Friday, December 24, 2010

The First Christmas Was Boring

What do you picture in your head when I mention “The First Christmas”?  If I were to venture a guess, even if you are not a believer in Christianity, you would have a mental picture of the nativity scene.  You know the plastic shepherds, the three wisemen all in stoic poses a baby that is unnaturally molded into the hay and for some reason a drummer boy – which is what every new mother would want around right after giving birth and trying to get an infant to sleep.  And doesn’t the fact that Mary is the only woman around strike you as odd?  I don’t know a lot of guys that like to flock to birthing rooms.

Of course there are somewhat more realistic renditions of the scene.  The most recent, of course, was in the film titled simply “The Nativity”.  In which the characters traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem had to ford a river and fight off a snake likely symbolizing Satan.  Of course anyone familiar with Israel’s geography would know that there are no rivers to cross on the way to Bethlehem.  There is the matter of the wisemen that I was kind of expecting to break into a three stooges routine at any moment.  And to top it all off was the ray of light from a star that shined upon the manger scene.  I just about lost it in the middle of the theater when I saw that.

Was this really what the first Christmas was like?  The answer of course is no.  The word Christmas means literally Christ’s mass and it is referring to a church service that was established in 1038.  The church leaders were trying to establish a calendar of religious events, the most important of course being Easter.  As they established when Easter would be celebrated they also decided to have an obligation service to commemorate Christ’s birth as well.  Much like how we celebrate president’s day in the US.  It isn’t actually anyone’s birthday – it is just a symbolic gesture of honoring your leaders.

As the Christian religion spread around the world they encountered many cultures that had celebrations of light and life in the midst of the dark winter months.  The Christ’s mass was combined with many of these celebrations as a way of working within the culture rather than simply trumping one system over another.  After all, there are not a lot of evergreen trees around Bethlehem.  Yet it was still centralized around going to church.  Saint Nicolas day which was celebrated on December 6 was combined into the winter celebrations and has evolved into the modern day Santa.

Today there is a push to look back at the first Christmas, but in reality that would have been a pretty dry boring thing to be a part of.  Is that really what we want to push for?  If I really want to focus on the birth of Christ, go bring some good news to the local outcasts (Shepherds).  Go wade through the dark and dirty places of life (The stable) and realize that Jesus (the light of the world) went into such place on purpose.  Turn the kingdom of this world upside down (so much you are hunted down), look for dreams, visions and angelic visits, and be open to God changing the rules (the virgin with child).  Where would we be more like to find Jesus in the rich sanctuaries or the dark alleys?  Think about it.  Maybe we should let Christmas go in favor of Christ himself.  What do you think?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the lighter side: A Christmas story from an 11-year-old friend

I volunteer in an elementary school every week. This past week the students were working on using their spelling homework to write a Christmas story. After I heard this story shared by one of the 6th graders I just had to share it with you all. Don’t worry, I paid him for it. the underlined words were a part of his spelling homework. Here it is, enjoy:

On Christmas eve, Santa was excited but when he went to his reindeer there were none left except for Rudolf. A lot of pitbulls came out of nowhere and ate Rudolf. Santa said, “That’s great! Now What? Oh I will use the Pitbulls instead of reindeer.” Santa named them but only one didn’t agree with his name, George, so he changed it to Bob. They took off and they made their first stop. They were tired. As Santa filled the stockings he noticed the very ugly decorations, especially the Santa getting shot in the face with an arrow ornament. So all he left was coal instead of Presents. When he was done he went back to his sleigh but the pittbulls were gone. He took the present marked for Tommy from his sleigh and was thankful for the sudden blizzard. It was a snowboard. He used it to snowboard to his next stop and went into the house. He opened the door and there was mistletoe. Santa thought to himself that it was finally acceptable to have a “moment”. Then he noticed that he had forgotten the presents in his sleigh. As he was running out of the house someone woke up. Santa tried to hide by climbing up the chimney like an assassin. The person that woke up saw Santa but didn’t know who he was. It was only then that he realized that the elves had shaved his beard off while he was sleeping as a joke on the old man. So there was Santa covered in dirt from the chimney with no present and no beard with pittbull bites all over him. The people in the house called the cops. Santa went to jail and never came back for Christmas ever again.

Have a story you would like to respond with for my young friend? I’ll deliver it to him for you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

For Many Teens The Last Place They Want To Be Is Home For The Holidays

I’m sure that you know the phrase, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.  There is nothing like the holidays to make this phrase come to life.  Why is it that we can get annoyed the easiest with the people that we love the most?

As stressful as things may be over Christmas, my heart has broken many times over as I have talked with teens over their plans for the Christmas break.  They tell me of the many arguments as to where they will be spending Christmas.  Broken families leave the kids caught in the crossfire.  Many of these young people feel as though that this is a no win situation and there is a lot of pressure on them to make their parents happy. 

