Losing battles you’re never going to win

My Gran ‘lost her battle with dementia’ earlier this morning. Yet since the day of the diagnosis over 5 years ago, there was only ever going to be one winner. It wasnt really a fair battle, not like two equal teams, where one has a chance of an upset, or the Lord of the Rings when the living enquire on the possibility of the dead fighting on their side.  The fight my gran had with dementia, and many many others have had to endure is not one that has a happy physical ending.

As a battle that she lost it was an unfair contest from the outset. She died at peace.

This afternoon i took myself out for a walk with the dog, along the beach at Crimdon, the tide was coming in, and nearly fully in, but it wasnt so dangerous near to the cliffs that i was going to get stuck, and though it was windy, the sea was calm.

I needed the space, some time to reflect, some time just to reconnect with the bigness of the world again. If it wasnt so windy, i might have gone out on the bike instead. But the sea was therapeutic. The dog a stupid distraction as ever.. rolling in dead seal…

But it did make me wonder, and think just a little bit practically about the nature of the local aspects of ministry, whether with young people, in organisations, in churches and think about whether there are actually any battles in the roles that we’re in that we’re doomed to lose, as soon as we’ve started, or the die has been cast. Not to be deliberately morbid or negative, but genuinely are there battles that lost before they’ve been fought?

The question might be, how do we get out of them, or how might we overcome them, despite them.  The reality in terms of faith is that we might be called to play the correct part in every situation, that every situation is an opportunity to walk ‘in the light’ even when circumstances are dark, or the battle of its situation has been lost.

Whilst thinking about the seriousness of funding situations, the solution might not be obvious, but it might not be impossible. Compare this to a shift in government policy for young people that shifts its direction slowly from provision to proscription. But neither is a situation with a person, or a young person a battle lost, but an opportunity to overcome.

If they say ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast ‘ does a battle to change culture be inevitably draining, invigorating but challenging, though on other occasions that cultural practice is so strong it consumes the fight. Better to get out the wheel and make a new path than hope the wheel helps the path be made I guess.

But are there genuinely ‘losing’ battles in youth work & ministry?

 

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Do youthworkers make the best youthwork managers?

This is a question that is now a valid one in both the faith and non faith sector of youthwork in the UK. It used to be that it was more likely that a manager in the council youthwork was educated as a youthworker, or trained as one, whereas, due to the newness of the academic side of things, managers of faith based youthwork were less likely to have had experience, or training in youth work – before they became a manager of a project, a programme or an organisation. But this is no doubt shifting. Whilst youth work degrees have become more popular in the ‘faith’ based side of youth work, then it would be expected that some reflection on the role as manager is done, in readiness of for the potential face to face and managerial aspects of the role.

In a way the former criticism was obvious, the youth worker could rightly accuse their manager of ‘not knowing what it was like’ to be a youth worker in a face to face role – not that the youth worker would know at that point what it was like to have to be a manager of youth workers either. But the criticism could be made, and easy at that.

The challenge for the youth workers as managers, and I am one of them, is that i know what its like to be on the receiving end of bad management (a good thing to learn from) – but i am also acutely aware of being subject to changes in an organisation that have disrupted the professionalism of the work and its integrity – because of decisions made about funding, funding streams that then affect the youthworker. When i say integrity, i mean in terms of the cornerstone values of youthwork for the youthworker in their interaction with young people.

Right now, for example, at Durham YFC, and almost every year, there is a challenge to find funding for the great projects that we do, such as mentoring work, detached and open access clubs. Now it might be a personality thing, or a believer in youthwork thing, that i find it difficult or have no desire at all, to affect one of the projects and thus one of our workers roles, just to be able to write or obtain funding. For me, as a former youthworker, am i more concerned that a piece of work is done well, and done in conversation and dialogue with the youthworker (as their manager) than just trying to fit their work into any impact shaped opportunity that a funder might provide. As a former youth worker i would hope that this adherence to values and its professionalism would make for a good reason that a former youth worker could be a manager of youth workers.

On the other hand, when funding might be more of a challenge- does this desire to do something in accordance with principles and values of youth work become a hindrance in the sustainability of a youth work organisation?  should i just play the funding game- be ruthless and keep the organisation going by applying here , there and everywhere – is the respect i would have for my staff that i manage, and the community/youth work values that they have (and i understand) just a hindrance.  Maybe understanding youth work, and its profession, causes me to be hesitant about playing such a funding game, Alternatively making a decision to value the integrity of the practice of good youthwork, done by youth workers in a particular situation is ruthless a decision enough.

