Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jasmyn Smith. . . 11-Year-Old Bullying Victim. . .

Jasmyn Smith
Maybe it's because stories like these are becoming more and more common that this one - as tragic as it is - has sort of fallen through the cracks. It happened here in Lancaster County where I live. Eleven-year-old Jasmyn Smith would have been starting sixth grade this week. Please read that last sentence again. . .  Eleven-year-old Jasmyn Smith would have been starting sixth grade this week. Instead, Jasmyn's parents will be burying her this Saturday. This was not a teenager. This was a very, very young girl.

What happened? Reports say that Jasmyn had been bullied in school and online for about a year. She attempted to take her own life by putting a belt around her neck. I'm not sure of all the details, but she didn't die right away. She did eventually pass away at the Hershey Medical Center. People in Columbia - Jasmyn's hometown - have rallied in support of her family and against bullying of all types.

As I've tried to follow Jasmyn's story I've noticed that it hasn't gotten the kind of attention a story like would have most likely gotten 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Again, that's a sign of our bully- and violence-filled times. That which is common is no longer surprising. . . or as the news media goes, sensational enough. Jasmyn's age reminds us that "age-compression" has ushered a whole catalog of pressures, problems, challenges, choices, and expectations into our elementary schools. The younger the age, the more vulnerable a child is. the younger the age, the less-resilient a child is.

Jasmyn Smith's story should drive our prayers. Her story should drive our efforts to thwart bullies and to prevent bullying. Her story should drive home our need to be vigilant, to listen, and to intervene. Bullying is reflection of the fact that the world we live in is not the way it's supposed to be. And it reminds those of us who have called into the Kingdom of God to live out those Kingdom values and priorities in the midst of this garbage.

Whether you're a parent, youth worker, pastor, teacher, or grandparent, I want to encourage you to broach the subject of bullying with the kids you know and love. Here at CPYU, we've prepared a tool to help you deal specifically with the problem of cyber-bullying. Our Parents' Guide to Cyberbullying is a free download that's part of our Digital Kids Initiative. I encourage you to download it, pass it around, and talk about it.

Here's a preview of some steps for intervention that we've listed in our Parents' Guide to Cyberbullying:

Because we live in a broken world, there will be times when we need to intervene on behalf of our children
when they are cyberbullied. Here are some steps you can take when intervention is necessary:

• Begin by listening hard to your children, looking for the facts and keeping good written records. Remain
calm. Don’t over or under-react.

• Assure your child that you are going to walk with them through this difficult time, that you will support
them and that you will work with them to find a resolution.

• Keep the lines of communication open with them while being even more diligent than usual in your relationship with them. This affords you the opportunity to watch them carefully, to support them and to build
their resiliency.

• If they are in close and meaningful relationships with other trusted and supportive adults (teachers, relatives,
youth workers, etc.), inform those people so that they can offer encouragement and support.

• If you are able, contact the parents of the cyberbully and share the facts by using your written records. Ask
the parents to deal with the situation in a way that will lead to 1) the removal of all threatening/harassing
online posts, and 2) the discontinuation of any additional follow-up or retributive bullying behavior of any

• If the cyberbullying attacks occurred while your child has been at school, notify school authorities.

• If your child’s safety is in danger, contact law enforcement authorities and give them copies of all written
notes and correspondence.

• Do not be afraid to seek outside help and counseling if your child is struggling either as the cyberbullied or
as the cyberbully.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sex Addicts, Nazis, Mormons, and Dysfunction. . . or, What I Read On My Summer Vacation.

You might think that a summer structured intentionally for rest would be filled with reading that would do nothing but allow you to escape. Yes, I did read a couple of those books this summer. But when a friend asked me "What did you read this summer?" I was more excited about listing the books I read that really got me thinking about the human condition and life in God's world. After listening to myself enthusiastically spout off the rundown, I felt I had to add some disclaimers that would clarify why I was reading this combination of books on an interesting array of topics.

As we come to the end of the summer, I thought I would pass on four recommendations for your fall reading.  These are four books - old and new - that I have found to be both interesting and insightful. I've left a couple of them marked-up fairly well, and I'm sure that insights and quotes from each will make their way into my speaking this coming fall.

1. Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagouge, by Edwin H. Friedman. Okay. . . not exactly relaxed beach reading. . . I know. But I was long overdue in reading this "classic" that was published in 1985. It was first recommended to me back in the late 1980s by CPYU board member and close friend Mike Flavin. He was assigned the book in his doctoral program in family counseling and ministry. Mike's recommendation was so strong that I still remember his enthusiasm as he told me about this book. Still, I never picked it up until this summer, when it was recommended to me again as a tool in my quest to understand and work through some personal matters. Since its publication, this book has become required reading in the area of family systems thinking and theory. I regret not reading it sooner as it would had been very helpful to me both personally and professionally. Without going into the book's content, suffice it to say here that anyone would benefit from learning about how to "self-define" and "self-differentiate."

2. Ashamed No More: A Pastor's Journey Through Sex Addiction, by T.C. Ryan. This fall I'll be teaching a new seminar on teenagers and pornography that's a part of new Digital Kids Initiative at CPYU. I've focused much of my summer reading and study on this issue that I believe is one of great, great urgency. One of my concerns for the past few years is related to the timing and depth of pornography exposure and use among children and teens. They are finding and using it earlier and earlier in life. What they are finding and using is more and more extreme and horrifying. My concern is the fallout that will result as these children move into adulthood. What will this stuff do their future relationships, marriages, personal lives, etc.? I'm afraid that "sex addiction" will be off the charts. This new book from T.C. Ryan, a recovering sex addict himself, is not so much about sexual addiction as it is about addiction and the dynamics of addiction. I know that the title will capture the attention of those struggling with sexual addiction and those related to those struggling with sexual addiction. If that's not you, don't avoid this book. I will be recommending this book to all youth workers as there are tremendous insights to be gained that you will no doubt be able to draw from in your ministry to students, both now and in the future.

3. The Seduction of Eva Volk, by C.D. Baker. This novel would never be described as "feel good." This story of a young post World War I teenagers' coming of age in Germany as Nazism also comes to age was one that made sense for me to read after finishing Eric Metaxas's magnificant bio, Bonhoeffer. As a person of Germanic heritage, I've always been baffled by Hitler's ability to come to power in what was a civilized country with a high commitment to Christianity. Baker's historical novel offers some perspective. I think that discovering the "whys" and "hows" of Hitler's rise is a necessary step in understanding ourselves and our human nature. . . along with keeping us watchful to never allow this to happen again. My interest in these things also led me to plug into "The Great Courses" DVD course A History of Hitler's Empire, taught by Professor Thomas Childers of the University of Pennsylvania. Sure, it's six hours of Childers as a talking head, but the talking head speaks about stuff we need to hear.

4. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer. Years ago I read Krakauer's Into the Wild and Into Thin Air. I love his journalistic style. He's a great story-teller. This one is the story (and stories of) fundamentalist Mormonism. I've always found the Mormons fascinating and I thought it was time to know more. . . after all, this is an election year! The book was interesting and eye-opening. But lest we turn the last page and let out a sigh of thankful relief that this was about them and not us. . . well, we need to take a long and careful look at where all kinds of fundamentalism lead. Another good book!

What did you read this summer? Anything you'd recommend?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Cecilia Gimenez And Her Good Intentions. . . .

You've heard it said that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." I'm not sure that there's a connect between that familiar saying and the good intentions shown by 80-year-old Cecilia Gimenez, but I'm guessing that there are those zealots who would accuse the woman of behavior worthy of eternity in Hades. I'm not one of them. Instead, Gimenez and her good intentions have turned out to be a somewhat humorous story. . . at least for some.

Gimenez lives in Borja, Spain, where she attends the Santuario del Misericordia Roman Catholic Church. For over a century, a fresco of Jesus Christ crowned with thorns has graced the church's wall. Over time, moisture on the walls had caused the fresco to chip and flake. This is where I imagine Gimenez. . . most likely a woman who takes great pride in her faith and her church. . . decided to step up and do something about the decaying fresco. . . all from the kindness of her own heart. So, working from a decade-old photo of the fresco, she decided to begin the painstaking (or normally painstaking!) process of art restoration. . . . which she has since completed.

When people saw the "restored" fresco, it was assumed (quite legitimately, I might add!) that an act of vandalism had occurred. That's when a surprised Gimenez stepped up with surprise to tell people that she had restored the painting.

So here it is. . . before restoration and after restoration. What do you think?

I had two thoughts when I saw this story this morning. First, God bless Cecilia Gimenez. I really think she thought she was doing the right thing. Hopefully, however, her career as an art restorationist has come to an end. Second, I thought that this is just the kind of thing that pastors and youth workers are going to get some amazing mileage out of. There's humor. There's metaphor. There are endless illustrations to be had. So. . . go at it folks. I'm interested in hearing what you all think!

For now, I'm just going to continue staring at the "after" version. I know that the fresco includes the top and bottom of a scroll. But I keep looking at the bottom and wondering if Jesus is a) wearing a wrist watch, or b) holding a freshly basked pumpkin roll.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sitting By The Grave. . . .

