Blog: 13 Reasons Why

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“13 Reasons Why” The Good, The Bad, The Shocking


Tyson McCombs

Generational Pastor

Netflix is constantly changing what shows we can watch, and what movies are available for our viewing pleasure, but one show has come to the surface, is stirring up a lot of conversation, and has countless viewing hours within the short month that it has been available on Netflix. That show is “13 Reasons Why”. The show is based on the 2007 book that carried the same title.

The storyline, if you are not familiar but have heard all the conversations, walks through the suicide of a young girl named Hannah Baker, who after a series of different events in her life decided to take her own life.  However, before committing suicide she records a series of tapes consist of the 13 reasons behind her decision. The 13 reasons happen to be people in her high school who get the tapes and as they listen the part that they played becomes clear.

You may have students who have watched this show, or may be asking you to watch this show. Maybe you watched it personally and are unsure what to do with it. Or maybe you are wondering how to engage your children in conversation due to what they have seen. Or you may just be unaware of what is actually in the show, and want to learn so you can be made aware as to what your kids potentially are watching. Whatever it is, I want to, as best as I can, provide a depiction of what the show provides that is positive, but also what it may promote that is harmful, and discuss how a show like this can deeply affect the mind of a young person.

So, let’s start with the positives.  What ’13 Reasons Why’ provides is a very raw, and interesting commentary into the life of a teenager, a life I am not too far removed from, but is constantly changing as each year passes. So what it allows, for us that are removed from high school memories, is an in depth look into what high school culture is like, and the day-to-day world our students are navigating. And based on conversations that I have had with students during my time in youth ministry, ‘13 Reasons Why’ seems to nail the world that teenagers deal with. From cyber bullying, crude jokes made about them, the popularity contests, and people being alienated simply because they may have different interests, or just be latecomers to a school group with cliques already formed. Along with the accurate depiction of school life, we also get the main point of the series brought to our attention right from the first episode when we find out about the tapes. Our actions, and how we interact with each other, well, it matters. Even the little things that we may assume are harmless, the passing comments, the jokes, the ‘hot list’ that is passed around; how we treat each other can deeply impact people in ways we may not understand. That ultimately is a major point of this series that it is trying to educate us on, whether we are a bully, or a bystander. The ways we act, or maybe lack action, can affect people, and so we have to be cautious of it. I would agree with this point. In fact, as I write this I am in the process of preparing for a message to talk to our students about how scripture calls us to be unified, to be a family that cares for each other and our actions are a big part of that. So I can get behind the importance of education young people that treating people unfairly, bullying, cyber bullying, sexual harassment, all of those things are unacceptable ways of behaving.

The second piece that this show has allowed us to do is have open conversation around things like suicide, a long sensitive topic. And, not just have conversation, but get some education and be aware of the actions of people who may be deeply struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts or tendencies. Suicide has been hidden for years because of the shame that has followed it when brought up in conversation, but what this series has done is sparked conversation about suicide, and allowed their friends to rally around them as they wrestle through it.  Although it may not be helpful for kids wrestling with depression and suicidal thoughts, but we will get there. So I am thankful that culture has decided that this is a problem that needs to be talked about and brought into the light. Mental illness is real, and doesn’t respect anyone. We don’t know who it may be wrestling with it and so we need to have a place where we can talk about it openly, without shame. I think ’13 Reasons Why’ has helped bring a massive issue forward to begin to be taken even more seriously than it has been. I am thankful for that.

But this show is not all positive, there are some underlying things that are promoted within the show that can be extremely harmful, especially when it comes to teenagers and their brain development stage and how they process.

The first thing that this show does is promote a suicide revenge fantasy. Hannah in the 13 tapes she leaves behind talks about how people ruined her life. In one episode she claims to have had a stalker who took pictures of her, and now everyone who is listening to the tapes are smashing the windows of this boy’s house, even pictures of him naked being taken and floated around the school. So what we find is that further bullying ensues, and Hannah, who was bullied herself, now wants revenge in her death, and uses other people to do it. This becomes a nasty circle of not actually changing how people act and changing their actions to create a more positive experience for people, but rather, the target simply just changes to each other, and the attacks continue. So although the point of the show is to provoke thoughts in how we treat people, Hannah in the tapes is further promoting revenge.

