How to Talk With Your Sons About Robin Thicke

If you have ears, you’ve heard Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines.” If you’ve had any amount of spare time in the past few days and have access to the internets, you’ve heard about Thicke’s performance at the VMA’s with Miley Cyrus. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, congratulations! You must have looked past the headlines on CNN’s main page in order to read about “secondary” news like Egypt or Syria. You can find a video of the performance here.

If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter with any kind of regularity over the past few days, you’ve probably heard countless friends or followers sounding off on any number of objectionable things about the performance. Undoubtedly, 99% of things written about it throw around words like “obscene”, “offensive”, and the like.

There have been a number of different parenting websites or blog posts who have come up with good ways to talk to your daughter about Miley. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about parents talking to their daughters about sexuality.

But is no one going to hold anyone else on stage or behind the scenes accountable for that performance? Are we really going to have another one-sided conversation where we only talk to the girls about their sexuality while we completely ignore the boys in the room about their standards of behavior too?

There are next to no commentaries, articles, or blog posts that talk about how Robin Thicke was on stage with a woman young enough to be his daughter while thrusting his pelvis and repeating the line “I know you want it” while T.I. non-chalantly raps about much more graphic stuff. As Shelli Latham astutely points out:

Girls’ sexuality is so much the focus of our ire. Women who have sex are dirty. Men who have sex are men. Girls who dress to be ogled are hoes. Men who ogle are just doing what comes naturally. This is the kind of reinforced behavior that makes it perfectly acceptable to legislate a woman’s access to birth control and reproductive health care without engaging in balanced conversations about covering Viagra and vasectomies. Our girls cannot win in this environment, not when they are tots in tiaras, not in their teens or when they are coming into adulthood.

Issues of misogynistic attitudes and acts of violence toward women aren’t going anywhere until us men make some very intentional decisions about our behavior and about the way we act toward women. There are certain things that Robin Thicke and “Blurred Lines” re-inforce in our culture.

For instance… Studies have shown that viewing images of objectified women gives men “greater tolerance for sexual harassment and greater rape myth acceptance,” and helps them view women as “less competent” and “less human“. Certainly singing about “blurred lines” will at the very least reinforce a culture that already trivializes the importance of consent.*

There’s nothing blurry about Robin Thicke’s role in the VMA debacle. Even though he’s come out and defended his song, going so far as to call it a “feminist movement,” it’s pretty plain to see that’s far from the case.

Here’s where it starts

So what can we do? In order to change the way we view women culturally, we need to change the way we view women individually. We need to call bullshit on attempts to end domestic violence and misogyny towards women by only talking to our daughters. We need to talk to our sons and our brothers about respecting women and respecting themselves.

It starts in homes. It starts in small conversations that treat all people as worthy and equal. It starts with having the courage to speak out against the wide variety of forces in our society that objectify women.

It starts with understanding that as men, our value does not come from how much power we hold over women. Our value comes from being respected and being loved as we respect and love the people who matter to us.

Be brave enough to tell a different story. Be courageous enough to rise above the lies that our culture tells you about how to treat women. In doing so, you’ll help create a better world for your sons. And for your sons’ sons. And that’s something to which we should all aspire.

Cheers,
Eric

* = Thank you to policymic.com for these links

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Living the Questions: Where is Your Brother?

Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ – Genesis 4:9

When I was a kid, my younger brother went over to the neighbor’s house to play Sega Genesis (the cool, new, far-superior-to-our-Super-Nintendo video game system). My mom came up to me and asked if I had seen where my brother went and I — in my defiant 11-year-old wisdom — shot back with a “How am I supposed to know? I’m not his babysitter!” Defiance of the older brother at its best.

This defiance is the crux of Cain’s argument with God. Not only did he kill his brother because of the anger issues previously discussed. But then when God, knowing full well what Cain has done, asks him about it, he gives an indifferent I don’t know and then essentially says, “What am I, his babysitter?”

In 2010, there were just shy of 15,000 homicides in the United States. That’s 4.8 murders per 100,000 people. Most of the industrialized world has a murder rate somewhere around 1.3 murders per 100,000 people. For some reason, America has a pretty unhealthy obsession with killing each other. Here’s the astonishing thing… only 14% of those murder victims didn’t know the person who killed them.

That means that 86% of all murder victims know the person that killed them. It seems like we have a problem with being our brother’s keeper.

The story of Cain and Abel couldn’t have more to do with our modern situation. I don’t always appreciate the limitations of dualistic thinking, but it comes down to this, when God asks “Where is your brother?” what’s being probed is this very question: Do you practice a heart of protection or a heart of destruction? Are your actions merciful or hardhearted? Do they enhance or diminish another’s dignity? 