More than one kid has told me that they hate Christmas and wish that they could just stay in school.  Knowing how much I hated school as an elementary student that is pretty severe.  Others have nowhere to go as parents have died or are too busy partying to pay attention to their kids.  Where is the peace on earth?

It is in times like this that I remember that Jesus was a guy that had family troubles of his own.  Check out my old post: Jesus was from a messed up family

In my opinon We don’t need more Christmas, we need more Christ.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I’m dreaming of a consumerism-free christmas

My wife is a Christmas nut.  If she had it her way she would decorate for Christmas on November first, listen to nothing but Christmas music for two months and watch only Christmas movies until the new year.  I am more of the type to put up the Christmas tree on Christmas eve then take it down on the 26th.  We have had to work out some compromises over the years, but one thing I can’t stand in the way of with her is the viewing of Christmas movies. 

As I have watched these movies I’ve noticed that a lot of them have little to do with Christmas as all, but rather about finding some sort of purpose to life during the winter season.  Take “It’s a Wonderful Life” as an example.  As good as the movie may be, it has little to do with Christmas and a lot to do with realizing what is important in life.  Now don’t get me wrong.  This movie makes me cry every time I watch it.  Which is not something I really care to admit to all of my loyal blog readers, but this is all about being real right?  I think I cry because I hope in my life I am making a bigger impact than I realize.   

I think that is why we as a culture are drawn to the character of Santa.  In the midst of the consumerism of the season Santa is the guy who stands above us all as completely selfless.  The person who really believes to give is better than receive.  The only thing he wants is for the world to be a better place by encouraging good behavior.   (Of course I guess he could be doing it all for the free milk and cookies). 

Here is a video of the evolution of Santa Clause

There can be a lot of fun in celebrating Christmas and for using the name “Santa” to give a gift anonymously.  However when we stop and think about it for a second, the very image we have of Santa as being the selfless personification of Christmas may not be a healthy choice.

  • There is a reason that Santa is prominently displayed in malls and department stores.  Let’s put it this way: Santa Sells.  Does the saint of giving really entice us to spend more?
  • Behavior based on reward instead of respect.  When we as parents tell our kids that Santa watches over the naughty and nice and rewards good behavior with toys and bad behavior with coal we are allowing ourselves to be bypassed as primary influencer in our kids lives.  I want my kids to be good despite what the rewards may be.  Besides any intelligent kid would know historically and economically that coal is more a tradeable commodity than toys ever could be.  Also how many people have gotten coal? Where is the follow through?
  • How will manipulating our kids beliefs help them believe what we say is true.  I don’t want to sound nitpicky, but I work with teens and young adults that feel like their parents want them to believe in a lie.  Lies about marriage, family and love.  Lies about there being a God.  Lies about how life works.  Do we really need another thing to lie to our kids about?

Take some time this Christmas to figure out what is really important to you this Christmas.  You may find it has little to do with "Christmas" at all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Youth Culture Update 12.20.2010

Welcome to the ProYouthWorker culture news update for the week of December 20, 2010.  There are many things affecting today’s teens.  This is your opportunity to spend a few moments think about the most prevalent.  (At least in my opinion). 

Even though I have been a youth worker for a long time it still amazes me to hear kids in elementary school singing song with racy lyrics or to hear their conversations over shows that I wouldn’t watch myself.  There are a lot of sexual themes in the music and that media that young kids are watching.  An ABC news story covered a study done about the “saturation” of sexual imagery on young viewers and they reported that, "It really has an effect on their mental health and their attitudes towards themselves. And it can really have lifetime negative consequences"  

Some of the most obvious of those affects are the way in which teens view themselves often trying to live up to the sexualize role models on television.  One article posted some stats that 78% of girls by the age of 17 have an eating disorder and large portion of boys are “unhealthily preoccupied” with their bodies.  Look at the teens you see every day and ask “who are they trying to emulate?”  

However, many teens seem to ignore the so called warnings of the experts and continue in their self destructive cycles.  One group is working on a bit of a deferent angle in talking to teens about sex, less about health and more about money.  What is it that sexual choices will literally cost you?  

Check out this video:

I am the proyouthworker and I present this information so that youth workers may be empowered to be different types of role models.  I want to see youth survive and youth workers thrive.  For more youth culture stuff visit my blog

Monday, December 13, 2010

Youth Culture Update 12.13.2010

Welcome to the ProYouthWorker culture news update for the week of December 13, 2010.  There are many things affecting today’s teens.  This is your opportunity to spend a few moments think about the most prevalent.  (At least in my opinion). 

I was amazed at the number of stories out this week that mentioned teen involvement in high profile crimes either as the victims or the offenders.  While this can be discouraging in many ways it also highlights why it is important for each of us to have an understanding of what youth are facing and how they are thinking rather than make the assumption that we understand “exactly” what they are going through.  It impressed me to see that the country of Brunei enlist their leaders to “remain relevant” to the continuous culture changes of the young people in Aisa.  However they called national leaders not to merely cater to teens but to focus on how to challenge them to work within the potential that they already have to take their place within the national development.  This is the type of reports that are often unreported but have more potential for inspiring real change than merely reporting the news of the latest violent death.

Teens are constantly going to challenge social norms and if they don’t they will be left to boredom or to an escapism mentality.  Perhaps that is why an article surfaced this week outlining the newest way young people are getting cheap high: Nutmeg.  You laugh?  According to there have already been two deaths linked to nutmeg overdose.  If nutmeg is taken in large doses the chemical myristcin, contained in the spice, give the users a buzz that can last upto 48 hours.  The average teen that I meet surprise me with how smart they are,  I would venture that this nutmeg high was not found on accident, but rather but a bored but brainy act kid that scoured his chemistry textbook and tried an experiment.

How often do we challenge our young people with something that could genuinely change their lives?  Many youth groups and organization spend more time preparing for ways in which to entertain young people with games and activities than they do offering powerful challenges to todays youth.  A video production teacher at a high school in Shoreline High School may have a start.  He challenged to give up texting and social media for a week calling it the social experiment.  The results we impressive and inspiring.  With many of these participants feeling more productive and happier as a result of this experiment.  Now I don’t think social media is a bad thing – heaven knows I could use a good social media cleanse myself, but imagine what it would be like if we gave more teens the opportunity to surprise us with what they can do.  The world just might change.

I am the proyouthworker and I present this information for just that reason.  To learn from the present youth culture so that I can lead these young people to the challenge of changing the world.  I want to see youth survive and youth workers thrive.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Guest Blog: Why I Chose to Work With Young People

Kirsty back in 2006
I had the honor of meeting today's guest blogger, Kirsty Armstrong, when she came on a missions trip with Youth For Christ from the UK over here to Canada.  We have kept in touch over the years and she recently informed me that she had graduated from University of Ulster where she graduated with a degree in Community Youth Work.  It makes me so proud to see the young people I have worked with using their lives to help others.  I asked her to share why she chose this path for her life.  Here is her answer.  Enjoy.

Why I chose to work with young people..

There wasn't a particular moment in my life where I can remember stopping and knowing I wanted to be a youth worker. I always enjoyed helping out at youth club and hanging out with young people on summer teams with Youth for Christ. I began to think about making a career out of it. I always thought youth work would be exciting, challenging and rewarding and it has not been anything but.

I studied Community Youth Work at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown. My class was small and I really enjoyed the three years that I studied there. My classmates and I shared experiences, learned from each other and all came out of the course with different opinions and beliefs that we originally went in with.

The course was very practical with every class being interactive and informal. The theory that I studied in class has helped me to understand how and why young people may think. I feel it has better equipped me to helping young people in my community.

Previous to going to university, I had no idea what area of youth work I wanted to pursue but after a placement I staretd to feel passionate working with young people who offend.

Society often labels young people as 'young offenders'. Many people have perceptions of young people to be trouble makers and criminals. Can you imagne how difficult it can be to live in a community that is quick to oppress and exclude based upon your age, who you hang around with or who your family is?

Many of the young people I have worked with continue offending as they feel it is what people 'expect' of them. Other young people have been raised in a way that they do not know any different than stealing to get what they want, using violence to stand up for what they believe in and abusing substances as there is nothing else for them to do.

There is nearly always an underlying issue that contributes to why a young person gets involved in crime. One particular young person I worked with was residing in a young offenders institute for repeatedly stealing. He was a known drug user and admitted that he steals money in order to fund his drug use. Together we worked through ways in which he could cut down his cannabis use. If he could cut down/stop using cannabis then he wouldn't have to steal anymore. After working with this young person, I felt so rewarded that I may have helped him even a little bit. I want to help make a difference in the lives of young people who feel excluded by their community.

I hope I have answered the question why i chose to work with young people. I feel that young people are oppressed in our society and a lot of the deviant behavior that is carried out is often a cry for help. Young people have so much potential and with people who are there to assist them in their social and personal development; to stand up for them; to encourage and believe in them, they can achieve anything.

Kirsty Armstrong

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guest Post:: Why I Work With Youth


Me and Jessie-Marie
     I believe that the best way to learn to be a youth worker is to be immersed in the day in and day out lives of young people. Many youth culture experts tend to do a lot of research and studies about young people, but it is another thing to know the kids that are giving the answers.
     That is why I see my team as a learning environment for students wanting to become youth workers themselves. I see this less an internship and more of a experience. Every year my team and I partner with Lifeteams which is a school of urban youth outreach. One of these "lifeteamers" as we call them contacted me recently and was filling me in on where life has led her. She is working in a neighboring community as an Aboriginal Support Worker. I am always proud to hear of these friends that have followed in my footsteps so to say. So without further ado - I introduce to you: Jessie-Marie:

"I grew up in a rural community where there weren't many positive role models for the youth. We had no Youth Workers or youth programs. But we DID do things as a community and I grew up and moved away I realized that people don't always have that sense of community in the city. It's hard with so many people from so many different walks of life that if you decide not to be friends with someone you just stop calling them, seeing them, etc.
Where I grew up you don't have a choice. Your community is like your family and no matter how much you don't want to work things out at times you kind of have to because one day you'll need that person. A classic example is your car breaking down. There's no cell reception, the nearest gas station is a 2 hour walk from where you break down and your only chance of getting help is to wait for someone to drive by and give you a hand. That someone just might be the someone who you don't like so much, but you have no choice. You have to overcome certain things about each other to build-if not a friendship-at least an understanding between eachother.

