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systemic abandonment

Building Bridges (pt. 4 – Sense of Belonging/Community)


In our research, the greater the disconnect, the greater the sense of marginalization among LGBTQ youth, the higher the likelihood of high-risk behaviors. To compensate for the deep depression of being isolated many would turn to drugs or alcohol to numb those feelings. Many contemplate suicide at higher rates than their non-LGBTQ peers. Often they would move towards unhealthy communities seeking acceptance and belonging and engage in unsafe and unhealthy sexual activity just to feel a sense of love and that of being wanted.

There are culturally accepted norms by which we hold all people to. The more they are like the norm, the greater level of acceptance and support we are likely to give them. It’s not pretty but it’s honest. Jesus flipped this upside down with his kingdom. One of his goals for the kingdom was to restore people to community with each other and with the Father. The more an individual is different from the norm (those with power) the higher the risk of marginalization.

Add to this tendency, the variety of intersections an individual might have that increases societal marginalization, such as; race, ethnicity, gender, religion, ability, disability, socio-economic status, location, etc.. The more different one tends to be the higher the likelihood of alienation and separation from mainstream society, thus impacting one’s ability to feel and maintain a sense of belonging and connectedness.

So, if we (humanity) are to work towards the reconciliation of all things, how might we better do this?

Where have our strategies failed? Where have they succeeded? What new strategies do we need? What posture might we take that increases the potential for restoration to occur?

Building Bridges (pt. 3 – LGBTQ-Related Stress)


In the third part of our series on LGBTQ themes, our research/interviews revealed to us that there are extra layers of stress for LGBTQ students compared to their non-LGBTQ peers.

Growing up as a teen in today’s fast paced culture is hard enough as it is. To compound those struggles with stressors related directly to being an individual that identifies as LGBTQ can be overwhelming. So what are “normal stressors” all you are at risk for experiencing? Let’s take a quick look:

  • puberty/physical changes/body image issues
  • peer comparison
  • performance anxiety (school, athletics, roles at home, church, etc.)
  • pressures to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as; drug use, drinking, and sexual activity
  • academic stressors/college prep/career planning
  • family life/expectations (child care of younger siblings, household chores, etc.)
  • challenges related to managing emotions
  • onslaught of negative messages (self/family, peers, media, culture) and filtering them

Now let’s take a look at specific stressors identified by LGBTQ teens related to being LGBTQ:

  • internal/external homophobia
  • bullying/assault/death
  • stigma
  • social isolation/alienation/minority stress
  • academic struggles due to not feeling safe at school
  • higher risk of depression, self harm,, substance abuse, and suicide
  • fear of or actual rejection from family and friends
  • misconceptions by public related to what it means to be LGBTQ
  • pressure (internal or external) to suppress sexual identity/gender identity
  • incongruent identity
  • intersections, such as; disability, race, gender, gender norms, religious background/beliefs

These lists are probably incomplete but it gives you a clearer picture of what the average LGBTQ student is likely to deal with on any given day. High levels of relentless stress contribute to feeling hopeless and helpless, which is a precursor to suicidal ideation. This alone sets apart LGBTQ youth from their non-LGBTQ peers. This also contributes directly to further alienation and isolation. Regardless of your faith tradition and its respective doctrine about the issue of homosexuality, this kind of collateral damage to God’s beloved children cannot be acceptable to anyone calling themselves followers in the way of Jesus.

So, what might be a better way of engagement?

Building Bridges (part 2 – acceptance/rejection and coming out)


“I was born a female but identify with the male gender. My sexual identity is gay. I am 16 years old and was kicked out of my home recently. Sometimes I think killing myself would save everyone a lot of trouble. I don’t know what else to do or where to go. There is no place that I know of that will accept me as I am. I never wanted this. It’s not like I want to be hated by everyone and all alone. I’m basically on my own now.” – Homeless transgendered teen

In an attempt to better understand the lives of young LGBTQ students I interviewed several teens looking for common themes related to the topics of rejection/acceptance, coming out, LGBTQ-related stress, other intersections of identity, trauma/bullying, mental health/substance use, suicide, community/sense of belonging, and faith and spirituality. What I discovered has changed me and I don’t think I will ever be the same and I’m hoping it will change how the church engages these precious and beloved children of God as well.

