Three Things This Week
What it is: The next big tech platform isn’t text- or image-based. It’s not even screen-based. It’s actually a parallel world in which bytes and atoms meet, and it’s already being built.
Why it’s mind-blowing: Imagine creating a 3D, 1:1-scale map of the earth, then living in that map. That’s the mirrorworld made possible by Augmented Reality (AR). Its ancestors, the World Wide Web and social media, sought to digitize information and people respectively, so AR seeks to digitize “the rest of the world.” If the temptation to live our lives online is bad enough right now, imagine a future in which the entire world has a virtual twin—one that’s more exciting, fast-paced, and interactive than the “real” one. As immense and terrifying as it sounds, it’s only beginning, which means that, unlike with the Internet and social media, we’re not too late to teach the next generations how to use and shape it well.
2. What Is Love?
What it is: Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is the annual reminder to just about every teen that romantic love is the highpoint of human existence.
Why it’s much deeper: Through the latest movies (Isn’t It Romantic?), the Billboard Hot 100, and Madison Avenue’s incessant advertisements, pop culture preaches that love is easy, always centered in sex, and something we just fall in and out of based on our changing emotions. But is it? If you’ve been married for longer than four days, you know better. Love is hard. Love is sacrifice. It’s painful. It isn’t an emotion; it’s an action. Love is the daily, dogged determination to never stop pursuing the other while expecting nothing in return. Love does not complete you, but it will transform you. Ask your son or daughter to give you their definition of romantic love. Then, ask yourself if you and your spouse are modeling a healthy, loving relationship in your home. Because “what your kids see in your marriage often gets translated into theirs.”
3. Evangelism Is…Wrong?
What it is:According to new research by Barna, almost half (47%) of Christian Millennials believe it’s wrong to share one’s faith with others.
Why it’s eye-opening: Despite 94% of them agreeing that coming to know Jesus is the best thing that could happen to someone, many of them believe they shouldn’t share their faith. Talk about confusing! And though Gen Z wasn’t part of the study, it’s highly probable that they have similar sentiments. So why do they feel this way? Is it because evangelism has often been linked to colonialism or shouting street preachers? Do they have an incorrect assumption about what evangelism is? Or maybe they’re scared? It’s probably a combination of all the above. Simply put, evangelism is the “announcement of kingdom of Christ” in both word and deed, bringing salvation, redemption, and justice to bear now and eternally. Our just-released Conversation Kit on Evangelism could help you begin this complex conversation with your kids, as well as offer a helpful framework upon which to turn faith into action.
Parent Guide Spotlight: Even if you don’t understand the specifics, you’ve probably heard about the Enneagram at least a few times recently as it gains popularity. If you’ve wondered what it is, why people like it so much, and how it’s helpful but don’t know where to start, our brand new Parent’s Guide to the Enneagram can help. It offers an overview of the typology, briefly breaks down each type, and helps you understand how it can help you in your parenting/discipleship journey. Also, don’t forget! The Parenting Relationships Summit starts today, with 5 amazing interviews from people like Paul David Tripp available for a limited time. Sign up and start watching for free today!
Dirty (Baker’s) Dozen
Every year, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation releases their “Dirty Dozen” list, exposing entities that propagate and/or profit from sexual exploitation in one way or another. Their goal is to hold corporations to a higher standard by changing the way consumers perceive and interact with them. 2019’s list, which was released Monday, offers explanations for why each company found itself there, proof of their alleged actions, and action steps we can take as part of our demand for change. The following are the organizations on this year’s list:
2. Ebsco Information Services
5. Massage Envy
7. The state of Nevada
9. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition
12. United Airlines
We highly recommend reading about each one’s offenses with your teenagers, asking them if they were surprised by any of the businesses listed. Do they agree with the accusations and/or the idea that a company is part of the sexploitation problem even if it only indirectly profits? Why or why not? Then ask them what they think they should do now that they have this information. Is there something the whole family can/should do?
