Friday, October 29, 2010

Old Made New. . . With A Great Message. . . .

Gary has been doing all he can these last couple of weeks to exercise the memory portion of my brain. He's a college buddy who's been spending time posting some pretty incredible music memories on his Facebook page. One of the things that I love about music is that it serves me like that souped up Delorean Marty McFly used to transport himself instantaneously from one place to another. A lot of the stuff Gary's been posting has taken me back and put a smile on my face.

After I commented to Gary on some of his selections, he dug into YouTube's music archives to find something distinctively Philly-sounding that we often heard playing in the college dining hall back in 1976. Then, he posted the video on his Facebook page as a little gift to me. I love it!

Listening to Harold Melvin and the Blue Note's "Wake Up Everybody" some thirty-plus years later reminded just how important and powerful the prophetic voice can be. In a day and age when music and its messages can be frustrating and even frightening - a fact fresh in my mind as just yesterday I wrote a 3(D) review of Miley Cyrus's "Who Owns My Heart?" for our next edition of ENGAGE - this is one song worth listening to and even talking about with your kids.

So just for fun. . . take a few minutes and listen to the original. . . .

And then watch and listen to the newly released version of the song from John Legend and The Roots. . .

And if you've got even more time, check out this live version from John Legend and The Roots. Why? Well, it's worth seeing a sousaphone on stage in the mix. . .

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Four Loko - Canned Cocaine?

On October 8th, nine 17 to 19-year-old Central Washington University Students attending the same party had to be hospitalized with blood-alcohol levels of 0.12 percent to 0.35 percent. When the story first broke, officials were puzzled, wondering if the students had willingly or unwillingly consumed drugs, perhaps even date rape drugs. But toxicology tests for drugs were negative. Just two weeks later, officials released their findings. The common thread for the nine – one of whom almost died – was that they had consumed a sweet, highly-caffeinated, alcoholic energy drink called Four Loko. Sadly, this incident is not isolated, but increasingly common.

It’s no secret that the alcohol and tobacco industries need to cultivate new drinkers and smokers to stay alive, generate revenue, and grow. While there have been many times when they’ve denied it, those charged with creating marketing campaigns know that today’s underage drinkers and smokers are both the now and future tobacco and alcohol market. And while there are numerous regulations in place to prohibit them from creating and marketing products to teens, there are ways around that.

In recent years, the alcohol industry has created and peddled lots of new colorful and fruity products that blur the packaging and content line between kid-stuff like juices and soft-drinks, and adult stuff like highly caffeinated energy drinks, wine coolers, and even beer.

Now, the canned beverage known as Four Loko - from Chicago-based Phusion Projects Inc. - is flooding youth culture from young adults down to curious and young thrill-seeking kids. The brightly-packaged 23.5 ounce cans contain a caffeinated, 12% alcohol malt beverage that generates a dangerous buzz that is potent and fast-acting. The alcohol content is three times that of a beer. One can of Four Loko is equivalent to a six-pack of beer in alcohol content. Both users and health-care officials have likened Four Loko to cocaine in a can. Like soda, Four Loko contains sugar, artificial flavors (Grape, Blue Raspberry, Orange, Watermelon, Fruit Punch, Lemonade, Cranberry, and Cranberry Lemonade) and carbonation. It also includes taurine, guarana, caffeine, and wormwood (the active ingredient in absinthe), the four ingredients developers used as a basis for the drink’s name.

Four Loko’s rapid rise in popularity has administrators and healthcare officials on college campuses working hard to raise awareness among students as to the very real dangers associate with the drink. The fact that a growing number of cases of alcohol-poisoning related to Four Loko consumption and binging are being reported in hospital emergency rooms has officials concerned as well. This trend is sure to continue as Four Loko drinkers endeavor to down three or fan cans in quick succession in an effort to get the full effect of a quicker high.

Why is Four Loko gaining popularity among young adults and teens? There are many reasons.

First, kids are by nature risk-takers who have a sense of invulnerability that feeds the sense that “nothing bad will ever happen to me.” Not only that, but kids are looking to have a good time, and Four Loko is associated with fun.

Second, Four Loko offers a cheap high. At around $2.50 a can, it’s affordable. As a result more and more kids are going to drink it.

