Friday, November 28, 2008

Youth voice needs heard in an insane world

The current financial climate has caused people, especailly as they approach Christmas, to rethink their values, assess whether they are too materialistic and, as well as tightening their belt, reorder their moral and social priorities.

Ok, I wish that was true; sadly people (and by people I mean you and I) are still materialistic, consumer driven and sinfully selfish. there are degrees however, and it is always the excesses which stand out and leave us in danger of feeling complacent. Could we find a more horriffic example of that than the shocking death of a Walmart worker, tranpled to death by a stampeding crowd of "Black Friday" bargain hunters in Long Island. By the way, lest we be guilty of making him a statistic, the man's name is Jdimytai Damour. For the record, Jdimytai was 6 feet 5 and 270 pounds - not only does that make his death harder to get your head round, but there is a suggestion that his size was the very reason he was there, not because he was trained to deal with crowd, unfortunately for him.

What is the worst aspect to this? Is the most callous thing that some of the shoppers who poured over, and in fact on top of, him as they rushed on their way to scrap for a morsel of bargain?
"I look at these people's faces and I keep thinking one of them could have stepped on him," said one employee. "How could you take a man's life to save $20 on a TV?"

What about the people who even stepped on those trying to give him medical attention? Or is the most sickening thing the people who then objected when asked to stop shopping in the aftermath of the incident?

Or is it worse that there is also a link at that story, and other places on the net, where we can watch the aftermath and despearate attempts to resuscitate this poor man? Does it feed our need to have as much of the gorey detail as possible, one of the more disturbing aspects of our mass media?

Each of us needs to reexamine our attitudes in the light of this. At least there is one young person who is prepared to speak out and show that he is thoughtful and is trying to evaluate it from a more balanced perspective. A young man who goes under the nicname of KeyboardDP took 10 minutes away from his obvious love of music to show how young people are not prepared to allow such scandalous things to happen unchallenged. He has recorded a brief monologue video which, while it will not solve everyone's problems, shows a thoughtful and wise approach that many of his elders could learn from. We need to give young people more opportunites to have their voice heard as they have so much to say that is helpful.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The death of 3 teens in a messed up world

In a week where the news has been dominated by the tragic deaths of 3 very young children in the UK, I have also been thinking also about the sad news regarding the death of 3 teenage girls.

The first is local girl Ciara Park whose life was taken from her in the blink of an eye, but in one of the most horrible ways imaginable within the context of our daily regular lives in this part of the world. Something as normal as Christmas shopping with her father and younger brother on the main shopping street in Belfast turned into a nightmare and has caused almost as much hand wringing and questioning within our community as the death of baby P has in the wider UK media. Let us not ever forget the pain of Ciara's family, nor of the poor man who was driving the bus which killed her, as we question what our community's response should be to this awful tragedy.

The second sad tale is a death which is yet to happen and steeped in pathos and yet is inspirational. Hannah Jones is a brave 13 year old who has convinced child protection officials in Hereford not to force her to have a heart transplant, after treatment for leukaemia earlier in her life caused a heart condition. She has decided herself that the risk of the proceedure is too great and she would perfer to enjoy what time she has left with her family and freinds. Her father is reported as saying, "It is an incredible thing for a young person who has been through such a lot to have the bravery to stand up for her rights. We're so very proud of our little girl." Who could not be inspired by how Hannah has responded to her painful circumstances.

The final story which has caused me shock and sadness this week was also known about before it happened, at least it was in the community in which this shocking act occurred. It is breathtaking in it's brutality to read of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow a 13 year old girl in Somalia who was stoned to death by a mob of 1000 men. The Belfast Telegraph report on the incident makes gruesome reading, so you may want to avoid it, but it goes on to explain how Aisha was killed because "(her) crime was to be raped and then report it. After being attacked by three men her family went to the Al-Shabab Islamist militia to report the crime. She was detained and accused of adultery. No effort was made to identify or arrest the rapists". It was even worse that, as some did attempt to intervene, one man was shot and wounded and an 8 year old boy was wounded. No words can adequately respond to this outrage - will the international community respond or even be aware of what happened? Will the people who did that get away with it? How come the media has not picked up on this? Yet again I am puzzled at what decides what makes our headlines and what is confined to the background.

As these 3 young people have come into my head very regularly this week, it has caused me to reflect on the messed up nature of the world in which we live. It is hard to find something postive to take from this - 3 families devastated by very different but equally horrible events in a world tainted by sin and distorted from the world which was originally created. 3 incidents which cause us to ask questions about the sinfulness of people, the priorities of our society and even the role of a just and righteous God.