During the course of one interview, the student I was talking with used the term “straight privilege”. It stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t something I’d ever considered, let alone heard of. Those with privilege rarely do consider it. I mean, come on. I get white privilege or male privilege, but straight privilege? How much privilege could one man have? I quickly learned that the world I lived in lent itself to being straight. I have never experienced the stress of coming out or being rejected because I liked the opposite sex. The term “Hetero” has never been used as a derogatory term. Nobody shouts, “Look at that dude, he looks so straight!” or “That shirt is so straight. He must like girls.” I have never had to wonder if me being heterosexual was pleasing to God or if I was damned to hell because I was attracted to the opposite sex. I learned through these interviews that I am biased because of straight privilege and it was preventing me from seeing the world through the eyes of an LGBTQ individual.

Rejection/Acceptance

All of the students interviewed had a sense they were different at a very early age, some reporting as early as 7 or 8 years old. Most had a definitive awareness by 10 – 13 years of age. Most report initially rejecting the notion that they had same-sex attraction and many said they were repulsed by the idea. One teenage boy, who identifies as gender fluid and gay shared that when he was 6 years old he asked his mother if he could like boys.

The most common fear of identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered was the fear of rejection and all correlated this with not coming out at an earlier age. This shouldn’t surprise anyone reading this but it was an overwhelming majority of LGBTQ students that echoed this sentiment. Mallory, a 22-year-old lesbian told a story about being the center of gossip in her small rural town when she came out. She said repeatedly that her fear was that those closest to her would begin to look at her differently, like a pedophile who intended to steal and eat all of the children in town like a monster.

Coming Out

Most of the students interviewed report coming out to the safest people possible at first. This usually consisted of closest friends and siblings. Ironically, most of them report that the individuals they first came out to already had suspicion that they were not heterosexual. The average age of coming out among those interview was 16-18 years old. They all indicate that the time period between accepting they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered and when they came out were the most difficult years. We’ll explore that a little later.

Several indicated that the process of coming out never ends. With each new person they tell the process starts over for them. The fear of rejection and anxiety resets and with each new person they meet for the rest of their lives will likely provoke some measure of anxiety as well.

One young woman shared that she believed there were three layers of coming out; to the first individual, family and friends, and publicly, each with their own unique factors.

Bree, a 20-year-old lesbian reminded me that these are issues I will never have to deal with because I identify as a white, heterosexual, Christian male and since I won’t have to deal with them I am likely biased to expect the rest of the world (including LGBTQ individuals) to experience the world just like I do.

If it’s possible to summarize issues so complex I would say this; the time between when a young person identifies internally that they are gay, lesbian, bi, or trans and when they actually come out to others is the time they are at the greatest risk for substance abuse, depression, self-harm, suicide and other mental health related concerns.

If that is even remotely true it beckons a response. So, then what is the best response(s) from people of faith?

New Trainings for 2016


We’re excited to offer two brand new training opportunities for 2016. Both address much needed conversations around important and urgent issues; the opiate overdose epidemic, and the need for cultural intelligence in a rapidly changing world. If you are interested in bringing either of these conversations or any of our other trainings/workshops/community conversations to your area, just email us at cschaffner@fringeconversations.com

Connecting with Marginalized Youth (increasing your CQ)

Do you have a diverse group of kids? Do you want to be more effective in reaching a more diverse cross-section of youth in your community? Do you desire to impact the lives of LGBTQ youth, kids with disabilities, cross racial and ethnic barriers, and get to know those who are strikingly different than you and those in your ministry? Do you desire to increase your cultural intelligence in order to build a bridge across the gap between your church and others? This training focuses on developing and increasing our cultural intelligence (CQ) in order to begin the bridge building process of learning how to love our neighbors that appear to be different that us.

