Thursday, March 31, 2011

Battling Pornography. . . .

"We have a generation of young people for whom the call to repentance must include a call to turn from porn." Those are some terribly true words from Tim Chester in the Introduction to his challenging and helpful book, "Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free." Chester is right. Based on the stats he passes on a few paragraphs earlier, Chester would include adults in that mix as well. . . Christian adults to be exact.

Pornography is accessible, anonymous, and affordable in today's world. As a result, our culture has become increasingly "pornified." "So too," writes Chester, "is the church." According to Chester, a recent survey found that 50 percent of Christian men and 20 percent of Christian women are "addicted to porn." If those stats are true, then one-in-three church members are struggling with pornography.

I first saw pornography when I was 11 or 12 years old. It was with a group of four of my male peers. There are numerous words that describe how I remember feeling when I saw it. . . things like curious, enticed, excited, guilty, dirty, and yes, even disgusted. I remember feeling like it was fascinating, but it didn't measure up. I now know that the latter impression was intuitive. . . that it somehow wasn't what it was supposed to be. God's plan for our sexuality is so much better and so, so right.

Equipping people to battle pornography in their lives - the young and old alike - must be near the top of our ministry agendas for the simple reason that pornography is at the top of a growing number of life agendas. You might not know it, but it's safe to assume. Chester's book offers the best, most practical, and theologically sound start that I've seen yet. I knew it would be good based on the many people who were asking me, "Have you seen Tim Chester's book on pornography?"

Chester offers up five key ingredients that must be present and in place for someone to win the battle with pornography.

1. An abhorrence of porn. You have to hate porn itself (not just the shame it brings), and long for change.

2. You must adore God. Why? Because we can be confident that He offers more than porn.

3. You must be assured of God's grace. You are loved by God and are right with Go through faith in the work of Jesus.

4. You must avoid temptation. Be committed to do all you in your power to avoid temptation, starting with the controls on your computer.

5. You must be accountable to others. You need a community of Christians who are holding you accountable and supporting you in your struggle.

Tim Chester never claims it's easy. This isn't a "take these five steps and everything will be just fine" treatment. No, life is messy. And Tim Chester is writing about a messy battle. It's a battle we must understand, engage in, and fight with long-suffering intensity.

Our culture is changing and changing fast. If you think it's pornified now, just wait.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Christian" Movies. . . Hmmmm. . . .

Sadly, one of the most memorable moments from a childhood of Sunday mornings spent in Sunday School had to do with a movie. I was part of a small and motley crew of 4th grade boys - I think there were maybe only six or seven of us - who met for class on the stage in the church basement. It was always a good day when we were released from behind the confines of the velvet curtain to combine with the other classes, especially if we were being treated to a movie.

On this particular morning we were with the adults, even though the cinematic offering wasn't one of the then-famous Moody Science Films (anyone remember those???). Sometimes, Sunday School movies provided only half the entertainment for little guys like me. The other half took place around the 35mm projector as an army of men would work by committee to figure out why - all of sudden - there was no sound. . . or even more entertaining, why they couldn't get the film to stop losing its loop, which always resulted in some stuttered skipping and the inevitable shutdown.

I don't remember much about the movie that morning except for this. . . it was a gripping drama. The plot centered on a woman who was in hospital bed dying. The climax came as a group of Christian friends stood around her bed praying. Then, without any warning at all, the soundtrack crescendoed and the near-death woman snapped out of her coma. She immediately sat up and began to sing operatic praises to God. . . you know. . . just like it happens in real life. If I remember correctly, a few people in the room let out a well-deserved moan. If they didn't, they should have.

Last Monday, a conversation I had got me thinking about all the "Christian" stuff of my childhood that was really nothing more than cheese. I'm teaching a Youth Culture class at the Evangelical Theological Seminary and I decided to treat the students to a Skype interview with my buddy Dick Staub, author of several books included some required reading titled "The Culturally-Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity- Lite." I asked Dick to tell a little bit of his story and he almost immediately - to my delight - launched into a graceful yet blunt analysis of how we as Christians have embraced and worshipped a non-biblical dualism that results in the false construct of a world divided into the realms of the sacred and the secular. He spoke about how we have worked to create a parallel Christian sub-culture, which in my estimation does a much better job of turning out cheese rather than turning out good and engaging art, film, and music.

