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.