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conversations on the fringe

TRIGGER: The Ripple Effect


TRIGGER: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance on Vimeo.

Here’s a video to help start the conversation about gun violence.

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Parkland, Gun Control, and Following our Youth’s Lead


Another tragedy. Another mass shooting. Another 14 teenagers and 3 faculty/administrators senselessly killed by gun violence in the middle of a school day inside their school.

We know how the pattern usually goes from here:

Mass shooting.  – “Thoughts and prayers.” – A push for gun control.

A pushback against the discussion about gun control:

“It’s too soon.” – “This is not a gun issue, it’s a person issue.” – “Let’s blame mental illness.”

Silence on gun control from the top.

Another scandal or top news event takes place, and within days, the victims and loved ones of the horrific shooting are forgotten and the discussion about gun control dissipates… until more lives are taken during the next mass shooting.

Kyrie Eleison.

However, things seem to be a bit different after last week’s mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It’s been an entire week and yet people across the country are still talking about Parkland and gun control. More people appear to be joining the conversation. The stories of gun owners and Army veterans who are advocating for stricter gun control are going viral. Some gun owners are even destroying their own guns on camera.

And this larger-level conversation seems to be continuing because our Parkland youth survivors (yes, these Parkland youth are OUR youth) are demanding that it continues. They are making sure this country not only doesn’t forget them but that this country takes action toward ending these kinds of senseless tragedies in the future.

And these young people are not backing down.

They are speaking to the press, urging the country to prioritize their lives and to put their lives before greed. They are calling on Congress to pass legislation that will ensure their safety and limit access to automatic and semi-automatic weapons. They are organizing school walk-outs, die-ins, and marches. And 1000s of other youth across the country are joining them in this work.

These young people – OUR young people – are leading the way forward.

And we have a responsibility to listen to them and to follow their lead. We have a responsibility to turn our thoughts and prayers into action… To pray with our feet.

 As David Hogg, youth survivor of the Parkland shooting stated in an interview on CNN: “Ideas are great. But without action, ideas stay ideas and children die… [Policy makers] can say ‘yes we’re going to do all these things,’ ‘thoughts and prayers.’ What we need more than that is action. PLEASE. This is the 18th one this year. That’s unacceptable! We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done.”

 *****

“Who is the greatest of all?” Jesus said to his disciples. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

For Jesus, the way to greatness is not to BE first, but to put others first. To put the well-being, safety, and basic needs of others – especially of those most vulnerable – in front of our own wants, our own sense of security, and our temptation to “always be right” and to get ahead.

For the disciples living in First Century Palestine, this was completely radical. But just as the disciples began to wrap their minds around this counter-cultural way to greatness Jesus was describing, Jesus does something even more radical.

He picks up a child, places her in the middle of the disciples, embraces her, and says: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.”

This was radical because in First Century Palestine, children were only valued in their future when they became adults. They were the ones who were expected to remain silent, the least of these, those who were on the margins of society.

Yet, Jesus’ path to greatness in the Kingdom of God he often spoke of is nothing like the path to greatness in the oppressive Roman Empire of his day. Jesus’ path is not about climbing the social latter and befriending and caring for only those who have something to offer us.

Rather, Jesus’ path to greatness is servanthood. It is putting our selves last so that others who’ve been last can be brought into the frontline. It is picking up and embracing those whom the world deems as the last and the least – the strangers, the children and youth, those on the margins of society – and bringing them to the center with our loving embrace.

It is welcoming one such child, and thus in doing so, welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him.

No, the way children and youth are viewed and treated in our country today is not even close to the way they were in First Century Palestine. However, we still have a major problem with devaluing, ignoring, belittling, and silencing our children and youth. (Just look at how several people – including many politicians – have done so in the past week to the Parkland youth survivors who are speaking out!)

Too long have we ignored our youth’s cries, thoughts, ideas, and needs. Too long have we put our own interests and wants in front of what is best for them. Too long have we remained silent because we don’t want to offend anyone or ruffle any feathers while at the same time our children and youth are being killed in their schools, neighborhoods, and homes.

And yet Jesus calls us – commands us – to welcome our children and youth.  To SEE them. To listen to them. To love and embrace them.  To do whatever we can to protect them and to advocate for and with them.

And yes, to follow their lead.


 

We can begin this holy work of listening by first listening to student Emma Gonzalez’ full speech at a Fort Lauderdale rally, to the interviews student David Hogg did with fellow students during the school lockdown, and to other interviews with Parkland student survivors.  Then we can continue to listen to the stories, fears, and thoughts of other youth and children across the country and in our own communities.

We can begin to move our thoughts and prayers into action by following (on social media) and joining the March for Our Lives and Women’s March Youth in upcoming actions.  And we can continue to take action by educating ourselves and others on gun control options, speaking out, calling/writing our legislatures, marching, etc.


Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often be seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.


This blog post was originally published at https://revgalblogpals.org/2018/02/21/the-pastoral-is-political-parkland-gun-control-and-following-our-youths-lead/ and is reposted with permission. RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

The Kids (The Voices Project ep. 5)


They come in with all the energy of a day being spent pent up behind a desk. Coats and hats and gloves and boots go flying in all directions and with cheeks flushed and eyes flashing all voices are clamoring to tell me about their day. Kickballs are quickly grabbed and soon I am roped into a hardcore game of foursquare. The girls like to change the rules to suit what is happening in the moment. I have found that once we get into the rhythm of the game this is when they begin to share with me. Their exteriors are tough. All three girls are wearing matching Chuck Taylors. They like that they are the oldest in our afterschool program.  They like that I can use them to help me wrangle the younger kids to listen and that if they help me I let them choose the game for the evening. Over the weeks a trust has been established. As we begin to play one of the girls misses a shot she would never normally miss. Too low, she complains, that was below the knees. She stomps out and lets the girl waiting come in.

“Not like you to get so frustrated?” I challenge her.

“Sorry,” she says sheepishly, and I know she means it. She is one of those girls who exhausts herself acting as if she does not care. But she more than most truly craves the acceptance from the adults present in the room. I keep my eye on her as she sluggishly tries to reenter the game. Finally, at dinner time the story comes out. She is exhausted. She is living at her grandmas with seven other cousins. Both of her parents are now in jail.  Both for possession of drugs. She worries about her little brother. She wants to make sure he is eating enough. She worries he is being picked on at school. She said it is noisy in her grandma’s house with everyone there. Her aunts and uncles are also suffering the consequences of life choices and their children are paying for it by being dumped at Grandmas. She tells me all of this in a matter of fact, tired adult kind of way. And my heart breaks open. She is carrying the very weight of the world on her shoulders and she is 12. She knows far too much about felonies and mandatory sentences and exactly how much food her brother ate for dinner last night.  

After dinner, she helps me gather the kids in the chapel for devotions. I am proud of her as she reminds the younger kids that if they are good listeners she will make sure they get to play sharks and minnows. I am both captivated and saddened by her temerity.  She sounds much too adult, much too authoritative, and her eyes are too tired. I have no idea how to even begin to imagine all that she has heard and witnessed in her short 12 years. I have no idea the responsibilities she has had to shoulder at such a young age. I feel an aching desire for her to be clueless and to hear her joking about boys and twitter feeds and the gross food in her cafeteria. I look around at all the kids gathered for our afterschool program and I know their stories mimic hers, the narrative maybe just a bit different.

Running back to the gym, she quickly has the kids count off and assigns the “ones” to be sharks and the “twos” to be minnows. I watch her as she leads the sharks. She has suddenly transformed into a young girl again, she loses herself in the game.  She is suddenly focused on being a shark, she mercifully forgets that she herself is vulnerable and afraid, and for that moment I am profoundly grateful that she has these two hours to just be a girl, to just be 12. The minute she leaves this place I know that she will morph into a beleaguered adult, her destiny seemingly set into this cycle of poverty and incarceration; but for this moment, she is safe with us, and she is a shark, laughing and chasing all of those minnows.


Karen Cassidy is a mother of three amazing adult children. She is a ministerial intern for the Salvation Army, and will (hopefully) be attending their Seminary in August.  She is currently living in Ishpeming, Mi.  She is passionate about people and believes every person has a story just waiting to be told. 

Aftermath: What Do We Do At Home


The unthinkable has happened again. An armed teenager has again entered a school with a rifle set on killing whoever crossed his path.

Every time there is a violent incident at a school, our hearts as a parent are crushed. Why would this happen? How come we haven’t fixed the issues yet? How can I help my child feel safe when I’m not sure I can tell them they will be?

There is little worse as a parent than feeling helpless to protect and help your child.

I spoke recently with counselor Rebekah Cotner, MA, MHC-LP, who offered some tips for helping your child through the aftermath of a traumatic incident, even if they were not directly involved.

She advises watching for signs that your child may need some extra support, such as:

Increased isolation and worry (not wanting to go to school or spend time with friends)

Have trouble focusing on schoolwork

Increased physical complaints and sudden change in moods/behaviors

In addition, she says to make sure to keep the opportunity for communication open by:

Listening first, asking open-ended questions, dont push it if they are not ready

           “You haven’t seemed yourself lately

Helping your child feel safe and in control, affirming their feelings

            “I can understand why you would feel this way.”

            “Let’s make a plan to help you feel safe.”

Have a follow-up opportunity for them to talk more if needed.

Assuring your child that you will stick with them and support them as they work through their feelings personally and in their peer community. In addition, if needed, help by securing the appropriate professional support of grief counselors, trauma therapist, pastoral or peer support.

Lastly, be sure to take care of your own emotional needs, taking steps to gain peer support, participate in community efforts to raise safety and awareness, and above all, make time for your family to have the space for recovery and natural conversation.

For additional resources for children of all ages, see Healing Invisible Wounds: Children’s Exposure to Violence, a guide for families available from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

(Link: https://www.ojjdp.gov/programs/safestart/HealingTheInvisibleWounds.pdf)


Patti Gibbons (pattigibbons727@gmail.com)

Patti is a passionate pursuer of Jesus Christ, a wife of 30 years, the mom of two incredible young adults.  She has spent a good chunk of my adult life as a youth minister in a number of settings,  communicating with youth, writing curriculum for youth ministry, and coaching youth ministers to help them be more effective and healthy in ministry. 

Lent: An Invitation to Retreat


Last week, I took 25 youth to a Bible camp in Wisconsin for our annual winter retreat.  At this retreat, we encountered Jesus in a new light: we encountered Jesus when we gathered with 180 other Chicago area youth for worship and were reminded that we are beloved and loved for who we truly are… We encountered Jesus when we met new friends and strengthened our relationships with old ones… We encountered Jesus when we played 9-square, Gaga Ball, and sang and danced with our friends… and when we crowded onto a long bobsled, held onto each other as tight as we could, and flew down the steep hill toward the ice-covered lake, screaming and praying the Lord’s Prayer the whole way down.  (At least, that’s what I was doing.)  And we encountered Jesus when we ended the weekend in tears, as we hugged and blessed each other communed together around the Lord’s Table.

And though exhausted, our group left Wisconsin on fire…

On fire for God.  On fire for the church.  On fire for fellowship with one another.

Like the disciples who encountered the transfiguration of Jesus on their retreat to the top of the mountain – where they saw Jesus shine as bright as the sun – we, too, had a special mountaintop experience on our retreat.

… But then, as we all know how the saying goes:  What goes up must also come down.

And so we, too, eventually had to come back down from the mountaintop… to the realities of every-day life…

To school work.  Basketball practice.  ACT prep.  To the struggles of balancing a job and homework and anxieties we had about having to face bullies when we went back to school.  To what seems to be the never-ending busyness of our everyday routines.

And many of us may be already longing to escape and get away from this all of this.

To go back up to the comforts we experienced at the top of the mountain.

I’m sure many of us can relate to having a mountaintop experience in our lives and then having to come back down the mountain to the reality of our daily stress and routines that often keep us running so fast that we can’t catch our breath.

And yet here we are at the beginning of Lent… at the bottom of the mountain, being extended another great invitation to retreat.  Now, this is not the same type of retreat our youth experienced in Wisconsin or the same type of retreat many of us have experienced when we have attended a powerful faith conference or event.   

It’s not a retreat back up to the mountaintop. 

This Lenten invitation is to enter the wilderness… not just for a day or a weekend… but to dwell and wander in it.  It is a retreat from the busyness of life, to empty ourselves so that we can be filled by the grace of God, and to think about what it means to be marked by the sign of the cross in ashes on our forehead – to think about what it means to be human and to belong to God (and not anyone or anything else.)  And this invitation is to thoroughly examine our own lives – which will not, in fact, last forever on this earth (sorry to disappoint) – and to reevaluate how our lives have and can have meaning in this world…

Because our world needs each and every one of us. 

Now, I am not going to downplay this wilderness period.  There will be times when we will feel tested.  There will be times when we will feel like we’ve already wandered through the wilderness for long enough and we are too parched, exhausted, and famished to have to take on one more thing. 

But this is why we are invited to go into the wilderness in the first place: to examine our lives and to empty and prepare ourselves so that we might know how to respond to the testing of our accuser.  So that in our weakest moments, we might know how to look deep within ourselves and be reminded of who we are and whose we are. 

You see, though we may – and most likely will – experience testing in the wilderness – in this Lenten season – the wilderness is ultimately a place and time of preparation for what is to come.

We tend to forget this because when we begin Lent by looking at Jesus’ time in the wilderness, we often focus on the temptations and his withstanding of them.  And yet, meanwhile, we also forget that there were 40 long days and 40 long nights that Jesus spent fasting, praying, and preparing for this encounter with the accuser even occurred.

And because we lose sight of this, we also tend to focus so much on how we, ourselves, lack the ability to resist our own temptations, that we turn Lent into a time of legalism and of beating ourselves up: through self-shaming, self-doubting, and self-hating.

And yet, I don’t think this is what the wilderness is really about.  It is not about loathing over our inadequacies and our shortcomings and attempting to meet perfection.

Rather, it is about transformation.  It is about recognizing that we are indeed human beings.  And like all other human beings, we have our faults and we make mistakes… And yet, as humans, we are ultimately made in the image of God… and are constantly a work of God in progress. 

So this Lent, let us choose to enter the wilderness and say yes to our invitation to retreat.  And let us show our youth how to do so, as well.  

RESOURCES AND ACTIVITIES FOR LENT:

Lent Activities at Youth Group

Intro To Lent Youth Group Lesson

https://musingsfromabricolage.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/introduction-to-lent-youth-group-lesson/

Prayer Stations for Lent:

http://www.rethinkingyouthministry.com/2009/02/ideas-for-lent-09-5-rest-stops.html

Arts and Faith – Lent:

https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/liturgical-year/lent/arts-and-faith-for-lent?utm_source=ignsp&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=lent2018

Lent at Home (for Families):

Lent in A Bag: An Activity for Church or Home:

https://www.buildfaith.org/lent-in-a-bag/

Daily Lent Activity List: (from Portico Collective) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dE1F3I-POjSLcJ1BmWL9YWcOQWkqUA4u/view

Psalm a Day Family Lenten Devotional by Christine Hides (dated 2017 but can be used any year) https://blesseachone.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/psalm-a-day-lent-devo.pdf

Family Activities for 40 Days of Lent:

http://homelinks.dor.org/homelinks/?LinkServID=BB3CD74B-0F48-7DD6-92FCF5AAC585A924

An Illustrated Lent For Families (Devotions and Coloring Pages): https://store.illustratedchildrensministry.com/products/an-illustrated-lent-for-families-2018

Works of Mercy Tree for Families: https://www.loyolapress.com/~/media/Images/Loyola%20Press/ocf-articles/PrayerCard-LessonPlans/crafting-faith-44-45.ashx

Lenten Candle Liturgy (for Worship or Home): https://processandfaith.org/lenten-candle-liturgy/

Family Lenten Devotional: http://www.dixborochurch.org/2018-family-lenten-devotional.html

Christian Meditation for Children:

http://www.cominghome.org.au/introduction/dsp-default-d.cfm?loadref=89

Family Lent Devotional:
https://javaluia.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/year-b-family-devotional-2018-lent1.pdf

 

Personal Devotions

Reimagining the Examine (App) https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/23542/reimagining-examen-app

D365 Daily Online Devotional (App available)

http://d365.org/

3 Minute Retreats (App available)

https://www.loyolapress.com/3-minute-retreats-daily-online-prayer

Lenten Devotional for Dismantling Racism (for $10 download) https://www.transformnetwork.org/bookstore/lentdevotional2018-download

Coloring Lent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection:

https://www.amazon.com/Coloring-Lent-Adult-Journey-Resurrection/dp/0827205473

Random Acts of Kindness

Random Acts of Kindness Ideas and Resources

https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas


Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often been seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

Ash Wednesday: Let Us Return to God


It is Ash Wednesday: the day we are called to be reminded of our mortality by receiving ashes – the symbol of mourning and repentance – in the sign of the cross on our foreheads…

From dust we came and to dust we shall return.

It is on this day that we hear the prophet Joel’s commission: 

Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

And it is on this day that we begin our Lenten path: our journey through the wilderness and toward the cross… Our time to retreat from the busyness of life, to reflect on what it means to be human and children of God, and to open our ears to hear and our eyes to see the ways in which God is present in our lives and around us.

It is our time to recognize that life is short, and therefore to reevaluate how our own lives have and can have meaning in this world.  

And as Jesus wandered in the wilderness 2000 years ago between his baptism and the beginning of his ministry to prepare for what was to come, Lent is also our time to wander in the wilderness in preparation for our journey toward the cross and onto the Resurrection.

During Lent, some of us take on the ancient practice of “giving up” something… However, whether we give up chocolate or coffee, Facebook or tv, this practice does not serve as a means to prove our willpower or to cut a few calories in our diets.  Rather, it serves as a means to cut out something in our lives that we seem dependent upon or that consumes us and holds us back from seeing and experiencing the grace of God in our spiritual lives, in others, and in ourselves.  

At the same time, some of us also choose to do the ancient practice of “taking something on” in our lives (in that newly created space) to help us return to God and to focus on the important things in life that we too often miss in our busy schedules: whether it is a new prayer or other spiritual practice, a new family activity, a form of community outreach or service, or a physical activity that will improve one’s physical, spiritual, and emotional health.

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.

Whatever we do, let us be intentional this Lent.  Let us return again and again and again to our God with all our hearts.  And as we do so, let us equip our youth to do the same and walk alongside them in this journey.   

  • How do you feel called to return to God with all your heart during this season of Lent?
  • What are some of the things you are giving up and/or taking on this Lent?  
  • How are you equipping your youth to make extra space during this season of Lent to return to God and walking alongside them in this journey?  

Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often been seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

Safe Place To Talk Diversity


When I first immigrated to the US from South Korea at the age of 8, I went to go live with my grandparents in Olathe, Kansas. I was the first Asian kid in my elementary school, not to mention the first Korean. Back then, kids had never heard of Korea, and they kept asking me “where are you from again? You’re not Chinese? You’re not Japanese? Then what exactly are you?”

I actually got sick of kids asking me about Korea or where I was from, so in 6th grade, I asked my teacher if I could do a report on Korea so the kids can understand my country. To be honest, I don’t even know where I got the idea nor the confidence to even ask my teacher. Thankfully, Mrs. Ater agreed and I was allowed to share about Korea, the country, and its culture, to my class for the next 2 weeks.I’m forever grateful to Mrs. Ater for giving me the opportunity to help kids understand how I’m different from them, but it doesn’t make me different as a human being. Kids were more intrigued, and they asked lots, and I mean LOTS of questions. This helped them realize the value in different culture… and while I had assimilated into the western culture in a lot of ways, they also understood that we spoke Korean and ate Korean food when we were with family.

While some kids from other classes made fun of my small eyes, the kids in my class kept wanting to ask me more questions… one kid even asked me to teach him to write in Korean.In 9th grade, I was randomly selected from my school district to attend diversity camp in Los Angeles. The purpose of this camp was to open dialogue about our perception of different ethnicities and cultures and to better understand one another. Some exercises included jotting down all the stereotypes that are out there, and addressing each one which dug into the history of each culture. I didn’t know it at the time, but this camp taught us how to connect with people that are different from us. And we all left the camp with friends from different cultural backgrounds.

Neither of my above experiences included God’s design nor perception of diversity. However, I feel that the church should create safe space for these conversations to happen. What I have learned at a young age through some of these experiences is that people are more alike than different. We all have the need to be liked. We all have the need to be understood. We all have a history that has shaped us to be who we are. And we all hurt when we’re misunderstood or judged.I have also learned that many of us are curious. We have questions. And the unknown or unanswered questions often lead to fear, and we often jump to our own conclusions or judgment of others. However, there aren’t many platforms where people, especially youths, are allowed to ask and learn about one another.

In the church, we often talk about how we need to love everyone regardless of our differences. However, we often don’t hear of churches nor youth groups that provide a safe place for these conversations to take place. So where and how do we start?

One idea is to provide discussion with a panel consisting of different ethnicities. This can be a place where students can ask honest questions (anonymous questions allowed) about race, culture, and diversity. The panel can help students better understand people that come from different backgrounds. It’s important to establish a safe environment, letting students know that their questions won’t be judged. It’s not a place where anyone needs to feel offended, and allow everyone the benefit of a doubt. Allow the panel and students to express their feelings. Lastly, be sure to allow time to debrief what they have learned, and how this has changed their initial perceptions.

Another idea is to provide an event where students of different backgrounds can connect. Shared experience usually connects people. Whether it’s serving together or playing together (if it’s a team event such as laser tag, make sure the teams are racially mixed). If your youth group isn’t diverse, invite an ethnic or multi-ethnic neighboring church youth group for a joint-event. Allow time for students to converse. You could even have “get-to-know-you-better” games. Once again, be sure to debrief with your group on what they have learned.

We often talk about loving others that are different from us in our youth groups… give opportunities for students to experience and practice being with others different from them. And allow them to live out their faith and the Word of God right now!

14” For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.”  ~Ephesians 2:14-16 (NLT)


Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.

you can also connect with Gloria via: TWITTER BLOG FACEBOOK LINKEDIN

 

Shut Up, Don’t Speak Up (The Voices Project ep. 4)


It was her first rental house.  She had been couch surfing with friends and family longer then she was willing to think about, and she finally had her own house to rent.  She was working two jobs. One as a teacher’s aide and the other as a server in a fine dining restaurant, and she needed them both.  To be honest, it was the job as a server that truly paid the rent.  There is just no way you can make money like that anywhere else, and, she was good at it! She had always been good with people, and this job fed that social side of her.  The problem was that she felt intimidated by her boss.

She was the only female server.  The place was small, and there were only seven employees. Two chefs, a bartender, and four servers, and out of all of them she was the only woman there. This meant pretending not to be offended by the jokes they would tell around her, just waiting to see her reaction. It meant ignoring the backhanded remarks they would make about whether she could handle a tray that was too heavy.  But there were some things she began to see, that maybe she could not handle.

When bosses day came, and people were giving the owner cards, she felt awful she forgot.  “I am sorry”, she said, “I did not realize it was bosses day.”  

“That’s OK,” he said and winked at her.  “How about a blowjob in the closet instead? Much better than a card wouldn’t you agree?”

She tried to laugh it off, and she hurried away, but it left her rattled all day long.

This continued for weeks. Offhand comments, sexual innuendos, and compliments on her looks and her body.  She would go home feeling violated by his words, and she would beat herself up that she had not stood up to him.

She felt stuck.  She needed this job.  She could not go back to couch surfing. She had to make that money for the rent.  She would spend hours in the shower, unaware that there was no amount of water that would wash away his words. Maybe it was her fault.  Was she smiling at him too much?  Did she flirt without realizing it?  Should she not be meeting his eye?  Not be spending too much time talking to him?  

The problem was; it was about him, not her., and so it just kept happening no matter what she did.  Finally one night he did it in front of other staff, and she felt the humiliation in her bones. She slunk out the door at the end of the shift, feeling their eyes boring into her.  Her self-recrimination screamed in her ears, and she felt the unbearable weight of shame.  She knew she could not go back.  She knew she would need to do something else.  

And so she sent him a message, too afraid to see him in person,  and of course, he wanted to know why she was leaving.

And so she told him that his “jokes” made her uncomfortable.  She heaped the blame on herself.  “I guess I do not have thick enough skin to work in this environment.” And sadly, of course, he blamed her.

She scrambled and took whatever serving job she could find, the tips would never be as good as at that first place.  But she began to heal.

Then one night she was leaving a neighborhood bar and pizza place, one where many servers in that neighborhood would go after work.  She did not even think to worry that her former co-workers would be there.  As she walked to her car, some of them followed her out.  One of the girlfriends of her co-workers, emboldened by alcohol, spit ugly words out to her;

“Hey, you whore! Did you really think that he would hit on you? You are pathetic.”

She pleaded with them to leave her alone.  “Go home” She urged, “you are drunk, please just leave me alone.”

“Why would he want someone like you?  How dare you accuse him? He is a great man and you are nothing!” The girl continued to taunt her.

She made it to her car.  Tears were coming.  She got in and was trying to start her car when a hand reached in and grabbed her hair and pulled.  The pain was immediate and excruciating. 

“Maybe you just need a reminder to keep your slut mouth shut” a voice hissed, and then came the punches to the face.

She must have blacked out.  Suddenly no one was there.

Blame the victim.  Take responsibility for his behavior.  Don’t tell.  Don’t say anything. Take it.  Be a good girl.  Smile.  Turn the other way.  

Shut up.  Shut up. Shut up.

Years have passed.  Sometimes she still feels the fear of that hand reaching in without her seeing.  Sometimes she still sees him laughing at her.  Sometimes…

But now she watches in awe as women in every shape and size are showing up and speaking up.  She watched in silence and tears as everyone wore black to the Golden Globes’.  She does not even mind it is a Hollywood thing.  There is a judge who just sentenced a doctor to 175 years in prison for hurting women.  There are women keeping their jobs and bosses losing them.  She could be bitter that it had to be so hard for her, but she searches inside herself and instead, she finds profound gratitude that the world will be better for the next woman who is just trying to pay the rent.  “speak up” she whispers to the television set, “speak up.”


Karen Cassidy is a mother of three amazing adult children. She is a ministerial intern for the Salvation Army, and will (hopefully) be attending their Seminary in August.  She is currently living in Ishpeming, Mi.  She is passionate about people and believes every person has a story just waiting to be told. 

Youth & Special Needs


God made all of us to be relational! That includes children and teens with special needs. Even those on the autism spectrum and don’t seem very social still can’t do life without relationships.

We learned this the hard way. We have done a pretty good job supporting children with various special needs including kids on the spectrum in elementary programming. We have provided buddies… or have helped with a coping mechanism so their hour with us is engaging and appropriate. As these kids age out of elementary into youth ministries, we assumed some kids would do better in elementary, especially if they have mental limitations… after all, we already have the system in place with their buddies. This is where we were wrong. We were more consumed with the mental capacity of these kids and “where they fit” rather than helping them grow in their relationships with their peers.

What we learned was that the kids that are supposed to be in middle school but were held back in elementary programming were no longer thriving. Upon further investigation, we learned that these middle schoolers missed being with their friends that they had grown up with for the past few years. We failed to see that kids with special needs crave relationships just as much as anyone else… They had been with the same friends all throughout elementary programming, but to pull them back all of a sudden didn’t sit well with them.

We sat down with our special needs coordinator, and we started to brainstorm how we could better support and minister to teens with special needs. Since programming for youths is very much different from elementary programming, we started to brainstorm to better meet their needs. Most of all, we wanted to see how we could plan for inclusion as much as possible so that preteens and teens don’t have to be separated from their peers.

We are learning that there isn’t much out there for teens with special needs. A lot of our own research shows that most places tend to group teens with special needs with adults with special needs. There are churches that do ministry well to special needs… but we were most interested in creating a place where kids and teens can be part of the overall group as much as possible without feeling overwhelmed or distracted.

This is still a new idea for us… but we’re currently working to create a sensory room where kids and teens with special needs can easily slip in and slip out as necessary. Our plan is to have a buddy system for preteens and teens that may not be able to sit through the whole student ministries programming. The buddies will consist of adults as well as peers. Our goal is to minimize peer separation as much as possible. We also want this to be a serving opportunity for other teens as well.

So how does this sensory room work? First, we want this room to be therapeutic space with equipment to help students with special needs calm and focus so they can be better prepared for learning and interaction with others. Second, we want this space to feel safe. Everyone is entitled to bad days, and if a student wants to hang out in the sensory room during the whole duration of programming, they can. But we want this room to be fluid where students can come and go. If they feel overwhelmed by noise or activities, they can slip into this sensory room, where they can feel safe. If they feel anxious or bored, and they just need to be away from the group as to not become a distraction to the large group, they can slip into the sensory room to relax and regroup. Once they feel ready, they can easily rejoin the large group in progress. Our ultimate goal is to help students transition smoothly, be included with their peers as much as possible, and help foster relationships. Students with special needs can experience Jesus just as much as anyone else… and while some may have mental limitations, many can still fully experience love and acceptance through relationships. And if we believe that knowing and growing in Jesus happens best in the context of relationships, why wouldn’t we provide that for our students with special needs?

If you’re interested in finding more resources to start inclusion ministry to youth, feel free to contact me as I’m in the trenches along with you! In addition, you may find some great resources from these sites:


Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.

you can also connect with Gloria via: TWITTER BLOG FACEBOOK LINKEDIN

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