willing to do the same?

Blessings Walt!

Rich Grassel

Anonymous said...

I found my self behind the curve ball on this cultural event as well. What got me into the book(s) was a young girl who was completely unchurched came to my youth group. After the youth service, I came across her interest in the story. The following week I started to use the spiritual themes in the Twilight to eventual lead to the interest and a decision for Christ.

Thank you for allowing this forum. I even came across a few more ways to cross over to the spiritual by using this book. As Walt alluded to, it is what perspective are you going to view life from, God –centered or World-centered. It truly does make all the difference in the world to the unchurched.

clarkrl said...

Like many others, I have not read the book, but have a comment on they type of book that is described. My thoughts are along the lines of Mark Dickinson who posted earlier. I believe it is what you bring to the table. I made an argument with a youth worker several years ago when Harry Potter came out. While I do not believe in witchcraft, I know many people people do. However, for me to watch Harry Poter is no different than an atheist watching Passion of the Christ. It is the world view of which we watch these movies, read these books. An athiest could read the Bible and say, "Yeah, its a good story, but not life changing". Walt, you are exactly right is saying that these oppertunities are great times to teach our youth about the worldview we bring to the table.

Anonymous said...

Walt,

As much as I want to truly pour into the different perspectives that Twilight influences, I am kinda short on time right now. However, I have read the first book and have seen the movie. I have also had many strong discussions with individuals who are on both sides of the spectrum and are very well educated. This has helped me attempt to look at the book/series from a semi-objective point of view.

As far as positive reinforcement goes, I can legitimately see how one might be able to draw some very good points from this series. I can also see how we could literally use any form of media that we want to prove a good point. The question then becomes what do we sacrifice in order to prove a point. I am a youth pastor at an innercity ministry that works specifically with At-Risk Youth. I have 3 legitimate vampires that I am currently working with that come every week. I also have students who were not even considering vampirism until they read the book attending each week. They see the good things in the books as well, however they do not notice as readily some of the evil that is present.

My greatest concern doesn't come from the fact that evil is in the book but rather that vampirism is a legitimate, highly involved, belief system that very few people really know much about. It is not as open and forthright as we would like to think but rather is very secretive yet highly intense. Vampires believe what they teach and do more so than most christians. They are very dedicated and much of it is steeped in satanism and some twisted forms of wicca.

We try to say that we can use things from this book that show the redemptive nature of mankind who wants to overcome evil and past history in order to live out what is good in humanity. The bible teaches us that there is nothing good in humanity and that man is basically evil. It also teaches us that even the best things we do in life are as filthy rags. I have even had a discussion with one close friend who argued that Edward seemed to be a picture of a type of Christ. This young man has a great deal of education in theology from a very well respected university and seminary. I John tells us that "in him there is no darkness" yet we are saying that darkness in this book is a type of Christ because of the redemptive nature. My hesitation is that do we really want to endorse a book that is based off of the thought process of a post-modern, humanistic worldview that says, you can better yourself if you try hard enough without your creator. I am not an individual at all that jumps on band wagons to condemn or support things very quickly but I do have major concerns with this series.

Another aspect that many don't realize is that vampirism is a subtle lifestyle that is not spoken of in public much. Our ministry has a great friendship with a man named Don Reimer. Don used to work with the FBI and is still a consultant and one of the leading experts nationwide in occultic crime. He has been at EVERY major school shooting. Don has issues with this series and is afraid of it's impact. Vampirism is touted of highly in the book, however it is done in the same way that vampires do everyday life. It is the sublteness that screams vampirism out from this series.

Looking back at the movie and the book there is no desire for the cullen family to participate in light. They all gave up mortality to live in immortality on the earth which is a huge desire of the human nature to try to avoid death. If we are believers shouldn't we be able to embrace death, although it may be difficult, as a celebration in to life eternal in heaven. There is also the constant struggle that persists with being eviler. Not being even assuming that they are good but rather being eviler. There is also the inappropriateness of the relationship and edwards habit of sneaking in while Bella is sleeping. Again everything in vampirism is associated with being done in the dark. All the romance that occurs with these two happens in the dark. These are a few of the plethera of examples.

All of this may seem like I went into this book with an agenda. However, I did not. most of this stuff I learned from students, vampires, and discussion with other believers. When it comes to really considering media maybe we should try to avoid things that draw so much controversy though it is ok to talk about, discuss, and critique. I would not be one to recommend or endorse. As silly as it may seem Casting Crowns has an awesome song that can bring this remark to closure. "It is a slow fade that draws us away." It isn't the bold stuff it is the subtle that draws us into evil.

Thanks Jonathan
Straightstreet

Sharon said...

Walt, I am a Junior High Ministry volunteer and a parent of one and soon to be two teenage daughters. I am also on staff at a local Pregnancy Center. My 14 year old read it and then I let her see the movie. Then, finally, I read it. I hated it. It's just so upsetting to see yet another book about "being overcome by love" and not being able to do anything to stop it. And, as one person said above, Edward truly is a stalker. He says, "I know I shouldn't be with you but I can't help myself." I felt the writing was really poor. However, having said all that, I understand totally why they are so hugely popular. They are an easy read, they are very sensual (she describes how beautiful he is over and over again) and they are an escape to read. I liken them to "emotional pornography" in that they focus on the emotions and not a whole, healthy relationship. Again, having said all that, my husband and I weren't sure whether to restrict our daughter from reading them. Fortunately, to God be the glory, I decided to ask my daughter questions like "why did you like it" and fortunately, she said she did not like it but just reading it because her friends kept talking about the series. So, I told her to blame it on me if they ask why she had not read the rest...that I would take the heat, my husband and I told her not to read them. If she was a little older maybe it would have been okay but she's just turned 14. Anyway, I am glad I read it and I think parents and youth workers should all read at least the first one to get an idea. But, to me, "there's nothing new under the sun". Stephanie Meyers can't write at all,they are simply recycled harlequin romances as far as the quality of the writing goes. I have had lots of good conversations with my girls in my group and with my daughter's friends so they are important to know about and read. Thanks, Walt, for your service for the body of Christ. You are doing so many great things to equip us to better minister to our youth.

Joel Kime said...

Hi Walt,
Funny how the "quick" comments turned into long ones up there! I have read all four books, but not seen the movie. Generally liked them as an escape from seminary reading between semesters! There are redeeming moments when the characters show self-giving love. Book Three was really disappointing, almost the whole way through the discussion was should we or should we not have sex before marriage. Generally I admire Edward's self-restraint, but he's not doing it from a biblical worldview. He's afraid he'll kill Bella in the process. Book Four had a lot of fun twists and turns, but ended with a fizzle, I thought. My advice to parents of teens would be to let them read Book One, maybe Book Two, but as you always say, read it with them, discuss it, and especially the worldview. Books three and four parents should read first before allowing kids to read them if at all.
Thanks,
Joel Kime

Sarah said...

I just feel like I need to say that, just as Walt teaches, world-view is the key. Religion, relationship with the Lord, Prayer, spiritual things, none of these things are spoken of in these novels, but it isn't a Christian Book!! I am a youth leader of 6th-12th graders and I have read all 4 books and the leaked 5th partial draft, midnight sun. My girls love this series, so I picked it up and read it. When we look at world-view, we have to read it with our students so that we can talk about what these book are really teaching. Of course a vampire is not the same as Jesus, but neither is NEO on the Matrix, yet we have no problem making this correlation. It is super important to realize that no one can measure up to Christ, but that does not mean that we can't take what the culture is producing and relate it back to the things that matter, all the while giving our students an insight to the depth that the Lord loves us, and how he is there all the time, he will not leave us. (Much like Edward would not leave Bella.) The more we can use this sort of obsessed over media to teach from another angle, the more our students will understand who the Lord is. But unless we are working through this process with them and teaching them how to discern, then how we can we expect them to do anything with it, other than mindlessly read it and fall in love with Edward? I have used these series to also talk about unhealthy relationships...Use what you can to speak into students lives!

mommydani78 said...

