The sad reality of sexual abuse by CPYU President Walt Mueller
INSIDE Twilight Page 4 Parenting ‘success’ Page 8 Resource reviews Page 14 Campus community Page 18 ‘College Life’ Page 19 Hazing Page 20 Hang 10 Page 22 Three for 3-D Page 24
My head is spinning. Recently, a man I know—a professing Christian, and a man very involved in ministry—was sent away to prison for a long, long time. He was arrested for, charged with and pled guilty to more than two-dozen counts related to the sexual molestation and abuse of multiple girls, most of them tween-agers or younger, all of them family friends. As I’ve tried to get my hands around his actions, their causes and their ramifications, one thing has become very, very clear: the rocks he threw in the pond have made ripples that will spread far and wide for a long, long time. His choices and actions have ruined relationships, families and individual lives. The reality is that while God’s mercy can result in incremental healing for those who have been victimized by this man either directly or indirectly, every one of them will spend their entire lives—until the day they die—in a boat that rocks on those ripples. Things were stolen that will never be recovered in this life. He stirred up some very ugly dust that will never fully settle. It’s heartbreaking at numerous levels. Nobody wins in this one. Sadly, I know my head isn’t the only one spinning. Every one of us working in youth ministry knows victims and perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse. For those of you who have faced the ugly reality of seeing the dark secret of someone you know exposed by the light, you know how sobering that is. For those of you who think I’m just blowing smoke … fasten your seat belt. I guarantee that you know perpetrators and victims. At this point, you just don’t know it. Someday, your head will spin. Child sexual abuse—defined as an act of assault or exploitation by a person who has
authority over or the trust of a child—is at epidemic proportions. Because only 25 percent of cases are ever reported and only one victim in 10 ever will take the initiative on their own to tell, the estimates and statistics are extremely conservative. Some experts are now saying that by the time they
reach the age of 16, one out of every three girls and one out of every five boys will have been sexually abused. Think about this statistic next time you look over your youth group kids as they gather together in one room. And if you’re tempted to think that this is the kind of stuff that only happens “out there,” think again. Christianity Today magazine recently reported that over the course of the last three years, an average of
The sad reality of sexual abuse 23 new articles each day have appeared in secular media sources revealing sexual abuse allegations in Protestant churches in the United States. It’s no secret that sexual abusers and adults prone to engage in emotional enmeshments with minors will seek out places where kids gather, where trust runs deep and wide, where it’s believed that you’re safe from people who do bad things, and where there are few protective measures in place. It’s a place where it’s easy to groom young victims. Hmmm. Sounds like church. It’s not surprising that where the church is more theologically conservative and fundamentalist, the more prevalent and unaddressed the abuse. Of course, there are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that people are committed to keeping up appearances while convincing themselves of the false notion that “nobody here would ever do that!” It’s a dangerous mix that creates an environment where young victims are somehow convinced that what’s happening to them can’t be wrong, and if they do finally figure out how wrong it is, they are frightened to speak up. It is estimated that there are now 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse living in America today. Go back and read that last sentence again. Not only do you know victims, chances are that you might be a victim yourself. If you are a victim of childhood sexual abuse, then what you’re about to read is not new news to you simply because you’ve been there. You most likely knew your abuser. Ninety-three percent of victims know their attacker. Thirty-four percent of the abusers are family members. Fifty-nine percent are family friends. Only 7 percent of the perpetrators are strangers to the victims and their families. You were a child. You trusted older people, especially those you knew. You might not have known you were being abused. And if you did, you may have been among the 80 percent of victims who initially deny they were ever abused or are very hesitant to disclose what happened. Eventually, the victims of sexual abuse grow up. The sexual abuse that steals their innocence leaves lots of other junk in the hole that was once occupied by the innocence that’s been lost. Survivors spend a lifetime struggling with a variety of resultant problems including fear, anxiety, night-
mares, sleeplessness, depression, anger, hostility, inappropriate sexual behavior, an inability to love or be loved, poor selfesteem, a tendency towards substance abuse, and difficulty with close relationships. It’s likely they will withdraw from friends and family, have difficulty trusting adults, see their bodies as dirty or damaged, refuse to go to school, become secretive, or engage in delinquent behavior. Some will go so far as to become unusually aggressive, or even become sexual deviants themselves. Sadly, many become suicidal. If you step back and look at sexual abuse from a spiritual perspective, it’s an unmistakable disruption of “shalom.” In his book Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be, Cornelius Plantinga defines “shalom” as “universal flourishing, wholeness and delight.” Shalom is what existed in the Garden of Eden before Genesis 3:6. It was the way God intended life to be. Then came the Fall, and God’s shalom came undone. Now, we live in a world where there is universal pain and brokenness. Now, we live in a world where God’s good sexual shalom has yielded to all kinds of ugly stuff, including the sexual abuse of children. This is, as Plantinga says, not the way it’s supposed to be. Several months ago this was driven home to me when I had a heart-breaking conversation with a high school student I had just met. I’ll call him Seth. He had just heard me speak about pornography and the role it was playing in teenagers’ lives. Because he was struggling with a pornography addiction, he wanted to talk. Our conversation began with Seth saying, “I want to talk to you about pornography.” His story was horrid. When Seth was two years old, his mother secured the services of a speech therapist to help him with his severe speech impediment. The speech therapist would meet with Seth at Seth’s house in Seth’s room—with the door closed. Seth told me that he remembers being two and the speech therapist helping Seth take off his clothes. Then the speech therapist would take off his own clothes and proceed to sexually molest Seth. This went on for years. Seth never told anyone. An innocent and vulnerable child with no reference point, he believed this type of thing was normal. “I thought this is what all kids did,” he told me. Sin perpetrated on this young victim not only caused tremendous pain and confusion, but that sin begat multi-layered sin in Seth’s life as he grew older. Seth struggles with homosexuality. He goes online and looks for videos of men kissing each other. He watches and masturbates. This is regular and habitual. “I know it’s wrong. I want to stop. When I do it I feel icky,” Seth told me. Thirteen years ago, a perpetrator decided to usher an earthquake into Seth’s life, and now the landscape of that life is not the way it’s supposed to be. A kid—A KID!—has been left to pick up the pieces of a broken life that someone else deliberately shattered. Because sexual abuse runs deep and wide in the world, and the world runs deep and wide in the church, each of us must deliberately understand and address this ugly reality. On the day the man I know was sentenced on multiple counts ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
related to the sexual abuse of children, two questions kept running through my mind. First, outside of the depravity and sin nature common to us all, what prompted him to do what he did? And second, because of the depravity and sin nature common to us all, what will become of those kids who wound up on the receiving end of his twisted behavior? What will they become as adults? While I’m still at a loss to find complete answers to these questions, what I do know is that there is a question all of us who work with and love kids must answer: “What can I do to prevent this type of thing from happening in the lives of the kids I work with, so that they might experience a childhood void of victimization, and a sexually healthy adulthood void of victimizing others?” Here are some suggestions to get you started: First, talk about it … over and over and over again. Make sure everyone in your church—young and old alike— understands the reality and pervasiveness of childhood sexual abuse. Not only does this open the door to recognize that sexual abuse is a very real social and spiritual problem that can’t be denied, but it will fuel a “what should we do about it?” mentality that leads to the development of healthy preventative and response measures. In addition, talking about it with your kids creates an environment where they will more readily recognize it as sinful and immoral behavior. Consequently, those who have been victimized will be more prone to come out of the shadows of secrecy and into the light that leads to liberation. And, you will be preparing kids to move into a spiritually healthy adulthood with an established sense of right and wrong that God may indeed use as a deterrent—especially in a world that increasingly sends confusing sexual messages that only feed the mindset of the abuser. Second, establish protective policies in your church and youth group. Work to implement policies and training that will reduce the risk of making it easy to put kids into the hands of sexual predators. Screen your volunteers. Require interviews and background checks. Implement oversight and accountability standards. Third, develop a redemptive plan that can be enacted when childhood sexual abuse is discovered. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you have the knowledge and ability to intervene and do what needs to be done from start to finish. You don’t. Highly trained and competent counselors must be employed to work with the victims and the perpetrator. Law enforcement officials must be informed immediately. Your role is to respond to the head-spinning realities and get the ball rolling on the long, long process of dealing redemptively and responsibly with these very serious matters. Harvest USA, a ministry dealing with the scourge of sexual (continued on page 13) Summer 2009
About CPYU and ENGAGE This journal is produced quarterly by the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, a nonprofit organization recognized for taxdeductible giving by the federal government. We depend on private donations for our funding. We are a ministry working with churches, schools and community organizations to build strong families by equipping parents, pastors, youth workers and educators to understand the world of children and teens, by equipping teenagers to deal with the challenges of adolescence, and by equipping both parents and teens to live by the light of God’s Word. Our resources include parent education seminars, youth worker training, printed and audio materials, a Web site, and a daily syndicated radio feature. President Dr. Walt Mueller Vice President of Administration Cliff Frick
Associate Staff John Fischer Amy Flavin Marv Penner Paul Robertson Jason Soucinek
Research Specialist Director of College Doug West Transition Initiative Derek Melleby Research Assistant Chris Wagner Admin. Assistant Lisa Mueller Design Classic Editor Communications Randy Buckwalter ENGAGE June 2009 ©2009 All rights reserved For more information, contact us at: Center for Parent/Youth Understanding PO Box 414 Elizabethtown, PA 17022-0414 Voice: 717.361.8429 Fax: 717.361.8964 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.cpyu.org CPYU grants permission to copy any article, as long as the copies are distributed for free and they indicate the source as ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU.
Hotlight Twilight: Sucking the lifeblood out of teenagers? By Nate Hackman
Editor’s note: Last January, CPYU’s Walt Mueller taught a course on “Understanding and Engaging Today’s Youth Culture” at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Myerstown, Pa. As part of their coursework, students were required to complete a cultural analysis on a current media piece. What follows is one of those papers, written by Nate Hackman. “Vampires? Really? Vampires?” Ridiculing my sister’s romantic novels has been a favorite pastime of mine over the years, but the book she was currently reading, Eclipse, was not a tale of a lonesome prairie woman and the strapping young man who sweeps her off of her feet. Instead, my sister was reading about a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire. My normal witty response was replaced by a major look of surprise. This may not be an abnormal response to what is known as the Twilight series, and many parents, teachers, spouses, siblings and others around the country have found themselves with the same dumbfounded look on their faces since the first book hit the stores. The author, Stephenie Meyer, was raised in a Mormon family in Arizona. She attended a large high school where she earned a National Merit Scholarship, which allowed her to attend Brigham Young University. She graduated with a degree in English, married a childhood friend, settled down, had children and lived an apparently normal life until June 2, 2003. Meyer is a fan of classic literature, among them Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. She also enjoys music, with U2, Coldplay and Weezer as some of her favorite bands.1 Twilight, the first book in the series, was born of a dream.2 Not the “grand vision for cultural change” sort of dream, but an “in bed and sleeping” dream. As Meyer lay in bed on June 2, 2003, she had a very clear dream of a teenage boy and girl standing in a forest clearing. The boy glittered like some kind of jewel. He and the girl were discussing the difficulties of their teen romance, a romance that was complicated by the fact that he was a vampire and was torn between his love for her and his desire to eat her. Meyer couldn’t get the dream out of her head, and didn’t want to. She wrote out the dream on paper, and then wrote a story around that scene in the woods. The result was a book called Forks.
