Youth

New and Noteworthy

A Peace Diary

Longtime peace advocate Peggy Gish traveled to Iraq, along with others in the Christian Peacemaker Teams, to do what she does best: get in the way. Iraq: A Journey of Hope and Peace is her story of their work before, during, and after the U.S. invasion. Told in the first-person, Gish recounts her efforts to create relationships with Iraqis, fight for justice, and seek peace. Herald Press.

 
Competing Visions

Striking the right balance between constitutional issues and religious freedoms is a never-ending, sticky business. God in Government is an hour-long documentary that looks at the tricky mix of religion and politics—primarily in the United States, but also in India, Iran, and Israel, where the combination is sometimes lethal. Airs on PBS; check local listings. www.godingovernment.org.

Heavy (Spiritual) Hitters

Harper San Francisco has birthed a new series of spiritual classics—four modest, accessible books that contain selected writings from John and Charles Wesley, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and the anonymous monastic writer of The Cloud of Unknowing. Modern voices introduce each work—Peter Gomes, Patricia Hampl, Ron Hansen, and Tim Farrington, respectively—in lively, personal essays. A great way to dive into the classics. Each book has fewer than 150 pages.

Stolen Youth

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Sojourners Magazine November 2004
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Seventh Heaven?

A new report from the University of North Carolina's National Study of Youth and Religion confirms the old saw: A family that prays together, stays together. American families who are "religiously involved" have stronger family relationships than those who aren't, according to the new study.

Focusing specifically on the families of 12-to-14-year olds, the study examines the quality of relationships between children and parents in association with family religious activity, parental worship service attendance, and parental prayer. Youth whose parents attend worship services on a regular basis—only 37 percent of all adolescents—are significantly more likely than their counterparts to display signs of healthy family relationships, including: frequently eating dinner at home; mothers who know who they are with when they're not home and who know their close friends' parents; fathers whom they aspire to be like, and who know about their friendships and school life; and not running away from home.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2003
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The Anti-Slackers

The following people are not the "top young Christians of 2002." Such a ranking would be impossible (and a little out of line with the spirit of the gospel). Rather they are just a few of those named by our staff, friends, board, and contributors when asked, "Who are young Christians that our readers should know about?" Our goal was to survey a sampling of those 30 and under who are active in their faith—and to find what hope and challenge they have to offer.

The really good news? For each one of these women and men of faith and dedication, thousands of other young people worldwide are also serving, creating, leading, making mistakes, organizing, and praying, bearing the spark of God's love and justice.

 

Lee Huang
29
Founder and director, YES (Youth + Entrepreneurship = Success) business incubator
www.theenterprisecenter.com
West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I was not raised in a Christian family. To this day, none of my immediate family are followers of Jesus. I became a Christian in high school and had to work through my integration of faith and vocation without the blessings of my parents.

I came to the Wharton School with an interest in business, and as my faith in God and relationship with Jesus Christ grew, that interest got redirected toward finding a way to use my business skills and interests to serve others. Work can and should be worship, service, and ministry and not just a way to make money to support yourself.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2002
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Reading the Tea Leaves

Since the news of Washington, D.C.-based activist Lisa Sullivan’s death last October, she has been eulogized as a mentor, organizer, institution builder, applied intellectual, and servant leader. But the quality that stands out for me now as I reflect on our collective loss of this sister, so committed to freedom struggles, was her keen political savvy—her genius, really; what Lisa called "reading the tea leaves."

The story of how Sullivan, as an unknown graduate student and adviser to the local NAACP youth council, organized a coalition of teen-agers to help elect New Haven’s first black mayor is a defining moment in post-civil rights organizing tactics. By the time Lisa arrived in New Haven in 1983, the 1980 census had already identified young women, especially of color, as the city’s fastest growing demographic. As a political scientist trained at Clark College and Yale, Lisa began crunching the numbers and quickly honed in on the city’s new emerging power base.

"If you could engage this burgeoning youth population and get them involved in politics," Lisa recalled during a 1999 interview, "they could be your cutting edge." The coalition Lisa pulled together registered 5,000 new youth voters, delivering the election to John Daniels, who won by 4,000 votes. The day after the historic victory, the New Haven Register ran a front-page story naming Lisa as one of the city’s up-and-coming power brokers.

