Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Hunger Games. . . The Movie. . .

Saw the movie yesterday. . . with my buddy Marv Penner. . . in a Dallas theater. . . that was surprisingly empty. It was energizing to be with Marv and talk about the book, then watch the movie, then talk about our impressions. I'm fully aware from my discussions with others that my commentary is limited due to the fact that I have yet to see the big Hunger Games picture. I've only read the first book. I don't know the rest of the story. . . which I'm sure will make a huge difference in my understanding and thoughts. But here's what I was thinking as we walked out of the theater. . .

First, I'm getting the connect. Teenagers want to feel strong, validated, hopeful, powerful, empowered, meaningful, important, and significant. They are idealistic. They want to be difference-makers. They long for relationships and love. Blatant oppression and injustice are things from which they want to break free. Katniss Everdeen embodies all those qualities, characteristics, yearnings, and more. She's "putting it to the man." She is rising above the heartache and brokenness that has filled the short years of her young life. No wonder she and her story are connecting.

Second, this really is a story that stirs up imagery and thoughts about Hitler's rise to totalitarian power and the propagandizing control of the Third Reich. District 12 looks like a concentration camp and its young are paraded, controlled and postured like the targets of Hitler's insane schemes. But while I believe that The Hunger Games can serve as a reminder for a new generation to "never forget," I fear that the proper reaction against unjust totalitarianism could easily morph into a reaction against the life-giving and redeeming freedom that comes in being a slave to Christ.

And third, I'm not sure I'm seeing the feminist agenda that some critics see in The Hunger Games. Yes, Katniss Everdeen is a strong and bright young woman. Her circumstances have made her strong and determined. She has been strengthened while exercising body/mind and developing skills in order to survive. Just because a story portrays a young lady as strong one should not automatically assume that all males are being depicted as weak or that gender roles are being redefined. At this point, I think this is an unfair criticism.

And finally, I was amazed at the way the radical violence in the story was softened in ways that dulled what could have been especially gory and gratuitous. Once you see the film you'll know what I'm talking about.

This is a film and a story that our kids are consuming like the hungry Tributes consume their valuable and little morsels of food. They will watch it, chew on it, process it, and digest it with or without us. The latter option offers us a great opportunity to talk about the bigger story - God's story - and the things that really matter.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"The Hunger Games. . . ."

There was no need for me to stand in line at a movie theater or even read the paper to know that there's a cultural phenomena sweeping the nation and the world that's known as The Hunger Games. It all started for me several weeks ago with a simple question from my daughter, who is a 6th grade teacher. "Dad, have you done anything on The Hunger Games?" She proceeded to tell me that her students were reading the books. She had started to read the books. Then I heard about countless others who were reading the books. Then, there was the massive buildup to the movie, which opened late last week and proceeded to post some pretty impressive box office numbers.

No, all I needed to do was look around on Friday while I was sitting in airports and belted in during flights. The first book in the trilogy was everywhere. It was in my hands as well. I picked it up on Thursday and read it on Friday and Saturday. If you want to know how gripping it is I can tell you that I was wishing I had gotten through that last chapter by the time I turned the lights out on Friday night. I didn't. I had to suffer through my own youth culture seminar on Saturday morning while waiting to finish on the flight home. Now, I need to read the next two books and see the movie.

Several folks have asked me what I think of The Hunger Games. I've got no easy and quick answer on this one. I need to do some more reading. I need to do some more thinking. I need to do some more asking around. I need to do some more discussing. I can, however, offer some initial thoughts.

First, the book is simple yet gripping. The entire time I was reading I kept wondering to myself about why it's such a best-seller. There is nothing about it that makes it stand out for me. I've read many, many good stories that never got traction or stuck. For some reason, this one has. I find it especially interesting that a work of juvenile fiction has such a huge adult audience. Maybe it's a matter of something going viral in our current culture of social media.

Second, I'm not sure that this is just "a book about kids killing kids." I know that many commentators have made that suggestion and I even had someone describe it that way to me. There are things much deeper going on here. In fact, it's a book about kids being made to kill kids. That's the deeper story for me at this point. The cover art, colors, and font trigger thoughts of Hitler and his Third Reich in my mind. That leads to thoughts about propaganda, totalitarianism, and mind control. Read the book and you'll see that there's some of that going on. The story itself conjured up images of The Lord of the Flies , Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and Huxley's Brave New World for me. Anyone else see any of that as they read?

Third, I think the book serves as a look ahead to the the kind of ugly fall-out that just might be around the corner for our own culture when an obsession with reality TV combines with a diminished respect for human life and dignity. Realistically, this might be a story about where we're headed.

Fourth, The Hunger Games offers a launch point into discussions about human brokenness, sin, and depravity. Sadly, we've come to believe in the inherent goodness of people. Looking at life on that foundation eliminates any need for salvation, redemption, and a Savior. Why would we need to a rescuer if there's nothing we need to be rescued from? Consequently, there's something "good" about the evil world depicted in the book.

