Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Another Shooting, More Finger Pointing, More Heartbreak, More Frustration…

I have just finished reading the latest headline, “Third Student Dies After Ohio School Shooting” and my heart hurts—I hate reading these types of headlines—it makes me sick.

Here is what will happen and is happening now, we are all asking the question, what made the 17 year old T.J. Lane snap and randomly shoot his peers at school?  All day long, the media has been pointing to bullying, social media, gun control, and parenting as causes for this horrible tragedy.  I am sure each of these may have impacted the young man’s decision to calmly walk through the hall of his school with a gun.  I do not know enough of the situation to weigh in on an opinion at this point—their will be enough finger pointing. 
However, what if we are looking in the wrong direction?  What if, adult culture and our treatment of today’s teenage population are more to blame for such tragedy than we want to admit? 

I have worked with students for over 21 years and have a middle school student of my own.  I have witnessed bad parenting behavior from myself and other adults. I have witnessed really bad mentoring behavior from myself and other adults as well.  In other words, there are no “perfect” adults in a student’s life.  Even so, I believe most adults really want the best for today’s teenage population—I really do believe this.  However, when there is a problem in Teen Land, we adults often blame every influencing factor in our teenager’s life other than ourselves.  As a result, we tend to prepare the road for the student instead of the student for the road.  Furthermore, when we feel like the road is acceptable, adults take their hands off the wheel and expect students to drive themselves through all the hazards of life. It’s not working! (I realize that is a heavy line of statements that probably should be unpacked a bit—I will let them set and marinate a bit—you can weigh in on them if you wish).

I have been reading through Christian Smith’s Lost in Transition book.  It is, admittedly, a look into “the dark side of Emerging Adulthood” (18-23 years old).  As today’s headline story of the Ohio Shooting unfolded, I was drawn to Smith’s introductory comments and his research team’s take on the role adults play in various teenage “problem behaviors.”  To be clear, Smith does not specifically name school shooting or any other teen issue, he is speaking in generalities, yet his words caused me to think—think deeply.  Hold on adults, he brings the heat: 

It’s the Adult World, Stupid

Another common attitude that American adults hold about young people—which we reject, just to be clear—is that whatever problems youth have are entirely their problems, unrelated to the adults around them.  The assumption is that something particular about teenagers or young adults rains problems down on their own heads, problems for which they are entirely responsible, which older adults simply cannot comprehend or explain.  The something may be “raging hormones.” It might be their not yet properly wired brains. Or it could be simple immaturity, rebelliousness, or stupidity. Whatever the cause, the problem is clearly the young people’s fault, this widespread view holds.  The adults involved are of course innocent.

Having studied young Americans for a decade, however, we have clearly seen that, contrary to this well-worn cultural script, most of the problems in the lives of youth have their origins in the larger adult world into which the youth are being socialized….But one way or another, adults and the adult world are almost always complicit in the troubles, suffering and misguided living of youth, if not the direct source of them. The more adults can recognize and admit that fact we think, the sooner we will be able to address some of young people’s problems more constructively (11) (emphasis mine).

I write today because my heart hurts and I want such tragic headlines to go away—this desire motivates me to continue my work with students.  I want adults to do exactly what Smith is suggesting, “to address some of young people’s problems more constructively.”  So, through the entire finger pointing process in this horrible tragedy (an unavoidable process), let’s remember what our mother’s told us, “When you point a finger at someone else, you have four pointing back at you!” And by all means, remember in prayer all those impacted by this painful event.

Question:  (Back to the marinating series of statements) …when there is a problem in Teen Land, we adults often blame every influencing factor in our teenager’s life other than ourselves.  As a result, we tend to prepare the road for the student instead of the student for the road.  Furthermore, when we feel like the road is acceptable, adults take their hands off the wheel and expect students to drive themselves through all the hazards of life. It’s not working!” Do you agree or disagree?  Explain.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Yes, I love Butterfly Kisses!

My daughter has been excited about the Butterfly Kisses Daddy Daughter Dance since she received the flyer in the mail.  Actually, we missed the dance last year, my daughter was not going to let me miss this year's extravaganza. 
Extravaganza?  Yes!  Led by one of our creative Hills' Children's Ministry leaders, Susan Conway from our South Lake campus, it was a night of arts and crafts, dessert buffet, dinner, dancing, pictures and carriage rides--everything a little girl dreams about happened at this event--extravaganza! My daughter and I had a magical and memorable time together.

With the door bell rang, the flowers given, this picture taken and the door to the car open--we began our daddy daughter date night.  As I said, extravaganza! We had a blast completing arts and crafts, eating a fabulous meal, dancing to all types of music (yes, Bieber Fever raised its ugly head on the dance floor) and taking three rounds on the horse drawn carriage.  All of this was memorable but what followed transformed the night into a powerful moment of blessing and transition.

