Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Women And Pornography Addiction. . . .

I received a sad but not surprising Facebook message from a former student of mine today. He was simply asking for my thoughts on a blog posted by a female friend. . . . a blog that he found troubling. The blog post was pretty simple and straightforward. . . one picture and one word. The picture was of a professional athlete (male) posing in nothing but his boxers. He was holding a hockey stick in his hand. Underneath, the blogger simply posted the word "yeeeeeeaaaaaahhhhhh." My friend then wondered out loud to me about what might happen if he had done the same thing on his blog with a photo of Megan Fox.

My friend's question reminded me of an eye-opening comment I heard from a ninth-grade girl a few weeks ago as I was talking to her and a group of her peers about advertising and images. This innocent and younger-looking-than-a-freshman openly and straightforwardly admitted to something I've never heard a teenage girl admit to before. She asked, "What's with all the Abercrombie ads and the half-naked guys? Don't they know what those ads do to us girls? Don't they know what they make us think?" In a world where we've been hammered with the message that guys are visual and girls are emotional. . . well. . . maybe the playing field is much more level than most of us ever imagined.

God gave us eyes. God gave us bodies. God gave us emotions. God gave us sex. God gave us sexual desires. God gave us the wonderful and complex mix of nerve endings that inhabit all the body parts that bring sexual pleasure. And God declared all of those things as good. Then, Genesis 3:6. . . and it comes undone. Now, as we anticipate the day when God will redeem and restore those things once and for all, we need to be about the business of experiencing them all redemptively and in ways that reflect their intended use and what they once were. No doubt, it's a battle. And in today's world, it's not just men who are indulging in things that rip apart their lives and the lives of others.

I found these stats this morning:
-13% of Women admit to accessing pornography at work.
-70% of women keep their cyber activities secret.
-17% of all women struggle with pornography addiction.
-Women, far more than men, are likely to act out their behaviors in real life, such as having multiple partners, casual sex, or affairs.
-Women favor chat rooms 2X more than men.
-1 of 3 visitors to all adult web sites are women.
-9.4 million women access adult web sites each month.

This issue is one of the most significant issues of our technologically advancing times. It's fed by a plethora of forces including family breakdown, age-compression, age-aspiration, moral relativism, narcissism, entitlement, materialism, etc. And lest we think the answer is to get the computer out of the house, think again. Like everything else in life, the real problem lies within . . . in the human heart. That heart will always be with us. Consequently, maybe we should be doing anything and everything we can to help our kids and each other understand and guard our hearts.

This isn't a simple problem with simple solutions. Rather, it's a complex problem that's on the rise. And if we don't address it with men, women, boys, and girls. . . well. . . we're surely going to be reaping the ugly and exploitative fruits of sexual anarchy in a very, very short time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pope-rah. . . Some Final Thoughts. . . .

Yep, I did it. . . for about a half an hour. I watched Oprah's final minutes on TV. Well, on her show. There's no way she's anywhere near done with TV. Those last 30 minutes of Oprah teaching her captive audience sparked a very emotional wrestling match inside my head. You see, in a world where we rejoice when someone of influence who is highly respected boldy and gracefully stands in front of a captive audience to proclaim truth and give glory to God without being obnoxious. . . well, that's awesome.

Oprah did that yesterday. She gave credit to Jesus. She testified to her faith in God. She talked about the role of prayer in her life. She pontificated on grace. She gave a lesson on calling. So much of it was so, so good and seemed so, so right. But then I'd have to smack myself back into the reality of realizing that all this good was embedded in a muddled and confusing mix and mess that Oprah believes and promotes. . . and which plays well in our postmodern world. It's spirituality on my terms, the way I want it, and the way I like it.

As I watched, I was reminded once more of just how influential this woman is. . . in many good, good ways I might add. But then the term Pope-rah jumped into my mind as I thought about her influence and her followers. That's really the legacy of Oprah's 25 years. Oprah is poster girl for what I've long called "smorgasbord faith" - a term that describes a plate full of spirituality that's self-created in the moment from all kinds of stuff in an effort to satisfy one's spiritual hunger at that moment. Over time, you develop favorites that are always part of the plate you make up for yourself at the buffet table. That same idea was explored in yesterday's USA Today by Cathy Lynn Grossman in her article, "Oprah's big hug of spirituality will outlive her show." I love the opening line of Grossman's article: "Oprah, the prophetess of post-Judeo-Christian America who brought us big hug spirituality -- love yourself, save yourself -- leaves the daily stage today to run her media empire."

So, instead of getting excited about Oprah's mentions of God, Jesus, prayer, and grace, I'm wondering if we shouldn't be a little bit uneasy. Why? Because the one who opposes all that's good, true, right and honorable couldn't promote his destructive agenda more effectively than to disguise it by wrapping it in a covering or facade of truth. Think about it. An out-and-out lie is much more obvious. But put it in a Trojan Horse and we readily open the gates.

I've been scouring the internet this morning in an effort to find a video of Oprah's preaching segment from yesterday's show. I haven't found it yet. But when I do, I will watch it again. I was thinking about suggesting that you show it to your kids, then talk about it. What a great teachable moment. Maybe even more necessary is watching it with the large number of Christian adults who are Oprah fans. Sadly, I'm guessing that exercise would yield compelling insight into how our discernment filters have weakened, and why we so easily open the gates to the Trojan Horse.

Until then, check out this clip from yesterday's show on calling. It too, is an interesting mix of a wonderfully engaging woman with a huge heart who does good stuff, promotes feel-good fluff, and sometimes preaches baloney. As with a lot of what Oprah says about spirituality, it sure smells and tastes pretty doggone good. . . but when you chew on it for awhile, you have to start wondering if there might not be something a little bit askew. . .

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why I Should Have Been Fired. . . .

The other night I was telling my family that I wish I had a good nickname. The conversation was prompted after my girls had convinced me to watch the Justin Bieber movie - "Never Say Never" - (Ok. . . good to get that off my chest!)and we were introduced to "Scooter," the guy who manages Bieber. I'm always curious about how people get their nicknames. "Dub" is a guy whose name begins with "W," which means that could have worked for me. "Rusty" is a red head." "Lumpy" is. . . well. . . lumpy. You know how it works.

So my line of reasoning this morning goes like this. . . if my nickname had been chosen during my early days of doing youth ministry, you probably wouldn't know me today as "Walt." Instead, you'd be calling me "Bonehead," "Jackass," or "Fool." Seriously. I did many things during those early years that could have and should have gotten me fired. In addition, I was many things in those early years that could have and should have gotten me fired. . . or at the very least labeled with one of the aforementioned nicknames.

The youth ministry firing topic got some attention last week on my buddy Doug Fields' blog. Doug blogged on a youth pastor named Mike Lewis who shared his story, which Doug posted. I don't know Mike, but I feel for him. In an amazing show of compassion and support, several of Mike's peers ministered to him and encouraged him through the comments and stories they posted in response to Doug's blog. Doug made a good point, encouraging us to pray for our brothers and sisters who have been "hurt by churches." Yep. It happens way too much.

Now please understand that what I'm about to say is not a corrective to Doug or a disagreement with him. Nor is it in response to my evaluation of Mike (I haven't evaluated Mike!) and why Mike lost his job. And, it's not in response to anything written in the comments to Doug's post and Mike's story. Rather, what I'm about to say is prompted by how Doug's blog got me a) digging into my own memory of my personal youth ministry history, and b)thinking about something I've been picking up on more and more in our youth ministry circles.

First and foremost, I was a bonehead, jackass, and fool. Simply stated, I thought I knew far more than I knew, I thought the older people in my church knew far less than they knew, I was proud, and I did way too many things that I shouldn't have done. To be honest, I'm still struggling with some of those decisions I made over thirty years ago. In hindsight, I'm grateful for the advances made in the area of brain imaging. You see, if the human brain isn't fully wired until about the age of 25 or 26, then I was attempting to function in the adult world with a pre-frontal cortex that was functioning way below adult capacity. But that's no excuse - really. I was who I was and I did who I did because I chose to be who I was and do what I did. If people only knew, they would have called me out. Yes, there was one youth ministry job that lasted only a year. I walked away from it because I was getting my hands tied behind my back. I was called into the office and told that I was doing a great job, but I was talking way too much about Jesus. After sitting through a church board meeting where the room was evenly divided between supporters and detractors who were arguing it out, I went back to my apartment and made the decision to hang it up and move on. If I hadn't, I think I might have been one of the far too many stories of people who get fired for all the wrong reasons.

Which leads me to my second observation. . . the one about the youth ministry world in which I now live and move. I wonder if there aren't times when we play the victim, when in reality we've been the perpetrator. Maybe we rely on the "hurt by the church" thing when in reality the people at the church could have been more than justified in calling us "Bonehead," "Jackass," or "Fool." Let's be honest, we live in a culture where the younger we are the more we've been encouraged to do our thing with waning respect for authority. If that's what we embrace - perhaps unknowingly - then it's no wonder that conflict follows us wherever we go. One of the commenters on Doug's blog reminded me of what Mike Yaconelli once said. The commenter wrote, "Mike Yaconelli once said that you are not a real youth pastor until you have been fired twice." That never sat well with me for the simple reason that it might be used as a justification for embracing a cavalier or maverick "know-it-all" cocky attitude. I would add the words "for illegitimate reasons" to the end of that Yaconelli quote to redeem it.

