Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just For Fun. . . Again. . .

I've got a friend named Teddy who brings deep joy to everyone he meets. Teddy, who is close in age to me, has Down Syndrome. Those of you who are younger might not know that in days gone by (and not that long ago, I might add), most children born with Down Syndrome were written off and institutionalized for life. It was believed they couldn't function. Thankfully, that's changed. Teddy is a great example of the fact that all people are people, created in the image of God and loved by Him. Down Syndrome doesn't make them any less. In fact, the folks I know with Down Syndrome always seem to have a joy and vigor for life that is enviable and infectious.

Last year, I got to watch Teddy play with his Special Olympics soccer team in a game at a local high school stadium. The school's varsity players were on the field with Teddy and the Special Olympics teams. Watching them all encourage each and have fun was awesome.

There's a wonderful video going viral on YouTube that features a wonderful moment for a high schooler named Matt Ziesel who has Down Syndrome. You need to watch. Kudos to the coaches who made this happen on the high school gridiron. I think this is the way it's supposed to be!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Put Me In My Place. . .

Dr. Phil was in Philly yesterday. The show was broadcast live from Independence Mall and featured a lineup of guests - including our Governor - who had gathered to process and debate the signing of convicted criminal Michael Vick by the Philadelphia Eagles, along with the rash of recent and highly publicized meltdowns by celebrities and political figures (Serena Williams, Kanye West, Joe Wilson, etc.). I tuned in to see what the good Doctor was going to say and do while in my hometown.

Without ever saying the word, Dr. Phil kept pointing the conversation back to "narcissism" and the behaviors that are rooted in a sense of privilege and entitlement that has not only swept through celebrity culture, but our culture-at-large as well. I found this to be interesting and timely as earlier in the day I had finally put wraps on the rough draft of the seminar on narcissism in youth culture that I'll be sharing for the first time next week at the National Youthworkers Convention in Los Angeles.

The process of reading, studying, and prepping to talk about what just might be the most pressing issue in youth culture today has been both eye-opening and somewhat difficult. It's been eye-opening in the sense that what we've known has been there for years is far more pervasive than once imagined. Once you understand the dynamics of narcissism you start to see where and how it rears its ugly head in all the little nooks and crannies of popular culture. It's been difficult because once you understand the dynamics of narcissism you also begin to see it rear its ugly head - ironically - in your own mirror.

Part of the seminar takes a look at the causes of narcissism in our culture. These are the things that are feeding the fast-spreading epidemic. As I worked through the issues I quickly realized that one factor supersedes all others, that is . . . our human depravity. When we truly understand the Biblical drama that's unfolding all around and within us, we quickly see that what began in chapter 1 with Creation and came undone in chapter 3 with the Fall is the place where we're stuck. Yes, even those who have experienced the wonder and joy of being invited and brought into Redemption in chapter 3 still live life on this earth with the gnawing knowledge that the full effects of the Fall are not yet totally undone. In fact, the further along your life moves in chapter 3, the greater your awareness of the ghosts of chapter 2 in your own life. Ultimately, it's all about narcissism and idolatry, as we created beings do anything and everything we can to put ourselves in the place of the Creator, relegating Him to a place where he conveniently waits in the wings to serve me, myself, and I whenever I might benefit from His services.

My paper this morning reported on when and where the H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine would be available for those who want to avoid the coming epidemic of the illness. That got me thinking about what the antidote is for the narcissistic ugliness we see in our own mirrors. Ultimately, what I need is to be put in my place. I need to understand and constantly be reminded of the fact that I don't exist at the center of the universe, but that my role is to follow, honor, serve, and glorify the One who not only made me, but made me over by bringing me into chapter 3. But how can I be sure that's going to happen? Just like millions of people will stand in line for a shot of H1N1, each of us must get in line and stay in line for daily shots of truth and reality that remind us of who we are, why we're here, and the place we belong while the Biblical drama unfolds without and within. Regular reading of God's revelation of Himself and His drama are the key.

For those of you who struggle to make this happen, I'd like to offer a suggestion. My own personal and lifelong struggle with this has led me try all sorts of approaches and to enlist all kinds of tools. Several years ago I stumbled upon something that has been very, very helpful. Scripture Union is an old organization that's been promoting Bible reading for a long, long time. But don't let our tendency to equate "old" with "irrelevant" shape your opinion and keep you from checking Scripture Union out. I have found their Encounter With God daily Bible reading guide to be especially helpful in my quest to get to know my Creator, His story, and my place in His world. If you're looking to understand and experience the liberating freedom of being put in your place, check out the Scripture Union website.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Just For Fun. . .

The Phillies played the Nationals tonight in Philly. The Phils' Jason Werth hit a foul ball into the upper deck, where a happy dad snagged the ball and handed the little white prize to his young daughter. It turned out to be a priceless moment for those of us who were watching. And, I'll bet their baseball memory is going to last a lot longer and garner loads of laughs as the little girl grows up. The TV camera caught it all. What a great moment. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

VMA Thoughts. . . .

Did you get to see the VMAs? I'm hoping you did and that you're up for sharing your thoughts about the broadcast, the questions I posted here on Friday, and the implications of it all in terms of our ministries with kids.

I decided that this year I'd do something a little bit different. Rather than watch and then let it all ferment in my brain overnight, I decided to blog just a few of my thoughts in real time, posting them as soon as the show ends. So here comes Madonna to the mic . . . . talking, as expected, about Michael Jackson. . . and I'll be jotting my thoughts as they occur. Hopefully you'll be able to glean something from it all.

-Is it me, or is Madonna's monologue a little bit creepy? How does Joe Jackson feel about Madonna talking about the fallout from his son's lack of a childhood? And what would that have been like if Michael Jackson and Madonna had wound up as a couple? In his death, will Michael Jackson continue to be deified in spite of Madonna's claims that he was only human? Yep. . . Michael Jackson was good and really talented. But we continue to slide into holding celebrities up higher than we should, doing ourselves and them no favors at all.

-Russell Brand's opening monologue picks up where he left off last year. There are no bounds in what we talk about when it comes to sexuality. Brand has set his mark for the evening. . . Lady Gaga. He's expressed what he wants to do with her, while telling the world about her bisexuality. The censors did kick in a couple of times, but you have to wonder how long those conventions will be held.

-And then the Best Female Video goes to Taylor Swift. Considering what this 19-year-old was up against, it's good to see something and someone more wholesome take home the moon man. But surprise surprise. Kanye West ruins Swift's moment by grabbing the mike and making a fool of himself by talking about Beyonce. . . nominated in this category. . . having one of the best videos of all time. Again, more evidence of our collective loss of respect, kindness, civility and decency. Another inflated ego tries to steal the show. Thank goodness, many in the crowd stood and applauded the shocked Swift. Wow. . . it didn't take long for the first wacky moment of the night.

-I know Jack Black was trying to be silly in his mock prayer to the devil. . . but again . . . . creepy. When you know the enemy is real, it's not silly.

-After a wholesome performance from Swift, we're told to hang on for Lady Gaga and whatever it is that she's going to do on stage in 6 minutes. Maybe the Body Heat fragrance commercial is a sneak preview.

-Okay. . . her onstage rendition of "Paparazzi" was artsy and spooky. What's the song about? Here's what she's said about it in the past: "The song is about a few different things – it's about my struggles, do I want fame or do I want love? It's also about wooing the paparazzi to fall in love with me. It's about the media whoring, if you will, watching ersatzes make fools of themselves to their station. It's a love song for the cameras, but it's also a love song about fame or love – can you have both, or can you only have one?"

-Green Day performs "East Jesus Nowhere," a song I'm still trying to totally understand. The song goes after religious hypocrisy (a legitimate target in many ways), and the intertwining of religion and politics (again, a legitimate target in the way the relationship often manifests itself). A song like this shouldn't necessarily make us (as people of faith) angry. Rather, we should listen and then ask if there's any truth to what they're singing. Again, in many ways I think there's some truth. But I always worry about songs like this that tend to lump the baby in with the bathwater, leaving vulnerable young listeners thinking negatively about both. Our lack of a fully integrated biblical faith with stuff like this to devalue true Christian faith.

-Wow. . . .what a marketing coup with the exclusive showing of the extended trailer for New Moon, the second installment in the Twilight saga film series. The fascination with Vampire culture continues to grow.

