Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Chardon School Shooting. . . And "We've Got Nothing God". . . .

These are the times when we want to have and to give answers. A 17-year-old boy goes on a shooting rampage in his Ohio high school. We ask "why???" His act leaves three dead and others wounded. Again, we ask "why???" A community mourns. Families are broken and shattered. We wonder how they will ever rebound, recover, and live out the rest of their lives in the midst of unimaginable loss.

Over the past few days I've watched as the all-too-familiar parade of pundits and experts exploit the moment to grow their audience, develop their brand, launch their 15 minutes of fame, or promote a book. But if there's something we should have learned over the years of dealing with school violence it's that we should have stopped trying to find easy answers and simple solutions/explanations for stuff that is incredibly confusing and complex. Yes, there will come a time for people to get their heads together to process lessons learned about prevention and how to do things better in cases like these. But for now, I wonder if the best thing might not be to just remain quiet and to listen.

My good friends Rich Van Pelt and Marv Penner have way too much first-hand experience in dealing with this kind of stuff. Something I've heard them say over and over is that those who are involved in this kind of stuff - the victims, the kids who were in the school, the parents, the teachers, etc - all need space to tell their story. Anyone who's been on the receiving end of trauma knows just how important this is. I'm not sure how it works. I just know that it does. We need to listen as those who were there tell their stories over and over and over again. They need to.

We also need to listen to the One who weeps the most over the events in Chardon. Yes, in the midst of all the brokenness, God was there. He's still there. He's there for those who have dropped their hands to their sides - like the Psalmist of old - as they lament this painful reality. . . looking to him in confusion and loss as they say, "OK God. . . we've got nothing here." And lest we jump in, supposing that we are well-equipped to speak for God, perhaps the best reality we can convey at a time like this is that there are things we just don't know or understand.

I'm guessing there are many brothers and sisters in the Chardon area who are stepping up to exert a faithful presence in the midst of this chaos. . . something they never imagined having to do. The rest of us should be serving like Aaron and Hur. . . holding up their arms by asking God to work in them and through them in the midst of these difficult days.

In a few days, the media frenzy will stop and Chardon will be off the map for most of us. But for those who are there, the dust will be flying for a long, long time. Let's remember to keep these people in our prayers. We are broken people who have to deal with brokenness. Sometimes, that brokenness is very extreme. Thanks be to God that He is.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Thomas Bergler Is A Royal Pain In The Butt. . .

During my first three years in youth ministry. . . fresh out of college. . . I would attend church board meetings in order to report on our ministry and get approval for my plans. One of the old guys on the board. . . a guy named Jack. . . would sit during those meetings in a big old wing back chair in the corner of the church parlor (yes, there was a room called the parlor!). Jack very quickly instilled in me a dread that would start to rear its ugly head a few days before the meetings. It was as if Jack had been waiting for the church to hire me so that he could sit on that throne and question every single thing I wanted to do in youth ministry. With his constant flow of "Whats?", "Whys", and "Hows?," Jack very quickly became a royal pain in my butt.

Eventually, with a little help from other folks at the church, a bit of maturity on my part, and an effort to get to know Jack, I began to understand the method behind his questioning madness. Jack was not trying to make my life miserable. Instead, he was trying to make my ministry more God-honoring and effective. In hindsight, I realize that Jack was on my side the entire time, and he was making me a better youth pastor.

The youth ministry world is about to be introduced to another royal pain in the butt. Thomas Bergler, Associate Professor of Ministry and Missions at Huntington University, has written a disturbing book that will be released in April. . . The Juvenilization of American Christianity. I call the book "disturbing" because it's going to shake us up. I'm currently reading the manuscript as I've been asked to write an endorsement. Bergler brings together history, theology, sociology, and developmental theory in a brilliant mix that's going to make the church - I hope - sit back and ask ourselves some pretty hard questions about what, why, and how we've been doing things.

"Juvenilization," writes Bergler, "is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for Christians of all ages. It begins with the praiseworthy goal of adapting the faith to appeal to the young. But it sometimes ends badly, with both youth and adults embracing immature versions of the faith." He goes on to explain how our churches now pander to American consumerism, self-centeredness, and immaturity of American believers. He clarifies, "The story of juvenilization is a story not of a sinister plot or a noble crusade, but of unintended consequences and unquestioned assumptions."