Towards the end of the night Chris John, one of our outstanding church leaders, called all dads and daughters into a circle in which each was facing the other. With permission, here are the words Chris shared (be warned, they are Kleenex worthy and powerful): 

Tonight is a very special night.  It’s a night that you will treasure forever.  This is a night for the Daddies to honor their daughters.  This is a night that is the beginning for some and the end for others.   We want you to see your daughter for the princess she is-not a princess of worldly things but a princess because her father is the King Of Kings.  Yes, all you men are pretty important but our heavenly Father is our King of Kings.

I would like all the Fathers to get on a circle with their backs to the middle of the circle.  Have your daughter or daughters stand in front of you facing you.  You may want to kneel on their level or just bend down to them.  I would like all the Fathers to repeat after me.

Father: I promise to always love and honor you

Father: I promise to be the kind of Father you can look up to and be proud of.

Father:  I promise to raise you with God in the center of our family.

Father:  I promise to raise you into a loving Christian Women.

Father: so you will find a Christian Husband who will honor you and God.

Father:  I will always be here for you.  Forever and always.

Father:  I will hold your heart until God is ready for your future husband to hold it

Wow!  Saying these words, while looking into your daughter's eyes, is both an awesome affirmation and challenge for dads.  But wait--it got even better.  Chris then called current 5th grader daughters and their dads into the center of the circle.  You get a sense of what happened next from his notes:

Call the 5th grade girls and their Dads to the center of the circle and have everyone else face the center as well.
Talk about Jesus and their Dads being the Cornerstone of their lives
Pray over the 5th graders and the rest of the Daddies and daughter.
Here is a picture of that inner circle.

Chris spoke of how the young ladies were about to enter their teenage years, affirmed the change and assured them that their dads and the family of faith would be with them through it all.  Did I say "Wow!"  It was a powerful Rite of Passage moment that no one will be able to forget (which is exactly the goal of such programming).

Shortly after the blessing the dessert bar opened for celebration and then the song played--butterfly kisses. My daughter and I were swaying slowly with the music when she suddenly stopped, motioned for me to bend down,  stood up on her tip toes, and gave me a butterfly kiss--priceless!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"I hear something!": Are adults listening?

For a while now, my son has been saying, usually late at night, "I hear something outside my window!"
My usual response, "There is nothing outside your window--it's just the wind in the bushes."
His comeback, "No dad!  I hear something!"
My comeback (sometimes a little irritable after walking outside "to check things out, in the cold"--I know, dad of the year stuff) "Dude!  There is nothing there--please, go to bed!"

Well...um...there was something there!

We were searching for the basketball tonight and I stumbled across this hole. This is a rather large hole that has been dug under the foundation of my home (yes, it is under my son's window) by a "critter."  By the looks, I am assuming it to be the home of a good ol' Texas Armadillo.  It is certainly going to be fun catching the beast, but that is not my point for writing.  My son was trying to tell me something but I was NOT listening. Sure, the truth was hidden, by the bushes, but he was right and I was not giving his experience much credibility.  

How many times do we as adults fail to listen to what our students are trying to tell us?
For a while, students have been trying to tell the adult world a number of things like...
"I am buckling under the pressure at school!"
"I am hurt by my parent's fighting!"
"I am sick of feeling I am never good enough!"
"I am sick of living out my parent's dream for my life!"
The usual adult response "There is nothing to your feelings--it is normal teenage drama!"
The student comeback, "Hey Adults! I am really hurting here!  Listen! Please!"
With irritation, the adult world responds, "Look at all we are providing for you!  All the activity!  Remember, these are the best year's of your life!"

What if our students are trying to tell us something and adults are not listening? 
Just saying...what if?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"This Sucks!" and other words adults should consider NOT using!

Confession:  As a kid, I had my mouth washed out with soap--Yum!  Before you call CPS on my mom, I am THANKFUL she cared enough to discipline me and call my speech to a higher standard. 

I originally wanted to begin this blog by listing a number of fill-in-the-blank examples of the more overt uses of the dumbed down language (I would call it inappropriate) heard coming from the mouths of students at malls, movie theaters, fast food restaurants, and schools. However, when your student ministry friend reads the blog and is shocked, I decided to simply ask you to remember your latest visit to one of these student hangouts and recall what you heard (thanks Jason!).  And to be clear, it is not just those nasty cussin' words grabbing my attention.  How, about the lack of respect stuff?

"You are so stupid!"
"This sucks!"
"_____________ that teacher/coach/principle/student minister/officer (insert your favorite rage focus) is going to get a piece of my mind!"
"I know what the rules are but I am going to do whatever I want!" (said with any number of non-verbal signals of sarcasm)

Before pointing the finger at today's movies, music and mobile devices culture (I had to find another "M"), I would like to point out a much more powerful influence impacting today's student language woes--ADULTS!

I realize even the most careful adult can slip and say something inappropriate in front of a student--we are human.  Still, what amazes me is the seemingly increasing number of adults I have witnessed speaking the dumbed down dialect with no reservation or concern.  However, if adults don't care to watch their language, why should students?  I believe it our responsibility as adults to expect more out of our own language and those around us.

