What it is: This week, Taylor Swift was named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year. She also turned 34, attended a controversial fundraiser at a comedy club, released her Eras Tour film on streaming, and faced continued accusations of celebrating witchcraft.
So wait, Taylor’s a witch now? We don’t claim to know the spiritual posture of any person’s heart—even if they’re famous. With that being said, it is true that Swift often invokes spiritual concepts in her deeply personal lyrics, and her viewpoints may dismay some Christian parents. Recurring themes in her more recent catalogue include a fascination with karma (“Karma”), fate (“Mastermind”), jealousy (“Is It Over Now?”), lust (“Dress”), and revenge (nearly every song). In “Anti-Hero,” she muses that her vengeful streak is likely to extend beyond the grave, even if she’s “laughing up […] from hell.” There was also criticism this year of a “ritual” style dance at her concert to the song, “Willow.” As of right now, Swift, who has previously said she is a Christian, seems to track most with a humanist view of religion, combining Eastern philosophies with umpth-wave feminism—not the occult. (Social media moments where she celebrates her fans for “casting spells,” among other things, certainly don’t reflect Swift at her best, but it is a team of people, not Swift herself, controlling those captions.) We can’t predict how Swift’s spiritual life, or lack thereof, may play out in public. But for now, her relevance and resonance stem from how her songs land inside a culture that is ready and waiting to celebrate the message she’s offering.
Continue the conversation: Based on her lyrics, what would you guess Taylor Swift believes about the spiritual realm?
2. LEGO Fortnite
What it is: Fortnite has partnered with LEGO for a brand new set of in-game experiences in their latest season drop.
What it’s like: Epic continues to strike gold with Fortnite, a free game underpinned by its impressive array of colorful, limited-edition in-game purchases. The LEGO partnership only enhances the dynamics of what makes Fortnite so addictive, with loot drops and Easter eggs offering dopamine hits galore. Players have adventures in a LEGO world that combines the mechanics and graphics of a classic LEGO videogame with a gameplay experience that’s akin to many others in the sandbox genre. Additional features, like a new Rocket Racing game and Fortnite Festival mode, have contributed to a huge boost in play. Fortnite reached a peak of 2.45 million concurrent users in the game—a new record. Notably, the rollout hasn’t been without hiccups, as extended lag times persist for users trying to join the server.
Continue the conversation: Have you tried Fortnite’s new LEGO features?
3. Content Warning
What it is: There’s a logjam of social media content highlighting anxiety and trauma—and it’s giving a new shape to teens’ discussions of mental health.
What’s the big idea? We’ve written here before about how bringing “therapy speak” into everyday conversation has significantly expanded the meaning of words like “trauma,” “narcissism,” “toxic,” and “sociopath.“ Experts wonder if the term “anxiety” in particular has transcended a diagnosis and has now become a strong signifier of identity. This is further complicated by a cultural landscape in which identity is portrayed as permanent as well as outside of a person’s control. But of course clinical anxiety symptoms aren’t fixed; anxiety is treatable, and often ebbs and flows through different seasons over a lifetime. “Therapy Media,” as writer Derek Thompson calls the rise in trending posts on mental health topics, are mainly broadcasts from non-experts who are speaking about their own experience and directing their commentary at both no-one in particular and the world at large. As Thompson noted, “The share of adults receiving mental-health treatment is surging, but we have built an online ecosystem that thrives on the very principles that counselors implore us to reject.”
Continue the conversation: Do you think people with mental health conditions benefit from the way mental health is discussed online?
Slang of the Week
Naur: The term “naur” is just a way of saying “no” with an exaggerated Australian accent. Americans on social media (and in real life) have taken to using the term as a more sarcastic form of no, usually in response to a minor inconvenience or something that doesn’t actually bother them. The rounding of the “O” sound in the stereotypical Australian accent sticks out to the American listener, and the term has been popular on social media for the better part of a year. The popularity of “naur” probably originates from the mid 2000s Australian teen show “H2O: Just Add Water.” It doesn’t seem like Australians mind the good-natured exaggeration of their accent, but, let’s be real, Americans are walking on some thin ice.
What It Takes to Disciple Gen Z
In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives his disciples what is known as His “Great Commission”: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus calls His followers to convey His revolutionary way of living and structuring society out into the world.
But of course, “discipleship” isn’t a concept exclusive to Christian formation; we are all, always, being formed by whoever and whatever we spend time with. So, instead of just letting ourselves glide in whatever direction our lifestyles (and culture) pull us in, true Christian disciples set a purposeful intention to become more like Jesus—and therefore, more like the men and women God intended us to be.
In our conversation with Awana CEO Matt Markins this week, we talked about how the advance of modern technology has coincided with a shift in our culture’s dominant worldview (a shift that partially explains why the average TikTok FYP isn’t necessarily a slideshow of Christian programming). We talk also about how discipling the next generation needs to involve intentional counter-programming to how our culture currently programs/disciples us. One of Jesus’s refrains in the Sermon on the Mount is “You have heard it said, but I say to you”; in a similar way, counter-programming involves knowing how our culture frames various topics well enough to be able to highlight how following Jesus stands out.
Our full conversation from Wednesday is available on our Culture Translator podcast, wherever you listen to podcasts. In the meantime, here are three questions to help continue the conversation about discipleship:
- What do you think is the difference between being a Christian and being a disciple of Jesus?
- Do you agree that we are always being formed by the people and things we spend time with? Why or why not?
- If you could apply “You have heard it said, but I say to you” to one dominant idea in our culture, what would it be?