As we remember 3 girls, although they are from different cultures in our world, may we thank God for the teenagers who are in our sphere of influence and be resolute in our efforts to do all we can to support them, value them and help them make their mark on this world. For those of us who love Jesus, may we do all we can to point them to Him and may He provide comfort to those whose pain only He can fully understand.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Postively against destrucitve media images

Youth workers have for a long time understood the complex but undoubted impact of the media on young people's worldview and specifically on their self-image. One interesting study published this week adds new understanding to this area of concern.

The article "Watching your weight? The relations between watching soaps and music television and body dissatisfaction and restrained eating in young girls" in the journal Psychology & Health discusses the results of a study of 245 girls aged as young as 7-9 years. It found that the more these girls watched soaps and music television, the more they were likely to see a thinner ideal body image, (which is in turn associated with higher body dissatisfaction and restrained eating). More than this, the study found a direct association between watching these programmes and restraining their eating.

The study concludes by suggesting implications for parents, urging caution about how much such television children should be allowed to watch due to concerns that it may be negatively influencing them. However, they also looked at the influence that mothers have on their daughters by giving sublte, (and not so subtle), messages about needing to eat less or not getting fat. The study concludes, "Future research is very important to recognise aspects of the media and family that are related to the development of body image disturbance or disturbed eating behaviour and to evolve strategies to protect young girls against this." It would seem like a timely reminder for all of us, parents, youth and childrens workers, and any adult who is concerned about the wellbeing of children and young people, to think long and hard about the messages we give them, and allow to be given to them. It is easy to wring our hands or just shrug our shoulders in a helpless fashion, but surely every one of us can do something not just to help protect them from negative messages but to give them positive messages which will help them to make healthier choices and have healthier outlooks.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Perspective in the "Brave New Obama World" where God rules

I was talking to my friend in the States on Monday and he was telling me that he had already voted as part of an early (but not often) voting system. He also mentioned that at his church the previous day, Philip Yancey, author of various books including "Disappointed With God", had been preaching. In his sermon, Yancey warned anyone who might be devastated at the result of the impending Presidential election that, if they were that perhaps was a sign that they were building their house on the sand (Matthew 7:26). We haven't heard too much about those who were devastated at the eventual result (apart from those who shamelessly and outrageously booed when McCain was making a congratulatory speech about Obama), but a lot about the hope and expectation that people have in the light of Senor Obama's election. It made me think that even those who were jubilant could be doing some dodgy sand building and that, as Christians, we need to have a constant perspective that it is God who is in control of Mr Obama's little land and our little world. It is God who put him there and God to whom he is accountable, so we should pray for him as he takes on this huge task, even with the optimism and hope associated with his election.

One other thought is the encouragement that has come with the news that a major factor in the election was the number of first time and young voters who came out; surveys suggest that over 52% of voters aged under 30 voted, and having a big impact on the eventual result. The Wall Street Journal quote Eric Greenberg on how the Millenial Generation was "flexing their activism"; "The election of Senator Obama was the first step in the Generation We Revolution. The election results fit squarely with their thoughts and sentiments of dissatisfaction and the need for change. Obama is an icon for this. He represented the embodiment of their ethos for hope and optimism. Moreover, this election, for the youth, was their first salvo in flexing their activist muscle and restoring their damaged American Dream". (Update - see this & I'm sure there will be lots more in the weeks to come!)

Dr Sharky approves. We need young people to take seriously their civic responsibilities, but also to enable them to play their part in the church, which is something that is giving some cause for excitement in the Presbyterian Church as they anticipate SPUD, their youth assembly in the new year.

(See Alan Reifmann's Emering Adult Blog for more thoughts on this)

Monday, November 3, 2008

2 teenagers in bed shock

Dr Sharky doesn't watch Soaps, on principle - life just is too short - but he does occasionally feel the need to know what is going on and something caught his eye on Friday. 2 teenage characters in Eastenders, apparrently called Darren and Libby, were going to sleep together. The surprise is, that is all they were planning to do! Ok, I have no idea about the wider plot story and he is probably planning to have is wicked way as part of a devilish plan that will lead to multiple murder, but it was at least good to see teenagers portrayed making a good decision with their sexual behaviour; even if it felt a bit like they were delaying the inevitable, it was at least more postive than we often see.