Saturday, December 31, 2011

"So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. . . . Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!" Psalm 90:12, 16-17.

Image: vichie81 /
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking Forward

As we approach the end of 2011, I got to thinking of how at the end of a year we review and project to the new year. It's natural. We do it at the end of a project, a phase of life, a semester . . . . Definitely we want to do it at the end of the year, so that we move forward with renewed purpose and vigor, having assessed our strengths and weaknesses, taking forward lessons learned.

The funny thing is, as I thought of looking forward, a childhood hymn came to me: "Looking upward everyday." On reflection, it is not really strange. As people of faith, for us to really move forward, we have to look upward to God for counsel and guidance, wisdom and strength. This is God's life and the work we do is God's work.

At the end of 2011, how are you looking upward? How are you enabling your students to look upward?

Leaving every day behind
Something which might hinder;
Running swifter every day;
Growing purer, kinder—

Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Monday, December 26, 2011

Voice and Agency

Developing the art of communicating is part of the developmental process. As youth develop physically and in other areas it is important that they are given opportunities and various media to express themselves and be heard and valued. Not only does this help them to develop confidence but that the act of expressing and receiving feedback helps in the formation of identify.

Alison Mann, in the article below, uses her curricular subjects of film studies and media arts to give teens a voice which helps them to critically engage and contribute to their world.

Breaking down barriers by giving teens a voice -
Like all teachers, Alison Mann begins each new semester at Parkdale Collegiate Institute by introducing herself to the students. Unlike most teachers...

It is also true that often when we think of "voice" we think of the spoken word. Allowing youth to express themselves verbally is also important. The report from WebMD below references research. This research shows that when teens who are allowed to express their disagreements with their moms can better withstand peer pressure. This expression of difference occurs in an environment where teen's opinions are listened to and addressed, even when not resolved. Autonomy and resolve are strengthened.

Teens Who Can Express Themselves More Likely to Avoid Drugs
New research shows that teens who are able to express themselves with their moms are better able to resist peer pressure and say no to drugs and alcohol.

Giving voice is important everywhere. In the state arena, Florida is gearing up for its Teens only Town Hall Meeting. Teens get to interact with official and experts and ask their questions. It reminds me of a pastor who holds regular meetings with the youth of his congregation so that they can ask questions and raise issues affecting and/or of interest to them.

Giving students a voice | Florida Common Ground
3, supported by more than 100 organizations, is giving students a voice in everything from early childhood education to substance abuse treatment through its “Teens Only” Town Hall Meeting. The meeting gives teens the ...

The question for us then is, how are we allowing authentic communication with youth so that they can have agency? What and where are the respectful spaces for them to communicate via the arts and verbally their deepest longings, questions, aspirations, and yes, disagreements?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas from your friends at youTheology.                              
May you be filled with God's peace this season.                                     
"And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,                                                                        
'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" Luke 2:13-14
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas Invitation

A time to push aside the curtain of glitter
that wraps us in a haze of
sentimental astonishment
robbed of simple
awe and wonder at
God's simplicity -
a child, born to die
to save, to heal, to deliver
simply on a cross.

A time to embrace the chorus
that rises above the cacophony of
babel decked in
consumerism and bottom lines
driven by fear and greed
still missing
God - with us forever.

A time to go out in full surrender
to worship with our lives,
all that we have,
with the simple dwelling in
the fields of life
away from the center
yet close to God
and the angels.

Peace on earth.

by Claire Smith

Image: Danilo Rizzuti /
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Monday, December 19, 2011

Teens and Drug Use

In many ways, the teenage years are potentially hazardous. Teens can feel invincible and while knowing risk factors for particular behaviors, have that sense that these negative outcomes can not happen to them. Moreover, it is the age when peer pressure exerts a major influence on actions and attitudes, especially when positive, meaningful relationships with adults are absent.

This goes back to what research has told us about the teenage brain: it is still developing. Executive function is still developing and limited and often the emotional side of the brain drives behavior. It's a time of risk inasmuch as it is also at time of great potential with many positive results.

Substance abuse is one of those risk factors that keeps popping up. It seems we always have to be on the lookout for the latest trend among teens so that we can help them protect themselves from current and long term harm.

In the article below, we have a mixed report in that smoking and alcohol use are down among teens but marijuana use has increased. This includes the use of a synthetic form of marijuana that is known to be harmful.

Teens Smoking Fewer Cigarettes, More Marijuana
Fewer teens than ever are smoking cigarettes, but marijuana use has steadily increased over the past five years, according to a new nationwide survey.

However, it is not just the synthetic form of marijuana that is problematic but synthetic drug use in general. Teens find ways of turning everyday, household items into substance abuse as we at the link read below.

