Jenna Barnett 03-01-2016

DAVID KING and Margot Starbuck are nostalgic for the good ol’ days of youth sports. In Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports, the authors first critique the current youth sports machine by reminiscing about an athletic utopia of the past: One where kids used water bottles for goal posts and flip-flops for bases. Back when parents weren’t paying up to $18,000 in hotel and trainer fees for elite travel teams. Back when kids loved sports.

This book intends to teach parents how to prevent burnout, overuse injury, and a misguided value system for their children. However, I read Overplayed as a young single woman learning to love sports again after suffering overuse injury and burnout right before college. I wish my parents—loving and good-intentioned as they were and are—had read this book 20 years ago.

King, athletic director at a Mennonite university, and Starbuck, a writer and a parent to three teenage athletes, believe that sports has the potential to be a powerful force in the lives of children. However, often money and myths corrupt that potential. Early on, Starbuck speaks wonders of the ways athletics teach us to know and love our physicality, explaining, “I came to know my body as good because of the opportunities I had to play sports as a girl.” But with early single-sport specialization and year-round tournament schedules, children are coming to know their bodies as injured before they can come to know their bodies as good. The authors note that in 2014, 1.35 million kids suffered sports-related injuries that landed them in the emergency room. “‘No pain no gain,’” the authors insist, “should have no place in youth sports.”

Image via  / Shutterstock

Stereotypes of aging fall into four buckets. The first, the persistent image that is considered by many to be the norm, is that aging is something to be reviled and dreaded. At best, growing old is something best done out of sight and mind, ideally in a gated community and ultimately in some kind of institutional setting.

A more palatable position, the second bucket, acknowledges aging as a time of inevitable decline and detachment, but thinks this is not a bad thing. Known as “disengagement” theory by gerontologists, proponents of this bucket think of aging as a problem to be solved in order to keep elders as serene as possible as they transit the wasteland of old age.

The third bucket, activity theory, swings the pendulum to the extreme. As a result, a new generation of elders has been put on the run. To age “successfully,” one must be kept busy pursuing second or third careers, finding renewed purpose, reinventing ourselves, and otherwise proving that one can be productive and engaged to the end. An unfortunate side effect of activity theory is the adulation of youth and the legitimization of denial. Don’t like the idea of aging? Just don’t do it.

But there’s a fourth bucket, the one we have been exploring together since that memorable conversation on the stairwell. That is, aging as a spiritual path. In this vision of aging, growing older takes on added meaning as a life stage with value and purpose of its own. The key is embracing rather than rejecting or denying the shadow side of aging.

The Editors 08-12-2015

Poet Ambassadors / Photo courtesy of Free Minds

The Forgiveness

By Steven

I forgive my dad for walking out on his only son
I forgive the people who think they get over
When they assume that I’m dumb
I forgive life for dealing me this hand
I forgive my inner boy for not becoming a man
I forgive the man who bumped me
Because he couldn’t see
I forgive ...
But I can’t forgive everything
Because I’ve yet to forgive me ...

Steven is an active member of the Free Minds Book Club.

Lani Prunés 07-10-2015
Jimmie Briggs Profile.jpg

Photo via Lynn Savarese

Bio: Jimmie Briggs is an award-winning journalist and author of Innocents Lost, a book giving voice to child soldiers. In 2009, he co-founded the Man Up Campaign, a global effort to engage youth to stop violence against women and girls, and currently serves as executive director of the U.S. branch of Leave Out Violence (LOVE).

1. Let’s talk about LOVE. What issues does your organization address? LOVE’s focus is to engage young people who have been affected by violence of all kinds. This includes not only gender-based violence, but also issues such as gun violence, witnesses of domestic violence, and trauma- processing in schools where violence is the reality. LOVE uses media arts coupled with a trauma-informed response. We have a social worker for one-on-one counseling, and our teaching artists use media arts to provide pathways for young people who have been affected by violence—survivors and witnesses, even perpetrators—to express their voice and ultimately to process their pain, their trauma, and sometimes their guilt from the violence.
At the same time, LOVE creates a stage for them to speak about their experiences and advocate among their peers about conflict resolution and violence prevention. The arts offer a way to heal and process the violence you’ve experienced, but also for you to reach your peers and mitigate violence from happening in your schools, your home, and in your communities.

Tom Gowon, 9, in a brown jacket, with his fellow refugees at Baga Sola camp, Cha

Tom Gowon, 9, in a brown jacket, with his fellow refugees at Baga Sola camp, Chad. Image via Tonny Onyulo/RNS.

Memories of Boko Haram’s murderous spree in his Nigerian hometown haunt Tom Gowon, 9, as he sits on a patch of grass at a refugee camp, sipping steaming porridge from a plastic mug.

“I was lucky because I was not killed,” said Gowon, recalling the assault on Baga, Nigeria, in early January.

“But they shot and killed my father. My mother was kidnapped by the militants.”

Children such as Gowon bear the brunt of Boko Haram’s rampage since its fighters kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls last year and conquered enough territory to declare a caliphate that covers one-fifth of Nigeria.

