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    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    Stereotypes and Why They Stink

       In my inner-city Youth Group, we've been discussing stereotypes, bigotry and racism.  We've been going through a series called Ethnic Mosaic where we've been trying to break down some of these walls.  Below is some insight I found in my reading on the subject of stereotypes;  Enjoy.

    One of the causes of stereotypes is called automatic processing. “Even further below awareness is something that psychologists call automatic processing, in which stereotypes are triggered by the slightest interaction or encounter” (Murphy Paul, Annie Where Bias Begins). This can happen to anyone at anytime where they have a poor encounter with someone of another race or ethnic background then themselves and they attach that experience to all people of that particular race or ethnic background. Dr. Dirks in his week 6 lecture defines out a bit more what stereotyping is: “Simply put it [a stereotype] is a generalization about a group of people. According to Wittmer (1992) when we stereotype someone we “hold a rigid and fixed impression of a group of people, which we then apply to all members of that group” (62). Martin and Nakayama frame a stereotype as, “Widely held beliefs about a group of people” (41). Or in other words we could say that it is a form of generalization” (Dr. Dirks, Week 6 Lecture 2010).

    This goes a long with what I said above that not only is the stereotype attached to the person who may have brought about a bad experience but the stereotype is attached to the whole race or ethnic group that person belongs to. This is a dangerous thing because a stereotype a person has forces that person to then encounter people of a certain race with a pre-judgment, not giving that person a chance whatsoever. I see this is my youth group a lot. I am a youth pastor of middle school students in the inner city, where there are also a fair number of suburban white students. The interactions between these two groups is harsh and very hateful. Although the teens don’t realize it they are pre-judging one another based off of their stereotypes.

    This is where the stereotypes become a prejudice. “How do we define prejudice? Calloway-Thomas, Cooper and Blake (1999) describe it as “negative attitudes toward others based on faulty and inflexible stereotypes” (98). It is a “negative attitude toward a cultural group based on little or no experience” (Martin and Nakayama, 43)” (Dr. Dirks, Week 6 Lecture, 2010). The problem with stereotypes is that once made they are hard to break, there are as Cooper and Blake say:“inflexible”. It becomes a solid belief a person has of another race and is hard to break down. In my own life, I had a prejudice against black people and it took several black youth group leaders in my life over years of time to help me break down my own prejudice. God is his sovereignty used these men to guide me down the path of love rather than the path of hate.

    Another cause to the forming of stereotypes comes from the environment and culture with which we live. “Much of what enters our consciousness, of course, comes from the culture around us. And like the culture, it seems that our minds are split on the subjects of race, gender, class, sexual orientation” (Murphy Paul, Annie Where Bias Begins). If we live in a culture (or a home) that has certain stereotypes within it, we are more likely to attach those stereotypes and prejudices to our own mind. When all we see are minority men and women going to jail on the news, our minds automatically say that all people of this race or ethnic background are bad…especially when that is our ONLY interaction with people of that particular race or ethnic background. This then forces a person to look at the cues their own environment are giving in way of stereotypes. What images are we exposed to daily that could assist us (or our children) in developing a stereotype? What shows, movies or news stations are we exposing ourselves to and what messages are they shouting in light of this idea of culture helping us define our stereotypes?

    Here is an eye-opening quote about the exposure our kids get when it comes to stereotypes: “We learn the subtext of our culture's messages early. By five years of age, says Margo Monteith, Ph.D., many children have definite and entrenched stereotypes about blacks, women, and other social groups. Adds Monteith, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky: "Children don't have a choice about accepting or rejecting these conceptions, since they're acquired well before they have the cognitive abilities or experiences to form their own beliefs” (Murphy Paul, Annie Where Bias Begins).

    When talking about the causes of stereotypes, I think environment and culture are the strongest, especially since they happen to us so young. Once we have this stereotype, any interaction that proves it solidifies that stereotype even deeper. We must be wary and cautious as to what we expose ourselves to as well as our children. I believe so strongly in this that I am teaching my middle school students the importance of coming together and I am taking 6 weeks of teaching to share with them why stereotypes and prejudice is destructive and against God’s plans for mankind (especially within the church).

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Uncommon Games and Icebreakers- Review

      As a Youth Pastor, one of the most annoying things for me to do is make up games week after week.  I love to be creative, I love to push the boundaries, but some weeks I lack motivation and quite frankly come to hate making up games.

      I used to be a "Lone Ranger" and try to develop all my curriculum and make up all my games...I've come to grips that although that is fun and can really challenge me, I don't always have the time to make all of that happen from scratch!

      I'm sure my sentiments are felt widely from those of you reading this.  I'm sure like myself you've tried a ton of game books, but some were harder than others to follow and a ton of the games required a ton of time to pull off.  Jim Burns has done a great job of making this game thing easier by writing the Uncommon Games & Icebreakers book.

