A train rolled into my tiny little neighborhood three years ago. About a year later, that train was making some noise as the wheels were starting to come off the tracks. Now, that train - as everyone with eyes and ears knows - has full-scale derailed.
For some reason, the world is enjoying watching this train wreck. To be honest, those of us who knew enough to see it coming can easily fall into the proud and self-righteous "I told you so" mode. To be honest, I have. And, it's even easy to wish ill-will on people who seemingly did everything they could to steer their train off the tracks through an endless series of unwise decisions and caving in to the ways of the world, thereby bringing all of this on themselves. Yep, let them get what they deserve. The Gosselin family has gotten themselves into a ridiculous mess. We watch them tearfully ask "Why?" and "What can we do?" and they look even more ridiculous. The curiosity factor is off the charts. Jon and Kate Gosselin and their kids are in trouble. We all know it.
I've remained publicly silent on this clan (that's become more than a blip on the pop culture radar) for a long time. Numerous people have suggested to me that I offer some analysis publicly, because I'm a neighbor and the President of an organization that promotes the well-being of kids The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. It wasn't easy being quiet when you could clearly see what was happening. However, I think it was the right thing to do. As those who are around me know, there were times that I brought them up over the course of the last two years when I'd be out speaking. But it was all in passing. Youth workers at some conferences who could answer the fun little trivia question - "What current TV reality show features the CPYU office building?" -could win a book. Yep, our office was sometimes caught during filming. As the popularity of Jon & Kate Plus 8 grew among Christians who were thrilled to be watching one of their own, just about everywhere I went to speak I would tell people where I was from in Pennsylvania. . . which would be followed excitedly with the same question from unknowing and faithful fans who had blindly partaken of the J & K kool-aid: "Central Pennsylvania! Do you live near Jon and Kate?!? Oh, I love them!" I would quickly answer, "Yes. And you need to stop watching." My response was usually seen as heartless and would elicit protests. Sometimes a few words to back up my opinion were enough to convince people that reality TV is not reality. Usually, people looked at me like I was a heartless liar. . . more evidence of the fact that good-natured people sometimes naively prefer to believe their own fantasies, rather than the truth. There were good reasons why I'd answer that way. More on that in a bit. . . but first, some history.
I live in a little neighborhood in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, whose name has recently gotten increased publicity. It's called Westbrooke. We moved here in 1991 and were part of a small, very friendly, and intimate group of 37 young families who built our homes on the two streets that made up our development. We literally all knew each other. There was one way in and one way out of neighborhood. We walked, talked, played, cooked-out, shared meals, and waved at each other all the time. After a few years, a couple streets were added and our neighborhood more than doubled in size. Still, we remained fairly close. In fact, this Saturday we're having our annual neighborhood yard sale. There's still only one way in and one way out of our neighborhood. All this to say, while it has been decreasing in recent years because of mobility and change, friendliness and community has always been a mark of our neighborhood.
One of those original houses was built by the parents of the female half of my next door neighbors. I can look out my CPYU office window (which sits just across the street from that one entrance to our neighborhood), and still see that house. Tragically, my neighbor's father succumbed to cancer several years ago. Then three years ago, his widow was killed in a car accident. The brick house they had built on Andrew Avenue went up for sale. I can still remember my next door neighbor coming over in 2006 and saying, "We sold the house. Guess who's moving in?" I had no clue. He replied, "The sextuplet family." I had read about the local family in the newspaper because of the multiple births. But I knew little more. At that point, I don't think there was even a show. We were getting new neighbors. Not celebrities.
To be honest, I thought how fortunate it was that the Gosselin family was moving into a good neighborhood, especially under their circumstances. This was a family who would most likely need lots of help and support, and our neighbors had a history of generously giving it. In fact, back in 1991, the neighborhood pulled together to care for a young bed-ridden mother-to-be who lived in the house just across the street and to the left of the Gosselin house. She was locked-in a high-risk pregnancy with quadruplets. My wife, along with most of the other wives in the neighborhood, cooked their meals, tended to their needs, and sat for hours each day with the expectant mom over the course of several months. If help was needed, Westbrooke was a great place to find it.
But from the time they moved into the neighborhood until the time they left, generous offers of help, meals, etc. were turned away. . . and usually not with even a polite "thank-you." The stories are multitude. And, they are consistent. These offers were not given to celebrities, but to neighbors in need. Nobody in our neighborhood was starstruck. . . simply because these were neighbors and not stars. In addition, there was a growing awareness that something was just not right. One member of the marriage would walk the kids in their six-seat stroller and was willing to engage neighbors in friendly conversation. The other immediately developed a reputation for being rude, self-centered, and demanding. Those in our neighborhood who had known that person for years were not surprised. Sadly, the one who ruled the roost set the tone, and it wasn't good. Eventually, we never saw the friendlier half of the couple.
And now we know. The family's choice to live their lives in front of the world has yielded undeniable evidence that the train has not only derailed, but wrecked.
Why am I passing this on? It is not to gossip. It is simply to pass on some limited yet accurate context about a situation that has gone public because the primary characters in this sad, sad drama have chosen to throw themselves - and their children - in the limelight. My blog is occasioned by the Gosselin story as told publicly to the world by the Gosselins themselves.
For a minute, remove all the rumors and stories (many of which are true), and think only about how the family has chosen to present themselves. Think too about the fact that when the cameras are on, we usually put on our best smiles and best behavior. . . and then think - long and hard - about what that best behavior has been on this particular show. Then, imagine what life is like and how people act when the cameras aren't rolling. After taking that all into consideration, we shouldn't be surprised by the train wreck that's taken the world by storm.
The Gosselins moved out of our neighborhood just before last Thanksgiving to a new million and half dollar home. Ironically, we're consistently told by one member of the family that money is scarce. To be honest, our little neighborhood is relieved that the publicity blitz went into high gear after they moved. Yes, the media still shows up to film their empty house and interview neighbors. I saw them here yesterday. But for me personally, knowing that the story is continuing to unfold, knowing that all kinds of people are responding and throwing around opinions, knowing that this has become the cultural event of the year, and knowing that 8 precious little lives are being forever shaped for life by both their parents' decisions and the decisions of a world enamored by the story, I decided to break my silence and answer the question many who know I was a neighbor have recently asked. . . "What do you think?" So, let me weigh in. . .
First, none of us should be surprised by any of this. As I said before, all it took was a set of eyes, a couple of ears, and some basic common-sense and elementary-level discernment to know that the train that's wrecked was coming off the tracks for a long, long time. In my travels I am continually stunned and even saddened by the parade of starstruck people who adore this family as Godly heroes and Christian role models. Where is the discernment? It's not that the Gosselins are high-profile Christians who are going through the everyday struggles with sin. Rather, they've chosen to live a high profile life that is increasingly about eagerly embracing another way. Without a doubt, the kids are cute. Without a doubt, raising 8 young kids has to be difficult. But is that reason enough to overlook and even justify the horrible things that are being done and happening. . . and embrace a family that is obviously self-destructing before the world because of their habits and choices?
Second, we have to wonder why the train was allowed to continue to wreck even though it was heading off the tracks for a long, long time. Sadly, I think one or both of two things have happened. On the one hand, the people closest to Jon and Kate who could have been advising them wisely may have become so starstruck and enamored themselves that they didn't want to compromise their ability to rub elbows on a regular basis with celebrity. They didn't want to tell the emperor that he - or she - is not wearing any clothes. They didn't say anything. On the other hand, the stars themselves are so self-absorbed that they don't want to listen to anyone who might offer some good counsel, and yes - even Biblical advice. My guess is that it's a combination of both. Those who have been known to have spoken up have been systematically removed by the powers-that-be from the system. The result is the emperor can remain naked without being bothered. . . all the while enjoying the fact that the whole world's watching. Sadly, we're now at the point of becoming embarrassed by the emperor's ignorance.
Third, this train wreck called Jon & Kate Plus 8 offers a clear window into the human condition. . . and ourselves. This is a couple whose deep, deep narcissism has made them oblivious to each other, their kids, their extended family, old friends, wise living, and perhaps even the God they so blatantly claim to serve. It appears they've forgotten the everyday reality of their human depravity and the constant dangers that it poses. They've let down their guard. The evidence seems to point to the fact that they are eagerly engaged in the pursuit and worship of created things, rather than their Creator. Life has become about the things they can get. Kate is embracing the life of a diva. But they are not alone. Each of us has the seeds of the same thing sitting in our own hearts. While you and I can sit where we sit and pronounce it as wrong - and we should - I wonder what I would do if I had the opportunity to receive what they've received. I know what I should do. I can say what I think I would do. But I know what I'd be tempted to do. So if we are going to fulfill our responsibility to speak up and criticize, it had better be done in a humble spirit that recognizes beyond a shadow of a doubt that each of us is only one bad decision away from the same thing. . . or perhaps we're already dealing with this stuff but not for the whole world to see.
Still, that's not reason to remain silent when things are going horribly wrong. The chaos surrounding any kind of wreck requires analysis and intervention from people who still have their wits about them and who have some sense of not only what's going on, but what to do. People who have been in wrecks usually aren't in any condition to tend to themselves. They need outside help, and they need it fast.
Which leads me to this. . . we need to respond. Silence is not an option. One of the great lessons of history is that those who remain silent and uninvolved when a group of people are being oppressed (in this case, 8 small children) are not helping, but hurting the situation. Those people who choose to remain silent and not intervene by speaking up, have chosen to actively participate in the oppression. It's guilt by silence. In this case, two parents and 8 little kids are laying wounded on the side of the road.
So let me humbly suggest some responses. . . because I don't think it's too late for this couple and their family. God is in the business of redeeming all kinds of situations. To Jon and Kate, it's not too late for you to save your marriage and your family. To those who care about Jon and Kate (and we all should), it's not too late to do your part to see this thing redeemed.
