Thinking Out Loud

April 18, 2017

How Do We Define Progress?

Filed under: Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

Driving a car isn’t fun. When I was young, I would borrow one of my parent’s cars and take off and return around 1:30 in the morning. They often had no idea where I was and had no idea to reach me. Their only concern was that I not make noise on returning home. I learned to close the driver side door so very quietly and literally stripped on the back porch so I could just slip in the back door and land directly under the covers of my bed.

Today, parents would be catatonic if their kids were out at that hour with the family car.

It’s interesting how driving has gotten complicated.

We’re better equipped now with driver training programs that produce, in theory at least, very capable vehicle operators. But as a culture, we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to making progress at road safety. Consider:

  • We run the real risk of air bag injuries in an accident, or an accidental deployment of them; but the only reason we have them in the first place was that American compliance with seat belt ordinances was shockingly poor.
  • We’ve addressed the problem of drinking and driving various ways in an effort to stop the carnage caused by inebriated drivers but then several states and all Canadian provinces have introduced legalization of marijuana.
  • Our vehicles are equipped with various safety features, but technology has also brought us the cell phone; handy things to have if you’re traveling, but we have no technology that shuts them off while the car is moving.
  • Many accidents are caused by people who simply don’t know where they’re going, but GPS devices introduce another potential for distraction.
  • We have state of the art sound systems that prevent us from hearing the fire truck or ambulance which is gaining on us, and somehow we miss seeing those emergency responders in the rear view mirrors.
  • In our haste to resolve some of these things, we’re introducing driver-less cars before the complete infrastructure is in place to support those vehicles’ knowing the intricacies of the routes we’ll be taking, or how to interpret visual cues, or how to master the human type of responses needed in a crisis
  • We have simply too many vehicles on the road. 
  • Many jurisdictions continue to require emissions testing for cars while operators of transport trucks and dump trucks are allowed to somehow skirt the requirements and end up spewing enough smoke to temporarily block visibility of the drivers in their wake.
  • We continue to license kids as young as 15, when specialists in neurology tell us the teenage brain isn’t fully formed when it comes to the consequences of ignoring safety as it would be if we only waited one year more.

So I ask, are we really all that smart?

April 3, 2017

Pushing the Envelope of Decency

Filed under: Christianity, media, parenting — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:09 am

Archie Andrews is sleeping with Miss Grundy.

For those familiar with the original comic, this may take a moment to digest, but Netflix’s new “Riverdale” series offers a very different take on the original.

So begins a March 15 article by Ryan Moffatt which appeared in the English editions of The Epoch Times under the title “‘Riverdale’ oversteps boundaries better left alone.” The piece is half information, half editorial, and it’s only out of respect to blog ethics that I don’t reproduce it in its entirety.

The series premiered on January 26th on the CW network. One look at the trailer and you almost want to conclude that the similarity between this and the classic Archie comics is simply a coincidence. But the setting and the character names are the same. An article by Tony Wong in the Toronto Star begins:

In the town of Riverdale, Archie Andrews is brawnier than Moose Mason. Jughead is a cynic. Veronica has lost all her money. And Betty has serious mental health issues. And yes, there is a dead body.

So same characters, but as the trailer indicates, one-to-one correspondences end there. In a video interview, actor Cole Sprouse who plays Jughead describes the production as “film noir.” In another interview, the sexuality of the character is discussed:

One of the biggest speculations in anticipation of the series has to do with Jughead’s sexuality. In one of the newer Archie comics, it is revealed that Jughead is asexual – which means that he doesn’t experience sexual attraction. Fans of the comics have been wondering if that aspect of the character’s identity would carry over into Riverdale as well.

Cole tells Teen Vogue that he “did a lot of research” on asexuality as soon as he got the role, but notes that season 1 of Riverdale ultimately will not explicitly be the story of Jughead’s asexuality…

But Cole understands that representation matters – and that it means the world to young people to be able to see characters who are a reflection of themselves. With that in mind, he tells Teen Vogue that he is fighting for Jughead’s sexual identity to become highlighted in future episodes. “I hope that huge corporations like the CW recognize that this kind of representation is rare and severely important to people who resonate with it,” he says, “That demands representation. It would be a wonderful thing if that were the case.”

So why play the Archie connection in the first place? Much of the target audience wasn’t around for the original versions of Archie and Jughead. Why not:

  • Use the characters to inspire a new series, but do so covertly, with a different location and character names, never mentioning the source of the inspiration.  Or,
  • Just write an original series.