I am definitely not suggesting pulling a bar of soap out every time you hear a student or adult drop their favorite expletive and/or less than appropriate word in public.  I am suggesting the following:
  • As an adult, expect more out of your own word choices--students are listening. I am not saying you need to bring back the king's language or outlaw contractions in your speech. I am saying that adults can not call student's to a standard they are unwilling to keep themselves.  By the way, it is totally alright to apologize when you cross the speech line.
  • Expect more out of the word choices used by the students and adults you have a direct relationship with.  It is totally appropriate to call foul when someone you care about is speaking the dumbed down dialect. As a culture, word choices will continue to deteriorate unless a standard is  raised.  Let's start with those we are in direct relationship.
Just a thought--what would happen if one of those T.V. "bleepers" followed you around and censored your speech?  Would anybody be able to tell what you where trying to communicate your use of the dumb down dialect?

    Monday, February 13, 2012

    Race Day at The Hills: An Intergenerational Win!

    Our Preacher ran a marathon this year!  Yep...26.2 miles of pain and accomplishment.  There are a couple of positives that have come out of this experience.
    • I have received a shirt from our preacher's "I am now smaller than you and my XL shirts no longer fit me collection" (to be clear, he was not calling me fat--I think) And...
    • Our preacher started a new series on the Christian life, The Race, that involves video footage of his marathon, stories of training and competition and lessons learned from his running experience.
    To kick off the new series, our students were asked to partner with our church's adult greeter and assembly planning teams to create a race like, high-energy welcoming environment for each weekend worship participant.  So, our students (dressed in running gear) held signs of encouragement, gave out water bottles and race tags, and welcomed all who walked through the doors of our church with the enthusiasm only a teenager, and a few crazy adult volunteers (notice the shaved head--student volunteer--go figure) could muster.   IT WAS AMAZING!  Check out these cool pics from the event!

    This last picture is my favorite and captures the excitement of the day's Race Experience (BTW:  No senior adult was hurt in the greeting experience project).  Students and adults working on a project together--priceless!

    Our preacher's kickoff lesson for The Race series was excellent!  Not to steal his thunder, but as we process the impact this series will have on our church family, one of the most memorable highlights will be the day the students welcomed the church to worship. 

    Question:  What simple collaborations have led to big intergenerational wins in your church context?

    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    Pass the Kleenex!

    As a student minister, a consistent base hit is a great result for programming.  However, every once in a while, an event connects in a big way--today was a Home run Student Ministry Day!  For the past few years our student ministry has hosted a 6th Grade and 9th Grade blessing time.  The event features each student inviting their parents, grandparents or guardians and five adults whom they feel are significant participants in their physical, emotional and spiritual development to a time of blessing led by our church shepherds and student ministry staff. This year, the blessing was personal--Braeden, my son, was participating.

    Okay, I will say it, I am a tear factory at these types of events.  Even so, I did not expect to shed the first tear--wishful thinking--the water works began with the first few words out of my mouth.  My son said later that he knew I would cry but did not think I would be the first.  By the way men, he thought it was cool that I was so touched by the moment that I got a little emotional ( I will confess it was sort of a "losing of the man card moment" when my mom, usually the first to cry at such events, passed me a Kleenex).
    The program was simple:
    • Darin Hollingsworth, our lead middle school student minister, welcomed the participants and explained the importance of adult presence in a student's life and the student ministry.
    • Dale Brooks, one of our outstanding Hill's Church shepherds, spoke of the church's love for each student and family and their support of the student ministry itself and ended by giving blessing to students and the student's Parents/Guardians/Adults
    • Darin directed a time of blessing in which each student listened to their parents, grandparents, guardians and invited guests speak words of affirmation, praise, encouragement and future hope. 
    • The event ended with Delton Garnett, another outstanding Hill's shepherd, praying over the students and families as each student was being touched by the loving and supportive hands of another group of wonderful church shepherd (thanks, Curt Parsons and John Wallace--awesome!).
    "Boom!"  the event was out of the park.
    No bells and whistles, videos, drama, or contemplative worship set employed for this event.
    Adults spoke loving words of blessing over each middle school student--simple, powerful and memorable!
    I asked Dale Brooks to send the words he shared with the students and adults (get the printer ready, you will probably want to put them on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror):

    To the parents and mentors:
    May the Father fill you with His Spirit and empower you to live a trustworthy life, may you grow in your prayer life with Him, may He grant you discernment and insight to really hear and understand as you listen and observe, courage to verbally affirm and lovingly correct, patience to submit to His timing, compassion to empathize, the heart to forgive, but above all greater love. God bless you.

    To the 6th grade students:
    May you more fully know the love of Jesus and make Him Lord of your life every day, may your prayer life grow, may you be strong and brave to make right and wise choices, may you have help from family and friends who love Jesus, may you have courage to ask questions and welcome their help when needed, and may you understand that God has special and good purposes for your life to be lived out even now.  God bless you.

    Tonight, at my son's 6th grade small group, the energy was up and the adults still buzzing from the morning's blessing experience.  It was a good day at the Hills and I haven't even mentioned RACE DAY--maybe tomorrow!

    QUESTION:  Why do you believe such a simple event created such a wonderful and powerful experience for both student and adult?