Understanding the Opiate/Heroin Overdose Crisis

According to a government website heroin related overdose deaths have seen a 10-fold increase since 2001. Many of those impacted by this growing trend at adolescents and young adults. Prescription narcotics and heroin have become the drug of choice for youth across all classes, races, and socio-economic ranges. Learn about the impact of opiates on the developing adolescent brain and body as well as how someone becomes addicted to opiates. In this training you will earn how to use a life saving medication called Naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal medication that can save a loved one’s life. This workshop is in partnership with the JOLT Foundation. Visit JOLT Foundation for more information on Naloxone.

Stages of Sexual Identity Development for LGBTQ Youth


October 11th is National Coming Out Day. It’s a day set aside for LGBTQ youth and adults to draw strength and courage from each other as they come out to family, friends, and the general public. Coming out is a complex experience that occurs not just once but over and over again for LGBTQ individuals. With each new person that is encountered the process starts over.

Coming out to oneself is a different experience and a process that can best be understood through the different stages one goes through until they reach total identity synthesis. The more we understand this process the we can provide a stable and consistent presence in the life of a vulnerable individual. The most common model is the Cass model of sexual identity development.

Most models of identity development do not take into account sociological variables that can impact the process. With that being said, our culture has become more accepting of LGBTQ orientations/gender definitions so the process of formation would naturally be impacted by that. And lastly, when considering developmental processes it is very unlikely that there is a linear path, from one stage directly to the next. Often stages are resolved quicker or slower or jumped altogether. One might also revisit stages more than once.

However this occurs, a coming theme that continues to emerge in our research is that of isolation during this process. Many of the youth interviewed report an increase in unhealthy, maladaptive behaviors as an attempt to cope with stressors related to their emerging identity/gender affiliation and sense of being socially invisible.

From Wikipedia

The six stages of Cass’ model

Identity Confusion

In the first stage, Identity Confusion, the person is amazed to think of themselves as a gay person. “Could I be gay?” This stage begins with the person’s first awareness of gay or lesbian thoughts, feelings, and attractions. The people typically feel confused and experience turmoil.

To the question “Who am I?”, the answers can be acceptance, denial, or rejection.

Possible responses can be: to avoid information about lesbians and gays; inhibited behavior; denial of homosexuality (“experimenting”, “an accident”, “just drunk”, “just looking”). Males may keep emotional involvement separated from sexual contact; females may have deep relationships that are non-sexual, though strongly emotional.

The possible needs can be: the person may explore internal positive and negative judgments. Will be allowed to be uncertain regarding sexual identity. May find support in knowing thatsexual behavior occurs along a spectrum. May receive permission and encouragement to explore sexual identity as a normal experience (like career identity and social identity).

Identity Comparison

The second stage is called Identity Comparison. In this stage, the person accepts the possibility of being gay or lesbian and examines the wider implications of that tentative commitment. “Maybe this does apply to me.” The self-alienation becomes isolation. The task is to deal with the social alienation.

Possible responses can be: the person may begin to grieve for losses and the things they give up by embracing their sexual orientation (marriage, children). They may compartmentalize their own sexuality—accept lesbian/gay definition of behavior but maintain “heterosexual” identity. Tells oneself, “It’s only temporary”; “I’m just in love with this particular woman/man”; etc.

The possible needs can be: will be very important that the person develops own definitions. Will need information about sexual identity, lesbian, gay community resources, encouragement to talk about loss of heterosexual life expectations. May be permitted to keep some “heterosexual” identity (as “not an all or none” issue).

Identity Tolerance

In the third stage, Identity Tolerance: the person comes to the understanding they are “not the only one”.

The person acknowledges they are likely gay or lesbian and seeks out other gay and lesbian people to combat feelings of isolation. Increased commitment to being lesbian or gay. The task is to decrease social alienation by seeking out lesbians and gays.

Possible responses can be: beginning to have language to talk and think about the issue. Recognition that being lesbian or gay does not preclude other options. Accentuate difference between self and heterosexuals. Seek out lesbian and gay culture (positive contact leads to more positive sense of self, negative contact leads to devaluation of the culture, stops growth). The person may try out variety of stereotypical roles.