At The Verge, Megan Farokhmanesh compares the series to The Vampire Diaries.  Concluding a review of the series she writes,

Riverdale doesn’t feel like a spinoff or a brand partnership — it’s a reboot. Archie Comics has chased whatever’s popular, but it turns out teenage dramas were popular all along. They just needed to fit into 2017, not 1967.

Archie’s Christian History

Missing from all the articles however is the Christian connection between Archie and comic artist Al Hartley. Two years ago, in a Wednesday Link List we included this biography found at Lambiek Comiclopedia:

The year 1967 was a big turning point in Hartley’s life, both professional and personal. The last remaining Patsy title ceased publication and his marriage was in trouble. Hartley found answers to his problems in his newly found faith in God. Completely out of work, Hartley found employment by Archie Comics, which he himself thought of as “God’s work”. He injected a lot of his Christian faith into his early Archie work and was eventually told he had to cut back. He began a collaboration with the publisher Fleming H. Revel, who assigned him to do comics adaptations of religious stories like ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’, ‘God’s Smuggler’ and ‘The Hiding Place’. His religious output for Archie also increased with the launch of the Spire Christian Comics series. He co-created new titles as Archie’s One Way and Archie’s Love Scene. In all, he did somewhere around 60 Christian comics, including at least 19 Archie titles, 6 Bible story adaptations, 12 biographical adaptations, 4 other book or movie Adaptations, and 9 children’s Christian comics. Al Hartley was awarded the Inkpot Award at the San Diego Comic Con for his entire oeuvre in 1980. During the 1980s, he wrote and illustrated Christian children’s books and he continued to work for Archie until the mid-1990s.

Contrary to what some believe, Hartley didn’t create the series or the characters. In a Wikipedia article on Archie Comic Publishers, Inc., he’s not even mentioned. But he is associated with the series to many, and would probably not be thrilled with the latest edition of the series on The WB and Netflix.

In an article on Hartley at ChristianComicsInternational, more details are provided:

Hartley and the publishers had what they believed to be a God-given idea — To create completely original comics using the Archie characters. It was, as Hartley put it later, “a fantastic idea for evangelism,” but permission had to come from John Goldwater, president of Archie comics, who was Jewish. Hartley had already cultivated a relationship with Goldwater, enjoyed several conversations about faith with him, and found Goldwater to be “a man of deep moral and spiritual principles.” (John Goldwater was among those who created the Comics Code Authority in 1954 to help control the way sex and violence were portrayed in comics.) Hartley telephoned Goldwater “with an optimism that had to come from God,” and “within one minute” Goldwater had given his approval. Hartley always felt that it was “the Lord’s timing” that they had published The Hiding Place comic just prior to his approaching the Archie publisher, because it had “showed John a side of Christianity that few Jews have seen.”

I just can’t but help wonder how the current television series would impact kids who grew up on the Christian version of the comics. Worst case, some might tune in thinking there is a correspondence to the characters they loved.  Moffat at Epoch Times warns,

Don’t tune in if you are looking for nostalgia; this latest incarnation is sure to shatter any pastoral impressions of teenage life left by the paperback comics.

In the Teen Vogue interview Sprouse tries hard to find the upside:

Ultimately, Cole thinks that fans of the original comics will be extremely satisfied with Riverdale – despite the fact that the new series is noticeably darker than the comics.

However, there’s also this: Isn’t Archie dead? Well, yes and no. In a piece titled “Comics’ Archie dies heroically” CNN reported in July, 2014:

It was one of the most unexpected announcements of the year. In April, Archie Comics released the news that its lead character, Archie Andrews, would die in an upcoming issue of “Life With Archie.” The story won’t affect the overall Archie storylines, as “Life With Archie” takes place in an alternate timeline.

The nature of comic book Archie’s death is interesting, given this discussion, as reported in People:

The famous freckle-faced comic book icon is meeting his demise in Wednesday’s installment of Life with Archie when he intervenes in an assassination attempt on Kevin Keller, Archie Comics’ first openly gay character. Andrews’ death, which was first announced in April, will mark the conclusion of the series that focuses on grown-up renditions of Andrews and his Riverdale pals.

“The way in which Archie dies is everything that you would expect of Archie,” said Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics publisher and co-CEO. “He dies heroically. He dies selflessly. He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale but the best of all of us. It’s what Archie has come to represent over the past almost 75 years.”

Moral Concerns

I suppose this loose structure gives creators license to do as they wish with Betty, Veronica and the rest of the gang. Literally, nothing is sacred. Moffatt continues,

In the Archie world of yesteryear, Miss Grundy is an old schoolmarm and the polar opposite of adolescent desire. But in the television series she is a young, sultry librarian with a predatory eye for the 15-year-old Archie Andrews. In the alternate “Riverdale” universe, this is just par for the course of young people making very adult decisions.

