FYI

Parents’ Smartphones: Sticky Faith Builder or Breaker?

Sep 09, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by Wei-Feng Xue.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, stickyfaith.org is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This research finding from our interviews with 50 amazing parents comes from chapter ten: “Home Sticky Home: Making Your House a Hub of Faith”.

One of the most dominant themes in our fifty parents’ descriptions of their homes is that they limit their kids’ use of technology.

These boundaries are needed because of the way young people today are marinated in media. Let’s consider together a generation whose lives are heavily flavored by technology:

• Fifty-eight percent of this generation possess a desktop computer.

• Sixty-one percent own a laptop.

• Eighteen percent use a tablet or e-reader.

But the real king of all technology is the device in their pocket. Almost 90 percent of this generation carry a cell phone.[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (June 28, 2012), http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/2012/A-Closer-Look-at-Gadget-Ownership.aspx.]]

When asked to describe their cell phone in one word, this generation answered, “Awesome,” “Great,” “Good,” “Love,” “Excellent,” “Useful,” and “Convenient.”[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (July 11, 2011), http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/2011/Smartphones.aspx.]]

You might be thinking that some of those words don’t sound very adolescent. Especially the words useful and convenient. That’s because the generation I’m describing isn’t teenagers. It’s adults.

Are young people avid users of technology? You bet. But the data suggests that while teenagers may be digital natives, we adults are fast-adapting digital immigrants. Before we judge teenagers for their quick-texting thumbs and seemingly permanent earbuds, we adults need to put down our smartphones and think about our own media consumption.

Eighty-three percent of young people are involved in social networking. So are 77 percent of their parents.[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (August 5, 2013), http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/March/Pew-Internet-Social-Networking-full-detail.aspx.]]

Among all US household types, the traditional nuclear family with two parents and children under eighteen is more likely than other household types—such as single adults or couples without children—to have cell phones and use the internet.[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (October 19, 2008), http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Networked-Families.aspx.]]

Often parents use this technology to improve their relationships with their kids. After all, texting can help parents stay in touch with their children throughout the day. Social media allows parents to take the pulse of their kids’ lifestyle choices and friendships.[[Bradley Howell, “Using Social Media to Strengthen Family Bonds,” FYI E-Journal (July 8, 2013), http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/using-social-media-to-strengthen-family-bonds.]]

But the parents we interviewed have recognized that the same technology that builds bridges can also build walls. Kids are so focused on sharing videos online with friends five miles away that they become numb to family members sitting five feet from them. Parents become immersed in their computers, barely noticing when their kids enter and leave the family room. Given how technology cuts across generations, many wise parents impose limits not only on their kids but also on themselves.

What sorts of limits do you set on your own technology so that it doesn’t sabotage family communication and connection?

Best Books That Have Shaped Me This Summer

Sep 05, 2014 Kara Powell

Photos by x_miinzi_21.

My favorite thing about summer is that I get more relaxed time with our kids.  No homework.  Fewer commitments.  Time traveling together as a family.

While that’s a constant summer after summer, one of the additional highlights of summer 2014 has been the amazing books I’ve read.  They have been so interesting and transformative that I find myself recommending them in meetings and over coffee.  So if you’re looking for some good reading this fall, I have a few suggestions.

Listed in no particular order (other than how they came to my mind) here are my favorites from the summer…

Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation.  A great behind-the-curtain look at what has made Pixar great, which has helped me think more about the power of collaboration and honest feedback in our FYI team. 

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  I can’t remember a book that I’ve thought about more after I read it.  Brown’s distinction between “shame” (meaning feeling like I am bad) and “guilt” (meaning feeling like I do bad things) explains so much of my own struggles and insecurities.

Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley.  After two different friends recommended this to me in one day, I knew I had to read it.  Stanley speaks so honestly about the reality that we can’t do it all and we have to choose where (or who) we are going to cheat with our time.  For the two weeks after I read it, I kept telling myself, “I’m going to cheat work, not my kids.”

One Summer:  America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.  A fantastic exploration of summer of 1927 in America, and how Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, and a host of other lesser-known Americans shaped not only that summer, but the America that we know and experience today. 

Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzer.  After hearing Joseph Grenny at the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit, I immediately ordered the book.  Thanks to this book, I’ve got a better grasp of how to create a safe environment for tough personal and professional conversations.  I’ll be re-reading this one multiple times.

I’m always looking for good books to read, so what other books have shaped your summer?  

NSFW: 4 Talking Points to Help You Discuss the Celebrity Nude Photo Leak With Teens

Sep 04, 2014 Art Bamford

Photo by Sofia Higgins.

As you probably already have heard, last weekend a hacker uploaded nude and sexually explicit photos that were stolen from the online ‘cloud’ storage accounts of a number of actresses, models, and pro-athletes including Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games, X-Men), Victoria Justice (Victorious, iCarly), and Kate Upton (Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model).

The celebrity images immediately went viral, and have since been seen and shared by an unfathomable number of people. Although the young women whose photos were leaked have very capable PR teams doing their best to get the pictures removed, it is likely they will never fully go away.

In light of the spectacle surrounding this ordeal, we wanted to provide parents and youth leaders with a few things to keep in mind when this story comes up in conversations you have with young people in the days ahead.

1. Don’t dismiss this situation as trivial pop culture gossip.
The young women whose images were posted are extremely popular among teens. Researchers have found that young people often view these types of teen icons more like friends and role models than distant celebrities. Accordingly, there is an abundance of research that illustrates how young celebrities are able to impact their fans’ political views, fashion sense, and purchasing decisions.[1] In other words, this story will likely hit home with young people more than it might for adults. Many of them see these stars as their cool older friends.

2. Remember that you’re talking about real people, not just celebrities.
It is easy for this conversation to veer off and become one about paying the high price of fame in our culture. As Christians, we still believe that these young women were created by God in his own image, regardless of how much money their last film made at the box office or how they conduct their personal lives off-camera. Put the situation into your own perspective for the young people you talk to; imagine if this was your daughter, her best friend, your sister, or your significant other and their privacy had been violated this severely and publicly. How would you feel?

3. Keep in mind that this could happen to anyone.
These women were certainly targeted because of their fame, but if anything that means the rest of us are even more vulnerable. New York trial lawyer Martin Garbus was quoted in response to this situation, “Nothing is safe on the Internet, period. Everything on your iPhone, whether it be phone calls, message texts, pictures, is all available.”[2] Some law firms have even gone so far as to stop using email altogether for fear of unknowingly breaking the attorney-client privilege.[3]

Here’s an important lesson for all of us that this particular incident illustrates: everything you share digitally can find its way onto a stranger’s screen (if it hasn’t already).

4. Have the conversation about viewing these types of photos.

As we have said often in this series, online behavior tends to be very consistent with offline behavior. This story may raise anxieties about whether or not young people are taking and sharing photos of themselves that are similar to the ones that were leaked. Thankfully, the percentage of teens engaging in sexting has been steadily declining in recent years. In a 2014 study on teen sexting, just one percent of the young people interviewed said they had sent or received sexually explicit nude photos.[4] Teens are appreciating the risks involved, and more and more are making their own decision to avoid it altogether, thanks in part to news stories like this one. The odds are extremely low that the young people you know are taking, sending, or sharing images like the ones that were stolen from these celebrities.

If there is a conversation we need to be having more often with young people, it is about viewing pornographic images like the ones that were leaked.

In the limited amount of research that exists on how much young people are viewing online pornography, there are a few points worth considering as you engage in conversations about this scandal:

  • For young men, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that religiosity has been identified as one of the only factors that seems to significantly reduce the chances of a man (of any age) viewing online porn. The bad news is that an overwhelming majority of young men are nevertheless still viewing it.
  • As it relates to young women, only a very small percentage actually view porn, while the majority condemn it. However those who condemned porn described it as oppressive and demeaning towards women, purely in terms of social equality and not based on any religious beliefs or moral commitments.

We need to do a better job communicating to young men and women that viewing sexually explicit images like the ones that were posted ought to be uniquely, superlatively offensive to us as Christians. Yes, viewing these kinds of images is demeaning and oppressive towards women, but it also distorts the way both genders interact with one another, destroys relationships, and becomes a major stumbling block for many young men as they try to follow Jesus. Moreover, as it relates to this particular incident, the images were stolen and shared without the consent of the women appearing in them. Some commentators have argued that this is comparable to sexual assault.

