||Jonathan's Resource Ezine
Weekly Resources, Ideas and Articles from The Source for Youth Ministry
Tuesday, June 4, 2002
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EXCLUSIVE WALT MUELLER ARTICLE Today?s Youth Worker: A Signpost Pointing to Truth
by Jonathan McKee
June 4, 2002
Many of you might have caught seminars by Walt Mueller at Youth
Specialties National Youth Worker Conventions, or at a CPYU event. Founded in
1990 by Walt Mueller, CPYU has developed an international reputation as a voice
providing cutting_edge information, resources and analysis on today's youth
culture. That?s why we are lucky to have him "hook us up" with this article on
what we?re up against in our battle for today?s lost generation. -Jonathan-
FROM THE DESK OF WALT MUELLER:
Do you know that you are a signpost?
I've been thinking about and praying for my youth worker friends
quite a bit more over the last few months. The challenges we're facing in
ministry aren't getting easier. Yes, our kids are certainly more interested in
thinking about and discussing spiritual things. But sadly, those spiritual
things increasingly reflect a spirituality that is far from Biblical. All that
to say, I want to encourage you to remain diligent in your calling. Know the
Scriptures. Know kids. Know the culture. And keep loving those whom God has put
in your care. Don't be discouraged. The following is an article not yet
released from our upcoming Summer 2002 edition of youthculture@today. I sent
this to Jonathan to provide exclusively for you, his EZINE subscribers. I hope
you'll find it encouraging and challenging.
CONFUSION OR CLARITY? YOUTH CULTURE AT THE CROSSROADS
by Walt Mueller
He survives a plane crash into the sea - and after weathering
four years on an uninhabited island, Chuck Noland is rescued and brought back
to civilization. Chuck Noland - played brilliantly by Tom Hanks in the film
Cast Away - represents each of us and the options we face on the way to
choosing what we value in our quest for meaning and purpose in life.
In the film?s powerful and moving final scene, Noland - a man
changed by four years of forced isolation and introspection - stands at the
middle of a quiet and desolate intersection on the stark Texas plains. Not sure
which direction to take, the movie closes as he surveys his four options, each
of which stretches straight as a road to an endless and unknown horizon.
On a recent trip to downtown Manhattan I gathered some sense of
what it must be like to be a teen standing at the noisy and crowded crossroads
of adolescence in today?s youth culture. It was five o?clock in the afternoon-
the peak of rush hour - on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. We were walking through
Times Square. My senses were overloaded by activity happening in every
direction. A 360 degree spin filled my field of vision -up, down, and side to
side - with people, cars, and advertisements. The smells of hot dogs and soft
pretzels were making me hungry. I stopped and satisfied my tastebuds. I was
surrounded by the sounds of hustle and bustle, everything from taxi horns, to
barking street vendors, to loud music pumped out onto the street from
storefronts. Even my sense of touch came into play as I got pushed, shoved, and
bumped in the rushing river of people moving to and from who knows where. My
friend Mike turned to me and said, "This is amazing isn?t it? It?s known as the
crossroads of the world!"I thought to myself, "If I didn?t already know where I
was heading, how would I know where to go?"
Adolescence is a period of life spent at the crossroads. It?s a
time marked by overwhelming change, numerous questions, and a search for
answers. But the crossroads where they stand are anything but quiet and
desolate. Not sure which direction to take, our children and teens are
presented with an abundance of confusing options. The noise can be deafening.
Perhaps the signposts they choose to follow are the ones that are most
attractive, loud and convincing in response to their unspoken teenage cry of
"Show me the way!".
As I look at the choices, pressures, and challenges facings kids
in today?s youth culture, there are some signposts that seem to be attracting
more youthful attention than others. They are signposts that are big, bold, and
convincing. No matter where our kids position themselves at the crossroads,
these signposts fill their field of vision and overload their senses with
pointed and powerful persuasion, saying "This is the way!"
If we care about kids, where they are, and where they?re headed,
we?ve got to look with them at the signposts that are catching their attention
and leading them along in life. By looking at the most popular and powerful
signposts we can gain insight into our children?s needs/questions, as well as
the sense of urgency and diligence needed to provide them with proper
direction. In this way, they serve as signposts for us, pointing the way to a
land of crisis that is in desperate need of spiritual relief aid. As I stand
with kids at the crossroads, here?s three troubling signposts - all getting
bigger, increasingly attractive, and more effective by the minute - that I see
grabbing their attention.
The signpost of anything and everything sexuality.
This signpost points away from the freedom and joy of experiencing God?s
wonderful gift of sexuality within the lifelong covenant and commitment of
marriage. That?s God?s intended best! Instead, it points to a place where kids
are encouraged and expected to indulge their sexuality with whatever, wherever,
however, whenever, and with whomever. On my trip to Times Square I saw evidence
of this attitude when I looked up at one of those "so big you can?t miss it"
billboards hanging on the side of a building over the crowd. There was
contemporary poster girl Pamela Anderson totally naked, lying on the front of a
huge Pony basketball shoe. A sentence packed with sexual innuendo completes the
ad: "IT JUST FEELS BIGGER." The billboard had become an accepted and "normal"
feature of the landscape of the world?s crossroads. If our culture?s acceptance
of that visual message isn?t convincing enough, then mark your calendar to
check out MTV?s dose of special spring break programming that will air next
spring. Once you watch you?ll agree - kids have followed this signpost.
The signpost of postmodern relativism. While the
relativistic signpost has been sitting at the crossroads for a long time, it?s
growth has led to a larger following. It leads to an amoral place where the
thread of commonly held standards that once ran through the tapestry of our
culture has been removed from the fabric. Instead, "I have my truth and you
have yours." Neither one is right for anyone else, unless of course, they
choose that "truth" as their own at that given point in time. While tolerance
of varying viewpoints is celebrated as a virtue, that "virtue" is quickly
giving way to celebrating varying viewpoints. I kept my eye on the "pond" of
today?s youth culture when Rosie O?Donnell - a favorite among children and
teens - outed herself earlier this year. There wasn?t a ripple of negative or
concerned response in the pond. After all, "Rosie can do whatever Rosie wants
to do." I?ve also watched as MTV?s reality peek into the twisted home life of
burnt-out rocker Ozzy Osbourne?s family has gripped young viewers - vaulting
The Osbournes into television history as the most popular show ever on MTV and
the most popular show on cable at this moment in time. Each episode features
the family?s profanity filled conversations and rantings. Poor Ozzy is so fried
by his lifestyle of rocker excess that he struggles to finish a sentence,
complete a thought, and lift a glass to his mouth with his shaky hands. Rarely
if ever does the show warrant adjectives of young audience response such as
"sad," "sorry," "depressing," or "wrong." Instead, the culture laughs
collectively because "it?s hilarious." After all, who?s to say that there?s
anything wrong with the Osbournes and the way they?ve chosen to live their
lives? I think you?ll agree - our kids have followed this signpost.
The signpost of the deconstructed God. The great
news is that youth culture is wearing spirituality on its sleeve. It?s exciting
to know that suddenly it?s okay to talk, sing, and write about God. But the
spoken, sung, and written about "god" is not necessarily the God who has
revealed himself in his written word - The Bible - and in the incarnate Word -
Jesus Christ. Instead, today?s "god(s)" is created in the image and personal
preference of every one who speaks, sings, and writes. In his best-selling
book, Conversations With God For Teens, Neale Donald Walsch channels "god" by
asking "god" the questions teens would love to ask "god." He explains his
methodology to his readers this way: "Now it might sound good if I said that I
ponder my questions for hours, meditating and praying and remaining in the
stillness until I am brought to enlightenment and tremble with the energy
flowing through my fingertips. But the truth is, I put down the first thing
that comes to my head." The fruit of this methodology is a book full of answers
for kids needing a signpost - answers that can be reduced to this axiom - "I
(God) say that you can do whatever you want to do." This new "god" looks and
sounds nothing like the God who was, is, and always will be. The one true God
looks and sounds nothing like Walsh?s creation. . . . a "god" who tells teens,
"Right and wrong do not exist as absolutes, but only as momentary assessments
of What Works and What Doesn?t Work. You make these assessments yourself, as
individuals and as a society, given what you are wishing to experience and how
you see yourself in relationship to everything else that is." It?s frightening
to ponder, but I think you?ll agree - kids have followed this signpost.
So what do we do? Do we just sit back and complain? Do we try to
silence the signposts we don?t like by taking an axe to their base? Perhaps the
best approach is illustrated by something else I saw on that rainy Times Square
Tuesday afternoon back in March. As we walked down the sidewalk I noticed a
group of people - mostly young, but some old - set apart from the rest of the
crowd by the jackets they wore. It looked like there were around 30 of them,
all wearing bright yellow windbreakers. They stood out like sore thumbs. The
logo and text printed on the back of their matching jackets identified them as
a high school group from New Mexico. They were spending the afternoon visiting
the crossroads of the world. The barrage of sights, sounds, and "signposts" was
peppering them from every direction. As we got closer it was obvious that the
group?s adult chaperone?s had strategically placed themselves at the front,
rear, and sides of the group. Like a group of border collies, they kept the
teens herded together and moving on to their intended destination. As I passed,
I asked the chaperone bringing up the rear about his group and their trip.
Then, before I walked on, I remarked, "I think the yellow jackets are a
brilliant idea." His response was this: "They sure are! This way we can keep
our eyes on them and they can keep their eyes on us. We know right where they
are and they can see us. We don?t want to lose any kids in a place like this."
Perhaps our role - as parents, youth workers, and the church in the 21st
century - is to serve as border collies and signposts.
It?s easy for kids to get lost in the negative aspects of today?s
culture. They?re standing at the crossroads deciding which way to go. As the
people of God, we?ve got to keep our eyes on them. We need to know right where
they are. We must be aware of the signposts they are following. And, we should
serve as signposts to show them the way.
In his classic book on discipleship, The Fight, Dr. John
White reminds us of our need to be more than just border collies. Instead, we
should become signposts. "A signpost points to a destination," writes White.
"It matters little whether the signpost is pretty or ugly, old or new. It helps
if the lettering is bold and clear. But the essential features are that it must
point in the right direction and be clear about what it is pointing to." The
kids you and I know are standing confused at the crossroads. What signs do they
see? Which direction are we pointing them to? Is it to the wide and
well-traveled road that leads to destruction? Or is it down the narrow road
that leads to life? Will we serve as signposts for truth - signposts so big and
convincing - that we eclipse the signposts already there?
FIND MORE GREAT RESOURCES
AND ARTICLES ON WALT?S
NATIONAL YOUTH WORKERS CONVENTION: A Great Resource- Catch me there!
A Great Resource- Catch me there!
If you?ve been to a Youth Specialties convention, you know how
good it is. If you haven?t . . . you gotta experience it. Those on the west
coast will see me there teaching a seminar or might catch me at my booth. So
don?t miss it . . . the convention is well worth the dollars paid!
NATIONAL YOUTH WORKERS CONVENTION 2002: Mark
your calendar to attend in Sacramento Oct. 3-7, Pittsburgh Nov. 7-11 or
Nashville Nov. 21-25.
KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!
If you have any other youth ministry ideas you want to share,
please email me at email@example.com
Jonathan R. McKee
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