Thursday, April 29, 2010

Don't Let Them Step In It. . . . .

Who knows how many hundreds of times I've done it? Whatever the number is, add another one to the total. I did it again the other day while mowing the grass in the back yard. Clean-up had not been comprehensive. I didn't know that until I felt the tell-tale muddy squish under my left heel. Yep, Sully the wonder-dog had visited this place sometime earlier in the day. Now I was left - again - with a messy, smelly shoe. Clean-up time. I've had lots and lots of practice over the years. Our family always had dogs. If I only had a dollar for every time I sat on the front step using a tooth-pick and popsicle stick to clear the foul-smelling canine waste from the little nooks and crannies in my sneaker. For you older dog-loving guys out there, remember how the soles of those Chuck Taylor's were oh-so time consuming and difficult to clean?

Our household is no different than any other I know. Nobody wants the job of systematically searching the grass with a shovel in one hand and a bucket in the other. It stinks. . . .literally and figuratively!

With my son Nate's high school graduation rapidly approaching, I've been wondering why when we hate the piles of stinky stuff so much, do we dispense so much foul-smelling advice cooked up with the stuff as its' only ingredient, then wrap it up in flowery paper or words to pass on to our kids as they move from high school to the next phase of life?

Exhibit A arrived in the mail yesterday in the form of the Things Remembered Graduation 2010 catalog of "engraved gifts to capture this bright moment." You remember Things Remembered don't you? They have kiosks of some kind in most malls where you can have anything at all engraved on anything at all. As I leafed through the 36-page catalog I saw all sorts of things featuring all sorts of sample engraved messages. Some of the messages were good ones, including a host of congratulatory phrases. After all, graduation from high school is an accomplishment to celebrate. But so many of the messages I read were nothing but "skubalon."

Skubalon is the greek word Paul used in Philippians 3:8 when he wrote, "I count everything else rubbish compared to knowing Christ Jesus." Skubalon is a strong word that more literally means "dung." I stepped in a pile of skubalon just the other day.

One message read, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." Really? Skubalon. How about this one? . . . "Danielle, go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined." Skubalon. . . again. "Believe you are the best, and you will be." Skubalon. "Listen to what you hear. Follow your dreams. Reach for the stars and know you can do ANYTHING." Wow. . . . that's a big pile right there. I love the musical snow globe on the back cover that reads, "To be a star, you must shine your own light and follow your own path." Okay, I'm not even sure what that means. Sadly, there will be hundreds of graduation speeches delivered over the coming weeks that express similar nebulous sentiments that graduates will be encouaged to adopt and pursue in order to experience success and fulfillment in life. I heard those same speeches thirty-some years ago. Life in God's world and reading God's Word have exposed the smelliness of those piles of wisdom that we so readily believe. Could it be that we lament what happens to our Christian kids when they head off to college because we allowed them to supplement their spiritual diet with skubalon?

Perhaps we should more aggressively point out the skubalon in their path. For example, I want my kids to know that in America, you can't become anything you want to be if you put your mind to it. I also want them to know that God has uniquely gifted each one, that He has a plan for their lives, and that all of life is skubalon compared to knowing and living for Him.

I love what my friends Don Optiz and Derek Melleby (Director of our College Transition Initiative here at CPYU) say in the opening chapter of their book for graduating seniors, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness:

Every student begins college wide-eyed, full of expectations. Some dream of the paradise of earthly delights, and others of the rewards of high schievement. Both of these dreams are ultimately disappointing, and it doesn't take too much soul-searching for students to discover that they want something more. Of course, the yearning for deep meaning and for lasting purpose will never be discovered in the co-curriculum or even in the curriculum itself. The real answer is relational, personal, and more real than anything that can be imagined. The real answer is Jesus Christ. He is the one who is inviting us to renew our minds and transform our lives.

There's nothing wrong with dreaming. Rather, it's all about having the right dreams. . . dreams that are informed by Biblical realism than by sticky-sweet sentimentality.

Let me encourage you do all you can to keep the graduates you know and love from willingly walking the bottoms of their feet into skubalon, by putting a copy The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness in their hands.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Blew It. . . .

