Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The New Normal. . . and The New Abnormal. . .

Sleep didn't come easy last night. I'm away from home and waking up to a full day of teaching at the D6 Conference here in Dallas. "D6". . . that's short for "Deuteronomy 6" and the well-known yet little-lived passage on the responsibility of the family to take the 24/7 lead in the task of deliberate spiritual nurture of children in the faith, while the church is there to lend consistent help and support. It's that passage and others which gave us marching orders back in the 1980s when we were doing youth ministry centered on the family in the Philly suburbs. And it was that passage and that youth ministry that birthed CPYU 22 years ago. It's shaped our whole approach to ministry. It was thoughts of Deuteronomy 6, the topics I'm addressing today (youth culture, kids and digital media, and pornography), and some new elements in the pop culture soup that kept my brain engaged when it should have been asleep.

Because faith, family, and culture are brought together in all we do, I've been curious about The New Normal, an NBC sitcom that debuted a couple of weeks ago. . . the title and premise of which is a direct statement about what should be, and a direct reflection of what increasingly is. The "new normal" is a family system where two gay men enlist a surrogate in order to have a baby. Last night I gave the show a look.  I was reminded just how quickly culture is changing. I grew up in a world where values, attitudes and behaviors were for the most part clearly categorized as "right" or "wrong." Eventually, those same things moved into the realm of ethical quandaries and debate. Now, we simply follow our hearts. . . hearts which are socialized and "normed" by popular culture and the 24/7 nurture it provides.

If what ABC is showing is "the new normal," is my family structure and the one-man/one-woman in a lifetime monogamous commitment structure now "abnormal?" Have I been teaching, committed to, and raising my own kids in a system that many would say is outdated or even wrong?

As I prepare to debut new material and seminars on kids and pornography today, I can't help but be deeply troubled by how the new "normals" have created a whole new category of "abnormals." Case in point. . . I will be talking about how popular culture has very quickly transformed pornography from a vice to a virtue. That's what's called "social norming." Examples abound. One that I found yesterday is this little clip from Jimmy Kimmel that I've posted below. Give it a good look. It employs humor, makes some basic assumptions about people's values, reflects new normals, and should prompt some grief about who we are as a culture. What and listen for responses.

So, this morning I climbed out of bed with a new resolve to keep doing what we're doing here at CPYU. . . and I was reminded that a culture void of a moral compass is a culture in deep need.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tragic Distractions. . . .

Every once in awhile a series of thoughts and events simultaneously converge to prompt a sense of urgency. That's happened once again this morning. I went to breakfast thinking about some conversations I had last night after speaking to a group of parents in Allen, Texas. Many of them shared their deep concerns -some general and some specific - over technology's impact on their children and teens. During one of those conversations, I mentioned that technology's pervasive presence is adding to the problem of distracted driving, and that kids are especially prone to texting while driving. . . something that not only scares me while in my car headed down the highway, but when I'm out on my bike and someone blows past with one hand (maybe) on their steering wheel while their eyes and other hand are involved with their phone.

This morning, I went to breakfast at my hotel and read USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. The former featured an op-ed piece by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, "Time to put the brakes on texting and driving." I would question the wisdom of anyone who questions Genachowski's appeal to common sense. Then, I spent some time looking through The Wall Street Journal's "Innovations in Transportation" section that included this related headline: "Who's Behind the Wheel? Nobody. The driverless car is coming. And we all should be glad it is." That gladness is over the fact that no human driver at all is safer than a distracted human driver.

Then, this morning's convergence took an ugly turn. An email from home informed me that a young 19-year-old college student from our community was hit and killed while riding his bicycle yesterday in Kansas. The details that have been shared with me indicate that he was hit and killed by a teenage driver who was distracted. . . by what, I'm not sure.

These are the kinds of things we need to talk about with our kids. A Kansas teenager made a split-second decision yesterday. Again, I don't know what that decision was specifically. But that decision has far-reaching consequences that will effect many, many people for a long time. That decision ended a life, changed the life of a loving family, and has human fallout that reaches far beyond the 19-year-old victim and his circle of family and friends.

Today, I want to encourage you all to do everything in your power to address the issue of distracted driving - particularly texting while driving - with the kids you know and love. Youthworkers, raise the issue with parents and students. Parents, talk, talk, and talk some more with your kids. Teachers, take a moment to pass on some life-lessons to your students.

