Common Grace Flowing at the Jersey Shore

Hurricane Sandy view from Mantoloking Rd. Brick, 10/31

UNINVITED GUEST: Hurricane Sandy left many things topsy-turvy at the Jersey Shore.

Hurricane Sandy did a whole lot of mischief here at the Jersey Shore. So much so that Halloween has been canceled* by order of the governor. I doubt anyone cares. We’re too busy looking for power, gasoline, and cell service to celebrate anything more than our safety and that of our loved ones.

Any Jersey Shore native worth his or her salt has lived through a few hurricanes and many a nor’easter. Few of us has seen anything like this. Where I live two miles inland from Mantoloking, New Jersey, we lost power and saw a lot of downed trees. A mile east and all the way to the bay, the water was four feet deep yesterday. The main road is clear today, but the smell of diesel fuel is strong closer to the bay that separates us from the barrier island. Boats that were knocked off their boatyard perches and found their way into the street and onto people’s porches.

Hurricane Sandy, Mantoloking Rd., Brick, NJ

I won’t lie. I was badly frightened Sunday evening as Sandy came barreling toward us. I watched the big, old trees swaying and worried that one in particular would come crashing down in my living room. As I considered that tree, I was reminded how often we fear the wrong things. I worried, for example, about many potential threats when my children were young. Mental illness was not one of them and it killed my child.

So I didn’t let the fear of that tree get the better of me. I stayed out of the living room during the witching hour and woke up Monday to find trees down in my neighbors’ yards, but only a large branch in mine.

Hurricane Sandy view from Mantoloking Rd. Brick, 10/31

I’m about to lose hundreds of dollars worth of food in my freezer as the 48-hour window for freshness closes and ice is a distant dream. The temperature is supposed to go down to the 30s tonight, so who knows, perhaps that problem will be solved by an uncomfortable grace.

No matter what happens, like millions of other people on the East Coast, I’m reminded again how uncertain life is and how little control we have over it. What we can control is how we prepare—physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually—and how we respond. Nerves are frayed and tempers are short, my own included. But generosity and kindness are strong.

Mantoloking Rd. Rescue, Hurricane Sandy

At the Hilton Garden Inn in Lakewood, New Jersey, where many are awaiting news of their island homes, the staff has been extraordinary, even to those of us who aren’t staying in the hotel. Business has been suspended in a sense and replaced by community service and compassion. Disasters, as we repeatedly learn are common grace moments. We should treasure them, even as we mourn and struggle through. I don’t have any thoughts more profound than that today.

*Correction: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie postponed Halloween until Nov. 5. He didn’t cancel it.

*Photos courtesy Explorations Media, L.L.C. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

MTV’s Mixed Messages About Females and Teen Sexuality

′′Jersey Shore

"Jersey Shore" t-shirts for sale in Seaside Heights, New Jersey

Here at the Jersey Shore, we’re none too fond of the way MTV’s reality show “Jersey Shore” portrays our generally bucolic region as a mecca for teenage and young adult hedonism. Now, along comes the Parents Television Council (PTC) with a report that says its portrayals of females, along with those on the network’s other youth-oriented reality shows, are overwhelmingly negative.

PTC found that “only 21.4 percent of language about or directed at females was positive” and only “24 percent of what females said about themselves was positive across all shows” (“Jersey Shore,” “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom 2,” “The Real World“). Additionally, conversations about sex on these shows rarely included talk of virginity (0.2%), contraceptives (1.4%) and STDs (2%).

On one level, this news is unsurprising. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the network and from this genre of television. But two of the shows, “Teen Mom 2” and “ and “16 and Pregnant” have been conditionally lauded by feminists like Slate editor Jessica Grose.

In a 2010 blog post, Grose said, “There is actually data to support the notion that a dramatic, narrative show like ‘16 and Pregnant’ could make adolescent girls more likely to use contraception,” and in a June 2011 post, she quoted data that said watching these shows makes people more likely to support legal abortion.

“For all the pro-choicers out there who are still complaining that the fecund high schoolers of ‘16 and Pregnant’ and ‘Teen Mom’ glamorize teen pregnancy—you should stop complaining. The elevation of the stars of these shows might help abortion remain legal for future generations,” Grose concluded, in what sounded to me like a slap in the face to both teen moms and their children.

As Seen on MTV

The Jersey Shore "As Seen on MTV"

The popularity of reality television among young viewers has “generated greater interest among researchers and critics” with both groups “working to comprehend viewer motivations for watching as well as the impact of a genre rooted in stereotypical representations of gender and class, simplistic portrayals of social problems, and a disproportionate appeal to young audiences,” PTC’s report said.

Karen Dill, Director of the Media Psychology Doctoral Program at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California, is quoted as saying the stories media tells “make up much of our shared cultural ideals and therefore shape how boys and girls [feel] about themselves and their peers.”

In her 2010 post, Grose wisely noted the mixed message MTV communicates with its reality TV lineup.

“While MTV aims to send a good message with earnest shows about teen motherhood, the message gets muddled when it is in the context of the network’s other reality programming. Commercials for the current season of ’16’s’ sister show, ‘Teen Mom,’ ran around the same time as the reality juggernaut ‘Jersey Shore,’ which depicted consequence-free carousing. Why, a teenager may wonder, is [’16 and Pregnant’] Jenelle’s beach-bunny act so terrible when it looks like Snooki has so much fun behaving in a similar manner?”

Why indeed? And why, I wonder, do some feminists offer even conditional support for shows that portray young women and young mothers in such a negative light?

What do you think?

Is there anything redemptive to be found amidst MTV’s mixed messages or is its reality TV line-up pure trash?

Graham’s Diversity Push Lives On

Will Graham

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) may not be the first organization people think of as a leader in reconciliation ministry, but at the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration that took place in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, on May 20-22, the ministry’s emphasis on diversity brought Christians together to meet the spiritual needs of an ethnically, racially, and denominationally diverse population, as the legendary evangelist’s grandson, William Franklin Graham IV, and others addressed enthusiastic crowds.

“For us to move into a city and begin to work with churches, it’s understood that we look for denominational and racial inclusiveness. It’s not something that we have to be told. It’s in the BGEA DNA, and that goes back to Dr. Graham’s commitment to racial inclusiveness,” said Rod Barnett, director of BGEA’s North American crusade field staff.

Christians counseling new believers at the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration

“We look at the number of churches in each denomination and make sure that at least the top five or six denominations are represented on our executive committee. And then we look at the ethnic mix. … The strategy of each of these committees is they have a reach into each of these areas that nobody else does,” said Celebration director Terry Wilken, adding that BGEA requires women and business leaders to be represented as well.

Owen Alston is pastor of Harmony Ministries in Lakehurst, New Jersey, and was on the executive committee for the Jersey Shore Celebration. Alston said he’d met and become friends with pastors of white churches that he wouldn’t have otherwise met.

“Most of the pastors and leaders project unity. They push for it, but they still have to deal with all the people in their congregations,” said Alston.

“I’ve put extra effort into mobilizing what we would consider the black churches to get them on board and to allow this to be a tool to help break down the racial barriers. What’s unfortunate is I’m getting more negative input from the black community than I am from the white,” he said.

Alston had invited nine black pastors to participate when UrbanFaith talked to him this spring and only two had declined. UrbanFaith was unable to contact these two pastors.

“It’s always challenging convincing the churches that we want them to be involved. … That happens in almost every city,” said Wanda McCurdy, a longtime BGEA employee and the only African American staff member on site at the Jersey Shore Celebration.

“The Graham Association always goes the extra mile to make sure everyone is involved and has opportunities,” she said.

James Taylor Jr. teaching youth in preparation for the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration

James Taylor Jr. taught at a series of  youth training events before the Celebration. He had previously volunteered with BGEA after his predominantly African American church didn’t want to support its efforts to host a festival in his city, he said.

“It was kind of more of a politic thing,” said Taylor. “What are you going to do for us as blacks? But I felt like it would really help integrate our students, because what was a problem for me was that I had so many black students and white students at a predominantly African American church. … I knew when the Graham festival came, that was a way for our kids to see more diversity,” he said.

Now Taylor pastors a racially and ethnically diverse church in Portsmouth, Virginia. He said BGEA’s diversity commitment is one of the top two reasons he works with the organization.

“[Dr. Graham’s’] concept of racism was basically that it’s not just a social problem, that the root of racism is sin. The only way to overcome that sin is through Jesus Christ. It’s the changed heart of an individual. You’re not going to legislate it. He was saying you gotta’ change the human. That’s always been BGEA’s stance,” said Barnett.

Alston said denominational “spirits” are just as bad as racial ones, but both were overcome at the Celebration through the prayers of spiritually mature people.

“Our prayers were to break down these barriers. We really shouldn’t have to break them down. Jesus already did that. He broke down the wall of partition, but here again the adversary has built them back up. It takes concerted effort to [break them down] and if you don’t do it, it won’t happen,” said Alston.

Barnett recalled a 2006 event in Gainesville, Florida, where there had been a white ministerial group and a black ministerial group that had never worked together.

“As an outcome, at the end of the festival, there had been such a movement between these two groups and a softening of the heart that when we finished the festival there, two weeks after the festival, both ministerial groups met and dissolved and they formed one ministerial group,” said Barnett.

“[Dr. Graham] had one single focus and that was leading people to the cross, leading them to Christ. For us to do that way of evangelism, you work through the local church and when you work through the local church and that is your single focus, one of the outcomes is a better sense of unity,” he said.

On June 25-26, BGEA will hold its first ever bi-lingual American Hispanic Festival at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. According to its website, more than 600 Hispanic churches are involved.

“The Hispanic population in southern California is looked at and treated many times as second-class citizens,” Festival co-chair Danny de Leon told BGEA. “For a Crusade to come for them sends a very important message that they are loved and cared for.”

Barnett said Franklin Graham’s interest in this community is born of his passion for people.

“You look back through Dr. Graham, and you look back with Franklin and with Will, there is a passion to reach people for Christ. And with them, it doesn’t make a difference who they are, where they’ve come from, what their background is, what color their skin is. They realize that everyone stands in need of the savior, and they want to reach as many people as they possibly can,” said Barnett.