The Loss of Innocence


Bratz—JadeI live in an area of the country that suffers from “chronophobia,” the fear of keeping up with the times. LA is about eight years ahead of us, and even our major Midwestern neighbor to the northwest, Chicago, is about five. I can’t point to the chapter and verse, but it’s a foregone conclusion the Rapture for righteous Greater Cincinnatians will occur at least three years after the fact.

When you live in a “backward” area, things that are “forward” startle you. I was jolted this last week by a seven-year-old boy in Kroger yelling to a woman who was clogging up an aisle, “Get out of my way, you fat f***.”

Besides being glad that my son was not with me to hear that, my unconscious response was to run the mental wayback machine to California, 1996. My wife and I were new arrivals, but we understood the vibe well enough to know we were “not in Kansas anymore.” The tape ran and ran, but I don’t remember kids in the Valley launching a tirade like the one I’d just now heard.

Still, it had to come from the coasts. Doesn’t that kind of filth crawl Godzilla-like out of the Atlantic and the Pacific, aiming to meet in the heartland, like some hell-tinged rendition of the driving of the golden spike?

I was in the new Wal-Mart about a half hour from us (tore down the regular “Center” and replaced it with a “Supercenter”) and was fascinated by the 40″+ flat panel displays strategically placed throughout the store playing “The Wal-Mart Channel.” A video by some new teenage singing sensations was looping, young people re-enacting everything they’d seen in Mountain Dew commercials throughout their young lives.

I could not stop watching that loop. This time my son was with me, pulling my arm with both hands, near-screaming, “Daddy, let’s go!”

There, in the eyes of those kids.

If you’ve ever seen the open eyes of someone freshly deceased, then you’ve seen that look. There’s nothing there in those eyes. Emptiness defines them. Even a child knows that something is missing when he or she sees the eyes of a corpse.

Those two dozen teens in that music video loop channeled that same deadness. Behind the eye liner and mascara was a vast nothingness.

After my son was practically biting my thigh trying to get me to stop watching corpses dance to the music, I could not stop staring at the under-20 crowd that filed past me everywhere we went the rest of that day. How had I—for so long—missed the ungrateful dead?

It’s miserable spotting a worn fifteen-year-old suburban girl you know could teach a fin de siècle Parisian hooker a thing or two. Madonna may have been a tramp in my era, but this girl is something altogether different. She may not even be human, at least as we define it. I’ve seen mannequins with more expressive faces. If there was a soul in that kid once, it vacated a while ago.

But more than anything else, I want to apologize to that zombie of a girl for my generation. We let her generation down. Our harebrained youth ministry experiments, our obsession with our careers, our self-centeredness—we allowed the Enemy to gut them while we slept on our watch.

Or maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe we did care, but we got stuck fighting so many endless battles against wickedness that we had to compromise somewhere. The low-rider jeans were too trivial to fight. It could be something worse; she could be doing crystal meth.

I just can’t get over the vacant stares.

What’s the entry point for death in our children? One day our sons are playing in the sandbox with their Tonka trucks and our daughters are having tea time with their stuffed animals, then the next they’re passing around rubber wristbands that signify what sex acts they’ve successfully completed, or strangling each other to the point of passing out—for the “fun” of it.

Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years.

Sure, we’ll get some PhD pedagogue regaling us with tales of the Dark Ages and the need for kids to grow up fast back then, but childhood today seems to be measured in seconds anymore. When girls in the first grade consider Barbie a toy for preschoolers, and boys have abandoned G.I. Joe as young as six, maybe picoseconds would be a better measure of the length of childhood.

It gives me the willies to think of my own son encountering one of these kids who’s a fifty-year-old in a ten-year-old’s body. I used to think they only minted those out on the coasts, but when I hear a seven-year-old neighborhood boy calling an adult woman a “fat f***,” I’ve got to wonder if someone’s firing up a local franchise.

The soap hasn’t wound up in anyone’s mouth around here, yet. I’m not looking forward to that day. My son got out some Blue’s Clues tapes the other day and watched them almost nostalgically, eyes wide and still sparkling. I watched with him for a few minutes. Though I knew he wouldn’t want to stop watching, I let him go, even if knew he’d ultimately sit there for two hours. Why? Because the precious gift that God has bestowed on him is indeed that.