Third, Four Loko is marketed and sold in ways that attract the attention of younger and underage drinkers. For example the cans give off a “fun feel” through the use of bright colors that catch the eye. In some stores, Four Loko isn’t found on the shelves near beer and other alcoholic beverages. Instead, Four Loko is shelf-stocked near the non-alcoholic energy drinks popular among kids. In addition, the drink’s fruity flavors are attractive to young consumers who have been raised on fruit juice.

Fourth, the drink is marketed as being both fun and sexy. A visit to the Four Loko homepage features shadowy silhouettes of a couple of young, naked women standing seductively in the shadows, a marketing ploy that not only draws in the male audience, but promises alcohol-infused sex-appeal to female drinkers. In fact, many of the many Four Loko songs that are popping up on YouTube tout the drink’s ability to make those who are ugly, sexually attractive in the eyes of Four Loko drinkers.

Fifth, there’s the viral element that’s been fueled by the world of social media. Four Loko’s growing Facebook Fan Page features testimonials and drinking suggestions from satisfied Four Loko drinkers. The page includes this poetic descriptor of the drink’s effects: “Corny?!...Four loko: big sizes which make you do surprizes...Tastey and makes you wastey...If you dont like it, you're a sucker cause four loko makes you f____ her...
It has a deliscious flavor but the memories you cant savor...”

Sixth, there’s the pop culture element, particularly the growing number of Rap videos – many of them claiming to be “official” – that are posted on YouTube. A quick YouTube search of the term “Four Loko” provides perhaps the best street-level education on the drink that’s available.

Finally, there’s word-of-mouth. Kids are drinking it, then telling their friends. Once that happens, word is out and the power of peer pressure kicks in full-tilt.

What can we do in response? Here are a few quick suggestions. As with any alcohol-consumption issue that involves underage drinking, binge drinking, or the immoral aspect and irresponsibility of drunkenness and the many resulting spiritual, physical, and emotional risks, the rising popularity and abuse of Four Loko requires diligence on the part of all adults. Parents should warn their kids about the potency and dangers of Four Loko. They should also set and enforce strict behavioral parameters when it comes to substance abuse. Parents and youth workers should present a united front by providing a Biblical perspective on drinking. In addition, they should discover and address any underlying issues that are driving kids to self-medicate through substance abuse. And finally, community members should unite to establish policies that regulate the marketing, distribution, and sale of Four Loko to kids.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You've Got To Be Kidding! . . . .

For years I've been relying on the world of advertising to help me explain youth culture. . . what it is, where it has come from, where it's going, and what it can tell us about kids. Those of us committed to "listening twice" - to the Word and the world - are always looking for and deconstructing the latest ad.

If you've been around when I've talked about the world of advertising and the way it has evolved over the years, you've probably seen some of the old ads that even though they were once cutting-edge and relevant, are now absolutely ridiculous. . . or even downright scary!

The other day, Derek Melleby forwarded to me an email that featured some of these old ads that "we will NEVER see again." I've included some in my presentations over the years. . . . but this is a great collection! So just for fun. . . . enjoy. . . .

Monday, October 25, 2010

N.Y. City, Teenagers, Sex, & Identity. . . .

Did you happen to see the report that came out today regarding teenagers and sexual behavior? Published in the journal Pediatrics, the report is based on survey data from the latest edition of The Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which was administered to 17,220 New York City high school students. The Associated Press ran a story by Karen Matthews summarizing the report's findings.

Here's some of what you need to know about today's teens:

-7,261 of the students who completed the survey said they had had sexual intercourse.
-93.1 percent of the sexually active males had only had sexual contact with female partners.
-3.2 percent of the sexually active males said they'd had contact only with other males.
-3.7 percent of the sexually active males had had both male and female sexual partners.
-88.1 percent of the sexually active females said they'd only had sex with males.
-3.2 percent of the sexually active females said they'd only had sex with female partners.
-8.7 percent of sexually active females said they'd had sex with both male and female partners.
-Among all the sexually active teens, 9.3 percent reported having at least one same-sex partner.
-Of all the teens who reported having at least one same-sex partner, 38.9 percent said that they were "heterosexual" or "straight."
-Among girls who reported having both male and female partners, 35.8 percent said they had experienced dating violence during the previous year.
-Among boys who reported having both male and female partners, 34.8 percent reported experiencing dating violence during the previous year.