Okay. . . so I really messed this one up. You would think that because we're in the business of monitoring, knowing, and educating about youth culture that we would have been all over this. But that's not what happened.

Here's how it went down. . . . I started seeing the trailers for the film during the World Series. . . which, as you know, didn't turn out to be a particularly pleasant experience for me as a Phillies fan. Ok - that's an excuse. I'm not Pavlov's dog. But maybe I associated the upcoming film with loss and pain. There was also the computer-animated nature of the thing. It just didn't zing me. Another excuse. Then, there was the fact that James Cameron was also responsible for the film Titanic, which never grabbed me either because, after all, I knew enough history to know the ending. So, I never had the desire nor did I ever go to see Avatar in the theater. I know. . . how can I call myself a youth-culture watcher. If it's any consolation, there's a not a person on our staff here at CPYU that felt any differently than I did. Another lame excuse.

Still, I had this gnawing knowledge of the fact that someday it would have to happen, and when I finally opened up about the fact that I had seen the thing for the first time on DVD . . . well. . . any remnants of a positive reputation I might still have would be shattered.

That changed on Sunday. A quick after-church trip to Costco found me holding a DVD/Blu-Ray bundle of the film in my hand. When Nate spotted me from his vantage point at the sample table for Tyson's Buffalo Chicken tenders (which are quite good, I might add), he shot over and excitedly said, "Come on Dad, let's get it." We did. And then we watched. What I thought would never draw me in, drew me in.

So, in a classic example of "do as I say, not as I do" reasoning, I'm encouraging the two or three of you out there who have not yet seen the film to give it a look. Chances are, your kids have all seen it. The film broke records in the box office. Within four days after it's release last week, the DVD/Blu-Ray was breaking records as well. Not only is the film fascinating from a cinematic production point of view, but it's one of those films you shouldn't think twice about watching and discussing with your kids.

All I'll say is that James Cameron has built us multiple diving boards from which to spring into theological discussions with our kids. Here's a list of things you can talk about with kids after viewing Avatar:
-Cross-cultural missions and sensitivity
-The greater good
-The Nature of God
-Indigenous Peoples and how to treat them
-and so much more.

I'll be watching again. . . another way of saying, "Yep, I blew it." Now, take me to task. . . .

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Went to a Fight, and a . . . . .

Today is one of those days when multiple threads in the fabric of culture and my life have converged to spark some inner conflict. It's about sportsmanship. . . something I blog on from time-to-time in our sports obsessed culture. . . a culture which, by the way, I'm sorry to say I obligingly dance with on a regular basis when I should be concerned about the integration of my faith into all things playful.

First, there's that refreshing bit of good news in the world of professional golf, a game I rarely if ever play or watch due to the fact that a) I can't afford the cost of replacing lost balls, and b) well, I find it boring to watch. The good news comes in the form of the actions of Brian Davis at last weekend's Verizon Heritage. Davis informed officials that he thought he might have committed a penalty on the first playoff hole. . . . a noble act that's newsworthy because it's so rare these days. Davis's honesty cost him the win and $411,000. It gave kids a great example.

Second, I was thinking about that great example of sportsmanship while watching my son's high school lacrosse game last night. The game took place under the lights at the host school's home field. . . a local Christian high school known for it's commitment to non-violence and peace-making. The game on the field was played out with good sportsmanship from start to finish. But I was curious about the group of students cheering for the home team who hung over the fence yelling and screaming for their guys to do well, but not in the positive way you might think. I know I heard some emotionally charged and angry urgings to "hit him!" and the like. I think I might have even heard a few "kill him's" thrown in! It was interesting to see the disconnect. And, to realize that I'm no different.