The next part is that it never addresses how to deal with mental health. In fact, it seems to glorify suicide as an action, and encourages people not to deal with their mental health with their families or counselors or speak up against it. It simply seems to point the finger at everyone else for the mental health of Hannah, and doesn’t show that there is a way for her to find her own voice in the matter. This too, is extremely problematic for people who may be wrestling with this. In fact, if there are young people who are dealing with this, after watching this show they may think ‘this is an easy way out’ or ‘this is a way to get the attention I have always wanted.’ Many experts are speaking out against this show because of what is called ‘suicide contagion’. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 10 to 24 year olds, and what studies are showing is that people who are exposed to suicide, whether it be in reality, or through media, it can actually increase suicidal behaviors within people. The Canadian Medical Association Journal studied a class of 12 and 13 year olds and who were exposed to a suicide and studied that those students were 5 times more likely to have suicidal tendencies because of the exposure. This is causing great concern among experts, schools, and youth ministries.

Lastly, a major piece in this show is the graphic content, if you are not aware. The show is rated TV-MA, the MA standing for ‘Mature Audience’, and this is because of a lot of curse words, but even more so this show has two graphic rape scenes of female students, as well as the last episode of the show graphically shows Hannah slitting her wrists and bleeding to death. Part of it I believe is for shock factor, our culture loves to be on the edge of what can shock us next, but the other part is they want it to seem real for people to understand that it is a wrestle, and suicide is not a peaceful passing. All that being said, students are still going through serious brain development and have a hard time processing this type of material. So although I understand the reasoning behind the graphic scene, it still is that, graphic.

All this to say, the show has sparked serious controversy, there are people on both sides of the conversation, those who think it is a helpful tool, and brings to light a serious issue, I would not argue that. But there are also people who think there is tremendous harm that could come with this, especially for those dealing with mental illness; I also would not argue that. This is where discernment plays a large role in how we engage with culture. Not just a show like this, but with all shows we watch, or the movies we entertain. What we open ourselves to can deeply affect us, both positively, but also negatively if we aren’t careful about what we let in to our sub conscious.

So the big question, should your student watch? Should you watch it? I would answer that question this way. I wouldn’t let a student watch it themselves, and without accountability to a conversation afterward to have open dialogue around the series as a whole. Now, if you decide to not let your teenager watch it, I would not disagree with that. I think there are other ways to educate our teenagers on this topic. But if you do, put down ground rules, that you would watch it together and have open dialogue around it. And if you know your student has already watched it, be bold, and talk about it. Open communication is one of the biggest things we need to have with our teenagers. They need to know there is an open line of communication no matter how tough the subject we may have to deal with them.

And, I am open to any and all further conversations regarding this topic, or any other concerns you may have. I am here to partner with you.

Good Friday Blog: Bombs and Crosses

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What Good Friday Means for Egyptian Christians


Adam Bedford

Missions | Serve Director

All of us were devastated to hear of the bombings of two Egyptian churches last week during their Palm Sunday services. It is in the light of these acts of unrelenting violence that we stand in prayer and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and with all.

Incredibly, five days later on Good Friday morning Egyptian Copts made their way back to church for one of the most important moments in the Christian calendar. The poignant and terrible irony can hardly escape notice when we see the image of those faithful Christians gathering to remember the One who gave his life that they might find theirs. It is an image that ought to humble and challenge us.

I find myself asking: How it is that these people, in the wake of attempts on their lives and the life of their community, find courage enough to go back to church? By what courage and conviction do they decide that, despite all that has happened, they need to be in the fellowship of God and one another? And on this of all days: the day that most potently represents the reality of death, the breadth of brokenness, the absurd evil of the world that two thousand years ago pinned Jesus to a cross and five days ago blew up two crowds of people.

It’s important for us to ask, because perhaps we too made our way to church this Good Friday, and perhaps despite our best efforts, we brought with us the weight of our own weeks. A difficult season at work or out of work, a difficult family life, an unexpected loss: I suspect at times we all try to leave the broken pieces of our lives in the church foyer, in the hope that we might find, even for an hour and fifteen, space and sanctuary enough to forget about it all and to simply be.


I suspect at times we all try to leave the broken pieces of our lives in the church foyer...

We try to leave the world outside – all the disorder and mess of it, all the unanswered brokenness of it. But sometimes the world outside the church cannot be kept outside. Sometimes it seeps in – all the restless disorder of our lives – and we find no rest in the sanctuary. All of us know how that feels, at one time or another. But only very few will ever know how it feels when the world crashes in with the din of an explosion, ripping the safe sanctity of our walls wide open to the world outside.