Her political acumen and dynamic personality often positioned her to be the kind of leader whose charisma could carry a cause. But rather than seek the spotlight as a politico in New Haven’s democratic machine, Lisa remained true to her organizing roots and took the New Haven strategy—mobilizing poor urban youth to move a political agenda—to a national stage.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2002
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Scared Crooked

This spring a group of "troubled" children from Washington, D.C.'s Evans Middle School were taken on a visit to the D.C. Jail. The school's director of in-service suspension, who arranged the jail visit, said, "I wanted some of the kids to experience the jail-you know, the clink-clink, the bars." The visiting students-some as young as 13-were intimidated by guards, strip-searched, forced to undergo a body-cavity search, and left in the presence of a masturbating inmate-all so they would be "scared straight."

The Scared Straight program-founded in 1976 at New Jersey's Rahway State Prison-remains one of the most popular "intervention" methods for dealing with troubled teens. But does it work?

A 1979 documentary on the program, which depicted tough teens being reduced to quivering masses by big, scary inmates, won an Academy Award and two Emmys. The producers of the show claimed an 80 to 90 percent success rate, and the race to bring Scared Straight to a city near you was on. Legislators around the country couldn't wait to implement such programs to eradicate the scourge of juvenile delinquency. The concept continues to thrive around the country.

But many studies have belied the success claims of Scared Straight. "Youths attending the programs consistently did worse than those who did not," wrote James O. Finckenauer in his 1999 book Scared Straight: The Panacea Phenomenon Revisited. He's not alone in this assessment. According to Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General released earlier this year, successful prevention programs "target specific populations of young people as defined by risk and life experience, build individual skills and competencies, include parent effectiveness training, and encourage changes in type and level of involvement in peer groups." Not exactly a description of the Scared Straight approach.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2001
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The Kids These Days

The buzzword around the parental water cooler these days is cynicism. Teens today don't appreciate what we've given them, parents say. Our 10th graders take for granted the sacrifices made by civil rights and women's rights activists. Even those perennially underachieving Gen-Xers can't hold a candle to today's teens. They give cynicism an entirely new meaning.

Or do they? I wonder if the labels we place on teens tell the whole story. There's no denying that young people are often apathetic. Some of them—particularly those who favor Goth trenchcoats and black lipstick—even appear nihilistic. But to end the analysis with an indictment of clothing choices is to ignore the underlying causes of modern cynicism.

Last summer I met 65 high school juniors at the Youth Theological Initiative in Atlanta. These teens come together to study theology and work with underprivileged populations. Some have a passion for environmental justice. Others hope to become ministers. Even the vocationally ambivalent want to make the world a better place. Their typical schedules are enough to make Dorothy Day need a vacation. Their earnestness is the polar opposite of brooding apathy.

Or is it? A few years ago I spoke with a 16-year-old. She told me about her volunteerism and church work. And she said that her pastor's sermons had given her a sense of purpose. I asked her why "purpose" was so hard to come by. She said, "I guess I just needed one clear thing to hold onto. Otherwise things go to pieces." Later I learned that she had stopped attending church in order to work a weekend job. She was saving money for art school.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2001
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Late to Bed, Early to Rise, Keep the Faith and ORGANIZE!

Lisa Sullivan knows how to listen. The founder and president of LISTEN Inc., an organization devoted to developing youth leadership, Sullivan learned at an early age to understand the world she is in and what was expected of her. She beams with pride and admiration as she recalls how her folks instilled a deep-seated work ethic within her.

"On my 15th birthday my mother took me down to [a local store] and told the manager, ‘This is my daughter and she needs a job!'" She fondly remembers the positive reinforcement she received from members of her Washington, D.C. community, including strangers. "I was waiting at a bus stop and an older lady asked me about myself, and as we were parting company she said, ‘Now you remember to go to church, you hear?' and I said, ‘Yes, ma'am!'"

Sullivan, a soft-featured black woman with a short salt-and-pepper afro, flashing eyes, and an easy smile, gets visibly excited when she speaks of her passion: lifting up the young. "This generation is bombarded with information without the capability of analyzing it. In such a confusing society, you must have a knowledge base; otherwise it is like being a computer with no anti-virus software running-any virus can come along and take hold."

LISTEN (an acronym for Local Initiative Support, Training, and Education Network) is Sullivan's vision to bridge the knowledge gap for urban youth and to help them build the capabilities to successfully navigate society's turbulent waters. According to Sullivan, "Urban youth must be organized to formulate their own questions, to define their own problems, to find their own solutions, and create their own institutions."