This Grundy subplot has been described as a “racy” and “forbidden romance,” but there is another phrase more fitting: statutory rape. It’s a term that doesn’t sell nearly as well as “racy” but it is most apt considering the circumstances.

If the genders were reversed in this instance the reaction would be much different…

This is the fare to which a generation of impressionable adolescents is being exposed. Moffatt notes,

There should be legitimate concern when things of this nature creep into mainstream television—making it seem like a teacher having sex with a 15-year-old is par for the course of growing up. The blurred lines between reality and fantasy are getting harder to distinguish when it comes to the societal influence of our entertainment consumption.

The bottom line for the producers of the series is the bottom line. Moffatt:

When the implicit condoning of deviant behaviour makes its way into our entertainment universe, alarm bells should be ringing—and they aren’t. There is a great fascination with the  taboo, an attraction to what is forbidden, and it’s an easy sell when packaged as a teen coming-of-age drama. The entertainment industry is very aware of this and more than happy to oblige our appetites by steadily pushing the envelope of decency. Shocking is only shocking for so long, and the ante needs to be upped.

He also notes that the end results of the downward spiral of decency on television has yet to be seen:

The real issue at play here is that damaging behaviour is being presented as normal to school-age kids, who rely heavily on the digital and entertainment world for the barometers of their moral compass. Unrestrained access to the darker corners of the Internet and the false reality of the digital universe are influencing the minds of teenagers who are forming their perceptions of the world. These perceptions will influence the decisions they make and the rules they abide by as they take their place as members of society…

He concludes:

…The Archie/Miss Grundy relationship treads on some sacred ground. Archie has been a mainstay of Western culture for 80 years now, and the storyline has remained more or less unchanged in its projection of teenage life as a time of innocent misadventure and light-hearted humour.

It is a concern on many levels that this just doesn’t sell anymore.

 

March 18, 2017

Parents to Kids: We’re Called to be Different

A lot of modern Christian parenting consists of making sure when your kids arrive at the age where they are making choices, that they avoid the pitfalls which have brought down many a young life. Usually mentioned are promiscuous sex and the varieties of drugs and alcohol. Many of these messages come across as “Don’t do this;” “Don’t do that;” Don’t ever let me catch you doing…;” and “I never want to hear that you…” (I think the wording of the last two needs some refining; it could suggest a workaround is possible if one doesn’t get found out.)

Better, I believe to say to your kids, “We follow Christ. We’re different from the world.” The NLT rendering of Romans 12:2a (and The Living Bible before it) has always stuck with me:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

For a certain period of my formative faith years, I kept running across the phrase, ‘Maintenance of a Separate Identity.’ You don’t hear it much these days, and when I ran it through a search engine it took more than 30 results before I found one in a Biblical context out of the 70-odd results located. (Most of the results were in reference to ethnicity and nation.)

John White, in his book Flirting With the World, relates his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s. He tells us that his church knew what worldliness was back then: lipstick, make-up, short skirts, bobbed hair, wedding rings and jewelry, movies, and church kitchens. Then he makes this statement: “Church leaders who fought the liberalizing trends of education, affluence, mobility, and urbanization may have pitched the battle in the wrong places, but you can’t fault their instincts. They knew that something vital was at stake: the maintenance of a distinct identity.[source]

If you’ve ever read Leviticus and wondered, ‘Why, oh why all these obscure rules and regulations?’ the answer may be found in God’s desire to see His people maintain a distinct identity; to be distinct from their surrounding neighbors. Why not wear garments woven with two types of fabric? I think there’s a lot more going on there than what appears on the surface, but it’s part of that unique characteristic God wanted his people to have. Why wear tassels on their garments? I believe it’s again, identity; perhaps a precursor to the days when soldiers in The Salvation Army would don a uniform to be highly identifiable in a larger culture.  The old KJV at 1 Peter 2:9 calls us “a peculiar people;” the NIV translates that as “God’s special possession.”

The idea of distinction is seen in the context of God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity:

Ex. 11:6-7 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

So we tell our kids, “The world does their thing and we do ours. We are citizens of a different world. We intersect with the world constantly, but we’re following a different, though parallel script.” Or something like that; your kids may need that in simplified language.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.”‘” (NCV)

 

 

March 11, 2017

New Zondervan Childrens’ Bible May Undermine Faith

If I could spend five minutes in the board rooms of some of the publishers in the Christian book industry, my message would be, “Anticipate your critics.” Why release products that simply feed those who think their agenda is to actually undermine the Christian faith?

