Learning my lines . . .
. . . discovering what it means to follow Jesus, seeing my story swept up into his . . .

VMA Hangover. . . Thoughts The Morning After. . .

cyrus vma 1We drill it home all the time here at CPYU. . . Culture is a map and a mirror.  As a map, it guides us through life. . . telling us what to believe and how to live in the world. As a mirror, it reflects back to us things that we might pass over, ignore, or otherwise miss. While it’s much more complex than this, youth culture in its most basic sense maps out life for our kids. For those of us who are adults, it helps us see the maps our kids are following so that we can offer biblical affirmation or correctives where needed.

And then there was last night’s MTV Video Music Awards. . . a map taking our kids right into the midst of a massive moral, ethical, spiritual, and lifestyle train wreck.

I watched from start to finish. I took notes. I went to bed. . . and could hardly sleep. This morning, I’m trying to gather and record my thoughts. . . and I’m not sure where to begin, what to say in the middle, or how to bring it all to a conclusion. I’ve watched since the first VMAs aired in 1984. Since then, the envelope has stretched far beyond whatever one could think or imagine. Last night, it stretched so far that I wonder how close we are to our cultural snapping point.  A couple of hours into the show I posted these words on Facebook: “I don’t think it’s a matter of my age. Rather, I think it’s the accelerated rate of cultural change. Tonight’s VMAs are an example of how our celebration and embracing of brokenness is increasing. Sadly, most will watch and enjoy as it’s all been normalized. Many will watch and learn. . . then emulate. It is more over the top than ever. I feel grief. . . and a sense of urgency regarding telling kids the truth. . .”

So as my head spins this morning and while it will take a significant amount of time for me to think/discuss it all through to the point of making some kind of sense out of the non-stop three-ring morally-chaotic-circus that was last night’s VMAs, here are some initial dis-jointed thoughts. . . and I would love to hear your thoughts too (comment, please, if you will). . .

  • We have been made to worship. In the Garden, we worshiped the One who made us. When it all came undone (Genesis 3:6), our worship continued. . . except now we invest our time, thoughts, money, energy, and allegiance into worshiping all kinds of created things. It continues today. If you were to ask me what it is we as a culture worship based on what I saw last night, we continue to divinize what the Scriptures call the world, the flesh, and the devil.
  • The show’s host, Miley Cyrus, continues to speak, sing, dress, and do just about anything and everything to breakdown and redefine our parameters for decency and civility. Last night, Cyrus offered up an in-your-face barrage of bravado, profanity, breast-flashing, boasting, and border-less sexuality that is redefining what it means to be human, to flourish, and to be a woman. The show was centered from start to finish on Cyrus. I was reminded of a piece I wrote on “How To Make A Pop Star” several years ago. Cyrus has lived up to and beyond the formula I wrote about back then. . . offering our vulnerable and impressionable young kids a powerful, life and attitude-shaping example.
  • Narcissism is the order of the day. We care about, worship, and serve ourselves. As a result, the on-stage public bickering between pop icons is no surprise. Nicki Minaj calls out Miley Cyrus. Kanye West rambles on and on after receiving his Video Vanguard Award. His self-centered ramblings followed a sustained ovation which, at one point, included the crowd chanting “Yeezus! Yeezus! Yeeszus!” (Sounded eerily like “Jesus” . . and the title of his 2013 album. . . also a reference to West’s calling himself “Jesus”). Even Big Sean, when receiving his award for Video With A Social Message (“One Man Can Change The World”) bragged up how he is doing good through his foundation.
  • We love our marijuana. Kanye West told the crowd that his ramblings were fueled and shaped by smoking pot before the show. Miley Cyrus asked some friends to join her to take a selfie and told them all to scream “Marijuana!” in place of “Cheese!” Miley’s final song, “Dooo It!” featured Cyrus singing with The Flaming Lips, “Yeah I smoke pot, yeah I love peace/But I don’t give a f___, I ain’t no hippie. . .” It’s clear that our attitudes on mind-altering drugs are quickly changing. Perhaps life is so unfulfilling that our need to escape the realities of our chosen meaningless existence are increasing.
  • During his speech, Kanye West offered up a first-hand glance at how the postmodern worldview that we began talking about twenty years ago has taken root, grown, and is now bearing pragmatic fruit in how we think and act. West basically said, “Hey. . . we’re Millennials. . . we can do and say whatever we want.” What our kids are losing. . . very quickly. . . is an inheritance of history, legacy, and wisdom from prior generations. On a side note, we are seeing this reality lived out more and more in the church.
  • Dis-integration. In other words, the long-running trend in the music world to talk about faith without living that faith. . . well, it continues. Exhibit A from last night’s VMAs: Nicki Minaj thanking her Pastor when receiving her Best Hip-Hop Video Award for “Anaconda.” It’s not just happening with pop icons. We are seeing it in the church and our own lives.
  • LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 30: Host Miley Cyrus performs onstage during the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on August 30, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/MTV1415/Getty Images)Hyper-sexuality void of borders and boundaries in terms of both our sexual practices and sexual identity choices. Anything is an option. It’s a narcissistic me-first kind of sexuality that takes God’s good gift and totally drains it of any kind of God-glorifying indulgence. Rather, we indulge our sexuality however we desire and please. It was there from start to finish last night. Some examples. . . Demi Lovato’s steamy live performance of “”Cool For the Summer” with Iggy Azalea. . . mentions and celebrations of the SCOTUS decision. . . Cyrus’s final performance being introduced by a parade of transgendered, etc. folks from her Happy Hippie Foundation. . . her actual performance of “Dooo It!” featuring a stage full of dancing drag queens. . . and Taylor Swift’s steamy new video for “Wildest Dreams” along with these words she uttered when receiving her “Video of the Year” award: “I’m just happy that in 2015 we live a world where boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.”
  • One striking reality last night. . . where were all the older and more mature artists who are making some of the most thoughtful music? Last night’s VMAs celebrated and trumpeted the youngest the music industry has to offer. Any maturity and grounding that exists in the music industry was absent. . . both onstage and in the audience. The music industry. . . like our culture. . . has been juvenalized.