It might be that as an organisation where good youth work exists it flaunts with survival in this current time, maybe it will keep its integrity and purpose intact to a point, without baying to funding that shifts its focus, this might be the consequence of a youth worker managing youth workers and the factors that affect their decision making. The first thing they might not think about is funding their own role, management roles, or organisational survival, but taking professional and practice integrity first, something that they know their workers also value too. Managing youthwork with community & youth work values might currently mean alot of tightrope walking…

 

Detached youthwork as a community building exercise

Earlier this week i wrote a short piece that held a mirror on the faith organisation of the church to the comparison of ‘the community’ in Cormac Russells blog on the nuture development site, this article is here:  http://wp.me/p2Az40-E6. I notice that on the same Nurture development site, Shaun Bartlett has written a sequel, titled ‘building bridges or walls’ – this is here, and worth a read: http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/taking-strengths-based-approach-young-people-part-2-building-walls-building-bridges/

In the article – Shaun comments, from the perspective of being a youthworker for a while in Ayrshire, that;

In every neighbourhood, there are residents who care deeply for young people and who believe in them. They are not motivated by the impulse to keep young people “off the streets” or “out of trouble”. Instead they have a genuine and well-intentioned instinct for connecting young people into civic life. They see the untapped energy of all young people, and are sincerely perplexed and often distressed as to why others can’t see what they see in the young people of their community. Where some only see trouble, they see potential.

Among such folks, there are a number who are able to bridge the gap between young people’s potential and potential places of welcome in their communities for the gifts that young people have to offer.

This first section describes perfectly the tension experienced by the detached youthworkers, their volunteers and some of the criticism or expectations of it. For some, detached youthwork can be a means of social control, a catalyst of physical movement – yet as Dynamo international state in ‘The international methodology of streetwork throughout the world (2008);

Social street work favours an innovative proximity approach where the people play a predominant role in any action undertaken, from its beginnings (the request) throughout its development (accompaniment). It is this trust-based relationship, built up with the subject, which will help break the silence and enable support to be given to the person.

The underlying idea in social street work is not to take a person away from the streets or their surroundings “at all costs”, especially if it consists of compartmentalising them in a new social context where they will feel uncomfortable.

Whatever the context, be it a child, a young person or an adult, the work of accompaniment means building self-esteem, developing personal skills, independently from the degree of exclusion, and enabling participation in social life.

Increasing young peoples capacity in the social life, their participation and reducing exclusion (not of their making often) of it is part of the process of youthwork – especially that which starts from the streets . Yet there can still be expectation that detached work leads to a building- in the short term. What Shaun is suggesting, I think, is that often many local people understand the culture of the young people and have some sympathy with them. As i am in the process of helping to train people in detached youthwork in a specific place, those from the area, tend to not only have more knowledge of the young people, but equally if encouraged, have the desire to see them thrive despite it, being slightly less prone to see needs, but more untapped gifts. It can be as constant a tension between seeing the potential and actual of the gifts of young people, and worrying about their reactions and assessing their needs and trying to help, a natural response at times.

Shaun makes a further point worth reflecting on though. How often are the gifts of the young people, who are encountered in detached/mission type youthwork, given back into the community in order that they can re access it and create identity in it?.

Giving a young person a leadership role in their own youth club is one thing, or maybe even a leadership role in the sunday school – but where might they pay it forward as to speak, not just serve those who helped them become ‘redeemed’ or have their gifts harnessed – but give that back to the community that once rejected them?  Places of welcome where these gifts can be harnessed, can be as fluid as the conversation on the streets, in that space there is a moment of ‘theatre’ where a scene is outplayed, and performance is displayed, played by a gifted young person. The gift needs to be payed back so that young person can increase in their civil life in society, allow not just ‘the youth/church organisation’ to see & feel the benefit, but for others to see a change too.

Further on Shaun makes the point that we as workers on the streets, in the public places with young people are to become the steward;

A person that doesn’t lead, but offers guidance and stewardship nurturing strong citizenship amongst young people and the civic life of their community: they find space for, and often broker young people into community space, to take action on what matters to them.