I'm not yet finished with The Juvenilization of American Christianity, but I'm really liking what I'm reading. I'm sure I'll be blogging on this book more in the coming weeks. At this point, I'm thinking that Bergler is offering a nice follow-up to Christian Smith's Soul-Searching.

Here's a little interview clip with Bergler that will give you a taste of what the book is all about. If you can't bear to sit through the entire 15 minutes of the interview your impatience might just prove Bergler's point! Church, youth ministry world, and fellow juvenile Christians. . . meet Thomas Bergler. . . a royal pain in the butt whose arrival is timely and even long overdue! . . .

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jesus Stole My Daddy. . . .

My dad would often tell a story that not only involved me, but served me as a constant reminder of what's really important in life. The story goes like this: I was four or five years old and the son of a Pastor. When the worship service would end, my robed pastor-father would recess to the back of the sanctuary and greet folks as they left. I would go back there with him, stand in front of him, and pull the folds of his big black robe around me so that nothing but my head was showing. . . kind of like a baby kangaroo in a pouch.

One Sunday morning, an older woman in the church bent over to greet me after greeting my dad. My dad says she looked at me and said, "Good morning Walter! Do you love Jesus today?" . . . which is, by the way, one of those test questions people like to ask the children of people in ministry. My dad says that without giving it much thought I fired back, "No, I hate Jesus!" The woman - who was most likely a bit stunned. . . like my father - was bright enough to follow-up. "Why do you hate Jesus?" she asked. I answered, "Because. . . he stole my daddy."

If I remember correctly, my dad shared this horrifying little vignette with my mom later that day. After processing the comment, they came to the conclusion that maybe my dad was spending too many nights away from home immersed in church meetings and ministry busyness. To my great benefit, my dad quickly informed the church board that there would be some changes in his schedule.

Even though I don't remember the actual incident, I do remember my dad telling the story. I also remember my dad being around as I was growing up. Both of those things are great blessings for which I am deeply grateful. There are lessons in there for all us. . . as husbands, wives, fathers, etc. And lest you think that those lessons are only appropriate for people serving in ministry, think again. It's a far-reaching lesson for us all. . . particularly in today's wired world.

I thought about this the other night as I was speaking to a group of parents as part of our new Digital Kids Initiative at CPYU. We chatted about how habit-forming and time-consuming our obsession with technology and staying connected can become. It can happen without us even knowing it. For example, how many of us spend loads of time being physically present with our family members, but emotionally, relationally, or attentively-detached. . . yes, even while sitting together in the same room and on the same couch? With electronic device in hand and/or in our laps, our attention is divided in multiple directions as we post updates, tweet our every move, and obsess over what's happening in the lives of our followers and friends.

Is technology "stealing" you? Do you fret when you're not connected? Do you find it increasingly frustrated to un-tether? Do quiet, solitude, and silence bother you? What would your spouse or children say is you asked them, "Do I have a problem?"

Why not take some time today to ask those difficult questions? Take stock of the time you spend with your technological tools. Take a look at your Facebook page and consider how much time you're spending/wasting. If you've got a Twitter account, look at the number of Tweets you've been sending. If you're staring at a six-figure number, chances are you've got some issues to deal with.

Way back in the 1960s Marshall McCluhan made a bold statement: "We shape our tools and afterward our tools shape us." Not many people listened to or understood McCluhan. Sadly, even though history has proven McCluhan right, very few people are listening today. I don't think we want to listen. Perhaps we're too busy posting updates and composing tweets to listen. But not heeding the truth of McCluhan's warning means that there's some thievery going on. Sadly, the decisions we make cause us to be the perpetrators. The victims are those closest to us. Pray that the people closest to you will speak up and say the hard things you need to hear.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"If Your Spouse Isn't Doing It For You, Just Leave! . . ."

We believe that, don't we? We've bought into it, we embrace it, and we live it out. Commitments and vows mean very little any more. If I'm not feeling it, it must not be. And if it isn't, then I'm not going to continue trying to make it happen.