And that’s just the start. there’s so much more. Of course, watching the VMAs or any other cultural artifact like it should end for us in action. The map and mirror should result in marching orders. So, here’s what I’m thinking about today in terms of our response. . .

  • Biblical literacy is a thing of the past. . . . which means, that we need to make it a priority now. God has revealed Himself, His will, and His way in His Word. . . both the Incarnate Word Jesus and the written word of the Bible. Are we making it a priority to guide ourselves and kids into an understanding of who God is, who we are, and God’s plan for who we are?
  • We need to be praying for our kids, for our selves, for parents, and for the culture.
  • The prevailing belief is that freedom gives us the right to say and do anything I want to say and do. We need to understand how these shackles of brokenness are so deceptive. We need to embrace a lifestyle of freedom in Christ.
  • We need to teach our kids principles of discernment. . . specifically worldview and media discernment. They need to be able to watch and critique from a biblical perspective.
  • There is a desperate need for us to nurture the young artists among us into the responsible development and exercise of their creative gifts. Artistry in the popular music industry is rapidly disappearing. We need to equip a generation of responsible, mature, thoughtful, and excellent culture-makers.
  • By the end of the show, I posted this little message on Facebook: “The Miley Cyrus finale on the VMAs. . . Romans 1:16-32 just came to life for me in ways that it never has before. Praying for a generation tonight. . .” Sad.
  • I went to bed reminding myself of these words from the Psalmist that bring great comfort: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne” (Psalm 11:3&4). Awesome!

Again, I apologize for the disjointedness of my thoughts and comments. For those of you who can venture into this year’s VMAs, it’s all online for you to watch. Do so prayerfully.

To go back to what I said at the top. . . about the map and mirror of youth culture, this little intro piece that was used last night to introduce Kanye West’s Video Vanguard Award speaks powerfully about the power of culture and the artists who make it. Let it shape your response. . .


26 Responses

  1. Perhaps a word of hope…posted by a young friend (24) who makes no claims to Christian faith:
    “The MTV music video awards honestly make me feel embarrassed to be part of this generation.”

  2. Walt, great article and review/commentary of the night. For correctness sake: During Kanye’s rambling I’m pretty sure the crowd was actually chanting “Yeesus” not “Jesus” which is the combination of Yeezy, Kanye West’s nickname, and Jesus. It’s also the name of one of his albums.

