Thursday, August 29, 2013

Syria and Cyrus: Quick Tips for Talking About Both

I clicked on my blog stats yesterday and noticed my post on Cyrus and Thicke had quickly, and easily, trumped any previous posts in my three-plus years of blogging. Thanks, Miley, I guess?

Then I was asked by a few others to explain what was taking place in Syria, the significant decisions the President had to make, and what my thoughts were on the current event taking place not in Brooklyn but in the Middle East.

I had little to offer.

Then I wondered, if I wrote a post on Syria not Cyrus, would my blog have lit up as it did yesterday and the day before?


But isn't Syria just as significant as Cyrus and Thicke and dancing teddy bears and the exploitation and degradation of black women used as props for white pleasure and entertainment? (click here: warning expletives)


Both stories play a pivotal role in the formation of human imagination, conscience, ethic, morality, and the ability to live into God's dreams for the world. This is especially true of young people.

The misnomer is that youth don't want to talk about both. One of the most popular electives when I was in high school was "Issues," which required students to bring a current event each week and talk about their thought, opinions, and affect on their social values. I think Miley and Robin are an "issue," but so are Syria, Honduras, Philly, Iran, etc.

Granted, we cannot talk about them all. But we must be careful not to assume the VMAs are more significant than foreign affairs in the formation of youthful imaginations. To be naive to global concerns that break the heart of God or to model socio-political ignorance as adults (myself included) is just as formative for young people as to provide quick commentary on twerking Disney stars.

So while I would love to offer my thoughts on Syria, I confess, I am a novice. I have been distracted by all the twerking. Instead, I offer these thoughts on how to engage these issues with young people along with a growing list of helpful resources, please add a few of your own:

Quick Tips for Talking About Syria and Cyrus

1. Talk About Them: Find places where youth and adults alike can engage in faithful and honest conversations. We cannot learn about what we are not talking about...

2. Welcome Questions and Assume You Don't Have All the Answers: Be willing to say, "I don't know." Be quick to listen and slow to react and speak. Invite others who know more than you to join the conversation.

3. Allow Diversity in Opinion: We don't all agree. Welcome dialogue and difference and discover how God's love and grace can lead us to faithful witness together. What binds us together is not an answer but a commitment to love like Jesus loved.

4. Provide Resources to Youth and Parents: talk with others about what they are watching and reading and then invite them to participate in conversations.

5. Engage Scripture: This is not a place for Bible thumping. Instead, open the Bible with wide-eyed curiosity an consider what the Spirit of God has to say to us. What does the Bible say about violence, sex, justice, peace, racism, classism, blurred lines, and hard commands? Let the Bible read you versus you flatly reading the Bible.

6. Speak into Their Lives: Allow the stories to be drawn into the question, "what does this mean for us, for me?" How does Syria and Cyrus relate to my self-worth and the self-worth of others? How am I called to act in light of all this? What does this mean for me and my interactions with ________?

7. Point Them Beyond Themselves: It's important to remember that, because our encounters with these stories typically occur via television and the internet, we may be tempted to trivialize and dehumanize what is actually taking place, these stories are about real places, real people, real families, and real consequences. Our concern is rooted in a broader concern for humanity, not only a concern for our ideas, opions, and taste in pop-culture or political affiliation.

8. Remember, Nobody and Nothing Is Beyond Redemption: Jesus' hardest words were about non-violence, enemy love, and how to deal with conflict and those who act in ways we disapprove. While Christians may initially react with disgust and condemnation, we must never lose sight that there is nothing or noone beyond God's ability to transform and renew. The good news of Jesus is all things hold together in his life, death, and resurrection. This means both Syria and Cyrus, political figures and pop-star misogynists can be delivered from oppressive and irresponsible behaviors. We must pray for this to be true.

9. Above All, Love and Pray: Consider what this means for us as a people of God here and there, near and far. How can we love our neighbors on stage in Brooklyn and on the streets in Syria? We must at least pray.

10. Rinse and Repeat: Always be sensitive to the issues bubbling up locally and globally. Listen to what youth and young adults consider relevant and important and talk about that. Pray God gives you the eyes to see and the ears to hear how the kingdom of God is breaking open all around you...and them...and all of us!

Growing List of Helpful Resources (links here does not suggest endorsement)

Dinner Table Discussion Guide and Scripture References

Prayer for Syria: World Communion of Reformed Churches

PCUSA Partners Call for No Military Action in Syria

Which Bad Syria Option Do You Prefer? (Via NPR)

9 Questions About Syria You Were Embarassed to Ask

Obama: Syrian Gov't Carried Out Chemical Attack via NPR

Intelligence on Chemical Weapons 'No Slam Dunk" via Huffington Post

Vimeo by Fareed Zamaria: "Stay Out of Syria"

Syria Crisis: UK Puts Forward UN Proposal via BBC

PCUSA Office of Public Wittness: Letter to President Obama

An Open Letter to Miley Cyrus

What Miley Cyrus Did Was Disgusting- But Not for Reasons You Might Think via Huffington Post (warning: expletives)

How to Talk to Your Sons About Robin Thicke by Casey Thompson