      Not all the games are off the charts awesome, not all of them are easy, cheesy, peasy to get done but most of the games in here are pretty solid, well thought out and fairly easy to pull off in good time.  I enjoyed seeing some of the old classics, alongside some new ones.  My absolute FAVORITE part of this book is that it comes with a CD which you can print off all the instructions and details for each game!  I like to keep my leaders in the loop and if I can email them the directions for a game ahead of time, they love it...this makes that easier than ever.  Plus, if you have an intern (or yourself) setting up the game, you can easily print off the list of things needed and how to set it up.

      I appreciate the time this took to make and think it is a great resource for any youth pastor/leader to have.  I also like Les Christies book, but this one was much easier to follow and pull off then Les' book and the CD included is just plain amazing!

      If you're looking for a games resource and want something convenient , yet fun this is the resource for you!

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Fist Fights and Ripped Jackets

      On Tuesday night at Youth Group, we had an issue with some of our teens.

      Youth Group was over and outside a couple of teens were messing around slap boxing, when it got serious.  One of the kids hauled off and punched the other kid, which spurred some angry words and more serious fighting.  Three others jumped in on the one (much smaller kid) and began to punch him and drag him across the pavement by his jacket.  This action caused the young mans jacket to rip which really angered him.

      One of the youth leaders caught the scene at the end of the dragging and broke it up.  We called all the teens in to have a discussion about what just happened at the consequences of their actions.

      This is where I was shocked.  Fights break out and you have to deal with them so that didn't surprise me, what surprised me was the attitude of the teens involved.  When we were talking to them about the situation we shared the severity of what they did and asked them what a cop would've done if he'd have witnessed the scene.

      Shortly into this discussion some of the boys began to smile and laugh, having no sense of understanding as to what they had just done.  There was no remorse, there was no conviction just straight defiance.  We asked the young men what was so funny and how could they laugh at this situation.  They had no answers for our questions, only more laughter.

      We brought in some of our church security guards and let the young men know they aren't allowed on the premises for 3 weeks.  We shared with them the severity of problems if they violated this punishment and they still didn't seem to get it.

      This lack of care really re-woke me up to the grip Satan has on the city.  It's no wonder teens very similar to these young men get thrown into jail.  It's no wonder the city is in turmoil with theft and violent crimes; because most of the young men don't care.  I called the moms of these young men and they started to care then because they knew they'd be on punishment for what they did and they knew that their actions were going to effect more than just Youth Group but still, the attitude was there.

      I told the boys that its sad that I care more about their future than they do.  I told these guys that I loved them and I want to see God use them and that I pray for them to come to grips with how serious their decisions are for their future.

      I had the privilege of driving all of these boys home after all this long discussion about the incident.  I was able to speak with one of the teens moms face-to-face as well as one of the father (BTW the father could've cared less) and interact with their families on a deeper level which was one good thing I suppose.

      This blog is a bit more thrown together because I have tons of thoughts swirling around about this evening, I know however that this is the city God desires me to work within and even though its tough He can and will use me in this place in the lives of these teens!  I love what I do even when I see these crazy things happen and the lack of care or understanding I know these kids do have hope, they are not hopeless as many would write them off as.  God has the power to change them from the inside out and my job is to keep loving them and leading them towards the Father!

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    The Christian Life- Uncommon Jr. High

     Recently, I was asked to review some curriculum from Gospel Light and the first one up for review is The Christian Life.  This book is put together in a 12 week series, with 6 of the sessions being on the basics of Christianity: God the Father; God the Son; God the Holy Spirit; Our sinful nature; Our need due to this nature; and Our response to God. 

       The second half is 6 weeks on the fruits of the Spirit: Self-control; Joy; Peace; Faithfulness; Gentleness and Patience.  There is also a small thing in the end titled: How Do I pray?

      This is where the curriculum takes you and I must admit Kara does a great job of getting you there.  Each session is set up with several different options for ice-breakers and teaching interactions.  All of the lessons and activities are well done and very creative.  Something that did bother me slightly is that each lesson is so filled with activities, that the biblical points seem to get minor importance.  I know we're dealing with Middle School students and we need to keep them engaged but playing a huge game that takes about 10-15 minutes to only make one small point about a Bible passage seems a bit odd.  Don't get me wrong, the games all line up with the point being made and they do it well...I just don't want the Bible to be secondary to the teaching.  Remember, this is just "one mans" opinion.