    1. Kerry – good catch on your part! I went back and listened more closely a second time. You were right and I stand corrected! Made the necessary edits with a clarifier.

      1. No problem! As a fellow student of youth culture, I appreciated the article and found it spot on. Didn’t want anyone to be able to blow it off on a technicality. Keep up the good work!

  3. I watched the VMA’s last night with my daughter, in horror of how solid her attention was on every performance. She is at an age where everything in the media and our culture is molding her and I fear for her. The VMA’s, the music, the poor taste in fashion, vulgarity, and less than tasteful display of sexuality were the worst part of our inexcusable display of American culture. I will continue to pray for their generation with you. Thank you for your opinon.

    1. Tamara, I must ask myself why you didn’t turn the station if you thought it was that bad. You allowed your daughter to be exposed to the “VMA’s, the music, the poor taste in fashion, vulgarity, and less than tasteful display of sexuality. . .” And you subtly condoned the behavior by not changing the channel. Prayer IS our most powerful weapon. But we must also take action, and it begins in our own homes.

  4. Thanks Walt for this great summary and reminder of how important it is to help students be discerners of truth.
    LOL – when I went to watch the intro to Kanye West’s Video Vanguard Award, the ad was for “Trojan Studded Bear Skin Condoms”……

  5. My heart broke with the little bit I saw on the morning news. And I did not watch further the link you posted than perhaps 60 seconds. I had seen enough. I am a Youth Minister and I pray and fight for the hearts and minds of our teens daily. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for some teens whose very young parents still make the kinds of choices for them that are not mindful of the wisdom and guidance they need for a God focused life. They can listen to others but if it is not modeled for them by people they trust, it is so difficult to learn. I shall ask them at one of our first gatherings who watched the VMAs and what they thought. It should be interesting to see who shares what. Until then I will pray for our youngest generation. God is more powerful than any forces earth can feed them.

  6. Walt,
    I am so very grateful for your concern for our youth! I thought when we first met 20 + years ago things were bad. But now……?
    I turned on the VMA’s last night for about 10 minutes. (Mostly because it was on just about every network.) I was not only appalled by the show, but also by the commercials. I just don’t get it, and could not bear to watch any longer. I, too, still had a sleepless night.
    I know you are working your hardest to “save” our kids from this culture, and again, my husband and I are grateful and will support you all we can.
    As for my part, I am getting on my knees and humbly asking God to heal our land and as Rend Collective sings, “win this nation back”! And then going out to love some kids as Christ loves us!

  7. Watching clips of the VMA’s just made me sad. At 36 years old i have had a front row seat to our society’s rapidly changing morals. Most of the time i struggle with how to respond. What do i tell my daughters who are 15, 13, 12? How do i be honest with the world around me, while making them feel as though God love’s them? How do i share The Truth in a way that doesn’t make them feel condemned?

    1. Dear Chris,
      Unless someone believes in Jesus Christ as Lord, they are condemned and they should rightly feel condemned. How can a person even repent if they do not understand they are condemned? We do a disservice to the Gospel if we can’t explain the enormity of grace God offers. The important thing is to not leave it at the condemnation, but make sure they understand God’s love was so great He Himself provided the way to free us from the condemnation and to put us firmly under His grace.

  8. I wish I had taken Walt’s suggestions seriously as a must. I didn’t 🙁 I DVR it hoping to get through it as quickly as possible without the commercials. I started to watch it alone at 10pm. I was sick to my stomach. My heart was so heavy that I felt lethargic. I actually fell asleep probably after Demi Lovato. My physical body couldn’t handle it…..one thing I want to share is when Nicki Minaj thanked her Pastor, I felt God is saying “I AM” to me. I also thought of God speaking through Balaam’s donkey. I was going to look up where she goes to church. I am deciding whether to watch the rest of it or not?

  9. I’m 30, technically a millennial, though kind of on the edge. I think this generation is great. I believe we/they are more inclusive and open-minded than the previous generations, less judgmental, better travelled and aware of other cultures and lifestyles, more aware of the environmental impact of our choices, more able and willing to take risks and try to improve the world rather than get a 9-5 job and waste our lives doing the dirty work of a large evil corporation. We are less consumerist and are less likely to have lots of large screen TVs and fancy toys around, and spend our money on experiences rather than material possessions. Overall, a smarter, more open-minded generation that values individual rights and liberty more than any that came before it.

