I read a tweet the other day talking about how teenagers were staging walk-ins and such in part because the stories that they were raised on were stories of students overthrowing oppressive governments. They said it better than that, but that was the idea. When that mixed in my head with a podcast I heard about how my generation was raised on the notion that we as kids could fight the monster, and solve the problem on our own (think E.T., Goonies, Gremlins, and the like).
So recently I have been thinking about how much the stories of our childhood shape what we think and what we do. The movies of my childhood (80s and very early 90s) were about rising up against the bullies. It was about taking back the school for the little guy or stopping the “local” monster or evil. It wasn’t often about saving the world, it was normally about saving yourself in the moment and a few other downtrodden people get helped too.
The generation today is raised on Hunger Games, The Maze, Divergent*, and a whole host of other dystopian future stories. In them the protagonist isn’t fighting against local struggles, but against all of oppressive society and control.
I was shaped by the stories of my youth. I see myself still as the little nerd who is fighting with his wits against bullies to protect the little guy. The generation graduating from high school this year see themselves as Katniss Everdeen taking on governments and overthrowing whole systems. It shapes the way that they see the world and themselves.
The thing is the generation (I am using that term loosely here) right below them, the middle schoolers of today are not watching any stories. They are watching other people play games on Twitch and watching other people talk about life on YouTube. I wonder what will happen when they grow up. How will a generation raised on YouTube stars see the world?
*OK, so Divergent. As a child of the 80s I like stories that are about the hero becoming more heroic. It is the hero’s journey that matters to me, the saving the world part is secondary. In Divergent by the end of the first book they have already had a revolution. That’s like sticking the Return of the Jedi ending on A New Hope and then talking about the extended universe stuff for the next two movies.
Have you heard about Pro Church Tools? If you are pastor or volunteer in your church do yourself a favor and go spend some time there. I actually don’t hit their website all that often, but I do watch pretty much every video from the Pro Church Tools YouTube account.
One of the big things that they are found of saying is that we are living in the biggest communication shift in the past 500 years. Not since Guetenberg changed the game with his printing press have we seen such a shift in the way that people process and have access to information. (you could argue that the TV revolution in the 60s was a pretty big shift and it was, but that was still one central location for content which was being made by others, the internet is different). I am an old man and I can remember people being dismissive of the computers in general, then people were mystified by the internet. I was online early, starting this Nailcars.com blog way back in 1998. In those days I was the only person I knew that was creating content for the web and still knew lots of people without internet access.
But now with the social media shift that is happening I feel like the old dinosaur talking about kids and their new-fangled toys. I understand that it is the way that people are communicating, getting information, and being creative, but walking into that world I still feel like a bit of an outsider, like I am the teacher who is trying to be cool and saying all the wrong slang.
But I am trying. That is part of the reason why I am doing a video blog, not because I really think it will take off, but because I want to be familiar with the genre and learn the tools needed to speak into this new revolution. I am still a long way from figuring it all out, but I am committed to helping teenagers connect with Jesus so that means I am wading into this thing as deep as I can get. It isn’t easy, and I feel lost most of the time, but I keep my eyes on the prize (that is a generation of souls that are desperate to find what Jesus offers) and resolve to do anything short of sin to proclaim the gospel.
So you may have seen this Burger King bullying ad. If you haven’t take the time to watch it.
What facinates me are the comments below the video. Sprinkled in with your typical responses there are 3 basic types of negative responses:
People who are mad that Burger King messed up the food (can you really miss a point this bad?)
People who think the kid should have spoken up for himself
People who think that doing something wouldn’t make a difference.
The first one is just…I don’t even know. The second two are interesting. I am pretty sure I would say something, but as a youth pastor I am wired to tell teenagers what to do. It is actually hard for me to stop doing it in public. But that is just me and my job. There are lots of other things that I tend to look the other way about. I think it is because there is this deep social contract that says “leave everyone else alone.” When you speak up to a stranger like that it breaks that contract. So people tend to think that those things shouldn’t happen.
The thing is often it is just a word that is needed to remind people what they are supposed to be doing or to defuse a situation. Simply speaking up and calling out bad behavior goes a long way (especially in the minds of a teenager) to helping them see their actions are inappropriate.
One thing I have noticed in this board game club thing that I am doing is that there are some people who a bullies without processing they are being bullied. For instance there was this guy who had a little leather bag he was carrying. It wasn’t a purse, but it looked like one. One of the girls we were playing games with looked up and said, “Hey! Nice purse!” in this very mocking tone. The boy defended himself said it wasn’t a purse, but you could tell that he had been dealing with that comment all day.
So I looked at the girl and said, “Why would you say that? Were you just trying to be mean?” She looked back at me genuinely perplexed. She had no clue that she had said something wrong. She had a thought and without pausing to think about how that thought made someone else feel she spoke it.
When someone is able to stand up to those type of bullies it makes them pause and think about their words at least for a moment and it gives the person being picked on an adversary and a feeling like maybe everything isn’t against me. So watch the commercial and practice speaking up for those who can’t speak up for themselves.
It is always amazing to look at a canyon or a river bed and see how water running over time can even shape stone. A steady persistent drip of water can do more to reshape rock than a fast short torrent.
I am trying to remember this truth also applies to youth ministry.
Lately I have been working with a group of middle school students in an after school program. I am trying to use board games as a way to open up conversations with them and it is working, well sort of. What I think is working more than the games is the fact that I am there week after week. As I have been just simply hanging out with them I have been able to be there in the middle of all of the crazy stuff in their life. It has been a great reminder of how important it is just to be present with students.
As a youth pastor I have a tendency to get wrapped up in the lessons and the activities and all of the stuff that goes into just keeping thing going from week to week. What doing this group has reminded me that youth (especially the younger ones) are looking for adults to give be present in their lives. They need caring adults who are willing to listen and willing to speak truth to them. As youth pastors that is what we called to do as much as anything else. We are called to be present in the lives of students.
It doesn’t always produce immediate results, but it is a slow steady progress that can soften even the hardest heart of stone.
If you have never watched A League of the Own you need to get off the Internet and go watch it now. If you have then you will remember when the coach (played by Tom Hanks) yells at one of his players and the player immediately starts to cry. Hanks is flummoxed by what he sees and appeals to the umpire with the no famous line, “there’s no crying in baseball!”
I have to admit that I sort of assumed that there was no crying in middle school, at least not when I went there. In my memory crying was a very bad thing and would get you branded a crybaby or worse. I am pretty sure I needed to cry a bunch in middle school and I can actually remember crying in the bathroom and on the playground at least once each, but it wasn’t a common occurrence.
I bring this up because I am part of a board game club at the local middle school these days and I promise at least 2 kids cry every week. Normally it is because someone called them a name or was mean to them in some way. When this happens I find myself of two minds. The first thing I want to do is tell the person who was mean that that sort of behavior is unacceptable, but the second thing I want to do is try to help the crying kid work through whatever it is that is making them so susceptible to the words of others. I try to be understanding and listen, but the 80s kid in me wants to say, “suck it up, buttercup!”
Instead I try to have a conversation (in a group of 16 kids who are all just one bit of unstructured time away from a mutiny) about examining your feelings and trying to discover why those words hurt. I also try to get kids to stop and realize just how damaging their words are. It has created some pretty cool places for conversation and I am glad that God has me there to be a voice in their life, but honestly I know that sometimes I look at them like Hanks looking at his crying player while I think, “how can there be this much crying in middle school?”