I feel that our culture is so incredibly self-centered and NOT forgiving to our friends or our neighbors. It seems as though people have the mentality that friends are great when you're having fun, but when something doesn't go the way you expect, you move on. This is true for the friendships and romantic relationships I've seen or been in my life. There's no desire to trust the Lord and WORK through what is a great friendship. To FIGHT for your friendship. Where is the LOVE? The understanding?

So the original question is "why do I work with youth?". I work with youth because I believe that kids want that sense of community; that sense that someone has your back and you can work it out. I love helping kids learn the tools for building those healthy friendships and relationships
because healthy boundaries aren't always taught at home. I also love working with youth because I just LOVE them. They have such great energy that's so infectious! The Lord has a special place in his heart for our youth and so do I!"

Why is it that YOU work with youth OR support those who do?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Youth Culture Update 12.06.2010

Welcome to the ProYouthWorker culture news update for the week of December 6, 2010.  There are many things affecting today’s teens.  This is your opportunity to spend a few moments think about the most prevalent.  (At least in my opinion). 

This week introduced us to a new term being thrown around in the complex sexually identity debates being faced by young people.  The term is “Flexisexulaity” and it refers to the way young people, particularly teen girls are experimenting with homosexuality.  The trend in the news is to pinpoint where this all started, but I think that it reflects a reality that has been happening for years.  It is just now experts have a label to use in describing it.  The problem with this experimentation phenomenon is that it puts an overemphasis on young people to identify themselves primarily in terms of sexuality instead of having a more holistic view of themselves. 

In the entertainment circles MTV announced that it is resurrecting their show called “True Life” in which they will address the “intimate and personal moments that compromise the lives of today’s youth culture”.  If you are a fan of MTV or not it is hard to argue the fact that they are closer to understanding youth culture than many others.  So what are the things that young people are struggling with at the end of 2010?  The topics range from sexual intimacy and obsession issues to how to nurture their paranormal talents.  Are these topics are on the minds of the young people you know?

Another reflection of youth culture came to light on the show “teen mom” in which there were several scenes of violence in the dating relationships of the shows stars.  According to a 2009 study on youth risk behavior as many as 1 out of 6 teens have experienced abuse in their relationships.  The article posted on this week says that the solution to this problem is early intervention.  What do you think?  Should we bring up the topic of abusive dating relationships into the elementary schools?

Teen Dating Violence

All of these reports may want lead some parents to keep their kids grounded until they turn 20, but seeing as that is impractical, how should parents assess what risks their kids are facing and what they are not.  What are the real dangers that the young people are facing in today’s culture.  A fascinating article on the New York Times this week helps parents assess what the real risks may be.  The article cited a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention that listed that the 5 greatest dangers that today’s teens face are “car accidents, homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know), child abuse, suicide or drowning.” While a Mayo Clinic survey claims the greatest worries faced by parents concerning their teens are “Kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers and drugs.”  Are parents bad at risk assessment or do they simply need a window into the world of youth culture? 

I think being informed can never be a bad thing.  Be it for youth workers, parents and guardians, teachers and counselors to the young people themselves.  I am the proyouthworker and I present this information for just that reason.  I want to see youth survive and youth workers thrive.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

200th Post by a Youth Worker. Help me.

I am so excited that I have been able to learn the ins and outs of blogging over the past 200 posts.  I am also looking forward to learning how to do so even better so that I can help serve my faithful readers with the information that they would like to have.  I would love to have your feedback as to what sort of things you would like to have feature on this site.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Also if you have gained anything from any of my posts would you be willing to help me out by clicking on this facebook link and liking a video I made that features me and my team with the work we do with teens in Langley?  If I get the most likes out of the other entries on the Youth Sepcialities facebook site by December 5, 2010 I could win an iPad.  If you're interested in helping out - great!  Here is the link

Langley Youth Unlimited Promo Video

If you have to choose though - I would rather have your feedback than to win a gadget.  Together we can learn more about how to help the young people of the world.



Monday, November 29, 2010

Youth Culture Update 11.29.2010

Youth Workers Need Support:
When it comes time to crunch the numbers Youth Workers will often get the ax.   I think this comes with the fact that not many people understand what it is that youth workers do and how they affect youth culture.  This short story is calling UK citizens to stand up for keeping youth services running at maximum capacity.

