Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Angrier still

It has been another year, so I thought I should post my annual blog... no not really but this is the first time in a year that I have really needed to express myself to the masses... and only because I am sooo... you know what.

"What is the point," I asked my wife the other day, "of knowing all these Christians when none of them will actually do anything!"

Let me explain. I work at a youth centre in Henderson, we see hundreds of young people evey week. This week three youth came into our centre, one pregnant and sixteen, her 19 yr old partner and another female friend age 19 from Christchurch. They all live in a house with 5 other people and a woman they all call 'mum'. As it turns out mum is a bit crazy and was kicking them all out, no place to go and no-one they know to ask for help so they stumbled on us, they had two days to find a place.

We try to help them, they have two days to move.

They head home and 15 minutes later I get a phone call. Alex, the 19 year old girl from Christchurch has been served a tresspass notice and had to pack her gear and leave in ten minutes. She sits crying on the footpath. Screaming people in the back ground and she just cries on the footpath.

You would not believe the stories she told us when we picked her up from that footpath.

She has no money, knows no-one and has no place to go. No 'emergency' shelter will take her as she has not been through the correct proceedurs. #$%& ya procedures.

We pick her up and start to make calls. All the Christians we know and no-one can take her. No place for Alex. Claire one of our staff lives in abig house with another youth pastor (a hopeless baptist one, sorry Lord for calling one of your children hopeless, I know that is not true but it is how I feel) and she has 3 spare bedrooms in her house. We had to literally plead with her to let this girl stay just one night! Where is Christ in that youth pastors life, all the conversations about love, all the times she has EVER approached the story of the Good Samritan and it all means nothing, absolutely nothing!

The next day we rang and emailed all sorts of people... now I will be honest with you, taking this girl in would be no easy ride. My wife told me to bring her to our house and I reminded her that we only have one room and no bathroom... not the ideal situation, we are building another room for this purpose but council consents take some time.

Anyway... no Christian would offer help or support. We rung one well-known large pentecostal church and asked them if they had any help available, their answer "we only help people from our own church". What use is the Holy Spirit if that is your attitude... perhaps the pentecostal movement is a farse after all??? I don't know... when will people learn that Jesus has to be about the hurting and suffering... how much more plainly do they want it to be written in scripture?

All these Christians and it is useless. God must be way more frustrated than me... "I am sorry for the times I have been useless Lord". (Pray that with me).

And the big well-known pentecostal church has this huge vision of impacting more people for the Gospel. Bull #$%^.

Perhaps what makes me so angry is that I see so much of me in this post. It brings into stark reality my own uselessness in the face of so much pain and suffering. I think people have just seen so much of it they simply think "just another troubled teenager". "Yet another, and another". Well yes, there will be more, many more. But please help.

If you live in central Henderson, anywhere close at all, and you wouldn't mind having us call you and ask "Hey we have a person who has no-where to stay tonight, can you help". Please call us at Zeal (www.zeal.org.nz) and we will happily put you on a small list (so far of zero) of people we can call when this happens again. You can offer a place just for one night, or up to a week or whatever. Anything is helpful for us.

I have to go in my uselessness and do a useless first aid course... it is protocol. all day I have to do this course while I attempt to ignore the need of a nineteen year old lonely girl who has no place to go and stay tonight.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fun centred youth culture

Wow, it has been almost a year since I did my last blog, it wasn't a purposeful pause in blogging I just didn't have anything to write here for a while.

But here is a thought. I am marking some student essays at the moment, the students are required to talk to a couple of adolescents and get their perspective on spirituality and faith and the things that have informed their spiritual growth. The one thing that keeps coming up as a decider for adolescents is 'fun'. Whether or not something is fun seems to be a huge indicator in whether or not a young person chooses to take part, this is nothing new I know, we all do it! But, fun also seems to be a key indicator to choosing a faith commitment and a type of spirituality to follow, again, nothing new I know, we all cater to it in our youth ministries.

Here is the problem, I don't see fun as a part of the message of Jesus, I don't see fun as the core message of the Gospel, in fact, it would seem to me that a lot of the fun young people talk about is at the expense of others having enough of life's basic necessities and at the expense of any real relational connection wiht people outside of a young person's own mono-culture or group of friends... both of these seem to me to be at odds with the Gospel. Perhaps an argument could be made for fun being an aspect of 'fullness of life" which is a part of the Gospel message but my hunch would be that most adolescent and youth group 'fun' does not fit into Jesus' category of 'fullness of life'. (does someone want to blog a run-down of 'fullness of life'

Of course, the real problem is that we pamper to this fun-centred cultural expression of N.Z. youth in our Christian churches... "come along, it will be fun", is probably the most common expression I hear youth workers say when they are trying to convince young people to attend their fun-filled event! Who-ever said, "come along, you can help someone else", or "come along, you can learn more about the offensive Gospel" (I think that would have some attraction too).