Dangerous trend sends teens to ER : News : HeartlandConnection ...
A rise in synthetic drug use is sending teens to the emergency room.

So who is at risk for and/or who is drawn to this type of behavior? Any teen. This cuts across the stereotypical boundaries and can be from any socioeconomic background as well as can include high achieving youth. In fact, the article below, which looks at prescription drug abuse, suggests that high achieving youth are very likely to experiment, given who they are. It also gives ways in which youth access drugs and notably shows that there are teens who feel that their parents will be easier on them if they abuse prescription drug vs other types.

Not My Teen: Why All Teens Are Vulnerable to Prescription Drug ...
If you've read up on the prescription drug addiction epidemic and decided it isn't something you need to worry about, it may be time to reevaluate. Your teen could be among the one in five adolescents who report abusing prescription drugs to ...

This calls for awareness on our part in youth ministry. We need to:
  • Keep abreast of what the latest trend of substance abuse is,
  • Talk about substance abuse in broad and very specific terms,
  • Keep an open door for those who have experimented with and/or may be addicted and are too embarrassed to discuss it in front of the group. If necessary, we can be a bridge between the youth and the parents.
  • Know where students can go to for help so that we can refer them,
  • Remind the students who profess faith in Jesus Christ that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).
  • Reinforce the need for involvement in positive, life-giving activities outside of school time, 
  • Connect youth with adult mentors,
  • Remind them of the need for hanging with people who share similar values and goals,
  • Use the faith resources of prayer, Scripture and worship.
What would you add to this list?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Monday, December 12, 2011

Valuing Youth

A week ago we noted that youth enjoy giving. Today we see youth in action in service to others, even when their situation may be seen as disadvantageous. Given the opportunity and guidance then, youth will do acts of kindness to benefit others.

The Oakland story reminds us not to write off anyone as we read about teens who have had brushes with the law making lap blankets for veterans, brainchild of their teacher..

Teacher Shares Love Of Crafts With Troubled Teens « CBS Detroit
An Oakland County math teacher is changing the lives of troubled teens with a crochet hook and a ball of yarn.

In Prichard, AL, teens reached out to younger children by reading to them, etc. You will see this below.

Teens spread holiday cheer in Prichard |
Teens spread holiday cheer in Prichard. Updated: Saturday, 10 Dec 2011, 9:55 PM CST Published : Saturday, 10 Dec 2011, 8:50 PM CST. Letisha Bush. PRICHARD, Ala. (WALA) - A young man sat center stage and read a book to a full room ...

Noticing the problem of hungry teens for whom there is no provision, Retired Army Major Gene Briseno guides young Cadet Club members to reach out and be part of the solution for their classmates and others.

Hunger among teens often goes unnoticed -
Day after day, as he monitored lunch hour at the Southwest Early College Campus, retired Army Maj. Gene Briseno would see students sitting at tables without any food in front of them.

Particularly at this time of the year when we think more of giving as we reflect on God's great gift, how are we providing opportunities for our students to bring practical solutions to everyday problems? How are we helping them to open their eyes to the need around them?

How do you do this in your student ministry?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor 
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Friday, December 9, 2011

Teens and Technology

Research shows that teens continue to increase their use of technology. Smartphones give access to the internet and, of course, texting. With available apps and software, iTouch, and tablets are phones. However, there is heartening news. Cyberbullying isn't completely widespread, as the research from Pew below shows and there are those who will challenge the bullier. This research also reveals that teens, especially older teens have a greater awareness of privacy issues and exercise caution in what they post and do use privacy controls in social media. Teens look to parents for guidance and a considerable number of parents are engaged, monitoring, and giving sound counsel on the use of social media and the internet. However, considering the large number of teens who do not exercise caution in their postings, who share passwords and the number who lie about their age in order to have access to social media, there is cause for concern. Moreover, there remains a sizable number of unengaged parents.

Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites: Pew Internet Research

Below, is an infographic that gives the findings from the Pew research noted and lined above in one view. Yes, there is cruelty, but it is not as widespread as the title below suggests. Nevertheless, it is a good way of accessing the Pew data using a different lens.

Teens' cruel world of social networking [infographic] - Holy Kaw!
Teens' cruel world of social networking [infographic]. Posted Dec 8th, 2011 at 4:44 PM and seen. times. Tweet. (Click on the infographic below to learn more.) Via Column Five for ZoneAlarm. Like infographics? So do we. ...

While we're all happy to know that sexting is not as widespread as we would have been led to believe, 10 percent is still a significant number and should not be dismissed. Fortunately, not many of these images go viral. However, the impact on the victim in the few cases when they do is not to be underestimated. So we're thankful, but still concerned and needing to be proactive.

