Monday, April 30, 2012

Kids Who Cut - Part 1

As a culture-watcher, I sometimes like to “rewind” as a way to gain perspective on just how much and how fast youth culture has changed. The practice serves to wake me up at times when familiarity with what was once relatively unknown lulls us to sleep because it’s become all-too-common and widespread. That creates huge problems, because we’re prone to sleep through things that are so normalized that they don’t catch our attention and wake us up anymore. Sadly, the epidemic of self-injurious behavior that’s swept through and taken up residence in today’s youth culture is one of those things. My “cutting” rewind reminds me just how diligent we really need to be.

I first-encountered self-injurious behavior – more specifically, cutting – in the adolescent ward of a private psychiatric hospital back in 1974. Days out of high school myself, I was hired as a well-intentioned yet terribly ill-equipped and untrained “Mental Health Technician,” working the four-to-midnight shift with a revolving cast of 15 teenagers who were dealing with a variety of psychiatric disorders. One common-thread besides their close-proximity was a tendency for them all to slice away at themselves with anything and everything sharp that they could get their hands on. Usually, it was on their wrists. That location combined with a great deal of ignorance among our professional supervisors to lead them to instruct us to chart any and every incident as an “attempted suicide” or “suicidal gesture.” In hindsight, none of us had any idea at all what we were dealing with.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Dangerous Adolescent Sexual Practice. . . .

Last weekend we held our Hope and Healing for Broken Kids one-day training conference in New Jersey. During one of the breaks, I stepped in on one of the many serious conversations taking place in the room. People were talking about specific problems and specific kids in their ministries. In this particular conversation, a youth worker was asking questions about a curious sexual practice that one of his students had encountered and experimented with. It was something I had heard before and something we have addressed over the years here at CPYU. I decided to rewind back to the mid-1990's and something I had written on this sexual behavior when it was spreading through the teen population. Here's what I wrote:

The black and white photo of the smiling young face caught my eye as I flipped past the obituary page of the morning paper. Printed above the photo were the words, "Kevin J. Witmer*, honor student." I read through the obituary and discovered that Kevin had been involved in camping, hiking, solving environmental problems, and had recently been named "Student of the month" at his junior-high school. The next paragraph told how Kevin had been found hanging in his bedroom. I wondered why this "all-American" kid took his own life.

Several days later a letter from Kevin's parents appeared in the newspaper. "Two weeks ago, our 14-year-old son died," they wrote. "Because the morning obituary omitted the word `accidentally,' there has been much speculation that it was intentional. Kevin did not commit suicide. We are willing to share what little we know with any parent who wants to call us." A conversation with his mother confirmed my suspicions: Kevin had died while "scarfing".

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Charles Colson: The Bulldog Who Shaped My Life. . . .

"Colson died!" That's what my buddy Rich Van Pelt told me as he looked up from reading the news on his phone. That was on Saturday. Since then, I've been thinking about what Charles Colson meant to the church over roughly the last 40 years. I've been thinking about what Colson meant to me. I've also been thinking about what Colson should mean to the emerging generation of Christians.

If you weren't alive during the tumultuous days of "Watergate," it's most likely difficult to really appreciate the Charles Colson story. I was in high school when Watergate was unfolding. Our country was already a dusty and confusing mess as the result of several assassinations (JFK, RFK, MLK, Malcolm X), a brutal and divisive war, and an ideological generation gap that fueled anger on both sides. Now, the government seemed to be falling apart. I didn't understand it all. But I knew the names of many of the characters involved in these stories. Charles Colson was a bad guy. . . a ruthless bulldog. . . a criminal. . .  Nixon's "hatchet-man". . . and he was going to prison. But something happened to Colson during those days that would change his life. In turn, that change to Colson's life would change the lives of countless others. Jesus got a hold of Charles Colson. This wasn't some convenient jailhouse conversion as many in the media believed. This was genuine.