So, how do we critique the fun-centred culture of our youth? Of course this is all tied into individualism and egocentrism (a current conversation with my students is around the impact of egocentrism in youth culture and adolescent spirituality) and our world is very self focused, somehow in Christian youth work and indeed in all kinds of youth work we need to critique this approach to life for adolescents, and please, please, please stop pampering to a self indulgent culture of "I have to have fun"!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

International Refugee Day

It was on Wed 20th. Mili and I went to a lecture at the city Museum and figure out these numbers...

20 million refugees world wide
9 countries taking refugees in any significant numbers
8 countries taking very small amounts of refugees
3rd is where N.Z. sits on the amount of refugees taken per year
750 is the amount we take per year
10,000 is the approx number per year taken by the 9 main countries
19 990 000 the number left in refugee camps and sitting on borders around the world! (is my math right?)
10 people at the lecture from all of Auckland (no-one seems to care)

The politician who came to talk to us started off by telling us how much of positive contribution refugees make to N.Z. both culturally and financially, they usually get jobs very quickly (contrary to popular belief) and their children go through our education system and are usually good students who apply themselves well and contribute well to society as doctors and lawyers and the like. (These aren't his exact words but represent what he was saying as best I remember it)

Of course I asked him... If they contribute so well why don't we take more?

His answer... There are financial issues... they are a drain on the system.

But, I said, you just told us they contribute to the country financially... surly you are being too short-term focused here?

I also asked what the cost of resettling 750 refugees per year is? The whole program that we currently have running (which according to the experts is among the best in the world) cost a few million dollars a year... (A tiny portion of the countries expenses)

And still millions of lives are wasted away.

The real reason, if you read between the lines of the conversation and the lectures is that there simply isn't any political will and there is no public pressure to bring about that political will.

I asked about international pressure from organisation such as the U.N., wheather they put any political pressure on able countries to take refugees... very little was the answer.

I see parrallels to history. Today we look at the idea of slavery an are discusted by the practice (often blind tothe fact that it still goes on in the form of a sex trade today). I would suggest that the refugee situation and the way brder controls are used to safe-guard the interests of the rich and marginalise or control the poor are equally as disgusting.

In a world of globalisation what is going to happen to international borders and the power plays they are a major part of? 200 years from now what will be the opinion of our descendants toward our lack of action regarding the international refugee problem in our world?

The numbers don't match up and few people know and few seem to care!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sharne (Part two)

If you haven't read part one I was faced with a rather unpleasant decision...

Of course I gave him a hug, and it wasn't a really nice hug for me, he turned it into a bear hug (he is not little) and I felt his skin peal away from my shirt as we parted... not real nice.

So his pants are on backwards and we are looking at each other and I said to him "so I guess you aren't coming tonight then?" (We had a policy at this group that no matter what you had done in between times you were still welcome to come along to the group). Sharne says to me "yeah, I'll come just give me a couple of minutes man".

I am thinking, what about the girl in the bedroom?

He goes off to the bedroom and comes back in a couple of minutes fully dressed with all items of clothing now correctly positioned. The girl is with him (about 16 years old at a guess) and he simply gives her four dollars and tells her the bus will be there in a few minutes!

I am both horrified and gob-smacked at this and I feebly try to have an unsuccesful conversation and all I wanted to do was to help her feel valued again, I am pretty sure I failed! Monumentally! I offered her a ride homw, which she refused and Sharne said, Nah, she wil be alright! And that was that.

Wth a pit in my stomach Sharne and I left, and the girl walked down the drive to the bus-stop. Sharne was worried because he had nothing to contribute to the shared feed we have, I said I had plenty.

The evening after that went as planned and just like usual. We played basketball and had a feed and hung out, there was about 15 of us and we just had a good time. Sharne and I had a couple of conversations, nothing deep but at least some acknowledgement from him that all was not well.

Toward the end of the evening we sat down to read some Scripture. That is what we do, we simply read a decent sized passage of Scripture together and leave it open for anyone to talk about it, either to the group or later to each other.

That night we read the 'lost stories' (Luke 15) Lost sheep, lost coin and lost son.

As I am reading the story of the lost Son, and I am reading about the Son's return to his family, to his father, I look at Sharne and his face simply drops. I had no idea that the story from Luke was hitting directly at Sharnes own life. Me, the bible guy, didn't even make the connection, but Sharne did, Sharne showed me the reality of that story. It was amazing to watch him hooked into Scripture as it spoke directly to the reality of his life.

The group's philoosophy of 'it doesn't matter what you have done between times, you are always welcome back' was at the heart of his experience. The hug I gave him was at the heart of his story. The women, the drugs, the drunkenness it was all there. The feed we had together or the banquet in the story! The experience for me was surreal, for the first time in my life as I read that passage I actually felt more like the father than the son!

Like I said at the beginning of the first part of this story, to the best of my knowledge Sharne has never made a faith commitment to following Jesus. However, he has connected with the Story of the grace of Jesus Christ in a menaingful way and has even experienced something of that grace through the group of guys who accepted him 'no matter what goes on between times'. How can we do more than that.

I remeber some time latter driving in my van reflecting on the story of Sharne and realising that he was still coming less and less to the group. I remember yelling to God at the top of my lungs while driving along Donbuck road "God!, I am doing my part when are you going to start doing yours" As I cried and prayed I repented also.

Today my prayer is...

God, you have done your amazing part, you are our Father, the ultimate Father. You continue to do your part and it is to your inceredible will that we submit ourselves as we constantly struggle and fail to work with young people. We delight with you in the responses to your grace and we cannot even begin to imagine how you hurt when people deny you. Lord, thankyou for a little taste of that denial, but thankyou also for shading me from the full force of pain that you must feel everytime someone denies your cross. We repent of our second-guessing of you Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Sharne (Part one)

Sharne was a young guy in my youth group for several years, he never made a commitment to follow Christ.

I ran a group where young people came along and we played basketball and had a meal and surfed and hung out and read the bible together. Sharne and his friends were largely marginalised by society and didn't really have too many clues about social interaction. As an example, after an evening where we talked about the concept of love and Christ one of Sharne's friends asked me "Do you really expect me to believe that someone loves me when every person in my family, and in most of my life (except here), is either a drug addict or alcoholic and is either an abuser or is being abused... and by the way I had sex for the first time when I was ten after finding my Dad's porno and deciding to try it with a girl who was there". The life experience of these guys is clearly both lacking and simultaneously excelled far beyond what is normal for a teenager.

Sharne was about 13 when he began to come along. I would pick him up each week, hang out with him and do all the things we are supposed to do as youth workers. We actually became good friends, I remember asking Sharne what he thinks about God and his reply was that he likes God but he likes his own life better.

When Sharne hit 16 he stopped coming along because he had, yet another, door to door sales job. He had been through a few of these. He had to work instead of being with us but I didn't think the job would last long so each week I would call in to see if Sharne was there... for a couple of months he wasn't.

Finally one Thursday evening I caled in and the door was open but no-one was around. I walked into the kitchen and called his name "Sharne, Sharne, you in here?"

Sharne calls back from the bedroom and comes running out into the kitchen pulling his pants on backwards! (So when I say he was running it was more of that hobbling hop that you do when you are trying to put on pants and move fast at the same time). He had no other clothes on and he stank of alcohol. His eyes clearly told me he was stoned and he was covered in persperation. As I take all this in I hear a female voice call from the bedroom "Sharne, who is it?"

It dawnes on me that Sharne has been having a 'party for two' in his bedroom and that sweat on his body is the persperation of intercourse. Now I refocus on Sharne, who has struggled to zip his fly behind himself and is standing, smiling (he has a massive grin kinda smile), with his arms wide open and he's saying "Dave man, it is so good to see you, I haven't seen you in ages, give me a hug!" His enthusiasim was obvious and he really wanted a hug.

I was faced with a choice... I was, to say the least... tense, I mean, to give a hug to a half naked 16 year old who is drunk, stoned and sweaty from sex and wearing his pants backward is not the kind of thing you do every day.

But what was my other option? To say no, hurt his feelings and potentially our relationship, and then have to justify myself and in the meantime probably condemn him and his behavior.

I didn't like either option!

Hug, or not to hug, that is the question.

His arms are open...

The next post will tell you what I did do and the surprising thing that hapened later that evening because of my response. In the meantime, ponder what you would have done.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Road rage and blatant racial discrimination

It has been a while but I have something to think about... When are New Zealanders going to realise that we have a responsibility toward immigrants arriving into this nation?

I ask this question because of some blatant racial discrimination I saw last week. I was driving out of the driveway of my work turning right at the traffic lights. As I sat at the intersection I saw a short middle-aged white man in a large 4 wheel drive vehicle leaning across his passanger seat yelling obsenities and racial slurs out his window at another driver. Because of the position of his vehicle and other vehicles I could not see the recipient of the monologue. It was loud, it was long and it was passionate! I cringed.