Doubtless many of us would run away and never come back. When the world crashes in on our lives, the first fatality is often our faith. And doubtless many faithful Copts this week asked: What hope and peace can I now find in the church, the place that the world crashed in around me?

But then I see the image of countless Christians making their way back into church this Good Friday, declaring on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion that they are “not afraid of death.” What can possibly make sense of why their faith didn’t stay buried in the rubble, but endured, was resurrected, and led them back into church?

Perhaps only the meaning of Good Friday can make sense of it.

That as Jesus-followers, the only way we have ever known how to respond to the violence and unrest in the world is to go to the cross. The only way we know how to confront brokenness is to go to the broken body of our King as we find him on Good Friday, busy stitching the world back together.


The only way we know how to confront brokenness is to go to the
broken body of our King as we find him on Good Friday...

This week we parade into church for Easter, sometimes scarcely aware of the gravity of what we do. We bring our lives and our stories with us, and we dare not leave them at the door, because over the threshold we find the cross, waiting to take on all the broken pieces and make them new.

And this is why our friends in Egypt, having known the worst of the world, make their journey to the cross. This is why they can declare that they are not afraid of death, because this is the day that death died. Because this day families are put back together, wrong is reconciled, brokenness mended; this day we learn to forgive. This day God and the world meet, a broken present intersects with its hopeful future, and because of that even the worst of all days can be called Good.

The act of remembering what that means for us, and for the whole world, is what Good Friday is all about.

Blog: A Franciscan Blessing

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We ended our Rabbi series with this blessing.  As we try to walk in a way that follow Jesus, we hope that you can find the courage to accept a blessing like this.  Listen to the Rabbi series by clicking here. Don't forget the Rabbi Seminar on Wednesday, April 5 at 7pm.

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

Blog: How Rich am I?

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As we started talking about Jesus in our Rabbi series this week, we discussed the discussion with the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18 (click to read). In a fascinating interaction between this man and Jesus, the man is challenged to think about the one thing that is preventing him from following Jesus. Each of us will have a different 'one thing', but the question from Jesus is still the same - are you willing to follow? However, the specifics of the story also speak to those of us in the western world. Whilst we often feel that we are not 'rich', when we widen our horizon to consider the rest of the world many of us are in a much better position than we realise.  Obviously there are economic complexities that don't make the comparison always direct, but no matter how you slice the pie, our lives in the Western world are ones of great privilege.  If you are interested in some of the statistics that we referenced in the teaching, check out the site www.globalrichlist.com

Blog: Sketching the Elephant

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Last Sunday we picked up part two of our teaching conversation, How To Talk About Elephants. This is where we embrace the big topics, the questions that define our times, the difficult issues that often the Church has been afraid to approach openly and bravely. We want to be a church that dares to talk about the kind of things that often you don’t talk about in church. But we recognize that before we have that conversation, first we need to have another. Before we talk about the elephants in the room, first we need make sure we’re all talking about the same thing.

There is an ancient Eastern story about a group of blind men tasked to describe an elephant. They each touch a different part – the trunk, the tusks, the hide, the tail – and each of them comes out giving an entirely different description of what an elephant looks like. Of course, the penetrating wisdom of the story is that it is possible for people to be talking about exactly the same thing without talking about the same thing at all.

Sound familiar?

The reality is that before we talk about the big issues, we first have to recognize that maybe we’re not all talking about the same thing. Though each of us has our own idea as to what we think the elephant in the room is, it’s a healthy practice in humility to remember that the person next to us may not see the same thing we do.

Ask one person, and maybe the most pressing issue that the church needs to address is sexual identity. Ask the next person, and maybe the issue is money, greed, consumption. Ask another and it’s politics, the uncertain and fractured political climate of the world, that the church desperately needs to speak to.

Which goes to show that maybe the bigger problem we have to face is that dealing with issues is often a safeguard we hide behind so that we don’t have to do the much harder work of dealing with people. At the end of the day, the elephant is not an issue that needs to be solved but a person that needs to be loved. It is a face, a storyline, a history. It is a human being, in all their complexity and uniqueness. And it is a great disservice to God’s Image when we treat people as issues to be solved instead of lives to be embraced.

That’s why the first thing we need to do, the groundwork that needs to be laid, is to learn how to talk. Before we put a stake in the ground on Westside’s stance on the big issues, whatever those issues may be, we first have to commit to being the kind of community that seeks to respond as Jesus does.

We can be placard Christians, yelling things over the top of sandwich boards. Or we can go the other way: become sterile old saints whose uncompromising commitment to niceness leaves us afraid to approach the wrong we see in the world and in ourselves.