To Jon and Kate. . . I don't regularly watch your show. I've seen bits and pieces as I channel surf, and sometimes I stop to watch just to see, well, who in the neighborhood you've caught on camera. I even thought I might make it on a few times. . . like the time I interrupted the kid's bike-riding lessons by driving my car into the camera's line of sight on a trip out of the neighborhood. I did, however, see the recent clip where you, Kate, lamented what's happening through your tears. According to my newspaper, so did ten million other people. You expressed confusion and said you didn't know what to do. I know you're smarter than that. . . you have to be. Here's what you need to do. . . and I believe you know it. . . pull the plug. Pull the plug and pull it now. The key to a redemptive and healthy resolution to this entire fiasco lies in your hands. From what I know, I think Jon will be right with you. Realize that the temptation will be to carry on so that you can accumulate fame and fortune. But as someone you and I both claim to know once said, "What does it profit a person to gain the whole world. . . and then lose his soul?". . . or, her husband and children? Please understand that I pass this on with a full knowledge of my own weakness and depravity. I trust you understand that I say this humbly. Keep it all plugged in and you will be one very rich and famous lady. You will also be facilitating a life under public scrutiny for your kids. They will not have a childhood. Keeping it plugged in will steal their childhood, steal your family, and promote a culture of celebrity-obsession gone wild. Pull the plug and pull it now. Kate, if you don't see what's happening all around you then you are a very confused woman who is so out of touch with reality that you need an intervention. If you do see it and you choose to keep it all plugged in, then you've exposed what's most important to you. Don't be like the rich young ruler who knew what he had to do, but walked away very, very sad. Jon and Kate, if you don't pull the plug, shame on you for what you're doing to your kids. Kate, don't let your definition of "multiple blessings" move from your 8 children. . . to the fame, fortune, and freebies that are now filling your life. If that's what you choose to do, you are exploiting your kids. If you don't pull the plug and pull it now, shame on you.
To TLC. . . you used to be called The Learning Channel. I wonder, what are you teaching Jon and Kate's kids? What are you teaching your viewers? I wonder, do you ever think about the welfare of those 8 children over and above advertising revenues and skyrocketing ratings? The right thing for you to do is the same. Pull the plug, and pull it now. If not, you need to be held accountable. You are exploiting the Gosselin kids and their family. . . and we know you're getting rich. And Jon and Kate, if TLC doesn't let you go. . . then you know for sure that they don't care one bit about you and your kids. TLC, if you don't pull the plug and pull it now, shame on you.
To the Paparazzi. . . . are you kidding me? Put your cameras away. Leave these parents and their kids alone so that they can do the right thing and get their family back on track. I know you don't care, but you are contributing to the ruin of 10 lives. Not only that, you are throwing chum that's feeding a sick frenzy of celebrity-obsession that sells lots of magazines and makes lots of money. . . and which is also ruining an entire generation. Shame, shame, shame on you!
To Zondervan. . . Kate's publisher. . . . and one of my publishers. . . you need to take a long hard look at what you are doing to promote a worldview, parenting style, and message about faith that I know doesn't line-up with what has historically been your solid commitments as a publishing company. What Kate Gosselin is now promoting is a faith that is nothing more or less than the world with a thin veneer of Jesus-talk. I know you care about children, youth, and families. You've published numerous books to build the Kingdom of God and to equip strong families. For several reasons, you need to step up and pull the plug. Sure, Kate can go somewhere else and find a publisher if she so desires. But if the books you are selling don't line up with reality, or if the books you are selling are contributing to a media fascination and frenzy that's causing the loss of both childhood and the lifelong emotional health for 8 precious children. . . then please, pull the plug. If you don't, shame on you.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ who have become so enamored with this family. . . exercise some discernment and do the right thing. Wake up and see what's really happening with the Gosselin family. Women, if Kate is your role model. . . then shame on you. Pull the plug on your TV and your star-struck fascination and give this family back their privacy. Don't watch. Realize that the two best things you can do for this family is to 1) pray for them, and 2) leave them alone. This may sound strong, but I truly believe it. . . If Jon, Kate, TLC, and others are exploiting this family, well, you know that makes us accomplices if we're buying into it all. If you can't funnel your fascination into this family away from voyeurism and exploitation and into prayer and privacy. . . then shame on you!
To the churches that are booking Jon and Kate to come speak. . . pull the plug. If you are truly about building the Kingdom and doing ministry. . . pull the plug. Do the Gosselins and your congregation a favor and don't try to draw people in to your building by capitalizing on their celebrity-status. If you don't break the engagements, shame on you.
And finally, to me. I know that I'm a part of the culture, the media world, the church, and the human race. While choosing to be silent would promote the downfall of this family, any words I speak about this situation have to come from an introspective heart that seeks humility, love, the Kingdom of God, and the greater good. What I say to myself is what I will say to everyone who is thinking about the Gosselins: You are no better. The seeds of what you don't like in them live in you. Your life and family are far from perfect. Keep looking in the mirror to see where you might be doing the same things. . . although not in a highly-publicized and public way that the world can see. And if you/I don't. . . then shame on you/me.
Jon and Kate, it's not too late. You know that. This mess you've gotten yourselves into can be cleaned up and fixed. My prayer is not only that you will do the right thing, but that the rest of us who have contributed to derailing your family will do the right thing as well.