On detached, the key issues for the young person are often brought to the fore, they are real, and honest at times, and often quick to lay the blame of their situation elsewhere. The game that is often harder to play is to have the toolbox of questions, or converstions that guide the young people into becoming the agents (agency) of their potential future change. Often we maintain the helper role, as adults, or the signposters, but building community, even building community as a faith group involved in detached youthwork, might involve a type of community building that provides only the structures for young peoples gifts to be awakened and they individually and collectively undertake actions of change for themselves and the community at large. They might be their own stewards after all.

If young people are citizens in their community first and foremost – how dare we on one hand proclaim their ‘anti-socialness’ ?  is this the value and language of the community organisation (Goeschius & Tash, 1967, 100), rather than the informal community- the families or the young people themselves.  The kind of language that restricts freedom and movement. To build assets is to remove the walls, often constructed by language, and for communities tarnished by external reputation, but filled with signs and actions of true community to become places of welcome, and spaces for young peoples gifts to be harnessed, and stewarded.

If i was going to reflect a little theologically on this, the obvious place would be to think about Jesus mission strategy with the disciples to go in pairs to local villages and await being welcomed, a model of practice  Jesus himself shows the disciples with the incident with the woman of Samaria (see http://wp.me/p2Az40-Cc for this in more detail), and it is also throughout the Bible narratives of people being commended for the gifts that they bring to be shared in the community, not just the emerging faith community, though this was more evident as the faith community closed ranks during intense persecution. The essence of the Biblical drama that is ongoing is summed up by Kevin Vanhoozer, a catholic evangelical theologian who says:

“The Christian faith is not a private affair for individuals but a community-building project” (Vanhoozer, 2014)

Building the kingdom is a building process.

Conversations on the streets – 4 things to say to young people (and maybe 4 not to)

In an article in Youthwork Magazine, Ali Campbell describes how as youthworkers (he is writing to the faith based youthworkers) should where appropriate say the following things to young people:

  1. I Believe in You
  2. I dont know
  3. You are loved and forgiven
  4. What do you think?

The full article is here: Youthwork Magazine. Give it a read, it is well worth it.

For me, theres a couple of things to reflect on further with this short list of four things that faith based youthworkers should say to young people. The first, and most obviously is that context is a huge factor in this- as is the relationship that a youthworker has with a young person – ie its depth, and because of the depth of the relationship – how genuine then any words we actually say then have resonance. If, for example, the high tempo, at the front type youth worker proclaims on a regular basis to every assembly of 500 young people that he believes in them, then these words are just a tiny bit shallow. Likewise, on the streets, if i just meet a young person for the first time, then to say that i believe in them, might be received as a bit weird, actually its quite a risky kind of statement, certainly risky in the world of detached, where supportive relationships are created in the margins in groups.

Thinking about detached a little further and its power dynamics, as well as its context- there are only 2 of the above list that i would transfer as ‘essential for the streets’ – though i would agree that in essence detached workers should act as though they believe in young people, and act with values that might be accused of ‘loving’ and being ‘for’ young people too much. The two i would place in the detached youth work vocabulary tool kit would be; ‘I dont know’ and ‘What do you think?’  – purely because on detached an awful lot of questions usually head in the direction of the worker (and if there isnt its because young people have given up, cant be bothered to trust in the worker). I dont know, and what do you think – are good, as Ali suggests, and bringing in honesty to the conversation, and a point of reference for collaborative exploring, and the kind of dialogue where both parties learn from each other. (Check out Paulo Freire).

But to make a list complete of four for the faith base detached youthworker- what would be good to add?

so if 1 is I dont know, 2. What do you think?    then what for number 3…

 

3. You’re good at/ naturally good at……..

– this for being on the street focusses the mind of the youthworker on the tangeable positives of the young person, from the skills of the ball they are kicking around, to the heated discussion they are having (which they might be eloquent in arguing!), defending a point of view, supporting their friends, maintaining friendships – If we do nothing else on the streets, to be the kind of youthworkers that recognise a positive in the young person might just do more than make their evening, it might just start to help them think differently about themselves. It might help them raise their game. Nothing better than being encouraged for what you’re good at, nothing better in recognising young peoples gifts especially when others might have judged them for their ‘needs’.  This is also a risk, in that a young person might not want to hear compliments, or might allow a person to have the power to proclaim not only ‘goodness’ but also ‘wrongness’ – so this can be a risk- but often a risk worth taking…

(If we say to young people that they might be good at things even more often in the church – and shifted ‘ministries’ suit their gifts…. – but thats another reflection – see ABCD)

and what is number 4….

Is the tone we use to convey to a young person that we are listening. So all the phrases like … tell me more… its ok, go on…. that must have been tough… no, i am here to listen, say what you need to help… In a way its that we almost say nothing, just allow a young person to speak. Maybe this is one of the key differences on the streets, as there is an unending time for lengthy conversation – its why we are there. 4 might be the spoken word that invites their story.  There is no programme to rush through, in a public space, with their friends,

There is no programme to rush through, in a public space, with their friends, conversation is key, and giving away that space for young people is crucial. What we can say will have more resonance, not just if we acknowledge the power shift in the space of the streets, but we have listened to the actual young people, and acknowledged the particularity of their experiences. Only then might we get chance to speak with authority, reality or confidence.

 

And just for fun ; these might be four things not to say to young people, but its so easy to…..

  1. “when i was a young person” ……………….
  2. “Stop being silly and just grow up”……………..
  3. “with all this technology, you young people have got it all so easy”…………
  4. “we’re having a special service on sunday with a great speaker who likes to talk to young people, why not bring a friend to the service”….

But im sure we dont say things like that to young people in churches anymore do we….

 

 

 

 

Strength based faith communities for (young) people

On the excellent Nurture Development website, Cormac Russell (Managing director of the ABCD institute) has recently written a piece titled ‘Taking a strengths based approach to young people’ . It is about having a perspective of young people that is distinctive from society – one where young peoples strengths are focussed on, you can read it in full here (and it is well worth a read) http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/taking-strengths-based-approach-young-people-moving-risk-promise-part-1/

In it Cormac, after commenting on the negative stereotypes of young people in the media, and through the writings of philosophers such as Socrates, writes that:

Defining young people solely by what they receive, fails to realise what children and teenagers need most, which is to be needed and meeting that need is about organising our communities so that the contributions of young people can be invited and celebrated. Our current way of organising lifts up consumption to such an extent as to render young people to the margins.

going on to say that the kind of youth work that attempts to bring young people into organised youth programmes misses a trick in that it fails to bring them to the core of the community that has sought to exile them stating:

As well a providing such programmes and access to them, youth engagement must also concern itself with building a bridge between young people, productive adults and the centre of their communities. The very same communities it has to be said, who all too often exile their most ‘needy’ young people to the margins.

In closing he suggests that young people and adults, and older adults are more segregated than ever, in my view this segregation is also cultural, young people are segregated from adults because of access to prosperity, academia, employment, housing and more importantly hope. Cormac concludes by suggesting that, due to this segregation, and the view of young people:

  1. There is space and hospitality within every community for the gifts of all young people (regardless of their history or reputation) if we intentionally invite it in and make the connections. These spaces will not be found unless we actively seek them out.
  2. We do not have a ‘youth problem’ we have a ‘village problem’. Every young person regardless of past transgressions has strengths that are needed to tackle this village problem, and by so doing, to build inclusive sustainable communities.

From this article – I want to reflect on the following question.

Does the church have the same village problem?

For so long now, in many local settings the youth worker has tried to give young people a ‘voice’ in the community of the church – but legislation, or implied disinterest, has maintained segregation. Can young people change the village of the church using their gifts alone – or is church too wieldy for this to happen?  Is Sunday a space of segregation of young and old? and should this be challenged?  How might a church recognise the gifts of young people, inside its walls, and also outside in mission, so that they too are ‘at promise’ and invited into the core of the community- the faith

Is Sunday a similar space of segregation of young and old? and should this be challenged?  How might a church recognise the gifts of young people, inside its walls, and also outside in mission, so that they too are ‘at promise’ and invited into the core of the community- the faith community. Might ‘faith community’ need to behave according to faith values – where love, faith and hope – for all prevail – in order that the promise of young people is realised?  And they are not viewed as the world views them – but i dare say more like God does.

I know too many questions. But Cormac as ever poses them for the community of the young person, yet, where that community helps to shape a young persons identity in the faith community then the same questions should at least be asked.

How might young people be at promise in the church?  Can a youthworker help to heal the village- or are they (often) the scapegoat? Does the village need healing or does the church act in a better way than this – better than using young peoples gifts – or does it have a theology that causes this to be an exemption.  I would argue that focussing on young peoples gifts in a church should be an absolute minimum for discipleship and their identity, to help them find identity in the local faith community and the ongoing drama of redemption that they play parts in.

 

Paul Ricoeur & Youth work – in search of the sacred.

Following on from my previous articel ‘Youth Ministry-In Praise of the Beards’ – here as ‘promised’ is a piece on the writings and thoughts of Paul Ricoeur. I hope to inform, inspire and whet your appetite for thinking philosophically about the contemporary philosophical & theological context of youth ministry – by starting with one philosophical perspective on the nature of humanity, from someone with a keen eye in both the philosophical and theological camps. or if nothing else point you in the direction of someone worth grappling with further.

So… Paul Ricoeur.  This wasnt an easy task:

Image result for paul ricoeur

 

Details of his Early Life & Background (skip this bit if you just want to hear about what he said)

Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005) was a distinguished French philosopher of the twentieth century, one whose work has been widely translated and discussed across the world. In addition to his academic work, his public presence as a social and political commentator, particularly in France, led to a square in Paris being named in his honor on the centenary of his birth in 2013. In the course of his long career he wrote on a broad range of issues. In addition to his many books, Ricoeur published more than 500 essays, many of which appear in collections in English.

A major theme that runs through Ricoeur’s writings is that of a philosophical anthropology. Ricoeur came to formulate this as the idea of the “capable human being”. In it he seeks to give an account of the fundamental capabilities and vulnerabilities that human beings display in the activities that make up their lives, and to show how these capabilities enable responsible human action and life together. Though the accent is always on the possibility of understanding human beings as agents responsible for their actions, Ricoeur consistently rejects any claim that the self is immediately transparent to itself or fully master of itself. Self-knowledge only comes through our understanding of our relation to the world and of our life with and among others in time in the world. (taken from Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ricoeur/)

Top 5 Key Themes/Ideas of Paul Ricoeur (taken from Stiver D, Ricoeur & Theology, 2012)

  1. Phenomenology:”Ricoeur developed further the sense in which all such description is inescapably interpretative or hermeneutical” (Stiver, 2012)

2. Hermeneutics, Ricoeur developed the emphasis of both Heidegger and Hans Georg Gadamer, that people do not just ‘do’ hermeneutics from time to time but are hermeneutical all the way down, as it were, which Ricoeur saw as ‘Ontological Hermeneutics’ (Ricoeur 1991a:63)  Stiver suggests that “this is the basis for a powerful critique of modernity’s desire for a presuppositionless beginning, as well as the Cartesian demand for clarity and distinctiveness. We always start reflection too late, the unconscious, the involuntary and our immersion in culture and tradition always already accompany the conscious and voluntary” (Stiver, 2012, 10)  We are in a sense as reflective all the way down as we are hermeneutical, life and understanding go hand in hand.

3. Personhood, Ricouer – as suggested above, understood the self to be primarily and deeply hermeneutical. It was also that he regarded the self, not as a thinker ( I think therefore i am) , but as a doer, a mixture of the voluntary and involuntary, freedom and nature.  The self has an embodied desire to exist, yet at times it exists as a wounded Cognito, that is not fallible in its objectivity. For Ricouer

“the human identity is formed by narratives and myths, which likewise are irreducible to theoretical prose” (Stiver, 2012, 12),

Self identity is an open ended story, that is interwoven by other stories that we encounter. The self, for Ricoeur, “is not only in dialogue with personal others but is inescapably enmeshed in larger communities that call for a sense of justice”

4. Religion. For a major Philosopher, Ricoeur unusually writes extensively on Religion, notably Christianity, Old and New testament. He labelled himself an apprentice Theologian, and in ‘Figuring the Sacred, 1995’ describes his own link between Philosophy and the discourse of Religious language, as it is from his philosophical discipline that he interacts with theology, with exegesis. His interaction with theology from philosophy is fruitful (according to Stiver) suggesting that theology is deeply hermeneutical and philosophical as it deals with the interpretation of texts.

For the Christian, for the Youth worker then, Ricoeur is significant. His views on Personhood, developed from the European/German philosophical tradition of Gadamer and Heidegger, influenced by his own sympathy with the Christian tradition and its own philosophical writings in the Bible should inspire the faith-based youth worker, or even the non ‘chrisitan’ faith based youthworker for his considerations of humanity alone.  For the youth worker not in sympathy with the Christian faith, then look away now, or at least bear with me a little for the next part, as I am going to share a few key quotes from Ricoeur about his thoughts on the Christian faith, or you might be inspired to start thinking about the Christian faith from this deeper philosophical angle, where there is rich treasure to be found.

The following are taken from ‘Figuring the Sacred’ (Ricoeur, 1995)

“The first task of hermeneutics (understanding the Biblical text) is not to give rise to a decision on the part of the reader ( ie what should they do/’WWJD’?) but to allow the world of being that is the issue of the biblical text to unfold. Thus above and beyond emotions, disposition, belief or non belief is the proposition of a world that in the Biblical world is called a new world, a new covenant, the kingdom of God, a new birth” (p44) … persuing this line of reasoning to its logical conclusions, must we not say that what is thus opened up in everyday reality is another reality, the reality of the possible?”

About Culture and humanity, Ricoeur argues:

“One fact about culture is that we live in a desacralized world,  human beings have moved beyond the sacred cosmos, nature is no longer a store of signs, the cosmos is mute. Modern persons no longer have a sacred space, a centre, a temple, a holy mountain. The Sacred world today is archaic, the sacred is the archaic. ” (italics mine) (p61)

Yet positively Ricoeur says that; “One of course can find remains of the sacred in our culture”  it may be camouflaged in a range of myths, of stories and behaviours, it was not deliberately forgotten  as the elevation of technology nd science to rank as more dominant in the public consciousness.

“The only religion whose message is to be heard is the one that has the resources to survive, but to also accompany the decline of the sacred in a positive manner” (p62) –

If modernity has desacralized the world of interpreting the text, and as Ricoeur states and Biblical interpreters have desacralized the text to its deemed rational aspects and constructs, then the playing field between Science and Religion is less levelled but that Religion plays second fiddle. What of the renaissance of the Sacred , asks Ricoeur, asking further “Is Christianity without the sacred possible?”

and if Christianity is in need of it own sacred renaissance – where might youth ministry connect young people to the sacred? the wonder and the cosmos? 

If these are important observations of culture and the place of faith within the current culture then it worth closing with a few more gems from Ricoeur about the Biblical texts;

If Genesis 1 is to be read in a narrative sense, as a prologue, the vision of the creation of the world has its pinnacle in the creation of Man, therefore;

“The miracle of creation is a miracle of redemption”  (1995, p131)….  The highest form of immediacy is between God and humankind, the latter appears not just created by the word in a general sense, but by a solemn resolution from Gods own heart”

and finally; “The God of beginnings is the God of hope. And because God is the God of hope, the goodness of creation becomes the sense of a direction” (1995, p. 299)

Undoubtedly i have done a complete injustice to Paul Ricoeur, his influence, work and writings. His writing is both extensive. My key reflections, having been writing this article for a week on and off, in the aspects of Ricoeur that i have grappled me in my thoughts, have been the sense of a return to the sacred in the world, in the world of the church, and also in the world of working with young people from a faith perspective, whether ‘in’ or ‘outside’ the church.

When Ricoeur writes that the sacred has been lost in society – and as I’ve written before- Healy questions ‘ what does the church offer that no other agency can? ‘ – then surely an awakening of the sacred, connections with the abundance of creation, the recognition of the symbol, the signs in nature, and the opening up of the profound are surely potential domains for the church in its prophetic sense. To be a conduit of the deep and mysterious that is God, God that young people connect with in his/her sacred sense.  Deep church, deep youth ministry might provide spaces of the sacred. This is one reflection, there are undoubtedly others.  I must admit, for a long while the sense that working with young people outside the church starts with ‘doing good’ practically has been what i have tried to do – yet how might those kind of spaces, on the streets, in the parks, be also windows for the sacred?

 

 

References and Further reading:

Ricoeur, P, 1995 – Figuring the Sacred, Religion, Narrative and Imagination

Ricouer, P, 2013 – Hermeneutics (trans by David Pellaur)

Ricouer, P, 2004 – Memory, History, Forgetting

Stiver, D, 2012 – Ricoeur & Theology

 

What might the church offer young people that other agencies don’t?  

Ultimately this is the critical question in every local situation. But in a way before the church presumes it can offer something better or distinctive, maybe there’s learning to be done in the way other agencies ‘do’ youth work/discipleship.

In a conversation recently I heard of a parent who was astounded that their teenager would give up 10’s of weekends a year to fundraise and volunteer in the community whilst they were part of the cadets. And they have strict rules on tidying, marching and behaviour.  Yet young people stay within such an almost archaic disciplinary community structure.. why?  Because being an army/navy/air cadet gives them kudos, gives them future career prospects. And becomes their identity.  Am I suggesting that churches adopt disciplinary stances? No, but how might being involved in church/faith youth work give young people as much a sense of identity in the community as cadets does. And what of the ‘career’ prospects in the church?

If identity is ‘in Christ’ , then does this having an identity outside of the organistion affect how much of an identity a young person can have inside it?  What can the local church offer in the way of identity?  for the young person in their own right?

Moving on; What of the sports clubs? What does the church learn from them?

For one, young people see their name in lights, to be the next Marcus Rashford, Gail Emms or Chris Hoy or Sarah Storey. And for each type of sport, there are health and social benefits of sport, and competition along the way. Parental pressure no doubt plays a part in the early days. But social glue with others and the power of competition and continual comparisive improvement are factors in the staying. Not to mention perks like captaincy, the adrenaline of winning goals/shots/matches, praise and reward from the coach, and attention to detail in personal performance.  And teamwork, not letting others down by your own performance. All factors in enabling a young person to stay,  to commit and to participate in the long term in sport. Itll help when the coach or teacher that believes in the young person, believes they can be better.

What of the church in comparison,  how could it, if it didn’t already praise, encourage and provide identity for the young person?  Does attending a group or a bigger group do this… where are the opportunities for young people to ‘change the world’ through the values of the christian faith in church groups, like the cadet who volunteers in old peoples homes or homeless shelters, because cadets believes in generosity and respect. How are young people coached in their discipleship? Where might be their goals?  How can it become a ‘you can’ place, rather than a ‘you cant yet’ place?  How is ‘the youth group’ a team game? what are they performing together- apart from the once a year ‘youth service’?

Maybe also an internalised belief adherance for young people in the church is limiting for young people when, as Paula Gooder suggests in her new book, an embodied spiritual /faith experience might be healthier if not more appropriate for the young person, ie one that involves the whole body, giving spiritualty physicalilty, when in comparison the physicality of sport or cadets or duke of Edinburgh challenges makes it attractive a pursuit. Spirituality could be more physical. The Cadet might have a more active prayer life whilst hiking through mud, or the christian athlete as they train, more than the youth group christian who sits and prays.

The church can possibly offer something different and distinctive, but in times where there’s a desperate desire to keep young people it’ll be worth at least learning from youth orientated organisations that are ahead of the game.

It’s not about forcing young people to stay it’s abut giving them such good reasons to stay that even if they leave they feel they’re missing out on something if they leave.

Youth and Childrens work learning from ‘Inside Out’

Saturday evening in our house has been ‘family movie’ night this year, there is 4 of us, and so on a rotation basis we choose a movie to watch. It can either have been recorded from TV, one we’ve got on DVD or something new – but usually under £3 from a second hand /charity DVD shop. However, last weekend, we had a treat. We watched, the £7 costing DVD, the highly acclaimed Disney Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’.  If you havent seen it, or want to know about it then the write up and critics reviews are Here on IMDB-Inside Out. But I imagine given its popularity i am on catch up.

 

Image result for inside out

Let me just say this. It is an essential watch for anyone working with children and young adults. Even more essential for those involved in working with children who are becoming young adults.

Why?

Because it is the story of the how the circumstances and emotions of children coincide. Of how, yes, one perspective is given, but how children react to change, significant change – like house moves, or school moves, or friendship moves, or all of the above. It is a story of how emotions are characters inside a childs head (the characters above are those emotions)  and how different circumstances lead to or are the consequence of the emotions trying to have their way with the child, yet there are times when the emotions need to work together. It is a story of imagination, of resilience and of family, of how children perceive, and try and cope. Yes in a Disney Pixar animation.

For the Parent of two children who has asked my children to move twice in the last four years because of ‘Ministry’ It was a particularly difficult watch. No doubt children of those in Ministry who do similar regular moves, and parents who do the same would find the storyline of the film just that little bit close to the bone. Whilst The film was pretty dark at times, because the child would react to such a move with significant emotional trauma, the film did retain enough buoyancy in the colours and the characters for it not to head to bleak, yet it was as much an animated story about families and parents, as it was about the child.

For the youthworker working with young people, or older children, it is a highly educative film, definitely worth spending time watching and reflecting on it, in relation to the families in your groups. I’m not going to say more as I don’t to give away plot spoilers. Only to say as an insight into the inner emotions of children and to have this portrayed in such good animation it is worth £7.  My teenage children thought it was pretty realistic.  Though id question the films Characateur of the Dad – i wish i could blank out of life and ‘just think about football’ – he didn’t come across well – yet if that meant that the star of the show, and to some extent the person we rooted for was the child, then so be it, it was worth it.

However, it was definitely the kind of emotional experience of a film, that would make me think twice, as a parent of watching it again. But one as a Parent, and as someone who works with children and young people it is definitely worth a watch.

Maybe before the church ‘does’ childrens & youthwork- it learns ‘about’ children and young people. This would be a good starting point. Yes we were all children once.

Oh, and watch the extras in the DVD after youve seen the film, they’re very clever, funny and helpful in lightening the mood.

The NCS debacle continues, Young people are set to lose out twice.  

I saw this in the locally printed county Durham news a few weeks ago. It’s an advert in a paper for adults to appeal to them to send their children on a life changing experience for a week. For ‘not more than £50’. Looks a bargain doesn’t it? Until that is the true cost of NCS is weighed up.

1. Young people in some of the most deprived areas are being ‘given’ a week of a programme that still costs £50. Has NCS got any idea of the level of food bank use in the north east, or school meals. £50 is alot of money for some families even.if is subsidised.

2. Recent reports have been that NCS has struggled to attract young people from the most disadvantaged or at risk. I’m sure advertising in Durham County tourism news will help..no doubt part of its £72 million over 5 year advertising budget. What has also been suggested is that agencies who do work with young people at risk (who have to find non government funding to stay free at the point of access, such as detached work ) could be used to signpost young people to a service that has been government endorsed and bankrolled that will still cost £50 for the young person..where is the relational aspect in signposting in this, let alone the fairness for the agencies.

3. If effectively the government subsidy of NCS is money diverted away from open, weekly youth club provision, Why couldnt the government just fund the free provision in the first place.

4. I know of at least 5 young people who have done NCS, one who was badgered by 4 telephone calls from a London office to participate. None would have gone to a youth club, none needed it or used it for anything other than a gap week in their summer holidays. None described as disadvantaged. None needing advice on future choices. Therefore all well.behaved young people who could be made out to be NCS Success stories.  No their parents deserve the credit.  For stumping up £50 and for giving the young people all the support required to make decent life choices, NCS was a weeks activity holiday.

5. Instead of youth clubs open in the twilight,  in the evening, when young people want social spaces. NCS occupies daytimes for one week.  It is not there, not available. It is what it is.a tory government citizenship programme to educate/bribe in a week the importance to young people of pursuing economically active /contributing lifestyles. Not that this is wrong per se, but to have this as the replacement for the kind of youthwork in open clubs that would help to get young people to this point as one of many options in an environment of voluntary choice and participation.

6. The government’s idea for educating young people is a £50 activity week. Let that sink in.

It just feels like it beggars belief.

However, It now looks as though those inspecting NCS have discovered this too.

Here the Government accounts committee suggests that a radical rethink is required: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news-parliament-2015/national-citizen-service-report-published-16-17/

Oh, and when it is a commissioned and privately run project, with several millions of pounds being transferred, it is open to abuse and bad management, this is what has happened here: http://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/2003315/exclusive-major-national-citizen-service-provider-goes-bust

Privatising working with young people away from the youth services – was this a good idea? – Now the truth is being found out, both financially and practically, and not only will young people lose out because of the demise of NCS and the limitations it can offer, but also lose out because the open youth club that had been subject to underinvestment has also closed down. either way young people lose out, and the burden of their care, and the potential of transformation lies elsewhere. But where..

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