Fifth, the immense popularity of the books and the film(s)remind us that our kids and ourselves are in desperate need of a hope-filled story. We've been made to live in God's story. When we don't know that story or live in it, we default into insufficient substitute stories that remind us of that deep yearning for wholeness that life in God's story brings. In that way, the popularity of this story should spur us on to tell the bigger, better, and most amazing/complete story of all.

Finally, the obsession with The Hunger Games should lead us to question the obsessed. "Why do you like this story?" and "What do you like about this story?" are two questions that will not only take us deep into the hearts and minds of the spiritually hungry, but they will offer us opportunities to talk about the only Bread that satisfies.

So, that's where I am at this point in time. I want to keep thinking.

What do you think about The Hunger Games?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Has Anybody Out There Seen This? . . . .

Every once in a while the music world drops a short video that not only catches our attention by telling the ugly truth, but makes us stop in our tracks. One of my friends emailed me with a heads-up about this one just a little while ago. I'm usually on top of stuff like this but this one slipped under the radar for some reason. . . until this afternoon.

Truth is oftentimes ugly. That's the way it is in the Scriptures. That's the way it is in life. That's the way it is in this video. I was already feeling a little bit beat up after reading Brennan Manning's memoir, "All Is Grace," over the last couple of days. Now this. We must pray for grace to break through.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"I Love College. . . "

A few years ago Asher Roth got himself nominated for a VMA with his video for his song "I Love College." The song celebrated love for all things college. . . all things - that is - except for academics, intellectual growth, healthy socialization, and preparation for life. Roth defined the university years as Animal House on steroids. According to Roth, one's goals, purpose, and objectives is to live on campus to the glory of self for anywhere between four years and a lifetime.

Asher Roth couldn't be serious, could he? It seems that "college confusion" has embedded itself even more deeply as students follow Roth's lead. No, it's not all students. That's for sure. But judging from a growing catalog of YouTube videos that share the title I'm Schmacked, life on campus is not what we think it is. A recent college graduate pointed me to the I'm Schmacked videos, a series of trailers for an upcoming documentary of the same name in which one campus tries to outdo the other in a kind of over-the-top party competition. The first one I looked at was made by students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. . . which you can watch below. What concerns me most about videos like these are that they serve as orientation programs that define what life on campus should be.

For years now, parents and youth workers have been voicing concerns regarding what happens to our Christian kids when they head off to college. Research and anecdotal evidence indicate that this concern is warranted, with many of these students hitting the "pause" button on their faith. Some seemingly walk away. We've got to do a better job of preparing our kids for their college years.

At CPYU, Derek Melleby has been working hard to understand and address these issues through our College Transition Initiative. What I love about what Derek's doing is that he isn't issuing a checklist of "don'ts." Instead, Derek is pointing transitioning students to a deep understanding of what it means to embrace college as a great privilege and opportunity, while bringing glory to God through integrating faith into every nook and cranny of college life. To be honest, it's both timely and refreshing. This is truly about what college should be.

In a few days, Derek will embark on a College Transition Initiative Spring Tour. You can learn more about the Spring Tour 2012 and where Derek is headed here. If he's coming to a venue near you, spread the word and get yourself there. If not, give us a call at CPYU and get a College Transition Initiative Seminar scheduled for your community.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Brand New From CPYU! . . . .

Technology is amazing. The older I get, the more amazing it is. Technology can also be really, really good. I find it to be good when it improves our lives and gives us deeper tastes of what it means to live within the Kingdom of God. Technology can also be really, really dangerous. It's dangerous when it breaks us down and advances the Kingdoms of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The latter usually happens without us knowing it. . . and when we do find out, the damage has already been done.

Because our first love here at CPYU is our God, we endeavor with great passion and commitment to equip our other loves (parents, youth workers, pastors, educators, etc.) to train and raise up a generation of young people who passionately pursue integrated lives. In other words, we want to see young people integrate their faith into every nook and cranny of their lives. . . including their use of technology.

The Digital Frontier is expanding and unfolding at breakneck speed before our very eyes. We've got a small window within which to invite students into God-honoring use of all the technologies and digital tools that are going to be a part of their lives both now and for the years to come. Maybe what we're talking about here is "Digital Discipleship."

Last Friday night, we launched a brand new website here at CPYU. . . It's the home for our new Digital Kids Initiative. I want to invite you to give it a quick look. Thanks to a generous seed grant from DAS, our Digital Kids Initiative now has an online home that full of all kinds of resources, news, links, media, seminar descriptions, and downloadable handouts. It's all free!

Will you do us a favor? Check it out. Tell us what you think. And, spread the word.

Monday, March 12, 2012

True or False? I Don't Know. . . And That's What's Scary! . . .

During a conversation with a youth ministry friend the other day, we were lamenting the growing level of shallowness in our youth ministry and church world. The conversation - not surprisingly - included some dialogue about Thomas Bergler's upcoming new release, The Juvenilization of American Christianity. We got talking about our (the church's) growing concern with style over substance, our love affair with relevance, the watering-down of the Gospel, and the unintended short- and long-term consequences all this will have on our faith and our culture.