Twilight, renamed by Meyer and her agent, was published in 2005 with strong success. Meyer followed up with three more books—New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn. The publishing world was caught off guard by the success of the Twilight books. Many publishers felt that Harry Potter, which was just fading as Twilight became popular, was a once-in-alifetime series.3 Meyer herself has been repeatedly compared with J.K. Rowling. While probably not appropriate for a younger audience, Twilight has proven popular with both teens and adults. Despite Meyer’s interest in classic romance novels, and the fact that Meyer used Pride and Prejudice as her model for Twilight, her books have not been received as quality works of literature. Meyer herself seems to be fine with this, saying she would rather be known as a great storyteller than a great writer.4 The first book was adapted into a major motion picture, titled Twilight, and released late in 2008. The film, following the plot of the book very closely, was wildly popular among teenagers, but more discerning viewers were left disappointed. Fandango.com, one of several movie ticket sales Web sites, ranks Twilight among its top 10 ticket sales ever.5 Twilight is the story of Bella, a clumsy yet normal teenage girl, who moves from Phoenix to Forks, Washington, to live with her father. Bella doesn’t really fit in at school, home or anywhere. She makes a few friends, and is pursued by several boys, but is only really interested in one, Edward Cullen. He and his siblings are the most attractive and mysterious students in town. Their skin is pale white, they keep to themselves, skip school on every sunny day and appear perfect in every way. Over time Bella and Edward get to know one another and fall in love. During their initial romance Bella begins to suspect, and eventually confirms, the truth about the Cullen family. They are vampires. Fortunately, the Cullens are “vegan” vampires, so they choose to not feed on humans for moral reasons. Despite serious concerns by some in the Cullen family, Bella begins to become a part of their community. Through this relationship, Bella is exposed to a second group of vampires who do not share the same misgivings about killing humans. One of these vampires, James, becomes obsessed with Bella and the result is a cross country chase in which the Cullens simultaneously attempt to protect Bella and catch and destroy James. Bella is eventually led to believe that James has kidnapped her mother and Bella turns herself over to him. She is, of course, rescued at the last moment by Edward and the Cullens. James is destroyed, and Edward saves Bella’s life by sucking the venom from James’ bite out of her body, an act that shows incredible love and restraint on his part. The story ends with Bella and Edward attending the prom together. They are happy to be beyond their troubles, but no closer to resolving the issues of love between a vampire and a human. The remaining three books in the series build on this tension by adding a werewolf named Jacob as a rival for Bella’s love. On the surface, the popularity of Twilight might be surprising. Few vampire tales gain much more than a cult ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
following, and one that crosses into mainstream culture is rare. The real appeal of Twilight is that it isn’t actually about vampires. It is about a teenage girl and her feelings of loneliness, inadequacy and mediocrity balanced with her desire for independence and a place to belong. This is a theme that resonates with every teenage girl in the western world because it is about them. But Meyer doesn’t stop at connecting with teenage girls on their level, she makes all of their wildest dreams come true.6 When Bella moves to a new, smaller high school she suddenly finds that she actually is everything that she always thought she wasn’t. She is set upon by a number of boys looking to make her their own, including Edward, the hottest guy in school. At first Bella finds this hard to believe. “Of course he wasn’t interested in me, I thought angrily, my eyes stinging … I wasn’t interesting. And he was. Interesting … and brilliant … and mysterious … and perfect … and beautiful … and possibly able to lift full-sized vans with one hand.”7 Even Meyer’s writing style seems perfectly designed for the teenage mind. After he miraculously saves her from a car accident, Bella begins to suspect that there is more to Edward than meets the eye. She soon finds out that she is correct, and that her lonely, inadequate, mediocre self has attracted something more amazing than she ever could have imagined. A vampire. Edward is even unique among vampires because he has the ability to read minds, but, amazingly, cannot read Bella’s. Edward’s “family,” the Cullens, also provide a safe and loving community where Bella finds meaning and belonging. This is another longing of teenagers today. The actual romance with Edward is pure teen gold. The two meet and fall hopelessly in love in a matter of weeks. Their relationship has relatively few internal hardships beyond Edward’s desire to drink Bella’s blood. Edward is the ultimate bad boy. One can hardly imagine someone more dangerous for Bella to get involved with, but she alone is enough of an incentive for him to behave. Edward even takes extra steps to ensure that he will not be overcome with desire when near Bella. What girl doesn’t want to be the one to turn the bad boy good? Meyer’s grasp of this “Girl World” that so many teens live in has led some to suggest that she hasn’t matured much beyond the level of a teenager herself.8 In fact, Meyer drew from her own high school and college experiences when writing the books.9 This, along with the romantic aspects of the story, may be why so many adult women have become fans of the series. So what do we do with Twilight? Evaluating the books or the film based on literary or stylistic standards isn’t appropriate because neither the author nor the readers/viewers seem to care about these standards. A second method involves looking at the moral, spiritual and cultural themes that exist in Twilight. Since the series is so popular, it is fair to ask what message it sends and how that message impacts culture and relates to the Christian faith. It should be noted that Meyer Summer 2009
denies including “messages” in her writing, but instead only writes about what she finds entertaining.10 Regardless of Meyer’s intentions, moral, spiritual and cultural themes abound in Twilight, some more obviously than others. The front cover and dedication of Twilight call Meyer’s claims about “messages” into question. Meyer chose to start her first book by quoting Genesis 2:17, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” On the cover of the book is the image of two pale hands gentle cradling a bright red apple. Meyer explains:
“The apple on the cover of Twilight represents ‘forbidden fruit.’ I used the scripture from Genesis (located just after the table of contents) because I loved the phrase ‘the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.’ Isn’t this exactly what Bella ends up with? A working knowledge of what good is, and what evil is. The nice thing about the apple is it has so many symbolic roots. You’ve got the apple in Snow White, one bite and you’re frozen forever in a state of not-quite-death... Then you have Paris and the golden apple in Greek mythology—look how much trouble that started. Apples are quite the versatile fruit. In the end, I love the beautiful simplicity of the picture. To me it says: choice.”11 Meyer deals with the concept of sin—in her words “choice”—in a variety of ways. Edward and Bella present both desire and danger to each other. Edward is a powerful predator who thirsts for Bella’s blood, and he openly tells her this. Being involved with Bella opens Edward and his family to the danger of being exposed for what they really are. Despite these obvious dangers, the two cannot stay away from each other. Perhaps the most obvious expression of sin in Twilight is the way the vampires lust for human blood. Edward describes it as a heroin addiction, and says that all other types of blood—the Cullens feed on wildlife—leave him vaguely unsatisfied. Even though human blood is satisfying, it doesn’t relieve the craving for very long. While the Bible is most often credited with presenting a message of hope for all generations,
Twilight: Sucking the lifeblood out of teenagers? it also presents a detailed and accurate description of what a life completely governed by desire looks like, “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.“12 This is the life that vampires live with and pursue daily. Edward describes this, “When we hunt … we give ourselves over to our senses … govern less with our minds … If you were anywhere near me when I lost control that way.”13 James, the vampire who becomes obsessed with Bella, has completely given himself over to his lust for blood. He chases Bella across the country in order to satisfy his desire for her blood. To battle their inherent nature, the Cullens maintain a moralistic lifestyle that is designed to control their cravings. This is another reason why the mere presence of Bella is a danger to them. Early in the second book, New Moon, Bella gets a paper cut while at the Cullens’ home. The presence of one drop of blood causes Edward’s “brother,” Jasper, to lose control. He nearly kills Bella, and as a result the entire family leaves Forks. Twilight presents an accurate description of sin and our fallen nature, but does not present a healthy prescription for dealing with our desires.14 Right behavior is their answer to sin. We know from scripture that trusting right behavior alone cannot solve the problem of sin, and leaves us open to devastating failures. In fact, right behavior is their result of the answer to sin. The answer is a life that is transformed into something new through a relationship with Jesus Christ.15 This is the only way to address the core issue of sin, which is the very nature of what we are, fallen beings. The Cullens don’t have such a relationship available to them and are left to deal with their fallen nature on their own. Carlisle Cullen, the “father” of the family, attempts to regain some of his humanity by working as a physician to save human lives. This is an honorable effort that we can affirm, but ultimately it leaves Carlisle and the rest of the family in the hopeless situation of attempting to earn their way out of what they have become. The heartfelt cry of Edward is striking, “I don’t want to be a monster.”16
Teens will quickly point out that Edward and Bella do not have sex until they are married (this occurs in Breaking Dawn). Edward and Bella do express some healthy understanding of sex’s role in a relationship, but that doesn’t mean that Twilight is devoid of sexuality.17 Detailed descriptions of Edward’s physique are common, “He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare.”18 This description occurs at the beginning of Chapter 13, which is the forest scene that provides the heart and soul of Twilight. This moment in the story also demonstrates the level of intimacy that Edward and Bella share. Vampires, at least Meyer’s vampires, aren’t destroyed by sunshine, but are revealed by it. Their skin glitters like jewels in the sun. When Edward reveals himself to Bella in this way he is showing her his true nature.19 It is an incredible moment of intimacy and vulnerability that seldom exists outside of sexual relationships for humans. The fact that Bella is most concerned with the sculpture of Edward’s chest is a demonstration of how our culture has come to view sexuality. There is also a disturbing lack of boundaries in Edward and Bella’s relationship. Being immortal, Edward does not require sleep. He spends most of his nights in Bella’s bedroom watching her sleep. The first several times this occurs Bella doesn’t even know he is there. Bella’s father has no idea that Edward has ever been in her room, much less spent the night. Twilight opens the door for discussions about sexuality with teenagers, but we need to stress that this is a fictional tale in which one of the partners in the relationship, Edward, has one hundred years of life experience. The relationship works well in this story precisely because it’s just that, a story. In reality, teenagers who spend the night together and wander deep into the forest to reveal the most intimate details of their lives put themselves in a position to engage in sexual activity, despite any moral beliefs they may have on the matter. Bella demonstrates this in the book when she and Edward kiss. She becomes so aroused that she loses control and Edward must end the contact. Some aspects of Twilight should be affirmed. Setting aside the concerns regarding intimacy, Bella and Edward do demonstrate a love that is truly “other” oriented, and they are not the only characters to do so. While Bella is being pursued by James, a number of characters demonstrate an amazing willingness to sacrifice for one another. Bella risks her life for her father and mother. The Cullens sacrifice their lifestyle and safety to protect Bella. This is a notable portrayal of love in a romance novel. At times Bella and Edward’s relationship seems to be unhealthy and superficial, but their willingness to sacrifice for one another shows that something deeper exists. Christ taught us that self sacrifice is the greatest expression of love.20 Scripture teaches us that sacrificing ourselves for others is a representation of what Christ did for us, and it is also the model that married couples should aspire to.21 A discussion of ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
the role that self sacrifice plays in Twilight can open the door for a conversation with teenagers that transcends the typical and superficial messages that are prevalent in our culture. It isn’t surprising that a novel about a teenage girl from a broken home displays some poor parenting models. In Twilight, Bella’s parents appear to exist only to maintain her vehicle, send harassing e-mails from afar and create minor barriers to her relationship with Edward. Bella calls her father by his first name, Charlie, and says that his best quality is not “hovering.” Her mother is on a cross-country trip to support her new husband’s career as a minor league baseball player. It is notable that even when James claims to hold Bella’s mother hostage, she isn’t actually there. Lacking true community at home, Bella finds it with the Cullens. Although not technically related, they represent the strongest family model in Twilight. Carlisle and Esme, the “parents” in the family actually provide guidance for the “children” and also provide honest and real responses to their questions. They are the only characters in the books to address Bella’s lack of self-worth in any meaningful way. Bella finds value and worth in the most dangerous place possible, a coven of vampires. It may be tempting to condemn Meyer for portraying parents as self centered and disengaged, but we should
acknowledge that this is an accurate portrayal of many American families. Lacking this structure at home, children crave true community and will search for it wherever they can. Much like Bella, they often find community in the worst possible places. As Christians we must believe that the most powerful community in the world is the body of Christ, but must also admit that we often do not create that community in our churches and leave teenagers to find it wherever they can including within the pages of a romance novel.22 Twilight provides the Christian community, especially Christian parents, with a difficult decision. When Harry Potter became popular, many within our faith condemned it flatly and, in doing so, missed an incredible opportunity to introduce the Gospel to culture. Twilight presents the same opportunity. A healthy knowledge of its content and relationship to the Gospel may open the door for teenagers to begin a relationship with Jesus.
Meyer, Stephenie, “Unofficial Bio,” The Official Web site of Stephenie Meyer, http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/bio_unofficial.html (accessed 2/ 13/09). 2 Meyer, Stephenie, “The Story Behind Twilight,” The Official Web site of Stephenie Meyer, http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/twilight.html (accessed 2/13/09). 3 Valby, Karen, “Stephenie Meyer: Inside the Twilight Saga,” EW.com, http://www.ew.com/ew/article/ 0,20213067_20213068_20211938,00.html (accessed 2/13/09) 4 Ibid. 5 Lussier, Germain, “Twilight’s advance ticket sales reach #7 all-time on Fandango,” Recordonline.com, http://www.recordonline.com/apps/ pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081119/ENTERTAIN/81119029. (accessed 3/7/ 09). 6 Staub, Dick “Twilight – The Movie, The Book, The Cultural Phenomena!,” The Kindlings Muse. Podcast. http:// www.thekindlings.com/2009/01/17/twilight-the-movie-the-book-thecultural-phenomena-podcast-live-at-hales-segment-1-of-1/ (accessed 2/ 12/09). 7 Meyer, Stephenie, Twilight (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2005), 79 8 Staub, Dick “Twilight – The Movie, The Book, The Cultural Phenomena!,” The Kindlings Muse. Podcast. http:// www.thekindlings.com/2009/01/17/twilight-the-movie-the-book-thecultural-phenomena-podcast-live-at-hales-segment-1-of-1/ (accessed 2/ 12/09). 9 Meyer, Stephenie, “Frequently Asked Questions: Twilight,” The Official Web site of Stephenie Meyer, http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/ twilight_faq.html (accessed 2/13/09). 10 “10 Questions for Stephenie Meyer,” Time: Entertainment, http:// www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1834663,00.html (accessed 2/13/09).
