Introduction: Dr. Winings currently teaches at Unification Theological Seminary, in religious education and ministry, and is the director of the doctor of ministry program there. She is also the founder and president of Educare. She is the executive director of IRFF, which is our relief agency, and she directs the development of children and youth ministry in our church. Yesterday and the day before she spoke here with parents and worked with members here who want to work with our Sunday School and youth ministry.
It is always great to be here in Washington. The center of the cosmos, I hear. Your lives are going to be very busy, I think, very soon. Anyway, for those of you who can honestly say this morning that when you woke up you could honestly say, wow, I feel great today -- I want to hear an Amen, loud and clear. (Amen!) I hope that point will become clearer as I talk.
This morning, for our teenagers, if I tell stories that sound familiar to you -- don't worry. I didn't model it after your particular life, those that I know. If I tell stories out of hand here, just grin and bear it this morning because I want to talk to the parents about parenting.
I've often wondered what it must have been like to be a teenager in Israel in Jesus' time. It must have been very difficult, living within three cultures, really. For the young men, studying, then working with their fathers or the family business, girls working beside their mothers all day, preparing to become good wives and mothers themselves in the future. But what really made life difficult for a teenager then would be living in these three worlds at the same time -- Jewish culture, Roman culture, and now a new and emerging Christian culture. Talk about confusion -- that's confusion.
On one hand, living within a religious culture with its very strict traditions and prohibitions, and also a strict emerging religious tradition called Christianity -- whatever that meant -- and its clear teachings, yet on the other hand living under the Roman rule and Roman influence. Teenagers would probably find themselves walking a very thin line between these two worlds. Put yourself in the shoes of the teens. The Roman world must have appeared very enticing, very exciting. The forbidden fruits and their enchantment and allure. Exciting. Yet trying to be a good and faithful teenager, a Jewish Christian teenager, difficult.
Well, our teens today are in a similar position, I think. The life of the world seems so exciting to them. It's full of surprises and interesting things, especially the more forbidden ones. Yet the life of a holy person, a religious life, seems by comparison to be dull, boring, lifeless, totally unappealing to teens and youth. Certainly not cool. Religious life is certainly not a cool life.
But should it be that way? Why does life with God seem so dull and unappealing to them? Of course, if we look at our scriptural reading for today, we can understand that to most of society's teens and children the standards set for a son or daughter of God is hard, is full of things you can't do. Don't do this, don't go there. It's almost an impossible dream. And if that isn't challenge enough, let's consider reaching out to other children in our society and community. We are confronted then with more horror stories and statistics. Did you know that of the over 23,000 murders that are committed in this country every year, more than 10 percent of them are committed by youth between the ages of 11 and 17? Then we have the shooting in Jonesboro, with 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden. Five people died because a 13-year-old girl rejected Mitchell's affections. Or we can talk about 16-year-old Luke, who killed three and wounded seven in Pearl, Mississippi. Fourteen-year-old Michael in Paducah, Kentucky, who shot and killed three students attending a prayer meeting. Fifteen-year-old kids in Oregon. And of course there's the tragic Columbine shooting this year.
We have a growing problem with children and teens who feel completely apathetic toward anything in life, numb inside. They tell me, nothing interests me. I just sit home and sit. That's all I do. Bored with school, friends, family, life. Nothing is appealing to me. I have no interest in anything. I have no future. Or shall we talk about the rise of alcoholism among adolescents? Sobering trends, aren't they? And this is really a crisis of faith and a crisis of family. As we work toward resolving this crisis through offering the blessing now to adolescents and young adults, thousands of them across the country this year, I believe it's essential for us to understand what is influencing today's youth. And that includes our own young people. How can we address these influences as parents, and as a faith community?
In my experience working with teens, I have seen three very subtle but very serious changes in how the next generation looks at life. One of them is what people call a worship of technology. Secondly would be a rise and increase in a new understanding of consumerism, materialism. And the third and most dangerous is a worship of self. Our teens are growing up with all three trends around them, within their friends, influencing them, how they see themselves, how they see their families, how they see their identities, how they see their future. As long as these trends go unchallenged and unheeded, our young people, young adults of this nation will continue to feel lost and confused and unloved.
As one young man said to me in New York, when I asked him how he saw his future, "I'm 15 now. After I get out of high school I think I'll get a motorcycle, but I'll probably be dead by the time I'm 21 or 22. So what does it matter anyway? I have nothing to look forward to." A second generation story.