The community that we’re called to is beyond our family. For those of you who don’t have brothers, you may look at this and say “I don’t have a brother so my brother is nowhere.” If you’re thinking that, I hate to say it but you’re kind of missing the point.

The Gospel of Luke says that Jesus had a conversation with a lawyer about eternal life. Jesus affirmed the man’s answer that loving God completely and one’s neighbor were at the core of what it means to be truly alive. But the man wanted make sure that he was doing absolutely everything he had to do (he is a lawyer after all). So he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the lawyer a story of a crime victim in the ditch alongside the interstate. Two very respectable community leaders drive past him and do nothing. They are not evil or malicious people. But at that moment in time, they lack mercy. Then a third person comes by. She’s from another country. Maybe she was in that country illegally. It was this foreigner who stopped and showed compassion for the victim, binding his wounds, medicating them, and taking the man to an ER and paying the bill for him.

Jesus then turns the question back around on the lawyer and, like God to Cain, says, “Who is the neighbor?” The lawyer answers, “The one who shows mercy.” And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” 

“Where is your brother?”

“Who is my neighbor?”

These are both questions about how we relate to those around us. Do we act with grace and love or do we act with jealousy and anger?

Are we most often like the Good Samaritan? Or are we most often like Cain?

Where is your brother? Where is your sister? Where are those in need of protection? Where are those who need mercy? And what are you doing to protect them?

4 Ways to Incorporate Youth Into Church Life

The church I’m currently at is at a sort of crossroads. On the one hand, we have a great core group of youth that come to youth group on Sunday morning, come to events on Fridays, and are stoked to go to New Orleans next summer for the Youth Gathering. And then on the other, we have a very active community of worship and discipleship. But the two seldom overlap. I have a feeling my experience isn’t the lone case of this happening. In fact, it’s been going on at every church I’ve worked at, so I know it isn’t. The kids get confirmed and become “an adult member” of the church and are then exiled to the “youth room”. If you can see the inconsistency, then you can feel something’s wrong. So the question then becomes: How do we help youth become more involved in the greater life of worship in the church? I have an idea of four things that can help.

1. Involve youth as leaders in the church service itself.

A couple months ago we had a couple of youth help out as readers during the service. It was great. They felt like they were actually a part of the community. And then they’ve been completely absent since. It made the one day they did read almost seem gimmicky. Invite the youth of your church to read, usher, serve communion, do special music… Heck, even get up and tell a story that’s important to them in the sermon time. To involve people of all ages in the community’s time of worship is to really understand what it means to be in ministry together.

2. Invite youth to youth leader meetings.

I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in with other youth leaders and the first question we ask is, “Well what would the youth like to do?” And then we hear crickets chirp. You know who is great at answering questions like that? The youth! Incorporate them into meetings with the pastor/leaders and honestly ask for their input. That way, the youth group becomes more an agent of ministry and less an object of ministry. Huge difference.

3. Blend adult small groups with youth small groups.

Small groups have become all the rage in the church. And that’s great. I think any time people commit to gathering together to talk about their life and faith is a wonderful thing. But I think we would get such a richer portrait of the fullness of life in the congregation if we invite youth into our small groups. If we create small groups based on common interest and not common age, we’d get people interacting with each other that maybe have never said a word to each other. And, call me crazy but, I think that’s pretty cool.

4. Have youth serve on church council

Don’t be quick to dismiss this one. I think there would be a lot of good in having a youth representative on your church council. Find a couple solid, mature teenagers and invite them to be a part of the bigger decisions of the church. Teach them how a budget operates, how the values of the community play out in the decision-making process, how inner conflicts are healthily resolved. These are great lessons for kids to learn and are often exhibited in council meetings.

The key point here isn’t just to concede some of the lesser responsibilities of young people. It’s to get a little bit uncomfortable. It’s to take seriously the responsibility they are given in their confirmation and have the same stake in the church that adults do. If we set a higher standard and hold them to it, I suspect many would step up to it.

Cheers,
Eric

What Vanilla Ice Can Teach Our Youth Ministry

I know that judging by this picture, most people would think the idea that he could teach you about church to be silly. And it breaks every mantra I have to trust anyone over the age of five with strips shaved on the side of his head. But I think that as another year of Sunday school, confirmation, and youth group begins, there are a few things we can remember from the immortal words of the man himself.

With the start of each year it seems there is the re-commitment to doing our best. Here are three words of wisdom from the man himself that we can do as a church to better serve the youth in our congregations (and really everyone else as well).

Stop

Unless you’re in the rare 1% of church people who are really dynamic leaders, we need to stop with the idea that it’s up to the leader to have a successful youth program. The type of education where one person is the expert and they impart information onto the eager learners is a thing of the past. And it’s only going to deliver the results that we’ve been getting in the past. And that’s not great.

So if we want to improve, we need to stop doing autocratic, leader-centered ministry.

Collaborate

I think collaboration is one of the primary things that will save youth ministry. It does put the pressure on one expert. It also allows for all viewpoints to be heard and discussed (there is room for this in the church at large too, not just the youth wing). The common fear that most pastors have about collaboration is that irrelevant conversation will somehow seep into the the group if we allow more than the leader to speak. That’s just not true. Sure there will be people who say some things that are out there, but if they’re not even allowed to engage in conversation, then going to church becomes an even more passive act and easier to abandon.

Collaboration is the way forward in ministry because it acknowledges that everyone is an expert on faith in their own right. You want to make ministry relevant? Let young people in your church have a voice in it.

Listen

Of course the whole “let the people have a voice” thing doesn’t go very far if the people in charge aren’t listening. I think listening is the most important thing that a person who works with you can learn to do. In order to lead a group of people anywhere they want to go, you have to know where they’d like to go. You have to listen to what young people are dealing with, the things that they’re concerned about. A “relevant” ministry is one that comes out of the concerns of the community. But the first step in creating this, is to really listen to what people are saying.

So as the new school year is upon us, I would beg of you to remember the words of Vanilla Ice and stop, collaborate and listen.

Cheers,
Eric

“But Mom, I’m 14 years old!”

So I have this friend. She’s a mom with two young boys. Almost every story she tells about one of her sons ends with the exact same line, “But Mom, I’m 14 years old!” Every time she scoffs this off and goes on with another story, but there’s a part of the son’s response that sticks with me each time. Whenever she tries to tell her son what he can or can’t do, he responds by telling her his age. It’s a very specific answer turned generic by the frequency with which we hear it.

Mom: “You can’t go out and play with those kids.”
Son: “But Mom, I’m 14 years old!”

Mom: “You’re being bad. Go up to your room.”
Son: “But Mom, I’m 14 years old!”

Mom: “You didn’t do your homework, so you can’t watch tv”
Son: “But Mom, I’m 14 years old!”

These are not unlike responses we hear everyday. But when you really think about it, they make no sense at face value. It’s only when we dig deeper into what the son is trying to express that we really get what’s happening in these interactions: the son is trying to assert his identity.

Robert Epstein’s Teen 2.0 talks about the crisis involved in adolescence. Adolescence is categorized as a period of time of storm and stress that has been culturally created to exist between childhood and adulthood. Biologically, once puberty hits, our biology is telling us that we’re an adult. If we had been born 100 years ago, once puberty hit we’d be a valid member of the work force helping to support our family. Since the creation of adolescence, nature no longer controls us, society does. Lawmakers draft bills that say you can’t do [fill in the blank] until you’re 16, 18 or 21. Parents are under full authority of teens until they are 18, that is, of course, unless the adolescents emancipate themselves (an interesting term in and of itself.

Despite adolescents’ greatest attempts to assert their agency, often times this is met by increased restrictions. Often times, these restrictions only serve to exacerbate the loneliness and isolation they feel. To test this out, Epstein did a study.

He came up with 42 common teenage restrictions (sent to your room, restricted dress code etc.) and asked four different groups to measure how often these restrictions have “regularly or routinely” applied to them. These groups were non-institutionalized adults, incarcerated felons, United States Marines on active duty, and teenagers. Most of these restrictions (28 out of the 42) had to do with the limiting of social interactions through the rule of an authority figure (warden, military code, parent etc.) The results were staggering! Adults predictably scored near zero on the scale (average of 2.3 out of 42). Teens, however, significantly outscored prisoners and soldiers (26.6 for teens, 14.6 for prisoners and 10.9 for soldiers). (Epstein, 11).

“But Mom, I’m 14” is a direct response to the lack of agency and identity formation that teens feel as biological beings reaching maturity. When nature is telling you one thing, and society is telling you another, anger is probably a pretty common response.

“But Mom, I’m 14” is a cry to be taken seriously as a person with thoughts, feelings and considerations. But these restrictions that often come instead are detrimental to their self-image as persons. They yell this, not because they think we have forgotten how many years they’ve been alive, but because their very identity feels under attack. It’s time we take Epstein’s considerations seriously and look hard at how we deal with the adolescents in our schools, churches and, yes, even homes.

Cheers,
Eric

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