On Sunday afternoon I drove home from my son and daughter-in-law's place after a short visit. I was enjoying listening to Robin Mark's latest worship CD, Fly. While heading east on 581 just before crossing the Susquehanna River to the Harrisburg side, something caught my eye to the right. I had never noticed the graveyard on previous trips. But the car and the two people in the graveyard caused me to look.

Next to the car stood a man who looked to be forty-something. He was leaning with his back on the car. His arms were crossed and he was looking down at a grave. It was obvious that the grave was fresh. The dirt was humped as if it had just been filled in. A huge pile of colorful flowers covered the dirt. Perhaps the funeral had been held the day before. As I drove past I looked back over my shoulder at the scene. I noticed a second person at the grave who had been blocked from my view by the car. It was a blond-haired woman. She was sitting cross-legged at the grave with her head cradled in her hands.

Even though I have no idea who these people were, what their story was, or who it was who had been recently buried in that grave, I knew I was looking at some deep grief. Had they just buried a parent? A child? A friend? I asked the Lord to bring comfort to these hurting people. Then, I reached for my radio and advanced the Robin Mark CD to track 11. . . a track I had replayed several times already during the day.

The words to Robin Mark's "You Said" effectively reflect the hope that we have in the midst of the struggles we encounter in our journey through life. The tune soars with hope as it comes to an end. I wondered if those two people I saw at the grave have that hope. I am grateful to God for the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ. Perhaps this song will minister to you as it has to me. . .

You Said

This world is broken, a ship with no anchor
Sailing through space always uncharted waters
Yet we seem to know where we want to go
But we don’t know why we’re here

Millions get lost on their own little journey
Some only stay for a few passing moments
And the only thing that we know for sure
Is some day our journey ends.

But You said You are
The resurrection and the life
And whoever believes in you shall never die.
And you said, that by Your word and power
Even though we die, we’ll live forevermore

And I believe, I believe, I believe in You
You are the way, You are the truth, You are the life everlasting
You are the light, You are the word, You are the Son of the Father

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What Voice Are You Listening To? . . .

Let me be a bit transparent here. While I'm a bit hesitant to open myself up, I know that my transparency will most likely reveal something that's not only a personal struggle for me, but a personal struggle for anyone who endeavors to go deep in their faith. I know I am not alone in this.

A principle that I've seen unfold in my own life is something that I call "the law of intensified spiritual opposition." Again, this is not something that's unique to any one of us. God's Word is full of examples of this reality in action. Church history proves it to be true as well. And then there's our own personal experience. The "law of intensified spiritual opposition" is pretty simple: the more we desire to grow in likeness and service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the more intensely the enemy of the glorious Kingdom of God amps up efforts to frustrate, accuse, wear down, and destroy us. If we fail to be aware of this reality - and even if we are aware of it - we can become frustrated, weary in doing well, and down-trodden. It's not a good place to be.

As I've had to deal with this reality in my own life over the last months, I've asked the Lord to walk me through it to a place of deep and life-giving hope. This morning, I once again resonated with Scotty Smith's heart-cries in his wonderful prayer book, Everyday Prayers. The best thing I can do is pass on the prayer in its entirety. May God bless you as you pray and ponder these words. . .

A Prayer About Hearing the Voice of the Holy Spirit

     "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children." Romans 8:15-16
     Gracious Father, on any given day, there are a number of voices contending for our attention. There are the voices of from the past, sometimes yammering loudly… sometimes just nickel-and-diming our peace away with the refrain “If people really knew who you are. You still don’t have a clue, do you? You haven’t changed one bit. Why would God ever love someone like you? Didn’t I tell you you’d never amount to much?”

     Then there are the voices of the present, often hijacked by our defeated enemy, Satan. His incessant scheme is to tempt, seduce, then accuse us—doing everything possible to rob us of our enjoyment of the gospel. Sometimes he shouts, more often he whispers, always he’s conniving and always he’s condemning.

     Then there’s the voices from the future, usually fueling our fears with suggestions like, “You’re not as sharp as you used to be, are you? You’ll probably be forgotten, won’t you? You’ll eventually end up alone, right? Why do you think God would let someone like you into heaven?”

     But then there’s the voice of the Holy Spirit…O, how we praise you for that One voice which transcends and trumps every other voice—the gossiper of the gospel… the herald of our healing… the bearer of beauty… the messenger of mercy… the singer of sanity… the cantor of Christ… God the Holy Spirit testifying with our spirits that we are your bought, belonging and beloved children. How we praise you for the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

     Abba, Father, by the Spirit of sonship. continue to free us from all of our slavish fears—past, present and future. May the Spirit speak so loudly, every dark voice is muted. May he speak so clearly, every deceiving lie is silenced. May he speak so convincingly, every paralyzing doubt is routed. So very Amen, we pray, in Jesus’ tender and triumphant name.