Again, this is a complex issue and my comments are not in reaction to anything Doug or Mike have said. Rather, this is about me and my history, along with a growing sense of something dangerous that's building momentum in the world of youth ministry. One thing I know I'd do differently if I had it to do all over again would be this. . . I would make every effort to realize that because I'm a young guy, I'm going to be pretty idealistic and fairly non-diplomatic. I'd also make every effort to realize that my ministry superiors may be of the age where their idealism has been tempered by years of experience, a heavy does of realism, and some accumulated wisdom. Then, I'd go out of my way to do everything I could to appreciate them for who they are, work within the bounds that their authority over me allows, and to pursue ministry with great passion. I would hope and pray that that kind of approach would generate a respect for me that would be well-deserved. . . and we would work well together. . . to the Glory of God. . . for a long, long time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Come On. . . Is It Really Worth It? . . . .

In about two hours I'll be sitting in a college office with my 18-year-old son. It'll be a give and take with an administrator on class placement, course selection, and major possibilities. At this point, he hasn't centered in on anything. Not unusual at all for a kid his age. I'm praying and wondering about where he'll land, what he'll be doing, etc.

At this point, I'm much more concerned about the way he approaches the process, as opposed to the final outcome. My concern is rooted in the pressure I'm sure he's feeling regarding which foundation to stand on as he makes these important choices. Case in point. . . the story that appeared on the back page of our newspaper this morning under the headline, "New study tells students if majors are worth it."

So I read through the story on this first-of-its-kind study and report from Georgetown University. The first line reads: "The choice of undergraduate major in college is strongly tied to a student's future earnings, with the highest-paying majors providing salaries of about 300 percent more than the lowest-paying, according to a study released Tuesday." I read on to learn that college graduates make 84 percent more over a lifetime than those who only have a high school diploma. I also discover that different majors have different earning power. For example, a Petroleum Engineering major will make about $120,000 a year, as compared to Counseling Psychology majors who will make $29,000 annually.

So let's think about the implications of this. First, it's another sign of our cultural times. Earning power is quickly becoming the primary motivator for vocational choice and pursuit. Second, that means that calling and giftedness might not play into the mix very much at all. Third, the desire to serve others throughout the course of one's lifetime might be eclipsed or squashed because, after all, "what kind of living are you going to make doing that?!?"

As a Christian, matters of unique God-given giftedness and calling should always be my primary motivator and foundation for my vocational pursuits. I want to use what I've been given to the glory of the One who gave it to me. We've already got loads of middle-aged people who are unhappy in their jobs. . . maybe because they launched the vocational endeavor from the wrong launch pad. That's not who I want to be.

If choices are made primarily on the basis of earning power, then we're about twenty to thirty years away from seeing this generation of students suffer the consequences of living as square pegs trying to force themselves into round vocational holes. By then, they'll suffer in those jobs while hanging on until retirement. This reality, by the way, might just be the thing that would drive a forward-thinking student today into majoring in counseling psychology. After all, there's going to be a lot of unhappy people in 30 years. . . people who will be willing to pay some of their hard-earned money to have someone listen to them. Maybe counseling psychology will be where the money is after all.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Church of Oprah. . . .

Ok. . . so the world didn't end on Saturday after all. But for millions of Oprah fans, it's going to end in three days.

On several occasions over the past several years I've found myself starting a conversation with these words: "I have a confession to make. . . ", followed by "The other day I was watching Oprah and . . . " I usually get some funny looks as people begin to assume that I'm a big fan. No, I'm not a big fan. But there is something about Oprah and her show that I find somewhat mesmerizing. She and her show offer a great window into the world of contemporary culture.

Just yesterday morning I was chatting with a couple of bright conversationalists who I love engaging with at my church. We usually find each other after worship and sit for an hour to talk about whatever. One's a Chiropractor who is very, very well read. A really thoughtful guy who knows a lot about a lot of stuff. The other is a college prof who I find absolutely fascinating. Our hour-long conversations jump all over the place. . . so I have no idea how we ever got onto Oprah. . . oh. . . I do remember. . . it started with me saying "I have a confession to make. . . " After their initial shock wore off, we started to talk about Oprah, her attraction, and her legacy. One thing led to another and we began to discuss her strange blend of spirituality. In fact, just last Friday. . . when (I have a confession to make. . .) I was watching Oprah, she quoted a few of her favorite Bible verses. Not only that, she encouraged her audience to be praying.

One of my conversation partners got to thinking out loud about Oprah's appeal. He summarized with things like she's powerful, she does nice things for people, she gives things away, she's full of surprises, she is engaging, she's overcome much to get where she is, etc. He's right. People are drawn to this lady who somehow gives them hope. . . . and hope is something we all want, crave, and need. Have you ever seen the looks on the faces of the studio audience when Oprah is introduced and walks into the studio?

It all ends - at least the daily TV show that's part of what I call "The church of Oprah" - after three more episodes. The yearning for hope, however, will continue. Everyone who sits in that audience has - as the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us - "eternity written on their hearts." Can we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, so deeply know the Word and the world that we will offer a compelling signpost that points to truth that is not muddied or watered down with human opinions and personal preferences? Can we offer an all-encompassing Christ-centered vision for life that satisfies the human-longing for significance and redemption?

And by the way. . . I really don't watch Oprah that often. In fact, starting Thursday I won't be watching her any more. I promise.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Teens and Sex. . . .

Yesterday I drove down to Manayunk (part of Philly, along the river) to visit the offices of Harvest USA and to sit in on a test run of a new youth worker seminar they're putting together. Manayunk. . . it's trendy now. It wasn't that way when I was a kid living in the Philly suburbs. Back then, Manayunk was to be avoided. I guess things can be revitalized, changed, turned around, and made new. Hopefully, we'll be able to see that happen when it comes to individuals, their sexuality, and our culture's basic assumptions about sex. . . things that have gone in a direction different from Manayunk ever since I was a kid.

Something Nicholas Black said in yesterday's seminar has really stuck with me. Nicholas said that when we were kids (he's about my age), we were interested in and wanted to have sex. Not surprising, since God gifted us with our sexuality, sexual desires, and sex. The difference, he said, was that sex was typically pursued within the context of a relationship. Sure, sex outside of marriage was immoral, but there was at least a relational connect. Not so in today's world. One of the issues addressed yesterday was the casual nature of sex in today's world. . . friends with benefits, hooking up, etc. One youth worker in the room talked about sex parties that 7th grade kids were attending. Another talked about parties where kids would watch movies, then pair up to do whatever was just done on film. These are the times.

This morning, I happened to watch a little video clip from Jason Soucinek, an associate staffer here at CPYU. It's a good reminder of how things that are not the way they are supposed to be, are supposed to be. Thanks Jason!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Power Of Music. . . .

Weird. Lisa got a magazine in the mail yesterday and she didn't ask for it. Her name and address was right there in that little white box on the bottom-left-hand side of the cover. It was all so normal yet so unexpected in ways that made us wonder why it came to our house when "I didn't ask for this." Hmmm. But in a world where literally thousands of media outlets jockey for attention, it shouldn't be surprising that Billboard pulled out all the stops with this one-time special edition that serves to try to get us watching this Sunday night's broadcast of the 2011 Billboard Music Awards.

I anticipate I'll at least be watching as I try to catch all the music award shows. I'm guessing Billboard (and a host of record companies) put out a nice little chunk of change to send me (and who knows how many other people) this more-than-adequate reminder. Thanks.

This morning, I read through the magazine for an update on the nominees. Several "articles" (advertisements, maybe) caught my eye, including one on Top New Artist Finalist, Ke$ha. A little quote caught me eye, reminding me that music really does serve as a powerful force in the lives of kids, sometimes putting into words things and feelings that they can't find words for themselves. The article tells about a recent concert where Ke$ha pulled a boy on stage mid-show, something she does all the time. "He started crying and told me that the only reason he was alive was because of my music," says Ke$ha. "He'd never felt accepted for who he was, and through my songs he realized that there are people out there who will love him for exactly who he is, and so he decided to come out of the closet."

You can learn alot about kids by asking them about their music. . . who they listen to, their favorite song, their favorite lyric, etc. If Jesus was ministering in today's world, I think he'd be checking out the music. If the Apostle Paul was walking through the "Athens" of today's world, he'd be surveying the landscape of popular music. . . with great attention to detail. Knowing the music world, helps us to bring the Word to bear on the stuff kids are dealing with and thinking about.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pain, Suffering, And The Song In My Head. . . .

Cornelius Plantinga's book on sin has a title that reflects reality: Not The Way It's Supposed To Be. No, it's not. And we know it. Some of us more than others. This morning, I've been thinking about people I know who are experiencing this reality in deep and distressing ways that I can't even begin to imagine. Not just one or two people. . . but a bunch. Today, these people are facing life-threatening illnesses, deadly disease, unknown diagnoses, relational breakdown, struggles with addiction, and the ongoing consequences of decisions made long ago. It seems like these things come in waves. . . you don't get hit in the head with a hammer or kicked in the stomach just once. . . it keeps happening and you get beat up. Echoes of the Psalmist's laments seem justified. . . "Where are you God???"

Last June, I blogged on suffering and included Robin Mark's song "All Is Well." A little over a month later, that song and its refrain was stuck in my head as I started my own recovery. That was one time I was grateful for a song getting stuck in my head. The depth of what I went through pales in comparison to the burdens friends are carrying this morning. Still, I'm hoping and praying that this message will minister to many today.

He does "lower us to raise us." Yes, "he raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap" (Psalm 113). May all my friends know God's grace, mercy, and peace today.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Should James Tate Be Allowed To Go To His Prom? . . .

Have you caught the story about Shelton, CT high school senior James Tate? He's the kid who posted some foot-tall cardboard letters on the wall near the school's entrance. The letters spelled out a prom invitation to a fellow student: "Sonali Rodrigues, Will you go to the prom with me? HMU -Tate." No profanity. No paint. Just a little old-fashioned creativity and fun.