How do you process this data? What does it make you think about kid's and today's culture? How does it make you feel about what our kids are learning and how they're living those lessons out?

How we process and respond to these issues reveals much about our worldview and how that informs our values, attitudes, and behaviors. That's certainly the case with something I read in Karen Matthews' article. Matthews reports, "Advocates said the results point to the need for public health messages to target behavior, not identity." Think about that for a minute. Isn't there something lacking and foundationally wrong in that prescription?

Because I am an integrated being. . . even when my actions don't coincide with my stated beliefs and convictions . . . I ultimately act out who I believe I am. . . whether that belief is something I've consciously or unconsciously assimilated into my life. And when the great task of adolescence is identity formation and the figuring out of who I am, doesn't it make sense that we invest our time and effort into helping our kids establish their identity? As people who follow Christ and believe that our identity is found in the One who made us for Himself, doesn't that say quite a bit about the focus we need in our ministries to kids? You see, if my identity is wrapped up in anything less than that which transcends me, myself, and I. . . well, then I can do and be anything I want to do and be.

I think this study issues a loud and clear call to the Church. . . we must think seriously about how to reach kids with the message of where to ultimately find their identity. . . and what that means for all of life. I'm not sure that anything else can effect lasting behavioral change. . . or serve them well as they discover the purpose for their God-given sexuality.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sally's Youthful Take on Dirty Dancing. . . .

On Wednesday I had the privilege to speak at Houghton College to the school’s 1,200 students in chapel. My message to them was simple: “As young people redeemed by Christ and called to a lifetime of service to Him, resolve now to always listen twice.” This is the simple message that’s at the core of all we do here at CPYU. The Scriptures are clear – we are to listen first to God’s Word. But our need to listen doesn’t stop there. We are also called to listen to and discern the heart of the world. You see, opening our ears to understand the world allows us to more effectively communicate the unchanging Word of God in ways that answer the world’s great need in ways that the world can hear and understand.

At CPYU, we tune our ears into today’s youth culture for the sake of the advance of the Gospel. One youth culture issue we’ve been listening to in recent weeks has been unfolding right here in Lancaster County. A few weeks ago, our morning newspaper carried a story - which I blogged about - reporting on a local school district that decided to cancel the annual homecoming dance. The reason? After several years of issuing warnings to students, dance attendees continued to engage in increasingly dirty and suggestive dancing. Several years ago, CPYU issued a “Trend Alert” on this type of dancing known as “freak dancing” and “grinding.” Some people have correctly described this type of dancing as “having sex with your clothes on.” The behavior and the failure of students to obey respect the authority of their administrators is a clear indicator of the continued decline of morals not only among teenagers, but in the culture-at-large.

Shortly after blogging on the topic a few weeks ago, a blog-reader from Maryland emailed me a copy of the contract students are to sign if they want to attend their district's Homecoming Dance. The contract includes these bullet points under the heading "Expected Student Behaviors":

-The manner of dancing will be appropriate for a school function. Dancing such as moshing or slamming will not be permitted.

-Sexually explicit dancing is defined as the following:
-Freaking or grinding
-No intimate touching of the breasts, buttocks, or genitals that simulates sexual activity.
-No back to front dancing; no squatting or bending.
-No hands on the knees or on the floor with buttocks facing or touching a partner or in the air.
-No leg or hip grinding.
-No "making out" (over and/or prolonges public displays of affection).

Yesterday, our local paper ran a letter to the editor from a local high school student, Sally Canon, who endeavored to explain dirty dancing in today’s youth culture. Her words are worth reading, as they provide a wide open window into the way kids in today’s youth culture think about these matters. While you can read the entire text of Sally's letter here, I've pulled a few sentences that I trust capture her thoughts and reasoning: “Parents, you have to understand this is what our generation has come to. This is us. There is no stopping it. . . . We don’t know any other way to dance. It’s also not our fault our music brings this on. . . . Students aren’t just going to go along with the rules of no grinding. They’re ticked, therefore, many are having parties homecoming night consisting of all the grinding they want and alcohol simply because they can’t grind at homecoming. . . . When our society’s values and morals are what they are, how else are you expecting us to dance? Schools can’t take this out on us for not knowing how else to dance and they can’t blame us for what our generation has become.”