-Whenever I watch Beyonce I can't help but think back to what she wrote in the liner notes of the Destiny's Child Survivor album back in 2001. You need to check it out.

-Muse performs their anti-establishment/resistance song "Uprising." They sing,

The paranoia is in bloom,
The PR, the transmissions, will resume,
They'll try to push drugs to keep us all dumbed down,
And hope that we will never see the truth around,


Another promise, another scene,
Another package not to keep us trapped in greed,
With all the green belts wrapped around our minds,
And endless red tape to keep the truth confined,


They will not force us,
They will stop degrading us,
They will not control us,
And we will be victorious!

Anyone out there know much about these guys from the UK? I wonder if their words are prophetic in the sense that they point to a looming and growing generational divide over ideologies? I've long thought that the cultural-generational gap that exists in today's world is due more to the pace of cultural change than to ideological differences. In the former, people on both sides are more prone to want to come together. With the latter, they are ideologically divided. . . like in the sixties. Is that what we're heading towards?

-Oh man!. . . Lady Gaga is winner of the Best New Artist. They zoom in on her wearing that red thing. . . . and I think I'm going to have nightmares tonight! She won her award "for God and for the Gays." I think that more than anything else at this year's VMAs, Lady Gaga is the best indicator of where we are and where we're going as a culture. For that reason, she warrants our attention, and a deconstruction of her music, story, and worldview. Her popularity means that her message is getting through.

-Best performance of the night. . . . Pink. Gutsy and pretty creative.

-Now that's a classy move on Beyonce's part. She wins Video of the Year then steps aside to have Taylor Swift come out and have "her moment." In a world filled with posturing, bad sportsmanship, and egos, this was a wonderful moment of redemption for Taylor Swift, courtesy of Beyonce.

So. . . what caught your eyes and ears this year? Who are we as a culture? What do we value in our culture? What do we believe in our culture? Who are we choosing to live in our culture? And what does all this mean in terms of how we minister to kids?

Feel free to share your insights.

Friday, September 11, 2009

DON'T Miss This! . . . .

Earlier this year Lisa and I were reminded of a simple principle that has a lot to do with your concern for children and teens, along with our work here at CPYU. Perhaps you remember me blogging about our trip with Compassion International to see their work in Rwanda and Kenya back in May. Lisa and I had supported Compassion and a Compassion child in some very small ways for several years. Our understanding of Compassion's work and our child's life was limited to occasional newsletters and printed updates. Then we went and saw it all with our own eyes. We saw the mission field and we saw the work. . . . and we were impacted and changed.

Seeing and experiencing the mission field firsthand. . . . you've got to do it. That's the principle I want you to grasp. That's why I want to encourage you to step way out of your comfort zone to do something this Sunday night that you most likely would not do otherwise. At 9pm Eastern Time, MTV will be airing their annual Video Music Awards (aka VMAs). Two hours. . . that's all you need.

Before tuning in, consider this fact: research indicates that the average 8 to 18-year-old engages with media for six-and-a-half hours every day. Music and music video are a big part of that daily media diet. In addition, you need to realize that these are kids locked in their formative years. Their values, attitudes, and beliefs - all things that inform and shape behavior - are being molded now. With the increased absence of parents in their lives, they are left to turn to the institution of the media to be shaped.

If you choose to watch nothing else on Television all year, don't miss the VMAs. I am convinced that they offer a concise and very telling peek into where youth culture has come from, where it is, and where it's going in the coming months. Resist the temptation to turn it off and watch something else. Why? Because this is the world of today's kids. If we want to speak the unchanging truths of God's Word into the realities they face, well, then we must know the realities. Watch the VMAs on Sunday night to see and experience the mission field.

For those of you who choose do so, go a bit further as you watch. Keep a pen in your writing hand and a pad on your lap. Watch with a critical and discerning eye while answering these questions:

Based on what I'm seeing on the VMAs. . . -who are we as a culture?
-what do we value in our culture?
-what do we believe in our culture?
-how are we choosing to live in our culture?

Then, contrast your answers with answers to the following questions:

Based on what I read in God's unchanging Word. . .
-who has God made us to be?
-what has God commanded us to value?
-what has God called us to believe?
-how has God called us to live?

