“Children aged 9 to 11 now hold “fame” as their No. 1 value. Fame ranked 15th in 1997.”
– Journal of Psychology Research on Cyberspace
Youth workers, our job is getting tougher. We wake up every morning to invite students to follow a guy who said the first are last. These same students have already been convinced as children that being first is more virtuous than telling the truth.
If you are a leader of high school students, it is easy to read statistics about culture and think the problem is the next generation. It isn’t. Today’s students have inherited a world with an inconsistent value system that they didn’t create. Unfortunately, that value system is failing. Adults often shake their heads at the reality of teen culture and feel no sense of responsibility. It is easy for us to say, “how sad for them” and walk away. However, teenage culture is always a thermometer that tells the previous generation where it has succeeded or failed. Our generation is the thermostat.
As a wise proverb once said, “it is one thing to pull bodies out of the river, but eventually you have to swim upstream and see who is putting those bodies in.” Swimming upstream is the difficult work of a Christ follower. Jesus didn’t just dust it up with Pharisees on the streets of Palestine over Levitican law, he went after the broken systems beyond religion that oppressed the people of God. He was subversive towards violence. He wiped out taxes. (Zacchaeus) He fought the blood washed systems with as much grit and pluck and he fought the white washed religious leaders.
To fight the fame epidemic, we will be swimming upstream. As uncomfortable as it may be, following the man who says, “the first shall be last” demands it. Even if what we find when we get there is ourselves.
How do you do it? Here are some helpful ways Rosanna and I are discussing:
- Celebrate good, enduring stories– I use the word enduring because I’m talking about the type of story that transpired over a length of time-not happened in an afternoon. As the fame of individuals has risen, often good, enduring stories aren’t told amongst the celebrity obsessed. Good stories that reflect on the faithfulness of God over months or years, stories of friendship that lasts, stories that reminds us we inhabit an enchanted world, and the thumbprints of its Creator are on us and on it. In my experience, good stories make God famous, not an individual.
- Deepen and tighten community– Our culture rushes towards the biggest and flashiest, but even the most mega of churches find ways to become “mega- small” to stay healthy. Flash and Fame shuns relationship and being known, it cultivates its identity in the shadows of fantasy, and the best way to stay grounded is to stay surrounded. We need people around us who know us. Make a practice of meals, hobbies, and neighbors, and then make a practice in those circles of divulging secrets, fears, future dreams and broken dreams.
- Watch less reality TV. Perhaps part of the reason fame has leaped from 15 to 1 since 1997 is because our viewing pleasure has shifted from “Seinfeld” and “Friends” to “American Idol” and “Jersey Shore.” Television does reflect our value system, whether we like it or not, and we have taken a ride down a razor blade slide from Seinfeld to Snooki. With every flip of the channel, we reinforce our value system and that of our children.
- Spend less time on social media– Social media has given us access to old friends and new ones- but it is changing us. When we sign up for a FaceBook account, we have become our own PR agent. We have added another layer to our lives, not a bad one, it is a neutral one, but we must be cognizant of it. We are increasingly moving our lives into virtual spaces, and this virtual world is filled with more smoke and mirrors than the real one. What we see of each other is not all there is to see, we only see the highlighted parts because we all carefully select the image we are projecting. In a virtual world, everything has a tendency to glitter. If you read more status updates than you say actual words in a day, then your mind will begin to catch a distorted view of reality. To fight the fame epidemic, life is better lived with real people in real places with real words.
- Make a celebrity of someone who isn’t one– A celebrity obsessed culture is drawn less and less to the ones that Christ was always promoting. His ministry was for “the least of these.” The suffering, the heavy-laden, the broken down, the afflicted, the man or woman locked up inside of themselves with nowhere to go are still in our midst. They are in our cities, our churches, our lunchrooms, and perhaps our homes. Find one. Lavish them. Promote them. Make them famous. It will reorder a distorted value system to its proper place.