I've thought about this quite a bit over the last few weeks as I've been listening to Tim Keller's nine-part sermon series on marriage. He preached these sermons - amazing sermons I might add - way back in 1991. They're circulating once again thanks to his recent book based on those sermons, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment With the Wisdom of God. Keller blasts through the lies we've bought about marriage. . . that we come to it with a faulty consumer-mindset that leads us to believe that marriage is there to meet our needs. . . and when our needs are no longer being met. . . well. . . we just move on. Keller also talks quite a bit about the prevalence of feelings in today's world. If we're no longer feeling love, or feeling in love, or feeling like we want to love. . . well. . . move on! Do you know what this does to us? Keller answers, "Modern people make the painfulness of marriage even greater than it has to be, because they crush it under the weight of their almost cosmically impossible expectations."

To all you married folks out there. . . raise your hand if there are times when you don't feel love. Raise your hands if there are times when you bemoan the fact that your needs aren't being met in your marriage. OK. . . I see those hands. You've all got both hands up. Welcome to reality.

Still, we enter into a covenant. . . a commitment. . . a binding agreement that not only holds us together in difficult times, but one that makes us better as we endeavor to image the Bride and Bridegroom we read about in the New Testament. I'm at 30 years this year. My hands have been up and down for thirty years. I've worn out my joints! But I'd also be the first to raise my hand to talk about just how amazingly life-giving it's all been.

I was thinking this morning about how these marriage realities translate into our relationship with the Bride of Christ, His church. More and more we approach our local church commitments with a consumer mindset. And more and more we rely on our feelings as the final arbiter of whether we stay or go. And so when it comes to our local church involvement we marry, divorce, marry, divorce, marry, divorce. . . hopping from one place to another. . . hoping to be feel good, have our needs met, and be satisfied. Some of us get so tired of the institution that we stop marrying. Instead, we cohabitate with our local church body. We're there. We're living together. But we just won't commit. We fail to remember that our local church is like a family. . . like a marriage. . . that it's something that requires our commitment through thick and thin. That it's a place where we give rather than expect to just get.

In just a few minutes I'll be hopping onto a conference call with Bo Boshers and the crew at Lead 222 to talk to youth workers around the world about kids, culture, and the topic of "Our Youth Ministry Responsibilities." Maybe that's why I've been thinking about this today. I trust that we'll keep thinking about it. . . not only in terms of our own relationships with the church, but in terms of what we're teaching our kids.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Be Careful Little Heart. . . Valentine's Day and Social Media. . .

This is a day to be happy and in love, isn't it? At least that's what we're told by the good folks at Hallmark Cards and Whitman Chocolates. . . and the local florist. I was wondering though, how many of today's love stories have been either enhanced or destroyed by the amazing new technologies and media platforms that we've got at our fingertips? I'm sure you know many of these stories firsthand as they've played out in your own little circle of family and friends. I know I do.

These stories are well-worth pondering today for a simple little theological reason: We are broken people living in a broken world. We must recognize that our default setting is to indulge our depravity in every area of life. As followers of Jesus, our divine calling is to wholeheartedly pursue life, love and everything else as it was meant to be. . . what the Bible calls "Shalom" . . . or universal flourishing. We need to be conscious of both our default setting and our calling. . . especially as they relate to our closest and most intimate relationships, along with our use of social media.

As part of our Digital Kids Initiative here at CPYU, we've been looking at the blessings and curses of social media and technology. Take a look around and you'll quickly notice that social media is a blessing and a curse when it comes to existing relationships, new relationships, and reconnections. Knowing this can help us consciously employ safeguards that keep us from wandering down dangerous and destructive paths.

As a blessing, social media can be used to build our off-line real-world relationships. When I travel, I can stay connected in a variety of ways with my wife and children. It's amazing, really. I can follow-up with new friends I meet on the road, connecting the dots between them and resources that can help them in their real-world relationships. And as far as reconnections go, there are people from my high school years, college years, and old youth groups who I would have never been in touch with if it hadn't been for social media. Again, amazing!

But then there's the dark side.. . which is why we all need accountability and limits. Social media provides a "closet" into which we can escape to secretly enter into, build, foster, and indulge in destructive emotional and/or physical relationships. There are oppotunities to "flirt" and "dance" through our fingertips when nobody is looking over our shoulders. It can be the spouse tapping away on the other end of the couch. It can be the employee "working" in the office just down the hall. It can be the youth worker who spends too much time "alone" in inappropriate virtual relationships with their students. What we call "dangerous reconnections" is actually more of a problem for those of us who are older. We use Facebook to revive dormant and sometimes forgotten relationships, reconnecting with old flames. People don't typically join Facebook for this reason. . . it just happens while they are there. One prominent divorce law firm say that 1 in 5 current divorce petitions cites Facebook as the avenue that was used to make and keep connections.