But school officials didn't like what Tate did. It seems they called him into the office and told him he had earned a one-day in-school suspension for trespassing, and that since he was suspended after April 1, he wouldn't be allowed to attend his prom.

Now, word is spreading far and wide about Tate and his punishment, and lots of people are lobbying for Tate to be able to attend his prom. There's even a Facebook page that's been set up to support Tate and see the school's decision reversed.. As of this moment, over 100,000 people have "liked" the page.

I understand that schools need rules. In today's world, it's a sad fact that schools need even more rules because fewer and fewer parents are making and enforcing rules. When we don't step up and take responsibility for ourselves, more rules are needed. But have we gone overboard with all this "no tolerance" stuff that issues immediate consequences without individual consideration or grace? You know, the kind of thing that happens when kindergarten kid gets suspended for having an aspirin in his backpack.

So. . . here's the question at hand: Should James Tate be allowed to go to his prom? What do you think?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Consumer-Driven Church. . . We Need A Fixing. . .

In the past, I've been accused of being critical of the seeker-sensitive, seeker-driven, and seeker-centered approaches to what some people call "doing church." That's accurate. I have been. My motivation - I hope - has not been driven by anything other than an effort to stand back and examine the contemporary church in light of contemporary culture. I don't pastor a church so I can't be angry at or jealous of others who are leading at places where numerical growth is lateral (people coming from one church to another). Rather, my critique has come from my understanding of the Scriptures, how the Scriptures define the life of discipleship, and trends in contemporary Western culture. Overall, I've increasingly been unsettled by and lamented the fact that attractional methods are sought and employed - with good intentions, by the way - to draw in the greatest number of people so that they might hear and respond to the Gospel. In the end, I wonder if that does more harm than good to the cause of the Gospel and spiritual growth.

I love the church. CPYU exists to serve the church. And, we are always working to promote deep spiritual growth in Christ in a world that promotes consumerism. So, when we see things that might be troubling and that need to be considered, we've worked to raise those issues directly, but with sensitivity. Until now, my company in concern over the market-driven approach to church has been traditionalists and friends in the emerging church movement. . . who tend to recoil against what has been mainstream consumer-oriented Evangelicalism. But over the weekend, I read a very refreshing and thoughtful book from a couple of pastors who passionately and single-mindedly lived on the inside of a movement that they are now trying to convince people to move out of, and into deeper things.

Renovation of the Church: What Happens When A Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation, by Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken (IVP, 2011) captures so much of what I've been thinking and wrestling with for years. . . all thought out and framed in ways that states a case beyond what I could ever come up with. These guys had a wrestling match with their deeply-held convictions and their honesty and transparency is refreshing.

This book is so rich, especially in its critique, that I could never do it justice by rehashing its basic message. You have to read this for yourself. And by the way, I want to encourage all - ALL - of friends in youth ministry (young and old alike) to read this book. It's that timely, necessary, and even prophetic. Go at it with your defenses down and a heart prayerfully open to what God might just tell you. Seriously.

I was hooked after the first page of the Foreword, which by the way, was written by Dallas Willard. Let me pass on these words from Willard's Foreword:

"How do we present the radical message of Christ in a church that has catered to the religious demands of the nominally committed? In other words, if we have gathered people into congregations by appeasing their appetites and desires, how can we help them deal with the fact that their problems in life and character - even 'in church' - are primarily caused by living to get what they want? How can the cross and self-denial become the central fact in a prosperous, consumer culture? How can discipleship to Jesus - in a sense recognizable from the Bible, with the spiritual transformation it brings - be the mode of operation in a thriving North American congregation?

Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken, pastors of Oak Hills Church near Sacramento, California, answer this question - the single most important question in the church culture of North America today. They do that by telling the story of how they interacted with God, along with loving and courageous members of their congregation, to actually do it. It is first of all a story of how they personally came to grips with the dynamics of a large 'attractional' congregation widely viewed as very successful. They found that 'we (in the dominant form of church life today) have trained Christians to be demanding consumers, not disciples.' 'It was this issue of consumerism that brought the conflicting values of external success and authentic spiritual formation into such sharp contrast."

Carlson and Lueken believe that the church in North America is in serious trouble. They disagree, respectfully, with those who point to the rise of the megachurch and other external successes as indicators of a robust Christianity. They want to see the church reformed. The fact that they are insiders rather than outsiders in terms of where the reforms are needed carries lots of weight.

The issue and the passion with which the authors address it kept me from putting this book down. It's a good one. It's needed. And if you're tempted to write these guys and their message off. . . don't. . . at least until you've read Renovaton of the Church.

Consumerism is what drives us. It's driving us in the church without us even knowing it. It's bringing someone great joy. . . and it's not the someone who should be joyful.

Friday, May 6, 2011

What Do You Think About Lady Gaga's "Judas" Video? . . . .

Just because we don't get it doesn't mean that we shouldn't work to try to figure it out. Abstract art has always been a little bit difficult for me. It's especially frustrating when people see things that I can't even begin to imagine as I stare at the same piece they're staring at. Sometimes that happens with edgy and artsy stuff that's out there in the world of music and video.

And that's a little bit of my struggle with Lady Gaga's new song and video, "Judas." My initial couple of rounds of watching and listening have left me with some thoughts, but an equal if not greater dose of head scratching. . . . probably because it's a song that functions on multiple levels. Judging from the growing volume of discussion centering on the video's meaning, I'm not alone.

Have you read the song's lyrics? If not, check them out. . .

I'm in love with Juda-as, Juda-as
I'm in love with Juda-as, Juda-as
Judas Juda-a-a, Judas Juda-a-a, Judas Juda-a-a, Judas GaGa
Judas Juda-a-a, Judas Juda-a-a, Judas Juda-a-a, Judas GaGa

[Lady Gaga - Verse 1]
When he comes to me, I am ready
I'll wash his feet with my hair if he needs
Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain
Even after three times, he betrays me

I'll bring him down, bring him down, down
A king with no crown, king with no crown

I'm just a Holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel
But I'm still in love with Judas, baby
I'm just a Holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel
But I'm still in love with Judas, baby

I'm in love with Juda-as, Juda-as
I'm in love with Juda-as, Juda-as
Judas Juda-a-a, Judas Juda-a-a, Judas Juda-a-a, Judas GaGa

[Lady Gaga - Verse 2]
I couldn't love a man so purely
Even darkness forgave his crooked way
I've learned love is like a brick, you can
Build a house or sink a dead body
I'll bring him down, bring him down, down
A king with no crown, king with no crown

I'm just a Holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel
But I'm still in love with Judas, baby
I'm just a Holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel
But I'm still in love with Judas, baby

I'm in love with Juda-as, Juda-as
I'm in love with Juda-as, Juda-as

In the most Biblical sense,
I am beyond repentance
Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind
But in the cultural sense
I just speak in future tense
Judas kiss me if offensed,
Or wear ear condom next time

I wanna love you,
But something's pulling me away from you
Jesus is my virtue,
Judas is the demon I cling to
I cling to

I'm just a Holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel
But I'm still in love with Judas, baby
I'm just a Holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel
But I'm still in love with Judas, baby

I'm in love with Juda-as, Juda-as
I'm in love with Juda-as, Juda-as
Judas Juda-a-a, Judas Juda-a-a, Judas Juda-a-a, Judas GAGA

And then watch the video. . . .

This is one that's been talked about quite a bit. . . even before the video was released. Many have railed against Lady Gaga for being blasphemous and sacrilegious, conclusions - whether right or wrong - that should never be jumped to before listening and watching, even if the artist has a track-record of inciting controversy and taking people to and over the edge.

Two of the questions we must ask of this and other pieces of pop culture are these: 1)What does it mean to the one who made it? and 2) What does it mean to the viewer? We're starting to get some bits and pieces of the answer to #1 from the artist herself. The answer to #2 is going to vary from person to person. In the coming days I'm sure it will all get clearer. . . or maybe it won't.

But for now, here's what we do know. The song and video are filled with biblical imagery. No matter what the imagery is and how it's used, that's enough to turn some people off. In my case, I find it all very intriguing. In one interview, Lady Gaga says, "It's about leaving your darkness behind in order to come into the light . . . I have a lot of things that have haunted me from my past - choices, men, drug abuse, being afraid to go back to New York, confronting old romances - and Judas represents, for me, something that is bad for me that I can't escape. I keep going back and forth between the darkness and the light in order to understand who I am."

I can't get away from the fact that Lady Gaga is opening the window for viewers to see into her spiritual struggles and the constant battle between right and wrong. From the wavering back and forth between Jesus and Judas, to spiritual pull evidences on her face, to the final scene of stoning. . . perhaps Lady Gaga has offered us a very real picture of the struggle between right and wrong. . . something the Apostle Paul so clearly lays out in Romans 7. . . something that is very real in my own life. . . something that makes me grieve for myself the more I watch this video.

No, Lady Gaga is not a theologian and she may not be getting it all right. But I wonder if there isn't some deep truth that can be gleaned from "Judas." In the video I see myself. And I thank God that in the Scriptures I see my Redeemer. Ponder these words from Paul in Romans 7:21-25: "So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Today I'm at Camp Lebanon in Minnesota with a fantastic group of energetic and young youth workers. We're talking about youth culture. Tonight we're going to watch and talk about "Judas." I can't wait to hear what insights and reactions they have. What do you think about Lady Gaga's "Judas"?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reforming Rap. . . .

Last night we switched over to "American Idol" for a couple of minutes between innings. As the camera focused on Idol judge Steven Tyler, I made an effort to appear young to my kids by mentioning that Tyler and Aerosmith were making music back when I was in high school. The kids didn't bite. Then we got talking about Aerosmith's demise and then re-emergence in 1986 thanks to Run-D.M.C.'s cover of "Walk This Way." In the end, the conversation covered everything from old music, to drugs, to rap. I guess you could say that rap music breathed life back into Tyler and his band.

Earlier in the day, I had received the latest edition of Christianity Today in the mail. Funny, but CT mentioned rap music as well. This article, however, was about Reformed Theology's move into the world of rap through people like Lecrae, Trip Lee, Shai Linne, Flame, and Voice. I heard Shai Linne live last year for the first time. While the genre's not my thing, the lyrics were. It was moving.

Something is happening in the church in North America. There's a continuing resurgence of Reformed Theology. It's making an impact in corners of the church that many never would have imagined. I first discovered and began to consciously contemplate Reformed Theology while a student at Geneva College. It grabbed me. It's been holding on and gripping tighter and tighter ever since. I'm not exaggerating when I say that so many of my conversations over matters of faith, life, and ecclesiology prompt this thought: "This person needs to check out Reformed Theology." Oftentimes, I tell them the same thing.

I have embraced Reformed Theology because of its big view of the sovereignty of God, its emphasis on and understanding of the Kingdom of God, the way that its helped me understand the darkness in my own heart, and the emphasis on the cross and the grace that was given to us there. I have also embraced it because I have found it to be faithful to the Scriptures and true.

The CT article reports on Curtis "Voice" Allen's viral videos, including this one. Check it out. . . .

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Whatever Happened To Rubbers??? . . .

My one-minute commute to the office was doubled today due to a traffic issue in the neighborhood. I had to stop and wait for the school bus to load. Rainy weather meant that my stopping point was several cars behind the bus. . . cars that had been sitting at the bus stop. . . cars that had been occupied by kids trying to stay dry and parents trying to keep kids who wanted to stay dry. . . dry.

My mind wandered back a few years to rainy days in my childhood neighborhood. At the risk of sounding like an old-fashioned guy, it was different back then. I don't ever remember getting a ride in the car to the bus stop, including on rainy days. In fact, I don't remember any of the multitude of kids who gathered every morning at the corner of Beverly and Crosswicks ever getting a dry ride to the stop or an equally dry four-wheeled "waiting room" whenever the skies had opened. Anyone who did would have been labeled a "sissy," or some other negative term. So great was our drive for independence and self-sufficiency that I would have begged my mother NOT to drive me to the bus stop if she had offered. Okay. . . so peer pressure played into it a little bit as well.

We stayed dry by getting covered in vinyl and rubber. Bright yellow vinyl rain coats with hoods or Nor'easter caps not only kept us dry, but extremely hot. They didn't breath. They kept the rain out and the body humidity in. Our feet were protected with "rubbers," a kind of stretchable shoe covering that kept those school shoes dry and shiny. My grandmother called them "galoshes." Strange.

By the time Junior High rolled around, getting a ride to the bus stop was still totally uncool. In addition, wearing rubbers was equally or even more uncool. . . a fact that my mother never grasped. Consequently, I would take a quick break halfway up the street on my short trip to the bus stop. I would remove the rubbers and proceed to hide them in a coat pocket. . .which I would then do in reverse if it was still raining on my trip home later in the day. Back then, I even remember raincoats being frowned upon. The best option was either an umbrella, or just getting wet. I guess we were tough.

This simple little observation of how the times have changed might be part of a bigger cultural shift. And that bigger cultural shift might not be a good one. Our kids are living in a world where entitlement, materialism, and narcissism rule. Parents over-parent and over-protect their kids, raising expectations that will last throughout their lives. At the forefront of those expectations is the sense that I inhabit the center of the universe, and the rest of the universe and its inhabitants are there to serve me.

Is it wrong to drive our kids to the bus stop? No. Is it wrong to want to keep them warm and dry? Absolutely not. But might it be good to let them learn how to endure the elements. . . both the elements that come at us through weather, and the elements of a life that doesn't always go the way we want it to?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Out Of My House! . . . Now! . . .

My post-high school life plan was pretty simple and straightforward. It followed the post-high school script of the mid-70s: 1) Go to college. Why? Because that's what's expected and everyone else is doing it. 2) Graduate from college. . . in four years. Why? Because that's what's expected and everyone else is doing it. 3) Get a job. Don't even think about moving home with your parents. Why? Because you're now an adult, that's what's expected, and everyone else is doing it. 4) Get married and have children. Then, prepare those children to follow steps 1 through 4.

