Friday, April 29, 2011

Monarchal Matri-Mania. . . What's Up With The Wedding?

"Enough already, OK???" I'll admit it. I've been thinking that about all the attention the events of today's wedding have been getting since the day we knew there was even going to be a wedding. Not surprising, since the British monarchy and the fascination people have with it have always left me scratching my head. My apologies to those of you who live under the Crown. I'm just a stupid American. I really don't get it. Unlike billions of people around the world, I was snoring away this morning when all the pomp and circumstance commenced.

But I did wake up in time to catch the last 15 minutes of the ceremony in the church and I have to admit that the music, the ritual, and the seriousness that I saw did send a little chill up my spine. In a world where more and more of our church architecture looks like the local Regal Cinema and more and more of our worship music sounds like it could have been written for Justin Bieber, it's nice to get a sense of "otherness" once in a while. . . or maybe even a little more often than that.

It was during those 15 minutes that the light bulb went on in my head. I've been wondering why so much of our time and attention (and even money) has been spent on this thing. It was refreshing last night to tune in to the NBC evening newscast to hear Brian Williams say that the network changed their plans to broadcast from London in order to bring us news about the devastation here at home in the south. I was also pleased to open my morning paper to see a huge photo of tornado damage in Alabama, rather a picture of the royal couple, although I wish that damage had never occurred. Those horrifying images serve to remind us that we live in a horribly broken world where things are not the way they're supposed to be. They are not the way they once were. And whether we know it or not, we all yearn ("groan" is the word Paul uses in Romans 8) for things to be put back together again. . . which someday they will. That's why so many of the clips from last night's news featured people in tears. . . hands clasped to their faces in shock and awe. And that might just be one of the reasons why billions of people have been engaging in this grown-up game of playing Barbie and Ken with the new royal couple and their marriage. It's like a fairy-tale where things turn out right and people live happily ever after. Of course, the events that followed in the years after the last big royal wedding debunk that myth, reminding us that even princes and princesses are broken people who also live in a totally broken world. I'm sure it will in some way be that way for this new couple as the years unfold. That's life in a fallen world.

All that to say. . . maybe all the starry-eyed time and attention we've invested in today's wedding and will continue to invest in this young couple is something that is explainable and understandable. Could our fascination be evidence of our deep yearning? Could it be that it's all evidence of the fact that we all long for that day when all The King's horses and all The King's men and women will be a part of seeing The King finally put everything back together again?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pregnant. . . What Now? . . .

I spent a great day with some great new friends at Southern Seminary in Louisville. I was there to talk about youth culture. As always, I told the youth workers that whatever it is we find in the soup of today's youth culture, we need to prayerfully develop a three-fold response - prophetic, preventive, and redemptive - that reflects biblical priorities. Because we are broken, we all sin. And because we all sin (our kids included), we will need to be redemptive in our responses.

Someone asked this question: "Can you give an example of a redemptive response?" Today, it wasn't difficult. I pointed immediately to a blog I discovered last week. It's a blog written by Vicki Courtney, a woman who describes what she blogs as "the rants and raves of an author-mom smack dab in the trenches of teen culture." I learned that Vicki speaks to teenagers, particularly teen girls, with an emphasis on matters of navigating today's promiscuous culture. I'm sure Vicki has spent lots of time with her own kids passing on prophetic and preventive messages about this promiscuous culture. Last week, she approached her audience with great vulnerability as she publicly began modeling a redemptive response to the announcement that her son and his fiance were pregnant. I won't try to represent what Vicki Courtney has written. . . you need to read it for yourself.

All I'll say is this: we need to embrace these difficult times as wonderful opportunities to grow deep in the Lord. I love what the Psalmist says in Psalm 119:71 -"It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees." I'm glad that Vicki Courtney has gone public, and I'm sure she's embracing these words. The rest of us need to listen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Every Picture Tells A Story. . . So Talk About Them! . . . .

I love to get kids talking about all the stuff that saturates their world. . . stuff designed to sell them on a way of looking at, understanding, and living life. Thinking Christianly about these things is all a part of being a faithful and obedient follower of Jesus.

