A Youth Pastor Watches His First Season of The Jersey Shore Part 2

So what does a youth pastor do when he’s recently graduated seminary in a post-Lost world while waiting for baseball season to start? Answer – he watches the Jersey Shore.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, if the Jersey Shore is simply mindless entertainment – no harm, no foul – we all like weird stuff. But what I can’t get over is how the Jersey Shore has permeated our culture. And not just our culture – one of our college students who graduated from our youth group is studying nursing in Finland and says that it airs there! In Finland! They haven’t yet forgiven us for sending them Baywatch and for refusal to buy Nokia phones – this is just rubbing it in.

Anyway, the Jersey Shore is a part of culture and I find this disturbing because certain messages leak through and as a youth pastor (and not to mention, a young father, a fellow motorist, and a member of society and so forth), I am a little concerned. Now the last thing I want is for this blog to be among the many “watch dog” sites that announces “Jersey Shore is ruining our kids!”. It’s not really (at least not in that sense). When compared to the pressures facing high school students today, apathetic parents, etc. watching the Jersey Shore is not a central issue. So please keep this post in perspective and I’ll try to do that too.

For me, the Jersey Shore represents the life that says, “i’ll do whatever the &*$#I want to do”. I think that’s the basic summary of the show – right? Where to begin? The drinking, the partying, the objectification of self and others, the casual sex, the vanity, the spitefulness, the lack of self-control and the sense of entitlement leads are constant themes of the show. Now I know it’s a reality tv show and the goal is to be as entertaining as possible but unintended or not, the show still gives a message.

I think most young minds watching Jersey Shore have some of these thoughts enter in:
1. I am definitely not as messed up as these people so I must be doing something right. I mean if Snookie can get arrested and her career grow (not to mention her general behavior), I’m sure I can make it too.
2. Image is almost everything. The other part is getting your image out there.
3. Sex is my right.
4. If you even try to hurt me, you deserve my full wrath.
5. All that matters is that I have fun, do my thing and be happy.

Of course, I could write a sermon about each of these messages but I’ll spare you from that today except to say, the show is extremely antithetical to the message of Jesus.

Now remember, I don’t think these people are real but rather they are playing extreme parodies of themselves. Whether it’s all scripted, semi-scripted or not, these are the message as I see them. The producers are concerned with creating revenue and the more Snookie and Mike the Situation become cultural icons (a word that means so many different things to so many different people), money will continue to flow – it’s that pragmatic.

Any messages I am missing? Feel free to add or push back. Also, anyone find anything redeeming about the show?

Tomorrow’s post is the about the one thing that Jersey Shore does better than anybody. Hope you stop by.

A Youth Pastor Watches His First Season of The Jersey Shore Part 1

In some ways, seminary puts you in a time-warp. It’s hard to keep with everything and since finishing last year, I’ve been trying to catch up on some of my pop-culture. I remember where I was when I heard someone say, “Jersey Shore is awesome!” (I was driving the church van). Having seen bits and pieces of the first season and consequently changing the channel, I had thought that everyone knew it was lame but were watching more out of a “guilty pleasure”. In the parts that I saw, I caught the egotism of “The Situation”, heard Snooki’s voice and saw how they danced – I really assumed that everyone was laughing at them. Again, I could not believe that some thought they were cool so this season, I decided to see what I was missing.

I watched every show of this third season, including this past week’s reunion show. It was all pretty regrettable with bits of entertainment. Now, I sleep at night believing these people are not real, but rather, characters based on caricatures they created out of their personalities. I am often told that I am wrong about this but this is how I see it.

I am not sure anything could have prepared me for just how egotistical “The Situation” really was (and what a terrible friend). I could not believe how much respect Snooki actually got (She’s on the cover of Rolling Stone!!). Her friend, Deena is unstable to put it mildly. JWoww seems to be the most “normal” but I lament the way she objectifies herself. Vinny has the personality of a mannequin and I am not even sure what to say about Ronnie and Sammie. Someone said they reminded them of the high school couple that would break up and get back together. I’d like to apologize to every high school couple that was included in that comparison but let it be a warning, this is what people think you look like :). Had I known to eat a cannoli every time one of them said “I’m *&$%#@ done with this!!!”, I’d be bigger than Vinnie Pastore (Sal on the Sopranos). No wonder people are always trying to beat them up when they go out – they’ve watched the show and it’s terrible! About halfway through, I found the show funny. But not funny because of their humor (although if you can get past the hair and the fact that he’s 30, Pauly D is funny and I liked his fake voicemail prank – that was the highlight of the season), but funny that this has become such a popular feature of pop-culture. I can’t get over it and I’m obviously curious.

I also thought that by watching the show, it would create some conversation with some of my students (I already knew many could not have cared less but I have quite a few that genuinely enjoy it). What it really did was create a reference point counterbalancing the Christ-centered self-sacrificial humility with than exaggerated super-ego creating drama for the sake of self-fulfillment (more on this part later).

Now for those watching because it satisfies a need for entertainment in the way that movies and sports do for me – hey, to each his own. But the problem for me is that in everything we “consume”, there is a trade-off, in many cases, a worldview that we are being exposed to and my goal is to attempt to interact with some of these ideas in future posts.

One of my hopes is that the all the cast members are really brilliant at making themselves look “this way” (interpret that however you like). And the only reason I say that is in the beginning, they all pull up in BMW’s, Benz’s and a Lincoln. In the last scene they all leave in their great cars reminding the viewer that you, the viewer, is the real loser. Not because you don’t have a car like this, (hey you might), but because the viewers created the audience that created the revenue that allowed for this dysfunction that created a series of paychecks. In some way, we created this and I truly hope that these people are self-aware enough to capitalize on society’s voyeurism; not because money is the ultimate reward, but because it would demonstrate some self-awareness. Please tell me that these people don’t “really” exist. Again, I know many of my friends think I am very wrong about this.

Got a bit more to say but feel free to comment – are these people real? is this show any good?

A Meditation on the Nature of Sacrifice Part 3

In the previous two posts, I tacked the question, “Why does Jesus have to die?” (as opposed to redeem in a manner not actually requiring death). This post, I want to reflect upon how we respond to the sacrifice of Jesus and the salvation that He invites us to partake in.

In thinking of my response to Jesus, this is where we might appreciate the theology of the incarnation on a different level. It makes all the difference to me that God did not simply hover above the world and slap down a new deal or legislate one through some type of Super-Divine Congress that passes cosmic laws. By becoming human, one of us, we could identify with Him. And so when we consider sacrifice, it’s humbling to know that He understands quite personally.

In the last post, I asked, “What do you give a God that can create anything He wants?”. In this one I ask, “What do you give a God who died in our place so that the world may be forgiven and reconciled?” What do you sacrifice to this God? Bear in mind that everyone sacrifices something, it’s the “to whom” and “the what” that we differ on.

It’s tempting to think that we must present to him the type of perfection that He demonstrated. Unfortunately, our flawed nature will fail in this noble endeavor. Perhaps we could offer various types of “memorials” for His kindness. Perhaps we could spend a few moments each day thanking Him and perhaps we could assemble in a special building maybe and sing songs, offer prayers, and remind ourselves what was done – would that be enough? Unfortunately, again, religious duty, though good and noble, is not what God has asked for.

The Lord has asked His followers for their complete love. Initially, this sounds like a bargain, until we begin to understand just what complete love entails. In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus says that the greatest command is to love God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength. Then adding that the second greatest command is to love your neighbor as yourself. Frankly, daily and weekly memorials seem much easier.

We are asked for our love because this is the greatest thing we have, not our resources, not our time, but our love. To love God completely with every fiber our of being, to love God more than we love ourselves is the greatest sacrifice that we can make. We may initially think that this takes something away from our spouses, children, parents, siblings, relatives, friends – even ourselves but we would be mistaken. It’s in offering our love to God that we learn what love is. It’s always been interesting to me that the Bible describes God as love (I Jn. 4). In discovering God, the source of love, I learn how to better love my wife, children, parents, siblings, relatives, friends, myself and as Jesus taught us, the strangers and our enemies.

It sounds wonderful and beautiful until we realize what it takes to actually be people of love. Loving in the midst of disappointment, hurt, anger and in many other contexts is a very difficult thing. Living in obedience and faithfulness to who we love is difficult. While this should deepen the beauty of the cross, it also helps to understand a little more of Paul is laying out for us as believers in Romans 12. The chapter begins with, “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Among my favorite parts is how this section ends, “we must clothe ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ today” (Rom. 13:14).

I think of sacrifice as bearing all that I am to be consumed and destroyed and I would be if it not were the person of Jesus. God being Triune, this is the mercy and goodness of God, this is the giving of the Holy Spirit, this is the work of Christ – to bring forgiveness and redemption. As I have been observing Lent this year, the idea of sacrifice being life-giving has been my theme, I hope it has been hopeful to you too. Thanks for reading.

Next week, I am planning on talking a little on how the idea of sacrifice intersects with life in places of culture that I observe. We’ll be starting with the Jersey Shore :)