The conversation was timely as just a few days before I had read Roger Moore's review of the newly released (and highly publicized among Christians) film, "The Grace Card." In all fairness, I have not yet seen the film. I'm not sure if I will. So, please understand that my comments here have nothing to do with my response to the film. Rather, they have everything to do with Roger Moore's review of the film, and how they relate to the genre of "Christian" art in general.

Here's a small sampling of what Moore writes. . . and it's stuff that makes me wonder why we try to tone down life, and then think it will be appealing and engaging. . .

"One depressingly common thread among faith-based films is the way conflict is watered down and life's rough edges are often scrubbed off. It's OK to put out a movie with a message. But rendering even potentially dramatic stories so inoffensive that they bear no relation to reality makes for middling drama. . . . 'The Grace Card' has drugs, cops and race as ingredients. But the eggshells the screenwriter and director walk on distance the story from the reality it aims to imitate. And that robs this tale of loss, grief and redemption of its punch. . . . The police work in an ostensibly rough town like Memphis has been utterly sanitized for our protection. The performances are competent, but fall far short of compelling. What could have been a moving if unsurprising story of a bitter, lost soul finding forgiveness and redemption fails to move in the least thanks to filmmakers too timid to play the cards they dealt themselves."

During our interview, Dick told the students about his recent trip to Sundance, where he viewed 26 films in six days! (That's a lot of Milk Duds!) He referred us to his blog entry on his experience, "Spirituality is Star at Sundance," preparing us for lots of not-so-nice stuff if any of chose to view the films he was recommending. The fact that a discerning film buff and cultural critic who happens to be a Christian had to issue a warning. . . well. . . that just goes to show that in our effort to fill our hearts and minds with cheese, we sometimes turn ourselves away from the truth and come off looking ridiculous rather than real.

The Scriptures are true. . . and sometimes very ugly. I'm especially glad that God has chosen to come into the ugliness of my own life and sweep my story (which is still very ugly) up into His. Maybe if our story-telling would do the same, then the reviews might be better.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Abercrombie And Our 7-Year-Olds. . . .

You know you're living in a brave (or ridiculously stupid) new world when one of your college buddies sends you a link to a story about a trendy and always-pushing-the-envelope clothing company and how they're now marketing a push-up bikini top filled with padding that's marketed to girls as young as 7-years-old. Ambercrombie & Fitch is probably thrilled with all the free marketing they're getting this morning from all the controversy over their "Push-Up Triangle" that's now been changed on their site to the "Striped Triangle" bikini top. I got the article on Saturday. It's been interesting to watch what's happened since as the story has gone viral.

I guess you can get away with creating and marketing things like this in a world where the objectification of females and the sexualization of just about anything and everything has been going viral for years. Proof of our changing standards lies in the pudding of debate that's stirring over the bikini top. The fact that we are even arguing amongst ourselves over whether or not this is appropriate/inappropriate - or more specifically moral/immoral - is most telling. Is there really anything to debate here?

Let me ask another question about this issue. I'm wondering this. . . did the folks who created the "Push-Up Triangle" ever even consider the fact that what they were doing could be over-the-top, controversial, inappropriate, or even immoral? Think about it. Maybe what we're seeing is not the result of some carefully crafted marketing scheme designed to spread the word by getting everybody all worked up . . . although I'm fully cognizant of the fact that it might be. Instead, could it be that what we're seeing is the work of a group of young designers/marketers at a company where everyone has been so nurtured and socialized throughout the course of their lives - lives spent swimming in the soup of youth culture - that what they've done is to them, normal and right? And are they as stumped by the response to what they've done as we are by what they've created?

Could it be that the "Push-Up Triangle" is the fruit of years of slow-simmering in a youth culture stew that's going to flavor things in this way?

Here's a little exercise for you to participate in as you consider this story. My wife pointed out that on this morning's Today Show, they ran the following story on the Abercrombie scandal. But just before running the Abercrombie story, they ran another story on a sex scandal involving the grown-man who's the heir to the Johnson Wax fortune and charges filed against him for sexually abusing his teenaged step-daughter. Give them both a look. . . and then think.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Follow this link to check out the story on the sex-abuse case.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rob Bell. . . Before. . .

Ever since I first heard his name, Rob Bell has been creating a stir. I think I was at a National Youth Workers Convention in Sacramento when Bell debuted his Nooma Film series at an old theater just down the street from the convention center where all the youth workers had gathered. I didn't go. I realized later that I should have. Everybody who was there was talking about what they had just seen. When I finally laid eyes on his Nooma stuff, I was very, very impressed.

A few years later, Bell was invited to speak on the main stage at the same Convention. In the first couple of cities, Bell got attendees all excited with his "new" approach to the Scriptures and preaching. I say "new" in quotes because, sadly, it was a new approach to many of the people at the convention. As I interviewed folks about what attracted them to Bell, they kept citing what was simply the good exegetical method that I had seen and heard used a the norm in the preaching of my childhood (primarily my Dad), that I had been seen modeled during my years at Geneva College and with the Coalition for Christian Outreach, and that I had been taught while a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Hopefully, I've remained faithful to using those tools in the years since. By the time we got to the third city on the Convention tour, I made sure I sat in to listen to Bell. Rather than being a positive commentary on Rob Bell, the excitement over a guy doing things the way they should be done was more a commentary on the lousy way that Bible study and preaching had been done and modeled for so long for the youth workers in that room. Rob Bell was modeling something that needed to be modeled.

Now, Bell is stirring the pot of controversy with his new book, "Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, And The Fate Of Every Person Who Ever Lived." I've been catching bits and pieces of the debate, but haven't really done any deep or time-consuming investigation of Bell's new book. I've been silent for the simple reason that I haven't read the book. I wouldn't want people responding to something I've written without them carefully reading what they're responding to. I've heard the accusations of universalism, and hope that Bell isn't going down that road. People I highly respect and have come to love are coming down on both sides of the spectrum of response to the book.

So. . . yesterday my copy of Love Wins arrived. I'm hoping to start reading it soon. When I do, I hope to blog on "Rob Bell. . . During" - that is, if I have anything that might be remotely worthwhile to add to the discussion. In the same way, I hope to include some thoughts at some point on "Rob Bell. . . After." But for now, here are a couple of thoughts on "Rob Bell. . . Before. . . " . . . before reading the book, that is.

First, I'm looking forward to reading this book. A couple of friends have said that Bell includes some refreshing calls to regain a Biblical understanding of the redemptive drama, of the scope of the new Heaven and the new Earth, of a clear understanding or our call to integrate our faith into all of life, and to rethink what has become a very narrow theology and understanding of conversion.

Second, I'm concerned. If Rob Bell is inviting the sheep into believing a universalistic soteriology that some are saying he says is true, then I've been misreading the Scriptures, mislead by my teachers, and misleading folks for my entire life. Rebooting doesn't excite me. Rebooting because Rob Bell says I should scares me.

And third, if Bell is promoting heresy, then I'm fearful. I'm fearful for all the folks who have found in Rob Bell a leader they can follow. Let's be honest. . . Rob Bell is a very creative, very compelling, and very sexy young leader. Whether what he says is true or false, he's got a loyal following. Which makes it all the more necessary for all of us to read carefully and evaluate what Bell is saying under the light of God's Word. It also makes it all the more necessary for Bell to be very, very careful about what he says. People - lots of impressionable people - are listening.

Has anyone else read this book yet?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I've Got A New Book Out. . . .

So. . . we've got a brand new resource here at CPYU that I'm very excited about. It's a book that's short, practical, pointed, Biblical, encouraging, hopeful, and realistic. I also want you to know that I worked hard to include some theological depth that's easy to read but all-too-often avoided or even forgotten. The book is called 99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers: The Truth on Raising Teenagers From Parents Who Have Been There. A big "thanks" to my friends at Simply Youth Ministry and GROUP for making this happen!

