Wednesday, June 24, 2009

So This Is Who We Are? . . .

I suppose these are things I already knew. I just didn't know it was so bad. I'm still trying to process it all. It's come to light as I've been forced to deconstruct and understand traffic to this blog and the comments people are leaving. It's made my head spin and I'm trying to figure it out.

From May 6th until June 3rd I was blogging about our trip with Compassion International to Rwanda and Kenya, the poverty we saw, the deep needs we encountered, and the plight of hurting people. . . particularly children. I pondered our God-given responsibility to "the least of these." In response, I received some great notes of encouragement from people who were being challenged as we shared how we were challenged. Some - a handful - left thoughtful comments on the blog. Others even stepped up and sponsored children through Compassion International. Then, on June 4th I shifted gears and expressed some long held thoughts about the "reality" TV show Jon & Kate Plus 8. In response, 200 comments of all shapes, sizes, and flavors have already been posted. Some are nasty. Some are nice.

Ok. . . think about this for a minute. . . .several blogs on tremendous need in the world. One blog on a reality show about a family falling to pieces. The Africa blogs more or less fell through the cracks in terms of response. The other one. . . well, it's off the charts.

If you don't believe me, I've been checking the traffic for each of the blogs. The blogs on our Compassion trip generated an average of a couple hundred visitors a day. The blog (singular) on the Gosselin family has generated tens of thousands of visits. Yesterday alone 7,300 people logged on to read that blog.

So now my head is spinning as I'm trying to gather my thoughts, understand this all in light of our culture-at-large, and try to figure out what this says about who we are. As I've processed the terribly imbalanced traffic flow and wide variety of comments here's what I've been thinking - and asking - so far. . .

1. We're more interested in obsessing over celebrity than we are over the great needs of people in the world.

2. I remember hearing Tony Campolo talk about the dangers of money, sex, and power back when I was just out of college. We can add celebrity to that list. Tony was simply communicating Scriptural truths about the idols that destroy us. Like others in all times and all places, we're still not listening. We continue to bow down. We're killing ourselves. . . and we don't even know it. History repeats itself.

3. Biblical illiteracy is at epidemic proportions here in America. It's at epidemic proportions both inside and outside the walls of the church. We've created a "god" and a theology in our own image. Personal opinion oftentimes trumps God's Word.

4. Are people hearing solid Biblical theology and teaching in their churches?

5. Are people serious about integrating their faith into all of life? Have they even been challenged and equipped to do so?

6. Are people interested in thinking Christianly and critically about all of life? Have they even been challenged and equipped to do so?

7. When will we begin to understand that no, life is not about me?

8. When will get our eyes off of ourselves, realize how damaging divorce is to everyone involved (especially the kids), and do everything in our power to live out our marital vows?

9. When will we start to pay to attention to our Maker, His will, and His way? When will we realize that life is about living to the honor and glory of God?

10. What can a serious look at our history teach us about where we've failed in youth ministry? In other words, what have we done to contribute to where we're at as a culture?

I've found it all very troubling. I hope that each of us will take a long hard look at our world and our selves through the eyes of the postings, the comments, and the traffic. What does it tell you?

33 comments:

Kerry said...

Thank you again Walt for words of wisdom and for words that challenge. I have to say, after I read your blog on the Gosselins, I chose to just turn off the show. I had watched them the first two seasons as the children were so cute, then watched a bit the last season as the tone of the show changed. Your challenge to not support the failure of this family helped me to not continue to watch.

On the other hand, your challenge to support Compassion did inspire me to take that challenge as well. So, keep blogging, keep challenging us to keep our eyes on the Maker and His kingdom, not the things of this earth. We all need to hear your message!

You are appreciated and prayed for my friend!

Hannah said...

Hi Walt,

I always find your blog posts engaging, and I have to say, though I read all of them, I did point several people to your post on Jon and Kate. I have never watched the show, but I cannot even TELL you how many conversations I have had where their situation came up. Almost every single one of those resulted in me forwarding them the link to your post because I felt it was perhaps the most thoughtful and Biblical approach that I'd heard on the subject. Certainly i don't know 7,000 people, but I think with the way we are INUNDATED with images of this family, it's not suprising. I can't get groceries, go to the doctor, stand at a busstop or watch TV at the gym without seeing or hearing something about them. I think this disturbs many Christians because they held Jon and Kate up on a peddestal.

You're right. We should be more concerned with other forms of need (though certainly Jon and Kate are IN NEED) but I trust that your words have challenged and stretched me and hopefully the thousands of others who have now read them.

Thanks again for being a strong voice in our culture,
Hannah

Student Ministry said...

i have planned on using your "africa" blogs with our youth this summer since our group is sponsoring a CI child. now i am planning on using today's blog as well. so thanks for both.

i'm sorry about the lack of response to your rwanda trip, but i'm glad you wrote about the disparate responses in your blogs so that i can point out the ridiculousness of the direction of this portion of our culture.

theoskaris said...

Walt, after having read Christian Smith's book "Soul Searching", I'm at the point where I no longer am shocked by the way people react to cultural phenomenon. I wonder if part of the issue is what Smith found in his diagnosis of students--namely that they are moralistic, therapeutic deists. If this is true (and everything I see leads me to believe it to be so), then we also have to ask, "How did they become this way?" If we take seriously the idea that parents are still the #1 influence in a teenager's life, then the blame has to go back to the parents. But, as I heard Kenda Creasy Dean point out once, the real question is where did parents learn to become MTDs? Her answer (which I believe has real merit) is that they've learned it from the church! I continually encounter scores of adults who have no sense of vocation, no sense of how God connects with their everyday life. We've raised several generations of people who don't know the biblical narrative, have no ability to apply Scripture to life situations, lack discernment in almost all areas of life, and view their personal happiness as the end goal.

That said, as much as I appreciate Walt's diagnosis of the problem, the real question is what do we need to do to instill in our teenagers (and their parents) an earnest desire and ability to not discern culture, looking beyond what society says has value, and instead judge things by Scriptural truth? How how do we help create a generation of students who understand that their life is not based on what reality TV presents, celebrities, or social status, but on God? That seems to me to be the crux of the issue.

Mike said...

Walt,
Your comments once again leave me humbled and motivated to consistantly be aware of my priorities. Thank you for your faithfulness.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea about the John/Kate thing, but I think nearly everyone is avoiding anything to do any causes. They don't want to think about them in any way shape or form.

In a time where most of us have lost at least some income, all health insurance and are facing loosing everything else unless some major miracle occurs - Thinking about the need to help someone else when you can't even help your own children is a bit overwhelming.

I simply don't want it in front of me when I have to tell my own kids no to essentially everything.

Jeff Stanford said...

Walt,
I have never been a fan of reality TV, it is not reality, your compasison trip to Africa is reality. The Gosslins will survive in many ways, there are people in many places around the world that are in serious need. That being said, you are correct in that most churches are biblically illiterate, are not taught solid biblical theology, better yet the ones that do teach soild theology, do not teach how to apply it. We lack true bibilical spirituality, we lack a true biblical worldview, we have the answers, we just feel that if my emotional state is good my walk with Christ is good, this is not right. Our churches need changed lives. Thanks for your continual work.
Jeff Stanford

Tony Myles said...

Ah, yes... but what do you think about the Gosselins this week?

;)

(You make solid points. To be fair, several people including YS linked to that one post more than others, but maybe that is a point in itself)

Dr. Roger D. Butner said...

Satan has a stranglehold on the psyche of our nation, Walt! And the opiate of the masses today...entertainment.

Anonymous said...

Thanks!!! AMEN!! Joel and I have the same conversations...the # of people who show up to hear about Cambodia, the way that conversations go and the limited amount of questions that are asked about how a trip goes, or how our heart can beat just a bit more like christ's heart as he looks at the poor/oppressed/orphan in the world... as compared to what was just recently bought at the store, or what new purse/shoe/house they want to purchase...aaahhh!! a great sadness...I am sure our saviour weeps when he looks at the American Church is so very many different areas. Thanks for your honesty, for your depth, and for your heart. Michelle

Will said...

You make a point that definitely has validity. People--Americans especially--have always been more interested in celebrity than in reality, more interested in power and fame than in "the least of these."

However, to be fair, the ministry of CPYU is primarily about helping adults understand the culture their kids are swimming in. So most of us who tune into CPYU stuff are looking for help in sifting through, analyzing, and redeeming the stuff our kids are talking about.

I've never seen the show--I rely on people like you to tell me about such things. I'm far more interested in global poverty issues than I am some "reality" show. However, looking at the CPYU blog, a post about something my kids are talking about is going to catch my eye more than the other--not because I don't care about poverty, but because I look to CPYU for expertise on youth culture stuff...and I'm guessing I'm not the only one.

So I wouldn't let it get you too down; I'm not sure this is as bad as you think. You've carved out a truly important niche as a culture watcher and commentator, and your ministry is extremely useful to many of us parents and youth ministers out there.

That said, I think most of us are pretty desensitized to poverty--even extreme poverty--so it's definitely good to continue to raise the banner. Thanks for all you do, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Hey Walt.

Keen observations, as always. I may be oversimplifying things, but I'd chalk it up to the character of our culture - we love to watch, not do. We are voyeurs, peeping in on other people's lives while escaping and ignoring our own responsibilities. It is what makes things like reality TV and pornography so captivating to our culture, and so problematic.

Am I surprised? No. But I wonder what you'd find if you studied the demographics of the blog responders. Maybe we should just leave that work to George Barna...

Thanks again.
Rick D.

cmnb said...

I happened upon your post about J&K through another blog urging people not to watch the show. I am guilty of many of the observations you make both in this post and the J&K post. But for a different reason. We began watching the show when it first aired. My 6 yo daughter quickly grew obsessed with it, wanting to watch the often aired "marathons". We did not like the way K spoke to J and mentioned to her several times that it was not appropriate. We quickly decided to ban the program from our home. I had no interest in the show and did not even watch the vow renewal in Hawaii although I was somewhat intrigued by the idea. But when the marital problems became public, I became interested and began following the "saga". The reason: How could a family who claims to be Christian end up this way? And if it happened to them, could it not also happen to us? I know I have failed miserably at being a wife and mother. Not in the big things but in the small day to day taking my family for granted. I asked my husband the other night when we were watching the announcement, "What if you suddenly decided you couldn't put up with my issues anymore?" Seeing this situation unfold has caused me to take a hard look at myself. I am much more aware of what a slippery slope life can be, how one poor decision can lead to a place you never thought imaginable. I appreciate your observations and will certainly pray over what I have read and allow the Holy Spirit to break this sudden fascination I have with this family. God bless you.

Erin said...

Truth...you speak truth. not just the facts, but the truth that is written in the word, the truth that can't help but challenge us in our everyday lives, and the truth that in todays society has definitely been tainted and grayed.

I loved the compassion blogs...came at a perfect time for us when we were feeling the financial shift of our gift of $32 increase to $38. You not only reminded us of our obligation as christians to care for each other but also really helped us to see just how amazing and legit Compassion really is as an organization.

The Gosselins...well, what do you even say. Found myself almost disliking Kate so much I thought she deserved to be left. SERIOUSLY that goes against EVERYTHING my heart believes! Get sucked in so fast into what the easy way out is for things today...easy to look at others and blame or think that isn't me, but when I examined your questions you posed in many ways I am just like them and unless I get my head out of the sand and transition my thinking to a thread of COMPASSION vs. the CONSUMPTION I will continue to live a selfish life that benefits no one, least of all myself.

Thank you for not being relative...thank you for speaking truth.

Anonymous said...

My guess as to what the real reasons are:

There's no doubt, we don't want to see it. We don't want to hear it. Those men, women and children are "over there" and we're "over here". Part of us wants to explain the differences in terms of * what the power of search engines are or * what we enjoy learning about or something like that. However, I guess one of the primary reasons we like to read and comment on John and Kate -vs- poverty stricken people is that stating an opinion about J+K means nothing changes in our lives. On the otherhand, if we form an opinion about the Compassion blogs you wrote then our consciences are pricked and the Holy Spirit prods and we're prompted to self-examine and consider actual changes to our lives that might change the routine or our standard of living. And, while we're resistant to the ideo of thinking thoughts that might cause us to change our own lives, the fact of the matter is that many of those changes would quite likely also, in some small way, change the lives of others. That said, we'd still much rather consume another story in 10 minutes and move on than to start a whole new thought process that could potentially cost us everything. And besides... it's too big to change anything anyway.

We're so soft. Ugh.

Tim said...

Maybe, your Africa blogs didn't receive as much attention because that is not a subject most of us need to be awaken to. You are preaching to the choir. Each member of my family already supports a child in Haiti. We are already in agreement and while i enjoyed reading how you guys met the person you have been sponsoring, I was won over to the cause long ago. J & K is another story in that what you presented was either news to some or verification to others. Either way, the story helped to awaken all to the issue more intimately than even non fans were comfortable with. African needs do not polarize us. The family down the street who invited us into their lives does. Africa is not less important, it may be a battle already won. J & K (and those of us who directly identify with them)is a battle that hit's home becuase it might be our home. As far as reality TV goes, I am not interested... Thank you for your insight and passion.

julie d. said...