1 in 100 Teens Involved in Sexting | Psych Central News
Although teen sexting is a subject of controversy, new research suggests concern about the practice may be overblown. New studies from the University of New.

One cyber cop certainly sees the need for proactive engagement, wise counsel, control, and monitoring. He warns against "digital tunnels" because teens know how to and do embed content that is not appropriate in ways that would make it very difficult for parents and other adults to find, even when they are monitoring teens' use of the internet. He further gives advice on how parents could get their children to disconnect.

Cyber cop warns of secret teen world | vuong, teens, computer ...
Home: Cyber cop warns of secret teen world | vuong, teens, computer, parents, phone, digital, kids, fight, internet, technology.

I would suggest that we can do some of these and other things in our youth ministry, using Matthew 5:13-16 and Matthew 7:12 as our framework:
  • Applaud youth when they use technology appropriately and wisely.
  • Encourage youth to be thoughtful and respectful of themselves and others in how they use technology.
  • Give practical advise and examples of safe and unsafe, respectful and disrespectful online and texting practices.
  • Have youth identify ways of glorifying God in their online and texting presence.
  • Have youth disconnect at appropriate times and find meaning and fulfillment outside of technology.
What other Scriptures and ideas can you think of? What would you add?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Monday, December 5, 2011

Philanthropy: Loving God, Loving Neighbor

"In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35).

Throughout the Bible we are told in word and example that we are be concerned about and proactive on behalf of those who are less fortunate; we are to give and not look for reward. We see this is Jesus' life and we remember his rendering of the two greatest commandments: "He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:37-39).

People find joy in giving and serving and today's youth are no exception. Just read the articles below:

Teens build home from inside jail | WCBD-TV 2
Teens incarcerated at the state Department of Juvenile Justice hammered the first nails of a home they will build on Friday.

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen: Philanthroteens: Transforming Teens ...
When it comes to giving, we can draw inspiring lessons from today's youth. The volunteer rate among sixteen- to nineteen-year-olds, in terms of hours given, has almost doubled since 1989, according to the Corporation for ...

Red Thread Promise: New Orleans youth takes philanthropy to heart
New Orleans youth takes philanthropy to heart. Fr. Sadoni, Director of St. Vincent's, and Marigny, Hahnville High School senior. We trust by now you all know how much The Red Thread Promise values youth participation in ...

Whether it be organized, or spontaneous, youth are volunteering and helping others in significant numbers. Think of the way they are eager to go on mission trips.

The question for us as youth leaders/pastors/volunteers, etc, is how are we helping them connect what they do with our scriptural injunction to love God and neighbor?

Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve; 
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.

 Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Friday, December 2, 2011

Perspectives from the Field: Peace Should be More Than a Phrase on a Christmas Card

You’ve probably seen a greeting card that had the word “Peace” and it might have even included “Love” or maybe it said “Peace on Earth” but did the words have any meaning?

Memories of Christmas always make me think of two songs (“Peace on Earth” and “Silent Night”) with both being sung at the same time on Christmas Eve.  It sounds beautiful but it’s also a great reminder of an important part of what Christmas is all about.

Another holiday memory associated with church was actually on New Year’s and was with my college youth group when we had a peace vigil before Desert Storm.  This was very personal to me as my college roommate was among those going to Kuwait that year.  Little did I know that my own son would be spending a year in Iraq the NEXT time that our nation went to war with Iraq.  Now as we approach another holiday season, we’ve been promised that our troops will come home.

Of course, Peace isn’t just about things happening on the other side of the world or the presence or absence of war.  Peace includes how you treat your family, how you treat your friends, how you treat your neighbors and how you treat your enemies. That’s right, we need to remember to look for peace with those we love, those we like, those we hardly know and even those that we really would rather not interact with.

Each month, I close my blog with “youTheology: Loving God, Loving Neighbor” but have you thought about what that phrase really means?   If we LOVE God and we also LOVE our Neighbor, Peace should be a natural part of who we are as Christians.   I’ve now added the youTheology Mission Statement: “Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World, Now and In the Future.”  This includes reaching out to others that are different than us and creating an environment for peace today and tomorrow.

We need to make sure our youth understand that Peace and Love aren’t something that you TALK about; they aren’t just concepts; they are a way of life.

Speak up!  What are YOU going to do this Christmas season to show youth (and adults) an example of how to follow the Prince of Peace?

by Mark Whitaker

Youth and Young Adult Director, Communications Coordinator, & Scouting Rep
Avondale United Methodist Church in Kansas City MO (North of the River)
Advisory Board for youTheology / Marketing Coordinator

Loving God, Loving Neighbor 
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future