The lights went green for me and I slowly pulled out as I continued to watch the drama unfold. As the recipient came into sight I was not at all surprised to see an Asian man in the driver's seat of a mid-sized sedan. He had one of those very round Asian faces like my maths teacher used to have, he reminded me of Mr Kim (maths teacher Waitara High School 1990's) a lot, one of those faces that when the person laughs the whole face lights up and shines, I remember it so well because Mr Kim rarely laughed but when he did it was one of the funniest most enchanting things I ever saw, I loved it! So the recipient of the abuse in the mid-sized sedan had one of those faces, it wasn't laughing. The look was a mixture of fear "Is this red-necked four-wheel-drive driving kiwi bully going to get out of his wagon?" and wonder "surly one little driving mistake didn't envoke the necessity for this kind of rage". (My expectations of his thoughts).

Why, why should any person have to undergo such racial discrimination. So we sterotype foreigners as bad drivers, ask any
Aussy they will tell you kiwis are the worst drivers. So many of our immigrants have never driven in conditions like ours. That is beside the point! It wasn't just a driving error that envoked such a response, it was much more than that! Clearly it was an underlying racist and discriminatory word view. Perhaps even a threatened ego?

Why do Kiwis respond so negatively to other cultures? And I know not all Kiwis respond in such a way but I also know this is not an isolated incident, ask you local foreign shop assistant or petrol station attendent. I often wonder about our immigration policies and other such things, do we have systems for dealing with such issues? While you are talking to an Indian or Asian behind the till ask them as well what they are qualified to do, you will see the lack of our systems.

I also wonder about the theological rightness and wrongness of things such as boarder controls and passports. I know the necessity of such things but immigration policies that only allow the wealthy in and perhaps de-humanise other cultures/individuals, refugee policies which are tightly controlled, the ability to reject those on the fringes of society, the ability to send back those who don't fit in our society through temporary residency etc etc, where does the church sit on these issues? What does it mean for us to interact with the marginalised in our society, usually those who are marginalised by national policy and racial discrimination.

Perhaps, if the church wanted a context within which to be Christ to the marginalised we would all be setting up immigrant centres offering help and assistance with driving, language jobs etc for any and all. Perhaps this is where the growing edge of church ministry should sit.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Zacheus' house as the House of the Lord: Fringe dwelling

I love the story of Zacheus, the short guy up a tree (Luke 19). Firstly it gives short people a part to play in the Jesus movies. But also because I think it reveals to us just how bad we are missing Jesus' idea of what it was to be him. We are all trying to be him but missing the point so badly... just as we miss the point of this passage so badly. I always hear this passage talked about with regard to how keen Zacheus was to be in the presence of Jesus, or how he didn't want to miss Jesus passing by etc etc. But think about, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to be executed... no small point. There is a crowd of people around him and he takes the very centre of his ministry to a person on the edge of society... one of those we label as "on the fringes". Often we think about encouraging these people into our churches with a variety of programs etc, or better, I think, we think about going to them, however this is all too often with the intent of bringing them into our ministry program (probably the one set up to attract people in). I think Jesus goes further. He takes the very centre of his ministry into Zacheus' world. In fact, Zacheus' house, for all intensive purposes becomes the house of the Lord for a time.

Then at the end of this passage we get the phrase "the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost".

I think we miss the seek side of the equation. We have, for the most part just put programs out there for the lost to seek us (which may happen from time to time). What does it look like for us to make the lost the very centre of our ministry? To dwell there (metaphorically or actually).

Ah the fringes of society... it is such an interesting discussion that rages on about how the church meets with the finges of society... it is so hard when for so long we have considered ourselves the centre of society (perhaps rightly so for a time, but I am not convinced that it was a good thing for us). Now we are so fooled by our history that many Christians still consider Christianity as the centre of society but I think if we do then we may be fooling ourselves. It is this fooling of ourselves that makes it so hard for us to reach the fringes! But don't worry, don't stress, it will only take a few more years until we are so marginalised by our own inability to truly connect with the real influencers of society that we will suddenly realize we are the fringes. Perhaps when we get out there then we may be able to connect with those around us... our fellow fringe dwellers, Zacheus and the sinful woman and blind Bartemaus and the heamoraging woman and the Samaritan woman and the demon possesed man and all their friends! (Including the homeless guy on "Bruce Almighty", see my earlier post).

We are so worried about the marginalisation of Christianity... perhaps it is not such a bad thing after all?