Monday, May 31, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

As Time Goes On, I Realize. . . .

Great friends, bad sound, a band I loved during the 1970s, and some overwhelming realizations. . . that's what last night was all about. Lisa and I ventured down to the local American Music Theater with our friends Duffy and Maggie to see Chicago. And before my young friends join together in mocking laughter, you need to remember some facts: 32 albums. The leading U.S. singles charting group in the 1970s. Over 120 million albums sold worldwide - 22 Gold, 18 Platinum, and 8 Multi-Platinum. Five number 1 albums, and twenty-one top ten hits. Stop your laughing. . .

I had been looking forward to this since, well, when I was in junior high. That's when my music teacher at Huntingdon Junior High School, Miss Margolis, verbalized some principles of music appreciation before blasting the band's new song, "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?", through the Harmon-Kardons that hung on the front wall of the tiered music room. It grabbed me and I was hooked. I spent the better part of the 1970s (high school and college) blasting that stuff on the living room stereo and through the car speakers. But I never got the chance to see them in concert. . . until last night.

Lisa graciously went along in return, I think, for our trip to see U2 last fall in celebration of her birthday. Thanks Lisa.

Now, about last night. They played a non-stop barrage of hits. They even played an old favorite song I had totally forgotten, "Wake Up Sunshine." The problem with the night was the sound, something that I hope wasn't the fault of the band. Vocals were difficult to hear. The mix was horrible. Still, it was great to hear the old songs.

During "Color My World" I looked around the room, thinking seriously about how I'd fill in the blanks after the first six words of the song. I'm still processing it. But here's a sampling of some of the thoughts I had. . .

"As time goes on, I realize. . . .

- that men my age and older should NEVER wear tight pants, or a shirt that's unbuttoned to the belly button and tied beneath it. Oh, if James Pankow had only stuck to playing his trombone. All three of the guys in the horn section were guilty of wardrobe indiscretions for men their age, but Pankow was definitely guilty in the first degree! It was sort of like going to the beach and seeing guys who shouldn't be wearing speedos wearing speedos. . . and I'm not sure any guy should ever wear a speedo. Get the picture? Thanks for the visual warning, James. To the rest of you, if you ever see me dressed like that. . . do something.

-when it comes to Chicago fans, I might be one of the youngest. I was 12 or 13 when I started listening to their music. Last night, I was 53. This means that the fans who were 22 to 30 years old back in the day are now 62 to 70 years old. They were out in force last night. This realization hit me hard when a pair of short spinsters that had been sitting to our left excused themselves down our row three songs before the concert ended. As they squeezed through in front of me, I smelled the strong pungent odors of heavily applied old lady perfume that I remember smelling in church during my childhood. The trifecta - older ladies, strong perfume, Chicago - left a strong impression.

-the teenage music fans of the 1970s might have been able to dance back then, but they can't dance now. Which is why I don't even dance when I'm alone. It's too painful to watch. . . even for me.

-that time goes on really fast, that time and gravity are not kind to the human body, and that life on this earth is fleeting. I'm happy for the fact that one day, a new heaven and a new earth will be ushered in, and death, decay and everything else bad will be gone forever. I long for that day of restoration.

Hey, don't get me wrong. It was a fun night. I enjoyed it. I just have to wonder, where did the years between the first time I heard the band and the first time I saw the band go?!?

One more thing. . . at one point I looked around and chuckled as I imagined what my kids would be saying if they had been there with us. I'm glad they weren't. I remember thinking the same about my parents and their music. But sweet revenge will come. Thirty years from now they'll be sitting in the same place listening, clapping, and dancing along to some long-forgotten chart-topper. . . and my grand kids will be laughing their heads off!

Chicago then. . . .

Chicago now. . . in a setting I could never in my wildest dreams begin to imagine. . . or enjoy. . . .

Okay. . . go ahead and laugh!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

He Loved Kids. . . And We Loved Him. . . .

Even though I'm 53 years old and long removed from my childhood, it still hurts a little when one of the beloved icons of your childhood dies, maybe because you used to think that these guys would live forever. That's happened to me twice this week. First on Sunday, with the death of Wee Willie Webber, a local Philly TV personality. Yesterday, it was Art Linkletter. Both of these guys made after school memories for kids my age. Webber did it with the cartoon shows he hosted. Linkletter did it with his nationally televised daily shows, House Party and People Are Funny.

