Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Faces Change. . . The Youth Worker and Pornography. . .
When living out your calling includes hour after hour spent standing at the front of a room, your intuitive ability to read the faces in the crowd sharpens. Are they with me? Are they bored? Am I connecting? Do I need to shift gears? Did I just say something that struck a nerve? The answers to those questions are sometimes written all over the faces in the room.
This last weekend I got to indulge in one of my favorite things - spending time with youth workers, this time at the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta. The youth worker world is a world I love. I know how important they are to the Lord, to parents, to the church, to kids. I've not only been a youth worker, but I've been shaped and blessed by so many youth workers over the years. . . something I need to consciously be thankful for on the day before Thanksgiving.
Fortunately - and unfortunately - the discussions in our youth ministry world increasingly include talking about pornography. It's a good thing to be talking about pornography because it's one of the greatest threats to the spiritual and relational health of ourselves and everyone we minister to. It's an unfortunate thing because it's so pervasive and enticing in today's world. The statistics tell us this. Our own experience tells us this. Common sense tells us this. The sheer number of stories we see, hear, and find ourselves in tell us this. And, the faces I see in the room tell us this.
I'm noticing that every time I mention this horribly twisted and fallen expression of the sexuality that God created and enthusiastically declared as "GOOD". . . something happens in the room. Postures and expressions change. The quiet in the room moves to a new dimension. You can sense an increased uneasiness that comes with having to talk about something that we need to talk about that's been hushed and hidden - corporately and individually - for far too long. That all adds up in a mix that offers convincing evidence of our need to talk, talk, and talk some more about something that's destroying kids, families, culture, and even some of us.
At one point this last weekend, the faces I saw in the room combined in a moment that screamed urgency. In fact, what I saw as I talked briefly about pornography made it difficult for me to concentrate on the task at hand for the next few minutes. It wasn't what I would call an epiphany. Rather, it served as a strong kick in the pants to be more deliberate in my quest to dig more deeply into this social and spiritual scourge. I've said it before: It's a different world. I was a 12-year-old boy when I first saw the inside of a Playboy magazine. We found it. . . it didn't find us. It wasn't readily available. To be honest, it's frightening for me to think about who I might be today if my 12-year-old self was 12-years-old in 2011. . . seriously.
When I walked out of that seminar room this last weekend, there was something else added to my "to do" list. I've been pondering what my focus should be for my 2012 reading theme. Every year I choose an area of focus. This last year it's been books on Christian/Biblical justice. Next year, I'm going to read about marriage, family, and sexuality. Sure, that's been the overarching focus of my reading since the day I was 18-years-old and set foot on the college campus as a Sociology major focused on issues related to marriage and family. But these issues are nuanced in today's culture and we need to deal with them, at both a corporate and individual level. My 2012 reading focus was clarified last weekend.
One more thing. . . with Thanksgiving causing us to focus on the good gifts God's given, how about thinking tomorrow about more than the gift of daily bread. If you're a youth worker, think about God's gift of love, marriage, family, and your sexuality. . . and say "thanks.": And as you think, ponder how each of those relational threads is woven together in your own life. What does that tapestry look like? Does it reflect the glory of God? Or is it a mess that needs to go through some cleaning up? We'll all see some of both.
Last night I was sitting and watching the news with my 19-year-old son. He commented on the disgusting nature of some of the new allegations and details coming out in the Penn State sex-abuse scandal. After that story, there was a report detailing how the average weekly number of sexual-abuse reports in our state had doubled during the week after the Penn State story broke. I mentioned that I believed a multiplicity of factors - including the growing pervasiveness, presence, and nature of pornography - are combining in a perfect storm that will only make these stories more common as the years pass. That's the way we need to act now - corporately and individually - on the uneasiness in the room and the expression on our faces. I think we know. . . we've got to start dealing with this stuff as it impacts our culture, our kids, their families, and even ourselves.
Youth worker. . . if the uneasiness is rooted in what's happening in your own life, speak up to someone you trust as the first step in getting the help that you need.