Children and Young People Now - MP's called to back Youth Work

Teen Writes Self Help Book For His Peers:
A young man named, Alex Southmayd, who is still in high school has written and published a self-help book for his fellow teens.  While some may balk at the idea of a teen writing about such important issues due to lack of perspective brought on by very little life experience.  However I'm inclined to think that it is the teens themselves who can best communicate to their generation.  Wouldn't it be amazing to see more young people take their passion to the publishers?  I bet there would be a lot we could learn from them along the way.  The book is call Brain Snacks for Teens and is available on

Care2 - First Self-Help Book Written For Teens By A Teen

Traditional Youth Groups Could Be Detrimental To Their Purpose
Blogger Michael Krahn ( posted a lively and controversial article on three ways in which youth groups may be "destroying children".  While his language is harsh there I see some truth to his points.  1. Youth Groups Foster Peer Orientation.  Separating adults from youth has been happening since the 60's cultural revolution, but is it the right thing to continue? 2. Youth Groups Undercut Wholistic Community.  Without the varied input of different age groups some people can get stuck into a rut of interpretation.  3. Youth Groups Too Often Try To Attract.  Do we really want to try and motivate people based on consumerism and entertainment or do we want to see real life change and commitment?  Take a read and see what you you think.  It may have some serious implications for your church so be careful. Youth Groups Destroy Children

How To Tell The Difference Between Teen Drama and Teen Depression
For parents, teachers and youth workers it can be hard to tell when one of the teens we know is having a bad day or is in need of medical attention due to depression.  This article takes some time to weigh in when you  might help you to access your decision on how to help them. - Causes Of Teen Depression

How Can Youth Workers Encouarage The Next Leslie Nielsen

Anyone that journeys the social media networks knows about celebrity deaths mere instants after the event occurs.  Yesterday was no exception as the world said goodbye to Hollywood funny man Leslie Nielsen.  I grew up with more of an affection of the spoof movies with Nielsen than I did for the originals that they were portraying.  You may be wondering why I would bring the topic of Leslie Nielsen on a youth culture and resource blog.  The answer is simple.  The world needs more men like Leslie Nielsen.  We as youth workers need to encourage humor as a means of addressing social justice.

The world that many young people live in is a perpetually dark place.  They face things that are unthinkable by most.  From where I sit I can see many teens passing me on their way to or from school.  There are not many smiles and the darkness is extremely evident.  I know some of the stories.  Parents that have told these kids that they are unwanted and worthless.  Families that have split up and these teens are constantly stuck in the middle.  Relationships that they pour their lives into that turn out to be abusive and destructive.  Things that break my heart.

There is humor in the midst of this, but it mirrors their dark world.  I often am disturbed by the things that my young friends consider worthy of a laugh.  However it is usually cheap humor that rips into another persons character or sexuality.  These things may cause laughter but they do not restore the soul.  I often try to explain this difference to them, but I'm afraid that they influence me more in this area than I do in them.  I seem to have a knack for a sarcastic sense of humor.

There are a few kids though that are the shining light in the midst of these dark worlds.  These kids are typically refereed to as the class clowns and while they are loved almost universally between all the cliques of a high school campus.  The authorities in their lives tell them then need to "grow up".  I hope that instead of discouraging their gift that we would help them to nurture it and make it better.  For they have a gift of humor that can go farther into the depths of humanity and help those in the darkest places feel as though they are, even momentarily, being rescued.

Even though Leslie Nielsen was 84 years old when he died, from what he portrayed on the screen he was still young at heart.  Isn't that something that we should desire to help young people experience in their own lives?  Leslie Nielsen, I surely hope you rest in peace.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The rise of Young Justice

The rise of the teenage superhero. Tonight marked another high in the ongoing cultural emphasis of a dominate youth culture with the premiere of Young Justice. This Cartoon Network animated series featured a collection of superheros short on years but filled with passion to impact their world for the good. The writers spent a lot of time emphasizing the fact that these young people don't see themselves as sidekicks to the "real" heroes, but rather that they are full fledged heroes in their own right. I'm not sure how much emphasis one should pit on an hour debut of a cartoon in analyzing youth culture, but I'm sure that the research a development department at the cartoon network is probably more in tune with what sort of messages will fly with a teen audience than many academic or theological professionals could really claim. As much as youth are criticized for being at the center on society for many they feel as though they could never really impact change. We adults fail to remember that they are not only the future generation but they are also a part of the current generation as well. In such a time when kids are falling victim to an escapist mentality on life it would be good to bring them a show that instills the confidence and mindset of being passionate world changers and puresuers of justice. What do you think? if you watched the show fill me in on what themes you saw rising in the dialog. If you didn't watch let me know what you think of the concept.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

HOW TO: Challenge Poverty As A Youth Worker

I am no stranger to the streets. There are a lot of people with interesting stories there. Plus just watching someone walk away in my old coat gives me the sense that I have helped them. I like that feeling. I took a couple of trips downtown with my coworkers recently. We split up and walked alone for awhile. As soon as I was alone on the crowded streets of Vancouver I felt the security and confidence that I normally carry drip away. I started to wander. I had no purpose, no place to be. I just simply walked.