In the midst of our conversation, my friend asked, "Hey, have you seen Ed Young's new site," "Really. No. Are you kidding me?!?" It was one of those moments when I had to ask my friend a few times over if he was serious or if he was messing with me. He was serious. He also said he wasn't sure if the site was serious or satirical.

Later that night, I went to Yep. It exists. It's out there. Not only is it out there, but it's out there. . . really out there. I can't tell if it's serious or not. I had a couple of friends who are familiar with Ed Young give it a look. They can't figure out if it's serious or not. I can't tell if it's brilliant or horrifying.

Here's one of the videos posted on the site.

Pastor Fashion - Spanx from Fellowship Church on Vimeo.

So. . . what do you think? If it's serious, shame on us. We're in big trouble folks. And if it's satirical, shame on us again. Why? Because it satirizes a reality many of us have seen unfolding in many corners of the church as pastors hire fashion and image consultants, as pastors have themselves made over, and as pastors/churches spend a growing amount of time cultivating style at the expense of deep substance.

Look. . . there's not enough make-up in the world to fix me. The good news is that it's not about me. I've been called to be a sign-post pointing to the King, the King's Gospel, and the King's Cross. If someone's eyes land on me and they don't move on. . . maybe I need to check myself to see if I'm the reason.

Lots of issues here to think about. What do you think?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"I've Got A Kid. . . . "

There were three harrowing phone calls the other day that began with someone in ministry saying, "I've got a kid. . . " In each case, what followed were descriptions of horrifying brokenness and hurt.

Call #1- "I've got a kid who was found by one of my volunteer leaders walking on the side of the road. . . soaking wet, freezing, and carrying belongings in a bag. What do we do?" This providential encounter with a 14-year-old runaway who had just been arrested for the fourth time for shoplifting brought a youth worker into the kid's life for the first time. Now, as he lay broken and confused in a hospital after falling into a freezing river and nearly dying, the youth worker was at a loss for what to do next.

Call #2 - "I've got a kid in my church who is 16-years-old, very bright, a professing follower of Jesus. . . and she's cutting herself severely. What do we do?" Here's a kid from a Christian home. Her father is a leader in the church. She's questioning her life and her faith. She wears her hurt on her arms. What do we do next?

Call #3 - "I've got a kid in our church who is questioning her sexual identity. She's dabbling with homosexuality. Her parents are at a loss. We haven't faced this in our youth ministry before. We're at a loss. What should we do?"

As the years have passed in my own life, I've realized just how deep and wide brokenness and hurt run through our culture. I've also realized just how badly hope and healing are needed. Those who consciously or unconsciously buy into a human-centered understanding of life (yes, even Christians do this), tell us that we need to be more positive, to think more positive, and to not let this stuff get us down. But when you read the Scriptures. . . really read the Scriptures. . . the unavoidable reality is that life and everything in it is deeply flawed and horribly broken. That's the way it is from Genesis 3:6. And when that understanding is diminished, our need for Jesus is diminished as well. That's why recognizing and being realistic about brokenness is really all about being truthful.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture comes from the book of the Bible that confuses me the most - Revelation. While I can't for the life of me figure out the symbolism and details (consequently, I don't spend any time trying to figure them out), what is clear and unmistakable is what Revelation is really all about. That favorite passage of mine captures it. . . Revelation 21:3-5 - "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He who sits on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'"

I look forward to that day. Whether they know it or, every human being is longing for that same thing. Until then, we need to endeavor to serve the King by doing all we can to bring chunk after chunk of that Kingdom and its hope into every life and nook and cranny of life that our lives are privileged to touch.

We're committed to that here at CPYU. For those of you who live in the Northeast, we're thrilled to invite you - parents, youth workers, pastors, counselors, etc. - to a one-day training event, Hope and Healing for Broken Kids, with Marv Penner and Rich Van Pelt. The date is Saturday, April 21st. The place is the metro New York City area. . . New Providence, NJ to be exact. We'd love to have you there. You can learn more here. And for those of you who might like to host this event in your community, just give us a call here at CPYU (800-807-CPYU).

Friday, March 2, 2012

Jimmy Fallon And A Spot-On Cultural Critique. . .

Over the course of the last couple of years I've become increasingly convinced that the worst enemy we face here in the U.S. is an enemy that lies within. In fact, that enemy is ourselves and the allegiances we have to things that are just not very good for us at all. We love those things, we embrace those things, we celebrate those things. . . and those things are eventually going to kill us.

I include in that list many of our obsessions. . . things like certain TV shows, our technological gadgets, and stuff that fills our time. My theory has been that our enemies don't need to resort to conventional weaponry to take us down. All they have to do is wait for the stuff in our "cultural soup" to run their course, and we'll be finished.

This morning, I ran across this quote from Jimmy Fallon in USA Today - "North Korea has officially agreed to suspend its nuclear program. Apparently, they watched one episode of Toddlers & Tiaras and realized we're destroying our own society."

Funny. . . but so, so true that it's also incredibly sad.