Monday, January 31, 2011

Skins Reminds Us. . . Teach Kids Discernment. . .

There's been lots of talk and buzz concerning MTV's controversial teen drama, Skins. In perfect world we wouldn't be talking about Skins because it wouldn't exist. In a near-perfect world we would be able to step into our kids' lives and simply tell them to turn it off, or don't turn it on in the first place. . . and they would gladly listen knowing that we had their best interests in mind. But the fact of the matter is that we don't live a perfect world. So what do we do?

That last question is my cue (given by me) to trumpet our need to teach our kids to think critically and Christianly for themselves about their media choices. . . a skill that will serve them well both now and for the rest of their lives.

For years we worked hard here at CPYU to develop a paradigm, system, and tool for media discernment. I believe that we landed on something really excellent and helpful when we put together our How To Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart: A 3(D) Guide to Making Responsible Media Choices, our little guide that's now being used by tens of thousands of kids. If you're not familiar with it, you can learn more here. Then last year, our friends at Simply Youth Ministry worked with us to created and release Download, a simple-to-use three-week DVD curriculum that teaches kids how to use the 3(D) guide.

We're committed to using the 3(D) process here at CPYU - Discover, Discern, Decide - and we endeavor to filter music videos, films, and shows through the process on a regular basis. Last week I put together a 3(D)review of the premiere episode of Skins. It's posted on our website and is available as a free download.

I would encourage you to download and take a look at our 3(D) review of Skins. Then, I encourage you to consider doing any or all of the following:

1. Print out the 3(D) review of Skins and get it into the hands of the youth workers, parents, teachers, and pastors you know.

2. If you've got kids who have been watching Skins, get the 3(D) review into their hands and spend some time talking about it.

3. Teach your kids how to do the 3(D) process. We've put the tools together for you to use and we've made them very, very inexpensive and affordable. You can order copies of How to Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart: A 3(D) Guide to Making Responsible Media Choices here, and you can order your own copy of Download here as well.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hollywood, Marriage, Motherhood, and 39%. . . .

This morning, The Today Show ran a very interesting story on the new trend in Hollywood. . . single motherhood. . . flaunted. The story not only looked at how attitudes in Hollywood are changing, but about how what's happening in Hollywood might be changing our attitudes. The clip includes a discussion on culture that's worth your time, and might be worth talking about with your kids in the context of your home or youth group. Topics include the function of culture, celebrities as role models, fathering, parenting, divorce, and single motherhood. At one point, we're told that 39% of Americans now believe that marriage is becoming obsolete. That's where we're headed folks. And we should be talking about it.

Here's the link to the clip. I apologize that it's just a link. I've tried to embed the clip here on the blog, but it keeps embedding a clip about a gorilla! Ok, that might be interesting, but I'm not sure what the gorilla clip has to do with youth culture.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Media Is Getting This One Right. . . .

We're a nation of voyeurs. Why do you think we're so obsessed with reality TV and celebrity weekly magazines? The constant and growing media glut of images (both moving and still) that fill our eyes have lulled us into a lifestyle where we sit on comfy couches, leafing and flipping through other's lives in ways that never should happen. The media continues to set a table for us that we gladly sit at in a never-ending exercise of voyeuristic gluttony. We watch celebrities, normal people who turn into celebrities, hoarders, addicts, bachelors, bachelorettes, and a host of people in various states of crisis, pain and dismay.

But this morning it dawned on me that over the course of the last couple of weeks, the media has shown some decency and restraint. . . doing something right. In the wake of the shootings in Arizona, Representative Gabby Giffords has been in the hospital. . . but we've never seen her face. The same thing happened this morning when the media ran a picture of Giffords' husband holding her hand while they watched last night's State of the Union address. Kudos to the media for showing decency and restraint. It's a testimony to the fact that, yes, there are boundaries we should respect and uphold. Sadly, our media world is largely void of these fences.

It got me thinking about the difference between gratuitous images of suffering, and constructive images of suffering. Gratuitous images sell newspapers, magazines, and TV advertising. Gratuitous images draw us in and keep us looking. Gratuitous images tickle our voyeuristic fancy to stare, condemn, or even laugh at people who have it much worse than we do. Gratuitous images feed our obsession with being busy-bodies.