Now. . . . how are we going to bridge the gap and reach this mission field? What messages must we send? How are we going to do that? I look forward to our discussion on Monday morning.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sucker Punch. . . .

The first weekend of college football is over and the big story is about Oregon running back Legarrette Blount and his postgame sucker punch of Boise State's Byron Hout. Not surprisingly, the video has gone viral and is fodder for all kind's of water-cooler chatter among college football fans and non-fans alike.

If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, then this video clip speaks volumes about today's culture. Obviously, I wasn't there. I've only been able to watch the video along with the rest of you. Blount's actions are horrific and without excuse. The school did the right thing in suspending him from the football program for the year. Perhaps our collective disgust is fueled by the fact that we know and believe that the anger and lack of sportsmanship shown by Blount is wrong. It's good that we're upset. But when I first watched the video, I was equally saddened by what seemed-to-be Hout's provocation through taunting. While that tuanting in no way shape or form can justify Blount's response, it was equally wrong.

If you spend any amount of time close to the sidelines these days, you can't help but notice that taunting is increasingly common, decreasingly frowned upon or stopped, and perhaps even seen as a normal and acceptable part of sport. That's a shame.

If indeed Hout was tuanting Blount, then there's two examples we can point to if we want to teach our kids lessons on how not to play. Kudo's to Boise State's head coach Chris Peterson for following up with Hout - an admission that Hout crossed the line. The Boise State football website includes this post: Boise State University head football coach Chris Petersen has issued a statement regarding the postgame incident involving Bronco defensive lineman Byron Hout. "The event that took place last night following our game between Byron and Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount was very unfortunate and we do not condone Byron's action," Petersen stated. "There will be disciplinary consequences for Bryon as a result of the incident last night and they will be handled internally." Petersen also stated that Hout's discipline does not include a game suspension.

If we want to prevent this kind of stuff at the college level, it might be a good thing for youth team coaches to sit anybody who talks trash. And if it happens again - at any level - let them sit longer.

What do you think?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Vice or Virtue? . . . .

My morning routine starts in our living room where I begin each day on our couch. Not a day passes when I don't look up to my left at a picture frame that contains some kind of crafty visualization (sorry,I'm not exactly sure what the German-looking paper cutting in the frame is called)of a couple of verses that continue to grow in significance for me: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5&6). It reminds me that I can choose to live life under the guidance and Lordship of the Creator, or I can choose to live my life under the guidance and lordship of any other number of things.

Yesterday I had one of those moments that brought those verses to mind in the context of concern and sadness. I was spending some time watching music videos on one of the many MTV outlets. . . one small practice that offers a window into the world of youth culture. Over the years I've seen my share of overt sexual expressions on MTV. Sadly, I think that in some ways the practice has left me desensitized and not much shocks me anymore. Even so, a trio of back-to-back-to-back videos hit me hard. First, there was Jamie Foxx, Kanye West, Drake, and The Dream's "Digital Girl". . . embedded below if you're interested. Next came Pit Bull and "Hotel Room Service". . . the most over-the-top and alarming of the three. Finally, Sean Paul's "So Fine." This normal everyday visual and lyrical fare filled my eyes, ears, heart, and mind with a smorgasbord of values regarding women, relationships, and sexuality. Suffice it to say, this was not the stuff of straight paths. I'm a 53-year-old man who has years behind him filled with experience, his own mistakes and misunderstandings, teaching on that straight path, some broken-in and practiced (yet, not perfect) filters, and. . . I hope and trust. . . a growing sense of what does and doesn't bring glory to God. I wondered, what does this stuff do to kids who have little or none of that, but inquisitive and moldable minds?

In preparation for a new seminar on Narcissism that I'm going to present later this month at the National Youthworkers Convention, I've been doing quite a bit of study and reflection. One thing that's become abundantly clear is that over the course of the last thirty or so years, narcissism and the focus on self has gone from being perceived as a vice, to being seen and embraced as a virtue. Jean Twenge's growing body of research proves this fact. I think the same thing is happening in terms of how boys and men and being conditioned to view women, treat women, and understand/experience the wonderful God-given gift of their sexuality. Yesterday, my 53-year-old self saw that video trifecta as a celebration of vice. I'm guessing that a overwhelming majority of young viewers didn't think twice about those videos and their powerful depictions of how to live life. Perhaps they saw them as depicting virtue. If so, I am - in their eyes - hopeless out-dated and old-fashioned.