While Sally tells us what her peers are thinking and doing, listening carefully to her words serves to issue several challenges to parents, churches, youth workers, and all those who are genuinely concerned about kids. First, we realize that those of us who are older need to think carefully about the examples we’ve provided to our children and teens. Second, behavior that we know is a fallen and sinful expression of God’s good gift of sexuality is no longer seen by kids as immoral and wrong. Rather, it’s normal, nuetral, and maybe even right. And finally, fewer and fewer members of the emerging generations are willing to take responsibility for their behavior. Each of these trends is a deeply troubling indicator of the changes taking place in the way our kids think, talk, and act. . . and what we've done - or maybe not done - to facilitate that. Perhaps most troubling of all is that each of these trends is also pervasive among our professing Christian kids, which indicates a disconnect between their stated beliefs and their real-world behaviors.

So, let’s go back to that challenge to “listen twice.” As Christ’s ambassadors, called and sent into this world, we are to be about the business of effectively communicating the life-changing Good News about Jesus Christ to a lost culture full of confused kids who are in desperate need of redemption. With that as the basis for why we are so committed to listening twice, what do you hear in Sally's words? And how can we bring the light of God's Word to bear on Sally and her world? Comments?

I encourage you to live a life of listening twice. . . . both to God’s Word, and to the world. And please continue to pray for us as we endeavor to serve our Lord by doing the same.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I've Got Something Exciting To Tell You! . . . .

Last week I was on Facebook and instant-messaging with a friend from Canada. I'm not sure how we got there, but one thing led to another and I told him that I was soon going to make an announcement that I thought might make him very happy. He's a big fan of CPYU and he utilizes our stuff regularly.

In the midst of our virtual conversation, I told him that "something old from CPYU" was about to be "something new." He excitedly asked, "Are you bringing back ENGAGE?!?!?" Nice guess Garth! You got it. And you're not the only one who's been wondering when and if ENGAGE would ever reappear. It's back!

Here's the deal. . . Let me start with a little explanation for those of you who aren't familiar with ENGAGE. . . and for those of you who may have forgotten. ENGAGE was our 24 to 28 page quarterly journal on youth culture. For several years, it was in print and we sent it free to everyone on our mailing list. It got so costly that we had to cut the free deal, and sent it out to those who made a donation to our ministry. I never really liked that part. It started as a freebie, and I wanted it to stay a freebie. So, we decided to go paperless, save a few forests, and deliver ENGAGE as a free pdf - still the same length with the same in-depth information and analysis that we endeavor to deliver to you here at CPYU. Then, one thing led to another we wound up letting ENGAGE lay dormant. . . . until now!

In the coming days, ENGAGE will be revived in a new format. We've talked to several of you, and you've given us some great ideas. What we've landed on is this. . . ENGAGE will no longer be quarterly. It will be monthly! ENGAGE will no longer be delivered to you in one large pdf. Instead, each article/component will be available in its own pdf, thereby making it possible for you to download, email, and/or print out the articles you like for distribution, rather than having to print out the entire pdf. Included will be articles on youth culture trends, articles for parents, reviews, our very popular 3(D) media reviews (in a more timely manner!), articles on College Transition, and a whole lot more.

Now, here's how you can ensure that you'll be receiving the first and all subsequent monthly editions of ENGAGE. . . . and it's all really simply and totally free! Those of you who are already subscribed to our weekly Youth Culture e-Update. . . you don't have to do a thing, as ENGAGE will be delivered to you via email automatically. For those of you who are not already receiving our weekly Youth Culture e-Update in your email box, simply go to our CPYU home page and click on the CPYU Youth Culture e-Update button on the left side, or simply click here to be directed to the Youth Culture e-Update signup page.

I'm excited about our relaunch of ENGAGE. Be sure to signup, and once you get it, you have our permission to forward, print out, and distribute every little nook and cranny of ENGAGE without limit!

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Chilean Miners. . . . Difficult Days Ahead? . . . .

This will sound like a crazy. . . absolutely crazy. . . question. But I've been wondering - are the most difficult days ahead for the 33 rescued Chilean miners? It's difficult to imagine anything more horrifying than the 69 days these guys endured together, especially the first 17 of those days. But after all those days spent organizing, cooperating, and surviving life underground, it's possible that their once-more-simple lives will now be filled with a complex web of temptations.