To help you understand 99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers, here's what I wrote in the introduction:

Once upon a time, I was the perfect parent. . . and then I got married and had kids. As time went on and our kids grew, I learned more and more about the realities of being a parent. I also realized how much I didn’t know. I know I’m not alone. It’s out of these realizations, our 27 years of experience as parents of four kids (15 of those years spent parenting teens), and my years of work with parents and teens through the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding ( that this little book has been birthed.

But before you start reading, there are some more things you need to know about me and this book.

First, even though my name is on the cover, I’m not the only one who has “written” the words you’ll find on the pages that follow. More than anything else, this is the result of a parenting collaboration with my wife Lisa. Everything you read was learned, discussed, and thought about together over the course of our years as parents. Some of it we learned by studying the Bible - God’s Word. Some we learned in the classroom of experience. Some we learned just by living with kids. Other things were learned through our interactions with other parents and in the company of friends. In many ways, I’m just the guy who put the words on paper.

Second, we are painfully aware of the fact that we don’t have it all figured out. If you picked this book up hoping to find fool-proof advice from parenting experts who have it all together, you’re going to be very, very disappointed. Lisa and I are the first to say that we’re “fellow strugglers” on this incredibly rewarding and sometimes frustrating journey of raising and relating to teenagers. The roof on our house covers a life-lab where many mistakes have been made by dad and mom. Thankfully, God is a God of great mercy and grace, who uses our faults and shortcomings to do His work . . . in spite of who we are.

Third, we want to be transparent and honest. You need to know that we’ve had ups and downs in our parenting journey. Much of what you read has come out of our struggles to go deeper in our knowledge of God, our knowledge of ourselves, and our knowledge of who we are to be as parents. By the way, we’re still in process on all those things!

Fourth, what you read is intended to be hope-filled. My desire is that no matter where you are in the parenting journey, you will find great hope and encouragement in the words you read. In many ways, I’ve simply passed on words that we’ve found helpful as parents of teens.

Finally, the little book you hold in your hands isn’t anywhere near exhaustive. Think of it as a “starter collection” of thoughts that will help and encourage you along the way. I realize that I’ve probably left a lot out. There’s so much more to parenting teens. My hope is that what you read here will whet your appetite in ways that will motivate you to go deeper by learning more.

And. . . a suggestion on how to read. . . perhaps the best way to read this book is twice. Take some time to sit down and read it from cover to cover to get the big picture. Then, go through it a second time, focusing on reading, pondering, and discussing one thought a day . . . prayerfully considering how God might be prompting you to work out and apply that thought in your home.

My prayer for you is that God would bless you as He parents you while you parent your teens. And, may He use this little collection of thoughts to bear great fruit in the life of your family!

Each thought is a sentence, followed by an explanatory paragraph or two. The initial response from those who have read it has been very positive. Several have ordered additional copies to pass on to their friends. I want to encourage my youth worker friends to get this thing in the hands of all your parents. I wrote it hoping that would happen. We've priced it to make that possible as well. . . it's only $6 a copy! For those of you who are cheap like me, you can buy 10 and get them for $5 a copy! You can order copies of 99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pimping Our Daughters? . . .

I had a friend email me a link to a great little article and video from Saturday's Wall Street Journal. Essayist Jennifer Moses has written the piece, entitled "Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?" It's a very legitimate and timely question that has to be asked in this day and age of hurried children where just about everything (as we posit in our CPYU seminars) is sexualized. . . including stuff targeting the youngest of the young and even the youngest of the young themselves. Moses goes so far as to ask moms in the video interview (see below) if they might even be pimping out their daughters. This isn't just something for the ladies to pay attention to. Dad, you should be checking this out as well as you consider the role you play in raising your sons and daughters with healthy attitudes towards sexuality.