From the newspaper - April 25, 1975 -
 Charles Colson and Charles Givler at Geneva
Thirty-seven years ago tomorrow (April 25, 1975), Charles Colson stood before an audience as a free and converted man for the very first time. I was priviliged to be in the room. I was a freshman at Geneva College. It was one of our required convocations. Colson chose to speak at Geneva because of an engineering professor, Charles Givler. Givler and his family had developed a relationship with Colson while he was in prison. The Givler's wrote regularly to Colson to encourage him in his new-found faith in Christ. Colson so appreciated the Givlers that he came to Geneva on April 25. At the time, none of us knew what God had in store for this man. We only knew that God had worked a miracle of redemptive transformation in his life.
The rest is history. As Colson began to use his brilliant mind to the glory of God, the church benefitted from Colson's thoughtful and faith-filled critique of culture. By the time I was doing youth ministry in the late 1980's, I was telling my students that Charles Colson was a modern-day Apostle Paul.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dick Clark. . . Gatekeeper of Youth Culture. . .

The history of popular youth culture as we know it is a short one. Real short. Post-World War II to be exact. And I think a case could be made for the fact that nobody other than Dick Clark served as the most public and well-known dispenser of all thing youth culture. His death serves to give us pause to think about where youth culture has come from, how much it's changed, and just how powerful it is.

Back in the mid-1950's, Dick Clark was part of a new radio movement. . . a movement where popular records were played. That served to launch the careers of a very select few artists (select few as compared to today's online-fueled music glut, artists who began to shape both individual and collective values, attitudes, and behaviors. His long-running stint on American Bandstand - one of the only televised pop music outlets of the day - was accidental. He was a fill-in for the local Philly host. Clark eventually got the full-time job when that vacationing host got in trouble for drunk-driving. . . a personal behavioral snafu that used to be seen in a negative light. (There's a way youth culture has certainly changed!). In 1957, Clark's local show went national and was dubbed American Bandstand. The rest is history.

For a long, long time, Dick Clark was the gatekeeper of youth culture. Much like Johnny Carson did for young comedians, Clark made careers and shaped youth culture. Youth culture would not be what it is today without Dick Clark. As Clark aged, I often wondered what he really thought about the turns pop culture has taken. Clark made lots of money for all his efforts, a reality which we all know can cloud good judgment and high moral principles.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Facebook. . . Friends, Loneliness, And The Liquid Avatar Known as "Me". . . .

Incredibly connected. Incredibly alone. We've been watching that reality unfold for years. We've been talking about this great irony as well. Technology has given us an amazing and unprecedented ability to be connected all the time to a greater and greater number of people. Still, we are more alone, lonely, and dissatisfied than ever.

A few days ago I read a provocative article by Stephen Marche in The Atlantic: "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?" Marche writes, "Within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sac and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information." The article is worth reading and pondering.

Marche's article spurred some thoughts that I think we should consider.

First, alienation is a part of life in our broken and fallen world. We should never be surprised by its presence. Its presence is actually a groan for the wholeness only God can bring. Our rebellion in the Garden undid everything. We're now alienated from God, from others, from our world, and from ourselves. Even when we find ourselves graciously pulled by our Maker onto the path of redemptive wholeness, the gnawing pain of alienation continues to rear its ugly head. There is a day coming, however, when that gnawing will be wiped away.

Second, our "friends" aren't really our friends. If they are, then I'm one lucky guy. As of this morning, I had 3255 "friends" on Facebook. Friends??? Really??? No. Reality is, these are "contacts." I don't know them all. They all don't know me. And, the only reason the number is what it is is because I live in the world of youth ministry and this is where we've all decided to network. That's a good thing. But to say we're all "friends" . . . that would drain the word "friend" to the point where it means absolutely nothing.