But there are constructive images of suffering. Constructive images portray human suffering in ways that can and should motivate us to respond to our neighbors in ways that minister to and alleviate their suffering. Constructive images show us that the world really is a broken place, thereby reminding us that God has called us to be His ambassadors of shalom. . . that universal flourishing that brings the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. Constructive images remind us that even though we might have it amazingly good, there are others in our world who have it horrifically bad. . . and we have a responsibility to do something about it.

I wonder what we'd see if some kind of scientific survey could be done on how long we choose to keep our eyes on each of these two different kinds of images? I'm guessing researchers would discover that we quickly turn the page or channel when we see a hungry child climbing over a garbage heap looking for a morsel of food. Why is that? Maybe it's a combination of knowing that we should be doing something, but would much rather continue enjoying our time on the couch. We really do have it all upside-down.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Skins. . . Real Kids. . . In Real Time. . . .

Are our kids connecting with MTV's new one-hour Monday night drama, Skins? You bet. This morning I spent a little bit of time on a section of the show's homepage that didn't appear on the Skins homepage until last Wednesday. It caught my eye when I went there this morning.

The section is called "Where It Went Down" and it can be found at The site features a map that is being updated in real time with icons and stories posted by real kids anonymously telling real stories about themselves for anyone and everyone to read. The stories are short - just a few words of summary. WIWD describes itself this way: Leave your mark on where it all happened! Browse and share the places where memories were made - and the scattered pieces of nights you can’t really remember. Post the truth about the biggest parties, heartbreak, friends, sex, and every kind of trouble.

Users fill out a little template that asks them for their nickname, to tell where it happened, to choose from one of five categories (sex and love, trouble, friends, rocking out, and partying), and then to make some notes on all the details. . . and finally date of birth.

In some ways, the site is very frightening. Give it a visit and you'll see what kids are really doing. . . or at the very least, what they want readers to believe they're really doing. Even more frightening is the fact that maybe just maybe, these are kids who are holding it all in without ever processing it all with someone who is older, wiser, and more mature.

I guess we'll see how well Skins is connecting with our kids, as they take the fictitious world of Skins and translate it into their everyday reality. It's another wake up call.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Skins. . . .

I suppose it means I'm a bit jaded when there's very little that comes out of today's media that I find shocking. But I realized last week that I'm not so jaded that I didn't recoil when I watched MTV's new teen "soap opera", Skins. The opening scene of this grey and depressing adolescent world included shots of a bedraggled teen girl walking barefoot across a cold street after a night of doing who-knows-what. . . a night that left her looking like she had just survived a brutal assault. By the time the one-hour show had ended, it seems like that opening scene may have depicted a young girl who had been raped by life. Strong words, I know. But I'm seriously wondering - and brace yourself for some strong words again - if Skins might itself be an assault on our kids.

I've let some days pass since viewing the show's premiere episode. I'll be watching again tonight when the second episode airs. Watching the show takes a little bit of work. . . I had to get past the TV-MA rating and insert my unlock code. While inserting the unlock code I noticed that On-Demand had summarized the first episode with this little descriptor - "Tony tries to help his best friend Stanley lose his virginity."

On the one hand, Skins gets some things about adolescence right. The great task of the adolescent years is identity formation. . . or trying to figure out who I am. The teen social scene is difficult to navigate and oftentimes confusing. Being a teenager isn't easy. It's also a fact that the world is a dark, depressing, and hopeless place for far too many kids. Some of them escape through erroneously seeking the redemption through sex and drugs. Maybe the show will play out in a way that shows that neither of those things can ever fill the hole in the soul, but judging from last week, nobody on the show is close to coming to that conclusion yet.

But on the other hand, I'm afraid that young viewers trying to establish their identity and find their way in the world will be tempted to take their clues and cues from Skins. If Skins is reflective of life as a teenager, then things are bad. If Skins is directive for teenagers trying to weave their way through life, then things are even worse. The kids on Skins live in a world filled with capable teens and incapable, idiotic adults. Kids rule. They live in a world turned upside down. It's a world where vice is virtue and virtue is vice. It's a world where twenty-five percent of the words in the adolescent vocabulary are slang terms for all kinds of sexual activity. It's a sad world.

I wonder how Skins will begin tonight. And I wonder who will be watching.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The 80s. . . A 10-Year Long Bad Hair Day. . . .