This just serves as a little reminder to us all as we think about what we're told to think about on this day of red. . . be careful, aware, and on guard little heart. Because of your brokenness, you could wind up being your own worst enemy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Music Story of the Weekend. . . And Not Who You Think. . .

Sure, everything else in the world of the news media came to a screeching halt due to a high profile entertainment death on Saturday. This will consume the airwaves for quite some time, I'm sure. The news coverage reminds us of just how important and influential our celebrity role models are. They really do shape us, don't they? And last night we got to see the annual extravaganza known as The Grammy Awards. . . more proof of the fact that pop culture and celebrities do have worldview shaping power. . . as if we needed more proof. At one point during the day yesterday, I actually entertained the rather morbid and embarrassing (yet probably true) thought that those who had purchased commercial time during last night's Grammys were thankful for the death and its timing. More viewers tuning in to gawk and then build the ratings.

And that's where I think the big music story of the weekend really took place. . . at least in my mind. The Grammys. Yes, there was nicely written and delivered prayer from L.L. Cool J. The prayer was refreshing in the way that it expressed gratitude for a life and the God-given giftedness of that life. It also didn't - as many pop culture prayers do - function as a prayer for the dead. There was also that touching moment with Glen Campbell. Sure, most young viewers had no clue who he was. But his appearance on stage as he battles the Alzheimer's that will most likely take his life was a moving reminder that life is short, fragile, and very broken. Yes, the Grammys were filled with these and many other interesting moments.

But what has stuck with me as the most significant moment of the night was also one of the most troubling and confusing segments in the show. When Nicki Minaj took the stage to sing her upcoming single-release, "Roman Holiday," it began dark and stayed dark, as some kind of exorcism was performed featuring one of the many alter-egos she conjures up. . . this one named Roman.

A few weeks ago we took some time in our Doctor of Ministry cohort at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to talk about the Ellen Degeneres/Sophia Grace/Nicki Minaj moment that became a YouTube hit. We processed the significance of that moment that I had blogged about several weeks before. The next day, some of our African-American students offered us some background and perspective that was deeply troubling, including directing us to some video clips where Minaj describes things that many would label as demonic. That was troubling.

Last night was deeply troubling as well. I'm still trying to sort it all out, hoping to see where this story has come from, where it's heading, and just what might really be going on with Minaj. I would love to enter into some dialogue on this. I would encourage you to watch her Grammy performance (below). Then watch her explanation of her alter-ego "Roman" that was part of an MTV Documentary (below). Then take a look at the video clips from The Ellen Show. And after you've done that, take a moment to read Scotty Smith's timely prayer from his great prayer book, "Everyday Prayers." The prayer is dated "February 12." That was yesterday. Grammy Day.

A Prayer About a Fleeing Devil

"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." James 4:6-7

Heavenly Father, at times I make things so much more complicated than they need to be. (Enormous understatement) This is certainly the case when it comes to spiritual warfare. When I look back over the years at all the different teachings I’ve had about “fighting the devil”, much of it promoted more fear than faith… more phobia than freedom… more preoccupation with darkness than fascination with the Light of the World. Somewhere along the line, I missed the image of a fleeing devil. Alas, another arena for gospel-sanity.

Certainly Father, I know that I cannot afford to be na├»ve about the deceitful and destructive schemes of the enemy. Because of Jesus’ cross, he knows his time is short and he is filled with fury. En route to his secured demise, he ramps up his seducing, tempting, distorting, persecuting, lying, accusing and condemning ways, every opportunity he gets.

But, even more so, I can no longer afford to be ignorant of how to resist the devil with the gospel. So today, Father, because the gospel is true, I humble myself before you. Only the gospel frees me to see and own my weakness and susceptibility to the devil’s schemes. I’ll not be sucker-punched by my arrogance and pride. I need the gospel today as much as the first day you justified me by the faith and grace you freely gave me. I trust you, in this moment, for all the grace I’ll need to live for your glory in this one day.