And once you’ve lost it…

19 thoughts on “The Loss of Innocence

  1. Weekend Fisher

    You die inside when you have no hope. You hate other people and hurt other people when that’s all that you have in you; out of the overflow of the heart and all that. There’s an antidote for those “zombies”, that’s all. We only fail them if we see them and run away. They’re “the lost” that we’re supposed to find. They’re not hard to find now.

  2. Dan McGowan

    Hi Dan.

    This may not sit well with some of the readers – – but I have a few comments.

    First, the problem is not coastal – it’s conditional – the condition of our hearts. It’s not a “California” or “New York” issue – and the heartland is not being destroyed by all those mean people in the east and west. Such thinking is just one of the reasons that girl you feel bad for is the way she is – because she is growing up in a world where it really doesn’t seem to make a difference if someone is a Christian or not… People are still jerks to each other, affixing blame horizontally when it should be going vertically (towards the evil one).

    Second – As Brian McLaren has said, God’s plan is NOT “the Christian religion” but, rather, “The Kingdom of God.” But we believers continue to miss this fundamental truth. We don’t really believe the popular statement, “Just Give Me Jesus.” Instead (as I said on my blog) we say, “Just Give Me Jesus – Plus!” And then we add stuff to that… But Jesus really is ALL that we NEED. And until we realize that, accept that, and model that – all future generations are doomed. So, I agree that it might be our generation’s fault that a young woman would end up as this, or that a 7-year old boy would use such colorful language… but it’s NOT because youth leaders chose stupid games!! It’s because CHRISTIANS don’t really pursue JESUS – and Him only.

    Not sure if you ever saw the movie, “The Village” by M. Night Shamamamamamamamamma… (I can’t spell his last name) – but it is a very powerful film – especially if you watch it THINKING of the American church… if you’ve not seen it, rent it and watch it – and think of the American Church as you do. It will tug at your heart and, perhaps, give you a bit more insight into the boy who says F*** and the girl with the missing soul…

  3. John Schroeder

    Out here in California Dan – cussing at you would require they pay some sort fo attention to you.

    BUt I must comment on one thing – Chicago is northWEST of Cinncinnati – I grew up in Indianapolis, I should know. 🙂

    Worry not – being directionally challenged probabaly explains why you write well.

  4. darla

    I agree with Dan McGowan’s comment that the problem is not coastal but it is conditional. But I have to admit I have absolutely no desire to live in California, judging only by what I see on TV and in the news.

    When we moved from the Chicagoland area to our small midwestern city we laughed at the kids who tried to look like urban gang bangers. It isn’t funny anymore as I see these kids act like the people they are trying to look like. Then I was stunned when an older man approached me in Wal-Mart to speak to my baby who was riding in the grocery cart. This is common and generally harmless in our area, but it totally freaked me out back then. Even the grandfatherly types were scary back in Indiana. I am grateful to be living in one of those “backwards” areas of the country.

    But the nastiness is creeping in. A while ago I was shocked that the teens who were selling Avon as a fundraiser were showing catalogues filled with models who looked like they were on heroin. The girls didn’t realize the red circles under the models’ eyes were NOT attractive and that the models were marketing a lifestyle more than the make-up.

    We must run to reap the harvest of the souls before the Destroyer has them firmly in his grasp. And we must pray, pray, pray for our kids’ protection from our culture.

  5. John,

    Aargh! I’ve been factchecked. I feel like Dan Rather.

    A friend just gave me a copy of Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds’s An Army of Davids, so maybe I’m feeling a little vulnerable to that army right now!


  6. Dan,

    Every once in a while I write a “mood piece” and this post is one of those. I understand who the answer is, but I want people to think a little more about this problem and what we can do about it (without me coming out and saying, “We should do ___________.”

    While your point about conditional reality is true (“lost” is lost, no matter how you slice it), the general tenor of a community either aids or diminishes one’s ability to speak to the condition of people’s hearts. I’m not insisting that obscenity spewing kids makes it easier or harder, but it sure makes it feel harder.

  7. Jennifer

    “…it’s a foregone conclusion the Rapture for righteous Greater Cincinnatians will occur at least three years after the fact.”

    Once I stopped rolling on the floor in laughter…. the rest of your post is so sad. And oh, so true. I have a girl in middle school, and I am constantly amazed at that deadness of which you speak. All I can do is hold my daughter tight, tell her how much I love her, how proud I am of her, that God loves her and has a future for her. And pray. Really hard.