For a few years now, we've been cranking out stuff that gets them talking about music, TV, film, and advertising. One of the tools we've been creating are discussion guides on what we call "culture images." Kids see these pictures every day. . . thousands of times a day, in fact. Why not think about them and talk about them? Those of you who are signed up to get our regular weekly e-upate have been getting these downloadable discussion guides.

Today, I thought I'd pass on a guide that I recently wrote for, of all things, a Playtex Tampon ad. Why. . . because this is a picture and ad that tells a story. And because it's appeared in all kinds of teen magazines, it's worth talking about. Go ahead and give it a read, and it you want to download it in a pdf format, just click here.

They see thousands of them a day. . . advertisements that is. And the marketing blitz hitting our kids from every direction is about a lot more than just selling product. Ads tell stories, appeal to emotions, and sell ways of looking at and living life. Marketing sells us goods, services, and worldviews. That’s why even when our kids see ads for products they will never even consider buying, they could still be buying the ad’s worldview.

That’s certainly the case in the highly competitive world of Tampon advertising. After all, these are products every girl and woman uses. With lots of competing brands and styles on the market, the jockeying for brand loyalty while girls are still young is intense. Tampon marketers work hard to create ads that catch attention, that connect with the real-life experiences of teenage girls, and that push all the right emotional buttons.

Playtex recently launched a new online, print, and broadcast campaign for their line known as Playtex Sport Tampons. The online version of the campaign features a Facebook page where users can interact and create their own photo mosaic, much like the one featured in one of the campaign’s print ads that has appeared in several teen girl magazines.

The ad features a photo mosaic made up of several photos of girls involved in strenuous physical activities, including surfing, diving, and yoga. Readers are told that “It’s your world. Own it with confidence. Be Unstoppable.” Then, they are invited to “join the movement.”

Because the ad is for Tampons, this is one that’s better discussed with adolescent girls, although a mixed audience that includes mature teenage boys could be productive. Show students the ad and ask them to offer opinions on what the ad is selling – not the product it’s selling, but the worldview. Ask them what values, attitudes, and behaviors are reflected in the ad campaign’s slogans. Ask them if they agree or disagree with the ad’s message.

Then use the ad to discuss the following topics:

Sovereignty: Who is in control of the world? Who should be in control of the world? Where have you seen examples of people living by their own rules in an attempt to take control of their lives and world? Have you ever seen or heard examples of this message in popular culture (movies, TV, music, etc.)? Does the ad promote a way of viewing and living life that is in conformity to God’s will, or not in conformity to God’s will?

Community: Is it possible for someone to pursue individuality and take control of their world in a way that promotes and facilitates Christian community? What problems can occur when someone chooses to take control of their world and live by their own rules? How does living life as a servant of Jesus Christ in selfless service to others mesh with believing that “it’s your world” and the fact that you should “own it with confidence?”

Aspirations: As you think about your future, what role do you think you play in determining who you will be and what you will do for the rest of your life? Where should people go to discover who they are to be and what they are to do for the rest of their life? What it does it mean to “seek God’s will” for your life? Are there any dangers to living life by your own will and by your own rules?

Scripture verses to consider:
Psalm 115:3
Matthew 28:18
Philippians 2:4
Psalm 1:1-3
Luke 12:31

Monday, April 25, 2011

Only 26 Days Until Jesus Returns! . . . .

"Hey, that's my 29th wedding anniversary! Should I make dinner reservations or not?" "Are you kidding me?!?!" "Could they be right???" "Oooh. . . I could write a funny blog on this!" I'll admit it. . . those are just a few of the thoughts that fired through my head when I spotted the billboard last Saturday.

I was in Johnstown, Pennsylvania to visit family for Easter and I was driving down the steep hill on Southmont Blvd. While sitting at the stoplight across from Murphy's (the best place in town for wings, by the way), I looked up and saw the billboard. I had to read it a few times as I had no prior knowledge of or context for the ad's message. It seems that Jesus is scheduled to return on May 21. Still, I realized I had been down this doomsday road before.

