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There's nothing like a cross-country car trip to test your sanity—and give God a chance to grab your attention. My family and I had been on the road for about ten hours, making our way south into Texas and some major wide-open spaces. The kids were nodding off. My wife was reading. I was keeping my eyes peeled for kamikaze armadillos. That's when I had my Twilight Zone moment.

I looked out the window at the trees lining the highway, and was surprised to see them all leaning north at a 70-degree angle. "Windy day," I thought. But wait a minute. It didn't sound blustery. Any Texas-sized gust capable of bending trees that violently surely would be buffeting the side of our van. The only noise was the engine's steady hum. So I cracked the window to feel for a breeze. Nothing. Yet for miles around, trees several stories tall kept leaning in unison like a bunch of investors craning their necks to hear from E.F. Hutton.

Bizarre. Was I cracking up? Had I been behind the wheel too long? Maybe 142 rounds of "The Wheels on the Bus" were starting to take their toll. Then it dawned on me. Calm was the exception on this stretch of highway. The mighty wind that commonly whipped across those wide-open plains had been so strong and so frequent that even when it subsided, the trees' character was forever changed. Their posture stood as a testimony to the forces that had been acting on them for years.

Our children are a lot like those trees. Just as nature pushed the saplings in a particular direction and applied great force over time, popular culture also exerts pressure on our kids that can't help but affect the way they lean as they mature. They get "trained up" to bend in a certain direction. I'll never forget one such breeze that grabbed my attention. It was from the TV show America's Most Talented Kid, which was essentially Star Search for the pre-Clearasil crowd. A 5-year-old boy referring to himself as Lil' Max$o performed a rap that wowed the judges and had the crowd on its feet. The kindergartner pranced around the stage and grabbed at his crotch like an experienced gangsta. Rhymes flowed with ease. He gave a shout out to the ladies and had their hands in the air. Where did he get those moves? No doubt from watching the pros. Nelly. Eminem. Jay-Z. 50 Cent. Barely old enough to tie his shoes, Lil' Max$o was already leaning in their direction. The boy's dad (who co-wrote the braggadocios rap for his son) beamed with pride. Clearly, his trunk was bent a long time ago.

Comparing people to trees may sound odd, but it's actually biblical. In the book of Isaiah, the prophet warns a rebellious nation, "You will be like an oak with fading leaves" (1:30) and tells Jacob his offspring will rise up "like poplar trees by flowing streams" (44:4). In Psalm 37:35, David equates a ruthless man flourishing in his wickedness to a "green tree in its native soil." It is in that spirit that I compare this generation to those trees deep in the heart of Texas.

An occasional blast of cultural crud may rattle a teen's branches or dislodge a few leaves. A mighty media storm may even take down a limb or two. But the young people I'm most worried about are those constantly exposed to heavy gusts of sexual imagery, stylized violence and wholesale deception that will bend them farther and farther away from the outstretched hand of Christ. That's where you and I come in. We need to serve as cultural windbreakers, deflecting the gale force so that teenagers can grow straight and strong.

Nineteenth century poet Christina Rossetti wrote, "Who has seen the wind?/Neither you nor I/But when the trees bow down their heads/The wind is passing by." The winds of culture aren't invisible to us. However, they can go unnoticed by young people, many of whom bow to their whispers without even realizing it.

Published May 2011