June 25, 2008

With the Times

2008 1518 page6 capdventists are not the only ones that are sometimes behind the times.1 Earlier this month I heard a radio commercial for a major chain store informing listeners that the retailer had lots of dresses this season for young women (for prom, graduation, etc.). The gimmick was a reporter interviewing a girl in the juniors’ department trying to decide between two dresses. The teen mentions to the male reporter that she’s surprised to find so many dresses all in one place and then basically says, “When I get home tonight, I’m totally going to IM all my friends.”
Ouch! In trying to be down (or up, if you prefer) with the lingo, those responsible for this dialogue blundered—especially if they are really trying to get teens into the store.
Many of you, I’m afraid, won’t understand the gaff in the commercial. And that’s part of the problem.
But it’s big enough to cause those for whom the advertisement may be aimed to scoff and perhaps even shop elsewhere. (One wonders, however, if teens would actually be listening to the radio in the first place unless forced to, in Mom’s car, by the mere fact that they left their iPod home accidentally and aren’t earbudded into oblivion.)
2008 1518 page6Anyway, here’s what had cymbals crashing in my Gen-X ears: “When I get home tonight, I’m totally going to IM all my friends.”
Tonight? Who waits until tonight? And IM-ing? Who does that anymore?
As mentioned, I’m not in the teen crowd. And even though I have a nice new “cell” phone (thanks to a toddler helping put Mommy’s phone “away”) that’s ready to download music, file share with my computer, and perhaps bake a delicious soufflé for dinner (I can dream), I barely comprehend the difference between texting and IM-ing.2 But I do know enough to know that in our living-in-the-moment, 
I-want-it-now popular culture no person under 20 would wait to tell friends about something they think is cool and important, and they likely wouldn’t use a computer-generated instant message.
If this kind of thing can happen out there, it surely can happen in here. And it does. Some well-intentioned church leaders have devised youth programs and outreach, thinking they’re on the cutting edge. They might have run it by a kid or two (usually a relative who may or may not be paying complete attention). Then they launched 
it. And wondered why it wasn’t more successful.
It’s not only about entertaining our young people, although to deny that youth expect to be entertained these days is naive.3 I’ve seen this lack of intimate knowing of—and therefore relating to—pop culture in evidence in evangelistic efforts.
Two examples: I’ve copyedited youth material for a publication in the not-too-distant past that was so boring I had to force myself time and again to focus—and I was getting paid to read it! I also watched a satellite program several years ago in which a speaker talked about how God was going to strike back against Satan, likening this moment of the great controversy to the movie The Empire Strikes Back. Uh, I don’t think anyone bothered to tell the speaker that the empire striking back was a bad thing. Good guy Luke Skywalker losing a limb was only part of the defeat in the epic film.
Just as the retailer would have benefited from better research and vetting, those who lead our youth need to really know what is going on in their kids’ lives and figure out how to make the best, positive impact in the short time they have with them. An eternity depends on it.
1I can hear the indignant sighs already . . .
2Texting is text messaging with a mobile phone—cellular or, more popularly, a digital phone—while IM-ing is instant messaging usually accomplished on a computer or some PDAs.
3Until we can move to a point in which youth get involved for more intrinsic and lofty purposes, at least portions of programming must have some entertainment value.

Kimberly Luste Maran is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review.