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1. School’s Out for… Ever?

What it is: Rising cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 have temporarily thrown school schedules across the country into chaos after the Christmas holiday break.
Why it’s exhausting for kids and parents alike: While many of us would like to think we’ve made some progress in the fight against COVID-19, Omicron’s impact feels reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic. Staffing shortages have school districts scrambling for acceptable and safe learning solutions, with some implementing half-day schedules and others returning, for now, to remote learning. If any respectable history teacher was recapping the pandemic for their class and asked, “What did we learn, here?” the answer would appear to be nothing. As the New York Times noted early this week, ongoing academic chaos and the looming threat of lockdowns is no way to grow up. Kids are paying a steep price—their childhoods—and without a clear end in sight, it’s difficult to keep telling our demoralized youth that this will all be over soon.

2. Apocalypse, Please

What it is: Netflix’s star-loaded original film, Don’t Look Up, is already one of Netflix’s biggest movies ever after its December release.
Why it’s dividing critics and audiences: Don’t Look Up is a scathing political satire by Adam McKay, director of The Big Short. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as astronomers on a mission to convince the people of earth that a comet is coming to destroy the planet. It’s difficult to believe the film was penned before the coronavirus pandemic began, as some of the characters seem directly based on the attitudes and behaviors of political figures and celebrities during the past two years. Critics have complained that Don’t Look Up is too on-the-nose and heavy-handed in its skewering of an obtusely greedy political class in a society that’s too distracted to care. But viewers seem to resonate with the movie, which portrays faith in a greater power as one of the few positive forces in the world. The presence of Gen Z stars Timothée Chalamat and Ariana Grande might have younger audiences wanting to tune in. It’s a timely watch, but not a family film; parents should know that the movie is littered with f-bombs and does contain brief nudity.

What it is: A viral clip of Sesame Street’s Elmo arguing with his best friend Zoe after she reserves his favorite cookie for her pet rock seems to capture the cultural mood of January 2022.
Why it’s a slice of insight: This meme of Elmo might not have been even the slightest bit amusing if we hadn’t just lived through two years of extreme cultural dissonance. Elmo wants an oatmeal raisin cookie, but he’s being told he needs to share. Fair enough. But the object of this mandatory sharing is a rock. Even Elmo has his limits. Elmo’s irate rant captures the zeitgeist, with so many of the social media class feeling like their lives have tilted off an expected course and into some deranged bizarro world where things are backwards and certain truths are unsayable. The dawn of the New Year typically brings excitement and anticipation alongside it. But 2022 already feels bogged down with confusion and dread. Please, young people seem to be praying, just don’t let everything get even worse this year. As we attempt to course-correct and steer toward our greater Hope, we can remind teens that we were never promised that we’d understand the times we were living in, but we have a God who has guaranteed He will sustain us—come hungry pet rocks or whatever else life throws our way.

Slang of the Week

twee: used on TikTok to refer to an “aesthetic” of the early aughts up to 2010; ballet flats, opaque tights, blunt-cut bangs, knit cardigans, movies by director Wes Anderson, actress Zooey Deschanel, and fitted khakis are considered “twee.” (Ex: Does your mom have any black ballet flats lying around? Twee is back.)

Translation: School’s Out for… Ever?

“The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say.”

So says The Teacher near the beginning of the book of Ecclesiastes, a passage that feels in some ways descriptive of the ongoing cycle of school closures, school re-openings, and school re-closures in our world. When The Teacher writes, “All things are wearisome, more than one can say,” a lot of us know exactly what he’s talking about.

It’s abundantly clear that feelings remain profoundly mixed about ongoing COVID-19 closures. Some still believe there’s reason for abundant caution; others believe the availability of vaccines means that everyone should be empowered to make their own decisions; others live in places where things haven’t been closed for a while and don’t understand why anyone would be living any differently than they do.

Members of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are often taught what has been called the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” In their video from 2016, The Bible Project detects similar wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes: “Since you can’t control your life, you should stop trying. Learn to hold things with an open hand because you really only have one control over one thing, and that’s your attitude towards the present moment.”

Whether COVID closures are affecting our lives or not, the wisdom of Ecclesiastes remains true. So given that, here are a few questions to spark conversation with your teens:

  • Do you agree that we really only have control over our attitude towards the present?
  • Do you think truly internalizing that would lead to more peace or less peace? Why?
  • Have you heard of the Serenity Prayer before? What would it be like to live that way?