And since this is incredibly serious, we thought we’d give you one more closer to home. So for the baker’s dozen, we add:
13. The Church
With new abuse allegations coming out of the Roman Catholic Church last week and the Southern Baptist Church this week, it’s clear we all have a problem. But that’s the thing about sin: It can’t be ignored or passively rooted out. It must be actively conquered, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. And that can’t be done unless we humbly and soberly face it and expose it to the light. Most of us have never actively participated in sexploitation, but have we supported a charismatic leader, organization, or company who turned a deaf ear to a victim? Have we blindly trusted those in authority? Have we encouraged demeaning thoughts or behaviors? Have we taught our children sexual education and empowered them with the tools to resist abusers? As hard and painful as it is, we must allow the Holy Spirit to convict us, lest we never stop being part of the problem.
11 PREMIUM INSIGHTS
A broader look at the world that teens inhabit.
Skim our summary or click the links to read more.
Engage your teens in conversation about their world.
They said it best:
“Christian theology affirms that our bodies have been designed for relationship with each other, with God, and with the rest of created nature. This puts an entirely new spin on what we ought to use our technologies for. It suggests, for example, that our technologies out to be used to enhance embodied relationality, not necessarily to escape from bodily limitations.”
– Craig Gay, from his new book on ethics, tech, and Christianity Modern Technology and the Human Future.
1. Algorithms—they’re not just like us! But maybe we’ve been letting them think they are? A roundup of seven things we’ve learned about computer algorithms (and, more specifically, how people feel about these decision-making data sets) is equal parts fascinating and terrifying. Most of us still don’t understand how widespread the use of algorithms are, how they collect information, and the ways in which they shape and distort reality. From the article: “Algorithm-driven social media platforms can produce feelings of anger in their users—and most Americans are skeptical that the content they see on social media reflects reality.” Read that one again before you check in with your teen about how they feel about predictive data sets controlling what they know about the world.
2. Can a little Photoshop help erase the pain of a breakup? “Edit My Ex” got some attention this week with its offer to do just that. Users upload a picture with their ex in it, pay a nominal fee, and receive an ex-free version of their photograph in return. This is (sort of) funny as a conceptual “anti-Valentine’s Day” gift, but it’s kind of dark, too, and reminiscent of 2004’s cult classic film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Of course, augmenting reality can’t blunt the emotional pain of broken relationships.
3. Popular in streaming this week is the Natasha Lyonne-starring Russian Doll, a black comedy with elements of suspense, drama, and horror, all in one. The premise zeroes in on one fateful night during which the main character cannot escape her own 36th birthday party, doomed to die during the course of the night before coming back and living it over and over again. While critics are praising it and Lyonne’s performance, it’s for mature audiences, and even older teens might be left perplexed and disturbed by some of its deeper themes.
4. Miracle Workers, a new sitcom set in a fictional heaven, debuted this week and seeks to capitalize on the popularity of both The Good Place and The Office. According to Relevant’s review, the show doesn’t seek to “skewer” faith ideals as much as humanize its protagonists: a couple of angels and a burnt-out version of God. If your teen is a fan of Daniel Radcliffe (i.e. Harry Potter), they may be checking out this show.
5. Chances are that your teen cares more about this new Grammys meme than they do about the awards themselves. This year’s ceremony was hosted by a dynamite Alicia Keys, but not even she was able to energize the lackluster performances and business-as-usual award announcements. Singer-songwriter (and daughter of legend Diana Ross) Rhonda Ross ended up bored enough to take a phone call, and a screen capture of her expression was the only meme to endure past the shows’ airing on Sunday night.
6. A bombshell report from the NYT details allegations of sexual and psychological abuse by singer-songwriter Ryan Adams. Ryan Adams might be best known in the teen world for his cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989, but if your child is of the indie/artsy persuasion, Adams is definitely on his/her radar. The acclaimed musician stands accused, most troublingly, of using his status as a celebrity to manipulate a 14-year-old girl into a long-distance sexual relationship. The #MeToo movement has raised questions of abuse of power and consent, which can be difficult to reconcile with how we feel about our favorite artists. Discussing the boundaries Adams reportedly crossed, as well as the evolving definitions of consent and power dynamics in relationships, is an evergreen topic in today’s culture.
7. The post-apocalyptic theme in video games continues, and gamers are still hopping on board. Apex Legends is a new battle-royale-style game that dropped on February 5. According to the game’s creators, Apex Legends has already racked up 10 million players in its first 72 hours of release. Gaming site Kotaku comments on the features that make the game unique, saying it is “less intimidating” than competitor Fortnite.
February 15 marked the release of three more games in the apocalyptic genre: Far Cry: New Eden; Metro: Exodus; and Crackdown 3. Ask your teen if this trend is getting old and whether this trend reveals a lack of creativity or a deeper longing for the redemption and renewal that an apocalyptic event implies.
8. Chris Pratt and Ellen Page have spent the week at odds over an interview Pratt gave on Late Night with Colbert. After Pratt credited his church and a quote by A21’s Christine Caine as ways he stays grounded in Hollywood, Page took issue with what she called Pratt’s “infamously anti-LGBTQ church.” After several days of silence on the criticism, Pratt posted an Instagram story in which he responded by saying that his church “welcomes absolutely everyone” and that “his values define who he is”—not any one church.
This entire story is an example of the hostile “cancel culture,” with celebrities eager to tear each other down. It also highlights the tension the Church continues to struggle through in her role to welcome, honor, and love everyone while simultaneously convicting all of us to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Read Pratt’s response with your children. Do they think he handled Page’s criticism correctly? Why or why not?
9. Esquireran a cover story highlighting a “middle-class American teenage boy at 17” as part of a new series on growing up in America today. However, many have called the decision to begin the series by spotlighting a white teenager during Black History month insensitive, while others have called the controversy “just…sad.” Regardless of our thoughts, it does illuminate a real issue: We need to hear everyone’s story if we are going to tell the “American” story. Allowing space to listen to and learn from every vantage point should build empathy, compassion, and understanding as we all seek to live better together, regardless of our differences.
10. The Houston Chronicle reported on over 700 allegations of sexual abuse committed by volunteers, employees, and leadership at churches of the SBC denomination. There are no words to describe how sickening and heartbreaking these revelations are. Worst of all, those of us who were raised in these kinds of churches might not be the least surprised.
The Chronicle’s reporting pointed to a denomination-wide resistance to reforms that could stop and prevent the abuse. While it’s baffling on its face that church leaders wouldn’t want to protect church members from sexual abuse, the reality is a bit more complicated. A culture that emphasizes both individual church autonomy and systems of leadership that historically exclude female voices can enable, and perpetuate, abuse. Worse yet, the suppression of healthy sexual education can produce naive individuals more prone to abuse. The combination of male authoritarianism and sexual ignorance is toxic. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. All eyes are on the SBC as they decide what steps to take toward justice for these victims. SBC leadership has begun the long process of healing by calling the abuse “pure evil” and asking anyone who has been abused to speak up and seek help.
11. The Good Place, God Friended Me, Russian Doll, and now Miracle Workers point to a trend of TV shows that play with ideas of virtue, morality, and ethics. Not every one of these shows is a home run—in fact, most of the time, they might not even be suitable for family viewing. But the ethics conundrum is fascinating general audiences in ways we haven’t seen before. Morality is no longer the territory of theological debate and Sunday school instruction. We’re having a culture-wide conversation about how difficult it is to define what a good person is—and how it might be actually impossible to be one.
The deeper takeaway of this is twofold. It’s a wonderful thing that we’re a culture-at-large that does want to find a firmer stance on virtue. But it’s a tragedy that we’ve journeyed so far away from the starting values that inform a virtuous worldview in the first place. For centuries, men and women have debated ethics in the public square.
But as Gen Z grows older, we see how highly they prize goodness, mercy, compassion and justice. We can also see that they desperately long for ways to understand and personalize these concepts in their lives. What stands out most of all is how confused and hungry this generation is for a concept of morality that stands up to scrutiny, that makes sense. Let’s pursue an active faith that provides real answers, holds up to difficult questions, and serves us and our children in creating a world of peace, justice, and redemption.
Keep the Faith!
The Axis Team
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