Something told me (I am sure it was God) to sit. I looked but it seemed every spot was taken. I ended up in an alley. At first the smell was putrid and I did not want to stay. There were so many people looking through the dumpsters, pushing around their carts, walking, and talking. I found a vacant spot and sat down. The city is a noisy place. This day was no exception. The hustle and bustle of traffic. The countless voices, horns, and construction leave a deafening wake. Yet in those few minutes I became painfully aware of the quietness around me. I was lonely. Just then a bus full of sightseers drove through the side road intersecting the alley. The people on board saw me but were quick to avoid eye contact. My loneliness increased all the more.

Here I was lonely, rejected, insecure, bored, and fighting a perma-headache. Suddenly the idea of a smoke did not seem that bad (and I hate smoking). At least it could help pass the time—and maybe help with the headache. It hit me then: If I could feel this way in under an hour how would I feel after a week or a year in
that place? Who would I become? As important as I like to think I am, in that moment I saw myself for who I really am: A wondering hobo. The term hobo came into wide use after the close of the U.S. Civil War. It was used to describe the vast amounts of soldiers who were “Homeward Bound”. Some of these men never made it home and gave into a life of aimless wondering. Maybe these hobo’s were not traveling toward home as much as they were traveling away from horrors of war. The people in the alley are also trying to escape from war filled lives. Wars that took place in their homes and now they are wandering on a journey not toward home but away from it.

I tried to imagine my home in that way. I thought of my hurts and pain I had faced in my past and tried to multiply them. The resulting feelings made me squeamish and uncomfortable. Remembering that I had tried to escape from those feelings before—not with drugs or running away, but by trying to step off a cliff. If it had not been for a friend who pulled me away from the edge, my life would have ended. The escape plan would have killed me just as the escape is killing the people in this alley. A light went on for me. Challenging poverty takes more than just the one time trip to feed, clothe, and hear stories. It is more than the social programs,
shelters, subsidized housing, and safe injection sites. Challenging poverty happens when you do not see a difference between “those” people and yourself and you reach out your hand and pull someone
to safety.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
-The Bible (Romans 12:16 NIV)

Not because they are your new renovation project, but because you love them enough to genuinely care
about their life. Without returns, without a sense of satisfaction, and without strings. Just like my friend had done for me. Escape seemed like the only plan but what I really needed was to see that God and the friends around me would help me deal with the war torn life.

I came to the street to challenge poverty and poverty ended up challenging me.

I jumped up and started walking again. Confidence and security were returning the closer I got to our rendezvous point. Yet I could not forget...I came to the street to learn about challenging poverty and poverty
ended up challenging me.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Meet Some Youth Workers from Langley BC

I wanted to introduce you to myself and my team.  Here are a few of my team member sharing their best and worst moments as Youth Workers.  If you're reading this comment and share your best and worst youth moments with us.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Can Youth (and Youth Workers) Experience Total Forgiveness?

I just finished reading the book “Total Forgiveness” by R.T. Kendall. Kendall offers an interesting perspective having grown up in the hills of Kentucky and serving the greater part of his life as the pastor of the Westminster Chapel in London, England. The vast array of cultural divides and experiences he faced obviously drove him to write a book on this topic.

We live in a world of turmoil and while forgiveness in mentioned I find myself often wondering if it is actually experienced. In working with young people I often am privy to information that tears at my confidence in humanity. Abuse, sexual exploitation, violent crimes, relationship abuse, lies, anger and hatred that move far beyond what may be typically referred to as teenage drama.

What surprises me most is the nonchalant attitude that most of these teen and young adults hold toward their despairing set of circumstances. Yet I think if I were to take a stab at what is really going on, my guess would be that they are scared more of confronting what has become of them and they find it easier to simply roll with it. If they try to find healing they will only be hurt more the next time.

The problem is that I know it isn’t sustainable. I know this because I will find myself struggling through the issues that they wont let go of. It is as though you have a conversation with someone that the rail road tracks are an unsafe place to play, but after the conversation they go straight back to it. This is one of the most difficult things to deal with in youth work. You care so much that you can almost begin to resent the fact these young people continue to put themselves in harm’s way and find the healing that you know is within their reach.

I found myself learning as I went through the pages of Total Forgiveness. Kendall’s words reflected this often pondered but rarely practiced Christian discipline of forgiveness. The names and faces of many individuals passed through my heart and mind as I wrestled with the concepts that Kendall was offering in his book. Realizing that I had been trying to teach a concept to young people that I was wrestling with myself was a good and humbling reminder to me. There is no way I can help young people to step into true forgiveness if I am unwilling to do so in my own life or even with them.