I went on to our CPYU Digital Kids Initiative site this morning to look over our downloadable handout on "Texting While Driving." Give it a look. Download it. Pass it around. The handout includes these alarming facts:

Cell Phones, Texting and Driving at a Glance:
  • More than 4 out of 5 teen drivers admit to using their cell phone while driving.
  • Research shows that hands-free cell phone use while driving is no less dangerous than using a hand-held phone. It's the conversation - not the type of device - that's the distraction.
  • Over half of all teen drivers admit to texting or emailing while driving. Teenage and young adult drivers are the age group most likely to send a text or read an email while driving.
  • Teens say that texting is the number one driving distraction.
  • Texting and driving is a form of distraction. Almost 80 percent of all vehicle crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some type of driver inattention or distraction during the three seconds before the crash or near-crash.
  • Talking on a cell phone while driving impairs drivers at a rate equal to a blood-alcohol level of 0.08.
  • The National Safety Council estimates that at least 200,000 crashes a year are caused by texting and driving.
  • Texting while driving results in 330,000 distracted driving injuries a year.
  • About 6,000 people a year die as a result of using their phone while driving.
When You Text and Drive:
  • You are four times more likely to cause an accident than when you drive drunk or talk on a cell phone.
  • You are 23 times more likely to crash.
  • You are taking your eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that equals driving the length of a football field while wearing a blindfold.
  • Your response time diminishes greatly. The average time it takes a drunk driver to respond and apply the brakes is 4 times more than normal. The average time it takes a texting driver to respond and apply the brakes is 40 times more than normal. Still, most young drivers view texting and driving as less dangerous than drunk driving.
  • You risk injuring/killing yourself and others. It results in car crashes that kill an average of 11 teenagers a day.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sky Mall and the Human Condition. . . .

So I was continuing my journey through Sherry Turkle's Alone Together:Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other on some flights the last couple of days. Fascinating stuff. Turkle is a brilliant thinker and expert in robotics. She is a professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT. I like that title. . . .we need critics who look carefully at how science and technology are shaping us and our interactions with each other and the world.  Turkle asks good - and difficult - questions. I like that as well. At least we know someone is thinking about what all this tech stuff and social media we embrace with such reckless abandon might be doing to us.

I've been running across all kinds of stuff in this book that makes me pause and ponder. . . Turkle says that we feel "enhanced" by all this technology and our time online. . . . "technological promiscuity" she calls it. She asks, "Technology reshapes the landscapes of our emotional lives, but is it offering us the lives we want to lead?" Hmmmm.

As I put Turkle's book away with those thoughts fresh on mind and we prepared for landing, I pulled the ever-present SKY MALL catalog out of the seat pocket. Anybody out there every buy anything from it? I flipped through and could hardly keep from laughing out loud at some of the stuff for sale. But is it really that funny?

One of the first things I saw is this little beauty. Promising "euphoria" for only $79.95, the Soma Wave Helmet looks like a miracle. Just don't put it on while operating heavy machinery! Yep, you've got to love that warning. I guess our everyday stress and tension-filled lives have brought us to this. Maybe if we powered-down and un-tethered for awhile we'd face the prospect of not being $80 poorer.

Then I saw the Seal Shield. Thank God that someone came up with this thing! We're so tethered and tech-dependent now that we need something to protect our iPads from the damaging effects of saltwater when we decide to put on a business suite and take a dip in the ocean. . . with our iPad. Really???

Sherry Turkle takes a well-reasoned and academic look at the human condition and what we're doing to ourselves. Sky Mall is putting some meat on those bones. Log off. Power down. Then, think about it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Eye-Opening Pornography Infographic. . .

I've been spending the last few days buried in research and writing to update my presentations on the destructive power of pornography. I'm looking forward to speaking on these issues next week at the D6 Conference in Texas and then again next month at the National Youthworkers Convention in San Diego.

Researching this topic is difficult. Like most males (or more realistically "most people"), I have seen and consequently been effected by pornography. I was 12 years old the first time. Digging deeper into just what those effects are is frightening work for many, many reasons. . . perhaps the most alarming of which is the prevalence and early exposure among younger and younger kids. Then, you start thinking ahead. . . and it's scary.

The good news is that there seems to be more and more anti-pornography information on the Internet. If you haven't already seen the site for Fight The New Drug you need to check it out. Here's a helpful infographic from the site that you can use to guide your discussions with the kids you know and love. . . and a link to the graphic and additional stats with references. . . .

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Gospel and Pornography. . .

A good portion of my summer and these first few weeks of early fall have been spent continuing my quest to understand pornography's growing place and influence in our culture. To be honest, it's quite frightening. In preparation to speak on these things at the upcoming D6 Conference and the National Youthworkers Convention, I've been pulling together much of what I've been learning and processing it all. The statistics are overwhelming. Our culture's growing fascination with and acceptance of this stuff is scary. The consequences of pornography use and addiction are widespread and can't be ignored.

In the end, it's my hope that CPYU can point people to redemptive strategies that offer hope for those enmeshed in the thorny tangle of pornography, and for those who love them. That's certainly part of what we'll be trumpeting through these seminars in the coming weeks.

Today, I want to pass on a hopeful little resource - one among many that exist - that requires five minutes of your time and attention. It's a short exchange between Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, John Piper. Regardless of what you think of these men and their theology, they point us to some essential ingredients needed on the quest for hope and healing. It's not exhaustive and it isn't the final word. The video clip does, however, point us in the right direction. If you're a pastor, parent, youth worker, and/or one who struggles with pornography, this is worth your time. I believe that only hope that we have in this battle is in the Gospel.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Puritans on 9/11. . .

This morning I've so appreciated the many photos, quotes, and other remembrances that transport us back eleven years to a day that seems like just yesterday. I looked at the clock just a few minutes ago and realized that I was already glued to the television in my office, watching the horror unfold. As a Christian, it was a day that had to be filtered through the realities of life in a sinful and fallen world and the hope we have in our Sovereign God. Still, it was all very confusing. . . and still is.

While closing my eyes and thinking back to that day in 2001, I was reminded of how the Puritans prayed through their pain, suffering, darkness, confusion, and grief. I reached over to read the title prayer from The Valley of Vision prayer book. May this be our prayer as we continue to ponder and sort through life in this world. . .

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
 where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
 hemmed in by the mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
 that the way down is the way up,
 that to be low is to be high,
 that the broken heart is the healed heart,
 that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
 that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
 that to have nothing is to possess all,
 that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
 that to give is to receive,
 that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells,
 and the deeper the wells the brighter they stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,  
 thy life in my death,
 thy joy in my sorrow,
 thy grace in my sin,
 thy riches in my poverty,
 they glory in my valley.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

None Of Us Can Imagine. . . But We Need To Know. . .

With the permission of Spencer and Kristin, I'm writing today's blog. It's not an easy blog to write. Spencer and Kristin have spent the last few months living through the unimaginable. They are working through the grief of losing their precious17-year-old son, Brad. They want to issue warnings to other parents and youth workers. What I have found especially amazing is their ongoing journey of faith and their transparency that has come with inviting others into that story.

I want to be sensitive in what I write and how I write it for many reasons. I don't want to wander into the realm of exploitation. I don't want to communicate very sensitive things in the wrong way to the wrong people. What I want to do is share the story that Spencer and Kristin Scoggins have been living and that they want to tell.

The best way to share the story is to point you to a post Kristin put up on her blog. Please take the time to read her blog and hear the story of God's faithfulness and sustenance. Here's a paragraph from her blog post:

As most of you know, on May 21, 2012, we lost our seventeen-year-old son, Brad. He was our first child. He was smart, funny, and kind. He was rowdy, rambunctious, and always the first to try something, especially if it involved a hint of danger. He had an impish little grin that followed him into his teenage years. He kept us on our toes. He had that teenage boy disease that so many boys do, invincibility. Brad had just finished the 11th grade. He was enjoying working with his dad for the summer. He had plans for work and continuing his education, and all too abruptly, those plans came to an end. The manner is which Brad died was preventable, making this all the more devastating for his family. For those of you who don't know the details, we have been very open in person, but I won't put them here unless I know it is time because the issues are sensitive, and there are teenagers who might read this. I would rather their parents talk to them about those issues. I respect a parent's right to inform their children about certain things in their own time.

It would take days to tell you everything that I have learned and am still learning. My main purpose here tonight is to tell you that in the midst of the darkness, in the bottom of the pit, in the wee hours of the morning, when you think you can't take it anymore, there is a God who loves you. There is a God who comforts. There is a God who takes ashes and turns them into beauty. . . . continue reading here.

Finally, I want to point you to a blog post I wrote back on April 27 of this year. This post will help you understand more about the Scoggins' story.

If you would, please take some time to lift the Scoggins family up in your prayers. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Parent Ministry and CPYU - 3 Freebies!

With the school year back in swing and youth group going full speed ahead, I trust you're thinking about how to best connect with and equip parents as they fulfill their God-given role as those primarily responsible for the spiritual nurture of their children. Whether you know it or not, it was that commitment that birthed CPYU way back in 1989. A little history. . .

When I graduated from Gordon-Conwell seminary in 1985 to take a youth ministry position at Supplee Presbyterian Church in suburban Philly, a professor by the name of Dan Jessen asked me this question: "What are you going to do with parents?" My answer - as I remember it - was a little lame. Something like, "Well. . . I'll connect with them at two or three parent meetings during the year and then I'll minister to their kids." Dan launched into a gracious challenge to do lots more than that. He challenged me to respect the God-given role of parents and to see myself as a secondary influencer of their kids. Over the course of the next few months, Dan hashed that out with me and I started doing what is now known as "family-based youth ministry." One thing led to another and about five years later a group of parents came to me and asked me to help them understand youth culture. That led to CPYU.

Today, CPYU is all about helping to close that cultural-generational gap between parents and their students. Youth workers are bridge-builders who can hlep to make that happen. Just about every resource we provide here at CPYU is something that you can and should pass on to parents. . . especially the free resources. . . and we've got loads of them.

As you get started with another year of youth ministry, why not become intentional about helping parents understand teenagers and today's youth culture? Here are 3 free-resources from CPYU that you can pass on to the parents in your ministry. . .