The day after all the miners had been rescued, I was thinking about their futures by trying to put myself in their place and wondering how I would handle it all. I did the same thing several times while they were down in that mine. Then, I jotted down these words: "Great adversity can bring out the best in us - we work together. Great prosperity can bring out the worst in us - we work against each other." I know that because I've read history, I've watched people, and more than anything else. . . I know myself.

Everyone of these 33 men are about to get very, very rich. They knew that as time passed underground and their rescue was imminent. That's why they made a pact to share any wealth that would come from telling their story amongst themselves equally. But the temptations that come with material abundance - as much as we think they can be very very good - can be very very bad. In a Puritan prayer about our human weaknessess the Lord is asked, "Preserve me from the intoxication that comes of prosperity; Sober me when I am glad with a joy that comes not from thee."

Let's keep watching the story and keep praying for these guys.

And one more thing. . . did you catch that brilliant thread in the story that was a wonderful marketing move by Oakley????

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Miley Cyrus. . . Have You Been Listening? . . . .

I won't say much on this one. It's a chance to see who's been listening. . . to the world of pop music. . . to the way things go in the world of pop music. . . to the development of Miley Cyrus and her short yet prolific career. . . to her messages. . . and to what we've been working to teach at CPYU about exegeting the culture.

So. . . give the 17-year-olds' new video a look. . .

Discussion? . . . .

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Freeing the 33. . . .

Early last August, shortly after returning home from my hospital stay, I reestablished my morning ritual that has always included a cup of coffee and the newspaper. One of the first news stories that caught my eye also grabbed at my heart. I had been thinking a lot about and praying for people who have it far worse so that I would maintain perspective on my own condition. That morning, I read about the 33 Chilean miners who had been victimized by a collapse. From time to time over the next few days I'd read a small story on efforts to find the men and the hope that they were still alive. Then, later in August, word came that a drill had reached the chamber where the men were, and they were still alive.

I started to imagine what it must be like to be trapped a half mile under the ground with no way out. I believe I would have gone crazy pretty fast. But stories emerged from that place in the ground about a chain of command that had been obeyed, food that had been carefully rationed, and how the men had taken care of one another during the time when they were lost with no idea at all if they'd ever be found. I thought about their families and the sliver of hope this new discovery had brought.

Then came the mobilization of a country's resources to work to get these men out of the ground. Plans were made and I read that it might take until Christmas or some other time near the end of the year if all went well. Again, I thought about and prayed for them and their families.

Now, we're hours away from the first miner being brought to the surface, and it's October 12. According to what I've read today, experts say that the trip up the shaft will be fraught with risk and danger. One expert says it will be the most harrowing part of the ordeal for each of the miners. I've been thinking about and praying for them again today, imagining yet not even coming close to knowing what these hours must be like for everyone involved. If all goes well, the euphoria felt by all in a day or two will be unmeasurable.

The contrasts in this story are unbelievable. Moving from almost certain death to the very real hope for continued life. Thinking you'll never see your family again. . . and then being reunited. Moving from deep darkness into bright light. Then, there's the stuff they've done to survive. The cooperation. The care for each other. Even the arguing over who will be the last one up. . . each one saying that's the place in line he wants to take.

There's far more to this story that we'll learn. I'm sure some publisher and screenwriter is standing by that hole in the ground with contracts and pens in hand. But to this point, the whole thing has been rather amazing to me. Even reading the accounts of the brilliant and talented people who have engineered the complex rescue effort screams out "Glory to God!" for the creative gifts reflected in the image of God each of these people was born with and has developed.

No, it's not a story about youth ministry, kids, or culture. But it is a story about bringing "shalom" in the midst of terrible stuff - that universal flourishing and rightness that filled every nook and cranny of God's good world before we decided we had a better plan for it all. In that respect, it's a story that reflects what everyone of us, young and old alike, longs for every minute of every day. In a way, it's a story about the hope we all have for our ultimate rescue.

Let's pray that all goes well over the next few hours.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Feeding Young Materialists. . . .

A fish out of water. . . that's exactly what I felt like six years ago when I joined a group of about 300 highly-energized and motivated young adults (most of them twenty-something) who had gathered for a few days in central Florida to learn and share their secrets regarding how to sell anything and everything to kids, aged 2 to 12. These were some of the most creative folks I had ever met. They knew the culture, were constantly living on their toes, and were doing anything and everything to get into the pocketbooks of kids and their parents with a single-minded commitment to pursuing that end and justifying any means on the road to get there. My deepest suspicions were confirmed, and it was very depressing. I liken the experience to having watched a marionnette show, when suddenly, the top curtain fell, revealing the people who were doing all the pulling and manipulating on the puppets' strings.