Third, we're extremely fortunate and realistic if we can count our true friends on one hand. Seriously. These are the people with whom we can be transparent. They are people who are willing to call us out. They are people who see us as we really are and keep on looking. I will put a finger up for my wife. . . . my best friend. . . the person who knows me well. By the way, she's not on Facebook. Then, there are a handful of trusted confidantes who share life with me at the deepest of levels. I don't think it's humanly possible to even have the time to invest in more than a handful of these folks. I think people are lonely because they have thousands of contacts and maybe not a single friend.

Fourth, we are so alienated from our selves and others that we leverage social media to create and recreate avatars of ourselves. Sure, we use a genuine photo(s) of ourselves. . . carefully posed. . . carefully edited. . . carefully chosen. We do this because we don't like ourselves. We do this because we want to cover up who we really are. We do this because we want people to see us as something we're not. We deceive because we don't want to be exposed. So. . . we carefully create our brand. . . through the deliberate choice of images and words. And when it stops working or we think we can revise it all into something more likable and better. . . we reinvent ourselves. . . again. I love this little line from Marche's article: "Curating the exhibition of the self has become a 24/7 occupation."

I have no idea where this is all going to lead. But I do think we need to reckon with it in ourselves, in our students, in our families, and in our ministries.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A 12-Hour Media-Peek Into Culture. . . .

Culture is best described, I think, as "the soup we swim in everyday." We don't just swim in it. We marinate in it. It gets into our pores and flavors who we are. . . our beliefs and behaviors. . . how we live. . . etc.

Culture is powerful. That's why we need to stand back and look at the soup. We need to get the big picture. In this morning's paper a sports reporter wrote these words about the great hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, and what it was that made him so great: "It's said that Wayne Gretzky, while playing in a hockey game, could view the game like he was looking at it from above the ice. In other words, he saw plays a move or two ahead of everyone else." That's who we in the church need to be. . . like "the men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do" (I Chronicles 12:32).

So I got to thinking this morning about some things I've watched over the course of the last 12 hours. It's all stuff that we need to watch, process, think about, and talk about. It's soup-stuff. It's not only shaping us. It's also reflecting who we are. Give it all a look.

There's the news about Brangelina. Engaged. After 7 years and 6 kids. Take a look at the first minute of this clip from The Today Show. Then discuss this question: "Is marriage important to kids?"

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

There's this story about social media, webcams, and chin implants. Yep, more crazy plastic surgery trends fueled by our growing appearance obsession and looks-based-identity. Give it a look.

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

And how about this story in a similar vein. . . more stuff on our appearance obsession and insanity. Here's what some brides are doing to look "good" on their wedding day. Yeeessshhhh. . . .

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

And then there was this little commercial clip that kicked it all off for me last night. Thanks to my son and daughter-in-law for pointing me to this commercial. Thanks. . . I think. This is a commercial for a drain cleaner folks.

It's no wonder we are who we are. Is this what it was like in Rome?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I Still Won't Go To The Prom . . . .

I didn't go. There's no way my kids will ever believe it was for any reason other than I couldn't get a date. They believe that because they've seen my senior picture. The real reason - which I can't convince them of! - was that I was just way too cheap. My high school peers were surprised by my decision to skip the big night. "Why?" they asked. My answer was honest, short, and to the point: "I'm not spending $75 on someone I'm not going to marry."

Judging from what I read in yesterday's USA Today article - "Prom and (financial) circumstance" - the 2012 high school senior version of myself would wind up saying the same exact thing. The only difference would be the amount: "I'm not spending $2000 on someone I'm not going to marry."

Hadley Malcolm's great little article on proms gone wild is eye-opening. "Prom is the new wedding," she writes. "And spending on the springtime high school dance is climbing within reach of holy matrimony." It's not at all surprising. When I was doing youth ministry in the Philly suburbs back in the mid to late 1980s I was stunned by the time, energy, effort, and money the kids were putting into the prom. When I started studying youth culture, promo spending figured big into my material on teen materialism. If the prom is a reliable indicator of our values, attitudes, and behaviors on money and thing. . . well. . . we're more materialistic than ever.

Just yesterday I read Christian Smith's chapter on young adult attitudes and behaviors on money and things in his eye-opening book, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. The chapter is entitled "Captive to Consumerism." Smith writes, "What we found is that few emerging adults expressed concerns about the potential limits or dilemmas involved in a lifestyle devoted to boundless material consumption. Most are either positive or neutral about mass consumer materialism. Only a few have reservations or doubts." Prom night proves that Smith's subjects were thinking and living this way long before they reached the age of 18.

According to Hadley's article, families with teens are expected spend an average of $1,078 on prom, up from $807 last year. That number varies based on geography, with families in the northeast (that's where I live) spending an average of $2000.

Hadley mentions some contributors to the craze. I think she's right on. When you look at the trends, there's a perfect storm of stuff converging that keeps us from being dumbfounded by numbers that are now seen as normal. There's our growing love for narcissism, which is all about a growing idolatry of self that translates into doing anything and everything to promote me, myself, and I. There's the emphasis on feeling good over and above exercising rational judgment. Since I want to feel good, I can spend, do, and be whatever I want. There's the generation of parents who want to make themselves look good by making their kids look good. There's the celebrity culture that is all about style, body image, and looking good. Hadley even likens prom to a high school student's red carpet moment. Give it a month and we'll be seeing lots of these red carpet moments popping up on Facebook and YouTube, I'm sure. Then, there's the constant battle between "deserving" and "debt." If we think we deserve it, we're more than happy to go into debt for it. In fact, those with the lowest incomes ($20,000 to $29,000) will be spending more than $2,600 on the prom, which is more than twice the national average.

Now's the time to exercise some good judgement. Parents, set limits and explain those limits with good reasons. Youth workers, this is a good subject for teaching. . . on materialism, body image, style, narcissism, justice, missions, etc.

By the way. . . my prom night. . . I only spent $8. I remember it as a great evening with friends. That eight bucks bought me ticket to a Phillies game, a soda, a hot dog, a soft pretzel, and loads of fun.

Friday, April 13, 2012

7 Ways To Support And Help Parents. . . .

As a youth worker you can either be a help and hero to parents, or you can be a hindrance and, well. . . a flat-out pain in the butt. In my own ministry, I’ve done things that have built relationships with parents, and at times I’ve blown it by doing things that have broken and weakened those relationships. Based on my own experience, here are seven ways to do it right so that you’re a hero rather than a hindrance to parents.

First, understand that your role is to assist parents, not replace them. God has created the family as the primary place where spiritual nurture is to take place. He’s given parents the responsibility to raise their children. If we fall into the trap of thinking that we know better or can do better than mom and dad, we’re not only messing with God’s order and design, but we’re sending a message to parents that could cause them to resent us and see us as arrogant. Remember, you are there to assist parents as they fulfill their God-given role.

Second, introduce yourself to parents. Go out of your way to make sure they know who you are. Look for them after youth group meetings or on a Sunday morning. Make that initial connection and you’re on your way to making a good connection.

Third, do everything you can to let parents know you’re on their team. Tell them that you’re there to assist them, not replace them. Make it clear that you, too, care deeply about the spiritual and emotional well-being of their kids. Let them know that they can call you if there are any concerns they’d like you to address with their son or daughter. Ask permission to call them to let them know about anything that’s going on in the life of their teenager that you think they should be aware of. As a parent, I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to know that I have a trusted ally in my kids’ youth worker!

Fourth, be responsible. If parents look at us and see someone who acts more like a child or adolescent than a responsible adult, we’ll quickly lose their respect.

Fifth, never, ever, ever undermine a parent’s authority. As a youth ministry volunteer, there will be many times when a student comes to you to complain about their parents or to fish for your support when they are locked in conflict with their parents. Rather than siding with the student and bad-mouthing the parent, take time to listen. Then, help the student see things from the perspective of their parent. Encourage the student to see their mom and dad as authorities placed in their lives by God. Challenge them to be obedient to that authority. Sure, there will be times when parents expect or encourage behavior that is immoral or unethical. In those cases you’ll need to stand up for what’s right and side with the student. But those times are very, very rare.

Sixth, pass on anything and everything you learn about youth culture to parents. Hey, I’m the parent of four children. I can tell you from firsthand experience that it’s hard being a parent in today’s culture. The pressures, problems, challenges, and expectations of life in today’s world sure are difficult. And because we parents grew up in a different culture back, it’s very easy to feel and to be horribly out of touch. As a parent, I need you to pass on to me information that will help me better understand and parent my teenager. Tell me about the music, the trends, and the pressures. At CPYU, we've tried to make this step an easy one for you. Youthworkers have found these three CPYU resources to be some of the easiest and best to pass on to parents: The monthly CPYU Parent Page, our daily Youth Culture Today one-minute radio show/podcast, and our weekly Youth Culture E-Update.

Finally, don’t ever attempt to tell parents how to parent unless you’re the parent of a teenager yourself. . . and even then, be very careful about what you say and how you say it. Before I had my own children I thought I knew a lot about parenting teenagers. Then, I had kids and realized how much I didn’t know. Please don’t be presumptuous with parents. If you are, you’ll only be building walls.

Don't ever forget. . . one of the best ways for you to minister effectively to those students you know and love, is to connect with and support the people who know and love them even more than you do!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Boundaries For Youth Workers. . . .

Over the course of my years in youth ministry I’ve learned many things the hard way. . . either by watching myself or observing friends One of the lessons I’ve learned is just how important it is for a youth worker to set boundaries. The fact is, we’re in a spiritual battle where the hearts and minds of kids are at stake. Consequently, the enemy wants to take us down. Add to that the fact that we’re all broken and sinful people trying to lead and minister to other broken and sinful people. And wherever one or more broken and sinful people are gathered together, there’s a need for boundaries. I’ve learned to appreciate boundaries. They aren’t confining. They’re life-giving. Boundaries protect us from harm and they provide for our well-being. They keep us out of trouble. And in today’s world, boundaries are more important than ever. Here are some boundaries I believe every youth worker should pursue, set, embrace, and live within.

First, don’t do youth ministry unless you have and are using an accountability network. People who decide to do youth ministry on their own without the benefit of others are usually the first to get in trouble. Find a couple of trusted friends who will engage with you in vulnerable conversation, asking the hard questions about your ministry motivations, about where you’re spending your time, and about your relationships with kids. The great benefit of this boundary is that it helps you figure out just what your weaknesses are, which then helps you set and keep other much-needed boundaries.

Second, avoid any and all inappropriate contact with kids. Sadly, I’ve known way too many youth ministry friends over the years who have destroyed their lives, their ministry, their families and even their youth group kids through crossing the line into inappropriate relationships. In today’s world, the best and safest policy is to never spend one on one time alone with a student of the opposite sex. Never, ever, ever give a student of the opposite sex a ride in your car. Even when everything is on the up and up and innocent, false accusations could be made that will destroy you. Don’t visit a student of either sex in their bedroom. It’s best to minister to students in groups. If you need to have a one-on-one conversation with a student – which you will – have the conversation in a quiet corner of a public place. And when it comes to physical touch, be very careful. Even a hug that means nothing to you could send all kinds of emotional and sexual signals to needy and adoring kids.

Third, develop a clear set of parameters for how you will engage with students through your cell phone, Facebook, and other social media platforms. All these new technologies are great. They enable us to stay in touch with kids like we’ve never been able to stay in touch before. But if we aren’t careful, our communications could cross the line into the realm of the inappropriate real fast. I’ve learned that it’s just best to carry the same rules for personal contact over into the world of social media. If you’re a guy, you shouldn’t be texting the girls in your youth group. And if you’re a girl, don’t be texting the male students. The same holds true for sending private one-on-one Facebook messages and emails.

Fourth, if you find yourself crossing a line, run to your accountability partners and scream out to them for help. If you find yourself crossing a line and enjoying it, run and scream like there’s no tomorrow. Then, start to take the necessary steps under the supervision of a group of ministry leaders at your church to admit your wrongdoing, seek forgiveness, and get back on track.

Finally, learn the power of saying “no.” Perhaps this is the most important boundary I’ve learned to set in my own life and ministry. Don’t let your investment of youth ministry time cut into your time with the Lord, your time with your family, or your time pursuing your own personal interests and friends. We all need balance in our lives. And if someone you know and love – particularly your spouse - tells you that you’ve crossed the boundary to the point where you’re no longer spending time where you should be.. . .well, you’ve got to listen and you’ve got to make changes.

Those are just a few important boundaries. Whenever I hear about a high-profile ministry leader who has fallen into sin, I’m tempted to wag my finger at them in condescending disapproval. Then I remember who I am and how I’m tempted. I remind myself that I’m only one bad decision away from being that guy. And that is why you, me, and everyone else in youth ministry need to set and stay within boundaries. The Apostle Paul issued a warning in Galatians 6:1 that’s just as relevant to us today: “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

What other boundaries have you found to be helpful?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Music That Gives Hope. . . Part 3. . .

Once again, I want to invite you into some things that have become a part of some annual intentionality for me. It's Easter weekend. My only hope comes from the grace shown in the events we celebrate this weekend. Over the course of four days I'm posting music that tells the truth and ministers deeply to me. Today, "Death In His Grave" from John Mark McMillan. May you be richly blessed.

Death In His Grave (Performance Video) from john mark mcmillan on Vimeo.

Though the Earth Cried out for blood
Satisfied her hunger was
Her billows calmed on raging seas
for the souls on men she craved

Sun and moon from balcony
Turned their head in disbelief
Their precious Love would taste the sting
disfigured and disdained

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

So three days in darkness slept
The Morning Sun of righteousness
But rose to shame the throes of death
And over turn his rule

Now daughters and the sons of men
Would pay not their dues again
The debt of blood they owed was rent
When the day rolled a new

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke holding keys
To Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

He has cheated
Hell and seated
Us above the fall
In desperate places
He paid our wages
One time once and for all

Friday, April 6, 2012

Music That Gives Hope. . . Part 2 . . .

Once again, I want to invite you into some things that have become a part of some annual intentionality for me. It's Easter weekend. My only hope comes from the grace shown in the events we celebrate this weekend. Over the course of four days I'm posting music that tells the truth and ministers deeply to me. Today, "The Power of the Cross" from Stuart Townend. May you be richly blessed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Music That Gives Me Hope. . . Part 1. . .

Once again, I want to invite you into some things that have become a part of some annual intentionality for me. It's Easter weekend. My only hope comes from the grace shown in the events we celebrate this weekend. Over the course of four days I'm posting music that tells the truth and ministers deeply to me. Today, "There Is A Hope" from Stuart Townend. May you be richly blessed.

There is a hope that burns within my heart,
That gives me strength for ev'ry passing day;
a glimpse of glory now revealed in meager part,
Yet drives all doubt away:
I stand in Christ, with sins forgiv'n;
and Christ in me, the hope of heav'n!
My highest calling and my deepest joy,
to make His will my home.

There is a hope that lifts my weary head,
A consolation strong against despair,
That when the world has plunged me in its deepest pit,
I find the Savior there!
Through present sufferings, future's fear,
He whispers, "Courage!" in my ear.
For I am safe in everlasting arms,
And they will lead me home.

There is a hope that stands the test of time,
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face!
When sufferings cease and sorrows die,
and every longing satisfied,
then joy unspeakable will flood my soul,
For I am truly home.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mapping Intercourse. . . Literally. . .