    Instead of judging other people and trying to impose *your* values (I’m sure you believe they are universal human values, but no, if you travel the world you will see that they are merely the values of yourself and the people around you), a millennial would focus on her own goals and aspirations, while fighting to protect other people’s right to follow their own dreams.

    You call it self-centered, I call it accepting. You call it “hyper-sexual”, I say people are different in their sexual desire and some may be more sexual than others, let them be. You say “dis-integration”, I believe it’s religious liberty, allowing everyone to connect with their faith the way they want to. You call it “border-less sexuality” I say you can have your own borders, don’t impose your borders on other people. You are worried about breasts flashing, don’t flash your breasts! Besides, what’s wrong with it, are women’s bodies not natural?

    I think you want the younger generation to respect your generation and look at you for guidance. Why would they? People from your generation have to constantly reach out and ask for help from millennials in their own family to do basic things, like book hotels, store their photos, find out how to get from A to B without getting stuck in traffic forever, to connect with their old friends, etc. Then your generation says things like, “women shouldn’t show their nipples” which is a random, baseless rule. Put yourself in the shoes of a millennial. Your rules don’t make any logical sense, and you’re not very good at navigating this world. Why would they respect your authority?

    1. DB, can’t figure out if you are being sarcastic or not. If not then hear this: the vast majority of those who came before you into this world (incl the generation immediately before you) are more concerned for the generation you desperately want to be a part of than any other we have seen before.

      1. DB, your reply scares me. The new generation scares me. “Do what you want – when you want – how you want!” Whatever happened to morality, decency, and self-respect? I’m pretty much shocked into silence at this point. God help us all.

    2. Are you serious? The free living you speak of is your own interpretation of how you should live, and as for the technology you speak of was created by your elders while you were still shitting in your pants! Have some respect for yourself.
      Really not sure why anyone is surprised the bible told us many years ago this is what we would face! Pray for the youth.

      Romans 1:18-32
      God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity
      18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

      21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

      24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

      26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

      28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those that practice them

    3. DB, I feel so sad and sorry that I (the older generation with a BS in Biochemistry and a MS in Physical Chemistry) have contributed to the image you described above imposing my eternal values on the next generation of millennials. This older generation as you described is not very smart, is very closed mined, is anti individual rights and liberty and is helpless depending the next generation to do very simple things of life 🙁

      I am sure you, DB, do not have any sons or daughters in their teens, 20s or 30s! What a stupid question you are asking, Salina! It just goes to show you belong to the older stupid generation, Salina….. Ok, one more stupid question – DB, do you live at home to assist your helpless parents?

      I wonder if I felt the same way when I was 30 about my older generation? Absolutely did! It is human nature as God has told us….. Wait….No, I think I felt that way a lot earlier when I was 18 and by the time I was 30, I appreciated everything my parents have done for me and they were a lot wiser than I originally thought! Hope is in the air! Love is in the air! Time (a lot of time) is in the air!

      Census Bureau: 30.3% Millennials Still Living With Their Parents, February 17, 2015 http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/ali-meyer/census-bureau-303-millennials-still-living-their-parents

  10. I just finished watching the chaos that was the end of the show. And then I happened upon this post from an old high school friend. After reading your notes, I’m likening Myley’s last ‘performance’ to when everyone was going nuts while Moses was up on the mountain. Pure disgusting insanity. I truly worry for us, our children and our grandchildren. It was hard trying to raise one young man to be a good and believing person in this crazy world. And now his children are going to grow up in this chaos. I try to teach and lead by example. And I pray…

  11. I watched the VMA’s with 2 inner city faith-based 17-year-olds. My teen’s usual response with most things Miley is, ” You know mom, she fell apart when her parents divorced.” Last night the gals saw most of her antics as disgusting and wished someone really funny would have hosted. They watched the show because they love music & creativity… and when the creativity & music were good, it was really good.