Art Linkletter was one of my favorites. When he died yesterday at the age of 97, I couldn't help but chuckle as I remembered the way he made me laugh, even when I was a little kid. Linkletter had quite a life. 97 years is a long time to live. His deep faith in God sustained him during years that were filled with both great joy and great heartache. His heartache started at a young age, when he was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (believe it or not I've spent a lot of time in that little prairie town over the years), and then quickly abandoned by his family. By God's grace, he was adopted by a pastor and raised in a Christian home. He was married for over 74 years, an accomplishment that many view as astounding in today's world, but more than likely something Linkletter believed to be the way things should be. A father of five, perhaps the greatest tragedies in his life came through the deaths of three of his children. A son was killed in a car accident. Another son succumbed to lymphoma. The most hard-hitting of all was the death of his 20-year-old daughter to suicide in 1969.

I loved two things about Art Linkletter. First, there was his voice. It was gentle and smooth. To this day, I think of him as the kind of guy that you'd love to sit at your bedside to read you stories as you fall asleep. Second, was his love for kids. He was an effective communicator with kids because he had the great ability to move to their level, ask good questions, and then listen intently. He did that each and every day on House Party in a segment called "Kids Say the Darndest Things." He not only modeled great communication skills in those interviews, but he could really make us laugh. He'd masterfully use a progression from great question, to a kid's answer, to his follow-up interaction with viewers through the camera and a simple look of wonder and surprise. . . and it was brilliant.

Art Linkletter has a lot to teach us about living a life of faithful presence in the seductive world of media. He has a lot to teach us about communicating not just with kids, but with people of all ages. Art Linkletter loved kids, and we loved him back.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Losing My Religion. . . .

If we were playing Jeopardy and the title of this blog was the answer, what would the question be? Based on the research - both anecdotal and quantitative - it might read, "What song title best describes the college experience for our Christian kids?" Observant youth workers and concerned parents know this to be the case - not for everyone - but for too many. Who's to blame?

As with any social trend or reality, there are a multiplicity of causes. The family and church have combined to fail to build a strong theological foundation on which kids can make good decisions during college. . . or for the rest of their lives. As they get older, we fail to help them prepare for the realities of campus life, thereby making their transition that much more difficult and that much less deliberately God-centered. And then there are our kids themselves, who sometimes head off to school to allow themselves to get swept up in the pressures of college life. It's all this stuff and more that led us here at CPYU to establish our College Transition Initiative six years ago.

Last Saturday I took the time to attend the CPYU College Transition Seminar that Derek Melleby - our CTI Director -
led locally here in our area. It was a joy to see the room filled with a healthy mix of high school students, parents, and youth workers. You see, this is an issue that is best addressed not by the students themselves, but by the students and the supporting "village" that can and must surround them long before, all the time during, and for the rest of their lives after the day they first set foot on the college campus.

What impresses me most about our College Transition Initiative here at CPYU is a combination of careful research on the issue, application of that research to real life, and an interactive presentation style the engages people in ways that lead to the adoption of healthy resolutions before they arrive on campus or sit down to take notes at that first lecture. Not only that, but the tone and flavor is far different from what we usually give our kids in the church. Rather than talking about college in negative and alarmist terms, Derek masterfully communicates a positive and realistic message that encourages students to embrace college for what God intends it to be. I saw that happen once again on Saturday. . . and I was (humbly) proud.

After the seminar Derek received some great feedback. A couple of comments he shared with me stand out. First, there was the group of youth workers who were responsible enough to come and check out the seminar and its content before making it available to the people in their church. (I don't think we do that enough.) At the end, they told Derek how happy they were with the fact that the content was God-centered. Could there be any greater compliment paid for anything we do here at CPYU? Second, there was the attendee who told Derek that the seminar reminded him of a Pixar film. Hmmmm. What does that mean? He explained that while the seminar targets and reaches a younger audience composed of those heading off to college, there was lots of valable insight and takeaway for the older people who have been called to walk the journey with them. Again, what a great compliment!

Each of us knows at least one person who will be walking across the commencement stage in the coming days and weeks. Are we sending them off? Or, are we sending them off prepared? As you consider those questions, I want to challenge you to consider looking for ways to play a more significant and proactive role in these young lives by tapping into the College Transition stuff we're doing here at CPYU.

First, check out the College Transition portion of our website. Derek has made this a great place for you to learn more about the issue and how you can support and encourage the transitioning kids you know and love.

Second, get some resources into the hands of the kids you know who are graduating from high school. To make this doable, we've put together an affordable little gift pack that includes Derek Melleby and Don Opitz's great book, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness.

Third, get to know the issues related to College Transition now! Don't wait until the kids you know receive their acceptance letters. By knowing the issues now, the home and church can work together to build a strong foundation while the kids are growing up, something that will serve them well all through their teen and young adult years.

Finally, think now about scheduling our College Transition Seminar during the fall, winter, or spring of next year. You can lean more here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ouch! . . . Win Big. . . .

Fun stuff for the weekend. Take a look at this amazing photo from a couple of nights ago at Citizens Bank Park. Lisa, Chris, and myself went down to the game with our CPYU researcher Doug West. Doug has an amazing camera that he's been using to take some equally amazing photos. So, when Carlos Ruiz took one in the ribs . . . ouch! Just take a look at the ball on his side. Nice work Doug!

We love the photo so much that we're running a little caption contest over the weekend. Be creative and just leave your caption as a comment here on the blog. We'll be choosing the winning comment on Monday. The prize will be a nice one.

If you want to check out more of Doug's Phillies photos and some great nature shots, visit him on Facebook.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Life Sucks. . . God Is. . .

Right now I'm at the point in my yearly cycle of things where the travel is winding down and I'm looking forward to a summer of decompression. It's also a time to look back at the busy months that have passed since last summer ended. I think about lots of things. What I think about most are the face-to-face conversations I've had with people during my travels. The conversations I think about most are the ones where I've simply listened while the person across from me tells a story of deep pain and brokenness. Sometimes it's a watery-eyed parent. At times, it's a confused and hurting kid. They're all pretty beat up. Entering into the endless string of these stories at the most basic level of simply listening is like jumping into the ring for a 12-round fight. Each story is a new blow that piles up on previous punches to slowly wear you down. I'm old enough now to realize that this is life. . . that this stuff is inevitable. . . that - as I've heard a number of my young friends say it with blatant honesty - "life sucks." My own story has enough of this stuff woven in and through it, but my unique personal version isn't nearly as bad as most of what I hear.

The other day I received a little package in the mail from the publicity folks at Multnomah. Inside were a couple of booklets featuring text from some of the publisher's newer releases. One of them grabbed my attention quickly. The title on the cover asks the question so many of ask as we live a world where the reality that "life sucks" continues to unfold around us and in us. If God is Good Why Do We Hurt? The title is from Randy Alcorn's larger new book, If God is Good. . . Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. I've developed a real appreciation for Alcorn while reading his wonderful book, Heaven.

In the Intro to this little booklet, Alcorn says something to readers that presents us all with a watershed moment of decision that will deeply effect our response to the reality of life's sometimes horrific and debilitating difficulties: "I frequently quote Scripture in these pages. As you read along, I urge you not to let your feelings - real as they are - invalidate your need to let the truth of God's words guide your thinking. Remember that the path to your heart travels through your mind. Truth matters."

Read that one more time. Those three sentences capture a reality and offer a challenge that will shape our entire lives. I've always believed this to be the case. In recent years I've come to know myself better - most always as a result of life's difficulties - and I know how important and necessary Alcorn's challenge really is.

A few weeks ago I read another book that addressed this same reality. Joshua Harris - the author most-known for a book I really didn't like, I Kissed Dating Goodbye - has penned a vulnerable and autobiographial challenge to a contemporary American church suffering from self-inflicted truth-starvation, Dug Down Deep - Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters. Harris describes the book as an invitation for Christians to jump into the pool of orthodoxy and doctrine, and then to move from the shallow end to the deep end. Why? So that in the midst of living in what many of my young friends describe as a "life sucks" reality we can rest on the solid rock of sound doctrine. Harris is right.

I've got a hope and a hunch that the next wave of emphasis in youth ministry and ministry in general will be a wave that answers the deep hunger we all have to go deep, to live deep lives, and to know that God is. It's nothing new. It's simply the long-overdue recovery and rediscovery of the most basic stuff that's been long forgotten. If we continue to forget, we're in big trouble.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Madness. . . .

Last summer a young friend asked me if I had ever watched the critically-acclaimed AMC series "Mad Men." My simple "no" was followed by a list of reasons for never tuning in, not the least of which is that I really don't have the time or interest in getting hooked on something that would require my attention on a regular basis. I've been down that road with "24." My "no" wasn't enough, so he proceeded to excitedly tell me about how the show reveals what life was like in the early 1960s, along with the development of the ad industry and Madison Avenue. I'm not sure what he said that eventually caught my interest, but I think it was when he described the old days as lacking seat-belts, while being filled with things like cigarette smoke and lots of alcohol. His descriptor sparked enough memories of life in my 1960s suburban-Philly neighborhood that I made a mental note to someday give "Mad Men" a shot.

A few weeks ago, after recalling that conversation, I sent the "Mad Men" Season 1 DVDs to the top of my Netflix Queue and we started watching. I got hooked. . . for several reasons. The writing's great. Numerous moments have taken me back to life as a child. Blink, and you'll miss a host of subtle visual and scripted cultural references that are sometimes just plain funny. There's the not-so-funny elements of excessive tobacco-use, alcohol abuse, philandering, and work-place sexual harassment. While still present in today's world, those things worked themselves out in different ways back then. And while the story sometimes feels like a soap opera, it does capture the realities of the human condition, our brokenness, and our deep yearning for redemption. Lead character Donald Draper is a tragic figure who knows that's the case.

As a youth culture watcher, "Mad Men" has grabbed me because of the way it documents the rise of consumer culture and marketing. For the most part, we have no clue at all how pervasive and compelling the marketing soup that we swim in everyday really is. Watching "Mad Men" is like taking a step-back away from the soup to see what the original marketing-chefs were doing when they were creating the recipe. We not only see the universal human longing for wholeness - something that can only come through Christ - but the ways in which marketing makes redemptive promises it can never fulfill. . . over, and over, and over again.

When watching a string of episodes of any show on DVD, one is tempted to fast-forward through the opening credits and theme. If you're going to watch "Mad Men," don't do that. Instead, give it a look every time. Over the course of Season 1 my repeated viewing of the opening sequence became somewhat haunting. Give it a look. The abyss that so easily swallows so many is filled with empty promises that we keep on believing. And the more we keep believing, the further we fall.

Friday, May 14, 2010

World Record. . . Nate!

Something fun today. Nate, our 17-year-old, came home last night as a world-record holder. How'd that happen? His senior class took their class trip to Baltimore's Inner Harbor yesterday. Nate and some of his buddies happened to be in the right place at the right time. They were recruited by some Baltimore locals who were in the process of launching a new tourism campaign for the city, which by the way, is a great place. After begin given some orange ponchos and some instructions, they became part of the world's largest human smiley face. . . a Guinness world record! Funny stuff.

Here's the video. . . Nate's second from the right side of the video in the front row. We're so proud of Nate. . . he didn't even need to practice!


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Miley's Metamorphosis. . . . Surprised?

It's happened once more. The fact that it's happened shouldn't be at all surprising. After all, it's not rocket science. It's just the way things are in the music industry. Sadly, a host of parents who thought they were doing the safe thing are learning otherwise. Even sadder, the great majority of people will notice, but not care.

This time it's Miley Cyrus, a 17-year-old (yes. . . not even legally an adult) who has chosen to walk the path to pop music sustainability by going through an almost overnight transformation. It's not an original move. It's a path that's been followed many times before. . . . and, it works. Now, one must wonder what effect Miley's makeover will have on the values, attitudes, and behaviors of a host of elementary-aged kids who watched and adored her and her every move.

Rewind a few years. Some of you have been around long enough to remember me showing the four-paneled photo from a 1999 edition of Entertainment Weekly that depicted the first-step in the well-researched formula for pop stardom. There it is, over there to the right. You might not recognize the four look-a-likes in the photo. Each of them went through a rather hasty transformation process that left them looking, living, and leading quite a bit different than when that photo was published. A few years after that photo ran in EW, I wrote a piece entitled "How To Make A Pop Star" that explained the time-tested recipe and how it works. The piece included these words:

In an effort to help parents and youth workers understand the Britney Spears phenomenon, I researched Britney’s short 16-year-old story, deconstructed the lyrical themes of her debut album, and looked to discover the reason for her almost overnight success. Little did I know how successful and enduring she would be, but a young and relatively innocent Britney Spears was giving hints to the secret of pop idol longevity when she verbalized her determination to follow in the footsteps of her idol, Madonna, by constantly reinventing herself so that her popularity would never fade.

What’s all this musical history and trivia got to do with teens and their culture today? Fastforward to the Spring of 2005 and you’ll find the answer. That’s when I was a fly on the wall at a conference for marketers on how to successfully market to children ages two to 12. While there, I sat in on a seminar featuring a woman from Virgin Records who takes credit for creating and masterminding Britney’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune. Her seminar was titled “Grabbing Kids’ Attention in a Competitive Marketplace: Creating the Next Pop Icon.” Finally, I was going to learn the secret formula from someone who had actually enlisted and refined it!