So let's look at these three trends. Let's look at the worship of technology. There is a story I saw on the Internet a few months ago. This is the joke that talks about how you know that we have technology burn-out. Mom is at home in the kitchen preparing dinner. She e-mails her son, who's upstairs in his room, says, "dinner's ready." The son e-mails back, "What's for dinner?"
For how many of you is this typical? Son comes home, drops his bookbag in the chair, or on the floor, goes into the kitchen, and you hear the refrigerator door open. Next he sticks his head in the refrigerator, opens a carton of milk, and as he drinks directly from the carton -- which you've told him not to do -- you call out from somewhere else in the house, "Jason, is that you?" and you hear mumblings in response. He grabs something to eat, goes to his room, closes the door, plugs into a CD, has earphones on, and turns on the computer. Now you have lost him for at least the next three hours. Sound familiar? For some it might.
For how many of you do your teens log on at night, and for about the next two hours either do instant messenger, five or six kids at a time on instant messenger, or they're answering their e-mails for the next two or three hours, or they're in the BC chat room for at least an hour and a half, swapping whatever they swap, CD lyrics, the latest rap lyrics, what's going on, who did what, this and that, for two hours -- usually preferably between 10 and midnight.
Technology is wonderful but it does have its downside. This generation does less reading, has fewer communication skills, and are more private and isolated from others than any other generation. So what is this worship of technology? It is a very subtle force which has changed how we view morality, how we view right and wrong. A couple of years ago I had to confront some young men and ask someone to leave our program for stealing. When talking with him about his actions, I asked him if he knew why it was wrong to steal? He just calmly looked and me and said, "It was wrong because I got caught. If I hadn't gotten caught, it wouldn't have been wrong."
As hard as this seems, this has been a commonly held view of right and wrong among some teens. Not ours all the time, but teens in general, until about a few years ago. Now with the worship of technology, our possibilities scientifically, technologically, have expanded beyond our wildest dreams. The cloning of Dolly, test-tube life, the kinds of remarkable breakthroughs in science. But this has caused what I call a technological morality, which says that right is anything that is technologically possible. As one fellow put it, "if it can be done, if it is possible to do, then it must be right." This is the new view of morality being absorbed by adolescents and young adults -- if we can do it, it must be okay.
The worship of technology has also affected our next generation's ability to make significant choices in their lives. How? By taking away their will and volition. Advertisers target this generation with billions of dollars of advertising campaign money invested in products with high profile rock stars, rap stars, with high profile push and music, the latest in computer graphics and technology. And it lures them. Teens must have this latest style or they're not cool. They must have this brand of shoes, this hair style, this make-up. These are sophisticated, calculated advertising techniques and ploys. If you ask an advertiser, they will tell you that their biggest consumer market is the 13-21 age bracket. They do extensive studies on how to reach them.
Our teens are not making choices any more. These choices have been made for them. They are being told, this is what you need, so go out and buy it. That's not choice. They're not necessarily following parents. They're following someone else. They're following society.
Look at the rise in consumerism. In our generation, when we were back in the 70s, we experienced the problems of materialism. How many of you remember that age? The fear of materialism. But this age of consumerism is the next step in that progress. This is not only a worship of things, but it goes further. It causes people to begin treating each other as things. It's not a question of defining happiness by buying it, driving it, or having it, or smoking it. It's seeing themselves and other people as things, as a quantity.
What about the worship of self? What does this mean? Worship of self is this obsession with self-fulfillment. The standard is no longer "is what I'm doing right? Is it good for me to do this thing?" Now the standard is, "Does it feel good? If it does, do it." How many of you listened to the new Alamo ad on television -- "feel good, drive happy"? You go down to Orlando, you're in an Alamo car, and it plays all the time, feel good. Feel good morality. Feel-good worship of self. This has also led to several problems. Young people have lost perspective. They're not able to take the perspective of other people. Because why? I'm worried about what makes me feel good. I don't care if it doesn't make you feel good. If it makes me feel good, I'll do it.
Look at Mitchell Johnson. I talked to his youth pastor, Chris Perry, from Jonesboro. In tears he explained to me Mitchell's situation. He said, "Mitchell did it and told me afterwards, 'I did it because I wanted to feel better'." I didn't care that I took the life of a 13-year-old girl, a human being. "I did it because I had to feel better. I felt bad because she rejected me." It's a loss of empathy. Mitchell also said, "What I did was not wrong. It was a mistake but it was not wrong."
