Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Male Brain, Pornography, and the Young Woman Sitting In Front of Me. . .

Today I had a long flight. I decided to dig into the stack of books that's growing on a spot on my office floor. My summer reading/study emphasis is pornography. . . its place in our culture and what it's doing to our lives. The pile of books has grown in the last few weeks and I'm not at all looking forward to what I'm going to be reading and what I'm going to learn. Still, it needs to be done.

As I settled into my seat I pulled out my copy of William Struthers' Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. I've been fascinated by the little bit I've read from this Christian Biopsychologist who teaches at Wheaton College so I've been yearning to learn more about the not-so-surprising connection between pornography and the things it does to men's brains. After all, we're integrated beings created by a Maker who has made us with amazing complexity.

At the same time that I was opening my book, a young woman who appeared to me to be in her early twenties settled down in the row in front of me. She quickly stowed her carry-on bag under her seat and then eagerly opened her book. . . . Fifty Shades of Grey. You might remember that I blogged on this blockbuster book a few posts ago.

And so I proceeded to read these words about what pornography does to the male brain:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Marvel Comics and Same-Sex Marriage. . . .

Northstar proposes to Kyle

So yesterday the world's comic book fans found out that Northstar proposed marriage to his boyfriend Kyle. A mutant who is a member of the super-hero X-Men of Marvel Comics fame, Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle will be getting married next month when Astonishing X-Men #51 releases on June 27. Writer Marjorie Liu - the one who's penning the Northstar marriage story - knows that the move is controversial. Still, she says it reflects what's happening in our society. She's right. Liu's motivation in writing the story is at least partially fed by what she says is knowing what it means for the world to look down on two people in love. Her dad is Chinese and her mom is American.

The comic book's same-sex wedding is certainly reflective of what's happening in our culture. Our understanding of love, sex, marriage, and homosexuality is all over the place. Differences in understanding and belief run across political, demographic, and geographical lines. It's complex. And if you're a parent or youth worker, you also know that differences in belief and opinion run across generational lines. At times, I'm encouraged by the fact that compassion is growing among the younger generations. That compassion, I hope, is spreading into the church. But compassion is blurring with tolerance and acceptance. That's a trend that's cause for concern.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Disordered Eating. . . Beyond Anorexia and Bulimia. . .

Perhaps the best way for me to state it is like this: If my grandmothers were ugly, they didn't know it. I know that the statement sounds a bit crude and harsh, but I don't remember either of them being terribly concerned or obsessed about how they looked. I don't remember the other people in their lives (family members and friends) being concerned about how my grandmothers looked either. I don't think that it's any coincidence that my grandmothers' generation didn't grow up with nor did they have to live with the 24/7 barrage of marketing and media images that in today's world have become standards for comparison and body-image standards to which people strive.

Fast-forward to contemporary culture. Can any of you name a person who doesn't struggle with some level of body image care, concern, or obsession? Let me make it even harder. . . can any of you name a young person who doesn't feel the pressure to obsess?

A couple of weeks ago I ran across a report from MSNBC on lesser known eating disorders. These lesser known eating disorders are those that don't meet the criteria for Anorexia or Bulimia. I remember the day when I was 21-years-old when I first heard the term Anorexia Nervosa. I was clueless.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

God Can't Change People. . . . Sad. . . .

Yesterday, I celebrated 30 years of marriage with my wife. After a nice dinner out, I came home to a moving and thoughtful surprise that put a smile on my face and gave me great joy. There in our room sat a huge, beautifully framed copy of what has become my favorite painting. An anniversary gift from Lisa.  I've blogged about David Arms' "God's Story" before. I look at it and ponder what it means. I see myself in it. There in the painting's four panels is the grace-filled unfolding story of God undoing what humans have done. . . Creation. . . Fall. . . Redemption. . . . Restoration.

Even though I never lived in it, panel one echoes through my being. I know that I was made for that. Panel two is an ever-present and gnawing part of my life. Panel three reminds me of the mercy and grace I've been shown. . . no fault of my own. Panel four is what I look forward to. I stand back and look at the entire painting and see the story into which I've been called. And no matter where I am at that moment in time, the painting ministers to me and gives me much-needed perspective. I see my home in that painting which will now hang prominently in my home. I am reminded that God is. I am reminded that God is at work. I am reminded that God is writing His story.

I woke up this morning and looked once more at the painting Lisa got me. Awesome. Then I walked downstairs to a cup of coffee and the newspaper. . . and Donald Kaul's biting editorial on Charles Colson entitled "Colson was no saint."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hey Abercrombie. . . I Accept You As My Savior. . .