  8. ScrapbooksbyKarrilee

    Hey there…

    I am from the PNW and live in one of those ‘backwards’ areas as well… we are behind the times in many areas – and keeping up just fine in others… (unfortunately). Despite the Press my area has gotten for Drugs and Gangs – (which are true and it IS a problem here) – the town itself is still – for the most part – a good place to raise a family. We just have one daughter – and she is now approaching teendom – so we have been having those conversations about what is allowed and what is bad and why when it comes to clothing choices, music, movies and the like! If you have daughters – I STRONGLY endorse “Your Girl – Raising a Godly daughter in an ungodly world” by Vicki Courtney. Anyway – I just wanted to come in agreement – it is sad when we see how young our kids are being challenged and encouraged to try things that we – as teenagers – would never have imagined. Time is speeding up – and yet God is still God – and His Heart beats form those Mall kids who seem void of spirit and soul. The truth is – they are searching for something – anything – beyond themselves. They are WANTING something to sell out to and for… I belive a time is coming when the Love of Christ will overwhelm them… just as with Peter – our mere shadows will cause miracles to come forth! Not because of US – but because of our obedience and boldness, our love and faith in HIM! Oh – by the way – my 11 year old daughter sat just yesterday and watched an old video of Blue’s Clues epsidoes for two hours as well! Praise God!

  9. Ellen

    But I have to admit I have absolutely no desire to live in California, judging only by what I see on TV and in the news.

    I used to think like that…and then a friend asked me,

    “where does the Gospel need to be spread more?”

    I went…hmmm….

  10. Dan McGowan

    Did I forget to mention that I grew up in Southern California? Not a native – I was born in Reno – so, I don’t know what’s worse – the casinos or the cussing… LOL… I now live in Denver where nobody cusses, everyone smiles, people offer to carry your groceries home and Aunt Bea is ready with a warm apple pie after a long day at the fillin’ station……

  11. magnolia's mama

    I’ve often wondered what it is about the kids on the street who have pink hair and all black clothes on. It *is* the look of hopelessness in their eyes. The hardest part for me in seeing them is that I used to be one. Christ was protecting me the whole time, but it seems such a shame that now I don’t know how to relate to them. It seems like a waste of experience on my part, but I am so different from them now they would never listen to me!

  12. Anonymous

    I teach junior high at a Christian School in Los Angeles. I go home at night absolutely wiped out because of the demands of my students. I adore them and that age but it gets harder every year. They come from fractured families, homes where computers, phones and tv’s are not monitored. I spend far too much time designing tests that are cheating proof. Vocabularies are getting smaller and imaginations are practically non-existent. Two of my boys couldn’t even build a house out of Legos for an earthquake project. I keep at it. Some days I want to give up but these kids need love. Don’t ignore them or let other people deal with them. Befriend them, talk to them, accept them and pray for them. They’ll be in charge someday and we must do our best to reclaim them.

  13. Thanks, Bill.

    I humbly submit that the post had too many weak verbs and an overemphasis on “was.” Those tended to drag the piece down a little. But when you’re mentally spent at some wee hour in the morning, hey, it’s a post, right?


    I typically do better in my work for clients and in my fiction. I’m always wondering if potential clients check out this blog first. Gives me the shivers to think how much business I may have lost because of the strong opinions and slapdash posting that occur here.

    Still, thanks.

  14. Tyler


    I wouldn’t worry too much about potential clients reading this blog…if it has the impact on them that it has on me then I’m sure they’ll be blessed!

  15. Anonymous

    You people are what’s wrong with our country today. Look forwards not backwards. Oh yes, the “good ole days” were so great with the apple pie, smiles, and rampant segregation of blacks. Need I also not remind you that you were the rebellious youth at one time or another with your sinful Beach Boys or worse yet Elvis! Or whoever else it may have been. Just to clarify things, I’m being sarcastic, which I am sure was lost on some of you. Today is just a different time with a different face; kids today just dance to a different toon. It may seem shocking now, but they will grow up and become serious family folks like yourselves, complaining and praying about the misguided youth.


  16. TonyP.

    We just had the “You can’t unsee/undo some things…” talk with our 12 year old daughter. It pains me to have to be preemptive to the point we do sometimes. What happened to them being able to be kids….

    So I watch Spongebob or Handy Manny with my son (5), play cars, ride our bikes, and sometimes I wonder how soon I’ll have to be giving proper explanations to things that his friends are giving him bad info on…

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