Something short and fun today. I had this little video clip sent to me a by a friend. Since I've just come off two weeks of studying youth culture with a group of Doctoral students, I'm thirsting for something light-hearted that points to the fact that culture changes and changes fast. This video from 1986 fits the bill. Look at all the hair on stage and in the audience. . . . Wow! In some ways, it's a good thing that youth culture marches on! I wonder what they'll be saying about 2011 in twenty-five years?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Problem, Opportunity, Responsibility. . . .

Sometimes you hear something so exciting that you just can't sit on it long without just blurting out the good stuff that you just heard. We're in the second week of our first residency with the first-ever cohort in our Doctor of Ministry to Emerging Generations track here at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary's South Hamilton campus. We've got a great and diverse group of 14 students who have been with me, Duffy Robbins, and Adonis Vidu learning together about Postmodernity, Development, and ministry. We've had lots of great discussions with each other, and with folks like Jim Belcher and Tony Jones via Skype. This has been awesome!

Today, Dr. Don Opitz is leading our students into a deeper understanding of the young adults we hear labeled as extended adolescents and emerging adults. Before Don began to enlighten us on what's happening with this group, he challenged our group to make the most of their educational opportunity and time together. He said, "The biggest and best takeaway is the disciplines. . . to become a certain kind of person who engages in certain practices." And then, Don encouraged us to read. He did so by reading these thought-provoking and challenging words contained in an essay by Karen Spears Zacharias that can be accessed at . . .

I couldn’t tell if he was making a confession or if he was bragging.

The man looked up from the computer screen from where he was surfing the net and announced very matter-of-factly, “I manage this bookstore but I don’t read.”

Why would you tell that to an author?

I try my best to be gracious to people. I didn’t cuss out loud.

“Have you never been a reader?” I asked.

“Nope. Never,” he said.
“How is it you came to manage a bookstore if you don’t read?”

“I’m a pastor,” he said as if that explained everything.

I’d like to tell you he’s the first bookstore manager I’ve met this year who doesn’t read. In fact, he’s the third one. All were men. All had backgrounds in retail. And all three of them are running bookstores that cater to the Christian marketplace. I think there’s a message embedded in there somewhere, but I haven’t decoded it yet.

This gnawing in my gut is more than indigestion — it’s the disturbing recognition that far too many pastors have abandoned the spiritual discipline of reading. And I’m not just talking about Bible reading, although I’ve heard my share of sermons this year that I suspect were pre-packaged and downloaded online.

I’m talking about reading a book besides the Bible.

I can count on one hand the number of pastors I’ve sat under in my lifetime that I know were avid readers. I remember them because their preaching had a depth and a substance that all others lacked. One of my favorites, Dr. Herb Anderson, would quote poetry from the pulpit. That was always a magical moment. It helped that Dr. Anderson lived in a university town. He had a lot of professors in his audience. They expected their pastor to be well-read. But out here in rural America where hardy people live and vote, pastors are more likely to quote a bumper sticker than they are to recite a poem they’ve memorized.

A friend made the comment the other day that he thought the reason people liked the assistant pastor at his church better than the senior pastor is because they had no idea what the assistant pastor was saying but they liked his style of delivery. It’s more flashy than the old guy’s.

That makes me laugh and wince at the same time. The way I did when the bookstore manager who claims he is really a pastor said to me that he doesn’t read.

One of the best writers of our times, Stephen King, says: “People are just too damn lazy to read.”

I don’t know if King is right about that. Maybe people are just too busy to read. Used to be that we had time for stories in our lives. Now if the story takes longer than 140 characters, we don’t have time for it. Pastors, it seems, are particularly prone to the tyranny of the urgent. (That was an obscure reference to a pithy little booklet from another era).

John Wesley was an old preacher guy who lived a long time ago, back when “online” meant a person’s clothes were drying in the sun. Wesley thought reading was an important spiritual discipline: “It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading. A reading people will always be a knowing people. ”

Can a pastor who doesn’t read really lead a people? Or is he more like a blind friend with a map? Pretty ineffective at giving clear direction.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Leave Them Alone. . . .

The media’s latest blitz, not surprisingly, is all about last Saturday’s shootings in Arizona. The fact that a young gunman killed or wounded a total of 20 people is certainly newsworthy. Add to that the fact that a federal judge and nine-year-old little girl were killed and the Congresswoman targeted in the shooting was critically injured, and the story becomes all the more compelling. We need to know about these things, as watching the news gives us insight into who we are, how we’ve gone terribly wrong, and our need to look for remedy’s to the sin that runs so deep and wide in our world. But sin should never justify further wrong actions or lapses in common-sense and good judgment. Specifically, I’m thinking about two threads that are developing fast in this sad and compelling saga.

First, there’s the media’s obsession with the family of Jared Loughner, the young man who planned this out and pulled the trigger. We’ve seen the scene before – media trucks, bright lights, and a growing bank of cameras that are all part of the makeshift camp that sits outside the Loughner’s home. What new news does the media expect to gather from a set of parents who are horrified, in shock, grieving, dizzied, and wondering what to do next? What are they expected to say beyond what’s already been said in the statement they released? And why would so many of us choose to stay glued to the television set voyeuristically watching, all the while hoping that something new will happen and we won’t miss it when it does? These people need to be left alone.

Second, there are those unbalanced and terribly misguided folks from the Westboro Baptist Church who have announced their intentions to show up to make a scene as those living and grieving bury their dead. We know for a fact that these folks have a history of bad theology and bad judgment. Is additional airtime helping the situation, when that’s why they choose to show up in the first place? Perhaps the media machine could for once make a unified decision to let these people exercise their first-amendment rights without having to tell anyone that they’re doing so. The media needs to leave the folks from Westboro Baptist alone, just like the folks from Westboro Baptist need to leave grieving families alone. . . that is, unless they want to truly minister to those who mourn.

Sadly, one thing we can’t deny is that we’ve grown to love watching this kind of stuff. Maybe we need to leave it all alone, cut off the supply by cutting off our demand, and get on with the more important aspects of living life in God’s world.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Best Reads of 2010. . . .

Derek says it's time for me to register my annual list of Top Ten Reads from the last year. It's a difficult task to say the least. I always set out to read nothing but what I think will be good, helpful, and challenging books. That means I'm fairly discriminating before I even pick a book up, which results in having read numerous good books and very few duds. . . which then leads me to the difficult job of narrowing things down. Not all the books I read in 2010 were published in 2010. Consequently, you might see a book I've just read, that you read several years ago.

My criteria for choosing the following 10 titles was easy: choose books that make an impact on me in some significant way. As in years past, my Top Ten Titles aren't listed in any particular order. I have, however, opted to do something new this time around. I've come up with some general categories and chosen my "winner" for each. Here goes. . .

My first category is Youth Ministry. Hey, this is what I've been doing for the last thirty-some years and I spend lots of great time with youth workers. The number of youth ministry books that come across my desk over the course of 12 months is too many to count . . . and too many to read. This last year one stood way above the rest. . . Wayne Rice's Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again). Wayne is one of the co-founders of Youth Specialities, an organization that more or less shaped youth ministry starting in the late 1960s. What's great about this book is that Wayne doesn't look back over his years in ministry in order to give himself a sustained pat on the back. Rather, this is a humble assessment of what he (we) have done right and done wrong along the way. And, from his vantage-point as a wise and seasoned youth ministry sage, Wayne offers suggestions on how to move forward with theological integrity and the wisdom that comes from lessons learned. Read it and you'll even learn some funny and not-so-funny things about the early history of Youth Specialties!

Category #2 is what I'm calling Pressing Issues. These are books that address topics of controversy in the church. This year, it's a thoughtful and theologically-sound book about being the church and doing church by Jim Belcher, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. This book's created quite a buzz since it came out in 2009, and rightly so. Belcher stands back to responsibly assess the approaches of those standing on either side of the ecclesiological rift, pointing out strengths and weaknesses in each, while offering a third way that is steeped in being faithful to the Scriptures. . . rather than "sexy." This is one that was worth reading a first time, and will be read again a second time. All of us should be wrestling with this book.

Next is a category simply labeled Theology. The book I'm choosing is one that sat on my "books to read" shelf for a long, long time. I should have read it sooner, but then again, I read it at just the right time. Randy Alcorn's Heaven is one I've heard people rave about for years. I'm usually suspicious of books written by Christians about Heaven. . . which I know sounds very, very strange. There's usually far too much sentimentality and speculation. But when I saw that Albert Wolters is a fan of this book, that really caught my eye. Alcorn looks at all the Biblical data on Heaven. Give it a read and you'll quickly see that many of our beliefs about the afterlife are absolutely ridiculous. The timing was right for me as I finished the book a few days before having a serious bicycle accident that landed me in the hospital. . . a place where you can't help but think about Heaven. This should be required reading for all Christians.

Category #4 is Good Christian Reading. These are the books that have a real good shot of landing on the list of best-sellers at the local Christian bookstore, but probably won't. . . because they aren't Amish fiction. They're books written for a more general audience that might be placed on the shelf labeled "Christian Living." One of my friends and favorite writers takes the prize this year. Dick Staub's About You: Fully Human Fully Alive offers a winsome and thoughtful peek into who we are as human beings and how to take our place in the world. I love Dick's culturally-savvy style of writing, and even for someone who's been a Christ-follower for a long time, this is a book that will challenge and encourage. It's also a great book to hand on to seekers, skeptics, and even the disinterested.

Moving right along. . .the next category is labeled A Writer I Will Always Read. These are the books that are worth reading and can't be missed simply because they are written by thoughtful thinkers you can trust. Sadly, the winner in this category this year is the final book that will ever come from the pen of the great theologian John Stott. His book, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of our Calling, is a farewell address to the church. Stott addresses what it means to be a follower of Jesus - something far-too-often misunderstood and forgotten in today's church - along with a look at eight specific areas where we tend to forget to live as Christians. The chapters on nonconformity and death are worth the price of this little treasure.

Category #6 - Parenting. My work with CPYU puts me in touch with thousands of parents a year. Every one of us (I'm a parent too) is looking for sound guidance and direction on how to parent Christianly in today's rapidly changing and confusing world. I got really excited when I read an article on "The Myth of the Perfect Parent" in Christianity Today magazine several months ago. It was awesome, encouraging, freeing, and Biblically-sound. I had never heard of the article's writer, Leslie Leyland Fields. I discovered that the article was adapted from her book Parenting Is Your Highest Calling and 8 Other Myths That Trap Us In Worry and Guilt. I'm not a big fan of Christian parenting books. They're usually too simple and full of unrealistic promises. Not this one - I'm a fan! Now, I tell parents everywhere I go that this is one of my favorite parenting books.

At #7 is a book in a category I'm labeling My Theme. I blogged several days ago about how I'm choosing a yearly theme for my reading. This year, I'm planning on reading lots of books about Jesus, the Scriptures, and the call to justice. I got a head start in December with Timothy Keller's Generous Justice. It's a succinct treatment of what the Scriptures say about who we are to be as God's redemptive agents of justice to the poor, the orphan, the widow, and anyone who has need. Keller is a master at taking readers deep into the Scriptures, then explaining the application of God's Word to our lives. This is one to read, re-read, and teach.

Category #8 is Biography. I love reading memoirs and biographies. I always try to have one going from this category. This last year I finally got into David Ritz's biography of singer Marvin Gaye, Divided Soul. Gaye's music has always grabbed me. I count "What's Goin On" as one of my favorite songs of all time. Marvin Gaye was a complicated and conflicted man who desperately sought to please God, but continually battled all kinds of personal demons related to his choices, his relationships, and his past. Critics have said that this book is one of the best music bios ever. I agree. Now, when I listen to Marvin Gaye, I'm able to process his music through the filter of knowing much much more about the man.

At #9 is a Novel. This year's winner was the second novel from writer Richard Doster, an acquaintance who also edits ByFaith magazine. I didn't choose Dick's book Crossing The Lines because he's a friend. In fact, I was more cautious about listing this book for that very reason. But this little historical novel about racial tensions in the 1950s south grabbed me from the get-go. Doster masterfully tells the story of race relations, faith, and the difficult issues related to both during those tumultuous times in a first-person account that is gripping. I loved it.

Finally - and I apologize (not really) - I have to include as my last category a topic known simply as Baseball. I love the game and I've been reading books about it since I was a kid. This year I read a few baseball books. But the hands-down winner is Jason Turbow and Michael Duca's The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime.
In my house, the newer baseball fans will often ask questions about what's happening on the field, what they're talking about, and why they did that. This book not only explains the crazy stuff that happens on and off the field, but the "rules" that guide that behavior. Stories from baseball's rich history bring the game and these sometimes ridiculous "rules" to life. At times, I was really laughing. At other times, I was shaking my head in disbelief. Good stuff.

So there you have it. My little list. What's on your list of good reading from 2010?