Where the militants have met resistance, they’ve torched villages and left piles of corpses in their wake.

“There are several camps around here housing many children who have lost their parents in attacks,” said Guy Nanhousngue, a Chadian relief worker who said children make up about half of the Nigerians coming to the Baga Sola refugee camp on the shores of Lake Chad, which separates the two countries.

“We’re registering more than 50 children every day.”

Julianne Couch 06-03-2014

From Orange City, Iowa, to York, Nebraska, and across the Midwest, young organizers are cultivating hope in rural places.

Rebecca Kraybill 04-03-2014

Tyrone Parker, top row in red, with Alliance of Concerned Men participants.

Tyrone Parker works with urban youth and families in the nation's capital.

Eboo Patel 04-03-2014

This may be a field whose time has come.

Joy Carroll Wallis 02-06-2014
Child hand inside a parent's, mickyso /

Child hand inside a parent's, mickyso /

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Joy Carroll Wallis' chapter of the book Faith Forward: A Dialogue on Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity.

“Offering your child to God is a way of offering yourself to God again, and it felt that way to me. For the religious and not, there is a powerful spirituality in the birth of a child. Already, we’re learning a little about the unconditional love of God for us in the way we feel about our own child. Through one of the most universal human experiences, parent after parent is taught the lessons of love and life. And all is grace.” Jim Wallis, following the birth of his son, Luke

Jim and I grew up in Christian families, which brought with it both advantages and disadvantages. My father was a clergyman in the Church of England in the inner city of South London. Jim’s parents were the founders and leaders of a Plymouth Brethren congregation in Detroit. We both rebelled and returned and our stories are well documented in the books we have written.

One of the best gifts that we experienced as the children of Christian leaders was that of an open home. Exposure to family, and friends from many different cultures and walks of life helped shape us. But, more importantly, it allowed us to grow up participating in the ministry of hospitality – and that has stuck. The Wallis home is known to be an “open house.” Our guest room belongs to many people: from a professor teaching a course in town, to a church leader participating in a fellowship program or conference; from a patient recovering from major surgery or illness, to a summer intern visiting from a far-flung part of the world. To add to this, the basement and boys’ rooms are often filled with teenagers or most of a baseball team, and our dining table is full to capacity on a regular basis.

One day when just the members of our family were sitting down to eat dinner, Jim asked who would like to say grace. Jack, who was about four at the time, looked around and said, “But we don’t have enough people!”

Stephen Deere 11-01-2013

Beer being poured from a tap. Photo vai RNS/courtesy Vladimirs Koskins via Shutterstock

The Archdiocese of St. Louis is putting an end to alcohol sales at youth-related events.

Under a new policy that goes into effect Friday, drinking will not be allowed at any event that is directed primarily toward minors.

That means parents will no longer be allowed to throw back a few beers during their kids’ soccer, volleyball, and softball games. And athletic associations will no longer rake in revenue from beer sales at their concession stands.

Stephen Mattson 10-15-2013
Illustration of teen arguing with parents, Ron and Joe /

Illustration of teen arguing with parents, Ron and Joe /

Within the evangelical Christian universe, few things are more damning than being labeled 'Legalistic.' The term evokes images of strict rules, ruthlessness, enforced doctrines, unforgiving judges, and worst of all —unpopularity

When churches, schools, pastors, institutions, and communities are viewed as legalistic, they are demonized and shunned — sometimes rightfully so.

One disturbing trend I’ve noticed — especially among young believers — is to assume that everything associated with a few of legalism’s attributes: structure, requirements, consequences, and work, is legalistic — it’s not.

David Agren 07-24-2013
Tyler Orsburn/courtesy Catholic News Service

World Youth Day pilgrims take video and photos at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro July 22. Tyler Orsburn/CNS

Pope Francis spent Tuesday resting following his arrival here in his first international trip as pope during which his car was mobbed by throngs of well-wishers who excitedly closed in on his convoy and prevented the pontiff from reaching his reception ceremony on time.

His arrival animated tens of thousands of young Catholics cramming the Rio city center, as they waved flags, chanted slogans, and swarmed the four-door Fiat he was riding in.

“It was so amazing when he was selected, we just couldn’t believe it. We cried and hugged one another,” Alicia Velazquez said. “I personally want to see if he’s still the same man as simple and humble whom we all knew. I have faith that he’s remained the same.”

Francis’ driver missed lanes that had been cleared on a boulevard, taking the car down a lane that was not lined with fencing and with no uniformed police in sight to control crowds.

Dozens of Vatican and Brazilian plain-clothes security officials had trouble keeping the crowds back but it did not appear to bother Francis. The bulletproof popemobile was left in Rome.

Francis rolled down his back-seat window, waved to the crowd, and touched those who reached inside. He kissed a baby a woman handed to him.