Nathan Hackman is a graduate student at Evangelical Theological Seminary, and the Director of Youth Ministries at East Fairview Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa. He enjoys biking, surfing and spending time with his wife and son. Meyer, Stephenie, “Frequently Asked Questions: Twilight,” The Official Web site of Stephenie Meyer, http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/ twilight_faq.html (accessed 2/13/09). 12 Ephesians 4:19 (NIV) 13 Meyer, Stephenie, Twilight (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2005), 225. 14 Staub, Dick “Twilight – The Movie, The Book, The Cultural Phenomena!,” The Kindlings Muse. Podcast. http:// www.thekindlings.com/2009/01/17/twilight-the-movie-the-book-thecultural-phenomena-podcast-live-at-hales-segment-1-of-1/ (accessed 2/ 12/09). 15 Ephesians 4:22-24, 2 Corinthians 5:17. 16 Meyer, Stephenie, Twilight (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2005), 307. 17 Hertz, Todd, Twilight, Christianity Today Movies, http:// www.christianitytoday.com/movies/reviews/2008/twilight.html (accessed 2/13/09). 18 Ibid. 260. 19 Staub, Dick “Twilight – The Movie, The Book, The Cultural Phenomena!,” The Kindlings Muse. Podcast. http:// www.thekindlings.com/2009/01/17/twilight-the-movie-the-book-thecultural-phenomena-podcast-live-at-hales-segment-1-of-1/ (accessed 2/ 12/09). 20 John 15:13. 21 Hebrews 10:11-18, Ephesians 5:25-28. 22 Staub, Dick “Twilight – The Movie, The Book, The Cultural Phenomena!,” The Kindlings Muse. Podcast. http:// www.thekindlings.com/2009/01/17/twilight-the-movie-the-book-thecultural-phenomena-podcast-live-at-hales-segment-1-of-1/ (accessed 2/ 12/09).
Parenting What is ‘success’ in parenting teens? An interview with Dr. Paul Tripp
Editor’s note: Dr. Paul Tripp is one of our CPYU heroes. He is a counselor, teacher and writer. CPYU recommends his book Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens as the best Christian parenting book we’ve ever seen. Dr. Tripp currently works with the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation in Glenside, Pa., and teaches practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. This interview with Dr. Tripp is reprinted with permission from the National Journal Committee of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. What sort of goals should a parent have as their children reach the teenage years? Unfortunately, western culture has had a terribly cynical view of the teen years. It’s a view that is largely biologically based. People tend to see teenagers as a collection of raging, rebel hormones encased in skin. Of course, the idea is that you can’t talk to a hormone. I read someone who put it very well. He said that if you add the word “teenage” to any other word, it becomes a negative. Take “teenage driver.” That’s a simple instance of how this particular age group attracts cynicism.
Dr. Paul Tripp
The problem with this way of looking at teens is that it’s a subtle denial of the Gospel. Actually, what we’re really saying is that there’s a class of people for whom the Gospel won’t work. That’s a devastating theology. My experience is that when parents buy into that view of the Gospel for their teenagers, it begins to bleed over into other relationships. They begin to have doubts about whether Christ can reach all sorts of people. That means that simply surviving your teens is not enough of a goal. In a sense, having survival as a goal is selfish because it’s focused simply on getting yourself through a difficult time. The other problem with having survival as a goal is that, as parents, we tend to settle for external, behaviorist sorts of goals.
We try to deal with our kids according to the Nike way—“Just do it!” Children who have only had parents who want to regulate and control their behaviour don’t have much when they leave the home. In America, for example, we have had a huge number of kids from Christian homes who go off to college and forsake the faith. Actually, I suspect that they never had it in the first place. In fact, what they had was the faith of their parents. It’s just that they never internalized it for themselves. All that the college situation does is reveal the true heart of the teenager that had been masked by parental control and regulations. Naturally, all parents need to have regulations that control the behavior of their children, but it’s not enough of a goal. The sort of rule-keeping that we describe as behaviorism, which is disconnected from the heart, is repudiated throughout the Bible and was the peculiar sin of the Pharisees. Christ roundly condemned it. And yet Christian parents can be very successful at creating a new generation of young Pharisees who live with no sense of need for the Gospel at all, because they’re quite good at keeping external rules. That’s pretty scary to me. We need to see that the final years of a child’s life at home are a time of unprecedented opportunity. As a child’s world unfolds before him and he experiences greater freedom, his heart gets revealed. This means that we have to take every opportunity to be part of the final stage of preparation. Being involved with our teenagers at a deep level is something we mustn’t avoid. What’s the real problem that teenagers face? Is it their hormones or is it their hearts? The world says it’s their hormones; but the Bible says, in literally hundreds of ways, that human beings live out of their hearts. We like to think that it’s other people and circumstances that cause us to do what we do. However, this little bit of blame-shifting comes straight out of the garden of Eden. The Bible says that our situations and relationships are merely the occasions in which our hearts express themselves. I really live out of my heart. The heart is the directional system for each one of us. What do you mean when you use the word ‘heart?’ The Bible has a very simple anthropology. It says that people consist of two parts: the outer man—which is your earth suit, and the inner man—which is your spiritual self. The Bible uses a number of words—mind, emotion, will, spirit—to describe the heart. In a sense, “the heart” is one, big basket term; it’s really biblical shorthand for the inner man and all its functions. The Bible attributes many important functions to the heart. It tells us that we feel, think, purpose, desire, believe with our hearts. We also receive or reject God’s new covENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
enant with them, too. This means that if the heart is the steering wheel of the human being, if it’s the thing that causes us to do what we do, then it’s quite obvious that the focus of parenting has to be the heart. Christ, as you know, uses the example of the tree to explain the function of the heart. You look at the tree and its fruit and you say: “That’s an apple tree, because it has apples.” Now we know that the reason it has apples is because it is apple-istic right down to its roots. If it wasn’t an apple tree by nature, it wouldn’t produce apples. In Christ’s example, the tree equals the heart, and the fruit equals behavior and its consequences. I often use this example. Imagine that you have an apple tree in the backyard. Now this particular tree produces horrible apples year after year. So I say to my wife, “I think I can fix our apple tree.” So I go out with a big ladder and cut off all the old apples. Then I nail delicious red apples all over the tree. I stand back, and from 50 feet it now looks like a good apple tree. But we all know what’s going to happen, don’t we? Those apples are going to rot, too, because if the tree is consistently producing bad apples, then there’s something wrong with the system, right down to its roots. We all realize that we won’t solve the problem by nailing apples onto the tree. But this is the problem with much of modern childrearing, even in Christian circles. A lot of what we call biblical parenting is nothing more than apple-nailing. And what happens is that six weeks later, or perhaps six months or six years, the child or youth is right back to where they were before. So you’re saying that many Christian parents are behaviorists? Yes, that’s right. But the problem is that they don’t realize they are. And much of the time it’s because they’re untaught. If you go to the average Christian bookstore, unless it carries Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp or my book, Age of Opportunity, you won’t even hear the word “heart” mentioned in books on parenting. They are all about techniques and strategies for controlling behaviour. They are behaviorist, even though they appear in Christian guise. The scary thing about these books is that they often have a temporary effectiveness. It’s true— I can control a child’s behavior through a variety of means. If I lay enough guilt on my child, it will move him. Or if I manipulate him with something he wants—a new car or a new bike—that will be temporarily effective. Or I can threaten him. That may be of limited effectiveness, too. However, the problem is that none of these things last. The minute the threat’s gone, the inner man hasn’t changed. And the child goes right back to where he was. And that’s what’s happening all over the place, not just in the culture, but in the church as well. Why do parents usually find the teenage years of their children the most demanding and threatening of all? I would like to be able to say, as the father of four children, all Summer 2009
of them now grown up (although one is still a teen), that the only time I got angry was when one of them broke God’s law. However, what is in fact true, and I think it’s true of all of us, is that often I wasn’t angry because they had sinned, but because their sin had gotten in the way of something that I
wanted. And what often gets in the way of parenting teenagers is the idolatry of their mother and father. As a father, I, too, live for comfort, appreciation, success, respect and control. Now none of those things, in and of themselves, is wrong. But they must not rule my heart. If they do rule my heart, then in a moment of teen trouble, I will be likely to personalize what is not personal and be adversarial in my approach to you. I’ll turn a moment of God-given ministry opportunity into a moment of anger, rather than going after your heart. I’ll settle for quick situational solutions because I just want to get in and out of the room and get it over with. At that moment, I will be enraged with you because you have stopped me from realizing what is really important to me. That’s why the key to being used by God with your children is to start with your own heart. Try this as an experiment. Imagine someone shooting a video of every waking moment of your life over the last six weeks. What would it reveal about the things you are serving? What would you say is really important to you? You hear parents confess their idolatry in roundabout ways all the time: “I do all this for you and this is the thanks I get?” Or a father says “How dare you do this to me!” as if the child has plotted against him. I guess it feels personal to a parent because the child has prevented him from serving the idol that’s ruling his life. It can be a huge struggle for the parents at times. But the teenage years are a time of unprecedented opportunity. I’ve found that the most important thing
What is ‘success’ in parenting teens? I can do to help parents is to get them to begin the search for idolatry in their lives. Then, when they find it, to confess it and forsake it. If parents do not deal with their personal idolatry first, then all the strategies I give you are not going to help. In fact, goal setting won’t help either. Why? Because, you always end up serving what rules your heart. It’s like the law of gravity: it’s always operating. That’s why I love reformed theology because it gets to the heart of the problem through its radical view of human nature. Reformed theology declares that worship isn’t first an activity for human beings; worship is first an identity. We are worshippers; you can’t not worship. We are always in the service of something. And if I’m not serving God in the life of my teenager, then I’m serving other things. It’s just an inescapable principle.
