Thursday, April 30, 2009

Integration, Same-Sex Marriage, and White Bikinis. . . .

Perhaps the cultural moment most discussed and argued currently in the media and blogosphere involves a young 21-year-old senior at San Diego Christian College who was raised in an evangelical Christian home. Carrie Prejean is the reigning Miss California USA, and she stirred the pot when during the Miss USA competition she had to answer Perez Hilton's question about same-sex marriage.

Here's the moment. . .

And quite a bit - as you can imagine - has happened since then. You can read the news to catch up. I'm still trying to process it all as it unfolds. Here are some preliminary thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head.

- Perez Hilton can ask any question he wants. This is America and that's what makes America great.

- Carrie Prejean can answer Perez Hilton's question however she wants to. Kudos to her for being blatant and honest about her convictions. By the way, if you listen to her entire answer you'll see that she included some grace.

- My fellow Christians want this thing to be totally black and white. Prejean is the cowboy. Hilton is the Indian. Prejean is the cop. Hilton is the robber. Prejean is us. Hilton is them. Not only that, but we've got no place for guys like Hilton in this "Christian" America that exists only in our minds and not - or never really did - in reality. Is this as deep as we go in the church?

- When it comes to free speech, those in the church will scream, kick, and yell at Hilton for promoting his own free speech and defending his ability to propagate his worldview, while crying foul that Hilton wants to keep Prejean from speaking her mind and freely discussing her worldview. Lousy Perez Hilton. . . . he just doesn't get it does he? Hmmmm. But sadly, his hypocrisy was being practiced long before he ever entered this world and set foot on terra firma, and it was being practiced by Christians who wanted to say everything they had to say while trying to get others who disagree to keep it down.

- Before reading my next comment. . . . watch this video. . . . from the 1:47 mark until the 2:11 mark. . .

Come on. . . . there have to be other people out there who are scratching their heads about the message Prejean is sending as she parades around in her white bikini. We've got a generation of girls who erroneously and dangerously seek to find their identity in what they look like. We've got a generation of guys who define girls the same way. I'm guessing that some of you male blog readers will even get mad at me for posting Prejean's bikini video. . . . which is precisely why she shouldn't be parading around as she is.

- We've done a terrible job integrating our faith into ALL of life. Watch the two previous videos again and let me know if you agree. If you still don't get it, imagine Prejean answering Hilton's question while she's wearing her white bikini.

- And now for my prediction. . . . Prejean is going to become the darling of conservative Christians. I include myself in that conservative Christian group. I don't include myself in the group that will embrace Prejean. I think it will play out that she will be hitting the Christian banquet circuit and the Christian book circuit real, real soon. Some Christian publisher is going to sign her to a contract if it hasn't happened already. Just for consistency's sake, I think she should appear at the podium and on the book cover in that white bikini. . . really.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thanks Doc! . . .

I have other people's fingerprints all over me. They're the marks left by the people who shaped my life in deep ways. I just found out that one of those people died on Christmas Eve. I didn't find out until four months later when my Geneva College alumni newsletter showed up in the mail last week.

I was clueless college freshman when I met Dr. Russell Heddendorf in the fall of 1974. Believing I was called to work with people in some capacity, I chose to major in sociology, something that didn't require any math. . . with the exception of a statistics class. Doc Heddendorf was not only the head of the department, he was the department. That meant that over the course of my four years at Geneva, we would be spending lots of time together both in and out of the classroom. Doc stayed at Geneva until 1982, and then went on to Covenant College where he taught until 2000.
Even though I'm a lover of books, most of my college text books were either sold, trashed, or put in an attic box. That is, with the exception of a handful. If you visit me in my office I could quickly point out the texts that I've kept nearby. Two of those books are quite unconventional because they were never published. They were from Doc's Sociology 201 class. They still sit in the cardboard three-ring binders that they sat in when I purchased them from the college bookstore 35 years ago. Down the spine of the blue notebook I can read my own handwriting in black magic marker: Soc. 201 - In The World. This was the text book that Doc wrote himself. Sadly, it was only his students who ever got to read it. This is the book that challenged me to live the will of the Father as prayed by his Son on the night before his death on the cross. This is the book that began the process of shaping my world and life view. The spine on the red notebook reads Soc. 201 - Readings. The inside of this one was packed with Doc's favorite articles. . . all stuff that he excitedly wanted us to read. There were writings from many classical sociologists as well as many more contemporary Christian and non-Christian thinkers. It was in the pages of this book that I first met Jacques Ellul, David Moberg, Francis Schaeffer, Peter Berger, and Os Guinness. It was here that I learned some life-shaping lessons about faith, culture, and the Kingdom of God. Elsewhere on my shelf sits the copy of Paul Tournier's To Understand Each Other that Doc and his wife Ellie gave us as a wedding present. His handwritten note sits inside the front cover.