I was going through some files the other day and came across a syllabus for Dean Borgman's "Understanding Youth Culture" class at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dean has had a profound impact on my life so I took some time to read throught the 20 page syllabus to see what kind of reading Dean required back in 2008. On his list was a book I've never read by Hugh Rank. Published in 1982, The Pitch: How to Analyze Ads - A Simple 1-2-3-4-5 Way to Understand the Basic Pattern of Persuasion in Advertising looks to be next to impossible to find. . . but I'm looking. I think I need a copy.

The title and Dean's annotation caught my eye. We've been deconstructing and talking marketing and kids here at CPYU for years. In fact, we've put together some tools you can use to teach students how to analyze ads. What struck me most about Rank's book is the way he alludes to the theological realities that feed the effectiveness of marketing and consumerism.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Realities And Questions Few Of Us Ever Imagined. . . .

It's commencement season. That means that a small army of "speakers" have been invited. . . one per institution of higher education. . . to address a gymnasium or stadium full of robed graduates and their parents. And every realistically aware one of those speakers knows that the task they've been given is challenging. For four or more years the uniformly attired and neatly rowed graduates have worked toward this moment. The moment can't come fast enough. To make it worse, they've got to sit still and wait just one more time. . . for the man or lady up front to say a few words and then sit down.

I've been on both sides. I've been a graduate. When I graduated from Geneva College in 1978 I didn't have a cell phone on which to text, surf the Internet, or watch YouTube videos. My only options were to a) listen, b) appear to listen, and c) fall asleep.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Virtuous Business of Scaring The Kids. . . Maruice Sendak, Oswald, and the Lindbergh Baby. . .

The older I get, the more convinced I am of the fact that a healthy dose of realistic fear is a healthy and helpful thing for children. Yes, I think children need to be scared in just the right way. Not too much. Not too little. Parents and other people who don't care sometimes scare kids too much. They send them to the wolves without any buffers or protection. Those kids tend to grow up plagued by phobias and pathologies that effect both them and others, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Parents and other people who care too much buffer kids from the presence of the bad stuff in the world in ways that leave kids thinking - wrongly - that both people and the world are inherently good. These kids tend to grow up ignorant to their need for rescue and redemption.

One person who had a good sense of the evil and broken nature of the world was the childrens' author, Maurice Sendak, who died last week at the age of 83. Sendak was best known for his children's story, Where the Wild Things Are, a book that was intensely popular despite its dark nature. After Sendak died, the Baltimore Sun's Susan Reimer penned an editorial memorializing Sendak. Reimer's piece not only praised Sendak for pulling back the curtain on evil in the world, but it served to stir up scary memories from my own childhood.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Parental Diligence Needed Here. . . .

The other day my post asked whether or not the mix of teens and technology is good, bad, or ugly. I think it's got the potential to be all three. . . powerful potential. Certainly one of the "bad" and "ugly" byproducts of life on the digital frontier is the many types of distraction that now exist. We're all over the place thanks to screens and handhelds. It's hard to keep our eyes on each other and our attention where it needs to be. It's also hard to keep our eyes on the road.

One of the most pressing issues we need to address is distracted driving. When I'm out on my bike I can't believe how many people I pass are looking down at their cell phone screens. It's scary. Lives will be changed. . . sadly.

With that in mind, we've added something new to our Digital Kids Initiative here at CPYU. It's a brand new downloadable fact sheet on "Texting While Driving." It's FREE!

If you're a parent, download it and talk about it with your kids. If you're a youth worker, get it in the hands of every parent and every student you know. . . talk about it too!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Technology and Kids. . . Good? Bad? Ugly? . . .

The Millennial Teenager
Courtesy of: Online Schools

Yesterday this infographic on "The Millennial Teenager" was making the rounds. My buddy Doug Fields posted it over on his blog. I gave it a quick look over there and was curious as to how Doug's commenters were responding to his multi-faceted question: "What do we do about this reality? Curse it? Figure out how to maximize it? Ignore it? What do you think?"

I immediately flashed back to a great "technology scene" involving Doug that's still making me laugh out loud. We were in Dallas a couple of months ago and I was at the wheel. Doug, Marv Penner, and Duffy Robbins were in the car.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

14 Takes On Seventeen. . . Julia Bluhm's Noble Crusade. . . .

Exhibit A. . . both what you see and what you read
A 14-year-old has me thinking about body image today. As far back as I can remember, any and every youth culture seminar I've presented has included at least a mention of the powerful and pervasive youth culture trend we call "body image pressure." I mention it. I talk about the rapid evolution of disordered eating. And, we look at a series of marketing images that prove the point. I might show 10 images featuring females. That's 10 images out of thousands upon thousands (more likely millions) from which to choose. Those images have been pounding us for almost fifty years now in an ongoing storm that's become so familiar that we don't even notice that we're getting pounded anymore. I show the images and say, "This is the stuff that tells my daughters who they are supposed to be. This is the stuff that defines for my sons what makes a woman valuable, likable, and worthy of their attention." In recent years, our kids have been hammered by a growing number of images that define the idealized male body. Yep, it's going both ways.

When are we going to realize that 1) this stuff is killing us, and 2) nobody really looks like that? When are we going to realize that buying into this garbage brings honor and glory to the world, the flesh, the devil rather than giving glory to the Kingdom of God?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey. . . . Deconstructing the Buzz. . . or, What's a Christian To Do???

The chatting-behind-closed-doors about the latest cultural literary phenomena is making its way out into the open. Yesterday's blog post on that heretofore dirty little secret known as the best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey generated loads of responses (phone calls, emails, comments, im's, a Skype session, water-cooler talk here at the CPYU office, etc.) reporting on completed and ongoing conversations regarding the book. The content and passion of those conversations indicate that there's disagreement and even confusion out there regarding reading the book and assimilating or using the book's content in one's life. While all the buzz about Fifty Shades of Grey might be unique to women at this point, don't for a minute think that men are immune to the same kinds of issues. (Haven't you ever heard men justify the use of pornography as a "marital aid"????). And if we really want to, we can reason away our faith and justify almost anything without even knowing that's what we're doing. . . and I'm wondering if that's not happening here. My conversations with some confused/concerned youth workers who know the book is circulating among youth group moms leaves me wondering what's really going on.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey. . . Lady Porn and The Fall of Culture. . . .

The conversation was between me and two of the women in my life. . . my wife and one of my adult daughters. We were driving from church to Costco. The conversation began with some comments and questions about Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book in E.L. James' best-selling fiction trilogy. The books are all over the New York Times' Bestseller List and it seems like women everywhere are devouring them.

I listened as the ladies discussed the literary phenomena. None of us have read the books. But like everyone else, we've heard about them. During our short drive and conversation we talked about the content. We talked about the plot. And we talked how curious and disturbing it is that so many women are immersing themselves with reckless abandon in a work of erotic fiction that sounds like a Harlequin romance novel on steroids. 

In case you haven't heard, Fifty Shades of Grey is about the exploits of a young college graduate and a businessman.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Junior Seau, Rachel Ehmke, and Edvard Munch. . .

Rachel Ehmke

Junior Seau
Every now and then there comes a day when it all gets piled on and you can't help but think about the common threads that tie certain news stories together. Yesterday I heard about the death of a young NFL great, the death of a 13-year-old Minnesota teenager, and the record-breaking price brought by a well-known 1895 painting that captures something of the pain that must have been experienced by the subjects fo the prior two stories.

NFL great Junior Seau took his own life yesterday. And yesterday a friend emailed me a link to an obituary for a 13-year-old seventh grader who hung herself in her home last Sunday. Then, at a New York City art auction yesterday, Edvard Munch's famous painting, "The Scream," sold for $120 million.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Caring For Cutters - Part 3 on Kids Who Cut

Yesterday I posted a link on Facebook to my blog on cutting. One of my former youth group kids (who is now a mom in her 40s) commented under the link:  "Last year, my 9th grade daughter could name 23 kids she knew who cut. It's an epidemic!" Yes. . . it's out there and it's widespread. So, what should we do?

First, we must come to an understanding of the path this trend looks to take. We can be sure that the stigma associated with SIB will continue to disappear as this generation's bloody cry of confusion and self-hate appears on individual bodies and collective soul. Consequently, SIB will become more pervasive as a "normal" coping mechanism. If that happens, chances are good that SIB might move so far into the mainstream of youth culture that kids who exhibit none of the classic SIB precipitating factors will cut themselves simply because it's fashionable. In addition, we can expect that increased "publicity" for cutting will plant the idea in younger and younger minds. Eventually, we might expect SIB experimentation to be more common among curious and impressionable young elementary school aged children.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Inside A Cutter's Heart - Kids Who Cut, Part 2

If we care at all about kids we should learn to recognize, understand, and answer these visual cries of a generation longing for spiritual truth, emotional healing, and answers. Self-injurious behavior (SIB) or self-inflicted violence (SIV) has been defined as "the commission of deliberate harm to one's own body. The injury is done to oneself, without the aid of another person, and the injury is severe enough for tissue damage (such as scarring) to result. Acts that are committed with conscious suicidal intent or are associated with sexual arousal are excluded." By May 2013, the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 5 is likely to include a new diagnosis - NSSI, or Non-Suicidal Self-Injury.

Since SIB is still stigmatized and usually hidden, accurate statistics on its prevalence are difficult to find. What is known is that the average self-injurer begins at age 14 and continues the practice, usually with increasing severity, into his/her late 20's.