Vol. 5 Issue 40 | October 4, 2019
Three Things This Week
1. TikTok Teen
What it is: 16-year-old Alabama teen Haley Sharpe suddenly became “a little bit famous” on TikTok.
Why it’s worth a conversation: Boasting 100,000 followers is quite different from having millions, but Haley is “on her way to getting the thing she wants, the thing all her friends want…the kind of social media following wherein performing your life online becomes a paying job.” It’s a noble goal, carving out a career path that provides the funds to live a flourishing life. But here’s the concern: Most occupations offer the world something. They provide a service or value that enriches human life. Doctors heal, police officers protect, teachers teach. Can we say the same for social media stars? Is being an online influencer a noble profession? Why or why not? If your teens are wrestling with their calling, Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak may really speak to them!
2. No Joke
What it is: One of the most controversial films of 2019, Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix, released on Thursday night.
Why it’s complicated: The film centers on the sympathetic origin story of mentally ill and socially ignored Arthur (the Joker) who ultimately unleashes his psychopathic rage in a series of violent gun attacks. Both praised as a cinematic marvel and criticized as a potential threat to public safety, the film has prompted more police patrols at theaters, forcing Warner Brothers to release a statement condemning gun violence—all while profiting from the narrative. Director Todd Philips says the film doesn’t so much offer an apologetic for the Joker’s violence but rather points to the root of his evil, which is a “lack of love, childhood trauma, and lack of compassion in the world.” If your teens want to see the film, here’s a great conversation starter: Where’s the line between telling an authentic, gritty story and promoting harmful behavior?
3. Bieber Bliss
What it is: A year after their courtroom wedding, Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin tied the knot again in a religious ceremony in South Carolina.
Why it’s nice, we guess: Bieber recently admitted to a drug-filled lifestyle where he made “every bad decision you could have thought of,” so the fact he’s rebuilt his life and is committing himself to marriage is fantastic. But with all the hype, Instagram posts, and highly orchestrated fanfare, the event felt more like a corporate branding launch than a wedding. Is anything sacred anymore? Can two people, albeit two very famous people, do anything these days without posting and promoting it publicly? Whether it’s Bieber or your kids, what is lost when we overshare, when a sacred moment like a wedding or vacation is contrived into an opportunity to garner more likes, more views, and more followers? If you ask your kids these questions, do their responses differ from yours?
To Forgive or Not to Forgive
This week marked the verdict of Amber Guyger, the former police officer who shot and killed her downstairs neighbor, Botham Jean, in what she claimed was a case of mistaken identity. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in jail—a move some justice advocates celebrated, while others mourned, saying it was too lenient. The story of Guyger’s sentence grew more complicated when Jean’s brother, Brandt, spoke to the courtroom afterward. He told Guyger and the judge that he didn’t want to see his brother’s killer go to jail and that he forgave her. He then asked the judge if he could “give her a hug” as a sign of his forgiveness. The two embraced in a video that immediately (predictably) went viral.
In prior years, the sheer weight of Brandt’s action might have simply been seen as symbolic of one man’s grace, the choice to forgive in the face of the unforgivable. And though the beautiful simplicity of his gesture remains, in 2019, nothing stays simple for long. A thousand think pieces on the ways that Black forgiveness of white violence is fetishized and fawned over seemed to appear immediately on social media. What are we to make of a culture where even the act of radical forgiveness can be viewed as another symptom of injustice?
As Jesus’ followers, we are commanded to forgive wrongs both small and grievous, personally and corporately. We do this not for the sake of the wrongdoer, not as a gift to the wounding party, but as a present to ourselves. It is in every way a step toward freedom. And unlike the social media outcry might have us believe, forgiveness and justice aren’t mutually exclusive; they’re actually two sides of the same coin. But don’t confuse forgiveness with absolution: “Forgiveness does not mean that we make believe the injustice never happened.” Systemic oppression or personal abuse can’t simply be “hugged out.” Without justice for such egregious sins, mercy is almost impossible to give because the wrong committed is never acknowledged. Without mercy, justice can become a bloody, vengeful sword. But together, reconciliation is born. A conversation with your teen about what forgiveness is and who it’s for might be well-timed around this very public debate.
Keep the Faith!
The Axis Team
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