A few months ago I had a visit from someone far more trained in apologetics than I. We got talking about the various things published about Noah’s Ark and how few of them would be considered theologically accurate, either in terms of the text or the illustrations. 

He also said that we have to really avoid the temptation to talk about Bible stories. In a child’s mind, a story may or may not be real. Ditto the word tale. While it’s a bit above some kids’ pay grade, the term he liked is narrative. In other words, ‘Here’s how it happened…’

Any English speaker knows that “Once Upon a Time…” is simply code for “It didn’t really happen; but let’s pretend.” If you’re talking about the parables, then by all means. Jesus begins his parables with “A certain man…” which amounts to the same thing. But the parables are only a small percentage of the whole of scripture. “Once upon a time…” consigns the whole Bible to realm of fiction. It puts it on a par with fairy tales.

So that’s why this particular NIrV Bible, releasing this month from Zonderkidz, has me very, very concerned. Did they anticipate their critics? I don’t think so.

March 7, 2017

Unequally Yoked: Advice Not Taken

dating-tipsWhile going through boxes of old books, I came across a 1962 publication by Back to the Bible Broadcast, Dating Tips for Christian Youth. Though only 64 pages in length, the booklet has no less than five authors dealing with the following topics at the length indicated:

  • Relationships with parents, 11 pages
  • Making sure you date the right person, 17 pages
  • The myth that “everyone is doing it,” 8 pages
  • The dangers of physical intimacy, 6 pages
  • Committing to a single person to date, ie. “going steady,” 11 pages

In other words, the chapter given the greatest weight in this 55-year old title has to do with the Biblical principle of not being “unequally yoked” which was and still is generally interpreted in this case to mean that Christians should not date non-Christians.

I have not spent a lot of time reading more recent books either written for teens or for people in youth ministry, but I would like to think this is still a rather important theme. Trying “unequally yoked” at CBD did not produce any youth titles, and “dating a non-Christian” only revealed a 2002 IVP booklet. On the internet however, “should a Christian date a non Christian” revealed 12,800,000 results. The phrase “unequally yoked” brought 345,000 results, and just to be sure I checked every one of them. Or maybe not.

Still, I’d like to think that youth pastors continue to advise the tweens and teens to make lifelong connections through church, youth groups, Christian concerts, church-based summer camps, and yes…with certain caveats…on Christian dating sites. In other words, not necessarily at school, their part-time job or, once they reach the legal age, at a bar.

So…

…I have to wonder if Christian kids grow up hearing this message over and over and over and over again, why is it that each week, in the context of my work, I hear the despairing voice of a parent lamenting that their teen or twenty-something is dating, is engaged to, or has married a non-believer. There are no words to describe the disappointment these moms and dads feel when, after a lifetime in church, their son or daughter has made a decision that they feel is the opposite of every core value they tried to instill in them on the subject of choosing a mate for life. Often, for this or other reasons, the relationship is currently in crisis.

The thing is, when a male and a female live together or get married (a choice that needs to be the subject of a different article) if one of them is not a Christian, while it’s sometimes the case that the non-Christian is willing to check out their partner’s church, the greater preponderance seems to be that both stop going to church.

recessive-faithI know nothing about biology but I remember hearing someone using genetics to explain how blue eyes are a recessive trait and as blue eyed people continue to crossbreed with non blue eyed people, the number of blue eyed people declines. I sort of feel like church attendance and faith commitment are recessive traits and as theological mixed marriages take place, we see the decline in church attendance and/or people identifying as Christian.

In other words, there’s more at stake than just the underlying reasons why Paul makes the statement in 2 Corinthians 6:14, though the context is quite broad and marriage is not mentioned specifically. (If you’re in a business partnership with an unbeliever, the principle would appear to apply equally.)

What’s at here stake seems to be the future of the church.

 

December 29, 2016

The Opposite of Infant Baptism: Why Evangelicals Opt Out

This article was a link list item two weeks ago, but I found myself thinking about it somewhat continuously since, and last night it came up again at the supper table. The writer blogs at Patheos under the banner Troubler of Israel but I’m otherwise unfamiliar with his work.

I’ve quoted this in full, though you are strongly encouraged to read it at source and join the over 300 comments; just click the link in the title below. The only difference here is that I’ve placed one paragraph in bold face type which I believe deserves special attention.

The Real Reason Evangelicals Don’t Baptize Babies
by G. Shane Morris

Friends (especially those expecting children) ask me with surprising frequency why I believe in infant baptism. For a couple of years, I replied by giving what I think the best biblical reasons are. But I usually don’t take that route anymore, because I’ve realized that’s not what convinced me.

For most evangelicals, what stands in the way of baptizing infants isn’t a lack of biblical evidence, but an interpretive lens they wear when reading Scripture. That lens–shaped by revivals, rugged individualism, and a sacramental theology untethered from the church’s means of grace–makes conversion the chief article of the faith. We should expect this, since American evangelical theology was forged on the frontier, in camp meetings, to the sound of fire-and-brimstone preaching.

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term 'baptism.'

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term ‘baptism.’

The core assumption here is that you must have a conversion experience to be saved. You must turn away from a past life toward a new one, usually with tears and laments attesting your sincerity. And this view of Christianity works well in an evangelistic setting, where many have lived as open unbelievers. The problem is it’s an awkward fit when it comes to multi-generational faith.

Anyone who was raised in a Christian home and still believes in Jesus knows that there wasn’t a time when he or she transitioned from “unbelief” to “belief.” We were never “converted.” It was simply inculcated from infancy, and for as long as we can remember, we have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, whether we were baptized as a baby or not.

But because of the baptistic emphasis on conversion, many (if not most) raised in those churches found ourselves “converting” over and over, reciting the “sinner’s prayer” at countless altar calls during our childhood and teenage years, certain that each time, we were truly sincere, but always finding ourselves back at the altar. Some of us even asked to be re-baptized upon our fresh conversions. And everyone raised in evangelical churches will know what I mean when I say “testimony envy,”–that real and perverse jealousy you feel when someone who lived a nastier pre-conversion life than you shares their story.

This is where I think the chief difficulty with infant baptism lies, at least for American evangelicals. I don’t believe baptistic evangelicals really view their children as unregenerate pagans before their “credible profession of faith.” If they did, they wouldn’t teach them to say the Lord’s Prayer or to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” I think what’s really going on is a kind of alternative sacramentalism, where a dramatic conversion experience, rather than baptism, is the rite of Christian initiation.

Thus, children raised in this setting feel the need to manufacture tearful conversions over and over to prove their sincerity. And rather than their present trust in Christ, they’re taught (implicitly or explicitly) to look back to a time, a place, and a prayer, and stake their salvation on that.

Infant baptism runs counter to this entire system. It declares visibly that God induces a change of heart and a saving faith in those too young to even speak or remember their “conversions.” It illustrates that the branches God grafts in to His Son aren’t sterile. They bud and blossom, producing new branches that have never drunk another tree’s sap. And most importantly, it matches the lived experiences of believers’ children, rather than continually imposing a system on them that was designed for first-generation converts.

Almost always, I see the lights come on after explaining this point to an evangelical friend. And in most cases, their acceptance of infant baptism isn’t far behind.

 

December 3, 2016

The Season of Anticipation

nativity-calendar-enhanced-2

 

I’ll swear I never heard the word Advent until I was in my 40s. Growing up Evangelical, that just wasn’t our thing.

Let me qualify that slightly. I visited a wide variety of churches. I’m sure the word was used, but I had selective hearing.

That same hearing challenge would come into play when I worked in a Christian supply store. It took the first dozen occurrences to differentiate between whether the customer wanted an Advent calendar or Advent candles. In the first few years, either way, the answer was no. We didn’t have them.

I learned later the nuances of this particular season. Some would argue the season is best expressed in the carol/hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel…

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny…

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here…

I think you could make an equal case the ideology of this season is expressed by the old Heinz Ketchup commercial that was based on Carly Simon’s song Anticipation.  Or better yet, this later one from 1973.

The context (of Advent, not the commercials) is Israel awaiting for a coming Messiah. Perhaps for those with young children, it’s more of a Will Christmas ever get here? vibe.

advent-candlesA few years in we did Advent calendars with our own children. Not the ones where you open a window and there’s a chocolate inside. Give me a break! There was a verse for each day and a definite focus on the true Christmas story. The story of Simeon (Luke 2) also works well with children, as his life was only made complete by seeing the child, the Salvation of the Lord.

A few years after that I started noticing Advent candles in churches that were Christian & Missionary Alliance, Pentecostal and event Baptist. The word had spread, literally.

…Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Another “anticipation” hymn always comes to mind here. I prefer it to the Welsh tune “Hyfrydol” which is also used for other lyrics, and one I consider among the finest musical settings Christianity has produced.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

And that’s where we leave it today. If you’re Evangelical like me, and Advent is a foreign word that “those Anglicans and Catholics use,” I hope you’ll pursue a discovery this season of something that can only enrich your understanding of what you currently call Christmas.


Related Resources:

November 29, 2016

Growing Up in a Porn-Saturated World

22 Ways Your Kids’ World is Much Different Than Yours

kid-at-computerLongtime readers here know that adult content on the internet was once a more common theme here. Despite some publisher interest, when the book project didn’t move to the next steps, I moved on to other activities. What would have been very much needed at the time is now more widely covered by other writers, both in print and online. Plus, it’s a topic I no longer wish to be strongly associated with.

Nonetheless, I’ve continued to watch a certain aspect of the topic if only from a distance; that aspect being to try to gauge what is happening to kids who have simply always had access to graphic images of people clothes-less and/or involved in various types of sexual activity.

The world has changed. I believe this is one of the most important articles I’ve written, and I hope you’ll share this with others.

Here, in no particular order, are things I believe every parent needs to think about. I’ve put keywords in bold face type for those who find this longer than most posts here.

1. They have way too much unsupervised time after school. With both parents working, there is often two to three hours from the time they reach home to the time the parents arrive for dinner. Not at your house? Then perhaps at the home of the friend they head to after classes end. Unless they’re playing after-school sports, or are diligent at working at scholarship-level rates on homework, parents often are unaware where the idle time might take their children. This is an important factor in several of the items which follow.

2. They have experienced an utter and complete loss of sexual innocence and mystery which was not common to previous generations. Heck; I still feel there are dimensions to sex which I don’t fully understand, not because I lack the general knowledge or intellectual capacity, but because I grew up at a time when it was all meant to be mysterious. But they grew up with access to all the videos they needed to demystify every possible human sexual activity and all their variants. Fact is mom and dad, they could probably answer some of your questions.

3. Many of them believe that what isn’t intercourse isn’t sex. Maybe we can (indirectly) credit Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman” for that attitude. So even within the church (or maybe especially within the church) we have a very high per capita rate of technical virgins who actually have an incredibly high degree of sexual experience.

4. It gets worse: For many sex is simply only sex; in other words, it’s not such a big deal. They might see your views on politics or environmentalism as a more powerful reflection on who you are as a person than your virgin/non-virgin status. The now-considered-quaint notion that teens should “want their wedding night to be special” is becoming as outdated as the notion of a wedding itself.

5. Which brings us to the point that whether consciously or sub-consciously, many assume they will have multiple partners in their lifetime; even among kids in Christian families. (I should qualify here and note that “the divorce epidemic” predates the internet, though the net has been an agent for what I term accelerated social change, something we’ll deal with again in a future article.)

6. They see themselves as sexual beings. There is a strange phenomenon right now where pre-teen and teen boys remove their shirts for their profile pictures on Facebook or Twitter. (A good place to remind everyone that younger ones are not officially allowed to have FB accounts; but we know that guideline isn’t always followed. The magic number is also 13 on Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit and others.)

7. They have full access to everything online with a data-plan enabled smart phone that you have on your computer. The notion that the kids need to be sitting in front of a PC or laptop in order to access the Internet’s dark side is somewhat outdated. They aren’t looking for 42-inch picture quality, instead they’re exploring and discovering a new, exciting world of possibilities.

8. They live in a world where sexuality is fluid, but fail to foresee that the present fluidity means there could be future fluidity. Kids on the fringes of traditional, mainstream sexuality see their LGBT-etc declarations to be permanent and greatly resent adults or friends suggesting that their views or attractions may change when they get older. (There may be an element where pride — in the more traditional meaning of the word — prevents them from recanting of previously categorical or dogmatic statements about the tribe with which they have the greatest affinity.)

9. They are empowered by the choices of sexual or gender identity. They get to pick and choose who they are off the rack in the same way they choose the colors and patterns of the cases for their phones. In the wrong body? That’s easy, there are drug therapies and surgeries to fix that. (This takes place even within church communities or even Bible Colleges; many youth workers are aware of people who were or are currently in their group who are undergoing gender reassignment; most also have at least one or two youth who are pushing boundaries.)

10. In all probability they have been photographed naked even if they took the picture themselves and immediately deleted it. For some it may be a body-image obsession and for others it’s simply something silly to do with that surplus of after-school time mentioned earlier. The cell phone camera is the new mirror and the unclothed image isn’t subject to any particular fashion trend or wardrobe budget.

11. Even among Christian kids there is a compartmentalization of the sacred and the profane. For example they may not see a contradiction in an actor or actress being photographed nude while wearing a cross. Many church tweens and teens live a double life, being a different person at home and youth group than they are at school or at their part-time job. In a way, that’s nothing new, but many church tweens and teens are also living a blended life where they opt in some of the Bible’s moral teachings but not others.

12. While they know some online images aren’t safe for school or home, they fail to realize that through constant exposure to the images, their worldview is being totally reprogrammed. Their opinions on everything from premarital sex to incest is subject to whatever online websites have been allowed to influence them.

13. Their sources for advice and counsel are often online forums. Rather than seek out their parents, youth pastor or guidance counselor; they are more likely to converse about vital life issues with people on chat rooms and forums, which means in many case they are getting peer counsel only; they are essentially sheep without a shepherd.   

14. Sadly, they are not particularly impressed with information about societal norms in previous generations. When their parents speak of life in the ’80s or ’90s, you might as well be describing the 1880s or the 1790s; to them it’s all ancient history and is therefore somewhat irrelevant, unless they need to know to understand a novel which is part of the literature exam.

15. Many of the ones who are sexually active are not likely to stop. As is often heard concerning this issue, once escaped it’s almost impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. 

16. Some of those who started early being sexually active are already sexually bored and are therefore looking at alternative sexualities, fetishes, or even asexuality. (Can’t help wondering if recruiters for convents and monasteries might want to note that last one.)

17. Underlying some of the sexual acting out is the fact that many of them of hurting. Their lives are not the Leave it to Beaver or The Brady Bunch type of lives of past generations. Many have had friends die — probably more than you did at their age — through accident, illness, criminal activity or at their own hand.  Others are broken by a home life that involves being passed around like a football due to joint custody arrangements, or suddenly sharing a bedroom (and a life) with a step-sibling as a result of a parent’s remarriage. For others, it’s the pressure of academic life which can start in the junior high or middle school years. Sexual activity provides a distraction or a release from those pressures.

18. Their sexual decisions may be taking place in atmosphere fueled by alcohol or weed. The latter, while now legalized in a small handful of U.S. states, is available everywhere even to kids at a young age if they are determined to gain access. 

19. Because of their access to all types of video files, their desire is to emulate what they see in triple-X-rated videos or what they read about celebrities doing. Whereas in past generations a kid might dream of being on stage or on television or recording an album like their entertainment industry idol, now their wish is to do all the things their idol is reported to have done (and by implication, get away with it on some level and continue to enjoy a career and a generally good reputation.) 

20. For some of them the catalog of possible sexual activity is like a bucket list and they want to experiment and see what they like; what works for them and what doesn’t. Furthermore, if you’re still harboring ancient stereotypes, this is as true for girls as it is for boys. (Increasingly, boys will talk about being raped by a girl; the language wasn’t extensively used that way in the past.) Some of this activity starts at an early age, with much taking place at weekend parties, though there are many possible venues. 

21. Many tweens and teens are at a point where they feel no need to cover-up; there is no sense of modesty. Someone once said that humans are a unique species as we are the only ones capable of blushing. That unique characteristic is slowly disappearing. 

22. Finally — and I know some of you have been reading through the whole list wondering where this one was — they may have been abused. There may have been one incident or many which means there are no sexual frontiers to protect and everything is fair game, especially if they are now in control. Conversely, their abuse may have very much diminished their self-worth propelling them into a pattern of increased sexual activity.

…I know there are some people who will read this and feel things are being overstated, said too generally, or that the whole point of this is to paint a ‘the sky is falling’ type of panic. That’s not the intention. I’m open to have people quote studies proving that things are no worse now than they’ve been in the past. I doubt that’s the case however, and I’ll come back to the topic of accelerated social change here in the future.  

What I do hope is that for parents, grandparents, neighbors, teachers, concerned friends I’ve raised some topics here that present a clearer picture of what’s being evidenced online in various formats and platforms. 

So what do we do? Many times people who try to put the brakes on a trend that seems spiraling out of control are simply laughed at, even within the church. ‘You can’t stop that; it’s inevitable;’ is the response heard so often, an echo of a previous generation’s, ‘Kids will be kids.’ 

Whatever my response or your response, it has to begin with awareness.

If you’re a parent whose children are not going down this road right now, be very thankful; but also be aware that some kids simply repress sexual thoughts and actions and then everything explodes when they enter college or university. I would say that you need to have some conversations, but not have others. The advice of Song 8:4, “Do not awaken desire before its time;” is useful here, but there is also a place for warning — Book of Proverbs style — your kids what is going to happen down the road of life. That seems like a good place to reiterate some text which has appeared on this blog many times:

no vacancyOur kids hated road trips. We would get to a city, walk into a motel, pull out our coupon book, and then be told that due to a soccer tournament, there were no motels with openings anywhere within an hour radius. Back to the car, hungry, hot, tired, and another hour’s drive.

Later on, we discovered the joy of planning destinations ahead, and making reservations, though by that point, the kids were older and opting out of our excursions.