The possible needs can be: to be supported in exploring own shame feelings derived from heterosexism, as well as internalized homophobia. Receive support in finding positive lesbian, gay community connections. It is particularly important for the person to know community resources.

Identity Acceptance

The Identity Acceptance stage means the person accepts themselves. “I will be okay.” The person attaches a positive connotation to their gay or lesbian identity and accepts rather than tolerates it. There is continuing and increased contact with the gay and lesbian culture. The task is to deal with inner tension of no longer subscribing to society’s norm, attempt to bring congruence between private and public view of self.

Possible responses can be: accepts gay or lesbian self-identification. May compartmentalize “gay life”. Maintain less and less contact with heterosexual community. Attempt to “fit in” and “not make waves” within the gay and lesbian community. Begin some selective disclosures of sexual identity. More social coming out; more comfortable being seen with groups of men or women that are identified as “gay”. More realistic evaluation of situation.

The possible needs can be: continue exploring grief and loss of heterosexual life expectation, continue exploring internalized homophobia (learned shame from heterosexist society). Find support in making decisions about where, when, and to whom to disclose.

Identity Pride

In the identity pride stage, while sometimes the coming out of the closet arrives, and the main thinking is “I’ve got to let people know who I am!”. The person divides the world into heterosexuals and homosexuals, and is immersed in gay and lesbian culture while minimizing contact with heterosexuals. Us-them quality to political/social viewpoint. The task is to deal with the incongruent views of heterosexuals.

Possible responses include: splits world into “gay” (good) and “straight” (bad)—experiences disclosure crises with heterosexuals as they are less willing to “blend in”—identify gay culture as sole source of support, acquiring all gay friends, business connections, social connections.

The possible needs can be: to receive support for exploring anger issues, to find support for exploring issues of heterosexism, to develop skills for coping with reactions and responses to disclosure to sexual identity, and to resist being defensive.

Identity Synthesis

The last stage in Cass’ model is identity synthesis: the person integrates their sexual identity with all other aspects of self, and sexual orientation becomes only one aspect of self rather than the entire identity.

The task is to integrate gay and lesbian identity so that instead of being the identity, it is an aspect of self.

Possible responses can be: continues to be angry at heterosexism, but with decreased intensity, or allows trust of others to increase and build. Gay and lesbian identity is integrated with all aspects of “self”. The person feels “all right” to move out into the community and not simply define space according to sexual orientation.

Developmental Relationships and Youth


1626473042009youth_summit_flyer_photoI came across this article from the Search Institute that is an update on their research of developmental relationships. The Search Institute adopted the term developmental relationships to describe the broader conception of relationships that are defined by the close connection between a young person and an adult or peer that powerfully and positively shapes the young person’s identity and helps the young person develop a thriving mindset. A thriving mindset is one that is focused on more than just surviving and is flourishing, thriving.

The Search Institute has created a Developmental Relationship Framework that is based on qualitative and quantitative research regarding developmental assets and focuses on making a positive impact in young people’s lives. I can’t help but think of the possible impact this research has on how we build relationships with youth in our homes, ministries, and communities as it relates to spiritual formation. There are 20 identified actions that make a relationship developmental. They are organized into the framework listed below:

Express CARE: Show that you like me and want the best for me.

  • Be present – pay attention when you are with me.
  • Be warm – let me know that you like being with me and express positive feelings toward me.
  • Invest – Commit time and energy to doing things for and with me.
  • Show interest – Make it a priority to understand who I am and what I care about.
  • Be dependable – Be someone I can count on and trust.

CHALLENGE Growth: Insist that I try to continuously improve.

  • Inspire – Help me see future possibilities for myself.
  • Expect – Make it clear that you want me to live up to my potential.
  • Stretch – Recognize my thoughts and abilities while also pushing me to strengthen them.
  • Limit – Hold me accountable for appropriate boundaries and rules.

Provide SUPPORT: Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.