Ironically, my most significant prior journey through a declaration of Christ's return happened thirty years ago in this same town. I was doing campus ministry with a couple of other guys. One of the guys - who had not been properly theologically vetted by our campus ministry group - was the newest member of our trio. With deep passion and commitment, he quickly informed the other two of us shortly after his arrival that the Lord had told him that we should shift the focus of our ministry from one of evangelism and discipleship, to preparing students for the imminent return of Christ, including some survivalist techniques. Remember, these were the days when the old film A Thief in the Night was being used to literally scare the hell out of youth group kids. These were also the days when Hal Lindsey's book The Late Great Planet Earth was a best-seller. When I was a college freshman, the combination of starting (not finishing!) to read that book and then watching the film at a local Baptist church. . . well, let's just say it led to a series of sleepless nights for me and my roomates. Now, as a young twenty-something doing ministry, I was faced with going against the prophetic word of the Lord as recieved and delivered by a co-worker. In fact, our fellow campus minister had just found out that his wife was pregnant with their first child. He also happened to be reading through the book of Isaiah at the same time. Somehow, his eyes landed on Isaiah 8:4, a verse he believed the Lord was using to inform him (and nobody else, mind you), that He (Jesus) would return after the couple's baby boy was born, and before that baby boy would speak. Even though the context was horribly skewed, my pushback still felt like I was arguing with God.

When my co-worker refused to yield to arguments regarding his misuse of Scripture, we then turned to arguments about whether or not we can, in fact, know the time. Our appeals to the words of Jesus in Matthew 24 and 25 also fell on deaf ears. It seems that the day and hour were unknown to everyone but this guy. Finally, I started praying that the matter would be ended with him failing the test of the prophet. Just like Deuteronomy 18 says, a self-proclaimed prophet is a false prophet if anything he says does not come to pass. I figured we had two shots here. One, his wife would give birth to a girl. . . which would put the matter to rest in a couple of months. Or two, their boy - if they had a boy - would start speaking before Jesus comes back. Winds up that "it's a girl!" was the best news we got! I congratulated the new father, and then quickly told him that he was a false prophet.

So, I (as a Christian)look at that billboard with great skepticism and shame. My understanding of what is so very clear in the Scriptures tells me that "yes," Jesus will come back someday to make all things new. I long for that day. But until then, it's not my job to focus on doing the math for the simple reason that I've been charged with other responsibilities (like being a faithful and obedient follower of Jesus). . . and the math can't be done. Which is why I feel shame for the ways we throw this stuff out there for the world to see.

Still, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Harold Camping could have guessed right. We'll see.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Holy Week. . . Four. . .

See What A Morning
Getty and Townend

See, what a morning, gloriously bright,
With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem;
Folded the grave-clothes, tomb filled with light,
As the angels announce, "Christ is risen!"
See God's salvation plan,
Wrought in love, borne in pain, paid in sacrifice,
Fulfilled in Christ, the Man,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

See Mary weeping, "Where is He laid?"
As in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb;
Hears a voice speaking, calling her name;
It's the Master, the Lord raised to life again!
The voice that spans the years,
Speaking life, stirring hope, bringing peace to us,
Will sound till He appears,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty.
Honor and blessing, glory and praise
To the King crowned with pow'r and authority!
And we are raised with Him,
Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with Him,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Week. . . Three. . .

If I had to be stranded on an island and could only have one hymn. . . this might be it. . .

The Power of the Cross
Townend & Getty

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev'ry bitter thought,
Ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
"Finished!" the vict'ry cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy Week. . . Two. . .

How Deep The Father's Love For Us
Stuart Townend

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week. . . One . . .

For the next four days I will be sharing some music that is especially meaningful, helpful, and deep for me in light of the life-changing events that we commemorate this weekend. Take a few minutes each day to stop, enter into some silence, listen, and ponder. Here's one to think about as you share communion at tonight's Holy Thursday service.

"Behold The Lamb (Communion Hymn)"
Townend & Getty

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,
Slain for us - and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of peace
Around the table of the King.

The body of our Saviour Jesus Christ,
Torn for you - eat and remember
The wounds that heal, the death that brings us life
Paid the price to make us one.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of love
Around the table of the King.

The blood that cleanses every stain of sin,
Shed for you - drink and remember
He drained death's cup that all may enter in
To receive the life of God.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of grace
Around the table of the King.