Their road trip phobia later turned into an interesting object lesson.  I told them that somewhere in the future, they will find themselves in situations that will tempt them to compromise their principles, or do something foolish and unsafe. We said that like our motel example, they need to pre-book their choices. That way they won’t regret something done in the heat of the moment. Decide now what they will and won’t do.

November 1, 2016

Decompression

After weeks of running re-purposed content and ‘borrowed’ articles, it was good to see the blog get its groove back this weekend with five days of great pieces starting last Thursday. I hope you’ll take some time to look at what myself, Clarke and Aaron have posted lately.

If I had to define what I thought my life would look like after my mother’s death, I would probably have defined the period leading up to that day as one of intense stress followed by a great deal of relief (for her and us) when it was over. For more than two decades, my life — and thereby the life of my wife and kids as well — has been partially defined by the drama of dealing with my parents’ health issues. While we didn’t wish their death per se, I know that in my mom’s case she was ready to go, and her funeral was more a celebration of her life than a time of mourning.

However…I am finding myself in the rather strange space of trying to adjust to the new normal. I can only describe this period as a type of decompression.

decompression

This weekend we went on a retreat with some people from a local church. It was their Holy Spirit Weekend as part of Alpha, but it could have been anything; a romp through the genealogies of the Bible, or a 3-day study on Leviticus; we would have jumped at it no matter what it was.

For most people reading this — and especially other bloggers — this type of activity is normal, but for us, it was something that was relatively impossible; especially in the last 3 years.

I am an only child. That is part of the challenge. I have spent the last couple of decades acutely aware of living in the sandwich generation. Our two boys did not get the best parenting I might have delivered apart from the family circumstances.  On more than one occasion, their own aspirations for some activities or events have been directly thwarted by another scene in the continuing drama that marked our lives.

I walked around the grounds of the Bible conference and retreat center between Alpha videos thinking, this is normal for some of the people with whom I’m attending this event. It has not been normal for us.

During the prayer time, the pastor prayed for me to experience joy. I’m not sure if he knew this empirically or supernaturally, but the prayer, “I just want my joy back;” has been on my lips many times in the last few months.

But you don’t just switch some feelings off and switch other emotions on. This may take some time.

 

September 27, 2016

The Music Store and the Career Path: An Analogy

Filed under: Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:08 am

My son recently graduated from university and opted to move back to the city where the school is, in the hope that beginning a life there will be more fruitful than in our small town. The problem is, he graduated with two majors and a minor — writing, theater, and theology — and doesn’t really know which one to focus on.

Meanwhile we were at a music store on Saturday where I was wandering around from room and…well…I quickly wrote him this email, which I present to you relatively unedited.

guitar-inventory-2On Saturday afternoon we went back to Cosmo Music which is one of the largest musical instrument stores in the world.

We walked in the keyboard room first, and I thought, “I’m a keyboard player.” There were so many things I wanted to test out.

But then we wandered through the back and into the brass room. There was a baritone horn that reminded me so much of the one I played in the Junior Band at the church I attended all through my teens. I thought, “I’m a brass player.”

But then we went back toward the lobby and a kid was being fitted for a shoulder support for a violin, the type I should have had but never bought, and I thought, “I’m a string player.”

Next was the guitar room. I went to see what 12-strings they had; if any were like mine. “I’m a guitar player;” I told myself.

In the same area were the electric basses. Lots of five strings. Not cheap. Of course I thought, “I’m a bass player.” I want to try a 5-string sometime with a good amplifier.

But then your brother wanted to see the grand pianos upstairs. I used to work at Baldwin. They had high end instruments like this. Even the smell in the room was familiar. “I’m a piano player;” I figured I belonged in that room also.

On the way out, he asked about keyboard amps and we ended up in one of the little demo rooms. I was amazed at the things that came back to me being in that environment. I think I asked a few intelligent questions. Heck, “I’m a sound guy.”

And then it hit me.

The store was a microcosm of the choices you are now facing. You’re an actor. You’re a writer. You’re a student of philosophy and theology. There are so many choices.

But in the end, my walk around the store was a mile wide but only a few inches deep. I never really tried anything. We were there the better part of an hour and there was so much to see but I needed to just pick something and make that my focus; and if it turned out I sucked at 5-string bass, I could always come back another time and reacquaint myself with re-issued Arp Odyssey synthesizer in the keyboard room. But the arena of choices was so large that I was overwhelmed by it all, and more to the point I hadn’t gone with a specific purpose.

I know it’s hard to choose something at the expense of everything else but I would say this: Pick the most amazing thing that could happen, get on a bus, go to wherever it is people do that and walk in the door… That’s all.


Image: I believe this was taken at a guitar store in either Lansing, or Grand Rapids MI.

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