The competition for the hearts, minds, money, and life-long allegiance of the youngest of our young hasn't subsided. In fact, it continues to snowball in its intensity and reach. The other day I ran across a great little article from the Orlando Sentinel's Sandra Pedicini, "Teen clothiers targeting pre-teen market." She writes, "Clothing stores aimed at teenagers and twentysomethings are expanding their reach, trying to hook customers barely out of kindergarten with their own teen lines." With age aspiration and age compression leading pre-schoolers to want to be seen, perceived, and treated like they're in elementary school - and elementary-aged kids wanting to be at middle-school age, it's a logical strategy. Add to that the $13.4 billion spent annually on teen clothing, and it makes even more sense. For example, there's Aeropostale and their P.S. store for kids ages 7 to 12. Visit the P.S. website and you'll see three happy and fulfilled young Aeropostale billboards. Visit Forever 21's homepage for their HTG81 brand for children 6 to 14, and you see happy kids sporting the brand.

Marketing works. It's worked for years. Today's marketing experts are bearing the fruit of the successful efforts of past generations of product evangelists. It's ingrained in the very fabric of who we are. Pedicini quotes branding-strategist Eli Portnoy: "Little kids are so status-conscious about clothing now, more than ever. It was a natural evolution for young college, teenage brands - Why not go after them younger and get them hooked into your brands?"

Contemporary Christians may pride themselves on the fact that there are no literal golden calves sitting in our midst. But the subtle draw of idolatry weaves itself in and through us without us ever knowing it. . . and we might not see it until we catch ourselves leafing longingly through the piles and piles of consumer catalogs that fill our mailboxes, feeling good when we're going to or at the mall, or when we allow our young to wear t-shirts emblazoned with "SHOPPING RULES!" or "BORN TO SHOP."

C.S. Lewis got it right when he wrote, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." That's where we need to live. It's where we must spend everything we have and everything we are.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hey Kids. . . Your Dance Has Been Cancelled. . . .

Man oh man are things going to heat up here in Lancaster County. The front page of today's paper sports this headline: "Lewd dancing roils schools." The article reports on the trend among several area school districts to cancel the homecoming dance. The cancellation cause isn't bad weather, a flu epidemic, or even threats of violence. Nope. It's the unwillingness of kids to heed warning upon warning to cease and desist when it comes to freaking, grinding, and dirty dancing on the dance floor.

Out in the dark regarding this youth culture trend? You can get caught up by chatting with any secondary school teacher who's served as a dance chaperon over the last few years. Earlier this year, a teacher in another state approached me to tell me about what he was seeing (sadly) when he served as a chaperon at the high school's dances. He told me that not only do the girls wear short skirts, but they were removing their underwear, heading out to the dance floor, hiking up their skirts, and then dancing (in a variety of ways) up against the guys.

Back in 2001 I wrote an article on the dirty dancing trend entitled "Freaking Out On The Dance Floor." In that article, I listed several things that were fueling the trend. Here's what I wrote:

First, in today's cultural climate, why shouldn't kids freak-dance? After all, this emerging generation of kids has grown up in a culture that encourages free sexual expression without bounds. To them, it's normal behavior.

Second, the mainstream media has taught them how to freak-dance and encouraged the practice. In a classic case of life imitating art, kids who've been raised by MTV are only mimicking the visual and lyrical messages of song's like Sir Mix-a-lot's "Baby Got Back," Sisqo's "Thong Song," and Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass".

Third, kids say freak-dancing is a way to express themselves and have fun. Teenagers have always stretched the edge beyond the comfort zone of previous generations in an effort to do something new, unusual, unique, and rebellious. Freak-dancing certainly fits the bill.

Fourth, we live in a postmodern culture that values limitless freedom of expression. Kids say that freak-dancing is an enjoyable way to express themselves. It's not surprising that efforts to limit or prohibit the practice have been met with youthful resistance.

Fifth, freak-dancing is seen as a non-threatening way to socialize. Teenagers are social beings who long for intimacy, relationship, acceptance, and connections. Because it is often done with anonymous partners, freak-dancing fosters what kids see as "closeness."