Stephen Mattson 07-23-2013
Scapegoat illustration, durantelallera /

Scapegoat illustration, durantelallera /

Within Christianity it’s easy to criticize. Here are some of the most common scapegoats:

1)  Conservative Fundamentalists

Christianity’s negative public image is — sometimes rightfully — blamed on these people. Perceived as being exclusive, resistant to change, addicted to power, and very aggressive, they’re characterized as anti-women, anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, and anti-evolution.

Ten years ago the top scapegoat would’ve belonged to ‘Progressive Liberals,’ but what a difference a few years make. Despite the dramatic change, we can often be guilty of blaming fundamentalists just as easily and unfairly as they used to blame others.

A Convenient target, we often use them as a punching bag. Many theologians, bloggers, pastors, and leaders have become obsessed with fighting and arguing against fundamentalists, and it ultimately becomes a distraction. It’s so easy to focus on those we disagree with that our entire faith becomes a set of reactions to our opponents instead of a life lived promoting the Gospel of Christ.

Sharon Lea Harper 07-18-2013
Young boy reaches to the sky. Photo courtesy Zurijeta/

Young boy reaches to the sky. Photo courtesy Zurijeta/


No prom for you

Dear boy

No wedding  

No children

No memories of you and family 

For momma and daddy to savor

Just holes in their hearts to match 

the hole 

In yours

But as God is my witness

Sweet boy

You will never be forgotten

Who knew the Amish would become such a center of pop-cultural attention?

James D. Ross II 03-14-2013
Court gavel with play letters, zimmytws /

Court gavel with play letters, zimmytws /

Sharletta Evans of Denver says it was her faith that motivated her to forgive the teens who killed her 3-year-old son, Casson, during a drive-by shooting. When she did, Evans says, she could feel the hate evaporate from her body. She has since developed a relationship with one of the young men, whom she hopes to see released from prison.

Minnesota’s Mary Johnson drew on her faith for the strength to meet with and forgive Oshea Israel, who was 16 when he killed Johnson’s 20-year-old son, Laramiun Byrd. Mary now considers Oshea, who lives next door to her, her spiritual son. The two now frequently speak together about anti-violence and the power of forgiveness.

And Mona Schlautman, whose 15-year-old son, Jeremy Drake, was kidnapped and killed in a park in Omaha, Neb., says her faith — plus her belief that it is good public policy — have led her to support changes in that state’s laws that would ensure young people who go to prison for serious crimes have meaningful opportunities to be considered for release after they have acknowledged what they did, asked for forgiveness and sought to make amends. She testified before the Pardons Board several times on behalf of Jeremy Herman, who at 17 was convicted of kidnapping her son. He was released from prison after 19 years.

Throughout the United States, people of faith are on the front lines of the effort to replace life-without-parole sentences for children with age-appropriate accountability measures that focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The Juvenile Justice Week of Faith and Healing is an annual event intended to engage faith leaders and further increase awareness of individual, community and social needs arising from the current juvenile justice system.

Catherine Maresca 07-01-2012

Nurturing the life of children, from stage to stage.

Erik Guzman 06-27-2012

I know I’m cynical, but I didn’t know how dead I got inside.

It was easy to give up on the world. There are way better people than I failing to pull us out of our quagmire.

It was pretty easy to give up on the church too. Pick your disappointment....

So, like I said, I knew I was cynical, but I didn’t know I was about to die from my cynicism. Then I went to the Wild Goose Festival. I wasn’t healed there. Just the opposite. I was playfully wooed to mourn the passing of my younger self.

Steve Jerbi 06-11-2012
Darius Simmons. Photo courtesy of All Peoples Church.

Darius Simmons. Photo courtesy of All Peoples Church.

"Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." 
~ John 12:24

When tragedies loom so large, it is difficult to keep a perspective on the small things, to view things on a human scale.

We are trained to see the harvest and ignore the seed. We look at end results for the quick post and tweet. The planting, the watering, the tending is too tedious. Show me the aisles of glowing produce under the florescent lights and keep the dirt and the sweat away. Show me the abundance and not the labor.

And yet, every fruit and vegetable and grain begins as a seed. It begins in the smallest of things.

Soon, the story of Darius Simmons will become larger than life. A story that has picked up some media attention will no doubt soar – for a moment – as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rainbow PUSH continue to walk with his family and call for justice. This is their work and their calling and I bless them for it. I am thankful for it.

Darius’ story is a sensational one – full of racial tension and violence. It is a refrain sung over and over in our nation, the dissonant chorus that reminds us of our nation’s original sin.

Cathleen Falsani 03-14-2012

When Marilyn and Larry Johnson sold their computer business in suburban Detroit about a decade ago, they figured they'd settle into the next phase of their lives with ease. Retirement meant more freedom, fewer pressures and ample time on the golf course. But a life of leisure turned out to feel terribly hollow for the Christian couple.

"I remember coming in from a golf game and Larry asking me how my game was, and I just started crying," Marilyn told Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom recently. "I said, 'My life has no purpose.' "

So the Johnsons began volunteering at shelters, treatment programs and soup kitchens. On Thanksgiving eight years ago, they wound up serving turkey dinner to the homeless. It was a turning point.  An epiphany.