This can be a really difficult conversation to have with young people, but this news story may provide a natural opportunity to talk about it. While there’s temptation to simply respond by saying, “those women never should have taken the pictures in the first place,” or “you better not look at them!” let’s instead make the most of this unfortunate situation as a teachable moment that puts our alarming lack of privacy online into perspective, and allows us to engage with the tough topic of online pornography.

As we are empathetic and forgiving towards the young women who were victimized, it will demonstrate our capacity to do so towards celebrities that many young people view as friends.

 

[1] See: Giles, D. C., & Maltby, J. (2004). The role of media figures in adolescent development: Relations between autonomy, attachment, and interest in celebrities. Personality and individual differences, 36(4), 813-822.; Jackson, D. J., & Darrow, T. I. (2005). The influence of celebrity endorsements on young adults’ political opinions. The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 10(3), 80-98.; Dix, S., Phau, I., & Pougnet, S. (2010). “Bend it like Beckham”: the influence of sports celebrities on young adult consumers. Young Consumers: Insight and Ideas for Responsible Marketers, 11(1), 36-46.

[2] Dastin, J., Parks, M., Reaney, P., Kelsey, E. (Sept. 2, 2014). “Celebrity Photo Breach Heightens Online Security Warnings.” Reuters U.S. Retrived from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/02/us-entertainment-photos-idUSKBN0GX1XO20140902

[3] Singha, Alex. (Aug. 14, 2014). “How US Surveillance Threatens Attorney-Client Privilege.” Jurist Magazine. University of Pittsburgh. Retrived from: http://jurist.org/hotline/2014/08/alex-sinha-attorney-client-privilege.php

[4] Lounsbury, K., Mitchell, K., & Finkelhor, D. (2011). The true prevalence of “sexting”. Durham, NH, Crimes Against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire. [This study helpfully points out that “sexting” has been defined in a wide variety of ways throughout the existing studies on this topic. The percentage cited above reflects the percentage of teens who have sent or received images comparable to those that were leaked. The percentage may be higher for less explicit, but still sexually provocative, text messages and photos.] 

Family Dinners—Magical or Mythical?

Sep 04, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by Sam Simon.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, stickyfaith.org is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This research finding about family dinners is further unpacked in chapter ten: “Home Sticky Home: Making Your House a Hub of Faith”.

All sorts of blog posts and books tout the benefits of family dinners. Are regular family dinners part of a magical formula that can bring harmony and happiness to your home?

The best answer from research is, Sort of.

Kids who have dinner with their families seem to make better choices and avoid disorders and high-risk behaviors including depression, delinquency, and drug and alcohol use. But when researchers took into account other differences between families who have dinner together and those who don’t (such as differences in overall relationship quality, parental monitoring, and shared activities), the effects of family dinners diminished drastically.

In other words, the parents who value family dinners seem also to build healthy and caring bonds with their kids in a host of other ways.[[Kelly Musick and Ann Meier, “Assessing Causality and Persistence in Associations Between Family Dinners and Adolescent Well-Being,” Journal of Marriage and Family 74 (June 2012): 476–93.]]

Family dinner conversations are a bright light in these parents’ relationships with their children, but they are only one star in a constellation of connections that already shines brightly. So while dinner is a natural opportunity for families to communicate, it’s not the secret sauce of Sticky Faith families. The ongoing involvement and conversation between parents and kids is what matters most, whether or not it happens over a tablecloth.

How have family dinners helped your family grow closer to each other? What other times of the day are great opportunities for communication and connection?

The Best Untapped Sticky Faith Resource in Your Church

Sep 02, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by Meral Crifasi.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, stickyfaith.org is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This story about an amazing senior adult and research about grandparents is from chapter seven: “Grandparents and Senior Adults: The Magic of Intergenerational Interaction.”

Every kid needs a Ruth.

Every family needs a Ruth.

Every church needs a Ruth.

Even though I spent only a few minutes with Ruth, she permanently colored my picture of senior adults’ impact in faith-pursuing families.