What are the most important opportunities in which parents play a strategic role in their teenage children’s lives? Let me begin by saying that I am always struck by how transcultural and transgenerational the Bible really is. We tend to divide human beings into all these subcultures, believing that we are very different from one another. In some ways we might be, but I should add that the Bible is able to cast its net in a way that catches everyone. This means that the Bible speaks to the typical struggles of young people in every culture. It works in a situation when a son says to his dad, “Father, I need to bed down the camel,” and it works when a son says, “Dad, I forgot to put gas in the car.” It spans those generations. So it’s not hard to look at Scripture and realize that the Bible is right when it defines the typical struggles of a young person. Those struggles are the opportunity for discerning parents. For instance, the book of Proverbs is very clear in reminding us that teenagers don’t usually hunger for wisdom and correction. I’ve never had one of my kids say to me, “As I was riding the bus home from school I was thinking, ‘Dad,
you’re a really wise man. I’d just love to sit at your feet and drink in some more of your wisdom,’ or ‘Dad, I realize that when you correct me you are showing me your love. Would you like to correct me some more?’ ” So what should be my goal here? As a parent I realize that wisdom is crucial to pleasing God, and yet it’s not the thing for which my teenager tends to hunger. So now I’ve got my job description. It’s to sell my teenager something that he is not seeking. And so I decide that I’ll model being a wise man. I want to show him that wisdom is a beautiful and wonderful thing. And I want to sell wisdom to him so that he becomes a really keen consumer. The point I’m making is that in each area of teenage struggle there’s wonderful parental opportunity. Another characteristic of teenagers is that they tend to be very legalistic. They don’t particularly love God’s law, they frequently debate the boundaries and they’re very boundary oriented. I tell people that if God’s law is like a fence, then my kids grew up with fence marks on their faces. As teens they were always pressing against the fence. Now you don’t solve the problem of teenage legalism by debating where the boundary is. Why? Because a child who is pressing his face against the fence is believing a very significant lie. The lie is that the good stuff is out there and God is keeping him from it. What I need to do is turn his body to the inside of the yard and show him the glory of what God has called us to. Can you imagine living in a town where everybody was gentle and kind, no one ever stole, there was no such things as envy, murder or adultery, no one coveted, everyone was always patient? That’s God’s world! So in each one of those areas of teen struggle there are wonderful opportunities for parents. You’ve said that if parents don’t regard the teen years as a time of unprecedented opportunity, it’s because they’ve got something wrong with their own hearts. What’s the problem with adult hearts when they begin to resent their teenage children? What happens in the teen years is that a dynamic relational change takes place. When my child is young, he is pretty much a slave to whatever my agenda is. I am totally in control. He goes wherever I tell him; the only friends he has in the house are the ones that I approve. However, the more my teenager’s world widens, the less that’s true. And what happens is that this adolescent sinner has a remarkable ability to mess up my world. He can’t help himself. Every one of his choices collides with mine. I tell parents it’s like this: you can’t stand next to a puddle for too long without being splashed by its mud. The fact is that every parent of a teen is dealing with a person who is struggling to come to terms with life. We also must realize that every teenager is a sinner and is trying to learn how to live in God’s world, learning what it means to be godly and learning the dangers of sin. There’s no possible way that that won’t have a huge impact on my life. And that’s why people don’t like their teenagers. ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
Teenagers are completely different from the babies that we held in our arms. We loved to hear them coo and they smelt so fresh. It seems so ironic that the tiny person who brought us so much joy is the same young man I now resent. In fact, I’m so mad with him, I don’t even want to sit down and have a meal with him. Why? Because he’s made my world uncomfort-
able. That’s it. And I don’t like my world being turned upside down. I like a world that’s predictable and controlled. And I deeply resent the fact that I have lost that level of comfort and control that I previously had. Actually, what my teenager reveals in me when I get angry and frustrated with him is a depth and consistency of self-love that is one of the horrible effects of sin. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:15 that Jesus came that those “who live, should no longer live unto themselves but for him who for their sakes died and was raised.” Jesus is saying that selfishness is the endemic result of sin. It makes you totally self-absorbed. Summer 2009
And so what do I want? I want pre-sanctified, selfparenting children. I want children that I can always take to a restaurant without being embarrassed. I want kids who will do their homework without me being on their backs. I want an easy life for myself. And frankly, I never expected that becoming a parent meant that I would have to lay my life down for my kids. But that’s exactly what God calls me to do. My redemption cost Christ not only His glory; it also cost Him His life. That’s the model. What sort of attitudes and approach should parents have with the family if they are to be in the right frame of mind to deal with their teens? First, we need to understand how the modern workplace has devalued the importance of family relationships. This trend began with the modern industrial revolution. Two hundred years ago, when industry was cottage-based, if the family was in crisis the shop shut down to settle the problem because the family ran the business. But if you remove men from the home and relocate the place of work, all of a sudden industry begins to dictate lifestyle. What man today would call his boss and say, “I’m going to be two hours late because I’m sorting out a difficult problem in our home and it needs to be dealt with now.” What you do is say to your wife, “I can’t talk about that now because I have to be at work.” As work and family life became separate, men began increasingly to define success in terms of their performance on the job rather than on their success in the home. Then along came the further problem of women leaving the home to travel to their work. Now women are also defining their personal success in terms of job performance. Today we are generations down the road from our Christian forbears on thinking about the family. Sadly, we don’t think nearly as much of the place of family relationships when we think of the definition of a successful life. But we need to. We must come to a position where we say: “There is nothing that I will ever be that will rival the importance of God’s work in the formation of my children’s souls.” There is nothing more important than that. And that demands some hard choices. When I go out to speak, I’ll make that challenge to men in the congregation. I’ll point my finger and say: “There are some of you who are so busy in your careers that you’re seldom home, and when you are, you are so physically exhausted that you have nothing to offer your children. There are men here who actually don’t even know their own kids. And I want to offer a radical challenge to you. Go to your boss and ask for a demotion. Take less pay. Move out of that dream house and into a smaller one. Sell your brand new car and be willing to drive an older one. And be willing to do what God has called you to do in the life of your children.”
What are the most helpful ways to understand teenagers if we are to play a vital role in their spiritual development? I think the most helpful thing to remember is that your
What is ‘success’ in parenting teens? teenager is more like you than unlike you. Unfortunately, we have this view that teenagers are in a separate class as though they’re aliens who’ve dropped from the sky. One humbling thing that I’ve realized is that there are few struggles in the life of my teenager that I don’t recognize in my own heart as well. For instance, imagine my child has gotten into trouble because he’s procrastinated on a school assignment until the night before and he can’t possibly get it done. But haven’t I done the same? Of course I have. And when I realize that, I don’t come to him and say, “How dare you! How could you? In my day I would have never thought of doing this!” Instead, I come as a fellow sinner.
It’s at this point that my dealings with him are based on the gospel rather than law. Here’s my opportunity to point him to Christ. So I say: “Son, there’s a rescue provided for us in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. There’s hope for both of us. I need it every bit as much as you do. And I stand with you. However, don’t expect me to write a note to the teacher to get you out of the assignment.” So you see, it’s a whole different approach. I actually think that the self-righteous—“I’m more righteous than you”— approach closes down teenagers; it doesn’t open them up at all. That’s why Christian parents shouldn’t use it. Is the wisdom literature of the Bible, especially the Proverbs, helpful in preparing us to meet the challenge of the teenage years? How does it help parents get ready for their responsibilities? Yes, it’s vital for dealing with teens. As I have read the first few chapters of Proverbs it’s often hit me that what we have here is a father giving advice to his son. “Son, pay attention to my wisdom.” “Son, give heed to my instruction.” So I decided that I would keep reading the first eight chapters over and over again. I literally read them hundreds of times. Interestingly, what happened was that a number of themes started rising to the surface—a theme being something that’s repeated over and over again. Now, I know enough as a parent that if I have to repeat something several times to my children, it means I’ve identified a struggle within them. So the themes that are in Proverbs
give us a wonderful picture of what are the typical temptations or struggles of a young person. And they give me a nice template for thinking about the kinds of things I am going to encounter as I go through the teen years with my children. What should be the basic spiritual goals for parents in dealing with their teens? Should I simply be trying to regulate their behavior? Is that a worthy aim, or should I be trying to achieve a lot more? My problem with a lot of parenting is that it is reactive; it’s not goal-driven. Something comes up and I react to it. However, Scripture expects us to move well beyond reactive parenting. It sets us heart goals. And so when I am helping my teens deal with issues of dating, or use of the car, or behavior at school, their individual situation gives me a God-given opportunity to help them advance in one of these areas of heart goals. So, for each of my children, I have tried to look through the individual situation to the goal for their hearts that I’m seeking to achieve. One of these goals is to teach my child to understand and participate in the spiritual struggle. The Bible tells us that the most important things to happen in life are unseen. It also tells us that there’s a real enemy who wants control of my heart. And that war goes on in every situation of life. I want my teenager to get beyond clothes and sports and see the significance of sin and temptation which is there in every situation of life. The issue of what rules the heart involves the issue of idolatry. Teenagers need to be challenged about what is governing them. Here are three idols of the teen years: appearance, possessions and acceptance. And so I want to take them to the level of the heart so that they can understand what is really going on in their lives. Why is it that Christian parents are often frustrated in their efforts to cultivate a heart for God in their teenagers? Because it’s the hardest work a human being could ever do. We have to get to the point where we realize that there is no hope apart from Christ. If I could turn the human heart by the force of my voice, or the strength of my personality, or the logic of my argument, or the wisdom of my parenting strategies, then Jesus would never have needed to come. So, as a parent, I’ve hit something that I can’t do by myself. And it makes me angry. It frustrates me. It discourages me. You see, what I want is some “instant fix.” Give me the three steps to producing godliness in kids. The Bible doesn’t do that. It doesn’t give us a system of redemption; it gives us a Redeemer. And here’s the really scary news. No matter how righteously I act with my teenager, he must deal with God or there won’t be any hope for him. And I can’t do that. So what I do, in my frustration, is try to do God’s job on my kids. Many teens leave home because their relationship with their parents is so bad. What can parents do that will ensure that when they leave home they’ll be grateful for the life preparation that they’ve received? ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
Parents should remember that the best climate for a relationship is a climate of honesty and humility. I have watched restoration take place when parents are willing to begin to be honest about their own struggle. One of the things that drives teenagers crazy is parents who are all talk but no action. They hold up standards but never keep them themselves. I mean, how can you talk about grace but be bitter and angry? After a while, the child just can’t wait for that first moment to make his exit. One of the ways I preach the Gospel is declaring my own need for it. And that can be done casually. I was talking to my 17-year-old son recently. I felt I’d been impatient with him. And I said: “It’s not going to be any surprise to you that I’m going to say I’m a sinner.” Well, he laughed at that, because I also said: “You have a robust experience of the same.” Then I said, “You know there are times when I think of myself more than you, and last night was one of those times.” And he said,
“I do the same thing with you Dad, and I forgive you.” After that exchange there was a warmth between us. However, there would have been a very different outcome if I had said: “You know, you really ought to be glad that you have a dad like me. I’m always going out of my way for you. Why do you mess up all the time after all I’ve done for you?” You see, it would’ve been a whole different ball game. The point is this: if I’m willing to admit my need of Christ, then I come before my child with the evidence of what he also should do. He has not only seen his need, but he has seen the changes Christ is able to do in me. I’m preaching the gospel just by living my life. I think that’s a very powerful thing. And I think it’s an opportunity that we miss, because we believe that if we admit sin, then we compromise our authority. My authority is representative anyway, it’s not based on my righteousness, it’s based on Christ. And I think that’s the way that I can be an instrument in Christ’s hands.
The sad reality of sexual abuse (continued from page 3) sin and brokenness (www.harvestusa.org), has established a very helpful list of overall goals for the redemptive process we should enlist when sexual abuse is uncovered. They are: 1. To protect the minor child. 2. To honor the laws of the state. 3. To begin the steps needed to repair the damage. 4. To enable the perpetrator to face the consequences of his or her actions. 5. To maintain the purity of the Church (if the person is a part of the church). 6. To maintain the purity of the witness of Christ in the community. Fourth, focus on the victim. There’s a reason why the folks at Harvest USA put “protect the minor child” at the top of the list. Believe it or not, they are oftentimes forgotten. There are even situations where innocent young victims are somehow blamed. What’s wrong with us? The church must go out of its way to affirm young victims who come forward. Not only does this promote the process of healing for the victim, but it fosters a climate where other victims too scared to speak come to see the church as a safe place from which to launch onto the road to restoration. Realize that young sexual abuse victims need you to walk with them every step of the way— and that journey begins the moment they reveal their abuse. Being victimized by sexual abuse is a monumental faithrattler. How we choose to respond—or not respond—to young victims will shape their concept of God, their relationship to the church and their faith for the rest of their lives. And finally, always tend to yourself while never letting down your guard. Over the course of the last few months our Summer 2009
local papers have not only reported about the man I know, but they’ve run stories on three separate high school teachers who have been arrested for having sex with minors. Our temptation is to always point the finger and to shake our heads in pious disapproval, all the while denying that we’d ever think or do anything like that. Don’t buy the lie. We are sinful and fallen human beings. Each of us is just one bad decision away from life in prison ourselves. Kids look up to those of us in ministry and if we let it, it can feel pretty good. Kids trust us. They are attracted to us. And if we don’t watch it, each of us could easily cross the line into anything from inappropriate emotional enmeshment to sexual abuse. Guard the good gift of your sexuality. Surround yourself with accountability. Set boundaries and hold to them. Don’t take advantage of vulnerable young people in any way, shape or form. And, if you’re struggling, step away and get the help that’s needed. Paul wasn’t joking when he said, “Flee from sexual immorality” (I Cor. 6:18). Far too many heads are spinning because of childhood sexual abuse. As ambassadors for the Kingdom, let’s do all we can with God’s help—and by His grace—to bring the Kingdom to come in relation to sexual abuse on earth, as it is in Heaven. I believe that if we are faithful and obedient, fewer heads will spin, and more and more of our kids can look forward to a life where things will be more like the way they’re supposed to be.