  • Encourage – Praise my efforts and achievements
  • Guide – Provide practical assistance and feedback to help me learn.
  • Model – Be an example I can learn from and admire.
  • Advocate – Stand up for me when I need it.

Share POWER: Hear my voice and let me share in making decisions.

  • Respect – Take me seriously and treat me fairly.
  • Give voice – Ask for and listen to my opinions and consider them when you make decisions.
  • Respond – Understand and adjust to my needs, interests, and abilities.
  • Collaborate – Work with me to accomplish goals and solve problems.

Expand POSSIBILITIES: Expand my horizons and connect me to opportunities.

  • Explore – Expose me to new ideas, experiences, and places.
  • Connect – Introduce me to people who can help me grow,
  • Navigate – Help me work through barriers that could stop me from achieving my goals.

Spend some time with other adults and youth to flesh out these ideas. Here are some questions to get you started. Hopefully they will lead to other questions and solutions.

Beyond just understanding the concepts of developmental relationships how can we create space for and strengthen these necessary relationships in our homes, ministries, and communities?

How can we identify systems that support or stand in the way of the building of developmental relationships?

What methods and activities can we create the help new or existing relationships move towards a developmental relationship?

How can we collaboratively work with other youth oriented entities to build developmental relationships?

Visit http://search-institute.org for more information on developmental assets and developmental relationships.

Juvenile Justice Ministry: Returning Home After Incarceration


A juvenile offender’s home environment is often not helpful for encouraging adherence to pro-social behaviors. Ministry partners would benefit greatly by seeking to understand the family dynamics of the individual you are trying to impact. Negative family dynamics take many forms. The juvenile offender may be the scapegoat for family problems, making his or her return to the home counterproductive. Also, other family members may be actively using drugs or involved in criminal activities.

Domestic violence and child abuse situations present additional issues, including the personal safety of family members. Training on handling abuse situations, including sign of abuse and mandated reporting laws in each state should be required of all who serve in ministry to youth.

Other areas of support that will require attention are basic needs such as education/vocational support, housing, substance abuse treatment, identity development, financial concerns, and peer social networks.

Youth ministries and the church as a whole are equipped to address all these concerns and more when they are connected to the community, invested in families, and are willing to take Spirit led risks to do ministry outside the box.

What ways have your ministries been creative in meeting the needs of juvenile offenders who are trying to turn their lives around?

Juvenile Justice Ministry: Meeting Them Where They Are


Anyone who has worked with you learned very quickly that unless the young person wants to change they very likely won’t change. At best you might get some shallow compliance with whatever expectations we have for them but the change is not real and is short lived. This awareness is a key factor when working and ministering to juvenile offenders. Our efforts are likely to be ineffective until the individual accepts the need for real transformation to occur.

A juvenile offender’s motivation to participate in programs perceived to be trying to “change” the individual will be seen as not trustworthy and they will be skeptical that our intentions are good. Too often this population is motivated by fear of consequences (i.e., jail, sanction, threats, loss, etc.) and not compelled by grace and love. In reality, both are needed to bring about transformation. It was God’s wrath and subsequent grace that compels us in our own transformation, empowered by the indwelling Spirit.

Motivation for help changes over time, and offenders can often cycle through predictable stages of change during their engagement with our programs. The Stages of Change was developed by Prochaska to describe the various stages of motivation, and includes the following:

  • Precontemplation (unaware of problems – denial)
  • Contemplation (awareness of problems)
  • Preparation (decision point)
  • Action (active behavior change)
  • Maintenance (ongoing preventative behaviors)

Juvenile offenders who are in the precontemplative stage of change have little awareness of the problems they are facing and have little intention of changing their behavior. Awareness of problems grow in later stages often leading to intrinsic motivation to change, However, due to the high rate of recidivism and environmental and pro-criminal influence the young person may not move in a linear manner through the various stages, often returning to an earlier stage before eventually seeing a more permanent change in attitude and behavior.

So what does this mean for us serving juvenile offenders in ministry settings? It means that sometimes our expectations are not realistic for the stage of change that the youth is in. If we were able to recognize there level of motivation and meet them where they’re at we may be able to influence them towards the next stage. Imagine this, on a scale from 0 – 5, zero = criminal behavior and 5 = pro-social/God-honoring behavior, do we not expect the young person to jump from 0 – 5 immediately? How realistic is that? In reality most people change like this, 0 – 1 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 3 – 2 – 4 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 5 – 5 – 4 – 5 – 5 – 5 – 5…You get the point.

Meeting a young person where they are at means having a long view. It means that for the moment, we may find ourselves tolerating certain attitudes, language, and behaviors until real change can occur. This allows grace to have its way in the heart of the offender.

Take a moment and think of the student your working with and try to determine what stage of change they might be in. Now ask yourself if you need to adjust your strategies to meet him/her where they’re at.

 

Thoughts?

Juvenile Justice Ministry: Evaluating Risk-Factors for Juvenile Offenders


Evaluating your ministries role in addressing recidivism among juvenile offenders is of critical importance to those attempting to reintegrate into the community. Characteristics and environmental factors used to estimate the likelihood of future criminal behavior are called “risk factors”.

Once these risk factors are identified, research leads us to believe that structured and concentrated strategies can help individuals who have offended previously. Researchers have identified several potential interventions based on these following risk factors:

  • Developing and nurturing life management, problem solving, and self-leadership skills
  • Developing networks with or relationships and bonding with pro-social and anti-criminal peers and with pro-social and anti-criminal mentors
  • Enhancing closer family feelings and communication
  • Improving and strengthening positive family systems to promote accountability
  • Managing and changing anti-social thoughts, attitudes, and feelings.

What a tremendous opportunity for the church to step up and be the incarnate Christ to a population of people who are largely discarded as useless and of no value, irredeemable.

What ministries exist in your church that addresses the needs above?

What ministries need to be created to address the above needs?

Juvenile Justice Ministry: Reintegrating Juvenile Offenders


Youth incarcerated in juvenile detention centers are undergoing significant stress related to arrest, the uncertainties of their legal issues, and the potential loss of freedom, trust, respect of family and community, and future dreams. Effective ministry to these individuals should be based on the expected duration of the sentence (30 days vs. 1 year) but should also be focused more on the transition out of incarceration and reintegration back into the community. The better this transition is the greater the likelihood that the youth will not recidivate back into illegal behaviors.

SAMHSA Substance Abuse Treatment for Individuals in the Criminal Justice System identifies the following key factors to consider when helping an individual coming out of incarceration:

 Substance Use

  • Substance use history
  • Motivation for change
  • Treatment history

 Criminal Involvement

  • Criminal thinking tendencies
  • Current offenses
  • Prior charges/convictions
  • Age of first offense
  • Type of offenses (violent vs. non-violent, sexual, etc.)
  • Number of offenses
  • Prior successful completion of probation/parole
  • History of personality disorders (unlikely if under 18 years of age)

 Health

  • Infectious disease (TB, hepatitis, STD, HIV, etc.)
  • Pregnancy
  • General health
  • Acute conditions

 Mental Health

  • Suicidality/History of suicidal behavior
  • Any diagnosis of MH
  • Prior treatment/counseling and outcomes
  • Current/Past medication
  • Symptoms
  • Trauma

 Special Considerations

  • Education level
  • Reading level/Literacy
  • Language/Cultural barriers
  • Disabilities (physical, intellectual, learning, etc.)
  • Housing
  • Family issues
  • History of abuse (victim and/or perpetrator)
  • Other service providers (counselor, probation officer, social worker, etc.)

 This is a long list of issues that require attention. Remember, you are not alone in service this youth. Partner with others that are investing as well. Establish open communication between you and the others so you do not unintentionally work against each other. Have the other providers come do trainings for you and your staff so that you can better understand the complexities involved in serving juvenile offenders. The more you can work together with the community the greater the odds are that your youth will overcome the obstacles they are facing.

 What are ways you have partnered with individuals attempting to reintegrate after returning from incarceration?

 Are there special considerations for juvenile offenders vs. young adults?

 How have you been successful in engaging resistant families?

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