I have read all four Twilight books after my "adopted" college student urged me to read them. I also saw the movie. I see these books as bringing to life our (mostly female I guess) obsession with love and romance. God began revealing that Twilight is awakening in us how deep our need is to be captivated by God's love. As a Christian culture, for the most part, we are not receiving this love from God and are not abiding in this deep love relathionship in which we are captivated by Him. Because that is a need "unmet", one God's giving, but we're not receiving, we go crazy when something else taps into that need! My desire to receive this love from the Lord and live in it moment by moment has been increased after reading the Twilight books and becoming very emotionally involved! This is also the avenue I am dealing with as I talk with the college girls in my life about Twilight.

StMarksGal said...

I am a youth minister, and I have read all four Twilight books. I love them, and I had many frutiful conversations with my youth about the books. I also saw the movie (during NYWC Nashville), and I liked it as well. I would encourage other youth workers to read the books and decide for themselves.

Rachel said...

WOW. FINALLY! I'm a 16 year old girl, so it's pretty much a given that I've read these! I've read the whole series, I saw the movie the day after it came out. [I was going to see it the very night it came out but our youth group was having function, and our youth pastor was very let down when many people said they were skipping it to go see Twilight! So we waited to see it till the next night!] After I had read the books, I made a comment to my mom that went something like 'I can't believe everyone freaks out that Twilight is about vampires!' Catching the true drift, my mom of course, freaked out that it was about vampires. Apparently she hadn't known that when I had my nose glued to them. What followed was a very interesting discussion. I explained to my mom that I understand the books as a very loaded spiritual parallel! Edward Cullen is aware that he has an evil nature, but whenever he is tempted to give in, what does he think of? He thinks of Carlisle. In Midnight Sun, an unfinished manuscript that is twilight from Edward's POV, we see his struggle more clearly. When he is tempted to give in, he thinks of how much Carlisle [his father figure] had to go through to earn this life. The great struggles Carlisle went through to give Edward and the rest of the Cullen's the chance to live better. Although there are some unhealthy aspects to Edward and Bella's relationship, for the most part I see this series as a winner =] And, major kudos to all the adults who have read them! I am getting tired of having to explain all this to various adults who 'can't believe' that I've read these 'sinful, satanic books', although they really have no right to have such a strong opinion since they HAVEN'T READ THEM! Thanks all!

-Rachel

Racehl P said...

After an all girl's retreat weekend when I saw girls literally reading the book out loud to each other, I knew that I had to get on board. I went and saw the movie first by myself, and I must confess walked out of the theater wondering where my Edward Cullen like boyfriend might be. As those thoughts passed through my brain, I was immediately made aware of why this is such a popular series and drove next door to buy the books. In the next week and a half I got through all 4 of the books only to continue to be somewhat disgusted with myself that I was so drawn in. By the third and fourth book however, many of the damaging themes began to rise to the surface. I spend the next week pouring over anything that I could find about the series on the internet and other reviews.
What has come out of this research has been very helpful. My small group and I spent a night going over the books and talking about their themes. Our discussion started by my asking this group of Christian girls what they wanted in a future husband/ boyfriend. That part of the discussion went on forever! We then looked at some of the major qualities of Edward and Bella, and why Edward has girls (and women) everywhere swooning. I asked openly what some good things were about the books and what were some things that we could learn from. One of my sophomore girls looked at me and said that she realized the book is about lust and not love. That for me is the scary part about this series. Most of my 10 girls had read the books and only one had thought more deeply about the books before that night. We have all drank the Kool-aid of culture and have arrived at a distorted view of romantic love. I do not want any of my girls to go through life looking for romantic love to be some type of self-fulfillment.
We looked at Ephesians 5 for a model of what Godly love looks like. At the end, my hope is not that we burn any books (I still have my copies sitting on my bookshelf and have loaned them out). My hope is that they are now able to think when they read or watch a movie, take the good qualities, and engage with the bad.

As a side note, I was discouraged to see the physical/ sexual element get amped up as the series continued. As you read descriptions of the intimacy between Edward and Bella it is hard not to let your mind wander or imagine.