Or maybe, just maybe, we can become the kind of people who give the world a better story.

We can teach the world what it looks like to embrace everyone, the hurt and the hypocrites, and to walk together toward the grace of Jesus. We can show the world a community that refuses to throw one more ‘stance’ into the tangle of hostile opinion, that refuses to pick up its rocks and fight on the world’s terms, but instead wants to stand on the side of the line closest to Jesus, because the line Jesus draws in the sand is not the choice between grace or truth, but the choice between pointing at the issue or embracing the person.

And who knows – if we start on that side of the line, we might just find the grace and the truth to learn how to talk about elephants.

Check out the podcast of this teaching here

Blog 3: Nehemiah - The Road to Freedom by Bonhoeffer

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this on July 20th, 1944 as he heard news relating to the war that he knew would likely lead to his own death.  We pray that these thoughtful words are action-provoking in your own life as we try, like Nehemiah, to be a people who pray and act.

Stations on the Road to Freedom

Self-discipline If you set out to seek freedom, you must learn before all things Mastery over sense and soul, lest your wayward desirings, Lest your undisciplined members lead you now this way, now that way. Chaste be your mind and your body, and subject to you and obedient, Serving solely to seek their appointed goal and objective. None learns the secret of freedom save only by way of control

Action Do and dare what is right, not swayed by the whim of the moment. Bravely take hold of the real, not dallying now with what might be. Not in the flight of ideas but only in action is freedom. Make up your mind and come out in the tempest of living. God’s command is enough and your faith in him to sustain you.

Suffering Wondrous transformation! Your strong and active hands are tired now. Powerless, alone, you see the end of your action. Still, you take a deep breath and lay your struggle for justice, quietly and in faith, into a mightier hand. Just for one blissful moment, you tasted the sweetness of freedom, then you handed it over to God, that he might make it whole.

Death Come now, highest moment on the road to eternal freedom, Death, put down the ponderous chains and demolish the walls of our mortal bodies, the walls of our blinded souls, that we might finally see what mortals have kept us from seeing. Freedom, how long we have sought you through discipline, action, and suffering, Dying, now we behold your face in the countenance of God.

Blog 2: Nehemiah - Thinking inside the Box

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We talked in this week's teaching about how Nehemiah was able to accomplish his wall-building project in Jerusalem despite being limited and constrained in many ways.  We asked whether maybe the way forward for us to accomplish what God has put on our hearts is not breaking 'out of the box', but rather learning to work 'inside the box'.  As the creative director and writer JJ Abrams says, perhaps surprisingly,  'I find that I am most happy when I have boundaries.'  Similarly, Theo Epstein, President of the recent MLB World Series winners, the Chicago Cubs (as if you didn't know), constructed what he called the 'Cubs' way' - a guiding set of principles that they would not depart from, boundaries if you want.  Some people might view this as constraining but Abrams and Epstein seem to think that boundaries, guidelines, and limitations can be a good thing. Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg, in their book Inside the Box argue that whilst some people see constraints as frustrating, overwhelming, or strict boundaries that limit creativity, actually constraints are a key component of creativity, 'Your brain works harder and smarter when given tight boundaries. The more constrained you are, the more creative you’ll be.'  They note that the only thing that needs to change is our own ability to see the opportunity in the situation we are in rather than to be governed by a fixed way of thinking.

We saw that this was part of the genius of Nehemiah.  He was able to see his own constraining situation as an opportunity to leverage what he understood to be God's intention for his city, Jerusalem.  He didn't have a fixedness regarding the limitations of his role, instead his complaint at the state of the city wall allowed him to become a change agent for God.

What are our fixed issues that we think prevent us from really seeing the opportunity to serve God.  Are you able to look creatively at your situation and see what could be?  Do you have the imagination to see beyond the fixed way we tend to think things work.  As Michael Gorman wrote recently,

'In the spirit of conformity to Jesus, the church in the power of the Spirit must look again and again for new ways to love the world incarnationally and cruciformly in the interest of the world’s salvation. To be missional requires immense imagination.'

Blog 1: Nehemiah - The Man behind the Wall

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 NB: The text of this post is extracted from the Bible History Daily website, from a 2012 article by Dorothy Willette.  Click the link at the bottom to read the full article.