A quote from your J&K blog was sent out by Focus on the Family's Plugged In Online e-mail (June 8th). This e-mail reaches many, many people who are trying to help their family navigate culture today...so it just happens that maybe thousands of people were directed to this post, therefore the increased 'interest'.

Anonymous said...

Other than what's already been posted about links from other sites here's one more option of why the hits are inflated on the jk8 post. I read blogs from an RSS reader and rarely go to the actual site. I did go to the site for the jk8 article because I was curious as to how people responded in the comments. I therefore contributed to the perception you describe, but not for the same reasons.

Overall though, you're exactly right about our culture and what we're naturally drawn to, but maybe it's not quite as depressing as it seems.

Thanks for the thoughtful posts and the challenge you've laid down. As a youth pastor I need it. How in the world can I inspire kids to get out of themselves if I'm not doing it myself.

Chris said...

I agree with the posts of those before. I think the increased attention to the J&K blog was most likely due to the attention that people were paying to 'the saga' and other sites linking to it. I would imagine if you could track the actual people that read that one post vs. the people who read the Rwanda blogs you would find that most of the J&K readers were first timers to your blog, so I wouldn't let it get you down. Besides, you don't know how positively you were able to reach people from either one of those, so it is hard to measure them as apples to apples.

In looking at your questions, it seems to me that you are asking all of the questions that we ask in teaching youth. I struggle a lot with 3, 4 and 5. It seems that so many 'Christians' that I meet are either overly permissive or overly judgmental (not all of them, just many of them) and I don't think that either of them are a particularly good witness of the love and grace (and discipline) of Jesus Christ.

In the end, all you and I can do is passionately preach the words that God puts on our hearts and pray that those who hear them will be moved by the Spirit to a more Godly life.

For what it is worth, I think that the work you do is AWESOME and I think you should keep doing it the way you are. Hopefully this comment section will fill up and help you see how many people agree with that.

God bless!

Annie said...

You were quoted and linked by Focus on the Family's PluggedIn online magazine regarding J&K. I think that may account for some of the increased traffic. As a fellow Geneva alum I recognized your name and followed the link to your blog.

And speaking of Campolo, when he spoke at Geneva back in the early 80s he made the statement that "Millions of children around the world are dying of starvation right now and most of you don't give a shit. And what's more, more of you are upset that I just said the word 'shit' than are upset that there are millions of starving children in the world."

Sobering and true and applicable to your juxtaposition of Compassion and J&K.

Tom Grosh said...

Yes, disturbing.

But I'm with theoskaris, not just because of "Soul Searching," but also my time in campus ministry has reinforced the truth of the Biblical story and the historic doctrines of the faith such as original sin. I regularly pray to God the Father for self-control and the breaking of self-centeredness in my daily walk in, with, and through Christ Jesus. I rely upon the Word, the Spirit, and the witness of the people of God each and every moment of each and every day.

I would make note that the commenting points out a danger in the medium. It might also draw attention to a need for a commenting policy ...

More later as I have to head out to campus and can't work out my thoughts well in such a brief period of time -- a weakness of blogging ;-)

K & S Dalbey said...

Walt,

First, thank you for your blog!
Second, I appreciate your honesty and wisdom. Have you ever been told that you are a prophet?
Third, I apprecaite questions #5 and #6 the most. I ask myself and Steven these questions ALL the time because sadly, I think the answer is no. What is going on with people today? I think they forgot that they had a brain in their head. We hope to see you soon.
Katrina

Lisa said...

Walt,

Your blog entry on the Gosselins remains one of the best commentaries I've read/heard on the subject. With the media swirling all around this family like vultures, your take is refreshing; there are virtually no voices pointing out all of our shared participation in the Gosselins' situation and our mandate to love and pray for them.

I wish I could get to the bottom of why this family has so commanded peoples' attention.. why they've grabbed even ME so, why I'm so heartbroken on their behalf, even though I haven't even watched the show in nearly two years.

I linked to your entry in my own blog (and I suspect many others have as well), and I've personally checked back several times to read the comments, as some of them have been really surprising to me (the "biblical illiteracy" and peoples' ideas of judgment, etc.).

There's no way to explain it away, I guess; no matter the reasons why there was such a difference in traffic, it's still evidence of peoples' need to avoid reality (as presented in your other excellent posts) by focusing on a fabricated version of "reality."

God bless you, Walt. I'm glad I found your blog.