And so with thankfulness and faith we rise
To respond, - and to remember
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth.
As we share in His suffering
We proclaim Christ will come again!
And we’ll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King
Words and Music by Keith and Kristyn Getty & Stuart Townend

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,
Slain for us - and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of peace
Around the table of the King.

The body of our Saviour Jesus Christ,
Torn for you - eat and remember
The wounds that heal, the death that brings us life
Paid the price to make us one.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of love
Around the table of the King.

The blood that cleanses every stain of sin,
Shed for you - drink and remember
He drained death's cup that all may enter in
To receive the life of God.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of grace
Around the table of the King.

And so with thankfulness and faith we rise
To respond, - and to remember
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth.
As we share in His suffering
We proclaim Christ will come again!
And we’ll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Little Tramps. . . Whose Fault? . . .

Every now and then my adventures in channel-surfing take me past what I think is one of the creepiest shows on TV - Toddlers and Tiaras. You know. . . it's the show where obnoxious parents of pre-schoolers - who live vicariously through their kids - have nothing better to do than gather with other like-minded obnoxious parents in an attempt to re-live their own lives by paying thousands of dollars to be a part of a pageant circuit that exploits children by having them parade around looking like middle-aged street-walkers. Wow! That was a long sentence. . . but it doesn't even begin to capture how dangerous these things really are, nor does it adequately express what I really think.

I thought of the show this morning when I read L.Z. Granderson's piece at, "Parents, don't dress your girls like tramps." Granderson starts with these words:

I saw someone at the airport the other day who really caught my eye.

Her beautiful, long blond hair was braided back a la Bo Derek in the movie "10" (or for the younger set, Christina Aguilera during her "Xtina" phase). Her lips were pink and shiny from the gloss, and her earrings dangled playfully from her lobes.

You can tell she had been vacationing somewhere warm, because you could see her deep tan around her midriff thanks to the halter top and the tight sweatpants that rested just a little low on her waist. The icing on the cake? The word "Juicy" was written on her backside.

Yeah, that 8-year-old girl was something to see alright. ... I hope her parents are proud. Their daughter was the sexiest girl in the terminal, and she's not even in middle school yet.

I'm guess that like me, you're not at all surpised. We've all seen it. . . over and over and over again. Which means that it's become normalized in our culture. So much so, that we're getting to the point where we probably won't even notice it anymore. That's what desensitization and normalization are.

What's the antidote? Granderson ends his piece with this:

"Maybe I should mind my own business.

Or maybe I'm just a concerned parent worried about little girls like the one I saw at the airport.

In 2007, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls issued a report linking early sexualization with three of the most common mental-health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. There's nothing inherently wrong with parents wanting to appease their daughters by buying them the latest fashions. But is getting cool points today worth the harm dressing little girls like prostitutes could cause tomorrow?

A line needs to be drawn, but not by Abercrombie. Not by Britney Spears. And not by these little girls who don't know better and desperately need their parents to be parents and not 40-year-old BFFs."

I agree. Parents are the people who are primarily responsible for their kids. But don't our culture-makers have a responsibility too? It's difficult to raise a child. It's even more difficult to raise a child when "the village" screams competing messages that send our kids in the opposite direction than we're sending them. Shouldn't the culture-makers take some responsibility and do the right thing, rather than the dollar-generating thing? I think so. But when the culture-makers capture the hearts and minds of kids and their parents. . . well, that's when we get to the point that we're at now.

Wake up everybody! In the words of Bill Cosby, "Come on people!" Get a clue. Do the right thing.

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rob Bell. . . . After. . . .

Okay. . . so I finally read Rob Bell's controversial new book, Love Wins, over two weeks ago. Rather than blogging my thoughts immediately after turning the last page, I had to let it all simmer. It had to simmer because I think that responses to these kinds of things must be thoughtful, and thoughtfulness is usually trumped by haste. At least, that's the way it is for me. I guess another way of saying that is that I didn't want to put my foot in my mouth. I also needed time to sort out my thoughts on what I had just read for the simple reason that the book left me very, very confused. . . which I think may be the biggest issue with the book (more on that later). So here goes. . . Rob Bell. . . after reading Love Wins.