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2001
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The Shaw Redemption

'Mom comes too early! I was having fun!" Pouting, 8-year-old Renee lightly stamps her foot like a corn-rowed Scarlet O'Hara, then skips out of the classroom, backpack in tow. The rest of the kids in her art class pause momentarily to bid her farewell, and then get back to the business of creation.

The kids are in the pre-K to 3rd grade group at the New Community After School and Advocacy Program. The project is a mission of New Community Church, an ecumenical neighborhood-based church in the Shaw community of Washington, D.C. Established in 1984 in an abandoned building that burned in the 1968 riots, the church is a symbol of a neighborhood in physical and spiritual rebirth. The children's program began four years later.

Donna Mauney-Taylor, whose presence looms large at the school, has been executive director for a little more than a year. "We have kids who have to deal with a lot of anger," she said. "In this neighborhood they are exposed to violence and drug and alcohol abuse. Our mission is to work with these children and reach them spiritually as well as educationally." Je Nae Clark, a new volunteer from nearby Howard University, said her goal was "to connect with children, find out their needs, and to meet them to the best of my ability."

Rachel Dickerson, a longtime member of New Community Church, runs Artspace, a part of the program since 1999 that touches all participants. Dickerson said that those who lead the program believe that "children will grow up to be responsible, productive adults who in turn will give their time and talents back to the community." Dickerson feels that Artspace contributes to the mission of the school because the "art enrichment activities are planned solely for each child to come in contact with their creative selves. We learn there is nothing we cannot do. The possibilities are endless and we are all artists."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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Praying for Air

Recently I’ve been irritated by the over-professionalization of American culture. We rely on professionals to bring us our music, our entertainment, even God—which causes our own creativity to wither, and leaves us lacking different ways to see the world. This is most prominent in the state of radio broadcasting today. But I find some hope for an opening of communications in the model of the church.

Most American radio today is a top-down form of communication—much like the Church in the Middle Ages. Then, Bibles were written in Latin, a language few people knew, and chained to the altars so only priests had access to them. Not until the Protestant Reformation and the invention of the printing press did people start getting direct access to the Word of God. Communication, which had been from God to priest to ordinary worshipper, was now opened up. The Reformation and the new mass communication tool of the printing press disrupted the hierarchy of the church.

Today, a similar response to the hierarchical control of the mass media is being generated through low-power radio. According to Felix Guattari, an Italian radio activist, "’popular free radio’...aims at changing the professionally mediated relationship between listener and speaker, and even challenging the listener/speaker dichotomy itself." In America, we generally accept radio as a one-way communications tool: We have music played at us and hundreds of ads beamed at us each day. The average listener rarely helps determine the actual content of a radio show.

With the low-power radio movement, this is beginning to change. People are realizing that, with a few hundred dollars, they can start their own radio stations, broadcasting to a radius of a couple of miles. They can invite their neighbors on the air to talk about local issues. They can play whatever music they want to hear. They can promote local causes. The standard communication order is being disrupted.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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It's the Real Thing

Responding to the tragedy at Columbine High School, educator Thomas de Zengotita wrote in a recent issue of Harper’s that a "hybrid entity with a structuring life of its own has emerged on the planet." This "entity" is identified as a new public culture that blurs the borders between reality and simulation. Littleton’s Eric

Harris and Dylan Klebold became caught up in this limbo, as have countless other teen-agers and adults—though the vast majority with consequences that are less destructive, yet not completely harmless.

This illusory culture, which De Zengotita calls an "entity" but the Apostle Paul might call a "principality and power," is able to consume those who haven’t established their own sense of who they are—especially, but not exclusively, young people. For young Christians and those who walk along beside them, the call to engage this invasion of illusion is especially critical.

For nearly 2,000 years, the power of God has kept the onslaught of such principalities and powers at bay through baptism, confirmation, holy communion, and the other sacraments of Christianity. Spiritual direction, discipleship, and biblical teaching also have proven themselves to be effective in guiding people into maturity and freedom. Though the gospel has always been about the discerning of truth from deception, the new paradigms and tools at the end of this century create a context that is dramatically different than ever before. Will the church of the new millennium be as successful in creating safe space for young people and at helping them distinguish the simulated warfare on a computer screen from the spiritual warfare of the heart?

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