Which leads me to number three. . . the sense of excitement that's been building as I look forward to what I'm going to watch on HBO at 10pm two weeks from tonight. One of the most unique teams in sports' history will be profiled in a special documentary that premieres on May 4. It's about a team that I and my Philly-living peers lived for back in the mid-70s. I was a high school senior when the Philadelphia Flyers won the first Philly championship of my young life. A group of us watched game after game after game that season, pulled in not only by the success of the hockey team, but by the rag-tag group of characters whose on-ice antics earned them the well-deserved moniker "The Broad Street Bullies." Not ironically, that's the title of HBO's much-anticipated film. I watched the trailer this morning and I got swept up in the memory of Gene Hart's call as the final seconds ticked down during the Stanley Cup finals. The chills I felt along with the sudden rush of memories are something you can only understand if it was a part of your life. Bernie Parent, Moose Dupont, Bobby Clarke, Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, etc. . . . all their names are inscribed on the Stanley Cup and that almost 40-year-old commemorative glass I have that was once filled with grape jelly. Our obsession ran so deep that, sadly, I think about ice hockey more than patriotism everytime I hear someone sing "God Bless America." That year was followed by another Stanley Cup and a memorable encounter with the Soviet National Team that served as a steam vent for all Americans during the midst of the Cold War. To be honest, I have to admit that I loved the fights. . . which is another way of saying that I celebrated everything that wasn't a part of good sportsmanship. For us as Flyers fans, it wasn't about how you played the game, it was about how you played the game of intimidation in order to win. Flyers fans watched the fight, and every now and then a hockey game broke out.

Two weeks from tonight I'll be watching and enjoying the trip down memory lane. However, I hope I've grown up.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Stupid? Or Smart? . . . .

This morning I finished my writing for the next edition of Simply Youth Culture, the great little resource we're now doing with our friends over at Simply Youth Ministry. One of the things we include each time is a culture image. It's something from/in the world that we can look at to not only understand the world, but to spark discussions with our kids. This time I focused on an ad from Diesel's Be Stupid campaign, a marketing strategy that includes a heavy web and print presence.

The ad (seen below), contrasts smart and stupid by drawing a disturbing and unnecessary line between practicing creation and critique, leaving the impression that we are to avoid the "smart" nature of critique, while embracing the "stupid" life of creation. The ad appears in print in a portrait format, while here you see it in landscape format. Because it's creative, it must also be stupid! . . . which in this context, is a virtue.

The ad must be seen in the overall context of the campaign, which is laid out with the crafty two-minute video that lays out the credo our kids are to embrace and live. As with everything else, there's a mix of truth and lies, good and bad.

Diesel is a company that has never failed to stretch the creative envelope - yep, they live by their own "Be Stupid" credo - thereby serving to both map out and mirror the culture of our kids. For that reason, this is one campaign worth looking at, dissecting, and talking about in our youth groups and with our kids. The video and a whole series of visual ads can be found on the Diesel homepage. The ads should provoke thought and discussion on a variety of topics including critique, the creation mandate, wisdom, authority, narcissism, and what makes for "successful living" . . . which is the tagline incorporated into the Diesel logo.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cartoons and Culture. . . .

I've got a folder on my computer that I've been slowly filling with interesting and funny stuff for several years. It's full of newspaper and magazine cartoons that make me laugh while capturing the reality of living in a rapidly changing world. One of my favorite comic strips is Zits, a comic strip that captures some hilarious interaction between a teenager named Jeremy and his oft-times clueless parents who try to communicate across the cultural-generational gap with their son. Sadly, after a few months of reading the strip, I became aware of the fact that Jeremy's clueless dad is named. . . . Walter. Oh well.

Eventually, I'm hoping to tap into my growing comic strip archive to do something educational and creative. But until then, the best I can do is open my growing vault of chuckle-inducing stuff from time to time to share something funny with people I know.

So. . . . here's one from last week. The older you are, the more funny it is.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Staub on Tiger, Jesse, and Narcissism. . . .

