Twilight Part 2 – Bella’s Secret

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As an ongoing exercise in cultural redemption, we have been looking at the Twilight phenomenon. These love stories have taken teenage girls by storm…much to the puzzlement of many teenage guys. It is a typical story of girl meets boy, (who seems to be the only one that understands her) falls in love, and much emotional drama ensues. The twist is: the boy is a vampire. Their relationship is complicated by his “thirst” for her blood, which serves as a bit of a metaphor and the source of erotic tension. These characters endure an ever present, mutual desire that culminates with Bella – on prom night – offering her jugular to Edward so that his bite might turn her into a vampire…Hmm….sound at all familiar?

Let’s look at this story from the perspective of a teenage girl, who sees the unfolding drama through Bella’s eyes. Bella has her dreams come true in storybook fashion. She is described as a very plain, ordinary young lady, yet she manages to capture the heart of a very extraordinary guy (two extraordinary guys if you read the whole series). Edward is a vampire, and that gives him some supernatural charm or power over women. He seems to be able to attract people. He is also in possession of the ability to read the minds of the people around him. The book portrays him as some sort of Super Romeo; the perfect balance of good looks and intrigue. He has his pick of the girls, but he only chooses one. Not insignificantly, this girl is the one whose mind he cannot read. She is the one least available to him. The questions racing through the minds of teenage girls are along the lines of: “how can this happen to me?” What is it that makes some people stand out and others seem rather ordinary? How do I get the attention of Prince Charming? What is it that makes a woman captivating?

This is a huge question that our teenage girls struggle to answer, and their culture is short on quality answers. Am I attractive? Am I enough? Am I captivating? Will a guy ever bother to pursue me and fight for me?

Our girls are growing up in a twisted world. I heard one story (it made national news) of a young woman auctioning her virginity. She is “putting it out there.” That seems to be the model in culture right now. I am not saying that many women are so blatantly “for sale,” but I am saying that many women “have it in the showroom,” so to speak. Modesty is a lost art. I don’t think that girls understand what really captures a man’s heart. Many seem to understand what captures a man’s eye – that is easy. You don’t want his eye – you want his heart. His eye is the most fickle and fleeting part of him. You want a man to give his life to chase you and delight in you and cherish you forever. You want a man that can appreciate the beauty of who you are long after time has its way with your physical body. When it comes to finding a mate, the question our teenagers should be asking is: how do you get the attention of his heart?

Beauty is another reality distorted in the teenage mind by our culture. Let me give you an example: a very pretty 15 year old comes to me and her youth leader because she is struggling with bulimia. This might sound shocking, but when you stop and think that the average model is 5’10” and weighs 110 lbs, but the average woman is 5’4” and weighs 150 lbs, it’s easy to see why this creates a tremendous health risk for young girls. Advertisers are hiring psychologists to help them exploit teenagers’ insecurities to sell more products. Last year, girls saw more advertisements for diet products than adults. I just read an article about students having anxiety attacks about acne on prom. I thought zits were a part of the teenage deal! This distorted ideal makes this world a very hard place to be girl. I am finding more and more girls that never feel like they are enough. “I am not pretty enough, I am not skinny enough, my hair is not thick enough, my skin is not smooth enough, some things are never big enough, and other things are never small enough.” As our teenagers are struggling to figure this out, we need to help them discover the biblical ideal of inner beauty. They need help so they don’t let beauty become something as superficial as their appearance; what they weigh, what they wear, and so on. Let your beauty be found within. When they settle this issue in their hearts, they will finally find “enough.”

These are just symptoms of the real problem. Ultimately, Bella decides what many girls decide: that life without Edward is not really worth living. She is only complete when she is with him. The heart of every woman is seeking the answers to specific questions: am I loved, am I valuable, am I captivating, am I wanted and needed? No guy can be the answer to these questions. Our girls have a hunger in their souls for a significance “he” (whoever he may be) cannot give them. I have met too many girls that are incomplete without a boy on their arm. The truth is: having that boy makes them no more complete. When we can find the answers to the questions of our hearts in the presence of God, we will have found the source of true strength. The most beautiful and strong kind of girl is the one that is confident in her identity in Christ. She respects herself, and so others will respect and value her too.

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Twilight – Summer Cinema Series

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This Sunday, in the Main Service at DCC, I will tackle the movie/book Twilight as a cultural parable. We did an entire series on the book a few months back for Echo High School, and we had some great conversations with our students about desire, temptation, appetites, and sexuality. As I prepare to talk to DCC’s adult population, I have never had so much “input” from people that want to make sure I handle the message “correctly.” This is not from teenagers, this is from adults. People LOVE their vampires it seems.

My thoughts for the parents of Echo students on this book, movie, and cultural phenomenon are as follows:
First, let me comment on the church and cultural engagement. Years ago, when the craze was a boy named Harry who happened to be a wizard, our youth ministry did a sermon series talking out redemptive themes and looking critically at the worldview behind the “Potterverse.” The fact that a youth ministry was talking about these issues severely disturbed a pastor of a neighboring church. He called me to warn me about the dangers of witchcraft and the sinister nature of Harry Potter and to tell me about the plan of the author to turn our children into warlocks. When I respectfully disagreed, he called the officials of the denomination I was credentialed with (who told him to mind his own business). The facts as I saw them then were: 1.The kind of fantasy magic in books like Harry Potter resembles the real witchcraft that the bible forbids like W.W.E. resembles real hand-to-hand combat. It is imaginary. The imagination is something that honors God and should be set free and employed to the purpose of the Kingdom of God. 2. The church is at its best when it can hear the stories and songs of the culture it finds itself in and redeem them. Hiding from culture or ignoring culture are two fast ways to minimize the influence God has called His people to have. 3. The apostle Paul, when preaching to a crowd of pagans and philosophers in Athens, did not quote scripture. Instead, he quoted the words of one of their own poets. He used the art and expression of the receptor culture to find common ground for spiritual conversation. 4. Not one of the students that sat through our sermon series on Harry Potter became a warlock. No spells were cast and no brooms were ridden. My point is that the crowd that says “Vampires are evil because blood drinking is forbidden in the Old Testament” needs to be reminded that no one reading a novel about a girl falling in love with a vampire believes such vampires actually exist.

Second, let me tell you why I do think the Twilight books are somewhat dangerous. Many students (and children) are reading these books like they consume most media: in a vacuum. They watch TV alone because mom and dad don’t want to watch what they want to watch. They listen to music with little white earbuds because mom and dad don’t want to listen to that “noise.” My experience has been that teens and children are great observers but horrible interpreters. They don’t miss the subtleties of emotion or even innuendo that we assume goes over their heads. They have no idea what to do with the information or emotion they observe. When mom is reading Twilight with them, she can be so engrossed in the romance herself that she does not view the book through the eyes of her teenage daughter. I heard of a facebook club started by one woman calling women to join whose “husbands no longer met their expectations after Edward.” Song of Solomon, which is a Hebrew love poem, says 4 different times: “Do not awaken love before its time.” The bible is not down on sexuality, it celebrates it. It does however warn young people about starting a fire they cannot control. Twilight is a highly erotic book for the teenage mind. Yes, the characters remain celibate and their romance seems outwardly and physically appropriate. Yet there is much erotic tension in the wanting. Bella does not want to live without Edward, Edward hungers and thirsts for Bella. This is a heavy amount of passion for a 6th grader. They might not be able to connect the dots about how Bella offering up her neck to Edward on Prom night to make her a vampire is more than a bit allegorical about her virginity…but they do feel the impact of all the fantasy, desire, and longing that are exchanged between the teenage characters. There is a time and a place to celebrate that kind of intimacy, but it is not in the teen years. Our young teens do not always know how to process the introduction of this kind of emotion. Would you think it was appropriate for a father to give a 6th grade boy a Victoria’s Secret catalog? We all know how visually stimulated teenage boys are, so this type of thing rarely happens. I am not so sure we are as diligent about protecting our girls who are equally as stimulated emotionally. Again, I am not saying that Twilight is evil, but I am saying that parents should be aware of the heavy emotional and sexual themes in the story and prepare their teens accordingly.

Third, I believe strongly that more than anything else, parents shape the values and worldview of teens. If you haven’t yet, have some good conversations with your teen about sexuality. We know its awkward…we know they act like they don’t want to talk to you about it. I really believe it is all an act – they secretly want and need your guidance and advice on this stuff. Talk to them often and talk to them openly. Twilight gives you a great excuse!

I will blog about a few talk points for you and your teen over the next few days taken directly from our sermon series to Echo High School.

Know the Game – Jenga and Fortitude

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Have you ever played the game Jenga? I don’t play it often – it is one of those games that take longer to set up and clean up than to actually play. You need to take these little blocks from the bottom and each time you pull out a block, you are making the tower less stable for your opponent. You keep going until someone cannot do it anymore because the tower comes crashing down. In the game of Jenga, you have to have a steady hand and courage. It is a little bit like playing chicken: who has what it takes to go the distance? This is what fortitude is all about. Let me explain:

Numbers 13:26-33 – The people of Israel have been set free from slavery a generation ago, and they are about to do something very hard: invade the land of Canaan. Spies from each tribe of Israel go to check out Canaan. The report they return with is discouraging. All but one of them are afraid of even the idea of invading the land. Caleb, the only dissenting voice, believes that God will give them a victory if they trust him. What Caleb has that the others do not is fortitude. The others are limited by fear and by doubt; they start whining and complaining because it seems that God is asking something of them that is hard and not easy. Beyond lacking the boldness to step out and believe God, they would inevitably lack the endurance to stick with the invasion when it got tough. This entire generation of doubters remains bound in fear on the wrong side of the Jordan River until they die. The younger generation is entrusted with the invasion.

Joshua 1:1-9 – Joshua becomes the leader of this younger generation. Over and over again in this passage, God reminds him to “be strong and courageous,” and not to be afraid.

What is Fortitude? It is “firmness of spirit, steadiness in doing good despite obstacles in the performance of our daily duty.” Fortitude is having the stomach to do hard things. This week, our middle schoolers talked out what it means to live with fortitude.

Fortitude places limits on fear. Courage is not always the absence of fear. It is controlled fear. It knows what to fear and what not to fear. This is the reason that Superman is not brave. He does amazing things, but he cannot be hurt, so there is no risk. Superman has nothing to lose, so he has nothing to fear. Fortitude is when people have something to lose, but they risk that something to do what is right anyway.

Fortitude enables us to take risks. Fortitude is sometimes called boldness. It is talked about as the balance between cowardice and rashness. It is not being crazy, but knowing when to take a risk and be bold, and when to play it safe. There is folly in both overconfidence and in cowardice. Sometimes teenagers are known for both – they can be reckless in some areas but lack the courage to stand for what is right in other areas. Recklessness is not fortitude. It takes a different kind of courage to stand up to a friend that is doing something wrong than it does to jump off a cliff into a river.

Fortitude is having what it takes to do hard things. Life in God’s Kingdom is never about taking the easy road. If you are not ready to something difficult, you are not ready to try and become a follower of Jesus. Jesus did not say that following him would be easy. In fact, he said the opposite.

Fortitude includes courage in both forms: the kind that faces danger, and the kind that sticks with it when it gets tough. Endurance is the other dimension of fortitude. It is sticking with it, staying the course, seeing it through. Imagine how hard it must have been for Joshua and Caleb when the conquest got really tough. They did not win every battle. They lost some battles horribly. Imagine how easy it would have been to give up in the face of loss. Fortitude is not just bravery, it is endurance. It is the ability to stick with something that is hard.

***Discussion questions for you and your teenager:
-Why do you think God reminded Joshua so many times to “be strong and courageous?”
-Can you think of an example of a foolish risk that a teenager might take, trying to prove something? What about a risk that could honor God and show true courage?
-Fortitude is both having the courage to take risks and face danger, and also having the will to stick with it when it gets tough. Which part of fortitude do you think is hardest?