The Man in the Mirror: Michael Jackson and the National Youth Workers Convention mash-up

Los Angeles – arguably one of the most “American” cities you will ever visit.  Flash and image swirl around you in the reflections of 100 foot video billboards, half the television shows in the past twenty years are shot in a 10 mile radius of Wilshire and Figueroa in downtown where I am currently writing this blog at the pool side of an old 50’s faux Moroccan hotel: everything feels like a canceled TV show on Nick at Nite down to the extras walking across the street.

I am in LA this time at the National Youth Workers Convention.  This is the Superbowl of youth leader events if the Superbowl was only the halftime show and there was no game and held in a strip mall.  And perhaps that is my worry as I watch over 1,000 youth workers running around with the latest messenger bag with hip flare pins on the strap:  has youth ministry become only the halftime show and no game?  The Big Room events capture this perfectly:  huge expensive stage show with set musicians cranking out great covers of Stevie Wonder while the MC throws plastic frisbees probably made in a sweat shop in China to the cheering crowd who have spend the day grabbing as many free pens, T-Shirts, and funky USB drives from the booths as they could get their hands on… ‘consumerism sanctified’ to be sure.

Just outside the Convention Center where this is all taking place another gathering of the faithful has assembled:  hundreds of Michael Jackson fans have gathered around the Staples Center awaiting the premiere of the posthumous concert film of their dead hero.  For days they have been gathering, sitting in lawn chairs, dressed like MJ and iPod docking stations blasting out his back catalog for all on Figueroa to hear.  Votive candles have been lit and flowers left under a huge wall of messages written in memorium.

Both groups have gathered because someone died.  Both groups seek to honor their hero.  Both are also driven and defined by the products and merchandise that is being sold to give form to their faithfulness: CDs, T-Shirts, concerts, DVDs, books, hats, etc.

Question: if we switched the groups, traded the faithful at each gathering and televised it to the world, would the masses be able to tell the difference?  Could someone just watching behavior see which “King” is being lauded and worshiped?

I suppose like MJ I am wondering who IS the man in the mirror after all?

(Update five minutes later  – Right after posting this, I walked into the Big Room session and caught the end of the talk.  I was feeling like perhaps I had been too pointed in my reflections.  Then the speaker handed the microphone to a singer who launched into “a song to have in our heads as we think about change…”  The song?  Yup… MJ’s “Man in the Mirror”  Oh sigh… )

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  1. ” has youth ministry become only the halftime show and no game?”

    Sadly, yes I think so. I think it has been that way for many years. I wish I knew how to fix it.

    Same with regular church worship gatherings though. The teaching is still good, but lately I feel like I am going to “the show” instead of going to worship God on Sunday mornings. I definitely don’t feel a sense of deep connection with Him, or with my fellow believers, while I am there. And while plenty of people are attempting to live out their faith incarnationally, they seem to do so only within their own previously formed cliques. With everyone else, they seem to think it is sufficient to be friendly without going to the trouble of making room in their lives for a real friend. Even if they are sincere in their friendliness, the lack of depth makes it all seem so artificial. How do we open the door to genuine connections with each other in the church, and with the world around us?

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