Accordingly, Jesus, I submit to you as my Prophet, Priest and King, right now. You’re my wisdom and my righteousness, my holiness and my redemption. I’ll not boast in anything about me, I’ll simply boast in you. I’ll resist the devil’s deceitful and damning ways by looking unto you, and pondering your beauty and bounty. With the eye of faith, I set my gaze on you, the author and perfecter of my faith. I’m not even going to glance at the devil as he flees. I just want to keep my eyes on you, Jesus. So very Amen, I pray, in your powerful and present name.

-Scotty Smith

Thursday, February 9, 2012

JFK, Position, Power, Persuasion. . . and Our Youth Ministry Responsibilities. . .

I've hesitated writing today's blog entry for two reasons. First, I'm still trying to process what I saw and heard last night in the Rock Center interview with Mimi Alford. Second, the whole story seems to verge on being "soap-opera-ish". . . which makes me feel a little dirty even talking about it. But it's about real life. It offers deep and important insights into the human condition. It provides strong evidence of shifts in culture. And, I think we can learn from it.

Today's blog entry comes out of the nexus of two real-life stories that have grabbed and held my attention. One of those stories grabbed me when I was just 7-years-old and it's been holding me ever since. The other story has gripped me since November of last year. The former is about John F. Kennedy, the young President who was assassinated when I was in second grade - an event that I can replay in my mind in vivid detail. I've been fascinated by that event and Kennedy's Presidency ever since. It's a significant childhood marker for me. The latter story is the now-familiar and yet-unfinished child-abuse scandal at Penn State University. That one's gripped me because it's combined with other events in recent years to open my eyes to the hidden yet all-too-widespread dark side of life in our world.

Briefly, Mimi Alford just released a book about her affair with the President. At the time, the President was in his mid-40's. He initiated the whole thing. Alford was a 19-year-old college student interning at the White House. She was a virgin who had only kissed a boy once. . . in 8th grade. Alford was outed by a historian in 2003 who wrote about the affair in his book on Kennedy. She had no intention of ever telling her story publicly. It's only since then that she has decided -with hesitation - to tell her story. It seems rather clear that this isn't something prompted by a desire for fame and fortune.

If you haven't watched the interview from Rock Center with Meredith Viera, you should. Again, it offers a fascinating peek into the cultural mores of the time, along with lots of discussion fodder on human nature. There's much rattling around in my head as a result of what I watched. Kennedy was a philanderer who was somehow adept at compartmentalizing his life and justifying his infidelity. This has been known for a long time and the interview only confirms and cements what we already know. With the press serving to protect him as well through their turned heads and silence, it truly was a different time. We also know that even though these things were not public, they were there. That confirms the fact that there's nothing new under the sun and that the human heart has always been polluted by sin and bent towards wrong-doing. There's much more I've been pondering as well.

But here's the big takeaway. . . What Mimi Alford described last night to Meredith Viera offers a huge window into the mind of the victim. Sure, some would argue that Alford wasn't a victim here. She herself admitted that she went along with it all and even enjoyed it. But it is clear that Kennedy used his position, his power, and his ability to persuade to start and continue an illicit affair with a teenager who was 25-years-younger than himself. She went along with it. . . remained silent. . . etc. She was naive, stupid, whatever you want to call her. In the end, Mimi Alford comes off as looking incredibly foolish and easily swayed/manipulated. I think she was both. But then you hear the stories of other adults (Jerry Sandusky, etc.) who carefully and with great calculation know exactly what they are doing as they choose to indulge their sinful inclinations and pathologies by grooming, cultivating, and then violating young people sexually, emotionally, or otherwise. As we talked about the interview in the office this morning, we discussed the fact that this was calculated, consensual, and criminal.

We need to carefully consider, understand, and uncover instances where this may be taking place where we live. To my youth worker friends. . . examine yourselves, examine your volunteers, listen for hints from your students. . . these things happen everywhere and they're happening more and more. Understand that as someone in ministry you have position, you have power, and you have the ability to persuade. Don't ever, ever, ever abuse any of those things. . . or the precious young lives committed to your care.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

"I'm Eating A #Donut. . . And Other Ridiculous Stuff You Don't Need To Know. . . "

I spotted this thought-provoking photo on Facebook this morning. It made me laugh. It's a tutorial on the differences between a variety of social media platforms. It's clever. It's somewhat accurate. It's also quite telling. Some questions. . .

1. Why would I EVER want to tell you that I'm eating a donut??? If I think you and the rest of my "followers" need to know. . . well . . . then there's something wrong with me. Of course, because my wife is concerned about my health and what I eat, then telling my "world" would be risky business. Word might somehow get back to her. But that's not the real issue. The real issue here is that I might think I need to tell others, that others might need to know, and that somehow it all matters in the larger scheme of things that this information is necessary to share.

2. Why would you EVER want to know that I'm eating a donut??? Seriously. Do people sit around waiting to hear this stuff? In a world characterized by information overload, this is pure fluff. In a world where we hurry here there and everywhere, do we need to carve out time to look for and absorb this kind of meaningless trivia? And if you and the rest of my "followers" need to know. . . well . . . then there's something wrong with you.

3. What's your "donut?" What's my "donut?" In other words, since we've got people watching, are we saying things to gain and keep their attention? . . . Are we saying things to gain and seek validation and approval? . . . Are we saying things to somehow stake and keep our claim for attention? Or, are we saying things because they must be said? You and I need to be careful about this, don't we? When I dig down deep inside I know that there are things I put out there to gain the approval of others, to brag something up, or to maintain a "following." When I post about a child's achievement. . . or how fast I ran my last mile. . . or an award I received. . . I should be looking deep down inside to evaluate and ponder what's really going on. And once I see it for what it is, then I need to stop going to the "Donut shop."

Hey. . . there's nothing wrong with Social Media. Let's use it, and use it right. Using it right means using it redemptively and to the glory of God. . . not to the glory of self.

Perhaps you need to be a digital immigrant (as opposed to a digital native) to really understand the comparison to days past. Does anyone who grew up pre-social media remember a time when before, during, or after doing anything/everything in the course of a day you would pause, step outside, and shout out what you were doing at the top of your lungs? Or you would go to the neighbor's house, knock on the door, and announce what you were doing, had done, or were about to do? No, of course not. We would have thought there was something very, very wrong with people like that!

Which leads me to wonder about what we've become. . . .

Saturday, February 4, 2012

STOMP. . . . Banging In The Kingdom. . . .

The same thing happened to me the last time we went to the show. This morning, I wanted to go out into my garage and start banging on anything and everything. I was also thinking about the chaos that is our world and our calling to bring beauty and order where ugliness and disorder abound.

Sadly, my attempts to put my own little STOMP performance together would be an epic fail. STOMP is all about rhythm and dance. I'm no good at either. But the traveling troupe we saw perform the show last night is incredibly gifted. I watched in wonder and awe at the talent, the order, and the way the show has developed since we first saw it over 10 years ago.

If you haven't seen STOMP, you should. As a Christian, the show serves as a powerful visual and aural reminder of what God is doing in the world, along with the calling He's placed on our lives to be His Kingdom representatives. His story is being worked out. . . Creation. . . Fall. . . Redemption. . . and one day, Restoration! STOMP takes elements of the fallen created order. . . things that appear to be castoffs and garbage. . . and "redeems" them as the characters embrace them in rhythmic precision. Order comes out of chaos. It's a strong reminder of who we are to be as God's people in every nook and cranny of our world and lives. Not only that, it's incredibly fun.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Redeeming Those Super Bowl Commercials. . . .

So now I'm getting emails from GoDaddy telling me that their Super Bowl commercials are being pre-released. Think about it. . . commercials. . . hype. . . anticipation. . . pre-release. . . it's crazy! And this year, it costs $7 million for a minute of commercial time!

No doubt, the Super Bowl commercial debuts have become an event in and of themselves. Why not take the time to practice "thinking Christianly" about marketing by filtering this year's ads through the following questions? If you hit YouTube after the game (or in some cases before!) you'll be able to watch and talk about them with your kids. At the very least, sit with your kids and filter the ads through "The Simple Seven" questions. If you want to go deeper, use the additional ad filtering questions.