    It just seems to me that we, “the church at large” need to take other approaches and possibly think deeper about how to creatively contextualize and engage teens more effectively. Teens are attracted to the depth of music and thought in these events… they’re creative, emotive and soul-engaging. Church is simply not that for many. Engagement for teens has to be fresh, relevant and go beyond dual-thinking contextualized teaching and top-down presentations. Those methods don’t inspire or engage most teens(& yes, of course, they need good biblical teaching). Shane Claiborne talks a lot about this in his classic, Irresistible Revolution.

    Also, I thought Justin Bieber’s performance was over-the-top amazing. That guy has lived on the fringe and struggled making good choices the past couple of years; but, his comeback last night was incredibly moving. This older-than-dirt mama would even suggest spiritual, as much as others could be abhorred by me saying that. Again, that’s where I think we need to start thinking and aligning our everyday orthopraxy a lot more like Jesus. So, I’m praying good for that guy, hoping something special for his return to the music scene… for the common good and inspiration of all!

  12. Video music awards? Ironically the one thing NOT being celebrated was music. It was a celebration of gratuitous vulgarity and a debauched culture. It’s not surprising given the constant and consistent thinning of our nation’s (and the world’s) moral fiber but what’s more disappointing than what MTV saw fit to spoon out to our youth, for me, will be the lack of those with a moral pulse to decry the event. Thank you Walt, thank you CPYU, thank you youth workers, and thank you so much to everyone who’s helping guide this generation of youth to a maturing relationship with Christ! Stay encouraged!!!

  13. I watched from start to finish and I wish I could say I was shocked and horrified, but as I see the “ANYTHING goes if it feels good/right” mentality, I realize it is only going to get worse. As a father and youth minister, I just daily ask God for wisdom on how to teach my kids to seek God first, to look at the culture with the lens of the Word and from eyes of a pure Jesus. I pray for them to have strength to realize they have the strength and the power to stand up and be different, that God is asking that of us and to take pride in that. I pray for wisdom on how to be different, to be loving but not accepting, to be angry at sin but not hateful, to run from evil but lovingly encourage those around them to follow.

    At the end of the day, we have to realize that this is the way of the world and the devil, and where I hope and pray for the massive revivals that once were (and could possibly be again), I realistically want to protect my kids and teach them to rescue back our lost one at a time through personal relationship and without compromise.

    I pray for our world, but I also live my LIFE to equip and train our children to live differently, and to let the scales fall from our eyes and see as God sees. And bring change.

  14. I choose not to watch as I figured it would be all that you’ve said it was. As a Creative Arts Director for my church, working with youth who are drawn to theatre and dance as a way to celebrate and expand the Kingdom of God I really appreciate you sharing this truth prospective. I am constantly reminded of how the same people the Lord filled with His Spirit to build his Holy Temple with incredible and beautiful artistic detail, turned around and used those same talents to not just build, but worship a golden calf. The difference between dead art and living art – so huge.

  15. No one’s mentioned Twenty One Pilots performing! TOP is Christian to the core, so it’s incredible they’ve entered that world to be such a positive influence. Tyler’s whole thing—and you can see this all over their lyrics—is about deterring high school kids from suicide. I’ve been at shows where he’s led crowds of thousands of people (in a secular venue) in the chorus Phil Wickham’s “Beautiful.” It’s perfect they were at the VMAs. The Kingdom of God is a yeast that works it’s way in, wheat surrounded by weeds that can’t be pulled up (Matt 13).

  16. I think even this generation is starting to wake up to the excessive and profane self-indulgence of these multi-millionaires. This year’s VMAs had the worst TV ratings ever despite being on several channels.

    One can tolerate the sewers of life trying to find meaning but after a while, you realize there are better options.

  17. Very sad at what I saw. The music industry being dumbed down by a bunch of pot smoking, sex addicted youth. The pot has clearly affected their minds. And, people say pot can be used recreationally with no harm. I beg to differ. We taped it for our daughter and after about 10 minutes turned it off. She was interested in seeing her favorite band receive an award, but it ends up that they did not win an award on this show. She didn’t argue with us about turning it off because I think she knew in her heart that it was over the top. I have sense deleted it from my DVR. MTV has always pushed the limits, but this was too much!! I will not watch this show ever again. Nothing classy about it. Pure trash!!

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