Ruth wore thick glasses and appeared to be in her late eighties. After hearing me present our research about Sticky Faith families at an evening church seminar, she approached me as I was putting away my laptop, to share her own strategy for helping students stay connected with God.

Ruth explained, “At the start of every fall, I ask our church for a list of the high school seniors who have just graduated. I get those students’ names and addresses, and I write them all letters to let them know I’m thinking of them and praying for them. I tell them they don’t have to write me back, and most don’t. But when they come home at Thanksgiving or Christmas, they thank me for writing them.”

As I drove away from the host church, I couldn’t stop thinking about Ruth. Her willingness to put pen to paper to write each student one letter at the start of every fall was inspiring.

The next day, I felt prompted to share about Ruth as I was teaching our Sticky Faith research in the same city but to a different audience. Or as I was about to find out, to a mostly different audience.

After I described Ruth and her amazing commitment to write one letter at the start of every fall to each high school graduate, an audience member raised his hand. I called on him, and he stood to explain, “I was here last night and saw Ruth talking to you. I know Ruth. We’re part of the same church. She doesn’t write those high school graduates once at the start of every fall. She writes them every week.”

Maybe you’re thinking what I and many audience members said aloud that day: Wow.

Ruth reminds us that there’s a group of people with untapped potential to don a jersey and join your family’s Sticky Faith team.

Senior adults.

Grandparents Are More Involved Than Ever

Grandparents. Some are biological grandparents, meaning they are related to your kids. Others are adopted, or “functional,” grandparents, meaning they are not genetically related to your family but play the same role and relate to your kids like grandparents.[[Adapted from the definition of “functional family” in Diana R. Garland, Family Ministry (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1999), 38.]]

Either way, the data supports what you may have noticed as you’ve looked at who is picking up kids after school: grandparents are more involved than ever.

According to gerontologist Dr. Vern Bengtson from the University of Southern California, the following factors are contributing to this increase in grandparents’ engagement.

• Senior adults’ health is improving, and their life expectancy is increasing.

• As more and more families have two parents who work outside of the home, grandparents are providing more after-school care.

• Grandparents have new ways to connect with their grandchildren through technology like Skype, Facebook, and text messaging.

As a result of these and other cultural factors, Bengtson and his team surmise that “Gen Xers and Millennials will have greater involvement with their grandparents—and, for some, their great-grandparents—than any previous generation of grandchildren in American history.”[[Vern L Bengtson, Norella M Putney and Susan Harris, Families and Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 100.]]

In what ways have you seen senior adults build Sticky Faith in children and teenagers?

Adding Sticky Faith To Birthdays

Aug 28, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by tednmiki.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, stickyfaith.org is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This story about the amazing men who surround our son comes from chapter six: “Community: The Power of Five Faith-Building Adults”.

When Nathan turned thirteen, he didn’t just have a birthday. He had a birth-month.

Dave and I wanted Nathan to know that as he officially became a teenager, he wasn’t stepping through the hallway from childhood to adolescence alone. He had a team who walked through that passageway with him, cheering him on.

So two months before his birthday, Dave, Nathan, and I identified five men who were already influential in his life. We emailed each man, asking him if he’d be open to spending a few hours with Nathan during his birthday month. In addition to their using those hours to make a deposit into their relational account with Nathan, we also asked each to share with Nathan one piece of life advice and one piece of spiritual advice.

These men are busy fathers and grandfathers, but to our delight, each accepted. So five different men—ages thirty-seven to seventy-two—spent a few hours with Nathan that month. From golfing to a sunrise hike, these men shared memories, life stories, advice, and prayers. As Nathan recounted to Dave and me what he had learned from each man, we were filled with gratitude to God for these godly men who were pouring themselves into Nathan and our family.

To memorialize the time with these five men, Dave and Nathan built a wooden “team box” the size of a shoebox. In the box, we placed pictures of Nathan with each man, as well as a written copy of each man’s spiritual and life advice. As God brings other amazing men across Nathan’s path, we plan on asking them to spend some time with Nathan and adding their pictures and advice to Nathan’s team box. The box now sits on Nathan’s bookshelf, a palpable reminder of the amazing men who are already on Nathan’s team, as well as those who we pray will join in future years.

Dave and I are not that creative.

We never would have come up with this ritual that we’ve already done with Nathan—and plan to do with our two daughters as they turn thirteen—without the insights and ideas that emerged during our years of Sticky Faith research.

What have you done to make the birthdays in your family more significant and meaningful?

Tent City 4

Aug 27, 2014 Brad M. Griffin

When I saw this recent post by our former FYI team member Cody Charland, I thought, This is a story our friends need to hear.

Today marked the end of a 90-day stay at my church for a homeless camp, Tent City 4. Their time went by with 0 incidents and many blessings. 

It seems so long ago that we were fighting just to host the camp. I didn't share the same concerns many of our neighbors did, as I don't have property values, children, or that specific fear of the unknown. I'm thankfully oblivious to much. 

But I was terrified of one thing. 

What is church for if we ignore our neighbor? 

I learned through this experience that we can't keep singing, preaching, and meeting together if we don't get our hands dirty and follow through on loving God and neighbor. It's vanity otherwise. I think our faith community needed this experience as bad as the camp needed a place to stay. 

While this isn't that ocean front view I've dreamed of... My office window had front-row seats to the camp. It reminded me daily that good fences don't make good neighbors. Good neighbors make good neighbors.

I got on the phone with Cody to understand a bit more of the backstory and what they learned through the experience.

Cody’s church is in Issaquah, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. Churches fill the gap in homeless services around the city by hosting semi-permanent camps, called “tent cities.” Their church was approached about hosting one of these camps. Initially there was significant pushback from neighbors and from some church members. There’s a preschool connected to the church, which created all kinds of understandable concerns. But ultimately the church voted to do it. Some families did actually leave the church and preschool as a result, causing a financial hit for both.

I probed a bit more, and here’s what Cody shared about the experience:

How does it work?

An external group coordinates the homeless camp and creates the structure for the process. County and local governments require that a camp in any particular location can only extend for ninety days. That means most tent cities have to move every three months to new locations around the city.

Background checks are done before residents can enter the camp. Residents have to be over age 18 and have to provide proper identification. Sometimes local police bring potential residents by to see if the tent city can be a viable alternative for life on the streets or in limited shelters. Many tent city residents work or attempt to work jobs, and the tent city provides a safe place for them to live and keep their belongings while they are at work.

The tent city set up in our parking lot, and we let them use our church building for eating and to keep dry during the heavy spring rains. They have a trailer on site to use as a shower facility.

What was safety like?

Our camp was previously at a local Catholic parish. The last week of their term, a few residents were arrested (and immediately kicked out of the camp) for drugs. This raised all kinds of concerns about safety at our church. We set up a schedule of church volunteers who patrolled during school hours, and put up a fence around the preschool playground. We didn’t have any safety or drug incidents during our term. The only time we heard from the police was when they asked us why the camp was so quiet.

How did your church respond? Did they engage the residents?

Surprisingly, people responded wholeheartedly once the camp was here. There are a lot of retirees in our congregation, and many of them were leaders in their professional careers. They gave a ton of time and resources to this. The church rallied to bring in job coaches, barbers and hair stylists, and other folks who could help residents prepare for and seek out employment.

When it came to Sundays, some of the residents attended worship. The congregation did a great job of reaching out and welcoming them as guests. But none of the residents were invited to pray, read scripture, or help lead the service in any way, which was really disappointing.

In retrospect, our congregation as a whole was probably theologically unprepared to serve this group. When asked why we were hosting the camp, often we responded with a vague answer, like “they needed a place to say” or “we’re supposed to do this.” I wish we had been able to talk as a congregation about how our faith compels us to live out care for the poor and oppressed. According to Jesus, we are feeding him when we feed these brothers and sisters.

What about response from the youth ministry?

Our group responds well to things that are scheduled ahead of time. So in advance we scheduled three times we would intentionally cook and share dinner with the residents while we were hosting the tent city. These went really well, and students jumped right in.

Would you do it again?

Absolutely! We would have kept them longer if their permit hadn’t expired. Our church was really beginning to rally around this community and support them.

Perhaps what’s most surprising is that it was surprising to people that a church would do this. Sometimes I get tired of talking about Jesus and just want to do something that is Jesus. The things we talk, sing, and pray about take on new life when we back them up with our actions. 

What to do if your teenager doesn’t want to spend time with you

Aug 26, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by Al Lafolie.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, stickyfaith.org is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This story begins chapter 5: “Connecting: Finding Ways to Relate to Your Teenager.”

“What if my teenager doesn’t want to spend time with me?”

It’s a common question, one our team is asked almost every time we share the secrets of Sticky Faith families.

My favorite answer is to share the story of Nora, a mom who has used our research to bridge the divide with her son. Seventeen-year-old Sam walled himself off from Nora and the rest of the family eighteen months ago. The only time Sam leaves his room is when he’s hungry (which, luckily for Nora, is often). But when she tries to start up a conversation while Sam’s standing in front of the refrigerator or the microwave, she’s greeted with one-syllable answers: “Fine,” “Nope,” or “Uh-uh.”

Longing for a deeper relationship, Nora has tried to connect with Sam. But every time she offers to take him out for a meal or do something fun, he refuses. He’d rather shut himself in his room and go online or play video games than be with her.

But Sam does love going to movies.

So Nora has become a student of film. She tracks movie release dates, visits movie websites, and has learned the nuances of various directors and actors.

The only time Sam says yes to Nora’s invitations to do something with her is when she asks Sam to a movie. On the way to the movie, the two of them discuss what they know about the film and what they hope it will be like. Driving home, they evaluate the movie and share their favorite scenes. At times Sam even opens up about connections he sees between the film and his own experiences. The roundtrip conversation is Nora’s best window into her son’s life and heart.

Because of this, Nora tries to pick theaters that are far away, so they have more time in the car together.

She also tries to suggest movies that have a spiritual flavor. Hints of spiritual growth in the films’ characters occasionally prompt Sam to talk about his spiritual journey—at least for a few sentences.

Nora doesn’t really like movies all that much, but she likes her son. As with the majority of the Sticky Faith parents we interviewed, Nora is willing to leave the well-worn path of her own comfort and preferences to journey with her teenager.

How do you try to connect with your kids’ interests?

Talking with young people about Ferguson, we can’t keep ignoring it

Aug 25, 2014 Brad M. Griffin

Earlier this summer I shared a TED photo essay of images illustrating inequality. Sadly, this genre of images has become a lot more readily available on the news over the past days as events in Ferguson have exploded.

It’s been more than two weeks now since Michael Brown’s death just after noon on Saturday August 9th. The four hours his body lay in the open street uncovered have been well-documented. That scene has been called the spark behind a “combustible worldwide story of police tactics and race in America,” and it’s still playing out in both violent and peaceful ways in Ferguson and far beyond.

To be sure, this is an open-ended story, one that’s tied up in generations of injustice as much as it is the local uprising of a St. Louis suburb. But I bet students wherever you live are processing not only the actions of the police or protestors, but also the ongoing and haunting updates flowing from news outlets and social media.

This week I was especially moved by a piece that covered kids—children and teenagers—at the frontlines of protest. Many of them are there with their parents, who “have lived these scenes over and over — and they are doing everything they can to change it for their kids.” One parent interviewed about bringing her kids to the protest said she “wanted them to see the unrest firsthand in order to better understand why it was happening and that it was OK to be angry — and even more acceptable to talk about it.”

But what are we saying in our ministries and homes about what’s going on in Ferguson?

A couple of years ago, my neighborhood made national news following the shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old black man by a white police officer. While the days and weeks following that event were comparatively tame in light of Ferguson, in reflecting on how to help youth workers process race-related events like this, I shared a few quotes that I’ll share again here from our work with the Deep Justice in a Broken World project a few years back, both from interviews with nonwhite leaders. First, Efrem Smith:

To say you don’t see skin color is unhealthy, but to attribute everything to skin color is just as unhealthy. I think multiple ethnicities, cultures, and languages are opportunities to see the creative power of our loving God. At the same time, if everything is attributed to race or ethnicity, then we build stereotypes by believing, “All White people think like this,” or “All Black people are like this.” Those stereotypes begin to fuel prejudice.

And Lina Thompson:

I think that the degree to which we have meaningful relationships with people who are different ethnically and culturally is the degree to which meaningful conversations about race can take place. I cannot limit myself to people just like me.

As we hold the tension between the extremes of either ignoring race or making everything about race, somewhere in between we find that dialogue can be a source of growth and healing. But that requires us to not limit ourselves to those who are “just like me.” With that in mind, here are a few ideas for talking with your students about what’s going on in response to Ferguson.

1. Encourage young people to listen to voices that are not like them.

We most especially need to listen to voices of different races, and if you’re white like me, this means listening to black friends, along with the voices who’ve had the courage to speak up thoughtfully online. Here’s one from Bryan Loritts of Fellowship Memphis, one of our Sticky Faith Cohort churches. Bryan writes, “We will never experience true Christian unity when one ethnicity demands of another that we keep silent about our pain and travails. The way forward is not an appeal to the facts as a first resort, but the attempt to get inside each others skin as best as we can to feel what they feel, and understand it.”

2. Talk with young people about systemic issues of injustice.

We’d often rather not acknowledge the reality of power, privilege, and the differences in perception on race in our country, the latter of which continue to grow wider and wider gaps between racial groups. But only some of us can afford to go about our lives refusing to acknowledge these truths.

According to more than one sociologist, we carry something like an invisible backpack of privileges and/or limitations based on our race (the same is true of gender). For those who are white Americans, this pack is filled with opportunities that we usually don’t ever think about or realize.

Peggy McIntosh’s work on White Privilege is telling. In her classic “daily effects of white privilege” list, she highlights fifty points that, in general, apply to most white Americans. (Note that permission is required for use of the full list). Here are just a few of her observations:

  • I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  • If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  • I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  • I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
  • I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  • I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

More than twenty years later, this list (all 50) mostly still holds up. Simply becoming aware of this reality can open a whole new window of understanding for those who have worn unnoticed backpacks of privilege every day of their lives.

3. Caution teenagers that hashtag activism only goes so far.

Similar to the ALS “ice bucket challenge” craze that is sweeping up many kids who have no idea what ALS even is (or why they may or may not want to invest in the cause), it’s easy to get on a social media bandwagon in support of causes we know little about. Even when we do understand, sometimes sharing a post, quote, or using a hashtag in support can be an inoculation to actually caring or helping in tangible ways (and I say this as someone who has actively participated in this kind of self-inoculation). Nor does it drive us to seek Jesus on our knees. In a piece this week on both the importance and limits of hashtag activism, Ebony Adedayo writes,

[H]ashtag activism can’t foster the change alone. #MikeBrown raises awareness but it doesn’t change systems. #IfTheyGunnedMeDown provokes critical thinking, but it doesn’t shift worldviews. Change isn’t going to happen just through these essential tools but through Jesus.

4. Lament together with young people in your community in solidarity with those in Ferguson and all who live on the margins of power.

Last week Rachel Held Evans shared a few responses on the Sojourners blog encouraging us as we watch from a distance that we’re “Not as helpless as we think: Three ways to stand in solidarity with Ferguson.” I am so glad that one of her primary encouragements is to lament, because that’s just what scripture calls us to do in the face of hard questions, unspeakable traumas, societal injustice, and our own sin. How long, oh Lord? is one of the most-repeated phrases in scripture for good reason, and we can read, pray, and sing it together from scripture and from our own deep wells of confusion about what’s going on in Ferguson and beyond. The good news is that God can handle our questions and fears, and isn’t surprised by them.

And at the end of the day, we and the residents of Ferguson have the hope of Jesus and the resurrection to cling to. One day all things will be made new, and every tribe, tongue, and nation will come before the One who created and loves them all deeply, having made them in his own image. Come, Lord Jesus.

What are you doing to help students talk, pray, and respond to events in Ferguson?

Free Live Sticky Faith Webcast with Kara Powell and Brad Griffin

Aug 20, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

Kara Powell and Brad Griffin had the opportunity to share about the Fuller Youth Institute's newest resource, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. Check out the interview with the Youth Specialities team below. 

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