Here's an additional suggestion just for all you youthworkers: build next week's youth group meeting around this year's Super Bowl commercials. Divide up into groups. Give each group one ad to process through the matrix of "The Simple Seven" ad filtering questions. Come back together and have each group report on what they learned. It's a great way to get them to think consciously and critically about marketing, and to get them to see how God's Word applies to all of life!

The Simple Seven
-What product is this ad selling?
-What, besides the product, does this ad sell? (ideas, lifestyle, worldview, behaviors, etc.)
-What’s the bait, hook, and promise?
-Complete this sentence: “This ad tells me, use_________ (the name of the product) and ____________ (the result the ad promises).
-Does the ad tell the truth? What? How?
-Does the ad tell a lie(s)? What? How?
-How does this ad and its messages agree or disagree with God’s truth and what does that mean for me?

Additional Ad Filtering Questions
-Who made this ad?
-Why was this ad made?
-Who is this ad targeting?
-What do the makers of this ad want me to do?
-What’s the plot?
-What are the ad’s themes and assumptions?
-What techniques are being used to sell the product?
-What does the camera say is most important? How are lighting, angles, focus, close-ups, etc. used?
-How is the camera used to manipulate my emotions and create moods?
-How is music used to manipulate my emotions and create moods?
-How are the camera and music used to manipulate and distort reality?
-What longing/need does this product promise to fulfill?
-How are people treated and portrayed? Men? Women? Children? Parents? Authority figures? Etc.
-If you use this product, what does the ad explicitly or implicitly say your life will be like?
-If you don’t use this product, what does the ad explicitly or implicitly say your life will be like?
-What inadequacies, anxieties, and aspirations does the ad exploit?
-Who/what is the redeemer/messiah in this ad?
-Is this ad exploitive or manipulative? How?
-What role do you think this ad plays in shaping the lives of your peers?
-Is this product necessary? Why? Why not?
-How does this ad try to make me need the product?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"So That's What Was Wrong With Me!!. . . My Teenage Brain. . . "

Whenever I talk about adolescent development, I spend some time talking about the intellect, the brain, and cognitive abilities. We covered that topic just a couple of nights ago as I was leading our No Parent Left Behind seminar in Alberta, Canada. And every time I talk about the teenage brain, my own brain reaches deep (or not so deep) into my own memory, recalling the ways that my own not-so-developed frontal lobe and almost-absent impulse control mechanisms mixed it up pretty well.

The memories that pop into my head first involve cars. We all know that teenagers and cars are sometimes a lethal mix. Let a mind lacking impulse control take the controls of a couple hundred horses mounted under the hood of a speed machine. . . and. . . well. . . you know. You've most likely been there. I know I was. I think my dad may have been as well. I remember him telling me that he did some stuff when he was a teenager. When I'd ask "What stuff?". . . he would go silent. I knew he went silent because I was looking for new and exciting ways to let my lack of impulse control shine.

Perhaps I've become like my dad in the sense that I don't want to fully divulge all the little details of some of my teenage motor-fueled impulse-driven adventures. What I can tell you is that some of my adventures involved my dad's cars. One car was the same model and color as the unmarked cars used by a local police force. Let's just say that the cover of darkness, a good hiding place on the side of the road, a hand-held spotlight, and some flashing headlights. . . well. . . I was able to pull a few people over. Other adventures involved a different car. I learned that a good front-end alignment, some very true-steering, and a straight road. . . well. . . again. . . you could drive from somewhere other than the driver's seat. That's all I'm saying.

Alison Gopnik's little Wall Street Journal piece that appeared last Saturday - "What's Wrong With the Teenage Mind?" - offers some great insight into not only what was going on in my adolescent head, but how that has been changing over the years. Puberty arrives earlier. Adulthood is arriving later. Lots and lots of interesting stuff is happening in the period in between. The wonders of modern imaging technologies have coupled with advances in research to help us understand the amazing complexities and God-glorifying structures of the human brain. If we're working with or raising kids, these are things we need to know and understand. Give Gopnik's article a read. Pass it on to the parents and youth workers you know.

I love this metaphor from Gopnik's article: "If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today's adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake." Interesting. I think the teenage version of me. . . in a car. . . serves as "Exhibit A."

(If you want to know more about adolescent development, you can check out a couple of books that we've got here at CPYU on the topic. . . The Space Between. . . and 99 Thoughts For Parents of Teenagers)