In good fashion R.T. creates a list of what his definition of “total” forgiveness is as well as what it is not:
  1. It is not approval of what they did
  2. It is not excusing what they did
  3. It is not justifying what they did
  4. It is not pardoning what they did
  5. It is not reconciliation
  6. It is not denying what they did
  7. It is not blindness to what happened
  8. It is not forgetting
  9. It is not refusing to take the wrong seriously
  10. It is not pretending we are not hurt

Many people young and old alike refuse to look at forgiveness as a viable option because they have a specific view of what forgiveness means. If the above list can be understood correctly maybe more of us would be able to move toward forgiveness more often. The question remains though – if it is not any of those things what is forgiveness?

  1. It is being aware of what someone has done and still forgiving them
  2. It is choosing to keep no record of wrongs
  3. It is refusing to punish
  4. It is not telling what they did
  5. It is being merciful
  6. It is being gracious
  7. It is an inner condition
  8. It is the absence of bitterness
  9. It is forgiving God
  10. It is forgiving ourselves

That is a difficult list. I won’t deny that there are things on there that seem next to impossible even it is not a big issue that we are talking about. Someone may have glared at me from across the room and I will want to make sure I give them an equally deserving one back. As the painful circumstance rise – it only gets harder. You may have adverse reactions to these lists, but I have not included the whole of Kendall’s explanation. You may want to pick up the book to see his justifications, exceptions and explanations for each item.

I liken this need for forgiveness in much the same way as planning an escape from prison. Every detail must be thought out or you will quickly end up worse than before. However nothing would taste as sweet as the freedom experienced after being wrongfully imprisoned. When I think about how many children, teens and young adults are sitting in the shackles of hurt and resentment I long to free them, but I realize that I can’t force them out of it. They have to want to be free. In the meantime I must not judge them for that but bless them where they are at and hope. What more can I do?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why it is worth being a Youth Worker (Video)

Come hang out at Starbucks with me with a couple of youth guys.  They asked me to join them, I asked them why they liked hanging out with me.  These are raw, unrehearsed lines that made my day - hopefully they will makes your day too. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The House Always Wins (How youth deal with parents that are addicts)

This is an exerpt from the magazine that we publish called RECONNECT written by my friend and co-worker Derian Julihn.  This story is compelling on many levels.  Some of the details and names have been changed to guard this family, but the heart of it is about the pain and difficulty of having a parent that is in trouble and how this young person was desperate to make a difference.

“My mom is a gambling addict.” Tim blurted out in the middle of our conversation. I have to admit I was taken aback by this moment of sheer brutal honesty. I could not even remember this young man’s name and he was already telling me his family’s secrets. I had seen Tim around before but this was the first time we had connected. Quite callously my response was, “Wow, that’s crazy! Can I interview you?”. In hindsight, I probably could have handled that situation better but Tim had hooked me and I really wanted to hear his story.
The story is one of tragedy and infinite sadness. You would never guess from looking at Tim that life has dealt him such cards. He is an honor student. He wears nice clothes. And he is always smiling. Now I recognize the smiles are forced. His mom grew up in country that was at war with itself. She later married, had two kids and immigrated to Canada. When Tim was eleven his parents separated; his mom, lonely and isolated in a foreign country, grew depressed and turned to gambling. Tim’s mom has grown such great that debt that she has to
steal from her own kids to feed her addiction. She disappears for days at a time. Sometimes there is food in the cupboards, sometimes there is not. Tim often skips lunch because there just is not enough food for three square meals.
Tim’s never told his mom how he feels about her addiction. In fact, he’s not sure she knows he is aware of her secret. They have never spoken of it. Tim says she is too proud to admit it and he is too afraid to say anything. When I asked him what he would say to her if he had the courage, He answered, “I would tell her everything’s going to be alright. I’ll fix it.”

When I asked Tim if he had the opportunity to escape from this mess (even if it meant leaving his younger sister and mom behind) would he take it. Tim’s eyes filled with tears, as he shook his head. At that very moment I realized Tim was desperately trying to save his family and he was sacrificing himself to do it.
For some people when the casino wins, it takes far more than their money. It takes their soul, their family and their future. I still wonder how Tim’s going to “fix it”. My greatest fear is that Tim is taking an even greater gamble than his Mom. He’s betting his entire life on the roulette table. I know even in life the house almost always wins but I truly hope and pray the ball hits double zero for Tim’s sake.

Monday, November 8, 2010

If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything.

I watched as she walked down the steps of the pool into the cool waters. Today she was making a public statement that she was indeed committing her life to following after Jesus. I stood next to her mom as we listened to her story of life change and her newly formed beliefs. I could tell her mom was uncomfortable with this whole ordeal. The church scene was something foreign to this family yet she was here to support her daughter. As the young lady emerged from the water I leaned over to this mother and said, “You should be proud of your daughter”. She asked me “Why?”