Either I failed at 4b, or we are living in a very different world. I believe it's the latter. I have four kids - ages 27, 25, 23, and 18. All have graduated from high school. Until August 7 of last year, all four were living at home. On August 7, one of them got married. We told them they had to get their own place. Now, there are three at home. One is working post-college and living at home to save money. One just graduated from college and is looking for a teaching job and working as a sub until that happens. And one is taking a gap year and working in preparation for taking Gen.Ed. classes at the local community college in the fall. Yep, it's a very different world. In many ways, the changes have been facilitated by economic realities. To be honest, those economic realities are forcing us all to ask some very serious questions about higher education, college costs, and cost of living. And in a good way, these realities are also causing us to question what has long been held as conventional wisdom on matters of calling, giftedness, and vocation. I think fewer and fewer kids are going to leave high school destined to waste four (or more likely five-plus) years and lots of money on a life-path that's expected rather than divinely willed.

Still, those of us who work in the world of youth ministry are painfully aware that many students embark on this path while simultaneously turning their backs on the very faith that should be informing every step they take during the college transition and move into life-long vocation and adulthood. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. After all, Asher Roth provided them with some musical college orientation a couple of years ago. . .

That's why we began the College Transition Initiative here at CPYU. That's also why many others in our youth ministry world have launched similar efforts.

For a long time, I wondered how we could get high school students to ask the right questions before graduation. I wondered what we could be doing better to prepare our kids for a post-high school life that could be all it was ever meant to be. In other words, a post-high school life lived to the glory of God.

Earlier this year, Derek Melleby - Director of our College Transition Initiative here at CPYU - released a new book, Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning. Instead of taking a negative spin on the college years by warning readers about all the dangers they will face on campus, this book encourages readers to reckon with the fact that while they are at college they will - whether they know it or not - live out the answers to several questions. Derek challenges them to think consciously about the questions so that they can consciously develop and live out answers that conform to a life lived by God's story, rather than by the world's story.

The seven questions? . . .
-What kind of person do you want to become?
-Why are you going to college?
-What do you believe?
-Who are you?
-With whom will you surround yourself?
-How will you choose a major?
-How do you want your life to influence others?

If you're a parent of a soon-to-be high school graduate or a college student, I want to encourage you to connect the dots between Make College Count and your child by getting them their own copy.

If you're a youth worker who is working with soon-to-be high school graduates or college students, I want to encourage you to connect the dots between Make College Count and your students. I also want to encourage to snoop around on the site for our College Transition Initiative. I also want to encourage you to consider scheduling a College Transition Seminar. It's good!

Finally, if you're looking to get a meaningful gift for your graduate(s), check out a special package offer we've got going here at CPYU.

Oh. . and by the way. . . we love having three of our kids living at home. It's been fun. And productive. Nate. . . please cut the grass this afternoon.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Will and Kate. . . Cohabitate. . .

Late Friday night I was engaged in a furious round of channel-surfing when something caught my eye. . . which I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I stopped on. It was a Royal Wedding discussion led by Joy Behar. Included at the table were Joan Collins and two other people who I'm somewhat proud to say I didn't know. I'm proud to say it because. . . well. . . I just admitted that I know who Joy Behar and Joan Collins are. . . and I stopped to watch and listen. Maybe not knowing one pair cancels out knowing the other pair. However, nothing cancels out the fact that I decided to watch.

The discussion had a bit of roast-like flavor to it, as Behar took snarky shots at the customs of British royalty whenever she could. At one point, Behar asked an interested question about whether or not this marriage would last, especially with the royal family's track-record of infidelity and divorce. Someone mentioned that Will and Kate have been together for a long time already, and that they had spent time living together. Again, this was all news to me, as I'm not a follower of Britain's famous soap opera. In an effort to find out more, I decided to do what all good researchers do. . . and I Googled it. Yep, they lived together. . . which might explain the smirks on their faces as they stood at the front of the church with the also-smirking Harry. Maybe it's just me, but it was almost like they were putting up with going through the motions because they had to.

My Googling episode quickly took me to an article in The Telegraph: "Royal Wedding: Archbishop backs William and Kate's decision to live together before marriage." Statistically, that decision puts William and Kate in the majority. Last Wednesday's USA Today ran a front-page story on couples who live together and then break up. Not surprisingly, the article reports that the break-ups are like a divorce. The article also reports that more than 60% of married couples live together before walking down the aisle. Truly, a sign of the times. . . and a reality that requires the attention and response of the church.

In William and Kate's case, it seems the church has responded. And the response of the church to William and Kate is also a sign of the times. The article in The Telegraph includes some quotes from Dr. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. It seems that Sentamu justifies the couple's living arrangements because like other modern couples, they want to "test the milk before they buy the cow." That's from a leader in the church who was talking about the Prince who will someday become King. . . and when he does, also become the head of the Church of England.

In a way, William and Kate are only being faithful to the worldview they've been swimming in since the days they were born. Maybe the bigger problem is one with us - the church - as we fail to exercise a prophetic presence in a world where things are not the way they're supposed to be. Could it be that we're living in a day and age where people truly don't know any better for the simple reason that nobody's ever told them about something better?

Sunday, May 1, 2011