Dr. Walt Mueller is President of the Center for Parent/ Youth Understanding
Resource reviews Positive parenting For the most part, I don’t like Christian parenting books. I came to that conclusion several years ago after reading a stack of the most popular titles in our local Christian bookstore. The books either left me: 1) feeling beat up because of the writer’s high expectations, or 2) wondering how enacting the five, seven or 10 guaranteed steps could actually guarantee success. I’m looking for a book that’s realistic, humble, biblically based, full of grace and that takes into account that all of our kids are different. Consequently, my list of recommended Christian parenting books is rather short. Recently, I added a new book to that list. Scott Larson’s When Teens Stray: Parenting for the Long Haul (Vine Books, 2002, ISBN#1-56955-3084), grows out of the experiences of Larson and his wife as they have taken scores of kids from juvenile jails into their homes. While Larson’s experience qualifies him to write to parents whose kids have gotten into trouble, this is a book that will benefit all parents of teens. Larson begins by painting a broad stroke by laying out common myths parents hold about their kids, along with common myths parents hold about parenting. What follows is a treasure of realistic, hope-filled and practical biblically based advice that helps parents to maintain proper perspective and sanity. While I will continue to recommend this book to all parents, others who work with kids will benefit as well. With a growing number of grandparents raising their grandchildren, When Teens Stray offers them encouragement and godly wisdom during what is a most difficult job. And, youth workers and teachers will find great insights into the dynamics that drive troubled youth. —Walt Mueller
Sex survey Pornography has become so mainstream in today’s society, that many people no longer label it as a problem. Perhaps the idea that viewing pornography is an acceptable form of behavior is nowhere more prevalent than on college campuses. But does this truly reflect the status quo? Michael Leahy set out to answer that question in his book Porn University: What College Students Are Really Saying About Sex On Campus (Northfield Publishing, 2009, ISBN # 978-0-80248128-3). While in college, Leahy found himself immersed in pornography and sexual behavior. Not until much later, after many broken relationships and hard lessons learned, did he come to grips with the powerful negative impact it played in his life. He now speaks to college students across the country in an effort to educate them about the truths of pornography and the emptiness that comes with so-called “sexual freedom.” Leahy invites students to visit www.mysexsurvey.com and answer a few questions about their own sexual beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Thousands of students have done so, and Porn University is a result of these many responses. The book breaks down those responses and discusses ways in which the statistics manifest themselves in the lives of students and adults alike. Insights are provided about the differences in sexual attitudes between men and women. Leahy explains the patterns of sexual addiction as well as the consequences of consuming pornography and partaking in harmful sexual behaviors. He concludes that only Christ can ultimately fulfill our relational needs, and offers hope to those who are in the midst of struggle. Porn University will open the eyes of anyone who reads it to the prevailing attitudes about sexuality on college campuses. As such, campus ministers will benefit greatly from the read as they learn how to better care for students. —Chris Wagner
Stuff that really matters Prior to a recent trip to Rwanda, I read about God’s call for Christians to pursue justice, along with several stories of those saints who had done just that. What resulted was an eye-opening education that convinced me more than ever of the church’s need to go beyond our comfort zones. Gary Haugen is one believer who has been transformed by living this reality. Now, he’s encouraging others to do the same through the work of the International Justice Mission and his book, Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian (IVP, 2008, ISBN# 978-0-8308-3494-5). Our lack of concern and action regarding justice is evident in the fact that while Haugen’s message is at the heart of the Gospel, he has to write a book to remind God’s people about what lies at the very heart of the God we say we follow. In the book, Haugen tells the story of his friend Sean Litton, a lawyer who decided to put Christ’s call—to find one’s life by losing it—to the test. Litton walked away from his safe and secure job to work for Haugen’s IJM, addressing sexual trafficking and child sexual assault in the Philippines. His life was changed, but he almost didn’t go. He says four things were holding him back. There was the comfort of his nice house and all he had accumulated. There was his security and freedom from danger. There was the control he had over the circumstances of his life. And finally, there was the success he was experiencing in his career. But he let go of comfort, security, control and success, and he took the unsafe option by giving up his life and going to the Philippines. What happened? Sean Litton found his life. In exchange for what he gave up he got back adventure, faith, miracles and a deep knowledge of Jesus. His faith grew and solidified in ways he could have never imagined. That’s why this book is must-reading for us all. —Walt Mueller
ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
College culture Roger Rosenblatt’s novel Beet (Harper Perennial, 2008, ISBN# 978-0-06134428-2) was written before the current economic recession, but its comic plot is even more realistic today. The story takes place at fictitious Beet, a small, liberal arts college in New England. Beet College suddenly loses its endowment, and the board of trustees is called upon to make major changes or they run the risk of having to shut down the school entirely. Their solution is to start a faculty committee to develop a creative curriculum that will increase enrollment by giving Beet a marketing advantage. English professor Peace Porterfield is asked to take charge of the committee and work with an impossible cast of professors from diverse departments. Beet is a sarcastic, almost cynical, comedy about higher education in the 21st century. Rosenblatt is clearly trying to make a statement about the direction of some American colleges. By using outlandish characters and subplots, he exposes some of the wrong turns colleges have taken in order to be more appealing to students. Themes such as political correctness, grade inflation, tolerance and many other issues on campus today are explored, giving the reader a unique, often funny, look into the ridiculousness that is found at some colleges today. Rosenblatt’s purpose for writing, however, is not just to point out what has gone wrong in higher education. Through the characters and plot twists, he also is reminding readers of what is good, right, true and beautiful. At the end of the day, this novel is a plea for institutions of higher learning to return to the central purpose of educating young minds toward moral formation. Beet would be a good choice for someone looking for a summer/beach read that will also get you thinking about education and adolescent development. Similar to Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, Beet offers a unique window into current college culture. —Derek Melleby Summer 2009
Great man, great advice The older I get the more I’m convinced that the greater the spotlight a person finds himself in, the harder it is to keep one’s priorities straight. We’ve all watched heroes and role models rise—and then very quickly fall. That’s why Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy is such a breath of fresh air. He is a man whose life is marked by humility. He is a man whose greatest commitment is to be committed—truly committed—to Jesus Christ. Tony Dungy is the real deal. After reading Dungy’s best-selling memoir, Quiet Strength, readers who had been exposed to Dungy’s life and story in that book hungered for deeper insight into the principles and commitments that guide his life. Now, Dungy has released his latest, Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance (Tyndale House, 2009, ISBN#978-14143-2681-8), a book that shatters the cultural myths we so easily buy into on a quick path to idolatry. Done with an easy-to-read style that’s packaged in digestible, thought-provoking nuggets, Uncommon leads readers on a helpful look in the mirror, challenging them to develop godly attitudes, to love their families, to be a positive model in the lives of their friends, to reach their full potential in life, to establish a mission that matters, to choose influence over image and to live out their faith. Uncommon offers a straightforward message that must be heard. While it’s recommended for all males, it’s especially suited for men and boys who might not normally read much at all. Dungy writes in the introduction, “At the end of the day, I’m sure of one thing: accumulating stuff and women and titles and money are wrong keys. Fitting in, following the crowd and being common are not what we’re supposed to do. There’s more in store for us.” He’s pointing men in the right direction. —Walt Mueller
Embodying belief There is a popular, growing concern among some segments of the church that for too long Christians have focused on “believing the right things” instead of “living the right way.” Some claim that Jesus was much more concerned with how one lived than with what one believed. In his book, Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough (Zondervan, 2008, ISBN# 978-0-310-28116-0), seminary professor Michael Wittmer warns that this popular notion may be taking things too far. He writes, “I appreciate the renewed turn to practice, but wonder why we must turn from doctrine to get there. If modern, conservative churches replaced concern for right living with right doctrine, shouldn’t postmoderns be wary of falling off the other edge—replacing concern for right doctrine with right living?” Wittmer writes with humor and passion, tackling the toughest questions the church is currently wrestling with to show how both right doctrine and right living is necessary. Sample questions include: Must you believe something to be saved? Are people generally good or basically bad? Which is worse: homosexuals or the bigots who persecute them? Is the cross divine child abuse? Is Hell for real and forever? Is the Bible God’s true Word? Wittmer offers a balanced, thoughtful and biblical approach to these questions and many more. This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about the church and current theological debates. It is especially important for those who are both critical and receptive of the theology of what has become known as the “emerging church.” —Derek Melleby
Resource reviews Kids behind bars Because we live in a difficult and depraved world, the juvenile justice system is a growing necessity. A host of cultural forces have combined to create an environment in which more and more kids are perpetrating more and more crimes. The sad reality is that these issues are touching all kinds of families regardless of their locale, faith commitments or socio-economic status. In an effort to minister to kids in the juvenile justice system, my friend Scott Larson founded Straight Ahead Ministries, an international organization working with juvenile offenders in hundreds of juvenile facilities across the world. In an effort to extend this ministry to the parents of offenders, Scott and John Kinsley have co-authored a new book, Help! My Child’s Been Arrested!: A Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Juvenile Justice System (EMIS, 2008, ISBN# 978-1-879089-45-7). Because the arrest of a child is sudden and oftentimes unexpected, confusion and chaos typically follow. The fact that this guide is handy, short and straight-to-the-point lends it to serving as an anchor of good advice and counsel for families who find themselves getting tossed around in the mess. The book offers step-by-step instructions that help parents do what’s best for their child as they begin the long process of redemptive restoration. Included is a short list of helpful juvenile justice ministries and their services. It’s unlikely that parents whose families haven’t been touched by these problems would even think about purchasing this book and putting it on the shelf. However, I highly recommend that all youth workers purchase at least two copies to put at arm’s length on their resource shelf. At some point you just might have to pass this book on in an instant of great hurt, confusion and need. —Walt Mueller
All about boys Integrity, courage, humility, meekness and kindness. Five traits I pray my son will emulate when he is five, 15 and 25 years old, and five traits author and pediatrician Meg Meeker suggests we teach our sons in her recent book Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons (Regnery Publishing, 2008, ISBN # 978-1-59698-057-0). Sadly, boys, teens and young men today do not view these characteristics as positive traits. Through media, their peers and even their families, boys are encouraged to be tough, loud, sexual and violent. Meeker presents an alternative path for boys and parents to follow. She provides a solid foundation, as well as various guidelines for parents of boys, whether those boys are toddlers or young men. Meeker offers “seven secrets” for raising our boys, including encouragement, rules and, most importantly, time with his parents. Meeker provides insightful information and details in regards to raising boys of good character, as well as anecdotal evidence taken from her years of practice as a pediatrician. There are chapters dedicated to the important and distinct roles of mom and dad in a son’s life, as well as a chapter devoted to “The God Factor.” “Ten Tips for Making Sure You Get It Right” reminds us of principles most of us know, but can always use a gentle reminder to put into practice. I recommend this book to any parent who has a son, and adults who work with boys or young men. It is a book I will reference again and again over the years. Meeker ends her book with a simple but profound statement; “What are you waiting for?” As the mother of a young toddler I ask myself that every day. What am I waiting for? And then I get down on my hands and knees and play. —Beth Wagner
Not so funny Chris Farley was one funny guy. But that humor masked an individual who was much more complex than someone who always was able to generate a laugh. When he died from an overdose at the age of 33, people wrote him off as another celebrity train wreck. It was like John Belushi all over again. Concerned that his brother would never be truly known as anything other than the overweight star of Saturday Night Live and several movies, Tom Farley decided to tell Chris’ story in The Chris Farley Story: A Biography in Three Acts (Viking, 2008, ISBN# 978-0-670-01923-6). Why would a ministry concerned with matters of faith and culture recommend a Hollywood bio? In this case it’s because The Chris Farley Story forces us to examine many of the emerging and oftentimes sad realities of living life in a celebrity-obsessed culture—whether one is a celebrity or celebrity watcher. Tom Farley wants readers to know that Chris was not only a comedic genius, but that he was a very real person who grew up struggling with the realities of living in a family crippled by addiction. Farley was earnest, sincere and a genuinely caring person who dealt with his own insecurities by trying to make other people laugh. This hilarious and heartbreaking portrait not only tells Chris’ story, but includes more than a hundred exclusive interviews and observations from people who knew Chris the best, including David Spade, Chris Rock, Alec Baldwin, Chris’ priest and his brothers. Readers should not approach this book as entertainment. Rather, it’s a case study in humanity, the ills of depravity and the desire for ultimate redemption. If you have a heart, this is a book that will make you grieve what we’ve become, grieve the brokenness that runs deep and wide in our culture, and see the need for ultimate redemption through Jesus Christ. —Walt Mueller
ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
Taming the culture wars As a sophomore at Brown University, a school known for being “progressive” and pretty left of center politically, Kevin Roose convinced his advisor that studying for a semester at Liberty University, a conservative institution of higher education, should qualify as a “cross-cultural” education experience. The advisor agreed, so Roose enrolled at Liberty and wrote a book about his experience entitled The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University (Grand Central Publishing, 2009, ISBN# 978-0-446-17842-6). Roose has an amazing story to tell and he tells it very well. He grew up in a self-described liberal, Quaker family. Conservative Christianity was something to be laughed at or feared. People like Jerry Falwell (Liberty’s former president) were despised. Roose expected to attend Liberty and write a book that would affirm all of his worst fears: fundamentalist Christianity was what was wrong with America. But that’s not what happened. “I had this secular/liberal paranoia that when evangelical students were among themselves, they spent their time huddled in dark rooms, organizing anti-abortion protests and plotting theocentric takeovers. But that’s not true at all.” Later he explains, “But one thing has become clear: the Liberty students have no ulterior motive. They simply can’t contain their love for God. They’re happy to be believers, and they’re telling the world.” This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Roose gives readers an open and honest, “outsider” view of Christianity without being overly critical. While he never fully converts, he was won over by the students’ hospitality, friendship and grace. This book won’t add more fuel to the culture-wars fire. If anything, it should help to put some of the fire out. The question, of course, is whether or not Christians will exercise the same kind of patience and empathy for the “other side” that Roose has shown us. —Derek Melleby Summer 2009
Happiness defined David Naugle, in his new book, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Eerdmans, 2008, ISBN# 978-0-8028-2817-0), points readers toward a recent study of Americans. The research showed that while the U.S. highly values “happiness,” it came in number 23 on a list of the world’s happiest countries. Naugle writes, “Though there is significant disagreement on what happiness is and how to get it, there is substantial agreement in recognizing it as the bull’s eye on the target at which we aim our lives.” But here’s the problem as Naugle explains: “Scientific, economic and cultural forces have produced a paradigm shift in the way most people understand happiness. It has morphed in the minds of many Americans into a promise of sustained pleasure and painlessness.” Reordered Love, Reordered Lives invites readers to consider what we should aim for to obtain a truly “happy life.” Naugle suggests that we need “not a hedonistic but an ‘edenistic’ happiness that roots the fullness of human life in God and his creation.” This type of happiness only comes when we learn to love the right things. “The happy life consists of learning how to love both God supremely and the world in the right way at the very same time.” Using illustrations from history, pop culture and Scripture, Naugle makes a strong case for how followers of Christ can (re)learn how to live a “happy” (properly defined), good life. The book is deep, but accessible, and would be good reading for parents and youth workers as they help young people better understand what true happiness really is. And, truth be told, the message of the book is one we all need to be continually reminded of: Our happiness is found in our love for God. —Derek Melleby
God is good Before my recent trip to Rwanda I pursued a reading plan that would give me some background on the 1994 genocide. I read a book on the genocide’s history, a book by genocide perpetrators, a book by the head of the U.N. force in Rwanda and books by genocide victims/survivors. While most of the books took me deeper into understanding the depravity of the human heart, one book enlarged my understanding of God in some major ways. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (Hay House, 2006, ISBN# 978-1-4019-0896-6), is the first-person account of Immaculee Ilibagiza’s miraculous story of survival in the midst of great terror. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 lasted 100 days. During that time, more than one million men, women and children were killed. Most were hacked to death with machetes by friends and neighbors. Ilibagiza lost most of her family. However, God’s hand was on her. Her amazing story recounts how she spent 91 cramped and terrifying days in the three by four-foot bathroom of a Hutu pastor. However, she wasn’t alone. That tiny space became home for Ilibagiza and seven other women. Woven in and through her story is her already deep yet deepening faith in God and understanding of Him as her protector and provider. The story is nothing less than a miracle. Readers will be inspired by Ilibagiza’s faith, God’s providence and the grace that He has allowed Ilibagiza and so many other Rwandans to show to the perpetrators of the genocide. If you are a fan of missionary biographies and stories of God’s amazing grace, Left to Tell should not be overlooked. It’s a book adults can be confident passing on to the teens they know and love. —Walt Mueller
College Transition Initiative Finding campus community One of my favorite questions to ask current college students or recently graduated college students is this: what was the best piece of advice you were given before going to college? Here’s a response I received a few weeks ago at a picnic. Between bites of nachos, the student said: “My youth pastor told me to be intentional about finding Christian community. He was so emphatic about it that I remember frantically walking around campus asking everyone I met if they knew about any Christian groups on campus. One of the first people I talked to was a Christian and she’s one of my best friends today. Together we were able to find a group and get connected to a church.”
This story reminds us of two things we all need to know about students transitioning to college. First, the first two weeks of college are critical. Nationally, 25 percent of students do not return to the same school for their sophomore year. On a recent trip to Ohio State University, I learned that OSU has been able to reduce that number to 3-4 percent. OSU has learned that students transition better and remain at OSU longer if they find good, supportive community quickly. In the past, there were only two prominent scenarios for incoming students at OSU. Some students would look to the party scene to find friends. While this did provide community, it often wasn’t the most beneficial. Other students would fall through the cracks, not really getting involved on campus during the week and going home on the weekends. OSU responded by pouring more funding and energy into first-year programs. Helping students find a place to belong has made all the difference in the world in their retention rates. Second, the opening story reminds us that Christians need to intentionally seek out Christian community on campus. Kara Powell of the Fuller Youth Institute estimates that 75 percent of Christian students do not get connected to Christian community while in college. During the first few weeks of college, students are bombarded with different activities to fill their schedules. Everything is new: people, buildings, class, meal times. Many students are navigating these daily activities
by Derek Melleby
on their own for the first time. It’s easy to drop worship and “Bible study” from an already hectic schedule. So, what can be done to help students make wise decisions in how they spend their time and who they spend it with? Are there any steps that can be taken by youth workers and parents to assist in this transition? What follows are five suggestions. First, teach the value and importance of community to the life of faith. Too often the Gospel is only presented as an individual choice, dealing with one’s individual relationship with God. While there is certainly a need for all people to individually respond to the Gospel, a life of faith requires community. In fact, coming to faith in Christ is a process of changing one’s communal identity. Community is not something added onto the Gospel, but it is central to our understanding of what takes place at conversion. We are now identified with a new people group: the people the God. There is not Christian faith apart from the community of faith. Do young people in your life and ministry know why community is so important to following Jesus? Does the Gospel you preach and teach have a natural tendency to lead people into deeper community life? Second, make sure students know what Christian community is available for them where they are going to school. In my travels presenting the CPYU seminar Looking Ahead: Preparing for the College Transition, I am always surprised by the number of students and parents who are not familiar with the college ministry organizations that are on most campuses today. Don’t assume that all students and parents have heard of Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Fellowship, Navigators, Coalition forChristian Outreach, etc. Third, help students make connections to Christian community before they arrive on campus. This is a simple step many parents and youth workers often neglect. As you learn where students will be going to college, take a proactive approach by contacting campus ministries and churches in those areas. Start by asking others in your congregation who might be familiar with the community in which the college is located. Next, browse the college’s Web site to see what is offered on campus. Note: “Spiritual life/growth” opportunities are often listed under “student activities,” “religious life” or “student life.” You also can check out this Web site: www.liveabove.com. Here you will be able to plug in the name of the college and see a list of selected college ministry options for students along with contact information. Send e-mails and make phone calls. Get in touch with campus ministers and pastors in the area. Consider using a night at youth group to help college bound students make these important connections. Fourth, host a panel discussion featuring current college students from your church. College-bound students benefit greatly from hearing stories of others who have gone before them. Bring in current college students for a discussion about (continued on page 23) ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
In the media Deconstructing ‘College Life’ “College Life” is a new MTV reality show with the tagline: “This isn’t reality television, this is real.” The show follows eight freshman and sophomore students—Josh, Alex, Lindsay, Andrea, Dan, Anna, Jordan and Kevin—attending school in Madison, Wisconsin. They have been equipped with cameras and given a mission: film your college life. The show claims to be “an intimate portrayal of the highs and lows of the experience, a no-holds barred, honest portrayal of life on campus.” So, what should we do with it? Two friends of CPYU have recently weighed-in. Brian Raison and Chuck Bomar work with college students daily. What follows are their thoughts on why we should pay attention to this new TV show and what we can learn as cross-cultural missionaries.
college career. Please note, Kevin gives this touching soliloquy couched in a flurry of expletives, so much so that you must listen intently to understand his rant beneath the nearly continuous “bleeping” that the editors are obliged to insert. It’s quite effective.
Created reality television: MTV’s new college life series by Brian Raison Well, I turned on MTV last week. Before you jump to conclusions, let me assure you that it was not because I desired to watch any programming on that channel. In fact, I really did not want to dial over there. (Does anyone remember dialing the TV knob? Apologies. I guess I’m dating myself.) Anyway, I tuned in specifically to watch “College Life,” a new reality program set in Madison, Wisconsin, in which collegians are supplied with video cameras and instructed to film everything. Yes, everything. The previews claim no editing and no script. The producers also provide a disclaimer: “The University of Wisconsin is NOT affiliated with this program.” Okay, a sane person may ask, “Why would anyone want to watch a show with no editing and no script and no endorsement?” Well, that’s a valid question. The short answer is that we all need to keep up with what’s happening in youth culture today. We need to differentiate between concerning signs of trouble or distress and simple old-fashioned fun. Please note, these definitions have changed a lot in the last five years. Please also note that regardless of their claim, the producers have very carefully hand-selected each of these four students. And every single second of video footage that gets aired has been chosen, edited and woven into a story line that the adult producers of the show wish to convey. Like all reality TV, there’s not much “real” about it. If there is any redeeming value, it might be found in the explicit, frank and often sobering failures and disappointments that the “actors” encounter as they navigate this supposed college life. In one scene, Kevin points the camera at himself and, in a moment of honesty, recounts what terrible trouble he’s in because he failed to prepare for a huge test and now he’s failing the class. If he drops the class, he won’t have enough credits to be a full-time student. If he doesn’t drop the class, he’ll get an “F” that will be in his GPA for the rest of his Summer 2009
You probably need tune in only once or twice to keep up with the story. If you do watch, there are a few key points to keep in mind. First, not all students drink this much, or have this many random sexual hook-ups, or are so close to failing out. But some are. Second, not all high school students are even watching this. And for those who do, not all will believe that this is how college life really works. But some will. A lot of middle-school students will be watching it, too. So don’t forget about them. They’ll be more likely to believe what they see is generalized to the majority. Third, I’ve used indicators like “some” and “many” in the two paragraphs above. The fact is, 25 percent of the collegeaged population in the U.S. is infected with a sexually transmitted disease (CDC, 2006). Over half of all college students binge drink at least once a week. Where there’s heat there’s sure to be fire. When doing research or watching youth culture (even on MTV), I always like to ask, “So what?” The bottom line is that we should go talk with the young people in our lives. Please don’t lecture, but ask some questions about how they’re doing. Ask what they’re hearing about college life from the older kids. Ask if they feel ready to make decisions about those things or if they think they’ll be ready when they go away to school. Let them know you’re open and available to talk, anytime. Start today. Here’s the perfect opening line: “I saw this new show on MTV last night, and wondered what you thought about it.”
Brian Raison is the director of Ohio State University Extension, Miami County. He can be reached at email@example.com (continued on page 23)
Trends Hazing: Not just for college anymore Hazing isn’t a new trend, but rather one that needs to be addressed on a regular basis. A 2008 report titled “Hazing in View: College Students at Risk” describes the initial findings from the National Study of Student Hazing. It reports that 47 percent of students experience some form of hazing before graduating high school. The problem is just as bad on the college campus. According to the study, “55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing.” Hazing may not be new, but it is indeed widespread. Before we take a closer look at the issue, let’s first take a moment to define it. “Hazing in View” calls the practice “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.” Dr. Susan Lipkin, author and expert in hazing, believes it’s important to note that hazing is not the same as bullying. A main difference is that bullying takes place when a victim is trying to be excluded, while the ultimate goal of hazing is inclusion. Hazing is an extreme form of initiation into some sort of group. Many are familiar with the fact that hazing often takes place within sports teams, as well as in Greek life on college campuses. In fact, 74 percent of college students on a varsity athletic team report going through hazing, as well as 73 percent of social fraternity or sorority members. Though these are perhaps the most well-known groups with a reputation of hazing new prospective members, hazing is certainly not limited to these institutions. Students report being hazed as initiation into all sorts of groups, including 64 percent of those in club sports, 56 percent who participate in performing arts organizations and even 20 percent of those in honor societies. E-mails received from students at the Web site www.stophazing.org indicate that hazing also takes place among military groups, marching bands and religious organizations. Just as fraternities/sororities and athletic teams tend to grab the hazing spotlight in terms of “who,” so do forced alcohol consumption and violence in regards to “what.” Cases involving alcohol and violence are most likely to receive attention because they often lead to medical emergencies, and even possible death. But other forms of hazing exist as well. Dr. Mary Madden and Dr. Elizabeth Allen, authors of the “Hazing in View” study released a summary of findings related to hazing at the high school level. According to their findings, the following are the most frequently reported hazing behaviors among high school students: • 28 percent associate with specific people and not others • 21 percent sing or chant by self or selected group members/ not related to a game or event
by Chris Wagner
• 19 percent are yelled, screamed or cursed at by other members of the group • 12 percent participate in a drinking game • 12 percent deprive self of sleep • 12 percent get a tattoo or body piercing • 11 percent drink large amounts of a non-alcoholic beverage • 11 percent endure harsh weather conditions without proper clothing • 9 percent be awakened by other members during the night • 8 percent make prank telephone calls or harass others • 8 percent drink alcoholic beverages until the point of getting sick or passing out (Source: http://www.hazingstudy.org/publications/ hazing_in_view_web.pdf ) Many of the experienced behaviors reported among college students were similar. However, alcohol-related hazing increases significantly. “Hazing in View” reports that the most frequently reported behavior among hazed college students is to “participate in a drinking game” at a rate of 26 percent. Documentaries about hazing such as The Pledge and Haze demonstrate many other extreme forms of hazing. These included hours of forced calisthenics, being confined to small spaces for hours or even days, and violent acts such as spanking. Another popular ritual includes blindfolding prospective group members and dropping them off at undisclosed locations. Sexually related acts also are part of the college hazing experience, with 6 percent reporting they were forced to perform sex acts with the opposite gender. Though not reflected in the survey, forced same-sex acts and other forms of sexual humiliation, including being sodomized with foreign objects, have also been reported. Why do students choose to subject themselves to this type of behavior? Teens and adults alike all desire to be a part of a group. Unfortunately, sometimes we will go to extreme lengths to be accepted. Students will endure hazing because of the promise of acceptance once the humiliation is over. In Greek campus life, this is commonly known as brotherhood or sisterhood. The bonds created among those that have gone through the hazing together can be extremely strong. Many students even look back fondly on their time of hazing because the shared experience helped build relationships. There also are cultural forces in place that do nothing to discourage hazing, and in some cases even promote it as healthy character building. As Dr. Lipkin states on her Web site (www.insidehazing.com), hazing is ritualistic and based on tradition. Members of the group simply believe it is okay to haze new members because that’s the way it has always been done. They feel entitled to make others go through the same things they endured. This attitude toward hazing often carries into adulthood, so at no point in the cycle does anyone see any need for change. Hazing continues year-after-year reinforcing the idea that it promotes positive and healthy group cohesion. ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
As a result of these traditional views of hazing, many in society believe it is nothing more than harmless fun. This was certainly demonstrated during a recent ABC “Primetime” news episode as part of their “What Would You Do?” hidden camera series. Actors, posing as college students, were asked to stage common hazing practices out on a public street. Sadly, rather than intervene, most of the people walking by simply did nothing. Some even stopped to watch as students were wrapped to a pole using cellophane, treated like dogs, forced to wear nothing but a diaper and verbally ridiculed as if it were entertainment. Others actually joined in the hazing, even calling some of the females “fat” and a “slut.” To their credit, a handful of people did come to the defense of the hazed students, but the show ultimately demonstrated that our culture has come to see hazing as an accepted form of behavior. Furthermore, “Hazing in View” reports that “professional staff and administrators who are aware of dangers inherent in hazing often report feeling discouraged and perplexed by entrenched attitudes and beliefs that support a culture where hazing is normalized as part of college life.” Many schools and organizations turn a blind eye to this behavior because they see nothing wrong with it. Insidehazing.com reports that 92 percent of high school students say they wouldn’t even bother reporting a hazing incident. Students who may be inclined to report hazing incidents are often left with no one to turn to. Others don’t speak up because of fear. They are afraid of possible retaliation and ridicule from the group. The consequences of hazing can be long and devastating. Students from across the country have died because of hazingrelated alcohol poisoning. The verbal and psychological abuse endured can also lead to deep emotional scars. The destruction of self-esteem, self-confidence, feelings of self-worth and respect are just a few of the effects of hazing, according to Mothers Against School Hazing. Embarrassment and humiliation now often extends beyond the actual hazing experience itself, as many leaders of the group post images or video of the experiences online for others to see. According to “Hazing in Summer 2009
View,” “53 percent say a member of their team or organization posted photos of the hazing activity on a public Web space like Facebook or MySpace.” Interestingly, this practice has actually aided police and administrators with their investigations into hazing incidents. Group leaders also can face grave consequences in the form of legal charges. In order to be stopped, hazing must be addressed at multiple levels. First we need to make our teens aware of hazing so they can identify it when it happens. Educate them about the many possible dangers of hazing and reinforce which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. Encourage them to report incidents of hazing, and create a safe or perhaps anonymous environment for them to do so. Demonstrate what it means to be a part of a group or team where members show kindness and respect to one another. Teach them to highly regard the value of others and to treat them as they would wish to be treated. Be especially aware of hazing if you know your teen is about to enter into some form of new group dynamic, whether that be a sports team, club, school grade or fraternity/sorority. Find out who the leaders of this group are and discuss expectations. Talk to coaches, leaders and school administrators about what kinds of anti-hazing policies they have in place and what they are actively doing to enforce them. Sadly, Allen and Madden report that “in 25 percent of hazing experiences, students believed coaches and/or advisors were aware of the activities.” Let those in charge know that hazing is unacceptable. Raise awareness by speaking out and asking questions. Most states have anti-hazing laws, look into what policies are in place where you live. Those of us who are in leadership positions may have to make hard decisions. We must choose to not accept hazing and effectively discipline those who are caught doing so. Even if you’ve turned a blind eye to hazing in the past, you must let teens and students know that it will no longer be tolerated. Just because something is tradition, doesn’t make it right. This may not be a popular position to put oneself in, but it’s a stand that must be taken. Instead of hazing, try suggesting and promoting alternative activities that promote group bonding and trust. Many colleges—Cornell and Harvard are two examples—have Web sites dedicated to stopping hazing and offering alternative ideas. These include community service, camping trips, ropes courses and many other beneficial social activities that those who work with youth are very familiar with. Don’t wait until hazing has gone too far to do something about it. The physical, emotional and psychological health of our teens is at stake. Let’s work together to bring change to the existing cultural attitudes that consider hazing to be an acceptable and normal part of teen and young adult life.
Chris Wagner is a Research Assistant at the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
A list of 10 interesting and helpful Web sites to check out next time you’re surfing the net
Future Paradigm www.futureparadigm.org This is an online resource that “helps you understand teens and the culture in which they live.” It features a variety of helpful articles on youth culture topics by writers who all have extensive youth ministry experience. Media Family www.mediafamily.org The National Institute on Media and the Family seeks to educate and inform the public, and to encourage practices and policies that promote positive change in the production and use of mass media. It accomplishes this mission through research, education and advocacy. Message Behind the Movie www.messagebehindthemovie.com This site provides supplemental material, including an extensive list of movie reviews, for the book The Message Behind the Movie: How to Engage with a Film Without Disengaging Your Faith by Douglass M. Beaumont. Common Sense Media www.commonsensemedia.org This site is dedicated to improving the media and entertainment lives of kids and families, “because media and entertainment profoundly impact the social, emotional and physical development of our nation’s children.” It provides helpful reviews of current and past films. Christian Audio www.christianaudio.com If you would prefer to listen to books rather than read, there is a growing number of great Christian books available at this Web site. You will find audio books by authors like Eugene Peterson, N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, John Piper, Wendell Berry, C.S. Lewis and many more!
Newseum www.newseum.org This is the web site for the Newseum, “the world’s most interactive museum” in Washington, D.C. The Newseum offers visitors an experience that blends five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits. There is a feature on the site in which readers can see the front pages of every newspaper in the United States. Also-Me www.also-me.org This site is an outreach for those struggling to cope with the pressures and influences in the world today. Many adolescents struggle with personal, physical and emotional issues that lead to significant problems in their daily lives. The site includes resources for helping young people battle eating disorders, substance abuse, unhealthy sexual activity, depression, thoughts or acts of violence, anger and suicide. The Prodigal God www.theprodigalgod.com This is a companion site for Tim Keller’s great book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. The site includes seven free downloadable sermons that cover the main themes of the book. It also provides information about a new small group study guide. F*** My Life www.fmylife.com This is a site where people write short stories explaining how their life sucks. The tagline: “My life sucks but I don’t give a F***.” Frequented by teens, it offers a glimpse into the lives of young people and how they interpret daily events. With a growing following there are now T-shirts with the letters FML. Exploring College Ministry www.exploringcollegeministry.com Benson Hines has traveled the country from college to college to gather information on the state of college ministry in the United States. At this site, Ben tells about his travels and offers insight into this much needed area of ministry. A free “Ebook” is available for download to learn more about Ben’s trip.
CPYU does not necessarily endorse, support or condone these sites and their sponsors. Some are listed for informational and research purposes only as they are prevalent in youth culture today.
Links to these sites and many others can be found at www.cpyu.org! ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
Deconstructing college life (continued from page 19) Insights from “College Life” by Chuck Bomar Well, hopefully some of you are able to tune into MTV’s “College Life.” I will be issuing some of my thoughts on the show each Tuesday for as long as this is on the air (see www.collegeministrythoughts.com). I find the show authentic, revealing and affirming as to what I’ve seen working daily with college-age people over the last decade. Let me give my thoughts on what I see as typical college-age issues. Last night I was once again struck by the mix of maturity and immaturity in college-age people. In fact, as you watch the show, I’d encourage you to watch with that lens: what is mature, and what is immature? You will quickly see signs of both mature adult-like thinking mixed with immature adolescent thinking and action. This dichotomy is important to be in tune with if you’re working in college-age ministry! With that here are some glimpses into college-age life from the show. Glimpses from Andrea’s life: With Andrea you see a certain amount of innocence when it comes to her relationship pursuits, but you also see how she manipulates as well. The most important thing to realize with her is a search for identity in relationships. I would say this is an all too common, yet often unconscious, identity crisis during the collegeage years. We also see this in Josh’s life as well. Glimpses from Alex’s life: We see the typical pressures college-age people feel of everyone’s expectations being put on them. In fact at the end of last night’s episode we learned that Alex withdrew from the show due to pressures. We also see some very normal tendencies in college-age life: the ability to know in their head what they need to be doing and yet living
by the minute and in actions fleeing from responsibility. The new-found freedoms in college life mixed with immature thinking leads to this dichotomy. Glimpses from Kevin’s life: The ultimate “collegiate,” Kevin is surely enjoying his freedom and diving into the freedoms that college life provides. He’s failing classes (“can’t do anything about it”) so therefore just lets loose. My experience has shown me that this letting go and enjoyment of freedom isn’t just tied to academics. I’ve seen this mentality embraced because of the pressure college-age people feel to “do something with their lives.” Most don’t know what they want to do, think they’re not going to figure it out now, so why not just enjoy the moment!? Glimpses from Jordan’s life: Oh, man, where do I start? One way of viewing this is as the ultimate picture of the churched kid who is not prepared to face the world outside of the shelter of his parents or church. Another way to view it is this kid has pleased everyone his whole life and is now revealing who he really is. I’m not saying this is true for Jordan, but these types of kids graduate from high school with a “Christian patchwork identity” derived by their parents, not an authentic faith of their own. The exploration that is taking place now is simply a means of finding out who he is, apart from the shelter of family. I’m very interested in how his life progresses throughout the show. I have my hunch, but I’m waiting to see. Chuck Bomar is the planting pastor of Colossae in Portland, Oregon. As founder of CollegeLeader (www.collegeleader.org) his desire is to help church-based college ministry leaders in the trenches in any way he can.