A couple of weeks ago I was showing Miley Cyrus's video for her song "Who Owns My Heart." While I was watching, it dawned on me that all the talk we hear about sexual trafficking and young girls should carry over into the images we pump into the lives of, again, the youngest of the young. If Miley Cyrus was only 17 when she made that video, could that be considered trafficking?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Please Stop. . . . Some Thoughts On Youth Ministry Celebrity. . . .

I'm not sure that there's any way I can express my thoughts in writing that won't sound arrogant or condescending. I want in every possible way to express my thoughts in a way that captures the deep concern I have about something I see happening in the little world where I live known as the world of youth ministry. It's a concern motivated by a desire to see the best happen in the Kingdom and for the people who inhabit it. My recent trip to another Simply Youth Ministry Conference hammered home a concern that flares up every time I participate in some sort of national youth ministry gathering.

For years, my concern has been fueled by a small group of people - usually very young and in youth ministry - who would always approach me one-by-one to ask me this little question: "How can I do what you do?" "You mean, study youth culture?" I would respond. "No," the inquisitor would say. . . "I want to know how I can become a speaker." What once started as a small group is growing larger.

I've been asked that question in one way or another over the years to gain a pretty clear sense of what's really being asked. The same question has been asked of enough of my peers in this unique calling as "trainer" that we can compare notes that are, for the most part, identical. Like I said, those doing the asking are typically very young. They have the advantage of years and years of opportunity to serve the King on the horizon. On the other hand, the years of experience, training and learning that lay behind are few. Sadly, I think the aspiration is motivated more and more by the self-centered beast that lives within (all of us, by the way) - a beast that finds a welcome home in a culture that sees feeding the beast as virtuous, and that gives us all the tools we need to create and build the brand known as "me, myself, and I" even if that brand is only a facade covering a lack of depth, knowledge, and experience. I'm talking here about things like the Web, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and lots, lots more.

So, after years of being asked and deconstructing both the question and the ones doing the asking, can I offer a few thoughts in response?

1. Why?. . . why do you aspire to do what I am doing? Rarely is someone asking about studying youth culture. When that's the case, I light up! Usually, the person is on a quest to make a name for themselves and develop a following. If that's the case, then it's time to squelch your aspiration.

2. I didn't choose my vocation or my position. . . nor did I ever ask for it. I was called to be someone doing youth ministry in the local church. About 12 years in, God used a series of circumstances to call me into doing what I've been doing with CPYU for the last 21 years. Initially, I fought the calling. Eventually, I had to yield. It's the same for everyone I know over the age of forty who gets their face pictured next to seminar titles in conference brochures. None of us - as far as I know - asked for it or sought it. God prepared us for it over the course of several years, and then He pushed us into it. . . in spite of the fact that some of us went so far as to push back.

3. Don't pursue a platform or a following. Pursue faithfulness and obedience to the God who has called you to do what you're doing, and continue to do what He's called you to do right where He has you doing it.

4. Don't open your mouth in front of a group unless you've got something to say. . . and be sure you've taken the time to know as much as you can about what it is you're talking about. That's a rule I have for myself. I slip up enough, I know. But it's a rule worth working really, really hard to follow.

5. You're not a brand. You're a person. The profile and "press kit" you build for yourself can be whatever you want it to be. That's a dangerous thing. The reputation of your character, your commmitments, and your work will take care of itself. . . if you take care of your character, your commitments, and your work. And by all means, don't use your spouse and/or your children to build your brand. I have some very famous former neighbors who did that, and they are now living out a very public train wreck.

6. If God gives you a platform, watch out. It's not easy. The travel stinks. Being away from your family is very, very hard. You have to set limits. The temptations run deep and wide. I could go on and on. Simply stated, it's not what you think it is.

At the most recent Simply Youth Ministry Conference, a youth worker spotted me at the front desk of the hotel. He came over and started a conversation by saying he was excited to talk to a "celebrity." I cringed and immediately became very uncomfortable. I know he didn't mean anything by it, but it was a very difficult moment for me. I never want to be seen or perceived that way. I never want to aspire to that status. And, when I have the opportunity, I'd tell everyone I know to avoid the pursuit of celebrity like the plague. . . for the simple reason that that's what the pursuit of celebrity in youth ministry seems to be becoming.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Something New From CPYU! . . . .

It's now been 20-plus-years since I took the challenge from a small group of parents of some of my suburban-Philly youth group kids to "help us understand the world of our kids." To be honest, my knees knocked at their request as I was much more comfortable spending time with their kids than I ever was communicating with them. But I am forever grateful to those parents for pushing back at my timidity and lack of confidence until I yielded and said "yes." What started as a feeble attempt to share the world of late-80s youth culture with a group of concerned parents who were feeling left behind eventually grew into a full-on call from God and what has until now, been twenty-plus years of doing the same with the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. God does, indeed, work in mysterious ways!

Today, I'm happy to announce the launch of another seminar in our growing arsenal of information and analysis on contemporary youth culture. This one is solely for parents. Youth workers, grandparents, and others are more than welcome to sit in and to learn, but "No Parent Left Behind" serves as a three-hour introduction for parents on the fast-changing world of their children and teens. Divided into three segments, "No Parent Left Behind" covers these topics:

Session 1 - KNOW YOUR TEEN - You'll learn how kids grow, develop, and change, along with how the teenage years leave them especially vulnerable to cultural influences.

Session 2 - KNOW THEIR WORLD - You'll learn about some of the major cultural forces in today's world that are influencing children and teens.

Session 3 - KNOW YOUR ROLE - You'll get hope-filled and practical guidance on how to increase your parental influence and lead your kids to a spiritually, physically, and emotionally healthy adulthood.

I've worked long and hard on putting this one together. We've test-run it at a couple of churches over the past several months and the response has been outstanding. Now, we're launching it and excited to see what God will do with our efforts.

If you'd like more information on "No Parent Left Behind," or if you'd like to book a seminar (the sooner the better as fall dates are filling up fast), click here. I would love to help you equip your parents to do and be their best as parents leading and raising kids through today's youth culture!

You can also download a copy of the "No Parent Left Behind" flyer here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Selfless Narcissism. . . .

For the last couple of years I've been doing a little seminar on narcissism in today's youth culture. We look at the trends and how they're playing out. San Diego State University Professor and Researcher Jean Twenge has done extensive research on the emerging generations and narcissism. She's concluded that despite what they may say, they are the most narcissistic generation alive.

In many circles, I hear people talking about teens and youth culture saying Twenge is in error with her conclusion. After all, doesn't the emerging generation of kids want to make a difference in the world? Well, yes. . . but that's only part of the story. The human heart is still dark and bent on idolizing the self. Doesn't matter what age we are or what generation we're from. But the way narcissism is being worked out in many young lives is in a movement towards helping others, and I've talked about that in the seminar. It works this way - "Because the way to get ahead in life is to build my resume so that I can position myself to get the best for me, my resume has to include a number of activities, including involvement in social causes." When my motivation to make a difference in the world is purely about making a difference for me, then it's narcissism. It's a selfless narcissism - so to speak - if that's at all possible. . . and I don't think it is.

What made me think about this early this morning? I spotted this Zits cartoon, and it captures it well.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Deconstructing A Teen Tragedy. . . .

It's been almost two months since four promising young teens here in the Lancaster area died together in a horrific car accident. The four were all students and football players at Manheim Central High School in the community adjacent to ours here in Elizabethtown. They were killed after sharing a Sunday morning breakfast with their teammates at a local restaurant.

The initial reports indicated that they were speeding and trying to catch air on a rural road known for a couple of bumps that can actually launch a car. I know the road and the bump well as it's part of my regular bike route during my summer rides. Rumors were also circulating that the guys were being followed by a group of friends who were trying to film the stunt so that they could put it up on YouTube.

I've held off on mentioning the accident here because of the immense pain and heartache that the families of these boys must be enduring. I can't even begin to imagine. But this morning our local news outlets are reporting that after examining cell phone records and texts from the boys' phones, it is clear that they were traveling 80 to 90 miles an hour in an effort to catch air. That got me thinking about what it means to be an adolescent male.