One of my favorite ministry friends is Dick Staub. How can you not love a guy who was basically kicked off Christian radio for pursuing his passion to represent His Savior in the Athens of today's world? The first time I met Dick I knew I was in the presence not only of a kindred spirit, but of someone who God would use to make me a better follower. When his book Too Christian, Too Pagan went out of print, it bothered me (any publishers out there thinking of doing the Kingdom a big favor could pick it up). I still quote the little four-word title of that book and explain what it means. When we truly follow Christ, we become too Christian for our pagan friends, and too pagan for our Christian friends. Ever been there? Then he came out with The Culturally-Savvy Christian, his manifesto that I require all my undergrad and graduate students to read. Just this morning I emailed the syllabus for a college class I'm teaching later this year and there it was on the front page as one of three required texts.

This morning, on the day that Tiger Woods returns and that has billed in big bold letters as "THE WAIT OF THE WORLD" - (are they serious?!?!) - I opened my email to find an announcement about Dick's latest blog over at This one's titled "In the Land of Narcissists," and it's a good one. So I'll step aside and encourage you to read some very bold and very true statements from my friend. And by the way, this is the type of Biblical thinking about life that we need to be pursuing ourselves and teaching our kids.

"How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb? One. He holds the bulb while the world revolves around him.

Jesse James, a naughty narcissist has humiliated his wife and our collective darling Sandra Bullock. This after she won the Academy Award for best actress, and the same week told Barbara Walters that “her work got better because she could be both fearful and braver knowing she had her husband to go home to.”

Just days after her crowning achievement she learned that Jesse was... read the rest"

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Baseball, In the Stands, and Culture. . . .

Opening day for my beloved Phillies happened a couple of days ago and for the first time ever, I was able to be there. Lisa and I took the short drive down to D.C. to see the Phillies take on the Nats and for the most part, it turned out just like we hoped it would. An 11-1 victory has us hoping once again that "this might be their year!" I know my friends who are Cubs fans are hoping the same thing. Watching Howard and Polanco at the plate along with "Doc" on the mound. . . well, it was quite a display. My highlight? The Ryan Howard rocket shot that passed me on the right.

The start of baseball season has not only become a nostalgic and much-anticipated event for me, but a time when I look around at the surroundings to see what I can learn about our world. Monday's trip to D.C. prompted a flood of thoughts, most of them a bit frightening.

We took our seats early so that we could take in all the opening day festivities. One of the first things that I noticed through my ears and eyes was that it didn't seem at all like we were watching a baseball game in D.C. In fact, it seemed more like a home game in Philly with two-thirds of the stands filled with a very vocal (not at all surprising) contingent of Phillies fans. I was seated up against the foul-line rail in the last section down the first-base line. I had two Nats fans behind me, and two in front. Everywhere else. . . . Phillies fans. But my vantage point and the friendly banter that ensued with the Nats fans seated behind offered a new perspective on Phillie fans as I looked at my hometown folks through the eyes of the people whose house we were visiting. We barged in and took over. Sports fans have most likely heard fans in Philly described as knowing more about the game than other fans, and as being more obnoxious than fans in other cities. I've always known that to be true. On Monday, I saw it from a new perspective as I sat with someone else in their house. . . and it wasn't pretty.

As I continue to process what I saw and heard off the field, it's left me a bit frightened. Lots of younger folks, filling themselves with lots of beer, and then boldly and without care or concern for anyone else but themselves, saying anything and everything to anyone and everyone. Not only was I embarassed, but it was cause for concern. I don't think my concerns are indicative of my age. In other words, I'm not some grouchy old man. Instead, I think my concerns are indicative of our age. . . specifically, the age we're living in. The loss of respect for authority, the underlying anger and mean spirit, the lack of concern for neighbor, and the overbearing sense of self-importance. . . . it all adds up in a mix that's scary. For me, it became a window into the broken and sinful heart I share with all humanity and the things that that broken heart is actually capable of. Suffice it to say that when you get a little peek like that, it erases some of the wonder you might have about the horrible things that have happened throughout history, along with any certainty that we've progressed enough for anything like that to ever happen again.

Okay. . . so it was just a baseball game. But then again, I don't think it was. I'll keep watching culture. And I'll keep watching baseball. Hopefully, the things that are good, true, right, and honorable will smother the stuff that isn't.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Finished. . . .

Amazing words about equally amazing drama, grace and love to ponder over the course of this weekend. . . .