      Like I said, this book is very well done and extremely well laid out.  The content is right on and the level is right at a 5th-7th grade level which will hit most Middle Schoolers, so I am excited to see that.  Some Middle School stuff is either too low or too high but Kara does a good job of getting to the right level.  I appreciate her insights and the time she took making each session have impactful interactions as well as teaching.  I must say my favorite part of this Uncommon Series is the front page of each session, because it gives The Big Idea; Session Aims, The Biggest Verse and Other Important Verses right up front.  It helps the teacher know whats coming, what they're teaching on and what point the lesson serves to drive at.  This is extremely helpful!

      My only piece of criticism (besides the minor role of Bible at points) is that to get the teaching materials, the teacher is constantly pointed outside the book they are holding.  Whether it is to get supplies or to go to a website or to get the DVD of the curriculum, they are asked each session to get materials not in the book itself.  This kind of annoys me because when I teach or hand a book to my Sunday School teachers, I would love for the majority of the stuff needed to be gathered in the book itself.  Now I know for activities there is always a need to get supplies, but the need to buy a DVD to get the certain PDF's or video intros is what I don't like.  I feel like the DVD should be supplied in the back of the book like in Novelli's Shaped By The Story.  This brings all things together for the teacher.

      I understand the need to sell a cheaper book to Churches, but if you're making them get the DVD anyways to fill most of the needed materials, have you helped?  If Gospel Light were to provide all the materials online in one location that too would long as it was easy to find and all in one location for each certain book.

      I do like this curriculum and think I will definitely use portions of it in my own teaching.  I feel it is better honed to a smaller church setting and is effective in helping youth pastors have good material on hand.  I enjoyed reading through and gleaning new insights on what kinds of activities we can have our Teens engage in.

     If you are interested in this material, you can buy it here: Uncommon: The Christian Life Jr. High

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    That Ain't Your Daddy!

    I work in an inner-city church with inner-city youth.  Over my time here, I've seen some intriguing things happen in the lives of the teens, and not all of them are good.

      One such time, there was a young man I'll call 'D' and D for the whole year was getting kicked out youth group left and right.  The teens were sick of him, my leaders were sick of him and I was starting to lose my cool with this young man.  He literally made it through the whole night 10 out of 35 times.  Finally I told him it had been enough and if he expects to come back to youth group, or do ANY of our church activities, he would have to bring in a parent and the three of us would have a sit down conversation about D's behavior.

       Well, the very next day after I have this conversation, I get a phone call on my cell phone from D.  He says he's going to bring his dad in so we can talk.  I say fine, come in as soon as you can. What D didn't know is that I knew his living situation and D would be lucky to have his dad come around for McDonald's, much less a meeting with the pastor.  This is a sad reality but a reality I was aware of in D's life.

      Shortly after the call from D, I get a call from the same number: D's cell phone and it is D clearly trying to pretend to be an older man.  D as the fake man says: "Yeah, I'm D's dad and I understand that D has been getting kicked out and stuff.  I wish I could come to your office but I'm in East Liberty and can't get there."  I tell D that he must come in.  I must talk to him face to face.  D confesses it was his voice (as if I didn't know) and admits that his dad is in E. Liberty and he will make sure he comes in.

      About 9 minutes later (too soon to have been from E. Liberty) a man walks in with D.  This guy is old enough to be D's father, but I knew right away that he wasn't.  We walk into my office and sit down and discuss D and his actions (I played into this fake father thing).  This grown man continuously tells me stories of D at home and how he interacts with him mom and such (clearly having NO idea about D nor his relationship with his mom, or even his living situation since dad didn't live with mom).  I let him blabber on and lie to my face about being D's dad and how we should give D another chance.

      Eventually the man leaves and I take D aside and say: "D, that isn't your daddy" and we called D's grandma to confirm and sure enough, that man wasn't D's Daddy!

      The really odd thing is that this was a turning point in my relationship with D.  He knew I cared enough to find out the truth.  He saw that I knew his grandma (which he was unaware of prior to his stunt) and that I cared to know enough about him that he couldn't lie about his family situation.

      Inner-city kids like D are clearly lost but just as clearly need someone who cares about them because very few people do. Teachers hate kids like D because he is so much work to control and so hard to get or keep on task. As we saw, in D's case, many inner-city fathers care very little about their children and their mothers in a lot of cases are working several jobs to make ends meet; which leaves very little time for their children.

      Since last year, I've invested in D by letting him come early to shoot hoops with me on group nights.  I've also warned him that I would contact Grandma if he was acting up (I could NEVER get a hold of his mother, so grandma seemed to work for him).  Moments of time spent with D have proved my care of him and my love for him.  These types of relationships are what these inner-city teens need and once they have something of this nature, they latch onto it and listen when you talk.

      I hope to see D come to truly know Christ and decide to not just know about God but to know God and then live his life according to this knowing.

      Cultivating this type of relationship was really hard, long and arduous but it paid off big time.  This is the reality of inner-city ministry: it takes a long time to make a difference but once you get there it pays off.