That's got me thinking about Proverbs 3:5&6. I wonder what would happen if I asked kids to think about their lives and then fill in the blanks on these sentences? . . . "Trust in ______________ with all your heart and lean not on ___________________. In all your ways acknowledge _______________ and _______________ will make your paths straight."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Couple of My Heroes. . . .

My good friend and CPYU Associate Staffer Paul Robertson has a wonderful habit of asking me the same question whenever we chat: "What are you reading?" I love that question. I loved being asked because it tells me that the one doing the asking is a learner. I love being asked because it keeps me on my toes. . . and reading. And I love being asked because it reminds me to be constantly asking others the same question. . . which has led me to discover some great books I might otherwise have never known about.

Another reading question I love is one I'm thrilled to be asked by youth workers: "What books do you recommend I read?" Over the course of the last few years I've been answering the question not only with a list of books, but with a list of authors. Two of those authors that have shaped and reflected my own thinking on matters of faith and culture in concise and readable ways are two guys that I'm now privileged to count not only as heroes, but as friends. They're both humble and unassuming guys who are incredibly gifted, have amazing stories, and who have gotten enough years of experience under their belts to have deep wells of time-tested wisdom to draw from and share. They are guys I encourage you to seek out so that you can sit at their feet, listen, and learn.

The first is Dick Staub. You can learn more about Dick at his website. I used to require his first book - Too Christian, Too Pagan - in all the undergrad and grad classes I taught. Students ate it up and consistently said that it transformed their thinking and lives in terms of who we're called to be as Christ's followers in the world. Sadly, that book is out of print. . . but still worth looking for. Then Dick released his next book, The Culturally-Savvy Christian, and once again students had the opportunity to soak up some wonderful wisdom on finding their place in God's world.

The second is John Fischer. Perhaps you've heard me speak in the past about how as a 9th grade, I sat in the bleachers at a Philly high school and heard this long-haired guy with a guitar sing about Jesus. Just to get some context. . . that was a long time ago. Music like that was really cutting edge. I was 14 and John Fischer was 23. John then started to use his writing skills to go beyond music. Since then, he's written several books. A few years ago I stumbled upon a copy of Fearless Faith and I was blown away. I began requiring students to read that book. The response was unbelievable. When have you ever heard an undergrad say to his prof, "Thanks for requiring that book! It's changed me."????? I heard that from several students over the years.

I thought I would pass on some quotes from the beginning of Fearless Faith that shatter so much of the conventional and erroneous thinking that has infected the church over the years:

"He doesn't intend for us to be removed from the world, but to be protected in the middle of it. He doesn't want us removed from danger, he wants us surrounded by danger on every hand - but safe from the evil one."

"The prayers of Jesus are completely in accord with God's will because he and the Father are one. If Jesus prays for our protection, then it is because he knows God fully intends to protect us. And if he prays for us not to be removed from the world, it is because he has no intention of rescuing us out of the world. This is not a well-intentioned wish on the part of Jesus. It is the will of God to leave us in the world and meet us with all the provisions and protection we need to be here and be involved in the world. Anything short of this is less that what God intends for us."

"We want to be safe in a safer world; God wants us to be safe in an unsafe world. We want to protect ourselves by removing ourselves from danger; God wants to protect us in the middle of danger."

"The more we remove ourselves from the world, the worse the world gets in the absence of a Christian influence and the stronger the argument becomes to stay away from the world. If we were training our children to understand and critically examine the world's popular art, literature, music, and film instead of limiting them to safe Christian versions of these things, we might have a different world waiting for us in the next generation."

John nails it. . . over and over again. I've come to love John's thinking and message so much that a couple of years ago I approached him and invited him to consider serving on Associate Staff with CPYU. I was blown away when he accepted. I'm thrilled that John is now traveling and speaking on our behalf about true fearless and biblical faith. He's a voice you need to hear. I hope that some of you would consider doing what you can to help others hear John's message. If you're interested in bringing John in to speak to your adults, young adults, college students, or other group, you can click here to learn more.

What are you reading? Who are you listening to? May I recommend Dick Staub and John Fischer?