Issue 42 | November 25, 2015

Issue 42 | November 25, 2015


The American Music Awards were on Sunday, and though the performances were (mostly) less than noteworthy (save the Pentatonix-plus-full-orchestra rendition of the Star Wars theme music and Celine Dion’s tribute to France), we can learn a lot about the celebrities and art that has major influence on teen culture—and therefore culture as a whole. Here are three things we learned from the experience.


What It Is: As the closing act, Justin Bieber danced under a waterfall as a symbol of being washed clean, while singing words from his latest single: “Is it too late now to say sorry?”

Why It's Good: Learning to forgive and move forward is central to Christianity. If Jesus didn’t forgive us and allow us to start fresh, we’d all be stuck in sin forever. And He forgives us knowing that we’re going to mess up again. So instead of being skeptical, waiting until Bieber makes his next mistake, let’s forgive him. He may not deserve it; but then again, neither do we. What a great real-world example that students will relate to of Christ’s love and forgiveness for us!

Why It's Bad: Forgiving someone doesn’t also mean, “OK, Justin’s one of the good guys again! Listen to ALL his music!” In fact, now that he has declared his desire to “live like Jesus,” it’s all the more reason to analyze his lyrics and hold him to a higher standard, talking with students about the good and the bad ideas.


What It Is: Many of the nominees and winners sing songs that celebrate the frailty/depravity of humanity.

Why It's Important: It’s one thing to sing about our shortcomings in order to illuminate the damage they inflict or in the hopes of finding a solution. It’s quite another to simply embrace them as inalienable parts of us that can’t be overcome. Yet we can’t fault the artists too much; after all, we’re the ones who make their words popular by buying/streaming their music. The Awards themselves are an eye-opening barometer of what we and our culture value. Knowing about the artists who performed, were nominated, and won, as well as their lyrics and values, would be worth your while.


What It Is: It quickly became evident that staying relevant means pushing boundaries, for better or for worse.

Why It's Important: Pushing boundaries for better = Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performing a song about prescription drugs and the pharmaceutical industry, using their fame to question the status quo. Pushing boundaries for worse = Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth making out and groping each other while singing a song about “getting it on.” Sadly, most of the happenings at the AMAs were about pushing the boundaries for worse, upping the shock factor in order to get more views, tweets, and likes. Students are highly influenced by this culture and attitude. Conversations with them about what should motivate us, what we should desire, and why doing so brings life and flourishing (though the images on the screen and words in their headphones scream otherwise!) cannot happen too often.


Inspiration and wisdom is everywhere, yet sometimes hard to find amongst all the filth. Here are 10 podcast episodes that aren’t necessarily from the Christian worldview, but offer interesting insights, perspectives, and conversation starters that we highly recommend!

1. “Simply Happy” from TED Radio Hour (52 min)
Description: Happiness seems to be the highest virtue in our modern world, yet it’s elusive. Where does it come from? How do we get it? Is it what we think it is? All of these topics are explored in this episode. (And even better questions: How does the pursuit of happiness apply to a Christian? Is happiness really our “birthright,” as Pharrell recently said? Is there a difference between happiness and joy?)

2. “The Power of Vulnerability” TEDx Talk by Brené Brown (20 min; one obscenity)
Description: “In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to really be seen.” Is it necessary to be vulnerable? What does it mean to live wholeheartedly? A researcher’s look at vulnerability and why we’re the most medicated, addicted society in history.

3. "The Long Winters" from Song Exploder (20 min)
Description: For the musicians in your family! Combines music with questions about the meaning of life.

4. “The Source of Creativity” from TED Radio Hour (54 min; bleeped out obscenities)
Description: To be human is to be creative. But many of us feel that we lack creativity. So what gives? This episode rethinks what we think we know about creativity and will get you thinking about how to better foster creativity in yourself and others.

5. “Episode 84: NT Wright” from Seminary Dropout (42 min)
Description: How we can grow in our understanding of the historical Jesus within the Palestinian world of the first century AND follow Jesus more faithfully into the postmodern world of the twenty-first century.

6. “How to Shake Up Your Echo Chamber” from Note to Self (20 min)
Description: Host Manoush Zomorodi talks with everyone from big-name techies to elementary school teachers about the effects of technology on our lives, in a quest for the smart choices that will help you think and live better.

7. “#SquadGoals” from Slate’s Culture Gabfest (45 min; potential for obscene language)
Description: Why was 2015 the summer of the squad? Why is the concept of a squad so important, especially to teens? (Other culture happenings also discussed.)

8. “Txting Is Killing Language. JK!” TED Talk by John McWhorter (14 min)
Description: Many adults lament the effects texting and Internet culture are having on language and the ability to communicate, but linguist John McWhorter thinks there’s much more to texting than it seems, and it’s all good news. This will also help you to better understand ways in which students communicate.

9. “Connected, but Alone?” TED Talk by Sherry Turkle (20 min)
Description: “Technology takes something complicated and promises something simpler.” How is technology changing our lives on a relational level? How can we use technology to refocus on our real lives, rather than just our digital ones?