Filling in for DZ this week as the Mockingbird Conference is now in full swing!

1. Our very own Cameron Cole wrote a wonderful piece on youth ministry over at The Gospel Coalition, highlighting its strong tendency toward legalism and making a plea for a gospel-centered youth ministry.

Wanting validation for their tireless labor, youth ministers occasionally focus on behavior modification as a means of providing tangible proof of the efficacy of their ministry. A kid carrying his or her Bible to school, signing a chastity pledge, or sporting a WWJD bracelet may appear like signs of spiritual progress—the fruit of ministry labor for a youth pastor—but if these actions come out of a student misunderstanding Christianity as a code of behavior rather than heart transformation through the Holy Spirit, then they do not necessarily reflect lasting life change.

1a. Speaking of teenagers, may I offer this fantastic quote from Jonathan Franzen, via one of my favorite tumblogs:

Adolescence is best enjoyed without self-consciousness, but self-consciousness, unfortunately, is its leading symptom. Even when something important happens to you, even when your heart’s getting crushed or exalted, even when you’re absorbed in building the foundations of a personality, there comes these moments when you’re aware that what’s happening is not the real story. Unless you actually die, the real story is still ahead of you. This alone, this cruel mixture of consciousness and irrelevance, this built-in hollowness, is enough to account for how pissed off you are.

2. Last week, the cinematic version of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz debuted in theaters and the reviews are mixed (currently at 44% on rottentomatoes). The AV Club had this to say:

Blue Like Jazz tips its hand at the end, but until then, it’s a glorious anomaly: a subtle, sophisticated, open-minded, and courageously non-judgmental Christian film even non-believers can enjoy. Hallelujah!

But perhaps more damaging (and interesting) is this review from the Atlantic, who notes that the apologetic tone of the movie undercuts Christianity more than it helps it, ht AJ:

From what I’ve witnessed—in the Bible, in my own life, and in the lives of those around me—an encounter with God elicits a desire to share the good news, not to say sorry for it. This is something Miller himself seems to understand, or at least he did, at one point. Blue Like Jazz the book does not end with an apology. It ends with an exhortation. “I want you to know Jesus too,” Miller writes. That’s what knowing Jesus does—it makes you want other people to know him, as well. It’s a truth as old as the Bible itself, but it’s entirely absent from Blue Like Jazz the movie. Instead of “I want you to know Jesus,” we hear, “I want you to apologize for Jesus.” It’s a message that Hollywood itself could have delivered.

3. In a similar vein, Mark Galli posted a thoughtful response to Andrew Sullivan’s recent Newsweek article. Personally, I thought the Sullivan article had some surprisingly sympathetic moments, however Galli puts his finger on its biggest shortcoming, namely, that its somewhat presumptuous and do-it-yourself tone perhaps spoils its very appeal to love:

This thing called Christianity is a many splendored thing, in theology and in ethics. That means it’s irredeemably complex. That means, yes, there are lots of arguments among Christians. That means sometimes there is self-righteousness and mean-spiritedness, by others anyway. But in the end, it is a dappled rainbow of gifts, talents, and passions that in some mysterious way reflect the splendor of God.

And there is no other way to learn love except by plunging in with people like this. No, you don’t have to do this in a church. But followers of Jesus are specifically called to learn to live together in love—see John 14 through 17! So the church seems to be an academy of love, and the place where the love of Christ meets us more objectively, especially in word and sacrament.

4. If DZ’s recent post wasn’t enough to convince you of the brilliance of The Atlantic’s recent article about how Facebook is changing how we think about ourselves and its costly downside, consider this your second warning. Echoing the paradox of “saving your life to lose it”, author Stephen Marche makes a compelling case that Facebook has made us prisoners of our own desire to look good. Who would have though that a public forum where we must satisfy others (and our own) judgments would lead to such unhappiness? Perhaps this is why my Facebook feed is full of everyone’s cute babies, pets, and meals (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

Being happy all the time, pretending to be happy, actually attempting to be happy—it’s exhausting. Last year a team of researchers led by Iris Mauss at the University of Denver published a study looking into “the paradoxical effects of valuing happiness.” … ‘Valuing happiness is not necessarily linked to greater happiness. In fact, under certain conditions, the opposite is true. Under conditions of low (but not high) life stress, the more people valued happiness, the lower were their hedonic balance, psychological well-being, and life satisfaction, and the higher their depression symptoms’. The more you try to be happy, the less happy you are. Sophocles made roughly the same point. Facebook, of course, puts the pursuit of happiness front and center in our digital life. Its capacity to redefine our very concepts of identity and personal fulfillment is much more worrisome than the data-mining and privacy practices that have aroused anxieties about the company. Two of the most compelling critics of Facebook—neither of them a Luddite—concentrate on exactly this point. Jaron Lanier, the author of You Are Not a Gadget, was one of the inventors of virtual-reality technology. His view of where social media are taking us reads like dystopian science fiction: “I fear that we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in that process.” Lanier argues that Facebook imprisons us in the business of self-presenting, and this, to his mind, is the site’s crucial and fatally unacceptable downside.

5. If you ever needed a reason to feel sorry for Harvard graduates, I submit to you this article on the Red Book, a publication every 5 years detailing the whereabouts of all your classmates. It’s a real window into the unbearable pressures one faces when your life is built upon achievement and “putting your best foot forward”, ht SZ:

A sometimes ghastly mix of covert self-congratulation, awkward confession and wry philosophizing undercut by heavy-handed irony, Red Book prose can be an exercise in confessional self-concealment. What often emerges, after several throat-clearing paragraphs, is that life has not invariably been so good, whether the author knows it or not; and it’s that feature — the truth inadvertently revealed — that makes these thick volumes so horribly fascinating

6. Tulian Tchividjian has written another great blog post that captures the heart of St. Paul’s issue with the Law and Christianity’s hopeful promise to those who suffer under the weight of “If’s”.

The reason Paul says that Christ is the end of this law is that in the gospel God unconditionally gives the righteousness that the law demands conditionally. So Christ kicks the law out of the conscience by overcoming the voice of condemnation produced by the condition of the law….the conditional voice that says “Do this and live” gets out-volumed by the unconditional voice that says “It is finished.”

7. As if parenting wasn’t stressful enough, a new app promises to measure your child’s feeding, pooping, and sleep patterns to better inform parents of their child’s potential abnormalities and deficiencies. Buyer Beware!

8. Finally from the sad, but true, file – it seems that something is amiss in the “Bible-Belt’s” taboo approach to teenage pregnancy, ht JD: