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The Power of Story

power of storyHave you ever wondering where stories come from and why they are so powerful?

The origin of story is found in something we lovingly refer to as oral tradition. From the dawn of time, human beings gathered together to share in story – story of life’s origin, story of purpose, story of definition and story of hope. Every human culture that has ever existed has elevated story to be the capstone of their existence. We are immersed in story.

Story is in the sinew that binds the human narrative together.

One of my favourite things to do as a parent is to tell stories to my children. Sometimes these stories are about my own childhood memories; sometimes the stories I tell are focused on producing some sort of desired response; and at other times stories are simply about celebrating something.

Stories are powerful because they matter to us. Here are three ways the power of story is revealed.

Story inspires. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’ve gotta great story to tell?” They proceed to dive into a great tale of some triumph or failure, evoking emotion, engagement and wonder as a result. Great stories are ones that inspire us in some way. Inspiration is a fickle thing. At times it demands an active response, and at others it invokes a pensive state. In all its forms, great story-telling catapults the listener into an emotively saturated climate called inspiration.

Story celebrates. The best stories told through image or words are those that seek to elevate a cause, an individual or a dilemma that is worth celebrating. While Hollywood has done society a great disservice is many regards, what Hollywood does do well is celebrate great stories. Historical turning points, social awareness issues and personal triumphs have been captivated in print or on-screen in ways that have allowed millions of people to be influenced in some way. Awards shows like the Grammys & Emmys provide a platform through which the telling of story is honoured, and the stories themselves may gain the recognition and joy they deserve.

Story breathes. Stories are alive. Don’t believe me? Try telling someone a story and see what happens. Stories evoke question, wonder & hope at the drop of a hat. What we say, how we say it, and how we choose to live in response to what we’ve experienced are signs of life…life that is wrought into existence by the power of story.

One of my goals as a leader is to learn to harness the power of story in my own life – knowing that what I say and what I do are stitching together a narrative that influences the world around me. More importantly, knowing that my life as story exists within the context of a greater unfolding story known as human existence, which has been authored by a creator God in a loving and determined fashion.

It’s this story that all of human kind finds itself immersed in. Which leaves me to ponder how we are engaging the power of story in all its forms to inspire, celebrate & breathe in present reality and the not so distant future? What do you think?

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Two keys to working with people

I recently returned from a cross-cultural experience with teens. Trips like these always provide students (and leaders) with valuable memories, opportunities for conversations, growth and potentially life-changing experiences.

This is one of many different trips that I’ve been a part of in the youth ministry world over the years. Each time I’ve travelled to a different country, experienced a different culture, or have simply taken the time to be present with a group of people I’ve noticed that there are two primary values (keys) that drive connection: a place to belong and someone who believes in you.

These values aren’t limited to culture, context, age or gender. They simply exist because they speak to the core needs of humankind. So if these values happen to be the root motivators for connection, what does that mean for us as leaders who work with people? I’m not an expert in this material at all, but I would suggest there are some key shifts that may need to take place in the systems and communities we leaders create.

 

A place of belonging. There are numerous articles written by people who are much smarter than I am on this particular subject matter. Here is one of my favourites written by a friend of mine, Mr. Mark Oestricher.

The question that belonging answers is “where do I fit?” If the communities, activities and environments we help create answer this question for the people we hope to serve, then we are on to something. But, what if the reverse is actually true? What if the sub-culture we’ve created is based on something other than acceptance and love and polarises people rather than embraces them?

Can you believe different and still find connection with those around you? If we foster a place to belong we value and embody love ahead of anything else.


Someone who believes in you. Every single person who is in existence, has existed or will exist in the future needs someone who believes in them in their life. Someone who comes along and speaks hope and life into you at a dark place in life. Someone who has your best interest in mind in the way the speak to you and interact with you. Someone who isn’t willing to see the dark side of our human nature overshadow the hopefulness of the image of God that exists in every human being.

Without someone who believes in us, we may never find the strength to persevere through tough times or the hope to carry on when things don’t seem to make any sense. What if having someone that believes in us is a literal matter of life or death? No one can walk through life alone, nor should they believe the lie that says they have to. Do our ministry efforts foster a culture of belief and hopefulness through the exchange of respect, honour, love and admiration?

 

Do you agree with these two ideas? What would you add or subtract from this conversation?

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Is early onset puberty a problem?

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We’ve all had early bloomers in our ministry. Maybe a middle school girl who is a foot taller than her peers. Or the occasional 7th grade boy with a scraggly ‘stache. It’s one of the fun things about working with middle schoolers, they come in all shapes and sizes! 

For years there has been an assumption that early onset puberty lead to all sorts of potential problems. Was the brain developing as fast as the body? Could a child who looked a few years older handle the social pressure that might bring on? And was developing earlier than your peers an actual problem?

Some new research in Australia is dispelling some of these assumptions. (Bear in mind that there’s not a perfect correlation between an Australian pre-teen and an American one.)

Previously, researchers thought that negative behavior associated with early puberty — such as difficulty playing with other kids and participating in normal school activities — showed up only after puberty’s onset. But the new study showed that children who later had early-onset puberty showed evidence of such problems when they were 4 or 5 years old. Boys in this group had also shown other behavior problems, such as being overactive, losing their temper and preferring to play alone from a young age.

source | study abstract

In other words, researchers are not finding a direct correlation between early onset puberty and psycho-social problems with children. Instead, they are finding that the signs were there all along. So perhaps its that adults are simply taking notice of these early birds? 

Question: Got an early bird story from your youth group? Share it in the comments.

Photo by SRV007 via Flickr (Creative Commons)
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Speeding Through Life

2242538593_0fcd685a61_mLast month, the American Psychiatric Association released the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-V. In it, they changed the diagnosis criteria for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) which actually made it slightly easier for physicians to make a diagnosis. Previously, if the symptoms were observed before the age of 7, the diagnosis could be made. Now that age has been moved to 12.

Here’s a sample of the criteria:

  1. Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.
  2. Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities.
  3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  4. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions).
  5. Often has trouble organizing activities.
  6. Often avoids, dislikes, or doesn’t want to do things that take a lot of mental effort for a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  7. Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (e.g. toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools).
  8. Is often easily distracted.
  9. Is often forgetful in daily activities.

If a child exhibits six or more of these consistently and it could be said that you have an attention deficit. (See the full criteria at the CDC website) But if you’re an adult, you now just have to exhibit five of these criteria.

What’s the impact?

Changing the age from 7 to 12 for kids, and from 6 criteria to 5 in adults, makes it easier to make an ADHD diagnosis. And, as Pieter Cohen of the Wall Street Journal points out, it sets up a whole lot more people to be prescribed various forms of amphetamine. (Forms of this drug have been abused for generations.)

He writes:

Even before DSM-5, doctors were already on track to prescribe enough stimulants this year for each American man, woman and child to receive the equivalent of 130 mg of amphetamine (about 40 five-mg pills of Adderall) and an even greater amount of the very similar drug Ritalin. In this era of excessive prescribing, we seem to have forgotten the cautionary history of amphetamines in America—a history that shows how overprescribing stimulants leads to widespread dependence and addiction.

Source

Did you catch that? 40 pills of Adderall for every person in America. That’s a lot of drugs.

What do you think? Was changing the criteria a good thing or a bad thing? 

Photo credit: Light blue by hipsxxhearts via Flickr (Creative Commons)
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Religion and Babies

As people who think about youth culture I found this presentation fascinating.

The number of babies per woman decreases when:

  1. Children survive (decreased mortality rate)
  2. Many children are not needed for work (child labor laws, children in school)
  3. Women get education and join the labor force
  4. Family planning is accessible

What possible positive / negative impact could this have on youth ministry? 

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An interview with Matt Baker of the God Survey

Yesterday I got an email from Matt, a researcher in the UK, who is completing some research near and dear to our hearts… why the heck are young people leaving the church? In true Cartel form I let him know I would tell people about his survey… but one day ask a favor of him. That favor may not be soon but one day I will call him and ask him to do something for me. Fortunately for him, that favor came due right away in the form of this interview below.

TYC: Tell us a little about yourself. Besides being a PhD student, who the heck are ya? 

MB: Well, I’m quite literally all over the map. I grew up in Nova Scotia, went to college in East Texas, spent nearly a decade running a school in Sri Lanka, and currently live in Vancouver, BC where I design web pages and conduct research through a university in England.

TYC: What’s your research trying to discover?

MB: I grew up in a very tight-knit church and have always wondered why some of the young people I grew up with remained Christian while others opted to take different paths in terms of religious belief. It’s a question that many people have asked over the years and one that has become increasingly more relevant in light of the so-called ‘new atheism’. The majority of atheists today did not grow up lacking belief in God. Many, if not most, attended church for years as children and/or teens and then made a conscious choice at some point to embrace atheism. My question is why? And for those that didn’t choose atheism, why not?

TYC: A few studies have dug into a similar research question about why people leave the church, (National Study of Youth and Religion, Sticky Faith, etc) how is your work different than others?

MB: Most previous studies have focused on environmental factors such as parental relationships or the degree of religious emphasis in the home. I will be looking at these areas but also more innate factors such as personality type and certain inborn traits. The present study is also unique in that it focuses specifically on atheist churchleavers, rather than just churchleavers in general.

TYC: I understand that your original research aim has shifted a bit. Why did that happen?

MB: The overall goal is the same but the type of participants currently needed has changed. Somewhat unexpectedly, the research questionnaire went viral among the atheist community and I ended up with around 25,000 responses. This is great but in order to do a proper comparison, I need equal numbers of current churchgoers to complete the survey as well.

TYC: Spill the beans! What are you learning that we need to know right now? 

MB: Well, previous research has shown that churches tend to cater to particular personality types over others. I can’t say much at this point but if the current study ends up showing that personality is indeed a factor in why some young people end up leaving, that will certainly be something worth thinking about.

TYC: Who should participate in your study? And how can we get involved?

MB: Anyone from the US or Canada who is 19 years or older and currently attends church is invited to participate by visiting the following link:

http://www.godsurvey.org/

You can also help by sharing the link on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.

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Facebook Memes in 2011

It’s tough to know if this is the height of the hysteria for Facebook or if the site will continue to grow in 2012. But what is clear is that Facebook has it’s pulse on the world in a way that we could never keep the pulse before.

The engineers at Facebook recently released some info on the biggest moments for the world’s biggest social network for 2011.

The first charts the frequency of a word/term used on the site.

Next, the memes. 

  • Planking was hot, but now is not.
  • lmp and tbh celebrated everything self-promotional about Facebook (like my status, to be honest)
  • Skrillex – yeah, we didn’t know what this was either, which is why we linked to it.

Want to see all the stats and charts? Here’s the original post.

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Drunk Gummies

Yep, you read that correctly.  Drunk gummies.   According to a report via abcnews.com, teenagers as young as middle schoolers are taking these fruit flavored, alcohol drenched bears or worms to school as a mid-class snack.

Here are what some teens are saying, according to the news report:

Two Florida teens told ABC News’ Fort Myers, Fla., affiliate, WZVN, also known as ABC News-7, that drunken gummies are the latest trend in hiding alcohol use.  “I have to say they’re pretty good,” said Adam, 17.  “If [my parents] saw gummies in my backpack, I think they’d think, ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ and not think anything of it,” echoed Sarah, 17.  “It has a kick to it because of the alcohol, and it’s fruity also,” she said. “It’s good. It would be better than taking a shot because shots just go down gross. So you just take a handful of gummies.”

You can read the whole story, complete with video, here.  These cases have been reported so far in Florida, New York, and Nebraska.

So, it got me thinking, “Am I going to get funny looks at the check out line the next time I purchase multiple large bags of gummy bears for a  youth group game?”  But seriously, alcohol is a known rite of passage for adolescents.   And, as the report says:

Research on teens reveals that their frontal lobes — the part of the brain that controls executive decision making and impulse control — are not yet fully developed, making them prone to poor choices.  “Weighing the pros and cons and seeking solutions are beyond their capacity,” said Pitman. “They are not bad or stupid — they are just not able to do it yet. I look back to my teens. They think they are invincible.”

Here are some questions this report raised for me:

  1. How do we talk about alcohol and substance abuse with our adolescents?
  2. Do we chop up drunken gummies to the lack of fully developed frontal lobes, basically saying, “Teens will be teens . . . .until their frontal lobes develop.”?
  3. In what ways can our youth ministries aid adolescents when it comes to discerning life choices?
  4. How do our communities of faith model discernment?
  5. How can we talk about these life decisions without just saying, “Don’t do that!”?