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By Christopher Stefanick
Okay, I admit it. I have Bieber Fever. I caught it from my pre-teen daughter after I took her to see “Never Say Never.” It’s a low-grade fever, though I’m thinking of starting a men’s support group. It’s not his music (which is decent); it’s his potential as an accidental evangelist of millions of pre-teens that has me excited about him. Did I say millions? I meant tens-of-millions.
I’ve been in youth ministry for 13 years and I’ve never seen a craze sweep through teen culture like the one this kid has started. I simply mentioned his name during a talk at a recent junior high rally. I’ll never do that again. The 60/40 split of ecstatic cheers versus infuriated “off with his head” screams was literally deafening. It took some time to regain control of the room.
No one is neutral in the world of pre-teens. They love or hate him with a strange obsession. Perhaps the obsession is because pre-teens feel that he alone represents them in the realm of the famous. And perhaps their feelings run so high because this generation seems to think that realm is all that matters—though that’s a cultural tragedy for another article. But whatever the reason, pre-teens are obsessed. His video for “Baby” is the most viewed YouTube clip of all time, with 471,280,334 hits as of today. It’s steadily climbing toward a billion.
Given the potential impact this kid can have on countless young souls, I breathed a sigh of relief after seeing “Never Say Never.” Thank God, he’s on “our side” for now. Bieber isn’t trying to evangelize. He’s just a good Christian kid who is trying to be himself, and his movie sends some messages that teens need to hear.
Unlike “faith-based” movies that sometimes ungracefully insert Christianity into the picture, “Never Say Never” presents faith as a very natural part of daily life, and it does so without trying. The teen icon and his mom pray multiple times throughout the movie. He even leads his friends in grace in a public restaurant. It’s clear that faith is a part of who he is and that he’s not ashamed of it.
The movie highlights the pre-eminent importance of family life. Justin’s family isn’t a perfectly intact one, but mom is ever backing him on the road and his grandparents love him to death. The movie also accurately depicts how the proud tears of his dad mean more than the screams of a million fans.
In an era where kids make gods of their pop stars, “Never Say Never” portrays Justin Bieber as a human being. Once he steps off the stage, he’s just a kid. It shows him playing with friends, trying hard to stay normal, and studying with a tutor on his tour bus.
This movie sends a clear message that success isn’t free—a much needed lesson for a generation that tends to think that the world owes them something. Sure, Bieber displayed an unusual amount of God-given talent from age 2 and was “discovered” on YouTube, but he works like a dog, and the pop-umentary makes it clear that if he didn’t, his talent would take him nowhere. It depicts his painful desire for a normal life. It shows him sick as a dog for days on a crowded tour bus. There’s even a scene where his vocal coach offers him an out if he wants to stop sacrificing so much. He chooses to press on, knowing that ongoing success and ongoing sacrifice will continue to go hand in hand.
The most powerful message from the movie comes from Justin’s mom, Pattie Mallette: “I want Justin to be able to find his identity and worth, not from what he can do, but from who he is.” Pre-teens are often so desperate to be someone that they tend to forget they are someone.
I’m not holding Justin Bieber up as a pre-eminent theologian. I’m not canonizing him either. Nor am I saying he’s beyond falling. But if Christians just let him be a good, God-loving kid without trying too hard to make him their poster-child, if the record industry doesn’t force him into the confines of a cookie-cutter liberal agenda, and if the family who loves him is able to keep him out of temptation’s way on the road, Justin will be an accidental evangelist for years to come.
Those are some big “ifs.” I’m praying for you little brother.
Christopher Stefanick is director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver. To read more columns by Chris, click here. His personal website can be found at www.chris-stefanick.com.
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