And finally, kids who freak-dance argue there's nothing indecent about it because "it's not sex." Even though most kids say freak-dancing is somewhat arousing, they increasingly see "sex" as the act of vaginal intercourse and nothing less. Add to that the postmodern belief that there are no moral absolutes, and who can say that freak-dancing is wrong?

Nine years have passed and these values along with others are even more rooted in the fabric of youth culture, who kids are, what they believe, and how those beliefs inform their behavior.

While I know there will be many parents and kids who protest the decision as an intrusion on the right of free expression among kids, sometimes we need to step in and protect our kids from themselves. That's the problem with declining morals. Once we lose our ability to police ourselves, anything goes and in order to prevent all out anarchy, external constraints and limits must be imposed. Or, we could just let nature take its course.

Over the course of the last decade we've seen the world of youth culture become more infected with the viruses of objectification, sexual violence, body-image pressure, and the results of these things that victims have to deal with both now and for the rest of their lives. Did it all start on the dance floor? No. But what's happening on the dance floor both maps out proper behavior for kids and mirrors society's widely-held standards.

What I wrote back in 2001 stills holds true today: "The envelope's been stretched again. What was once on the fringe is now mainstream. One can only wonder what lies ahead out there on the attitudinal and behavioral edge of youth culture. We've got our work cut out for us. We need to talk to our kids about standards of Godly behavior, decency, modesty, and morality. We should set rules and tell them that freak-dancing is wrong. Why? Because it corrupts God's standards for His wonderful gift of sexuality. We should monitor what they watch and what they listen to as media outlets continue to gain influence on young values, attitudes, and behaviors. Freak-dancing is another wake-up call for diligent parenting and aggressive ministry to children and teens."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Perspective On Suffering. . . .

A friend recently told me I should have seen it coming. "Go back and read what you've been writing for the last couple of years, particularly on your blog. It's almost spooky!" I had been pondering and reading about suffering, pain, and heartache. . . whether physical, emotional, or relational. Circumstances that under God's sovereignty had visited my life were forcing me to reckon with the place of difficulty in our lives. I now know that much of that journey was preparation for the physical challenges I've had to face oveer the last 9 weeks.

Several days spent in the hospital being surrounded by suffering far worse than my own forced me to ponder these things anew. I soon realized that I had been telling parents and youth workers to "pray for difficulty" to come in their kids' lives. Why? Because difficulty strips away the idols of our times so that we can seek, see, and embrace Jesus as we have been created to seek, see, and embrace Him.

Last Friday, I woke up and decided to go to our local Panera Bread in order to do some work in preparation for my first post-accident speaking engagement this week. It wasn't long before I realized that my trip to Panera was less about my preparation, and more about running into a couple of grieving women I know. One lost her husband to cancer just a couple of months ago. She teared up as we talked, all the while affirming God's work in her life in the midst of her pain. She ministered to me.

The other woman is the wife of a retired missionary. He's a Godly man who even in the midst of his suffering with debilitating Parkinson's Disease, would still pick up the phone and call me to encourage me in my work with CPYU. A few days before, I had been thinking it was time for me to visit this man whose body has been increasingly failing him for years. When I asked his wife how he was doing, she informed me that he was most likely hours or days away from passing into eternity. I went to see him that afternoon. It was difficult.

Both were reminders of the fleeting nature of life. . . a life that sometimes hurts deeply, and always ends in physical death.

How thankful I was for Joni Ereckson Tada's words in the most recent edition of Christianity Today Magazine. Most people are familiar with Tada's story of a teenage diving accident that left her paralyzed when she was only 17. Now 60 years old, Tada is 10 years into a battle with chronic pain and a few months into a breast cancer diagnosis. She's released a book I want to read, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty.

The interview is powerful. Perhaps these words from Joni Eareckson Tada will challenge you as they have challenged me: "I keep thinking about I Peter 2:21: 'To these hardships you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.' Those steps most often lead Christians nto to miraculous, divine interventions but direclty into the fellowship of suffering. In a way, I've been drawn closer to the Savior, even with this breast cancer. There are things about his character that I wasn't seeing a year ago or even six months ago. That tells me that I'm still growing and being transformed. I Peter 2:21 is a good rule of thumb for any Christian struggling to understand God's purposes in hardship."