There has been uproar in the media and blogging community about the recent release of Gwen Thompson, Mattel’s newest American Girl doll. Like all the other American Girl dolls, Gwen has a story line. Gwen is homeless. After she and her mother are abandoned by her father, they are forced to live in their car. Eventually they are able to move to a shelter before finding a new apartment home. The story associated with Gwen sounds harmless enough, since there are young children all over our country who are homeless, especially since the recent economic downturn. In fact, Gwen is not the first of the American Girl dolls to have a family that deals with economic struggles.

Yet, Time Magazine has labeled Gwen as one of its “10 Most Dubious Toys.” The doll itself costs $95, a cost so high it puts the doll well out of reach of the children who inspired her story. None of the money made from the doll or its merchandise is going to assist homeless families. Other American Girl dolls who have stories of facing difficult monetary issues are put in a historical context rather than a contemporary one. The makers of the doll defend her by saying that a doll like Gwen raises awareness and concern for those children who are homeless.

As I debated the pros and cons of this doll with several people, I think I have discovered a previously unarticulated frustration with our culture and even our churches. I see everyone from celebrities to myself advocating this thing we call “raising awareness.” So much is done in the name of raising awareness, yet it leaves me feeling as though we have missed something important. 

Raising awareness is not a goal. It is a means to a goal.Raising awareness is only as effective and meaningful as it can channel awareness into action. I can be aware of lots of things in our world. I listen to the news. I study issues that affect my city and world including hunger, poverty, and homelessness. If you ask me what I am doing with this awareness, I would have to admit I do very little. 

Somewhere we dropped the ball when it comes to helping ourselves and our teens live a sanctified life. We are moved by the Holy Spirit.Because of Jesus’ love for us and His death on the cross we are compelled to live our lives as salt and light to the world. In fact, Scripture points to the widow, the orphan, the most needy in our culture as the ones He wants us to assist in His name and by His Spirit. No where do I read in Scripture that simply being aware of the struggles of others is enough. 

We sit in our comfy pews or in the comfy couches in our youth room and talk about issues such as hunger, AIDS, and homelessness. We hear the stats, watch the video, and walk away feeling as though we have accomplished what we needed to by raising awareness. I am committing the same sin I see in Matell’s release of the Gwen Thompson doll. It’s all awareness and no action.

I am making a specific effort to always attach action to my awareness, even if it is just a small step. Giving Christians an outlet to respond to Christ’s love with love to their neighbors is key for our congregations and especially our youth ministries. Let’s stop just raising awareness and start letting the Spirit move us into action.