After showing us a video of a young male artist Virgin hoped to launch later that Spring, the seminar presenter showed a clip that documented Britney Spears’ evolution as a pop star. She then went on to tell us what the record company did when they first met Britney back in 1998. The first step, she said, was to put her out in the public eye and portray her as the All-American girl. The reason? She’ll grab the attention of kids and gain the approval of mothers, those gate-keepers and pocket-book-holders who first need to embrace Spears as wholesome and healthy if there’s any hope of selling music, tickets and merchandise to their kids. The kids in her target audience, by the way, were as young as four and five years old.

But that’s not enough. Pop stars—to be enduring (we were told)—need to maintain “edge.” You see, the marketers understand that kids don’t always remain kids. They grow into teenagers and then into adults. Just as their bodies go through change, their tastes change as well. Consequently, if Britney Spears stays the same, she’ll wind up being nothing more than “so yesterday.” Because kids are in the process of breaking ties from mom and dad, they want their own music and their own stars. If mom approves, then it can’t be good. How did this work with Britney? Our seminar leader told us that Spears, by design, was initially a darling of mothers of young girls. It was all part of the master marketing plan to establish and sell the Britney Spears’ brand. But as those young girls grew up, they didn’t want to be listening to music that soothed mom’s ears and worries. So, Britney started the process of going over the edge, reinventing herself like Madonna, over and over again. In the words of our friend from Jive, Britney’s success—and the long-term success of any pop star—is that “she’s constantly pissed parents off!” That’s also why today, Britney and her three clones don’t look, sing, or act anything at all like each other or like they did back in that original photo!

(You can read the full text of "How To Make A Pop Star" here.)

Well, the formula's been used again. This time its with Miley Cyrus. Take a look. . .

The formula - and Miley - are worth talking about with your kids. Just remember, it will happen again.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sad. . . True. . . Hysterical. . .

I love this video that captures. . . well. . . . just watch. . . .

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Jesus is Coming. . . To Comedy Central. . .

Admittedly, I know very little about what's really happening with Jesus at Comedy Central. The little I do know is what's been coming out bit by bit through various news outlets since late last week. Word is that Comedy Central let its advertisers know that they've got 23 potential series in the works for their fall lineup. A new animated series, JC, is in the mix. This one, from the producers of The Office, depicts Jesus as a "regular guy" who wants to learn how to adjust to living his life in New York City. His greatest hindrance is the shadow of his "powerful yet apathetic father" who spends his time indulging his video game addiction. Jesus is no stranger to Comedy Central as he's had a recurring role in South Park.

Making sense of this move on the part of the network - a network that holds little if nothing at all as sacred - has been somewhat confusing. You don't want to overreact or underreact. Nor should one allow their emotions to eclipse a response that's grounded in the truth. Doing "something" is not justification for doing "anything." Not coincidentally, I'm sure, is the fact that I'm currently reading James Davison Hunter's new book, To Change The World, a very direct critique of how Christians have failed to transform culture, particularly in instances like the one that's most likely about to play out in the church in response to JC.

I'm not about to propose a strategic response. But I do have some thoughts occasioned by Comedy Central's announcement.

First, some Christians are going to be mad. . . . very mad at Comedy Central. That anger will be fueled by the fact that Comedy Central censored South Park in light of threats of violence from Muslims upset over that series' depiction of Muhammad. But I wonder if we should ultimately be more sad than mad? Should we be angry that the people at Comedy Central are doing this? Or should we be sad over the condition of the hearts from which their actions come?

Second, if the show does make it into the fall lineup, I'm sure it will develop a huge following, particularly among teenaged and young adult males. This is just the kind of irreverent cartoon humor that's been lining them up for years. They've been groomed by South Park and Family Guy. Sadly, this army of followers will include those who proclaim allegiance to the very God who the show grossly misrepresents and blasphemes. It will be another in a long line of examples of how integration of faith into all of life is waning.

Third, God's big enough to take care of Himself. The day after the premiere episode of JC airs, the God who remains the same yesterday, today, and forever will not have changed.

Fourth, that unchanging God is the God we need to proclaim to our kids. I sometimes wonder if our anger might not be sparked by the fact that too many of our Christian kids fall for this kind of stuff. . . . which might actually be an indicator of the fact that we haven't prepared them to filter this kind of stuff with any sense of discernment long before shows like JC are even conceptualized. Without knowing the truth, one has no ability to discern lies.

Finally, I wonder how much we're like the folks at Reveille, the production company that's got JC in the works? They're reinventing God in their image. The Father and Son in JC will bear little resemblence to the Father who revealed Himself to His creation in the written and incarnate Word. Don't we (the church) have a pretty successful track record of doing and still doing the same? I'm wondering if that's the thing that should concern us the most.

Friday, May 7, 2010

L.T. and Teen Sex Trafficking. . . .

I was wondering about L.T. just the other day. I saw former NFL star Lawrence Taylor on one of those Nutrisystem commercials last weekend. He was shouting the praises of the weight loss plan with the likes of Chris Berman and Dan Marino. I never liked Taylor when he was a player for the simple reason that he was a talented New York Giant who always seemed to make life hard on my Philadelphia Eagles. Because I was caught up in the Eagle fan frenzy, it was easy for me to fall into the trap of saying "not surprising" when this line-backing machine got himself into all kinds of trouble with drugs, alcohol, and prostitutes. Seeing L.T. on that commercial last weekend left me with the impression that he must be doing pretty well.

Maybe not. This morning's paper informed me that Taylor was arrested yesterday in connection with the rape of a 16-year-old girl. Disturbing. What was even more disturbing is that the 16-year-old girl was delivered to Taylor's hotel room against her will.

If I had read this report in yesterday's paper, I might have been tempted to respond by thinking, "Isn't this the kind of stuff that happens in other countries?" Perhaps its no coincidence that I spent some time yesterday afternoon reading through the latest edition of Christianity Today, a magazine that's been hitting it out of the park in recent months. Two of the articles I read were especially sobering. One was Compassion International President Wes Stafford's powerful testimony about abuse at the hands of the staff at an African missionary school. Then, there was Elisa Cooper's article titled "Sexual Slavery on Main Street."

The article opened my eyes to how the global problem of teen sex trafficking is not just "over there," but "over here." The statistics are stunning. Researchers estimate that between 100,000 and 300,000 American children are trafficked in the United States annually. Children under the age of 18 comprise the largest segment of individuals being victimized by sex trafficking in the United States. Cooper reports that one survey found that "children as young as 9 years old were being sold for sex by parents or boyfriends in exchange for illicit drugs."

This stuff makes my head spin. Still, I think this is something we need to grapple with here at CPYU, in our churches, and in our communities. Grappling with it is going to take some time and a lot of thought if our response is going to make any kind of difference at all. That said, I have had some initial thoughts.

First, this is only going to get worse. The principle of supply and demand is playing out before our eyes. A hyper-sexualized culture that offers a constant feed of sexual stimuli down every alley and around every corner will only serve to increase the demand. This is the culture that is nurturing the youngest of the young, leading them to exercise the good gift of their sexuality in selfish and destructive ways. . . and believing that this kind of behavior is not only normal, but right.

Second, the home, church and community must band together in a unified effort to prayerfully develop strategies to slow the demand, and redeem the supply. Cooper's article makes that abundantly clear, while highlighting the efforts of some who are doing just that.

Finally, we must exercise great patience with the growing pool of young victims. These are kids who are being molded, shaped, and formed in horrible ways as they pass through their most impressionable and formative years. Several voices in Cooper's article make it clear that the process of undoing won't be easy. These kids aren't like a rope that needs one knot removed. Their lives are a tangled mess that can only be undone as a small army of people serve God by sitting down and systematically and patiently working together to untangle what's been done.

I encourage you to take a few minutes out of your day to read Elisa Cooper's article. Then, I encourage you to pray - and continue to pray - about what God would have you (us) do in response.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lacrosse, Murder, and the Poison Cup. . . .

It was only a matter of time before Michael Preston appeared on national television to say what we all - including me - want so desperately to believe about each other and ourselves. Preston was a childhood friend of George Huguely, the University of Virginia lacrosse player who has been arrested and charged with the brutal murder of UVA women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love.

This morning, a host of disturbing new details in the unfolding case are being reported on media outlets everywhere. I happened to tune into NBC's The Today Show, where I watched an eight-plus minute story that included an interview with Michael Preston about three minutes and 15 seconds into the piece. Preston repeated what's become the standard line from associates and friends of accused perpetrators in all kinds of cases: that the George Huguely he knew was "not capable of doing something like this."

I used to believe the same thing not only about everyone I knew, but about myself. It wasn't even something I had to think about in order to believe. It was just inherent in the fabric of how I thought about life. But three things changed all that. . . and I'm not sure in what order.