Sam Van Eman said...

Rwanda isn't breaking news. Heart-breaking, but not breaking. And we've been in J&K's living room. That does something to us, just as your personal contact with Mathare did to you.

The Reality said...

You blogged about Africa?

KatieQ said...

In not so many words, I came to your blog because of that post. It has been linked here and there as a good perspective on things. I've contibued to follow.

I think people are overrun with poverty and need here at home. I know I am and I am more apt to help my neighbor here than some far away place I will never travel. This doesn't mean I am any less interested or compassionate.

I will most likely browsae through the archives now and again, but like someone else said... this was breaking news and people are naturally curious.

Thank you.

Corie said...

Hi Walt! I found you blog from Aunt Jodi's sisters blog (yes, I found you from the whole Jon & Kate fiasco).:) I actually have been following her blog for sometime in hopes of helping her tackle to big task of getting the general public to stop watching the destruction of this poor family. I am so glad to have come upon yours and to read all the words of wisdom you have!:) I completely agree that people have become infatuated (I too was a guitly viewer) with them instead of worrying about other problems we have in the world. I am trying to do my part and not give in to watching the show anymore. I started years ago by refusing to buy any tabloid as they are a window into these poor peoples private lives. hopefully everyone will soon realize, since TLC will not to stop watching to help these poor kids live a life of normalcy! thanks for you post, I will most definitely add you to my readings!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for reminding me to be more concerned (aka compassionate) about my spiritual life and how I can impact others.
Valerie

Anonymous said...

Your musings brought to mind an interaction in Hotel Rwanda. It was between Paul Rosesebegina and a journalist who was there filming.
P: How can they not do anything? Don't they care?

J: I think that when people turn on their TVs and see this footage, they'll say, "Oh my God, that's horrible," and then they'll go back to eating their dinners.

It's just that "dinner" is now "Jon & Kate." True then. True now. And true for me, if I'm honest.
Ginny

David said...

There's not much more that can be said that hasn't already been said.

"Are people interested in thinking Christianly and critically about all of life?" - My first guess would be "no" - because if we were interested, I'm guessing a lot of our lives and culture would be different.

It's so pervasive... hopefully a first step from this would be for pastors and youth leaders to begin LIVING lives that communicate the difference. We can teach till we're blue in the face, but if we're still happily flicking on "Jon & Kate" on our down time... the youth will see that and conclude that we aren't thinking critically about our own lives (so why should they?).

If I'm honest, I don't like thinking critically about all of life... because it usually ends with me needing to change and take more responsibility...

Thanks for the challenge & reminder Walt...

Bob Irvin said...

Walt,

Congratulations on this fantastic post and for calling us out -- all of us: the nation, the Christian community, our individual selves as we gawk over the train wreck that is the Gosselins. (I will say I have never once bothered to watch the show but have become enmeshed in conversations, like nearly everyone else.)

Thank you for speaking the truth. In love.

Bob Irvin

annie said...

Maybe, people responded so loudly because one set of writings encouraged people to support something good, and then you gossiped about a family in trouble. You could have just said, "They're in trouble; let's not watch." Instead, you become another voice sharing personal information about them in a public forum and bashing specific people based in your own opinions. Based on what you wrote, you don't really know them, certainly do not have an accountability relationship based on love, and yet are totally willing to go after struggling parents in a personal and extremely critical way.

Gossip can be true, and it is still gossip. Still hurtful. Still sinful and destructive. Still ugly.

Just say no. Don't blog about all the things you think they did wrong or how you could have done it better. Don't watch it. Just pray.

Pamela Jaye said...

I never would have read your blog, were it not for the Gosselin post. It was reposted, or linked to, in other places.

The fact that I am interested in *some" "celebrities" should not be taken to mean that I an interested in Fame and Celebrity." Most "celebrities" I find interesting, would, I feel, be uncomfortable with the word: Scott Bakula, Zachary Levi, perhaps even Ellen Pompeo.

With Jon and Kate, there's a small army who are concerned about the kids, and how to get them off TV. Then there are those, who watched due to the car wreck phenomenon. Then there are those who had a marriage or a parent like this, and could relate. (and still wanted the kids off TV)

Perhaps some who read came back and read more. Or maybe, like me, Facebook ate their lives. Then some days my Facebook status update list is like a prayer list - it's all in the way you look at it.

All that may have sounded random, but it was connected, in my head.
I liked nice guy Jon, who you talked about. I hope he can be that again.
And now I must go feed the duck.