To be honest, most of us grown men who would be tempted to stand in judgment of those boys would have to admit to taking many risks ourselves when we were their age. A look at my own personal history leaves me shaking my head at the stupid things I did, many of which could have done major damage to myself and to others. There were things my dad did that he told me he would never tell me about. I've beem mum on some things with my kids as well. You see, teenage boys feel invulnerable, they are incredibly impulsive, they love the feel of the thrill, they take risks, and they are incredibly lacking in wisdom and judgment. That's a mix that's extremely dangerous. Add to that the availability of technology that allows them to capture their actions and share them with a world that can feed their desire for attention and celebrity. . . and well. . . it's even more potent.

All that to say, we need to be talking about these things with our kids. I'm sure the parents of these boys had numerous chats with their sons like we have had with ours. In the end, our kids will make their own decisions. But that's no reason to not speak truth, warning, and directives into their lives.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lady Gaga - Now You See Her. . . .

It's out. Lady Gaga released her video for "Born This Way" yesterday. I've watched it twice. . . only twice so far. I'll be watching it and thinking about it more over the coming days. Not surprisingly, Lady Gaga continues to make my head spin as my understanding of who she is, what she stands for, and what she hopes to accomplish continues to evolve.

Initially, the video surprised me. I really thought this would be one that took advantage of the opportunity to use every single frame to tell a more direct story that relates to the song's lyrical content and message. As she sings the now-familiar tune in the song's video treatment, it's all about dance. Sure, the dance, the costuming, and the lighting combine with other elements to tell a story. But at its core, it's a dance video. . . that is, when the music starts.

Before that in a lengthy spoken intro, Lady Gaga gives us context that reveals more of who she is, her personal agenda and hopes, and what the song is all about. She tells us it's "the manifesto" of "Mother Monster" - a label that refers to her growing band of "Little Monster" minions along with an admission of her place as the leader of this almost religious-like following. The video starts and ends with the pink triangle, a symbol used in Nazi concentration camps to identify male homosexual prisoners. That symbol has since been adopted by Gays and Lesbians as a reminder of how they've been oppressed and their hope to be liberated from all oppression. In the beginning of the video, the triangle points down. By the end, it's flipped.

Lady Gaga has said that the video is the story of the birth of a new race. . . a new race that is all about no prejudice, no judgement, and boundless freedom. The video serves as a kind of creation narrative ala Gaga. . . a creation narrative that sets the stage for a world of unity and togetherness. . . where Gaga serves as creator, sustainer, redeemer, and lord.

Our pressing task is to understand and deconstruct Lady Gaga, her music, and the movement she's inspiring. We must walk carefully through this landscape, taking the time to look carefully at who they are, what they believe, and what they worship. Where they are right, we must affirm that. And where they are lacking understanding and direction, we need to gracefully step into the gap with a compelling, well-informed, and Biblically-based apologetic to answer the heart cries that scream for redemption.

After watching this video, I'm thinking that many of us will identify the main issue as the homosexual agenda and same-sex attraction. Yes, these are issues that must be addressed. But it's much, much deeper than that. This is simply one more expression of brokenness. . . a reality that we all share as human beings. Today, my great concern regarding Lady Gaga's message is our increasing tendency to write off any and all challenges to what we've accepted as the status quo of our lives by saying "Hey, I was born this way." Ultimately, it's about our understanding of the human heart. If I was born this way and that justifies anything and everything I do, then we have no need for a proper understanding of original sin. In a world like this where there is no original sin, then all things are permissible and we have no need for a Savior. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was a waste.

I think Lady Gaga is right. We need more unity and togetherness. We need more compassion. But the unity, togetherness, and compassion we need is not the kind that says all things are permissible. It's a unity, togetherness, and compassion that is built around our shared understanding of our ultimate brokenness in a world where there is right and wrong. . . and a unity, togetherness, and compassion that flows out of our gratitude to the One who came to fix it, make it right, and then send us out to do the same.