First, there's a basic theological understanding of human nature. Most of us just grow up believing that people are inherently good. That commonly-held cultural belief informs not only how we live each and every day, but our response to the bad stuff that happens in the world. At the very least, it leads us to believe that "I would never do anything like that!" But the script that recounts the divine drama unfolding around us and in us tells us the truth. . . and the truth tells us otherwise. Believe it or not, our natures are evil. David reminds us that we are "brought forth in iniquity" and that in sin we are conceived (Psalm 51:5). In fact, the entire script of the divine drama from Genesis 3:6 on lays out God's wonderful plan to redeem us from the prison of this reality.

Second, there's my lifetime-long swing from looking at the world and people through rose-colored glasses of optimism, to a realism about human nature that's been shaped by an increasingly populated history of people I know and love doing things beyond imagination or belief. Seen in light of the aforementioned theological understanding, the proof is piling up. And, it's undeniable.

Then, there's the third reality I've had to reckon with. Simply stated, it's me. The older I get, the more clearly I see the darkness in my own heart. And, it scares me that I don't see it as it really is. As much as I hate it, the reality is that I'm "exhibit A."

So, while Michael Preston might truly believe what he's saying, the truth is that what he's saying shouldn't be believed. His buddy George is diseased. . . and the diagnosis extends to all of us. . . who are all capable of not only doing something like this, but stuff that's even worse.

It isn't coincidence that I came into the office this morning to find an article on my chair. Derek Melleby put it there as a contribution to some conversations we've been having around here lately. Written by Vincent Bacote for the latest edition of Comment Magazine, "The Poison Cup" offers some very insightful reflections on how our depravity combines with failures in the Christian community to provide real nurturing community in a lethal mix that feeds the assassin of pride. . . who when fed enough, will kill us. Using John Piper's recent leave of absence as the occasion for his reflections, Bacote offers some penetrating analysis that can't be ignored by any of us, especially those of us who because of our calling are public figures. . . including everyone from high-profile guys like Piper down to the local church youth pastor who is adored by his young flock. Bacote's article is a must-read.

Don't ever buy the lie that the people you know could never ________________ (fill in the blank). . . . especially if that person is you. And shouldn't this be a foundational truth we must be endeavoring to teach our kids? Not only will it inform how they live, but it will serve to feed their conscious need for the Savior and a deep gratitude for His amazing grace.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Neophile Faith . . . .

Just when I think I'm finally getting it, it gets me. Yesterday included a moment of frustrated panic here in the office when I logged onto Facebook. I started taking the familiar path to our CPYU page in order to post an update. The first thing I noticed when I signed in was things were looking different. . . . again. Why is Facebook always making these changes? Then, when I was instructed (or more accurately forced) to update my info by going through some very confusing steps, I couldn't even find our CPYU Facebook page. After consulting with an equally confused Derek, we made our way there.

A little while later, I went to shorten a URL on - something I learned how to do just a few months ago, and it was finally becoming routine. I quickly see that they've changed things around as well! Come on people. You're killing me here.

Why do we always have to be upgrading? Sure, I love it when things are improved. But I've got this gnawing sense that a growing amount of change is change for change's sake. Or, perhaps we've become so conditioned to change that what we believe is "so yesterday" is not "so yesterday" in terms of what that phrase meant 10 years ago (when "so yesterday" was literally 10 years ago). Rather, today's "so yesterday" literally means yesterday. And yesterday is not good enough for us. Marketing has conditioned us, hasn't it. We're spiraling around in this vortex and either we don't know it, or when we do figure it out we make no effort at all to get out.

It's painfully obvious that this phenomena has influenced styles and the way we spend our money. Lately I've been wondering if it hasn't also influenced our faith. Because we're so conditioned to scurrying from the new to the new in every other area of our lives, I wonder if we've been socialized into scurrying from the new to the new as we follow Jesus. . . leaving us following the new while thinking we're following Jesus, rather than really following Jesus. If that's the case, what a brilliant thing it is that the enemy is doing. The problem is not with new things or new ways of doing things. That's not it at all. The problem is with becoming a slave to the new. . . and mindlessly writing off the "old" just because its not new.

Two things I've encountered recently made me think about this some more. The first was a meeting I had with some pastors a few weeks ago. I was talking to them about youth culture. I told them that so much of what we do in the church as we work to reach kids in a changing culture is to focus on being culturally relevant. What that usually translates into is nothing more than a marketing effort (how the place looks, the way we look, the way we sound, our tech stuff, etc.). Consequently, we get locked into strategizing for relevance more and more, while thinking less and less about the things that are more important. What I told these pastors is that it doesn't matter what you look like, how you dress, how old you are, etc. What kids respond to are relationships. What pastors need to be about is a growing knowledge of the Word and a growing knowledge of the world. What happens is that we are culturally informed, and what results is an ability to relate that makes us culturally relevant. One very brave middle-aged pastor in the room responded with great honesty as he confessed the reason for walking around with his shirt untucked while not liking to have his shirt untucked. He was untucking his shirt because he thought that was one key to connecting with people from the front in today's world. I think what we've done is caved in to the need to be sexy. . . which warrants fast-paced change in terms of style. . . leading many to slowly focus less and less on substance. . . . usually without even knowing it. By the way, it's all with good intention. But good intention should never replace careful consideration, deep theological reflection, and thorough thoughtfulness.

The second was a tweet I encountered the other day that was absolutely brilliant and painfully honest. Someone wondered out loud - "Sometimes I fear that I respond to fancy lights and great music more than the Spirit of God." Sure, the individual needs to take some blame. But if we're all about sexy, if we avoid what's so yesterday, if we are obsessed with employing the latest and greatest in our ministries, I believe that this brilliant tweet states what we'll be nurturing our people into.

While pondering these things my thoughts began to center on all the youth ministry and ministry conferences we create and attend. I'm a part of many of them. If we were to divide the direct teaching content into two categories - strategies and theology - and put them both on opposite ends of a balance scale, which way would it tip? Again, strategies are essential. But without a theological foundation informing, shaping, and bordering those strategies, we risk seeking and creating outcomes that make the enemy snicker with joy.

Changing for the sake of change is something we should never do. Change to better communicate the Gospel is something we should always do. But we should never do it if the Gospel winds up getting supplanted, watered-down, or lost in the haze of the lights, the smoke from the machines, the sound of the music, the awesomeness of the technology, the results of the latest extreme makeover of the performers on the stage, or the image in the mirror that we work so hard to cultivate.

While chatting with my good friend and thoughtful buddy Duffy Robbins about this yesterday, he got to talking about neophilia. A neophiliac is someone who is in love with new things and that which is novel. Could it be that we're doing a better job of nurturing Christian neophiliacs, than we do nurturing deep Christians?

We need to go deep. . . . and we need to take the crowd with us.

Monday, May 3, 2010

When Will I Know? . . . .

I love the convergence of the Word and the world. That's what it's about isn't it? And that's our calling. . . to know how the Word speaks to the world. It's the prophetic task of following Christ as we contrast the "you have heard it said that. . ." with the "but I tell you. . ."

I experienced one such convergence this morning. . . and it was personally challenging. . . as I read and pondered John 6:25 and following. Jesus prophetically confronts a crowd that followed him to the other side of the lake in search of stuff. They were looking for food that spoils. As the Bread of Life, He is the food that "endures to eternal life." Stupid people. From where I sit, I get it. It's obvious. Or maybe not.

How often am I looking to God for the wrong thing? How often do I unconsciously live like I equate God's Shalom with material blessing? How often do I fall into the trap of trying to fill the God-shaped hole with stuff? When will I know I have enough?

In the days leading up to the NFL draft, the unprecedented media circus that we've made it was promoted through a series of flashy commercials featuring certain draft picks. Underneath the visuals lay a bed of music that caught my ear everytime I heard it. It was Kevin Rudolf's "I Made It (Cash Money Heroes)." According to Rudolf - and about 99.9 percent of all the other definitions of "success" thrown at us in our daily comings and goings - "success" is measured by stuff. Stuff like money, fame, fortune, celebrity, etc. In Rudolf's catchy little song its stuff like "private jets," "money fallin from the sky," "Louie bag," a "luxury marble floor," and "a Bentley." Accumulate that stuff and then you can truly say "the world is mine." Sadly, even the redeemed buy into this garbage and we live our lives as seekers and followers of the aforementioned stuff rather than Christ, along with faithfulness and obedience to Him.

After watching Rudolf's video I went back and read through what I had written about teens and materialism in the chapter "Living in a Material World" in Youth Culture 101. I read these words: "We must teach our kids that the real measure of their success in life is how much they'd be worth if they had absolutely nothing."

I wonder if some of you would be willing to devote a little time to finding out what your kids are 1)thinking, and 2) living? How about this. . . . show them Rudolf's video. Then, ask them two simple questions: 1) What do you think about that? . . . and 2) Do you think you ever live like that? You'll arrange the convergence of Word and world. You'll force the collision be all need between belief and behavior.

Then, let me know where it goes from there.