First, I want to repeat the mantra many have already been reciting regarding this book - Don't form or trumpet an opinion until you've read it. That's the problem with the blogosphere at times. Lot's of words with very little or absolutely nothing to back them up. That's dangerous.

Second, yes, I need to say something. I've had a few close friends ask me if I want to get in on this debate. Many are staying away because there's already too much division and infighting in the church. I agree. But in this case, there's far too much at stake. There's too much at stake at the very foundation of our theology. There's too much at stake in terms of the church, particularly among those who are most easily influenced or most deeply discouraged - people who are most likely to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That's why I think the debate is needed and healthy.

Now. . . about the book. . . let me begin by citing some positives. A couple come to mind. First, the book - in true Rob Bell style - spends alot of time asking questions. That's a good thing. Bell repeats oft-asked questions about the Church, Christians and their conduct (which is flawed. . . simply because we're flawed), and theology. I grew up as part of a generation that was often "shushed" for asking too many questions. What results is a lack of answers, confusion, and great frustration.

The second positive is Bell's treatment of Heaven. While some might not like my use of the word "doctrine," I'll still use it when I say that Bell's doctrine of Heaven offers many needed correctives to the crazy non-Biblical ideas that we've come to believe about eternal life after physical death, about what it means to live Christianly on earth while we're still alive, and about the dangers of an "entrance understanding" of the Gospel. The restored earth is something that we have to look forward to. . . not some cloudy existence on streets of gold. If we believe in the latter, we've spent too much time watching The Wizard of Oz and not enough time in the Scriptures. In addition, Bell has alot to say about what it means to be Kingdom people who actively live out the will of God during out earthly lives. . . which is, by the way, not a train platform we wait on between the day we come to faith and the day we die.

But what about Bell's treatment of Hell, the issue that stirred all the controversy in the first place? Let me be blunt. . . I'm not sure I have any idea at all about what Bell believes. Like many others, I want Bell to be clear, telling me where he stands on Hell and whether or not he's a universalist. I'm not sure if Bell is capitulating to an audience that embraces tolerance and diversity to the extent that he does nothing but dance around the issue and he doesn't want to offend, or if he has no idea where he stands himself. Which is why anyone who writes needs to be clear, especially if you're writing on a topic that is pivotal to one's clear understanding of eternal things. Everyone in your reading audience - critics and supporters alike - must be able to walk away with a clear understanding and knowledge of what you just said. And if what you just said isn't clear, then you have to go out of your way to explain yourself. The problem with this book is that before Rob Bell's position on Hell can be challenged, Rob Bell has to clearly state his position on Hell. As a pastor to a flesh and blood congregation of thousands, and as a literary pastor to hundreds of thousands of others, he has a great responsibility to be clear. . . especially when many in his audience are so fed-up with the church that they are looking for difficult doctrines to deep-six.

So, to those who have read the book. . . Am I right in concluding that Rob Bell is asking us to jettison years and years of deep, responsible, and trustworthy theological inquiry? Am I right in assuming that he's redefining "historically orthodox?" Am I alone in being very confused by a book that left me saying "Yes!", "NO!", and "WHAT????" over and over again? Am I wrong to assume that Bell desires to soften or even remove the offensiveness of the very Gospel that we've been told will be offensive to many? Am I wrong to assume that Rob Bell - who in the book cites the passage where Jesus speaks about those who cause the children to stumble - might in fact be leading a host of young and impressionable Christians (theological children) to stumble?

I wish that what Rob Bell is teaching about Hell was true. In my humanness, I wish with everything that's in me that the Scriptures didn't include anything on the dark destiny after death. Thinking about it doesn't make me feel very good. But that's where I have to stand back and simply say, "Not my will or desires, but yours Lord." Then, that's what I need to believe and that's what I need to teach.

In their 1979 book, Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective, Stephan Grunlan and Marvin Mayers spoke about the need for believers to become more aware of the multicultural world that was starting to unfold in new and big ways. That's the world we now live in. They said that the best way to respond to this new world was a posture of "cultural relativism." They advocated for a "cultural relativism" that was coupled with "biblical absolutism." They wrote, "Thus the culture defines the situation, but the principles for behavior are found in God's Word. Indeed the Bible is the absolute authority for all cultures, but it must be applied to specific and relative cultural forms." When I thought about what Grunlan and Mayers wrote, I got the feeling that we're now living in a time where "biblical absolutism" is sometimes quickly jettisoned when it rubs up against our personal/cultural realities and desires in the wrong way. Something has to win. And for all the good stuff that's there in Rob Bell's book, I'm wondering if it isn't love that wins, but something else.

For those who are taking the time to continue to responsibly sort this whole thing out, let me make a couple of recommendations. First, you need to read Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck's great book, Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), particularly the first chapter. The authors talk about the tendency among emergents to believe that the destination matters little. The journey is the thing. I'm wondering if that's not a bit of what's happening with Bell and his book.

Second, please take some time to listen to a panel discussion on the book, particularly the opening words from Tim Keller. Click here and then click on the link for "joined for a panel discussion."

Finally, give Tim Challies' great review of Love Wins a read.

And to my young friends, particularly those who are in youth ministry and who are fans of Rob Bell. . . tread carefully here. . . for the sake of the Kingdom and your kids. . . tread carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully, and with the Scriptures as your guide. There's much at stake, and it's your responsibility to see to it that the truth is communicated and communicated clearly.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

California, Creativity, and Conviction. . . .

My little trip to Orange County has been nothing short of awesome. I'm out here to touch base with a couple of my youth ministry friends and heroes, Doug Fields and Jim Burns. Last night I had a front-row seat at the Fields' house as I watched Doug and Cathy (and Jamie!) interact with their combined freshman small groups. What a hoot! Great kids. Great leaders. What was especially fun was realizing that none of these kids has a clue that Doug has a life beyond their little small group. He's just Doug, the small group leader. I was there as Walt, the friend of Doug and Cathy the small group leaders. Doug put his kids in my hands (Doug, are you sure you want to do this???) and I bantered back and forth with the students about integrating their faith into all of life, particularly in the area of their media choices. We talked about asking good questions of advertising, and about taking those 3-D steps with all of their media. . . you know. . . Discover, Discern, Decide. For me, it was engaging and fun.

This morning I met up with Doug and Jim in a little office that was bursting at the seams with creative energy. I met fellow-baseball fan Doug Martinez, who's also the creative force behind crosssection. Check it out. Also in that little room was Jason Pearson, a soft-spoken guy who I very quickly realized might be one of the most creative people I've ever met. You can check out Jason's work - a little bit of it anyway - at

After our introductions, we got to talking about the great time we had had with Doug and Cathy's freshmen last night, especially the conversation about marketing and thinking Christianly and critically about everything we see. That was Jason's cue to humbly unleash the amazing video I've embedded below. The video was Jason's contribution to last year's 8th Letter Conference in Toronto. Like the other creative folks who attended, Jason used his talents to write an 8th letter (remember the first 7 letters to the churches in Revelation?) to today's church. In light of what we talked about last night - and in light of who we are as the church in North America - this is worth watching and pondering. It's powerful. It's quite convicting. Enough said.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When The Market Trumps Common Sense. . .

I'm in the midst of spending a day in Atlanta with a wonderful group of people at a conference put on by the Governor's Office for Children and Families. I'm quickly learning that this a group of amazing people who really are for children and families. This morning I spoke about Understanding Today's Youth Culture. This afternoon, I'm speaking on teaching kids to think critically about music and media. I'll be training participants in how to use our non-sectarian 3-D guide, Minding Your Media. In between, I've had dozens of conversations with some amazing people.

What struck me as I was up front speaking is the great contrast we see between Word and world. . . you know, that old familiar imperative that we trumpet at CPYU about starting your day with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. My morning venture into today's USA Today left me with a clear understanding of the battle we face, a battle that became much clearer as I spoke to a room full of folks who are working hard to equip kids to make good choices, to avoid temptation, to stay off drugs, to wait to enjoy the gift of their sexuality within the context of marriage, etc.

Specifically, the morning paper reported ran Liz Szabo's piece, "Parents decry marketers who push sexuality on little girls." You need to read Szabo's article. You also need to watch the little video clip embedded in the article that I've included a link to below. Pay special attention to the cavalier attitude of the marketers in the clip. Perhaps the easiest to pass one-question quiz you could take today would be the one that asks this question: "Do these people ever think about any of the fallout from their actions other than the financial bottom-line?!?"

Click here to watch the video.
We reap what we sow, don't we? It's not at all difficult to guess what the harvest is going to look like in just a couple of years, is it?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Laughed Out Loud. . . Several Times. . .

So. . . on Sunday morning I get up at 4:30 for a long, coast-to-coast flight home. Having already finished reading the books I had packed for the trip, I needed something to do other than Sudoku on the marathon trip home. I spot a bookstore opening up in the Portland airport and I head in for 15 minutes of browsing the shelves and hoping that something catches my eye. It does! There on the bottom shelf is a book titled "Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence" by Paul Feig, the creation of the TV series "Freaks and Geeks." I'd love to be able to tell you that it was how the title related to my vocation that grabbed my attention. But I have to be honest. I was in one of those moods where I knew that reading this book would be like jumping into a time machine and heading back into my own childhood. So, I picked it up. Then, I couldn't put it down.

I've read lots of books over the course of my life. Many of them have been funny. I've read some of those funny books on airplanes. Sometimes I've cracked a little smile. Never have I laughed out loud. . . over, and over, and over again like I did on Sunday.

It starts with Feig's recounting how his last name destined him to a childhood of taunts and nicknames. I laughed. . . not at him. . . but with him. I had a bunch of neighborhood kids morph the combination of my first and last name from "Walter Mueller" to Watermelon. By the time I was 13, there might have been kids in my neighborhood who thought my real name was "Mel" (short for "Melon," which was short for "Watermelon.") And from there, this book was all uphill. . . uphill, that is, it terms of getting funnier and funnier with each turn of the page. He hits on everything from the culture of vomit in elementary school, to having a crush on your second grade teacher, to the lunchroom, to sharing a bottle of soda, to the strange things that happen to our bodies, to junior high gym class, to girls, to. . . well, you name it.

I'm not sure I'm going to be able to make this book required reading for Doctoral students, but I can recommend it. In a day and age when most of what we read about adolescence leaves us discouraged, it's nice to be able to pick up a book by someone who struggled like the rest of us, but somehow made it through with a great sense of humor and some awfully funny memories!

I'm not sure everyone will find this book as funny as I did. Maybe I was just in the right mood. But for anyone who grew up male and experienced their childhood and adolescence in the 60s and 70s, then this is one funny read.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Pink's Peek Into The World of Broken Kids. . . .

There's something that I really like about Alecia Moore. . . aka Pink. She's not afraid to expose her insides, she's not afraid to tackle the tough stuff, and she's not afraid to show the rest of us what it's like to be a part of the rapidly growing demographic known as broken and hurting kids. I know that she scares alot of people. I would love to sit down with her to simply listen to her tell her story. I've been drawn to the stories in her music since she first burst onto the scene years ago. As someone who studies youth culture, she's my go-to girl whenever I'm looking for a music video or lyrics that reflect the world of the young.

Her latest song is "F___ing Perfect." I've embedded the video below. . . the "clean" version. While many might not like it, the full-on version is the best. It's raw and gets the point across. I've shown it in a few places and it's powerful. Still, the version below is compelling and eye-opening.

Reality is sometimes very, very ugly. Just like we need to watch the images coming to us from post-tsunami Japan, these are images we need to lock our eyes on as well. Our ears need to listen, too.

In a week, several hundred youth workers, parents, counselors, pastors, and teachers will be gathering in Pittsburgh for our Hope and Healing for Broken Kids one-day seminar with Marv Penner and Rich Van Pelt. It's a day of intense - yet hope-filled and practical training. Last year, I watched 500 pairs of eyes and ears gathered for the Hope and Healing for Broken Kids seminar lock on to Marv and Rich as they took us into the same world that Pink is helping us see. I love the fact that there are Biblical answers and that Marv and Rich aren't afraid to make them known.

If you can get to Western PA next Saturday, April 9th, I encourage you to do so. Make an investment in the lives of the kids you know and love by plugging in to this great training. We've still got room. You can get more info and register here.