People like me who live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania hear the jokes and the questions all the time. Yes, there are some towns here with some funny names. They're the kind of names that evoke chuckles from folks who don't live with the familiarity that we have. Of course, the most famous of all those little town names is Intercourse. Yep. We've got a town named Intercourse. In fact, there's an entire shelf of tacky "I Love Intercourse (Pa.)" souveniers at the Harrisburg International Airport. I'm sure that people who don't believe it's true search for Intercourse on the map. And, they'll find it.

Now, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest is "mapping Intercourse" in a different way. It seems that during National Condom Week (sorry. . . I didn't realize there was such a thing), the group distributed 55,000 condoms throughout western Washington state. Nothing unusual there. Planned Parenthood has been distributing condoms for years. In fact, I wrote about my visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic back in the late 1980s. I walked out with a bag full of condoms that I had scooped out of basket in the lobby. It was all part of a little fact-finding trip. These 55,000 condoms, however, were a bit different. The packaging featured a QR code that users would scan with their smartphones that would send them to a website. A website? What website?

Well, here's a link to the website in question. The site is called "Where Did You Wear It?" and it features the web address It gets even more interesting and creative. Condom users are asked to answer a short battery of questions that establish some of the "whos" and "wheres" of the sexual encounter. . . which then is translated into a dot marking the location on a map. As of today, the map extends across the entire U.S. with dots that can be filtered to see who is doing what and where they are doing it.

The questions? Well, you can see for yourself on the "Where Did You Wear It?" website. But here's a short rundown. After filling in a blank with the approximate address, visitors are asked to choose their own gender from "guy," "girl," and "trans." They are to assign a gender to their partner (same three choices), and then they are to give their age. Then, it gets very interesting with a complete the sentence: "My relationship is. . . " A drop-down menu offers a variety of answers from "all about love" to "what relationship?" The words monogomous, married, and committed aren't anywhere to be seen. The survey is complete after respondent answer three more questions with drop-down options. The questions ask for reasons why a condom was worn, how good the safe sex was, and where the condom was worn (beach, hot tube, etc). The media coordinator from Planned Parenthood says the thinking behind the site is to "create some fun around making responsible decisions."

What's most troubling about this whole thing is that it reveals our basic understandings, motivations, and presuppositions about sex and sexuality. In Genesis 3:6 God's good and perfect plan comes undone because we decided we had a better way of doing things. That undoing includes the wonderful gift of our sexuality. How wonderful it would be if there were cultural artifacts and institutions pointing the way to sexual flourishing and Shalom. Sadly, those realities are diminishing and disappearing.

It's time to put Intercourse and everything else wonderful about our sexuality on a map that sends us all in the right direction. Why? Because we're really, really lost.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bully. . . The Movie. . . The Reality. . .

The new documentary film Bully opened on Friday. I have yet to see it. A quick run through the movie page of our local paper indicates that at this point, it isn't playing anywhere nearby. I'm going to keep looking because this is a huge issue. It hits close to home as my childhood and adolescence included playing both the role of the bullied and the bully. I remember neither fondly. One musters up feelings of pain. The other, feelings of deep shame and regret.

There's a part of me that would love to write bullying off as adolescent behavior that will someday pass. It might. And, it might make the victims better adults. But that's no excuse for us to turn our heads the other way while kids are locked in the midst of the pain and trying to deal with it all from a perspective that offers little sense of hope or escape. When we read the Gospel, we realize that if we are going to say we are followers of Jesus, we need to follow Him into this reality.

I want to point you to some resources on Bullying that you can use to get the thinking, the talking, and the ministering moving in the right direction.

First, there's the movie Bully. Here's the trailer. We need to go see it.

Second, there's the story of Megan Meier. We've posted the two video clips below on our Digital Kids Initiative site.

Finally, here's a link to a brand new handout we've put together as part of our Digital Kids Initiative here at CPYU: A Parent's Guide to Cyber-Bullying.