It is a good question isn’t it? For those of us that have grown up in the church it seems obvious, so much so that maybe we forget to look past the ritual into the amazing symbolism of baptism. To many families the idea of their kids becoming “religious” is a terrifying thing. I knew one young person who was exploring different religions who was kicked out of the home for having a Bible and a copy of Blue Like Jazz. I have sympathy on these families because they are helpless watching their children purposefully moving in a belief structure that they either don’t understand or fundamentally disagree with. I would have difficulty in watching my own kids do the same thing. I would have a lot of questions for them and also for myself.

Ultimately, to me it comes down to a quote I heard in a movie trailer for “Sucker Punch” this weekend:

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”

This simple statement outlines much of what it is that I do in my work with teens. I do work for a Christian organization and I am thrilled when young people get to know Jesus as I have. My faith and friendship with God serve as my motive not my definition of success. I would rather see young person become friends with God rather than a convert to Christianity. I can present ideas but I can’t make people accept them.

To this mom I said that looking into a world of young people that are tossed around by drugs, sexual exploitation, abusive relationship, teen pregnancy and an ongoing list of terrible things that I’ve witnessed as a Youth Worker it is an indicator that these kids don’t have anything for which they will take a stand for. That day as her daughter was baptized she was saying that be it a popular choice or not she does stand for something. The mothers eyes filled with tears and she went straight to her daughter as she came out of the pool, looked her in the eyes and said, “I am so proud of you.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Who is God?

Every week young people gather in our home. We share a meal, life and spirituality.  A few weeks ago we invested a whole night on the topic “Who is God”.  There is so much that can be said theologically and philosophically, but I wanted to concentrate on the relational aspect of who God is.  I’ve been hounded to share my notes on this night.  So here they are:
So where do we start in trying to figure out who God is? 
  • You can look to yourself.  (What are your thoughts on God?)
  • You can ask others their opinions.  (Text and ask someone right now)
  • You can look to other sources (I recommend that we look at the bible)

Many of you have tried opening the bible and reading from page one and expressed that it doesn’t help your understanding of God.  It doesn’t seem to be about him but about creation VS evolution.  I don’t think that is the point here.  God didn’t actually give us a scientific text book, but in fact he gave us a poem. If it were written more scientifically it would probably sound like this: 

It doesn’t really answer questions about how the creation happened, but rather gives us a reflection of the one creating it. 

Poetry is about the soul, not the mind.  It is about art, not science (although science is not opposed to faith in God, but for the moment we are talking about wanting to know who God is, (a creator) not his techniques in doing it.  We miss this a lot because our English bibles do not capture the Hebrew poetry very well so I want to try an experiment with you.

 We moved outdoors and while I recited a poem inspired from Genesis I worked on an art project surrounded by our group.

 In the beginning. God.
Before the time of sky or sod.

He hovered over his blank canvas
Ready to end the eternal blackness

Light erupted at his word
The first thing from him was purity and brightness stirred

What comes to mind when you think of light and how does that relate to God?

                The space was made to hold
                A planet he would now enfold

                Water was made with pathos
                And thus ended the chaos

The most popular creation tale when this was written was called the Enma Elish. The story involves the salt water god and the Fresh water god in a battle that ended up in the creation of armies of animals and men to serve them in their wars.  It was chaos.  Here God shows us that he is beyond chaos and separates the waters with just his words.  He is someone we can trust with our problems.  What does it mean to you that God is in control?

                The sound of his voice echoed grand
                And out of the water rose the land

                But far from God to keep things bland
                He had far more elaborate plans

                He is the father of all living things
                From the fish that swim to the birds that sing

Here God reveals that he is not just a master of things, such as planets and stars, but of life itself.  What implications does this have for our “life”?

                The sun stars and moon were set in space
                To mark the time on this place

                It was at this point that God revealed
                He reason to make all the grass and field

                He molded a human to carry his name
                A prince of creation you could say

We were not an afterthought, or a byproduct of random chance, but deliberately thought about.  He set the stage to begin the relationship of love with us.  Does it mean anything that the author of this poem wrote it about you?

So there we have the poem of God declaring that:
·         He is light
Hence he wants us to be like lights in the darkness of our world
·         He can be trusted
He wants us to trust him but also be people that can be trusted with people’s problems
·         He is a life giver
He created and wants us to be creative bring out life in our surroundings
·         He is a king
He has passed on his authority to us as princes of the universe.  He proves this last point the fact that he had people name the animals.  Naming is a sign of authority.  Parents name their kids, cities name streets – unless we have authority we can’t name anything.  God grants that to us. 

(I then left the group to name my artwork while I went inside to wash my hands.  I had prearranged with one of the students that while I was away he would take the cans of spray paint and destroy my painting.  He did and the rest of the group were angry, upset and seemed to want to physically retaliate to him.  I played dumb and pretended I didn’t know what had happened.  I was sad.  Then the people in the group started to talk about how this was a fitting picture of what had happened with God and the earth.  How people basically did the same thing.  Then there in my front lawn I talked about the message of despair we brought upon ourselves and the message of hope that God would one day restore his creation and the broken relationships with us.)

There you have it – The creation story taught through poetry and art.