Finding campus community (continued from page 18) making the transition. Be sure to ask good questions about how they were or were not able to get connected to Christian community. Fifth, be sure to check in on college students during their first two weeks on campus. Students’ schedules will be hectic the first few weeks of college. Not only will they be in new environments trying to juggle new responsibilities, but they will be trying to fit in and make friends. Even if, deep down, they desire to be involved in Christian community, it can easily get pushed to the back burner. You can play a key role by calling students the first week of school. Ask how they are doing, see if there is anything you can do for them, and remind them,
perhaps subtly, to seek out Christian groups on campus. A simple phone call can make all the difference in the world. The transition to college is not easy. It’s especially not easy for those who want to honor God during these critical years. Thankfully, the Christian faith is not meant to be lived alone, but is to be supported by other brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray diligently that the transitioning students you know and love will build solid friendships and connect to the larger Body of Christ.
Derek Melleby serves as Director of the College Transition Initiative for the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
CPYU looks at three big blips on today’s youth culture radar In this column, we’ve filtered three popular media expressions through our How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart media evaluation resource. We encourage you to use our analysis as a springboard for your further examination. For copies of How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart, please log on to our Web site at www.cpyu.org.
Video Game: UFC Undisputed 2009
by Greg Jones
Background/Summary: This fighting simulation game was released in May 2009. The game is based on the popular Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). This sport and the video game are growing in popularity among males, particularly in the 16-35 age range. The game allows players to learn fighting styles and various moves to compete in simulated mixed martial arts (MMA) battles. Players enjoy the game for its fast-paced game play, career mode (with accompanying create-a-fighter option) and the endless online competition. Discover: What is the message/worldview? • The main storyline of this game involves a career in the UFC. Players receive e-mails from Dana White, the president of the UFC, encouraging good performances in the “octagon” (the trademarked name for the UFC cage). • As you progress, there are a series of challenges that actually provide for a good bit of player creativity. From fighting, to signing sponsors, to training for fights, the main career mode is intended to simulate the life of a fighter. • Because of the combat sport environment, there is some simulated blood and awkward knockouts. For the most part, however, the game is not as vivid as watching actual UFC fights on television. It has a realistic enough feel for serious gamers, but is not too gory for most recreational players. • The real reason most gamers love the UFC game and other combat sports games is the create-a-fighter option. This allows a player to create himself or herself—or anyone he or she wants—and take that player through the game. Players decide on the fighting styles of their fighter (three different “striking” techniques and three different “grapple” techniques, which provide a “mixed martial arts” feel just like the real UFC), develop skills and train for fights. This provides a feeling of “making it” in the UFC. Also, UFC Undisputed 2009 allows players to take their created fighters online to fight against other human opponents. This immensely addictive game mode keeps players returning for “one more fight” well into the night. • Due to the limitless stream of online opponents and the non-scripted nature of combat sports, the game has endless
hours of replay time. • The overall worldview of the game is one of combat and violence, but with the semi-redemptive notion of hard work and perseverance. The creativity and flexibility of the game make it exponentially more useful than many streamlined, strict violence games. Discern: How does it stand in light of the biblical message/ worldview? • Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, so in that sense it might be a bit less than ideal. However, there are several fighters (Matt Hughes, Spencer Fisher, Thales, Leites, etc.) in the UFC who proclaim Christ as their Savior and use their sport as a soapbox for their faith. Similarly, Christian gamers might use this game as a way to show good sportsmanship, competition and discipline. • The Bible is not shy about including stories of violence, including numerous events in the Old Testament. Though the game does somewhat glorify violence, it does not make it superfluously gory. It is a recreation of a sport, much like simulators of other “violent” sports such as hockey and football. • Do not ignore this game because of the fighting. There is much to be said for providing gamers, mostly male, the opportunity to “fight” in a safer way. The vicarious nature of the career mode in this game provides gamers an opportunity to test their skills against one another in a very exciting way. Decide: What do we do with it? • This game is not for players who would not be allowed to see a PG-13 rated movie. The blood is a bit much for young players or viewers. • Some might be concerned that the game will make their children attempt some of the game’s moves. These are worldclass styles of hand-to-hand combat. Therefore, young children should not be allowed to play the game. Likewise, even older and stronger children (even teens) need to learn not to attempt the moves in the game (or in the sport) without proper training. • Similar to how we recommend that parents handle violent shooting games, this game can be a great tool for teaching lessons to teens, particularly boys. The video game creates an intense one-on-one brand of combat. The game can be used to address issues about masculinity, toughness, strength and discipline. Rather than dismissing the game merely for its violence, consider its usefulness. • Carefully monitor the Internet multi-player format for this game. No children should be allowed on the Internet multiplayer format, supervised or otherwise. There are players who specifically make harmful and offensive remarks just to upset the other players. Even older, more mature players, will find it useful to utilize “private chats” with friends, or the new “party mode” within Xbox Live to avoid contact with offensive players. —Greg Jones ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU
Song/Video: ‘T hr ow It In The Ba g’ Bag’ ‘Thr hro by Walt Mueller
Background/Summary: One of two pre-released singles from the upcoming (June 30, 2009) album release Loso’s Way from rapper Fabolous, the song features a guest appearance from The Dream. The Brooklyn native is telling fans that the album’s theme focuses on the dangers and challenges of transitioning from living the street life to making an honest living. The song quickly made a splash on the charts and has generated interest in the album. The video for the single premiered on MTV during the last week of May. Discover: What is the message/worldview? • Cut from the same production cookie-cutter that’s been the staple of urban R&B music for some time, the video features beautiful women, lusty men, nice cars and plenty of bling—all in smooth and seductive slow motion. In this case, the bling is the object of the affection and criminal pursuits of a woman and her female peers as they confidently enter an upscale boutique on a mission to shoplift as much as possible. • Fabolous is enamored with the woman who randomly throws things (jewelry, clothing, high end purses, etc.) in her bag with great confidence and resolve. In fact, she and her peers are enjoying the entire process. He implores her to “F___ the price tag/Just throw it in the bag/Just throw it in the bag.” • He follows and encourages the girl and her shoplifting peers. In an interview with MTV, Fabolous says that the video depicts him “feelin’ her, feelin’ her integrity, feelin’ her style, feelin’ her going out and taking what she wants.” • By the end of the video, he is so enamored with her being a confident go-for-it kind of girl that he is able to look past her behavior and his attraction takes over. In the aforementioned interview he says that “maybe next time she throws things in the bag … because I’m buying it for her.” • In real life, Fabolous says he is attracted to women who remind him of this character, the kind of girl “with some edge” the kind “of girl who knows how to go out there and get what she wants.” • In addition, Fabolous hopes the catchy dance tune will grab listeners, motivating them to go out and go shopping—to have some fun during the recession. • After getting caught, the girl is arrested and taken away. At the video’s end, he meets her as she is released, they embrace and then drive happily away together. Discern: How does it stand in light of the biblical message/ worldview? • Society continues to pursue the empty myth of redemption through the accumulation of money, wealth, fortune and fame. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Redemption is found through nothing and no one else. Sadly, both rich and poor alike in our culture continue to pursue the dead end or narcissistic materialism and consumption that is glorified and promoted through media, including this song. • True “success” in life is marked by faithfulness to God and obedience to His commands. The apostle Paul states that true Summer 2009
followers of Christ are “transformed.” The true Christian life is one marked by the integration of faith into all of life. This is what it means to live a life of integrity. True integrity is not, as Fabolous asserts and believes, the commitment to pursue one’s dreams and passions regardless of the ethical ramifications. • While it is admirable to engage with people who pursue their desires with commitment, we are to be careful about the company we keep. In a general sense, we are to avoid companionship with fools, as that will bring harm (Proverbs 13:20). In addition, we are to pursue romantic relationships with those with whom we are equally yoked to Christ, His will and His way (II Corinthians 6:14). • Fabolous allows his fascination and attraction to eclipse Godly standards of right and wrong. He adopts an all-toocommon relativism whereby the lure of the girl overshadows and even justifies her criminal behavior as an admirable trait.
Decide: What do I do with it? • “Throw It In The Bag,” like all cultural expressions, serves as a map for impressionable young listeners on how to live their lives, both now and in the future. As such, it fosters a host of attitudes, values and behaviors that are troubling to those who seek to see kids love, follow and serve Jesus Christ. Parents and youth workers should view the video with their kids who have already seen it. Then, look for opportunities to formally and informally discuss how the Scriptures speak to issues of narcissism, relativism, materialism, lust, love and romance. • In addition, the song serves as a mirror, reflecting back to viewers threads of belief and behavior that are woven in and through today’s youth and adult culture. The video should be used as an eye-opener. This is the way our world is. This is the world in which we are called to preach the Good News. Pastors who view the video will benefit from the peek it offers into contemporary culture, as the knowledge gained from that peek can shape their preaching and ministry efforts. • Youth workers and parents should employ “Throw It In the Bag” as a discussion starter with their teens, using it to help them discern the influence of media, to understand how they and their peers are being taught to think and live, and to lead them into applying Scriptural truths to prevailing cultural standards that promote idolatry.
by Walt Mueller
Background/summary: This brand new single-release from the young pop quartet known as This Providence debuted on mtv.com as the site’s top music video pick. The catchy, simple and straightforward tune meets the standards for quick acceptance and adoption as a sing-a-long soundtrack to life, especially among young tween and teen listeners who are trying to juggle relationships and romantic feelings.
• The song’s visual story alternates between scenes of the band playing on a dark lot, and stereotypical shots of a teenaged couple locked in young love and romance. They snuggle, hold hands, embrace, smile and kiss in a variety of settings, including the beach, fields, a bowling alley and a restaurant. • In a reversal of what is normally the case, this time the girl has abused the guy. He sings, “She was a ruthless artist/Traded my skin for cheap sex and tattoos.” • The realities and complexities of teenage love found and lost are the subject matter of this song that so clearly reflects this aspect of adolescent life. Discern: How does it stand in light of the biblical message/ worldview? • God has made us grow from childhood into adulthood. During that time, our bodies, feelings and desires change. These God-ordained developmental changes couple with cultural lessons and encouragement in a mix that brings romance and love to the surface. This is normal, but must be guided, understood and experienced in healthy ways. • God has created romance to be experienced between a man and a woman, ultimately in all of its glory and fullness within the context of marriage. However, during periods of dating and courtship there will be ups and downs. • Humans are created in the image of God, the crowning point of His creation. As such, our identity is found solely in Christ. Because the world is broken, we seek redemption through all sorts of avenues other than the one true redeemer. That reality couples with human depravity and we get what this song describes—cheating, hurt, casual sex outside the bounds of marriage, and the resulting hurt that comes with experiencing something that’s not meant to be. • In a world where love is defined in a variety of ways other than what it was made and intended to be, kids need to hear the message of self-giving “agape” love. They need to learn that love is commitment, and that within the commitment of marriage, sex has a place—a wonderful place.
Discover: What is the message/worldview? • The singer is “letdown” because of a relationship that he had hoped would go well has gone bad. He laments his condition and describes himself as having “those lovesick blues.” The cause? “She was the drug I abused/I feel a rising fever/Shaking in my sleep left me broken and bruised.” • Lyrically, the song describes how the girl let him down: “She said, ‘you’re just a letdown/Another one of my mistakes/I never loved you anyway/I never did and I never will … All of your friends/They feel the same.” • He sings of how she manipulated him and lured him in: “She was well dressed and she knew what to do … She was a ruthless artist … She sealed my fate with her conniving sugar kisses … I took the bait, she told me I didn’t know what I was missing.”
Decide: What do I do with it? • This song is a goldmine for youth workers and parents who long to find something in the world of pop culture that serves as a springboard for talks and teaching about relationships and love. You can show this video to kids of all ages without hesitation. Follow up with questions about the song’s message, and where they might have seen themselves in the song. Then, bring the light of God’s word to bear on the realities and topics broached lyrically and visually in the tune. • “Letdown” offers parents a peek into the world of kids—a world they most likely experienced themselves, but have long since forgotten—perhaps on purpose! Parents need to develop a sensitivity to this reality that exists with kids, a reality that most likely is not their own. • Use “Letdown” as a catalyst for prayer. Our kids need us to be praying for them as they travel through this difficult time and period of life. • Talk with kids about God’s order and design for the gift of their sexuality. ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU