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Imaginative Hope


Are you glued to the 24-hour news cycle? Are you inundated with news of the election?

Does it feel like water dripping from a leaky well-pump, does bad news constantly drop on your soul, carving out a hole from the repeated hammering of water against a stone slab?

Do you feel like you might break under the constant pressure from this news cycle?

If you are like me, you may be struggling to find hope this year. 2016 has sucked for so many reasons.

Maybe you’ve lost your reason to sing or laugh.

I’m in a theater production this winter. I will be playing Sawyer from A Miracle on 34th Street. Sawyer is the horrible, doubtful, HR guy from Macy’s looking to commit Kris Kringle. He’s kind of a slimy guy. I imagine, if he has a Christmas tree at all, there aren’t gifts under it and that he’s just “riding out” the Christmas season. I imagine he can’t wait for things to go back to normal. I imagine there is very little imagination left in him, and imagination is so intricately connected to hope. To be able to envision a better tomorrow despite the current situation requires imagination.

Imagine for a moment, the hopelessness you might feel if you were one of the following:

  • A person going through severe heroin withdrawal
  • A person with a disability on a wait list for adequate housing
  • A single parent that works two jobs and is drowning in debt
  • A person stuck in an abusive relationship that can’t afford to leave and support their kids
  • A transgender teenager kicked out of their home by the people they love the most
  • A person who has been unemployed for over a year now and has no job prospects
  • A person with a terminally sick child
  • A young black male that is afraid to walk to school because of local gang violence and national hateful racist rhetoric
  • A young veteran who cannot sleep because of the incessant nightmares when he closes his eyes
  • A young, unwed and pregnant, refugee couple trying to find a safe place to deliver her child

Yet, every day, many apparently hopeless people find a reason to get out of bed and try again. That kind of resilience must be remnants of hope embedded in our DNA. This kind of imaginative hope is audacious. It is tenacious. It compels us to say, “Not today, but maybe tomorrow”.

This. This is the hope of advent. This is the hope that says one day it will all be put right. When I hear these stories of hope they become bellows that fan the flame of hope in my own soul, because:

  • That heroin addict is now three years sober
  • That person in a wheelchair finally got the call saying they have a new place to live
  • That single parent was given an envelope of money from an anonymous person/group
  • That abused individual finally found the courage to leave and go to the abuse shelter, where they got help
  • That transgendered youth found a church that affirms LGBTQ youth and they now have supportive relationships
  • That unemployed person started their own lawn care business
  • That family with a terminal child found a faith that gave them meaning in their suffering
  • That young black male continues to stay in school and fight against everything inside and outside of him that says quit and join the gang
  • That veteran with PTSD meets a neighbor, who is also a veteran and takes him to the VA for the first time, for a support group
  • That refugee couple gives birth to a child that will one day give us all hope

Hope does not promise us a happy ending here and now. It does promise to sustain us in times of trouble, as we imagine a life beyond our present suffering. Advent is the season of longing and hopeAdvent is for those of us waiting. Waiting for our long-suffering hope to finally pay off. It is the waiting for the God-child to appear in the flesh and enter into our suffering with us. It is the waiting for this child to restore all things to the way is was intended to be, before our tears began to fall.

Don’t stop hoping now. You’ve come so far. Just a little further. It’s almost here. Don’t give up. You are almost there. Rescue is right around the corner. Tomorrow is coming and nothing can stop it.

You are enough for this task because hope is in your bones!

I dare you to imagine a world in which hope triumphs over fear, where love overcomes hate.

May you live within the imaginative hope of love in these coming days. May that love call forth the songs you sing. May love give birth to new celebrations amid suffering. May love be within you, and may love surround you. May you know–deeply know–the fullness of God’s love for you. Amen.

Words Matter


This video is from Love 146, an organization working to abolish sex trafficking and exploitation of the most vulnerable in our world. This video is a tremendous reminder of the power words have when spoken over young people. The message of this video is why we do what we do at Conversations on the Fringe.

Consider buying one less gift for each other this year at Christmas and instead, choose to give to Love 146 and their efforts to help those who have been impacted by trafficking and exploitation.

Please watch and share this with others in your circle and then ask them to share it too.

I am more. from Love146 on Vimeo.

Sex, Aggression, and Adolescents


In today’s adolescent dating culture, many express how frustrating and unsatisfied they are because contemporary dating styles encourage young men to be aggressive and young women to be accommodating to the men who pursue them.

Unfortunately, sex and violence are so intertwined for men that an easy separation is impossible.  Violence is constantly glamorized and sexualized in youth culture.  The multibillion-dollar pornography industry is the clearest example of how we learn that power and control are tied to sexual arousal.  Even in children’s comic books, popular music and videos, and magazine advertisements, we are constantly reminded that dominating and subduing women is sexy and arousing.  The primary message young boys receive is that having sexual access to women and having someone sexually vulnerable to you are the quintessential signs of male power, the epitome of success.  Women are regularly shown alongside other symbols of masculine power, such as fast cars, money, and guns.

Some of these images depict the women as resisting forcefully at the beginning, then finally giving up and enjoying sex.  In this way, young men are taught that women are somehow turned on sexually by the aggression exhibited by men.  They may protest or say no at first to guard their character, but if they relax they will enjoy it, they will become stimulated by the man’s aggression.  If they don’t, then there is something wrong with them.

The outcome of this conditioning is that men are given permission, even encouraged to use sexual aggression to control women, to deny what they’re doing and then assert that it’s no big deal anyway.  If this goes on long enough it soon becomes the norm.  Young men assume this is the way relations between men and women are naturally.  If there is any guilt or remorse, the young women get the blame.

  • She’s a tease
  • She’s frigid
  • She’s too emotional
  • She shouldn’t have said that
  • She knew that would make me angry
  • She asked for it
  • She said no but she meant yes
  • If she didn’t want it she wouldn’t dress like that

There are so many layers of aggression, blame, and denial that there is no way for young men to see the impact their thoughts and behaviors have on the women around them.  We can even use the Scriptures to reinforce these ideas that women are inferior, further damaging the inherent dignity and value each young woman has, leading to a fractured image of who she was created to be by God.

Here are some questions for you to start a conversation about domestic abuse/intimate partner violence:

  • What role does the church/your ministry have in (inadvertently) reinforcing these toxic gender beliefs?
  • When was the last time you had a conversation about male gender training with the young men in your ministry?
  • When was the last time you had a conversation about female gender training with the young women in your ministry?
  • What are new values/beliefs that need to be taught from Scripture to replace old, harmful beliefs?
  • How can we affirm young males without encouraging male privilege?
  • How can we affirm young women without imparting a second-class female victimstance?
  • Does your church/ministry talk about intimate partner violence with youth? Why or Why not? Should we start to? How should we begin that conversation?

If you suspect domestic violence is occurring with a student you can provide them with the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

You can also begin the conversations with students by using talking points from the healthy relationships spectrum on the National Domestic Violence website. This is a great resource to help those who struggle with the impact of aggression and violence in relationships.

The Voices Project – Anonymous Girl part 2


We recently received this email from an anonymous girl who wanted to tell her story. These are her words and we are honored to share it on her behalf. Her story is long so we have decided to post it in two parts. This is the second part of her story. You can find part 1 here. We pray for her continued healing and hope that she is surrounded by love, where ever she may be.

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The holding cell was just a big room with a bench along one side and a toilet in the corner behind a half wall. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was get sick and have to use that toilet. Eventually, I did because when you’re dope sick it comes out of both ends. It’s a horrible feeling but you don’t care because you’re miserable. I seriously wanted to die so bad but there was absolutely no way I could make that happen. Not only did I not have anything to do it with there was also a giant one-way mirrored window through which we would be watched. I just laid in the corner under the bench, as far away from the others as I could get.

After five days a mental health therapist came to talk to me. She evaluated my current drug use; how much, how often, and how long. She asked if I wanted to go to treatment and I said I did. Inside, I knew I didn’t really want treatment but I didn’t want to be homeless or hungry. I had already gotten over the worst of my withdrawals so they would be able to get me in relatively quickly. I still had to wait three more days.

Treatment was not new to me. I had watched my mom go in and out most of my life. He NA sponsor would come over from time to time. I saw all the books and stuff lying around the house too. I even learned the things they say, like “Just take it one day at a time”, and “But for the grace of God, go I”. I could recite them like they were a part of the pledge of allegiance at grade school. But, I had no personal experience with those in recovery.

My counselor was a nice woman and was really good at listening to me but I just didn’t connect with her. She had a good heart and all but I never got the sense that she really knew what I had gone through in my life. Now, the people at Sanity (local NA meeting), that was another story. Those people knew their shit. It’s like they knew my every thought before I thought it.

My first meeting I was welcomed and they read something called step one. I don’t remember much of that meeting or what they talked about but what I do remember was this group told me they wanted me to come back. That’s it. No strings attached. They simply wanted me to come back. I can’t tell you how good it felt to hear those words. It’s like all the things I’ve done and were ashamed of kept me from wanting to be around other people but I had a real sense that these people already knew about the crap that had happened in my life and they still wanted me to come back.

I have relapsed on a few occasions. Heroin imprints in your body and brain and because of that my brain has learned about a level of pleasure it was never intended to know. Each time I dragged my sorry ass back through the doors of that meeting room, I was greeted with, “We’re glad you made it back”. It’s like there was a force field at the front door that keeps shame from entering that space. My relapses got shorter each time and my sobriety got longer between relapses.

I am now clean 9 months and I’m working. I don’t know if I’ll use again. I hope not but it’s always there, in the back of my mind. It’s like a bear that’s hibernating. If I just leave the bear alone it will stay asleep. If I poke the bear, it will wake up and start devouring everything around it and I’m afraid I won’t be able to put it back to sleep. For today, I’m sober. I like who I am. I miss my mom and wish she was able to find a community like I did. I still have nightmares about the sexual abuse I’ve experienced but I’m working that out with my therapist. I’m living with people in recovery and go to meetings nearly every night. Sometimes I go and pick up the girls from the local treatment center. It’s cool to see them at the beginning. It reminds me where I came from and how far I’ve come.

You can post this on your blog if you want. I’m not giving my name because I still have a long way to go but if my story will help someone else then please use it. Thanks for making a place for people to share their stories. This was hard for me to write but it feels important for me to do this.

Thanks.

How To Talk About Intimate Partner Violence With Your Students: A Guide For Youth Workers


Teen dating happens more than you can imagine. In a 2015 study, the majority of teen dating violence victims told no one about the abuse—fewer than 22% told a friend, and only 5% told an adult. The reasons that adolescents are hesitant to tell adults are varied. They often fear nobody will believe them or that they will be blamed for the problem. Many fear their abuser will try to get back at them and hurt them more. The cycle of abuse fuels feelings of shame and vulnerability and further isolates victims from supportive relationships.

Youth workers can be an ally in ending this harmful cycle by reaching out to students who may be struggling in an abusive relationship. When youth workers respond to incidents of dating violence they communicate to students that the church is a safe place where violence is not tolerated and their dignity is valued.

Dating violence, like any form of abuse, is complicated. Being courageous enough to lean into a messy situation can start to make a student victim feel they are not alone. One conversation will not “fix” the problem but it can be a catalyst for healing. Also, a talk with you could empower him or her to speak openly about the problem and seek the help they need.

Knowing how to talk to youth about intimate partner violence is a challenge. Not everyone feels capable or competent to have these conversations. What follows is a process to help you speak effectively with students about dating violence. You will need to know the best way to approach a student who may be at risk, how to honestly and directly state your concern, and how best to respond to what they tell you.

Cultivate Security—Put the student at ease by creating a safe environment. Find a safe space for you to talk to the student. This can go a long way towards getting a student to open up about an abusive relationship. Confidentiality and gentleness are foundations of a secure and safe setting.

  1. Explain Limits of Confidentiality—This is a sensitive conversation that should take place between you and the student but, if harm is occurring to the student, you may be required to report the abuse. Check your church policies and state laws. Most state laws include lay clergy as mandated reporters. Don’t make promises of secrecy to the student. Assure them you will always act on their behalf, that you are in this for the long haul, and if you should have to report information you will do so as a partner with the student and will allow them the opportunity to advocate for him or herself.
  2. Don’t Overreact—Invite honest discussion using a friendly, calm tone when you speak. Watch your posture. Your body language can cause a scared student to withdraw and withhold information. Smile often and speak tenderly. Also, don’t sit behind a desk or across a table, sit beside or in front of.

Get Your Hands Dirty and Dig In—Do not be afraid to be direct but kind. This kind of approach conveys compassion and seriousness. Speak directly and warmly. Let the student know that you take both his or her overall wellbeing and the issue of dating abuse seriously. Doing this expresses trust that will be necessary to foster an honest, constructive dialogue. An effective inquiry is kind, direct, brief, and has 3 parts:

  1. Specific and clear portrayal of what you saw. Note time and place: “Jennifer, yesterday when you were walking down the hall to Sunday School I noticed that Geoffrey grabbed you by the arm.”
  2. Show the association of that act with the definition of abuse: “When one person in a relationship hurts their partner or tries to make them feel afraid, it’s called abuse, and it’s never ok.”
  3. Express your concern and then invite them to share more about the relationship/event: “I’m concerned that you are not safe in this relationship. Would you like to talk about it?”

Be present and listen well. You may be tempted to want to jump in a fix the problem immediately but that can feel overwhelming to a scared teenager. Also, the fear that adults don’t really want to listen to kids can be directly challenged by actively listening to their story, even if you don’t think they are being honest with you. Make good eye contact, don’t interrupt, and ask for clarification when needed.

Respond with Appropriate Empathy and Validation—Once the student has finished sharing, it is essential to validate what they share with you and be empathetic in your response. This to happen whether or not the student divulges abuse.

If the student does not reveal abuse:

“Thank you. Your wellbeing and safety is very important to me. If you ever feel unsafe, I’m here for you.”

Fight the urge to push, if there is abuse, the student must choose how, who, and when to talk about it. Your job is to validate, convey empathy, and keep the door open.

If the student does reveal abuse:

Be Supportive: Let the student know you support them (even if you don’t believe them).

“I am here for you in this.”

Be Empathetic: Let the student know you understand their feelings, fears, and insecurities about what will happen next.

“The abuse you have suffered is not your fault”

“You are not alone”

Refer and Report—Brainstorm with the student options for moving forward. Keep in mind mandatory reporting concerns while allowing the student a measure of self-determination. Help them problem-solve who they tell next, how they should report, and if they need extra help, such as a counselor or law enforcement support. Develop a plan for bringing the student’s parents into the discussion. Direct the student towards community resources.

This process will likely be a journey for the victim, the abuser, both families, siblings, and friends, as well as you and your volunteers. Knowing your limitations is important in navigating a crisis well. It is possible to work through an experience such as this but tough conversations will need to be had, boundaries will need to be set, and policies will need to be developed to create a responsive and safe environment for students who risk being vulnerable when intimate partner violence occurs.

Resources

http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html

http://www.thehotline.org/

The Voices Project – Anonymous Girl pt. 1


We recently received this email from an anonymous girl who wanted to tell her story. These are her words and we are honored to share it on her behalf. Her story is long so we have decided to post it in two parts. The next post will be posted next couple of weeks. We pray for her continued healing and hope that she is surrounded by love, where ever she may be.

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I was raped at 13 years of age by one of my mom’s boyfriend’s customers. He had been dating my mom for about six months. They both liked to get high together and when he drank he would get really “handsy” with me. My mom hooked up with him because she was addicted to heroin and he was her dealer. I wouldn’t find out until I was an adult that he use to coerce her into having sex with his friends in exchange for heroin. Because being dope sick is the worst kind of sickness you can experience, she would reluctantly do whatever she needed to do in order to mot be sick anymore.

I grew up on Howett St. in Peoria, Illinois. We were evicted from our home on the north side of town when my dad left. After bouncing around for several years we moved in with my mom’s boyfriend on the south side of town. This is where I was raped. My mom was gone and I was home alone with him. A guy I had seen around the house a few times stopped by to buy some dope. I was watching TV in the living room and they were in the kitchen. I could hear this guy talk about how hot he thought I would be as I grew up and that he would give anything to have someone like me. That’s all it took for my mom’s boyfriend. He told his customer that for the right price he could have me right now. That’s when everything changed for me.

Her boyfriend told me that if I told my mom or anyone else he would hurt us, me and my mom. I was scared of him and I knew he had guns in the house. Besides, when I use to beg mom to leave she would tell me that he provides really good for us and she wouldn’t be able to take care of me the way he does. So, I never said anything. That customer would come by one a week. Pretty soon he just started coming by to see me.

I learned to disconnect my mind from my body when I’d have sex with him and others. My therapist called dissociation. She says it’s a survival skill that helped me navigate traumatic experiences. The only problem was I couldn’t do that every time. I hated the way they smelled and felt so, having watched my mom for years “nodding off” I decided that’s what I’d need if I had to keep doing this. I skipped smoking and snorting and went right to the needle.

The first time I stuck that needle in my arm I blew two veins but got it on the third try. Why I didn’t stop after the first two I’ll never know. I just wanted to numb myself and forget for a while. I had come to hate myself and my body. It had become an object to the men that come by the house, an object for their pleasure. They were typically nice to me but I hated every last one of them. Some were rough and would hit me but that was rare. Mostly, they’d do their business and then throw some money on the mattress and leave without saying a word. Between the dissociation, the cutting I had started doing, and the heroin, I had learned how to navigate this life I’d been given.

I began to develop a tolerance and hated the sickness that I started to feel when the heroin wore off. I hated the thoughts that crept into my mind when I wasn’t high. I began begging the men for extra money, promising to do more than they asked for. I couldn’t believe the things I was willing to do for a little extra money. I knew most of them by their first names now as they had become regulars. In fact, I started pulling tricks on the side in order to keep some of the money I was making instead of having to give it all to my mom’s boyfriend. When he found out he put me in the hospital and told me I couldn’t come back. My mom cried but stood by his side as he did this.

My mom died from an overdose on heroin three weeks after my 17 birthday. For the first time in my life, I felt totally alone. I didn’t hate her for what happened. I know she was strung out and trying to survive much like I was. She would occasionally sneak money or clothes to me when she’d go out. I stayed at the Dream Center Shelter and had nothing except what she could smuggle to me. I was still turning tricks and fighting to not be dope sick but without the steady feed from my mom’s boyfriend, I struggled to find dope. I bounced in and out of detox several times in an attempt to get clean but I always went right back.

One of the girls at the center told me I could make more money dancing. She said I could make upwards of five hundred dollars a night if I was any good. I jumped at the chance make some money and applied for a dancing job at a local strip club. I was hired on the spot. The manager said he saw a lot of potential in me and asked if I was willing to work hard and work long hours. I told him I was.

Little did I know what a toll those long hours would take on me. I did make good money but was constantly exhausted. I had all the dope I wanted, men throwing themselves at me, and new friends but felt like I couldn’t keep up with my new lifestyle demands. It was around this time I discovered cocaine. It gave me the energy I needed to push harder.

Soon I was headlining the club I worked at and the money really started coming in, along with more opportunities, more dancing, higher-class tricks, and my own stuff. I kind of felt like I was on top of the world and had put all that bad stuff behind me. That’s about the time I got arrested for prostitution and possession of a controlled substance.

For a period of time, I was forced to get sober. They obviously wouldn’t let me have heroin in jail. I hated being sober because when I was sober I would start to remember all the crap I wanted to forget. The fear and anger and self-hatred would come back. So, on top of being severely sick from withdrawal, I was an emotional wreck. All I thought about that week I dried out in jail was how badly I just wanted to die.

 

FREE Spiritual Formation Guide for Youth Workers on the Fringe


Ministry on the fringe can be exhausting and depleting. Developing sustainable spiritual practices in foundational for longevity in ministry to high-risk youth. Unfortunately, these habits are often not taught to frontline workers. Conversations on the Fringe knows how challenging this type of work can be and is committed to providing youth workers with valuable resources to keep you in the game for the long haul. We are committed to partnering with you to ensure spiritual vitality so that the youth you serve get the overflow from a cup that is full.

Download the Spiritual Formation for Ministry on the Fringe Guide for FREE! This is our gift to you. Thanks for all you do for marginalized and vulnerable youth. What you do matter but more importantly, YOU MATTER! Hang in there and may God fill your cup so it runs over to those who need it most. To download, click on the image below.

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Youth Ministries That Nurture Resiliency In Vulnerable Youth


Young people are living in a world that seems hell-bent on breaking those who try to navigate it successfully. Likewise, the church in America has a tendency to break people as well, especially its young. If our students, children, and community youth are going to move out of adolescence into functional adulthood they will need to be resilient.

So, what exactly is resilience? Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a tough situation or difficult time and then get back to feeling just about as good as you felt before. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and keep on thriving.

Rick Little and the fine folks over at the Positive Youth Development Movement have identified the 7 Cs: Essential Building Blocks of Resilience. They say “Young people live up or down to expectations we set for them. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to the high expectations of being compassionate, generous, and creative.”

Competence: When we notice what young people are doing right and give them opportunities to develop important skills, they feel competent. We undermine competence when we don’t allow young people to recover themselves after a fall.

Confidence: Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.

Connection: Connections with other people, schools, and communities offer young people the security that allows them to stand on their own and develop creative solutions.

Character: Young people need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.

Contribution: Young people who contribute to the well-being of others will receive gratitude rather than condemnation. They will learn that contributing feels good and may therefore more easily turn to others, and do so without shame.

Coping: Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.

Control: Young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.

carl-jung

This is a great grid to think through when creating programs, purchasing curriculum, and planning events. Can our efforts increase resilience in the most vulnerable youth? I think they can but it will take thoughtful intentionality.

  • What if our we created more opportunities for students to lead (in big church)? Would that increase their competence to have their leadership validated and nurtured by other leaders?
  • What if we taught a series on confidence (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me)? Sound familiar? Are we driving this truth deep into the hearts of young people? I’m not talking about the notion that I can achieve but more the notion that I can overcome.
  • What if we continued to beat the drum of integrity and character but laced it with grace so when they fail they are able to get back on track without having to avoid the shame monster?
  • What if we did more than just allow our kids to babysit for the Women’s Fellowship Coffee? What if we actually gave our students meaningful work in the church and community? What if they led teams with adults? What if they helped plan services? What if they researched their community needs and church leaders valued their work so much that it might actually alter the organization’s mission?
  • What if we offered more than shallow platitudes to manage the hurt and pain they experience as they navigate life? What if we deliberately included emotional and social intelligence in all our teaching and small group curriculum? What if we actually modeled self-control and appropriate vulnerability of emotions? What if we taught coping skills to kids in our youth group?
  • What if we allowed teens the power of choice? What if we allowed them to make wrong choices and were there to help them process the consequences of those choices? What if we encouraged rebellion (minor rebellion) and autonomy instead of conformity? What if we didn’t overindulge youth so they develop a sense of entitlement and instead taught them the value of work and earning respect?

I wish I had learned many of these lessons growing up. More than that, I wish I had been surrounded by a great herd of adults that walked alongside me while I learned these lessons, encouraging me, walking beside me, challenging me by raising the bar, modeling resilience, and not giving up on me when I screwed up. I imagine that sounds a little like heaven to a vulnerable teenager and that’s the point, isn’t it?

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