Kip, in Springfield, Oregon, right before he did the shooting, he told his friends, "Tomorrow I'm going to do something really stupid." You notice he didn't say, I'm going to do something wrong. I'm going to do something stupid, but it's going to make me feel good. And he shoots and kills his classmates. Loss of empathy.
If our young adolescents in society can't have that feeling and can't empathize, they cannot have moral feeling, moral knowing, and moral action. Feel good. To me this is the most dangerous trend. It can be as subtle as a feeling of indifference toward other people, or as strong as a growing callousness and total lack of concern for others. To live for oneself is not what God had in mind, as we know, when He created Adam and Eve, but that is the standard in our society.
So what is the answer? I don't want to leave you with all these negative trends and statistics and ideas. What is the answer? I believe a critical part of the solution is found with you, with all of us in this community and in this room. Parents, first. The answer is found in your own faith. When I asked how many of you could say when you woke up in the morning that this was a great day, that's an important question actually. What do your children see when you wake up in the morning, on a Sunday morning for pledge? What do they see as you prepare to come here to worship? What do they see when you prepare to do some providential work? How do they see your faith?
Father used to tell us, you should be serious on the inside but smiling on the outside. I never used to think about that seriously until I worked with teens. I realized it is important how they see you. If we want our teens to feel happy about who they are, proud of True Parents, proud of their lineage, their heritage, and make something of themselves for God in the future, they have to see it in you, here. You are the first teacher of love. Your home is the first school of love. If they can see within you externally that you are -- even though we have problems, even though we may not be able to pay the bills, even though we have this or that on our shoulders -- at least if they can see that at the heart of everything we are happy about the path that we have chosen, if they grow up with that then we will do a great deal of good for them, helping them to walk that thin line of choice between society and its enticements and God's way. When you throw a rock in a lake, the ripples go from the center outward.
Second, discipling your children. This is a Christian term and I think it's a good term. Its root is the word discipline. The reason I like that is because discipline and disciple mean this: it's not punishment for wrong behavior, but training for right behavior. It's training to become what they are all created to be -- men and women of God. God is living and working with our children. There is no question about that. From the moment they are conceived to the moment they become young adults, they are walking with God. They may not know it but they're walking with God.
Our challenge is how to disciple them into that awareness, so they have that strength to make those hard choices, and when someone comes up to them and says, "This is the coolest song I have ever heard," and it's one of the worst rap songs -- then our children have a choice when they have been discipled for right action and behavior. It also means helping them to be responsible, doing things together as a family. When you go witnessing and passing out blessing candy, go together with your children, as a family, serving your community as a family. This is part of discipline for right behavior.
Third, and probably the most difficult is communication. Communicating with your children. How many of you know the three closest friends of your 15-year-old, or your 12-year-old? How many know the closest friends of your kids? Do you know what their favorite song is? Their favorite music group? Who they talk to late at night on e-mail? What they talk about, what they experience at school?
Do you want to communicate with them only when you are ready to communicate, or when they are ready to communicate? For some homes a typical scenario is you're sitting together at the dinner table and ask your 14-year-old, how was school? Yeah. What did you do after school? Yeah, okay. And how are things with your friends? Yeah.
This happens to me. In youth group I'll ask the guys how is this school or this and that, and they go -- uh huh, whatever. But the question is, can you be there when they're ready to communicate with you? And you can't always predict that time. It means creating an atmosphere in your home and family in which they feel they can come to you at any time and say anything and you will still love them. Listening to your children and communicating are keys to having a strong relationship.
Finally, making your home a magnet for God's pure and everlasting love. Serving the community together, having the friends of your children come to your home, making your home the cool spot in town to be. That's one thing I like about one family in New Jersey. Their children and the friends of their children all like to be around their parents at that home, in that atmosphere, because of the magnet for God's love. This is our challenge -- creating homes that can disciple, that can communicate, can listen, and can become a magnet for God's love. That's testifying to love. That's the great adventure.
There is an old saying about a wise man who, as he's walking through town, is seeing huge problems -- bombing, death, decay, pain and suffering -- and it gets harder and harder the further he walks and his heart is heavy. Finally on the other end of town he can't take it any more and he drops on his knees and cries out to God, "Why haven't you done something about this world? Please can't you do something?" And in the silence he hears a voice say, "I did do something. I made you." God made you and your families to testify to love, to God and to the hope of the future. Please go out this week and testify as strongly as you can.
Will you join me in prayer.