Everything I learned from Doc Heddendorf shaped who I am and what I am doing today. He gave me a deep understanding of how to view and live in God's world. His fingerprint is not only on me, but on CPYU. I really miss those years that I had with Doc. I know this will sound like a silly cliche, but he was more than just a talking head in the front of the classroom. He was passionate about Christ, the church, and a sociological perspective that understood creation, fall, and redemption.

When I found out that Doc Heddendorf had died, I googled his name to try to find a more recent picture. When I found it, I saw how much he had aged, but he still had that full head of dark hair and that smile on his face. He was not the same stick of a man who used to bound across campus in an effort to make the most of the minutes he had been granted, but from what I understand, he was still hard at work for the King and the Kingdom.

To be honest, I'm not sad that Doc Heddendorf is gone from this earth. I had to smile when I read the news, knowing that he had passed on from this place that he endeavored to understand and impact. I'm grateful that he is eternally experiencing the fullness of the Kingdom of God that he was so, so passionate about.

Today I prayed that all of us would experience the blessing of having people like Russell Heddendorf in our lives.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How Could She? . . .

The way the story of Melissa Huckaby - aka that "Sunday School teacher" - is being played out in the press tells us quite a bit about the prevailing worldview regarding the presence of evil in the world. Earlier this week USA Today ran a headline on the case: "Two cases, one question: How could a woman do that?" There under the headline was Huckaby's face and that of the little eight-year-old girl she's been charged with raping and murdering.

I'm especially stumped by the Christians who are asking the same "How could she?" question. We shouldn't at all be surprised by the many relatives and friends of Huckaby who in this case - like others - minimize Huckaby's behavior. Those closest to perpetrators are known to do that quite a bit. But I increasingly believe that disbelief and wonder are not options.

Earlier today we were talking about this case along with the unfolding details of the Craig's List case unfolding in New England during a seminar here at the Shift Conference at Willow Creek. None of us like what happened. If we believe in the inherent goodness of people, then there should be shock and surprise. If we hold to a Christian worldview and an understanding of original sin, then we are constantly aware of the fact that we're all only one bad decision away from this and other stuff ourselves. If I don't believe in original sin and the inability of humanity to be good and be good enough to save themselves, then the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was all for naught. Incarnation wasted.

The human heart is dark. It desperately needs The Light. And we shouldn't be at all surprised when Sunday School Teachers, school principals, and med school students do stuff like this.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ten Years After. . . .

It was ten years ago today that the name of the Colorado state flower became associated with a grizzly massacre and not the flower. I think it's safe to say that when most people hear the word "Columbine," they think of the at-the-time-unprecedented school massacre perpetrated by two teens named Harris and Klebold that dominated news coverage 24/7 for weeks.

I remember what I was doing that day. After lunch, I drove to Lancaster Bible College to speak to an English class on writing and getting published. I quickly hopped in the car to drive down the road to McCaskey High School where I was speaking on music and media to a group of at-risk kids attending an after-school support group run by one of the school counselors. I can still remember parking my car and hearing a radio report on a school shooting in Colorado. The reporter said that a couple of kids were injured. By the time I emerged out of McCaskey High and got back into the car, a different and more horrifying story was unfolding.

April 20, 1999 was a watershed moment in youth culture. The event that demarcated modern American youth culture into pre-Columbine and post-Columbine is one that we can all think back on and remember where we were when it happened. I came home and was glued to my television set throughout the night. It was clear that a large dose of innocence was lost. We were forced to start asking difficult questions about kids, their development, and the role culture plays in shaping worldviews, values, attitudes, and behaviors. And, we asked "How?" and "Why?"

Within hours I was fielding phone calls from people on site at Columbine High School, and from local news outlets that were trying to get something to run on the story. Within hours I was asked to come out to Littleton, something I refused to do until the dust settled and the last victim was buried. I believed - and still do - that it's best for local folks to deal with their tragedy and pain without the hassle of all the outsiders who want to come to town to grab some media time and attention for their usually off-base theories and commentary.

Within a few days, I traveled to Littleton at the invitation of some local youth workers and schools, not to talk about the massacre, but to talk about kids and the pressures they face. Crisis leads people to try to figure these things out. I agreed to travel to Littleton only if my two co-workers, Paul Robertson and Tom Piotrowski - could come along.

I asked that we be able to do two things upon our arrival. First, we wanted to spend time with some of the youth workers whose heads and hearts were still spinning from the tiring and confusing whirlwind of stuff that they had to face. Rich Van Pelt was leading the charge with those folks and it was sobering to hear firsthand about what they had been through. Second, I wanted to get some time alone at the high school campus. We were taken over to Columbine High School and for more than an hour, I walked alone around the school, through the grounds, to the victims' cars (still in the lot), and to the rapidly growing memorials. I wanted to soak it all in as I knew that was important.

When I got home, some additional things went up on our CPYU office walls. Remember the Kurt Cobain photos I blogged about a couple of weeks ago? Right above those photos are three magazine covers from the week of the massacre. In a fourth frame sits a clump of dried flowers that I brought back from the mountain of flowers that had grown in the school parking lot. Like Cobain's photos, these mementos of that day serve as a constant reminder for us of why we do what we do at CPYU.

This weekend I had the great privilege of spending time with a group of parents from the Woodale Church in the greater Minneapolis area. On Sunday morning I shared my little summary of how the world of teens has changed since we were kids. If we didn't believe these things about youth culture prior to Columbine, April 20, 1999 served as a wake-up call that couldn't be ignored. And since Columbine, the volume on each has only intensified.

First, there's more brokenness and suffering. Kids are hurting. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold didn't just simultaneously snap one April morning. Their hurt and pain had simmered and grown over the course of a long, long time. Then, the only way out they could find was the way they chose.

Second, the stuff that kids should never have to deal with is having to be dealt with by kids at younger and younger ages. It's called age compression. What the Columbine student body witnessed was horrible. It would have been horrible for an adult. It's even worse for kids.

Third, nobody is immune. Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. It doesn't matter where you live, where you go to school, where you go to church, if you go to church. . . . nobody is immune. Youth culture's issues, pressure, problems, challenges, and choices exist without borders.

And finally, sooner or later. All of our kids will have to deal with difficult stuff and make difficult decisions.

Not only is this their world, but it's the world in which they live and grow as we've been called to nurture, love, guide, and lead them. So don't turn your eyes away from the ten-year old images that are sure to be all over the papers and TV today. Let them serve as reminders of what we've all been called to do. Let them serve as reminders that all creation is crying out for redemption. Let them serve as reminders of our calling as signposts pointing to the Cross. Let them serve as reminders of our need to pray for all kids and their families. . . . families and kids represented by people with last names like Scott, Bernall, Mauser, and Rohrbough. And families and kids represented by people with last names like Klebold and Harris.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Is Burger King Serious??

I've heard it said that "any publicity is good publicity." If that's the case, then Burger King is going to owe CPYU for advertising time. Oh well. I couldn't let this one slip past without comment. If you were watching the NCAA Basketball finals last week chances are you saw the new Burger King commercial for their 99 cent Sponge Bob Squarepants kids' meal. . . . the KIDS' meal. The ad brings together three pop culture icons in an interesting and somewhat confusing mix. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall in that marketing meeting. There's the BK King. . . not surprising. Then there's Sponge Bob Squarepants, that popular Nickelodeon animated character who has a large and loyal young following. . . okay, a good marketing choice for a licensing agreement. Then the mix gets weird. . . Sir-Mix-A-Lot provides the soundtrack and commentary with a remake of his old rap hit "Baby Got Back," a song that touts the virtue of the female posterior. If you haven't yet seen the 30-second spot, it's worth watching.

So now I'm left scratching my head and wondering on several levels, is Burger King Serious?? Absolutely "yes" on the marketing level. I'm sure lots of time, research, money, and thought went into designing and producing the spot. As with all ads, there's nothing haphazard there.

Regarding their claims that the ad is targeting adults. . . come on BK. We're not stupid. I know very few adults who drool over the chance to eat a 99 cent kids' meal complete with a Sponge Bob toy. In fact, I don't know any. And if I did, I'd recommend a good counselor. Seriously, the grown-up fast food lovers I know who frequent BK jump right to any item that includes the words "DOUBLE" and "WHOPPER." The combination of "Kids' Meal" and "Sponge Bob" is so transparent. Didn't we once hear this line of reasoning from the folks who came up with Joe Camel?

Finally, there's the combination of kids' fast food, a cartoon character, and a rap singer's sexually-charged and explicit song that objectifies and degrades women. When critics sound the alarm - and that's happening - BK will no doubt respond with some explanation that denies any negative influence from the inclusion of the latter member of the commercial's trio of pop icons. In fact, BK will answer critics who ask "are you serious?" with the same exact question. Why is that? Quite simply, the folks who made this ad have been shaped in ways that have left them with a worldview that very seriously can't see any grounds for protest, concern, or complaint. They are simply being true to their worldview. Remember when the Athenians were left scratching their heads over what Paul was telling them about the resurrection (Acts 17)? They weren't being jerks. They weren't trying to make Paul mad. Instead, they looked at each other in a bewildered way because their worldview had no categories for what he was saying. To them, Paul was an incomprehensible babbler. That's most likely where we're at as a culture right now. And the back-and-forth over the BK ad that's sure to intensify is actually a collision of worldviews.

Which brings us to the teachable moment. What are you going to do with the BK ad? If you're a parent, will you talk about it with your kids? If you're a youth worker, will you address it in your ministry? Any suggestions?

As for me, I resolve to not eat at Burger King. Big deal, I haven't eaten there for a couple of years anyway. My wife's BK commentary and concern for our family's health have resulted in my withdrawal of citizenship from that part of our fast food nation. That's okay. As long as Chic-Fil-A's around, that'll keep me happy.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Figuring Out The Space Between. . . .

Last week I was standing on the top row of the bleachers with my friend Kevin. Our boys play high school lacrosse together. Kevin is one of the funniest guys I know. He's also a volunteer youth leader at his church. We love making each other laugh with war stories. His son is 14. My son is 16. As we were talking, Kevin offered this little bit of humored wisdom: "It has been said that the angriest people in the world are 14-year-old boys." We chuckled. Then I corrected him: "The angriest people in the world are the parents of a 16-year-old boy." We laughed again.

One of the most important journeys in life is the journey to understanding our kids. When I was youth pastor working with teens, I spent lots of time trying to figure them out. When we launched the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, it became a vocation. When my own kids entered their teenage years (and one is still there), it became a matter of survival! Like other parents, I'm still working on it. Each one is different. Each one is a unique mix of gifts, abilities, opportunities, and challenges. Yet, there are some things that have been passed on to me by others and that I've learned (and am still learning!) from experience.

Yesterday was an exciting day as the mailman delivered the first copy of my effort to commit what I've learned so far about the teenage years to writing. The Space Between: A Parent's Guide to Teenage Development (Zondervan/Youth Specialties) is now a reality. It's my hope and prayer that it will open the eyes of those who love and care for teens to the reality of what teenagers experience and face as they move from childhood into that tumultuous period of life known as adolescence. The book combines research and experience in a practical and hope-filled read that offers some Biblically-based suggestions on how to understand, lead, and live with your teens. As the subtitle indicates, I wrote it with parents in mind. It's written from one struggling dad to other fellow strugglers! But anyone who cares for, loves, and works with kids will find it to be a helpful, winsome, and accessible introduction to the developmental realities of the teen years.

You can learn more about the book on our website at In addition, our staff is offering a deep discount for a limited time if you'd like to pre-order the book. . . . which will be shipped to you within a couple of weeks (we're waiting for our first shipment to arrive)just click here for more info.

If you are a youthworker, consider getting this book into the hands of all your students' parents. You might even consider getting together with them on a regular basis to discuss the book. Keep an eye on our website and your email for info on when our downloadable discussion guide is available.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Baseball Markers. . . .

I realized yesterday that baseball serves to remind me of how fast and fleeting life is. As a kid, I remember Sunday School teachers and youth pastors teaching about the brevity of life and mentioning Psalm 103:15&16 - "As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more." It was one of those biblical truths that I knew I had to believe in spite of the fact that my youthful age, the relatively slow passing of time, and the expectation of a long life seemed to say otherwise. And then time flew by and I find myself standing here - over and over again - realizing how lightening fast life really is.

I'm not sure why, but I'm prompted to ponder the length and brevity of life by two things: music and baseball. I hear a song and I'm whisked back to memories and emotions of the period when that music was a big part of my life.

And then there's baseball. . . the game I've loved more than any other sport since my allegiance to the Philadelphia Phillies began in the early 1960s. The years of my life are segmented into periods based on certain players and lineups. The 1960's with Callison, Bunning, Short, and Allen. The 1970s and 1980s with Bowa, Schmidt, and Luzinski. The mid-90s with that gang of who-knows-whats who almost won it all. And then the present version of the team.

I also mark my years based on stadiums. I've been through three - Connie Mack, the Vet, and Citizen's Bank Park. And after yesterday, I've now moved into the third epoch of broadcasting teams. The death of Phillies play-by-play man Harry Kalas made me realize that life is flying by so fast. In a way, Harry Kalas has always been the new guy in my mind. . . even though I've been listening to him for almost forty years. I still haven't gotten over the displacement of my boyhood broadcasting trio of By Saam, Bill Campbell, and Whitey Ashburn. Those guys spent a lot of time inside my trusty little transistor radio. . . (hmmm, did I just say "transistor radio?" There's another indicator that life whizzes by fast). Then came Kalas. Now he's gone. And if that wasn't enough to leave another big mark on the baseball timeline of my life, that crazy breath of fresh air known as "The Bird," pitcher Mark Fidrych, was killed yesterday in an accident on his Massachusetts farm. He was 54-years-old. . . . really? Didn't he just pitch last week???

Life is fast. Thanks be to God for the words that follow Psalm 103:15&16 - "But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him."

And now to enjoy some baseball memories. . . .

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Holy Week . . . . Holy Crap. . . . .

And so begins our celebration and somber yet joy-filled remembrance of the Passion of Christ. Tonight, the Upper Room. Tomorrow, the Cross. Saturday, the closed tomb. And Sunday, the open and empty tomb. Redemption accomplished. Yet, what difference does it make in our lives? And what difference does a watching world see when they look at us?

I think these are questions we need to ask. . . and ask continually. Are our lives and ministry efforts accurate, excellent, and biblically faithful representations of the King and the Cross, or are they subpar, shallow, and inaccurate renderings that we accept and promote because they are "Christian?" Just because God takes me in my crappy brokenness and makes me whole, does that mean I can turn around to create and distribute a lifestyle and accoutrements that are offensive, laughable, and. . . crappy?

You may be wondering what sparked these thoughts on my part. It was the merging of what we celebrate this week and a Facebook message from my friend Chuck Holt. Chuck asked me if I had seen or heard of the new film project, Jesus People. I hadn't. But once I went to the site I was stuck. I got hooked on the series of webisodes that are designed to whet the appetite for the movie.

I want to encourage you to watch at least the first webisode. Then, I'm wondering. . . . Did you laugh? Did you cry? What made you laugh? What made you cry? Did you get angry? Who or what made you angry?

Want to know what I did? I laughed at the great humor and the dead-on caricature of the holy crap we think is so engaging to the watching world. My more negative emotions were directed towards those in the fold (myself included, I'm sure) who serve as models for the caricature artists who put this stuff together. I'd love to know what you think.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New Doctoral Progam! . . . .

This is something that's got me very, very excited. I'm thrilled to tell you that a hope, prayer, and dream shared by many has become a reality. Today we are announcing the start of a brand new Doctor of Ministry track at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Ministry to Emerging Generations. Over the course of the past several years many of you have asked about the possibility of going deeper with us here at CPYU in a more formal educational setting. This new Doctor of Ministry track meets that need for those of you who wish to pursue further education at a high level above and beyond what we could pull off here alone at CPYU. I will be co-mentoring this track with Dr. Steven Kang from Gordon-Conwell. I am especially excited as Gordon-Conwell has played a huge role in my own theological education. The fingerprint of the seminary is all over what we do here at CPYU.

If you have any interest at all, please take a few minutes to read on. . . .

The cohort will begin in January of next year which means that those of you who would like to be a part of this first group should get on it now if you want to apply. The descriptor on the GCTS website reads, "Jesus commands his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Fulfilling the Great Commission in a rapidly changing, post-Christian world requires the church to think seriously about responding to the unique “nation” and culture of young people living in our midst. We need also to develop effective paradigms for understanding and reaching cultures of future emerging generations. In fact, the label “Emerging generations” is no longer limited to just teenagers. In addition, “adolescence” is no longer limited to those whose chronological age places them in their middle and high school years. Our growing understanding of early, middle, and extended adolescence has expanded the boundaries on both ends, resulting in a world where youth culture is shaping individuals in the emerging generations from birth through young adulthood.

This track will help those ministering to the emerging generations - youth pastors, children’s ministers, college/young adult ministers, and pastors - to work through the practical implications of living obediently to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ in today’s rapidly changing cultural context (including the changes yet to come). Members of the cohort will be equipped to embrace the task of “dual listening” as defined by John Stott: “We stand between the Word and the world with consequent obligation to listen to both. We listen to the Word to discover even more of the riches of Christ. We listen to the world in order to discern which of Christ’s riches are needed most and how to present them in their best light.” (The Contemporary Christian)

You can read more about the program and find links to apply by clicking here. I am looking forward to spending a few years with several of you in this program and am exicted about what God has in store for those who do.

If you have any questions, email the GCTS DMin Admissions Office at, or fill out the online admissions request form.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Another Somber Anniversary. . . .

Two months ago I flipped my desk calendar ahead until I was looking at April, 2009. I made a couple of notations so that in the midst of the normal busyness of the month I wouldn't forget a couple of important dates. As I blogged last week, this past Sunday night marked 15 years since Kurt Cobain - the mouthpiece for a generation - took his own life. I also wrote a note to myself in the square labeled "April 20." That's when it will be ten years since Columbine, an event so etched into modern American history that most of us don't think of the Columbine flower, but the massacre that occurred at the Colorado school named for that flower.

Then, late last week, my reading opened my eyes to another sad anniversary of horrible, horrible events that commenced 15 years ago tonight. Let me back up a minute. Next month I'm joining a group of close friends for a trip to a place I've never been before. . . Africa. I heard a lot about Africa from the missionaries who stayed with our family from time to time when I was a young boy. In my childish mind it was a primitive place on the other side of the world. To be honest, I was rarely fascinated by the missionaries stories about the spread of the Gospel to this world I found hard to imagine. A young boy, I was more interested in the native costumes, carvings, and primitive looking knives that our missionary friends showed us and even at times left with our family. Those early impressions and stereotypes are hard to shake. But in preparation for our trip to visit Compassion International child care projects in Kenya and Rawanda, I've embarked on a conscious journey to break through long-held impressions to a more realistic understanding of what I'll be seeing.

Last week, that journey took me through some books on the genocide in Rawanda, something I'm embarassed to say I knew very little about. I began with Philip Gourevitch's We Wish To Inform You That Tommorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, a book that offers a gut-wrenching history of the Rawandan genocide and its political/racial roots. The only word I can use to explain what I read is "horrifying." Then, I turned to Immaculee Ilibagiza's Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rawandan Holocaust. Ilibagiza tells the story of the Rawandan genocide as she experienced it. "Horrifying" doesn't even come close to describing what I read.

As I began reading Ilibagiza's second book, Led By Faith: Rising From the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide, my mind was filled with questions. . . . questions for which I don't expect to get answers anytime soon. How can the human heart be so dark? How can a human being survive what Ilibagiza experienced? How come I heard (or chose to hear) little on nothing about this when it was happening? How could this have happened and how could the world have turned its collective head?

Fifteen years ago tonight, the Rawandan genocide of 1994 began. Within 100 days over a million people had been murdered, most of them hacked to death limb by limb with machetes. And the world that for less than fifty years had been chanting the mantra "never again," stood by and let it happen. For over 90 days, Ilibagiza hid in a three-foot by four-foot bathroom. . . not alone, but with 5 other human beings. After several weeks, two more joined them. During that time, she sought God's face and divine protection. Her story is equally horrifying and amazing.

And so tonight I'm thinking about what happened fifteen years ago, the lessons about God and humanity that can be learned, and what it's going to be like to step on ground still soaked with human blood. I wonder what I will feel, and hope that I will not be so jaded to feel nothing but numbness. I want to learn something about myself and the God who has called me to be His own. I want the ignorance and prejudice of my childhood to be blasted into oblivion. I want to gain perspective. I want to know why our news networks offer non-stop coverage of a high profile suicide, a campus massacre, the murderous rampage of a Binghamton refugee, the killing of three Pittsburgh policemen. . . . all horrible things. . . . but then we pay little or no attention to the destruction of 1 million people over the course of three months.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Then, something happened. . . .

Do you know this 8-year-old kid? His smiling face graces the wall at our CPYU office as a reminder of why we do what we do. The photo was taken at a time when - as his mother says - the little guy was a happy-go-lucky kid who didn't seem to have a care in the world. In fact, his parents described him as the type of kid who would run into the room to entertain and visit with family friends and guests. Then, something happened.

Shortly after the photo was taken, the little boy's family fell apart as his mom and dad divorced and went their separate ways. People who knew him said the smiling 8-year-old grew up not smiling much anymore. His broken world crept right into him, leaving him broken as well.

We have two more pictures of that smiling little boy hanging on the wall at our office. One sits on either side of his 8-year-old face. In those pictures, he isn't smiling at all. The pictures I'm talking about appeared during the same week on the covers of music magazines Rolling Stone and Spin. Ironically, the covers were almost identical. Even more ironic is the fact that they arrived in my mailbox on the same day. I remember pulling them out of the mailbox, staring at them with a hurting heart as I walked them into the house, and then putting them down on the kitchen table and showing them to my wife, Lisa. We talked about the sad fact that these photos appeared because of his death by suicide at the age of 27, a death that shook up the world because the young man was at the height of musical success. I remember Lisa commenting on the emptiness that can be seen in his eyes. That's the emptiness that comes when your world has fallen apart and things are not the way they are supposed to be.

This Sunday - April 5 - marks the 15th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's self-inflicted death. For most of us, the day will pass by without any thought or care about what happened to this young man a decade and-a-half ago. After all, we lived through it. But it's important to remember Cobain for the simple reason that his face - before and after - is the face of far too many kids whose story is far too much like his.

I'll never forget the first time I heard about Nirvana. I was on a middle-school youth retreat with a bunch of kids I didn't know. One of the boys was alone in the cabin playing music I had never heard before. When I asked about it, he told me the story of the band, the lead singer, and their music. His favorite song off the Nevermind album was "Smells Like Teen Spirit." When I asked him what he liked about the music he looked at me and said, "This guy's singing what I feel." Enough said. That's why Cobain's pictures hang on our wall here at CPYU. They serve me as reminders of why we do what we do.

The message of the Gospel is for those whose happy face has been ruined by despair. The Creation that was followed by the Fall leaves us empty. . . just like Cobain's eyes. But thank the God of the universe for coming to undo what we have done. Thank the God of the universe for His marvelous plan of redemption. Thank the God of the universe for giving us new life that transforms our eyes and everything else. Thank the God of the universe that after the Fall His grace and mercy allow us to realize that "then, something happened."

I paid a little extra attention this morning to those three pictures that hang on our wall here at CPYU. I would encourage you to do the same. And, I encourage you to take a little time to look and listen to Cobain singing that song that spoke to and for my young friend. . . and still speaks for many kids today.