At the top of the eastern ridge of the City of David, Nehemiah and the returned exiles built a new city wall. Although they simply repaired the pre-existing walls elsewhere in the city, the wall just above the steep Kidron Valley was too damaged and too difficult to mend. So they relocated the eastern wall higher up the slope and, according to author Eilat Mazar, built it directly on top of a ruined wall of King David’s palace (also known as the Large Stone Structure) and its massive rampart (known as the Stepped Stone Structure). Photo: Zev Radovan.

Few people are familiar with the Biblical figure Nehemiah, and yet he was instrumental in the rebuilding and reestablishment of Jerusalem in the fifth century B.C. following the Babylonian exile. Although there is no consensus about the relative chronologies of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah (the Biblical dates are unclear), Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem probably preceded Ezra’s by a couple years. Both men worked together to restore the city and rededicate its people to God.

The Book of Nehemiah is usually read together with the Book of Ezra as one long book. Nehemiah 8–10 is considered part of the so-called “Ezra Source” (which includes Ezra 7–10), while Nehemiah 1–7 and 11–13 are from a separate source that scholars call the “Nehemiah Memoir.” The Nehemiah Memoir is written in the first person and recounts details of Nehemiah’s life, his deeds and his administration of the province, probably meant to serve as an official record of his accomplishments to be deposited in the Temple archives. The accounts are punctuated by prayers to God, such as “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people” (Nehemiah 5:19).

To read the whole article, click here.

Blog: How to Talk about Elephants

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This week in 'How to Talk about Elephants' we began an important conversation that will precede future conversations that we will have as a church.  We realise that being the church calls us to live in a particular way, as God's people for the world, evidencing and witnessing in our lives to the change that following Jesus has made to us.  This means, however, that following Jesus does occasionally call us to consider how to be Christian when that commitment draws us away from the norms and acceptances of wider society.  Before we spend time discussing these types of things we need to talk about how we're going to talk, and this is of paramount importance to us - if we can't talk well, then we shouldn't talk at all - but we need to be the type of people who can talk well.

"The church … requires a certain kind of people to sustain it as an institution across time. They must be a people of virtue—specifically, the virtues necessary for remembering and telling the story of a crucified savior. They must be capable of being peaceable among themselves and with the world, so that the world sees what it means to hope for God’s kingdom. In such a community, we are not free to do whatever we will but are called to develop our particular gifts to serve the community of faith." - Stanley Hauerwas The Servant Community

Therefore, as we see in Micah 6.8, we want to follow a model of talking that is as follows:

  • Truthfully
  • Softly
  • Slowly

We want to let this model guide us, rather than ideas of fear, anger, political correctness, progression, 'getting with the times', or being 'on the wrong side of history'.

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So, for us, 'How to Talk about Elephants' is an invitation, an invitation to join us patiently in a conversation where we try to wrestle with some of the difficult issues of contemporary morals and life whilst continuing to being a church of disciples.

Watch or listen to 'How to Talk about Elephants' here.

Broken Wall: the Story of Nehemiah

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Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. [Nehemiah 2:17-18]

In its simplest, most basic form, history tells us what happened.  But history can do more: it can waken us, inform and inspire us.

In about 445 BC, Nehemiah, then in Babylonian captivity, hears about the sorry state of Jerusalem’s wall.  It is in complete disrepair, broken down, exposing the city and its people to constant danger.  Nehemiah, hearing this, decides to do something, to move towards what is broken, to be a repairer and restorer.  He senses God is with him.

So what do we make of the stories of the past, and their meanings for now?  How can this piece of history speak to us?  As we follow what happens to and through Nehemiah, perhaps our imaginations will come alive to our present needs, and present possibilities.

series Scripture reading: read the book of Nehemiah, of course; and if you are ambitious, you might also take a look at the book of Ezra, its companion.

Blog 3: O Brother Where Art Thou?

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One of the constant struggles we encounter as we think about community is the issue of welcome and hospitality.  We want to encourage you to think seriously about this issue and how it might affect your life and followership of Jesus.  In this short film Amy Oden thinks about how hospitality worked in early Christianity and how they thought that in welcoming others they brought themselves closer to Christ: [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFpjcJvV54Y[/embed]

Blog 1: O Brother Where Art Thou?

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This week, as we began the new series 'O Brother Where art thou?', at Westside King's Church our teaching looked at the aspects of relationship that can be affected by how we view the world and other in it.  This past lent Old Testament Professor Walter Brueggemann wrote a piece, focused on Isaiah 55, about how the 'quid pro quo' of the world is a choice, and we have the ability to break out of that cycle of living to embrace something that better reflects the way God intends us to live. To read Brueggemann's article, click this link: