Miley Cyrus, Lauren Bacall and a Teachable Moment

First things first: I’m not here to bash Miley Cyrus. I think it can be tremendously hard for any of us of the female sort to navigate the transition from girl to young woman, much less doing it with the whole world watching. But she has provided us with a teachable moment.

If you’ve been following developments in Syria or the attempts to address the issue of hunger at home instead of the really important news, Miley Cyrus (daughter of Billy Ray “Achy Breaky Heart” Cyrus and former Disney star) performed at the Video Music Awards the other night. I use the word perform loosely.

She emerged from the belly of a giant stuffed animal, wagging her tongue more than Michael Jordan in the playoffs. I couldn’t understand why her Depends were showing beneath her costume until she ripped the outer costume off to reveal and even skimpier one. She gyrated. She and performer Robin Thicke (whom I am old enough to confuse with Alan “Family Ties” Thicke and so stay bewildered – they are father and son) engaged in something apparently called twerking. It seems that my dog has been on the cutting edge of pop culture all this time and I just thought he was humping the bedspread.

One of the things that was sad to me about the whole exhibition was that it was obvious that she was trying so hard to be sexy.. and there was nothing sexy about it. It made me think of a great scene between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in “To Have and Have Not.” Bacall, fully clothed, banters with Bogart. 

She’s cool, but man, is she sexy. She doesn’t gyrate her hips or waggle her tongue. She leans over and kisses him. 

“What’d you do that for?” a suprised Bogie asks.

“Been wondering  if I liked it.”

“What’s the decision?”

“I don’t know yet.” She kisses him again. “It’s even better when you help,” she says casually, walking away.

As she’s walking out the door, she says, “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing… Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? Just put your lips together and blow.”

There are no words in this dialogue that a six year old couldn’t be exposed to. But it’s steamy. It is undeniably sexy.

What we saw at the VMAs is what happens when we confuse sexiness and sexuality with hormones. Hormones are two dogs humping each other. Sexiness and sexuality…. well that’s a whole different experience. It’s the whole of our Selves: our minds, our bodies (and more than our genitals), our hearts, our energy. 

What was masquerading as sexy on the VMAs was a cheap polyester suit. Real sexuality is a custom tailored outfit made of the finest cloth.

Too often what gets passed off as sexiness is a cheap imitation of the real thing. I don’t blame the kids who are doing it. I think the responsibility is with those of us who haven’t taught kids any better.

We have not taught what it means to respect your body. We haven’t taught what it means to celebrate, appreciate and respect your sexuality. “Just say no” doesn’t cut it. Neither does teaching “sex is ugly and dirty and you should save it for the one you love.”

Mostly, I think the church has fallen down. Even though Christianity is an incarnational faith, our central belief being that God became flesh, we’ve been awfully uncomfortable with the whole notion of having a body. And God forbid, having a body that is also sexual. 

We worship a God who was daring enough to become flesh and bone as we are flesh and bone. The sad irony is that in many parts of the country Christians are the most unfit and unhealthy, the ones who have taken least care of our bodies.

In the clip from the movie, Bacall offers Bogie thirty dollars to help him out. Bogie is surprised that she had the money. “It’s boat fare or any other kind of fare,” she says. “Just enough so that I can say no if I want to.

Miley seemed sad and desperate to me the other night. Bacall, in this role, is powerful. She’s strong. And she’s sexy. She doesn’t need to rip off her clothes to prove it to us.

May we raise daughters and sons who can stand in their own power and be fully in their bodies, who may treat themselves as well as others with respect.



Put Down the Phone and Get Connected

As  I write this I’m at my neighborhood Starbucks, enjoying working in my secondary office (their patio.) Across the way is a scene I have seen repeatedly over the last week.

A parent or parents is/are out with a their child. In this case, both parents. The parents have their phones and the child has an iPad. They are all glued to their screens. At least these folks occasionally look up and share something from their electronic world. The other week I watched a mom and her son never say a word to each other as she returned phone calls and he played a game. Not a single word.

It is all  I can do not to snatch the devices out of their hands and scream at them, “Do you know how short this time is?”

Look, I’m not a Luddite. I have my laptop (on which I’m writing this.) I have my phone. I have for the moment lost my iPad and have had a difficult time weathering the change. (While hanging out watching TV with friends I’ve been known to pull the phone out. I’m trying not to do that, even thought the TV already serves as a third party in the room. It’s an easy distraction. If I’m alone, I’m working to change the habit of immediately pulling out my phone.)

I’ve been  known to give couples an assignment to text each other during day to express gratitude or appreciation. I am as beholden to Apple as anyone.

And yet what I’ m seeing more and more disturbs me more and more. Our electronics are becoming our primary relationship. We reach for it without thinking. We have become so used to being distracted we no longer realize that it is a distraction.

We are cheating each other of the gift of our attention.

And we need that gift. We all, every single one of us, need that gift. In Death of a Salesman Willy Loman’s wife declares, “Attention must be paid.” When we have one eye on a phone we cannot be fully present to another person. Being fully present creates a safe space, a space in which we can speak of our dreams and our fears, our triumphs and our stumbles.  Someone’s full attention tells us that we are valuable, that we matter more than whatever is on that little screen.

It makes a difference even when we are alone.  I want to weep when I see people out walking, hunched over their screen, completely missing all of the gifts creation is showering around them. One of the truths about paying attention is that the longer we look, the more we see. How much do we miss when we never look up?

Put down the screen.

Stop relying on Huffington Post or YouTube to give you something to talk about. Let your child’s imagination muscle be exercised even without the help of Disney.  Look to the stuff of your own day, listen to the silly story your child wants to tell. Just look around… the way the clouds are scattered across the sky, the kindness etched into the old woman’s wrinkled face, the way your coffee tastes in your mouth.

As a child  I frequently had my nose in a book, and I’ve wondered if what I did is any different from what I’m seeing now. Here’s the difference. When we went out on the porch to eat watermelon together, we were together. If I’d picked up a book I would have been told to put it down – it was rude to shut other people out that way.

Just this morning a radio show host told of going out to dinner with a group. Someone demanded that all phones be placed in the middle of the table. Anyone who picked up their phone before the evening was over had to buy a round of drinks. I can only hope they had a designated driver.

Put down the phone. Get connected.

With your family.

Your friends.

Your Self.


Been thinking about legacies lately. Not the kind that gets passed down in a will but the kind that get passed down in our hearts.

Becoming a beginnerI started thinking about it as I read a column about a World war II vet in our area. Like Forrest Gump, he always seemed to be around when history was being made: meeting Douglas McArthur, Pearl Harbor after the attacks, the flag raising at Iwo Jima, the bomb dropping at Hiroshima. I gradually realized that I knew this vet: his grandson is married to my niece. I didn’t make the connection at first because I hadn’t heard most of the stories.

Which led me to thinking about the legacy my niece’s children have. Their dad’s grandfather was a frogman, swimming underwater to find and defuse bombs before they could blow up ships. He’d gotten the job because as a boy, he’d grown up swimming. My niece’s grandfather (my father) was a sniper in Gen. Patton’s army. The work suited him not only because he was a good shot but because much of it meant working independently, freelancing, going out ahead to scout out the land and the enemy. He liked being able to do that. An artist, he could draw what he saw.

Two great grandfathers who did what they could in a terrible time. Two young men – more like boys, really – who used what they had in order to stand up to a great evil. Two men who did a job that was terrible in ways I cannot imagine, who sacrificed more than most of us know and who came home to do the mundane, priceless; blessed work of providing for and raising their families. As family legacies go, my niece and her husband could do worse.

I profoundly hope that Jack, Emma and Olivia never have to fight in a war. (If they do, Emma will be the one with combat boot bling.) I do hope, however, that they will live in the courage and commitment of their great grandfather’s legacies: that they will use what they have to make the world a better place, that if they see evil or when they see injustice they will not be afraid to oppose it. That they will work to bless the world, whether one cause at the time or one family at the time.

I hope they realize that doing such things is simply in their blood. They are the descendants of Joe and of Clive.

Family legacies can be great treasures that inspire us. Or they can be cautionary tales that we choose to rise above. What are your legacies?

A Week in Munchkinland

I’ve been working in Vacation Bible School this week. It’s made for a pretty full week – volunteering all morning, showering at lunchtime and then working at my real job all afternoon into early evening. I did it because I think it’s important to invest in the lives of the next generation.

But before you start the paperwork for my nomination for sainthood, let me confess. I mostly did it because it’s fun. Part of the fun is getting to know people I wouldn’t know otherwise. I’ve only been in this church a year. While I know a great many adults, I knew almost none of the children. I’ve also gotten to know more of the adults this week as well. In fact, my co-leader turned out to be a neighbor of mine.

We had the fun area: the games. For all of the cloudy but not raining days we’ve had this week, we do heartily give thanks.

Any week with kids is filled with priceless moments. Here are some of my favorites.

www.WestSummitBooks.comThere’s nothing sadder than the wail of a little boy: “Why do we not deserve dodgeball?” (He did get to play on the final day.)

A little girl was standing at the end of the line for a relay race. “Jesus said,” she announced to the kids around her (and especially in front of her) “that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

Preparing to play a game of freeze tag, I announced that I’d be “it” to start. A little girl protested, “But grown-ups don’t play games.”

“Who told you that?”

“My mother.” I envisioned a worn out mom reaching for any excuse and didn’t completely correct her. “Some adults play games,” I said.

“Bu not old ladies.”

Later, when the kids were begging for  a rest, I pointed out that the old lady was still going.

Throughout the week  I was reminded of some life lessons. Planning is important but flexibility is key. If “Duck, duck, goose” is still the hot game, we’ll keep on playing. If they’re hot and tired I’ll come up with something to play sitting down under the shade of the tent. If, however, they are full of energy I can lead a fierce round of “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.” It’s been over twenty years since  I was a children’s minister but some things just come back to you.

And maybe the most important lesson of all: some kids learned about God’s love from the Bible stories and teaching and the songs we sang together. Some learned it straight from the mouth of the Apostle Paul who came by to visit.

But some of them learned about God’s love for them  because there were these grown-ups (even old ladies) who played with them, hit-fived them and even let them fall on top of the old lady in a huge, squirming, giggling pile of children.

I know that this is true because when I was a kid there were adults who risked hearing loss while we pounded designs into the leather on top of wooden picnic tables, leather to be used in the coin purses we were making that would wind up holding about two dimes. There were adults who were silly with me and adults who smiled when they saw me. Adults who gave us hugs and high fives and cheered us on while we played.

My church told me God loved me. But I knew it must be true because of the way that God’s family loved me.

This church now, they lied to me though. They said that no pay came with this position. But they were wrong. I have never been paid as richly. I come to the end of the week with pair of well hugged knees.

And it doesn’t get much richer than that.