Thinking Out Loud

January 11, 2019

When Should Christian Bookstores Pull Authors from Shelves and Online Listings?

Some of you know that when I’m not writing this blog and editing Christianity 201; when I’m not leading or assisting in weekend worship at a local church; when I’m not occasionally speaking at a church; during the rest of the time I am making decisions for our local Christian bookstore.

One of the hardest decisions I made in 2018 was to remove books by Bill Hybels from our shelves. It isn’t that those books don’t contain much truth and that many of them have been personally beneficial to me. It was just that — with shelf space at a premium in our small town store — we didn’t need the distraction.

I didn’t just make the decision, but personally removed the books, title by title, and put them in a box where they remain today. There were more than a dozen titles. Bill was a big influence on me and I have to say doing this really, really hurt, but as long as there were new ongoing developments in the story, I felt we needed to do this.

Christian bookstores have pulled product many times in the past. I got into this business through the Christian music industry first as a broadcaster and then as a performer and later as a vendor of records and cassettes. I once sat in a restaurant in Newport Beach, California and was interviewed for the job of assistant editor of Contemporary Christian Music magazine. My friends called me a ‘walking encyclopedia’ on CCM, and I given about seven seconds of audio, could name just about any song and artist, including that obscure cut at the end of side two.

When Amy Grant and Sandy Patti went through divorce, many stores pulled product. Oddly enough, those divorces are still in their past, but their music is back on the shelves. Divorce became more widely accepted among Evangelicals. I would argue that the whole LGBT thing in the church is where divorce was a couple of generations back. And I expect that, as in the case of Ray Boltz or Jennifer Knapp, stores still actively pull product when an artist comes out.

Why all this today? Because I’m staring at the shelves under “M” for James MacDonald. Christian radio stations are rapidly dropping his program (see Wednesday’s column) and James is trying to control the situation by announcing the shutdown of Walk in the Word’s broadcast division. There are calls for him to resign. Unlike those who were divorced, or Hybels’ flirtatiousness, the issue with MacDonald seems to be money and the control of money. It’s definitely his Achilles Heel.

Once again, those books contain much truth. James MacDonald is a great communicator and his writing includes a constant, unabashed call to repentance. He has served many people well in that area of his life. But at this point, I wonder if those books are also going to prove to be a distraction.

This isn’t about judgment. It’s about a shortage of shelf space, and a host of new, upcoming, younger authors who deserve to be heard. Some of those will prove themselves as the leading Christian voices to their generation. The cream rises to the top. By their fruit they will be known. Some will disappear off the scene within five years. Again, it’s not about judgment.

It’s also too easy for stores just to keep ordering key names; somewhat akin to living in a county — as I do — where every time there’s an election, people simply vote for the incumbents. So Max Lucado, Tim Keller, Mark Batterson, Lee Strobel, Stormie Omartian, John Bevere, Joyce Meyer, Neil Anderson, etc.; are always assured their latest title will get picked up at the local store level.

And honestly, if the sales reps came around with new titles by Hybels and MacDonald there are store owners who simply aren’t investing time keeping up online and would simply order those titles unwittingly.

The best analogy I ever heard was when a local pastor called my wife and I “gatekeepers.” I never thought of our role that way, but it’s a responsibility that needs to be taken very seriously. Conversely, pastors need to guard who they quote in sermons. They can easily grant authority and credibility to an author whose life doesn’t line up with their teachings.

Chances are, at the end of today, James MacDonald will still be on our shelves, but we’ll monitor the situation closely before making a knee-jerk reaction. Prayer helps as well!

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February 4, 2017

A Tale of Two Divorces

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:50 am

Because they were announced within days of each other, comparisons will be made. When posting both stories on the link list here, I was careful not to mention names. Simply

Despite my concerns, each of those was the most-clicked thing on the lists they appeared on in terms of the first day the list was published. I don’t know what that says about our appetite for such stories and sometimes I really do wrestle with linking to them at all.

Pete Wilson is a four-time Thomas Nelson author and was the founding pastor of Cross Point in Nashville where he served for 14 years. I was following his blog long before I started this one and his wife and three children seemed like family. He chose not to make any comments beyond the one linked above.

Barnabas Piper is employed by LifeWay, is an author and is one of the threesome on the Happy Rant Podcast. He chose to be much more vocal about his marriage. In addition to the article linked above which appeared at The Blazing Center blog, he was interviewed for about a half hour on Episode #248 of The Bad Christian Podcast and was probably much more focused and forthright than with anything I’ve heard on Happy Rant.

But Piper is also the son of a prominent Christian pastor and writer, one who is almost worshiped* among those of a certain tribe. So his announcement was subject to much more scrutiny, as demonstrated at this lengthy article at The Wartburg Watch, which as I’m typing this on Friday night is closing in on 550 comments. (Including one from myself, seizing on another comment about another Piper, Abraham, asking about him and unfortunately learning he is apparently living another life. This in term brought the response, “…what I’d expect from someone who grew up in a Christian bubble. freedom gone a bit berserk now.”)

There was also a more theological consideration of the podcast interview at DivorceMinister.com (his second on this actually, the first one containing the sentence, “Divorce has come to evangelical ‘royalty’“) and it was there I learned that there was a second post at Wartburg, this one in direct response to the podcast interview and attracting another 420 comments. It is here that I was a reminded of this aspect to the podcast:

He believes that Pete Wilson, as a church leader, should have told his church that he was resigning and that he had serious marriage problems since he is accountable to his church. Piper claims that the same rule does not apply to him because he is not a pastor and does not intend to work in a church…

…When one writes books, blogs, speaks at conferences, or does a podcast, one is teaching others in some fashion. I know people love to put things into the context of the local church with roles defined within the church. I take a far broader view of that verse. [reference to James 3:1]

I’ve heard it said that much of the work of The (Capital C) Church is undermined through the temptations and distractions which undermine the marriages of Christian leaders. I certainly believe that to be true. I thought of continuing this exposition into successive paragraphs but decided that others are covering this sufficiently and biblically, and the links are provided if you want to pursue this further.


Sidebar: Why we removed the Happy Rant Podcast from our blogroll.

This decision was made prior to more recent developments though it took several days to get around to it. My wife and I both felt that there was something about the whole tenor of the program which simply tended to skew negative, mean-spirited and condescending. The hosts seem to have a great sense of self-importance about things which are, for lack of a better comparison, wood, hay and stubble. I’ll continue to monitor it personally and if I see them working a particular topic I might click through and fast forward to that discussion, but I could no longer endorse the podcast by having it listed here.


*The use of the word “almost” was rather charitable on my part. In my early days of

December 15, 2015

Fear of Abandonment

This month’s short story is a true story. Names have been changed.

Grant wasn’t exactly a friend from church and I was told that he and his mom attended somewhat sporadically. I knew him more by reputation than by sight, though we were approximately the same age.

Linda, his mom was in the process of getting a divorce. I think I saw Grant’s dad once ever, and there was also an older brother who wasn’t living at home, which meant that functionally, Grant was an only child.

Short Stories 2Divorce was rather rare in that church at that time. I don’t know if Linda was the only one, but she was the only one I remember. Looking back, I’d like to hope that some people in the church reached out to her, but this was a long time ago and those divorced were treated like lepers.

We reached out to her. Once, anyway. The family situation necessitated going to a downtown lawyer’s office to sign some papers. Lawyers didn’t make house calls back then. They still don’t. It was summertime. No school. So my mother suggested to Linda that she drop Grant off at our house and “the boys could play together.”

I have no idea what that meant. I have a rather vague memory of getting some fresh air in the backyard, and I’m sure that television watching was part of the afternoon.

There were no cell phones back then. It seems strange typing that, but it’s an essential part of the dynamic of the story that it’s easy to overlook today. Linda was overdue to return and suppertime was fast approaching. Linda’s lawyer may have run late. Perhaps traffic was bad. It’s possible she went somewhere after signing the papers to have a good cry. Or even a stiff drink.

Either way, Grant started to get concerned. That quickly changed to worry. Worry led to a full out panic attack. Shortness of breath. Tears.

It wasn’t that Grant was worried, the way you worry about someone who is only a fifteen minute drive away and is now an hour late. It was a different thing, the concern they say that dogs get when you leave them at home: A belief that the person is never coming back.

Grant was freaking out. My mom — and I think my Dad who was home from work by this point — were trying to protect me from viewing the full impact of Grant’s freak-out. I never once had to deal with that, but for the one time I returned to an empty house and my imagination took over with a mix of car accident and rapture scenarios.

When his mom finally did show up, Grant was a mess.

Linda thanked my mom for letting him stay there, and my mom assured him that the afternoon had not at all been what she witnessed upon her return.

I had little contact with Grant after that, and really have no idea where their story took them. I think Linda distanced herself from the church beyond that point; it just wasn’t a good environment for a lone divorced person; especially with all those sit-com-ready perfect families with 2.4 kids following a faith with sacred texts that say things like, “God hates divorce.”

…So why does this story come back to me all these years later? I think that for kids in splintered or fractured families, the fear of abandonment is very real. They want to believe that everything will always be as everything has always been, and yet there is this underlying, nagging suggestion that perhaps someone isn’t coming back.

And if they’re not coming back at Christmas, or after Christmas, that just makes it all so much worse. There is a great vulnerability there that kids in intact families can’t imagine.

August 16, 2015

The Divorce Effect – Part Three

Jeff-SnowThis is the third and final of three parts, click to read part one which dealt with the effects of divorce. Part two was a focus on the theology of the topic, and today we look at practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce.

divorce effect3Jeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in Canada, both in the context of a local church and a parachurch organization. The three articles are taken from his masters thesis on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth.


by Jeff Snow

In the first of our articles on the effects of divorce on teens, we explored the findings of many studies that pointed to the fact that divorce is not a benign event in the lives of teenagers. It should not be seen as a “cold” that knocks a young person for a loop for a time but which they eventually get over. Rather, it should be seen as a chronic illness, with many effects that will be flare up at various stages in life. These effects do not have to define the young person or doom them to a difficult life, but they must be understood and managed, like any chronic condition.

In our second article, we focused on some less tangible effects that are characterized by a sense of loss. Teens of divorce deal with a sense of loss of community, loss of identity, loss of a positive view of God as Father, loss of a family structure within which to safely develop morals and values. These multiplied losses lead to an anxiety which negatively impacts a young person’s life. We ended by suggesting that God has provided the church as a reflection of divine community that can come alongside teens and help them deal with loss and anxiety.

The effects of divorce are far-reaching, and with almost half of the students in an average student ministry dealing with those effects, it is important for youth pastors and leaders to be aware of the particular needs of these students and develop characteristics within their youth ministry that will minister to these needs.

Community

Every youth pastor works to build strong bonds of unity within their youth group, unity that goes beyond simple friendship. A strong youth ministry will have a sense of being united in the Spirit (Eph. 4:3), of being a safe community where students are drawn together by God’s love and presence as well as by their natural kinship. While this atmosphere is important for every teen, it is that much more important for teens of divorce.

youthminstryDouglas Adams, in his book Children, Divorce, and the Church, for teens of divorce, “what they lack in life is a caring community around them. They need help in dealing with past and present pain in their lives. Most need restoration of their self-esteem. The local church is one place where young people from divorced families should be able to find a supportive, loving community.”

What I am advocating as part of ministry to teens of divorce in this area is not so much a distinct program of ministry to them. In fact, very little of what we will discuss points to a specific program that would single out teens of divorce from the group. Rather what is needed is a heightened focus on the importance of nurturing a supportive community within one’s youth ministry, with the equally heightened awareness of the importance of that supportive community in the life of a teen of parental divorce.

The good news is that there already exists in many churches at least the beginnings of this community in the youth groups and youth Sunday school classes that are in place. The goal of the youth pastor is to work to intentionally foster community within these already existing structures so that teens of divorce can know they are not alone and begin to find a community that will help replace what has been lost in the dissolution of their family community.

Andrew Root, in his book The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as The Loss of Being, proposes five practices that should be part of any church community that ministers to teens of divorce. The first is accompaniment. This simply means that peers and adult leaders in the church are willing to walk alongside teens through their journey through divorce, regardless of how long it takes, or how painful and messy it can become.

The second practice is the provision of sanctuary. A youth ministry needs to be a place where a teen suffocating in the throes of familial upheaval can simply come and breathe. It needs to be a place where they know they belong, and where they know they are safe.

The third practice of community is convening. The youth ministry will provide contexts for people, youth and adult leaders, to get together, form community and build relationship. Practically speaking, this means the youth pastor must avoid the temptation to over-program and leave youth as mere spectators. Give the teens and adult leaders the opportunity to hang out together and see what kind of community the Holy Spirit develops.

middle school youth ministryFourth is connecting. It is important for teens of divorce who have lost so much adult influence in their lives to make meaningful connections with the adult leaders of the youth ministry. This is where the youth pastor must train and surround herself with adults who love Jesus and love teens, and who are willing to make connections with teens when the community gathers.

Root contends that a big part of the youth pastor’s job is to “convene spaces for intergenerational conversations to occur.” This is why, though I firmly believe that youth need a weekly gathering to call their own, I am not a believer in a parallel youth church that meets on Sunday mornings, or that in any other way takes the youth away from opportunities to convene and connect with Christians from other generations. Teens of divorce, in particular, need the influence of and connection with older, more mature believers.

A final practice in building a community that will minister to teens of divorce if that of blessing. A teen of divorce needs to know that they are wanted and accepted by the church and youth group. They need to feel that they belong, and that the community is glad that they are there.

Ministry people

Besides clergy, there are four types of people in a youth ministry that can be of benefit to teens of divorce. The first is their peers. Teens, especially teens of divorce themselves, need to be encouraged to reach out to each other to provide support.

A second group can be termed an “adult friend”. This is someone who is willing to welcome a teen of divorce into their life and spend time with them, both in the context of the church and youth group, and beyond. The home life of a teen of divorce can be difficult. It may not feel like home anymore. Families within the church can develop a relationship with a teen where their home can become a refuge where the teen can be invited to help them to get away from it all for a while.

The third group is the adult role model. This includes spiritual modelling, giving the teen of divorce someone to guide them through their development of godly morals and values. Though teaching in a youth ministry is essential and important, teens will often learn more from observing how Christianity works in the real life of a real person.

Modelling for teens of divorce is also very important in the area of marriage and relationships. In my ministry, I have two young couples who have dated, become engaged, and are now married with small children, all while serving as leaders in the youth ministry. Their example is invaluable in terms of modelling God’s plan for relationships, dating and marriage. Teens of divorce need to know that what they have seen in their families is not the only way to live. Providing them with role models who demonstrate healthy relationships is very important.

discipleshipA final category of adult-teen ministry would be a mentor. This is a more intentional and intensive coming alongside of a teen by one adult who is willing to walk with them through the divorce years. Douglas Adams describes a mentor as someone who “took the time and, in some cases, made the sacrifice to help these children of divorce see a better tomorrow.” Teens of divorce need to see hope that things can be different.

These relationships are very important in ministry to teens of divorce, yet in today’s world, it must be acknowledged that this type of relational ministry is becoming increasingly difficult. Some churches and youth ministries simply don’t do this kind of ministry anymore because of the potential risks. Others have put good policies in place to make it work. I believe churches must do all they can to do formulate structures that will allow for safe ministry between adults and teens, especially teens of divorce, who need an adult influence in their lives. Teens will be looking for that support and influence regardless of what we do, and if we don’t provide safe people to be part of their lives, they will find that support and influence in the very people that our policies are trying to protect them from.

These relationships between adult leaders and teens of divorce must not be forced or assigned. They must happen naturally. This is where the youth pastor can use discernment and the context of “convening” events to observe the connections between particular youth and adult leaders, and gently nudge them together.

Teaching

Teaching is an essential part of any youth ministry. For teens of divorce, it would be important to focus some teaching on issues of identity. Divorce strikes at the heart of a teen’s identity, exacerbating low self-worth and complicating the already difficult search for who they are. In community and through teaching, youth ministries can help teens re-discover their real selves, help them see the image of God in themselves, and come to know that they are worthy of love, both from their fellow humans and from God. A series such as “Who I am in Christ?” can help teens of divorce begin to define themselves less and less by the divorce, and more by their relationship with Christ.

ymin mentoringAnother important area of teaching is in basic morals and values, helping teens distinguish between right and wrong. We have said that teens of divorce are left to forge their own values independent of their parents. This provides a great opportunity for ministry. I have found that teens of divorce are much more spiritually inquisitive than many teens who have grown up in the church in intact families. We have the opportunity to answer their questions and teach them God’s direction for their lives.

A third area of teaching is in dating and preparation for marriage. This is a standard topic in the youth pastor’s tool kit, but it is all the more important for teens of divorce, who are more sexually active as teens and get divorced more as adults than teens from intact families. The “sleeper effect” of divorce shows itself when teens and young adults begin to develop their own romantic relationships. Youth ministries can provide teaching as early as mid-adolescence that will help teens of divorce prepare for healthy relationships.

A final area of teaching is focusing on the nature of God, helping to correct the misconceptions of God teens of divorce develop because of their experiences. We need to teach them that God is a confidant they can talk to about their pain; that He is a source of stability and a comforter; that He is a true Father who is sovereign and has all things under control, even when it seems like all is falling apart. The teen of divorce needs to hear that they are safely in the palm of God’s hand, that He loves them and protects them.

Spirituality

How can youth ministries speak specifically to the spiritual lives of teens of divorce? We said last time that many teens of divorce, while losing interest in organized religion, still have deep spiritual interest. They define themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” This has two positive implications for youth ministry. First, the less formal, less “churchy” nature of most youth ministry can be attractive to teens of divorce in particular. Secondly, we recognize that teens of divorce have not given up on their spiritual journey. They are full of questions. They want to connect with God. They may not like the church, but they are willing to pursue knowledge of God and Jesus. Youth pastors need to not be turned off by their disinterest in the organized church, but rather encourage and nurture the deep spiritual hunger that they have.

Divorce Effect Part threeWe pointed out one study last time that found that divorce often drives committed teens away from the church in anger and disillusionment, while drawing fringe youth closer to God and the church as a means of coping. The youth pastor needs to be aware of these possible reactions. Youth leaders must be OK with the questions and anger and even rejection these committed students may display towards God and their parents, and gently walk beside them on their journey away from a faith that relied on their parents, and towards a faith that will hopefully be stronger and their own. Youth pastors also need to pay attention to the students on the fringes of the youth group whose experience of divorce will heighten their desire to find a coping mechanism in faith in God, and come alongside them in their walk towards God.

In both cases, youth leaders need to realize that the window of opportunity for ministry may be small as deepening family conflict and parental moves may take the teen out of the group.

Support groups

We haven’t discussed support groups much yet. They can be an important part of ministry to teens of divorce as they find healing through shared experience. But one must be careful that such a group does not label or isolate the teen from the rest of the group. The church must also caution against any mindset that a 12 week course will solve all the teens’ problems and that the presence of the group does not discourage others from getting involved. A support group must be seen as part of an overall ministry to teens of divorce, not as an end in itself.

One support group curriculum for teens that seems effective is “Spectrum”, produced by an organization called Rainbows. The curriculum has a faith-based component for use in churches, and one for use in schools if a youth ministry finds itself with an open door to reach into the school system.

——–

In my research, I have noticed one common theme that arises again and again as an important element in ministry to teens of divorce: The importance of listening to them. This may seem rather simplistic, but it is something that is essential and astonishingly neglected and overlooked.

The most disturbing statistic I found in my research pertaining to ministry to teens of divorce was found in Elizabeth Marquardt’s book, Between Two Worlds. She writes, “of those young adults who were regularly attending a church or synagogue at the time of their parents’ divorce, two-thirds say that no one – neither from the clergy nor from the congregation – reached out to them during that critical time in their lives, while only one-quarter remember either a member of the clergy or a person from the congregation doing so.”

Let that sink in. This is not a survey of people outside the church, nor is it referring to teens of divorce where the divorce happened to them as a child. For teens who are regularly in the church and who are in the midst of experiencing a divorce, 66% of them said no one paid any attention to them. This is a sobering statistic for youth pastors and the church as a whole. The church needs to be aware of the teens involved in a divorce and needs to find ways to reach out to them. And the simplest way to begin to do that is to listen to them, because having someone who will listen is at the core what these teens are missing. No one asked them if they wanted to live through a divorce. Most of the decisions made in the divorce are made without consulting them, yet they severely impact their lives.

Those involved in youth ministry have the opportunity to create a safe place for teens to talk about their experiences, and assure them that they will be listened to. When that is done, they are valued and deemed important. They are shown their worth in God’s eyes.

The key to awareness of the needs of teens of divorce, and as a result the key to ministry to them, is quite simply to listen to them, not just for a short time, but over the long haul, for divorce is a long and difficult journey for a teen. As youth ministers listen and gain knowledge of the pain and needs of teens of divorce, they will be more equipped to meet those needs in their ministries, and to share with the broader church community what can be done, and what needs to be done, in order to help these adolescents grow into the person God created them to be.

 


If you’ve found this series helpful, and would like to send Jeff a message off the blog, use the contact form on this page and we will pass it on for you.

August 15, 2015

The Divorce Effect – Part Two

Jeff-Snow First, if you haven’t already, click to read part one of this series. This is the second of three parts; part one dealt with the effects of divorce. Today we will focus on the theology of the topic, and part three will look at practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce.

divorce effect2Jeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in southern Ontario, Canada, both in a local church and parachurch context. For his Masters thesis, he wrote on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth.


by Jeff Snow

In our last article, we looked at the effects of divorce on teens as spelled out by researchers who have studied the subject. An overarching theme is the sense of loss that teenagers feel in various ways as the result of parental divorce. There are a few ways that those wanting to help teens affected by divorce can help them deal with these losses. We can work to replace the social capital they have lost, giving them the physical resources and support they need to heal and thrive. We can give them psychological support by way of helping them think properly about the divorce and their place in the situation.

Both of these are good and necessary. But divorce brings about more than an economic, intellectual, or psychological loss. Divorce brings with it a sense of loss that strikes much deeper into the soul of a teenager and impacts his life in different ways for years to come. These spiritual and existential losses are important to understand, for they lie at the root of the painful effects of divorce experienced by teens. As those involved in Christian ministry to youth, we are uniquely positioned to speak to these issues and minister to this less tangible sense of loss.

Divorce brings to a teen a loss of their sense of community. The most basic form of community is the family. Divorce pulls children out of that most basic form of community and by doing so, it strikes at the very nature of how God created us to live.

Marriage ripped apartGod Himself, by His very nature, lives in community, a community of mutual love among the three persons of the Trinity. Humans, created in the image of God, are created to live in community. Living in relationship is essential to our humanity.

Genesis 1:27 and 2:23 tell us that both man and woman and their one flesh union reflect the image of God. The early church father John Chrysostom expanded this idea to include children. In his view, “The child is a bridge connecting mother to father, so the three become one flesh.”

Divorce destroys this “one flesh” community of parents and children. Divorce does damage to the image of God as reflected in marriage. Though a teenager may yet find community within which to live, and still within his own being reflect the image of God, he is nonetheless impacted greatly by this loss of community, the loss of love, and the loss of the active model of the image of God in his life represented by his parents.

This loss of community strikes at the very core of the teen’s sense of self, his sense of being. Andrew Root, in his deep yet excellent book The Children of Divorce: The Loss of family as the Loss of Being, writes, “When that community (of mother and father) is destroyed, it is a threat to the child’s being. Divorce, therefore, should be seen as not just the split of a social unit, but the break of the community in which the child’s identity rests.” Root maintains that the effects of divorce cannot be limited to social and psychological factors. The root of the loss inherent in divorce is the loss of being and the subsequent anxiety resulting from that loss.

Sad TeenRoot asks the question, “Can a person be at all, now that those who are responsible in their union for creating that person are no longer together?” He goes on to say that “there is no community more primary than that of mother and father, than those responsible for my being. When their community is not, my being is shaken.”

Divorce brings into question in the mind of the teen his very identity. If existence is found in relationship, then the removal of the key relational community in the life of a teen will impact their identity. The refuge and protection that family is meant to provide is pulled out from under the teen, and the safe harbour in which they can discover who they are no longer exists. They are left to figure out their identity on their own, caught between the two worlds which their parents are creating for themselves rather than for their children.

Ministry to teens of divorce will focus not only on social and psychological needs, but will zero in on issues surrounding identity, who they are in Christ, and their relationship with God as a Father.

A healthy view of God as Father is another area of loss among many teens of divorce. The idea of God being a father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5) is not a comforting thought if God is going to be like their father. The idea of God as “Abba” and of the teen seeing herself as Abba’s child (Romans 8:14-16) is somewhat of a foreign concept. Yet coming to grips with these concepts and this understanding of God is important in order for the teen to be able to rediscover their identity and realize who they are as children of God. Our job as ministers to youth is to come alongside teens on this journey of rediscovering who they are in Christ and as beloved children of God. For as we noted last time, divorce leaves teens embarking on these journeys of self-discovery primarily alone.

One of the key roles of the parents within the family is the transmission of values and beliefs to the next generation. This was clearly spelled out in Hebrew law:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

In an intact family, a community exists where the image of God, where the admonition to love God, where the instruction to follow His commandments, can be taught and modeled through the everyday routine of life. In divorce, that community is fractured. That place of refuge where children can have inculcated upon them the values and beliefs that will point them to a relational experience with God has disappeared. Their view of the image of God, their impression of God as Father, becomes deeply marred.

Instead of embarking on this journey under the watchful tutelage of their parents, children of divorce must create their value systems on their own, while living within the dichotomy of the often conflicting value systems being created by divorcing parents, putting teens in a position they were never meant to fulfill.

In divorce, the line of ancestral obligation is broken, and the teen is left to be what Elizabeth Marquardt calls a “moral forger” who has “to grow up quickly … trying to make sense of adult concepts and choices with the tools of a child.” The teen is left to figure out his belief system and to figure out exactly who God is, what He desires of him, and why that matters, entirely on his own.

search for identityIt is the cumulative effect of these losses which often fly under the radar that creates the anxiety in teens of divorce that breeds many of the issues and behaviours we discussed in our last article. All young people wrestle with the existential questions of “Who am I?” “Where do I belong?” “Is there a God and can He be trusted as a Father?” But in the lives of teens of divorce, this search for identity and security is heightened as they pursue these questions alone, without the community of support that God created for them to have.

These losses breed anxiety in the lives of teens. Anxiety is different from fear. Perhaps that’s why we buy into the “kids are resilient” idea and assume teens will survive divorce relatively unscathed. Most teens of divorce are relatively free from fear. They are, for the most part, physically and economically safe. But that doesn’t mean they are free from an anxiety rooted in a loss of a sense of being and security that permeates their lives and exhibits itself in a myriad of issues.

It is this sense of anxiety that God the Father desires to alleviate as the teen of divorce grows in relationship with and understanding of Abba Father, and with the community He provides for the teen, namely the church. As the reflection of divine community, the church can come alongside the teen of divorce, providing him with a community in which to belong, with people who can remind him who he is in Christ and how the image of God is still evident in him. The church can provide a sanctuary where he can safely formulate a value system that corresponds to what God has created him to be. The church can provide a place where the anxiety caused by dealing with the many losses inherent in divorce can be borne by others in the community, and can be alleviated by bringing the teen in to a clear and healthy relationship with God the Father.

In our third and final installment, we will look at practical ways the church can be a divine community for teens affected by divorce.

to be continued…

August 14, 2015

The Divorce Effect – Part One

This weekend we’re repeating an original, powerful series by Jeff Snow that first ran in August of last year. In 2014, the three parts ran as completed; this time we are running them on consecutive days.

Jeff-SnowJeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in southern Ontario, Canada, and he has become a friend of our family for much of that time. For his Masters thesis, he wrote on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth. Ever since I heard about this, I have been asking if he could summarize some of his findings for us here.

This is longer than we usually roll here, but it’s important to read every paragraph. This is actually the first of three parts, on the effects of divorce. The second will focus on the theology of the topic, and the third on practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce. We’ll interlink the parts as they appear here.

divorce effectBe sure to forward the link for today’s post to anyone involved in children’s or student ministry at your church or in your community. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section.


by Jeff Snow

A defining moment in my 16 years of youth ministry came a few years into my stint running a drop-in for unchurched teens. I was driving a number of youth home after drop-in one evening when two of them began a discussion in the back seat. They were listing off a number of their friends, maybe 15 in all, most of whom teachers at the high school would identify as “at-risk” youth. At one point, one of them exclaimed to the other, “Hey! We’re the only two who still live with both our parents!”

From that point onward I began to take more careful notice of the connection between youth who find themselves in trouble in various forms and the fact that a great majority of them do not live with both their biological parents. Those observations eventually led me to a Seminary paper on the effects of divorce on teens and an examination of what we as the Body of Christ can do to minister to these young people.

As in any other area of study, the research sometimes presents contradictory results. While almost all researchers agree that divorce is a traumatic event that has negative effects on children, particularly in the first year after the divorce, there are some researchers that maintain while some youth face ongoing lifelong effects, most youth will emerge relatively well-adjusted after going through a 2-3 year adjustment period.

Divorce LawyerThe problem I see with this assessment is two-fold. For an adult, three years is just a blip on the radar. But for a teenager, three years is half their adolescent life. A teen experiencing a divorce in junior high school will spend half of their formative teen years trying to adjust to having their world turned upside down. It is hard to believe that this will not have a long-lasting impact, at the very least in terms of missing out on the formative development they would have experienced in an intact family.

Secondly, many of these studies focus on a single factor, such as school grades or adult earning potential, as a means of measuring overall health. They also depend widely on statistical analysis and questionnaires. But surveys that rely on interviews with teens of divorce, that rely on actually listening to their stories, paint a much different, somewhat bleaker picture.

Divorce is not a benign event. Many people like to view its impact like that of a cold, which may knock you down for a short time but which you eventually get over. But the effects of divorce on teens is more like a chronic illness. It may lie dormant for a while, but it flares up at the most unexpected times. It never totally goes away. It can only be managed in order to live life to the full.

The effects of divorce on teens can often be very visible in their behaviors, yet often it is unseen. Elizabeth Marquardt wrote an eye-opening book entitled Between Two World: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. In another article she writes, “I’ve interviewed dozens of young adults from divorced families … If you gave them a questionnaire and asked, for instance, if they had ever been arrested, dropped out of school or been diagnosed with a mental illness, practically every one of them could respond ‘no’. But that does not mean they were unaffected by their parents’ divorce.”

Divorce is a time of loss for a child...like a death

Divorce is a time of loss for a child…like a death

So, how does divorce impact teens? Most researchers describe divorce as a time of loss for young people. This goes beyond the loss of a parent. They have lost the security of their home. They have lost connection with grandparents and other extended family members. The divorce is often only the first in a long string of losses, as numerous new boyfriends and girlfriends come in and out of their parents’, and their, lives.

Teens lose something as basic as their own room. They end up having to divide their lives in two, splitting their possessions between their parents’ two houses. In the case of step families, teens will end up having to share personal space with step siblings. I still remember a grade eight girl telling me of the difficulty she was experiencing as her mom’s new boyfriend’s family moved in, and she was forced to share her room with someone who was supposed to be a sibling, but who was to her a complete stranger.

Teens experience the effects of what is called “diminished parenting.” As parents deal with their own trauma and grief resulting from the divorce, they have less time and emotional energy to help their children through their grief. As time passes, parents become engrossed in moving on with their lives, and the needs of teens are unconsciously put aside as the parent looks for a new partner. This neglect is almost always unintentional, but the results are the same. The teen does not receive what she needs from the parent, and in fact, at times care-giving goes in the opposite direction as the teen, particularly the teen girl, takes on the role of a support to the parent whose life is falling apart.

Caught in the Middle - DivorceAs the two parents’ worlds begin to move apart, the teen is stuck in the middle, trying to navigate the chasm on their own. They are often faced with divided loyalties, as pressure is put on them by parents to take sides or to report back after custodial visits. They are faced with inconsistent parenting, as each household develops different rules for living. This even impacts teens as they work to develop their own morals and values. In an intact family, the two parents work together to present a united front of morals and values that they present to their children as the way their family is to live. But in families of divorce, the parent’s value systems will invariably start to differ with each passing year, and the adolescent is left to forge their own morals and value systems on their own, at an age where they are not yet able to successfully accomplish this task.

Diminished parenting shows itself in the lack of protection afforded, particularly to teen girls by the non-custodial father. Without a father figure, with less accountability and with decreased monitoring of activities, studies show that girls from families of divorce engage in sexual activity earlier, more often, and often with men older than they are.

Though teens of divorce will achieve grades in school that are close to those from intact families, the issue is in getting them to school and getting them to stay there. Teens of divorce are late for school more often, will skip class more, and get suspended or expelled more than teens from intact families. Teen of divorce are 30% less likely to complete college, as non-custodial parents generally feel that their financial responsibility is over once the child reaches 18, and will rarely provide the funds for college.

Family ConflictSome statistics from the website Rainbows, which is a curriculum for divorce support groups, state that 50-80% of patients treated in Canadian mental health clinics are from separated families, and that teenagers of divorce are three times more likely to be in psychological counseling than those in intact families.

For those of us in the church, it is interesting to see how divorce affects a teen’s spiritual life. Generally, interest in the church and religion will diminish, but interest in spiritual things, even in prayer, will not. One author posits the theory that the increase in divorce may be behind the contention of many under the age of 35 that they are “spiritual but not religious.”

Teens who are heavily involved in church activities will experience a retreat from spiritual things. They will wonder why their prayers were not answered, and why parents who said they loved God and believed in Him would then give up on a marriage which was supposed to be sacred. Teens who are nominally involved in church, however, will go the other way and will turn more towards the church as a coping mechanism.

Broken HomeTeens from families of divorce are more likely to be kicked out of the house, more likely to report not feeling emotionally or physically safe at home, more likely to be abused. Anywhere from one third to one half of girls from families of divorce report being sexually abused as children or teens, most often by stepfathers or stepbrothers. Two leading researchers conclude that living with a stepparent remains the most powerful predictor of severe child abuse.

Though there are many effects of divorce, the one most people will refer to first is economic, and while this must not overshadow the devastating effects that are more hidden, economic factors still cannot be ignored. Families of divorce will experience a decline in income of as much as 50% as compared to their pre-divorce lives.

Though as we said, some researchers see divorce as a temporary setback for young people, Judith Wallerstein, from her 25 years of study, has put forth the idea of “the sleeper effect” of divorce. She maintains that many teens of divorce will emerge from adolescence relatively unscathed, only to have the trauma of the divorce hit them when they reach young adulthood when they begin to seek out their own romantic attachments and consider marriage. Without role models, many teens of divorce find it harder to maintain long-term relationships, and are 2-3 times more likely to get divorced themselves.

Elizabeth Marquardt uses the phrase “happy talk” to describe how most of society talks about divorce and its effects on children and teens. We convince ourselves that teens are resilient and that we don’t really have to worry about them. Marquardt suggests that we do that in order to defend our own adult decisions. In view of the pain that I have seen both in youth ministry practice and in my research, this has to stop. There was a time when adults sacrificed for the sake of the children, not the other way around.

We as adults in the church need to have the courage to dismiss the temptation toward “happy talk.” We in fact need to stop talking and start really listening to the pain and hurt that teens of divorce would be willing to share with us if we only gave them the chance, and to find ways to support them as they attempt to navigate their way through life “between two worlds.”

to be continued…

May 23, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part Two of Two

You need to click back to yesterday for part one, but knowing a few of you won’t, I’ve begun by repeating the introduction. Thanks again to Martin and Nancy for allowing us to run this. To read the whole thing at their blog, Flagrant Regard, or leave them a direct comment, click the title below.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century (2)

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

Nancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favourite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.


We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Adapted from the article of the same name by Nancy Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

So said my girlfriend the other day when we were chatting over lattes. Luke had divorced Laura to be with Michelle who had likewise divorced her husband to be with Luke. They were hopelessly, madly, in love and, barring unforeseen health or employment issues, they were set for life in the happiness department. My friend continued giving her opinion that it was abundantly clear that neither Luke nor Michelle had been happy in their marriages. It didn’t matter that they were in love with their exes at the outset – because life happens, time passes, and looks get lost by the wayside. Things had changed.

There are any number of reasons why marriages fail and people get kicked to the curb but it does always seem to be an outworking of someone in the relationship deciding that they have the right to do what makes them happy.

Sadly, Laura committed suicide some months after her marriage dissolved. Of course, Luke was distraught but never showed regret that he had left the marriage. He always maintained they had grown apart and were floundering in the proverbial loveless marriage. When Luke had serendipitously met Michelle, she was like no one he had ever met before and leaving his marriage was, as he saw it, his only chance – his last chance – at real happiness.

I began to think about the idea of having the ‘right’ to be happy.

We live in a world where our happiness and, conversely, our misfortune is often predicated on circumstances beyond our control. That being the case, it seems that to expect – to have a ‘right’ – to be happy doesn’t seem like something that can or should be depended on; any more than we can expect or depend on perfect weather every Saturday in June so that all brides will be smiling. You pick your date, send out your invites, and take your chances.

I believe we can have ‘rights’ as far as what is legislated and guaranteed by the laws of the society we live in. For example, we have the ‘right’ to basic education because, here in Canada, we are given that privilege through taxation and public policy. That is why it is called ‘public’ education.

I can also understand a ‘right’ as it relates to a contractual obligation. If someone hires me to design a logo for them and I design it and charge them $100, then I have the ‘right’ to expect to be paid $100 for my work.

Back to my friend’s statement – “Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

What my friend was not saying was that, however you need to find happiness, whatever you need to do to be happy, is not to be held up for criticism or judgement beyond a bit of neighborhood gossip – because nobody knows the ‘whole story’.

The American Declaration of Independence laid down at the outset that one of the basic rights of any American citizen is the right to ‘the pursuit of happiness’. That did not mean that people should be entitled to pursue happiness outside of the law (i.e., through murder, rape, robbery, etc.) – but by lawful means. But this is too broad-based for what my friend meant. My friend is not philosophically deep. She watches The Bachelor and thinks the Tea Party is the party at Witzend in Alice in Wonderland. What she simply and solely mused was that people have the right to be happy when it comes to sex. Her view has been ‘trending’ for some time now and you have to look no further than the plethora of partnering change-ups in Hollywood at large.

There is no room for a counterpoint in today’s society. But, if you could get a word in, the counterpoint would be that, happiness aside, Luke’s leaving Lisa for Michelle was done in direct contravention of their marriage vow. That overarching solemn promise made up of subsets of conditions wherein two people promise that they will never leave each other – no matter what. This promissory social contract is sealed either in a civil ceremony or before God and, in both cases, before witnesses. Happiness is not even figured in to the marriage vow which is one of duty of care for the other – again, no matter what.

Today, our sexual impulses and proclivities have been put on a pedestal of preposterous privilege. And where sexual ‘happiness’ is not the order of the day, heinous acts have occurred. When lack of sexual happiness has been the motive behind murderous and unjust actions, the headlines have still – even in this day and age of post-modernism – spoken loudly and clearly in defense of the innocent. We don’t have to look past Susan Smith and the drowning of her two young sons so that she could pursue a relationship with a local wealthy man to find where the utilitarian doctrine of the ends justifying the means is so egregiously lopsided in favor of the means.

The problem with sex is that it makes more towering promises than any other emotion. All our desires make promises – that new car, that new house, that new job, that next You Tube video with over a million views – but none more so than the promise of sex. To be in love involves the irrational yet irresistible conviction that it will last forever and that our beloved will supply us with deep-rooted, passionate, lifelong sexual happiness. Everything is at stake. If we miss the chance to be in love or, as we are speaking of here, to get back in love, life will not have been worth living. Anything in the way has got to go – and fast. So thought Luke and Michelle. So thought Susan Smith.

But, if we establish a ‘right to (sexual) happiness’ which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we are chasing after the wind because the object of our behavior (erotic passion) is illusory and wishful. In the movie, The Life of David Gale, in a soliloquy on happiness, the main character portrayed by Kevin Spacey warned, “Be careful what you wish for. Not because you get it, but because you’re doomed not to want it once you do. Living by wants will never make you happy.”

As time permits, those experienced at long-term relationships know that erotic passion can sometimes last a good long time but that it will most certainly wane. For those relationships that continue long after erotic passion has waned, it is not because of the promises made at the outset. It is because the two people have found true love and contentment outside of the sex act, and have otherwise strived to make their relationship both mutually beneficial and sustainable.

In a few years, it is likely that Luke will leave Michelle to fulfill another last chance at sexual happiness. Or she him. And, again, my friend will say that she believes they have a right to be happy. That is, if her husband, Chris, doesn’t decide in the meantime that he has a right to be happy with that bubbly new hire in the Corporate Marketing Department. That could change her perspective.

For the here and now, the ‘right to happiness’ is predominantly the dominion of the sexual impulse. But, what if this ‘feel good’ principle creeps into other areas of our lives to the point where every impulse in every person has the ‘right’ to be indulged?

I hear the ticking of the doomsday clock …

————————————————————-

For the original article and other incredible essays and thoughts from C.S. Lewis, you can purchase “God In The Dock” at your local Christian book seller or online via any number of online book retailers.

May 22, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part One of Two

I’ll keep my intro short so you can get right into this. Thanks to Martin and Nancy for allowing me to reproduce this here, but if you want to send them some link love — or not have to wait until tomorrow for part two — click the link in the title below. Comments here are open, but to communicate with the authors directly, use the link below as well.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

C. S. LewisNancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favorite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.  (Click the link above to read today, or wait until tomorrow’s post for part two.)

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.

We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Paraphrased by Martin Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“After all,” said my friend Clare, “they had a right to happiness.”

We were discussing something that once happened in our own neighborhood. Mr. A, had deserted Mrs. A and got his divorce in order to marry Mrs. B, who had likewise gotten her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was clearly no doubt that Mr. A and Mrs. B were very much in love with each other. It was equally clear that they were not happy with their former partners. If the newly formed couple continued to be in love and if nothing failed with respect to their health or financial security, they might expect to be very happy.

Mrs. B had adored her husband at the beginning, but then he was severely injured in the war. It was said that he had lost his virility and had also lost his job. Life with him was no longer what Mrs. B had bargained for.

Poor Mrs. A, too. She had lost her looks was no longer her vivaciousness self. It might have been true what some had said – that she had become worn down by having and raising Mr. A’s children and nursing him through a long illness that overshadowed the early years of their married life. But please don’t think that Mr. A was the sort of man who nonchalantly threw a wife away like the peel of an orange he’d sucked dry. Her suicide was a terrible shock to him. We all knew this, for he told us so himself. “But what could I do?” he said. “A man has a right to happiness. I had to take my one chance when it came.”

I went away thinking about the concept of a ‘right to happiness’. At first, this sounds to me as odd as a ‘right to good luck’. I believe (whatever any particular brand of moralists have to say) that for the most part our happiness or misery hangs on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to have good weather show up whenever you want to have a picnic.

Now, I get that a ‘right’ is a freedom guaranteed me by the laws of the society I live in, therefore I have a right to travel along the public roads because society gives me that freedom (that’s what we mean by calling the roads “public.”)

I can also understand a ‘right’ as a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and as it correlates to an obligation on someone else’s part. If I had a right to receive $100 from you, this is another way of saying that you have a duty to pay me $100. If the laws allow Mr. A to desert his wife and seduce his neighbor’s wife, then, by definition, Mr. A has a legal right to do so, and we need not bring in talk of ‘happiness’.

But of course that was not what my friend meant. She meant that Mr. A had not only a legal but a moral right to act as he did. In other words, Clare is (or would be if she thought it through) a classical moralist after the style of Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, Hooker and Locke.

She believes that behind the laws of the state there is a Natural Law. I agree with her and I hold this conception to be common knowledge in all civilizations. Without it, the actual laws of the state become an absolute. They cannot be criticized because there is no norm against which they should be judged. The ancestry of Clare’s maxim, “They have a right to happiness,” is high-minded in nature. In words that are cherished by all civilized souls (but especially by Americans), it has been laid down that one of the rights of man or woman is a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And now we get to the real point.

Just what did the writers of that grandiose declaration mean? We’re quite sure what they did not mean. They did not mean that everyone was entitled to pursue happiness by any and every means including, say, murder, rape, robbery, treason and fraud. No society could be built on such a basis. They meant “to pursue happiness by all lawful means”; that is, by all means which the Law of Nature eternally sanctions and which the laws of the nation shall sanction.

Yet here is where I disagree with my friend: I don’t think it’s obvious that people have some sort of unlimited “right to happiness”, as she has suggested.

For one thing, I believe that when Clare says “happiness,” she means simply and solely “sexual happiness”, partly because people like Clare never use the word “happiness” in any other sense. But also because I never heard Clare talk about the “right” to any other kind of happiness. With respect to her political views, Clare, being rather leftist in her approach, would have thought it scandalous if anyone defended the actions of a ruthless financial tycoon on the grounds that his happiness consisted in making money and he was pursuing his happiness. I also never heard her (a serious non-drinker herself) excuse an alcoholic because he was ‘happy’ when he was drunk.

Clare is, in fact, simply doing what I think the whole western world seems to have been doing for the last forty-odd years. When I was a kid, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudishness? Let’s treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.” I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be restrained.

For instance, absolute obedience to instinct for self-preservation is considered cowardice. An ever-increasing desire to collect things will have us in the grip of greed. Even sleep, normally a welcomed respite, must be resisted if you’re a officer on guard duty. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that your object is to have “four bare legs in a bed.” It is like having a moral standard where stealing fruit is wrong except if you steal nectarines. And if you protest against this view? You are usually met with rhetoric about the legitimacy, beauty and sanctity of “sex”. You get accused of harboring some Puritanical prejudice against it – that you view sex as something disreputable or shameful. (I vehemently deny being guilty of such a charge: Venus, Aphrodite, Our Lady of Cyprus – I never breathed a word against you!)

If I object to kids stealing nectarines, must I then be thought of as someone who disapproves of nectarines in general? Or even of kids in general? It might be the stealing I disapprove of, you figure?

The real situation is skillfully concealed by saying that the question of Mr. A’s “right” to desert his wife is one of “sexual morality.” If I may continue with the fruit analogy, robbing an orchard is not an offense against some special morality called “fruit morality.” It is an offense against honesty. Likewise, Mr. A’s action is an offense against good faith (to solemn promises), against gratitude (toward one to whom he was deeply indebted) and against common humanity.

Our sexual impulses are thus being thrust into a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other outcome in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust.

Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause, and it is this: the nature of a strong erotic passion, which is completely distinct from any heat-of-the-moment, fleeting appetite, makes more towering promises than any other emotion.

No doubt all our desires make promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of our beloved will supply us with not just merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence, all seem to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the mere thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.

Unfortunately these promises are often found to be quite unfounded. Every experienced adult knows this to be the case with regard to all erotic passions (except the one he/she is feeling at the moment). We discount the world-without-end pretentiousness of our friends’ romantic liaisons easily enough. We know that such things sometimes last and sometimes don’t. When they do last, it is not because they promised at the outset to make it last. When two people achieve enduring happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also – I must put it crudely – good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.

If we establish a “right to (sexual) happiness” that supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience, but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it.

So while the bad behavior is real and works miseries and personal ruin, the happiness which was the object of the behavior turns out again and again to be illusory.

Everyone (except Mr. A and Mrs. B) knows that Mr. A, in a year or so, may have the same reason for deserting his new wife as he did for deserting his old one. He will again feel that all is at stake. He will again see himself as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the (current) woman.

Two final points remain:

1. A society in which marital infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Whatever a few songs composed by men and/or satirical offerings might say to the contrary, women are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails, they will therefore always be more often the victims than the culprits; domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man – their beauty – decreases every year after they’ve reached maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality we find in women. In the cut-throat promiscuity war that rages on, women are at a double disadvantage – they play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing lewdness of female provocativeness. These are signs of desperate competition and fill me with pity.

2. Secondly, though the “right to happiness” is claimed chiefly for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter will remain there. Once such a fatal principle is condoned in that department (our sexual natures) it will sooner or later seep through into our whole lives. We therefore advance toward a society where not only each person but every impulse in each person claims no-holds-barred permissions. And at that time, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – don’t even dare add the word “unfortunately” – be swept away.

August 15, 2014

The Divorce Effect — Part III

Jeff SnowThis is the third and final of three parts, click to read part one which dealt with the effects of divorce. Part two was a focus on the theology of the topic, and today we look at practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce.

divorce effect3Jeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in Canada, both in the context of a local church and a parachurch organization. The three articles are taken from his masters thesis on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth.


by Jeff Snow

In the first of our articles on the effects of divorce on teens, we explored the findings of many studies that pointed to the fact that divorce is not a benign event in the lives of teenagers. It should not be seen as a “cold” that knocks a young person for a loop for a time but which they eventually get over. Rather, it should be seen as a chronic illness, with many effects that will be flare up at various stages in life. These effects do not have to define the young person or doom them to a difficult life, but they must be understood and managed, like any chronic condition.

In our second article, we focused on some less tangible effects that are characterized by a sense of loss. Teens of divorce deal with a sense of loss of community, loss of identity, loss of a positive view of God as Father, loss of a family structure within which to safely develop morals and values. These multiplied losses lead to an anxiety which negatively impacts a young person’s life. We ended by suggesting that God has provided the church as a reflection of divine community that can come alongside teens and help them deal with loss and anxiety.

The effects of divorce are far-reaching, and with almost half of the students in an average student ministry dealing with those effects, it is important for youth pastors and leaders to be aware of the particular needs of these students and develop characteristics within their youth ministry that will minister to these needs.

Community

Every youth pastor works to build strong bonds of unity within their youth group, unity that goes beyond simple friendship. A strong youth ministry will have a sense of being united in the Spirit (Eph. 4:3), of being a safe community where students are drawn together by God’s love and presence as well as by their natural kinship. While this atmosphere is important for every teen, it is that much more important for teens of divorce.

youthminstryDouglas Adams, in his book Children, Divorce, and the Church, for teens of divorce, “what they lack in life is a caring community around them. They need help in dealing with past and present pain in their lives. Most need restoration of their self-esteem. The local church is one place where young people from divorced families should be able to find a supportive, loving community.”

What I am advocating as part of ministry to teens of divorce in this area is not so much a distinct program of ministry to them. In fact, very little of what we will discuss points to a specific program that would single out teens of divorce from the group. Rather what is needed is a heightened focus on the importance of nurturing a supportive community within one’s youth ministry, with the equally heightened awareness of the importance of that supportive community in the life of a teen of parental divorce.

The good news is that there already exists in many churches at least the beginnings of this community in the youth groups and youth Sunday school classes that are in place. The goal of the youth pastor is to work to intentionally foster community within these already existing structures so that teens of divorce can know they are not alone and begin to find a community that will help replace what has been lost in the dissolution of their family community.

Andrew Root, in his book The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as The Loss of Being, proposes five practices that should be part of any church community that ministers to teens of divorce. The first is accompaniment. This simply means that peers and adult leaders in the church are willing to walk alongside teens through their journey through divorce, regardless of how long it takes, or how painful and messy it can become.

The second practice is the provision of sanctuary. A youth ministry needs to be a place where a teen suffocating in the throes of familial upheaval can simply come and breathe. It needs to be a place where they know they belong, and where they know they are safe.

The third practice of community is convening. The youth ministry will provide contexts for people, youth and adult leaders, to get together, form community and build relationship. Practically speaking, this means the youth pastor must avoid the temptation to over-program and leave youth as mere spectators. Give the teens and adult leaders the opportunity to hang out together and see what kind of community the Holy Spirit develops.

middle school youth ministryFourth is connecting. It is important for teens of divorce who have lost so much adult influence in their lives to make meaningful connections with the adult leaders of the youth ministry. This is where the youth pastor must train and surround herself with adults who love Jesus and love teens, and who are willing to make connections with teens when the community gathers.

Root contends that a big part of the youth pastor’s job is to “convene spaces for intergenerational conversations to occur.” This is why, though I firmly believe that youth need a weekly gathering to call their own, I am not a believer in a parallel youth church that meets on Sunday mornings, or that in any other way takes the youth away from opportunities to convene and connect with Christians from other generations. Teens of divorce, in particular, need the influence of and connection with older, more mature believers.

A final practice in building a community that will minister to teens of divorce if that of blessing. A teen of divorce needs to know that they are wanted and accepted by the church and youth group. They need to feel that they belong, and that the community is glad that they are there.

Ministry people

Besides clergy, there are four types of people in a youth ministry that can be of benefit to teens of divorce. The first is their peers. Teens, especially teens of divorce themselves, need to be encouraged to reach out to each other to provide support.

A second group can be termed an “adult friend”. This is someone who is willing to welcome a teen of divorce into their life and spend time with them, both in the context of the church and youth group, and beyond. The home life of a teen of divorce can be difficult. It may not feel like home anymore. Families within the church can develop a relationship with a teen where their home can become a refuge where the teen can be invited to help them to get away from it all for a while.

The third group is the adult role model. This includes spiritual modelling, giving the teen of divorce someone to guide them through their development of godly morals and values. Though teaching in a youth ministry is essential and important, teens will often learn more from observing how Christianity works in the real life of a real person.

Modelling for teens of divorce is also very important in the area of marriage and relationships. In my ministry, I have two young couples who have dated, become engaged, and are now married with small children, all while serving as leaders in the youth ministry. Their example is invaluable in terms of modelling God’s plan for relationships, dating and marriage. Teens of divorce need to know that what they have seen in their families is not the only way to live. Providing them with role models who demonstrate healthy relationships is very important.

discipleshipA final category of adult-teen ministry would be a mentor. This is a more intentional and intensive coming alongside of a teen by one adult who is willing to walk with them through the divorce years. Douglas Adams describes a mentor as someone who “took the time and, in some cases, made the sacrifice to help these children of divorce see a better tomorrow.” Teens of divorce need to see hope that things can be different.

These relationships are very important in ministry to teens of divorce, yet in today’s world, it must be acknowledged that this type of relational ministry is becoming increasingly difficult. Some churches and youth ministries simply don’t do this kind of ministry anymore because of the potential risks. Others have put good policies in place to make it work. I believe churches must do all they can to do formulate structures that will allow for safe ministry between adults and teens, especially teens of divorce, who need an adult influence in their lives. Teens will be looking for that support and influence regardless of what we do, and if we don’t provide safe people to be part of their lives, they will find that support and influence in the very people that our policies are trying to protect them from.

These relationships between adult leaders and teens of divorce must not be forced or assigned. They must happen naturally. This is where the youth pastor can use discernment and the context of “convening” events to observe the connections between particular youth and adult leaders, and gently nudge them together.

Teaching

Teaching is an essential part of any youth ministry. For teens of divorce, it would be important to focus some teaching on issues of identity. Divorce strikes at the heart of a teen’s identity, exacerbating low self-worth and complicating the already difficult search for who they are. In community and through teaching, youth ministries can help teens re-discover their real selves, help them see the image of God in themselves, and come to know that they are worthy of love, both from their fellow humans and from God. A series such as “Who I am in Christ?” can help teens of divorce begin to define themselves less and less by the divorce, and more by their relationship with Christ.

Another important area of teaching is in basic morals and values, helping teens distinguish between right and wrong. We have said that teens of divorce are left to forge their own values independent of their parents. This provides a great opportunity for ministry. I have found that teens of divorce are much more spiritually inquisitive than many teens who have grown up in the church in intact families. We have the opportunity to answer their questions and teach them God’s direction for their lives.

ymin mentoringA third area of teaching is in dating and preparation for marriage. This is a standard topic in the youth pastor’s tool kit, but it is all the more important for teens of divorce, who are more sexually active as teens and get divorced more as adults than teens from intact families. The “sleeper effect” of divorce shows itself when teens and young adults begin to develop their own romantic relationships. Youth ministries can provide teaching as early as mid-adolescence that will help teens of divorce prepare for healthy relationships.

A final area of teaching is focusing on the nature of God, helping to correct the misconceptions of God teens of divorce develop because of their experiences. We need to teach them that God is a confidant they can talk to about their pain; that He is a source of stability and a comforter; that He is a true Father who is sovereign and has all things under control, even when it seems like all is falling apart. The teen of divorce needs to hear that they are safely in the palm of God’s hand, that He loves them and protects them.

Spirituality

How can youth ministries speak specifically to the spiritual lives of teens of divorce? We said last time that many teens of divorce, while losing interest in organized religion, still have deep spiritual interest. They define themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” This has two positive implications for youth ministry. First, the less formal, less “churchy” nature of most youth ministry can be attractive to teens of divorce in particular. Secondly, we recognize that teens of divorce have not given up on their spiritual journey. They are full of questions. They want to connect with God. They may not like the church, but they are willing to pursue knowledge of God and Jesus. Youth pastors need to not be turned off by their disinterest in the organized church, but rather encourage and nurture the deep spiritual hunger that they have.

We pointed out one study last time that found that divorce often drives committed teens away from the church in anger and disillusionment, while drawing fringe youth closer to God and the church as a means of coping. The youth pastor needs to be aware of these possible reactions. Youth leaders must be OK with the questions and anger and even rejection these committed students may display towards God and their parents, and gently walk beside them on their journey away from a faith that relied on their parents, and towards a faith that will hopefully be stronger and their own. Youth pastors also need to pay attention to the students on the fringes of the youth group whose experience of divorce will heighten their desire to find a coping mechanism in faith in God, and come alongside them in their walk towards God.

In both cases, youth leaders need to realize that the window of opportunity for ministry may be small as deepening family conflict and parental moves may take the teen out of the group.

Support groups

We haven’t discussed support groups much yet. They can be an important part of ministry to teens of divorce as they find healing through shared experience. But one must be careful that such a group does not label or isolate the teen from the rest of the group. The church must also caution against any mindset that a 12 week course will solve all the teens’ problems and that the presence of the group does not discourage others from getting involved. A support group must be seen as part of an overall ministry to teens of divorce, not as an end in itself.

One support group curriculum for teens that seems effective is “Spectrum”, produced by an organization called Rainbows. The curriculum has a faith-based component for use in churches, and one for use in schools if a youth ministry finds itself with an open door to reach into the school system.

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In my research, I have noticed one common theme that arises again and again as an important element in ministry to teens of divorce: The importance of listening to them. This may seem rather simplistic, but it is something that is essential and astonishingly neglected and overlooked.

The most disturbing statistic I found in my research pertaining to ministry to teens of divorce was found in Elizabeth Marquardt’s book, Between Two Worlds. She writes, “of those young adults who were regularly attending a church or synagogue at the time of their parents’ divorce, two-thirds say that no one – neither from the clergy nor from the congregation – reached out to them during that critical time in their lives, while only one-quarter remember either a member of the clergy or a person from the congregation doing so.”

Let that sink in. This is not a survey of people outside the church, nor is it referring to teens of divorce where the divorce happened to them as a child. For teens who are regularly in the church and who are in the midst of experiencing a divorce, 66% of them said no one paid any attention to them. This is a sobering statistic for youth pastors and the church as a whole. The church needs to be aware of the teens involved in a divorce and needs to find ways to reach out to them. And the simplest way to begin to do that is to listen to them, because having someone who will listen is at the core what these teens are missing. No one asked them if they wanted to live through a divorce. Most of the decisions made in the divorce are made without consulting them, yet they severely impact their lives.

Those involved in youth ministry have the opportunity to create a safe place for teens to talk about their experiences, and assure them that they will be listened to. When that is done, they are valued and deemed important. They are shown their worth in God’s eyes.

The key to awareness of the needs of teens of divorce, and as a result the key to ministry to them, is quite simply to listen to them, not just for a short time, but over the long haul, for divorce is a long and difficult journey for a teen. As youth ministers listen and gain knowledge of the pain and needs of teens of divorce, they will be more equipped to meet those needs in their ministries, and to share with the broader church community what can be done, and what needs to be done, in order to help these adolescents grow into the person God created them to be.

 


If you’ve found this series helpful, and would like to send Jeff a message off the blog, use the contact form on this page and we will pass it on for you.

August 13, 2014

Wednesday Link List

God has no phone but I talk to him

Control the WeatherTime to dust off the flannel graph, test the cassette deck and warm up the filmstrip projector as another season of ministry kicks off. As for that book cover on the right, there’s no link because…well…someone might actually click through and buy one.

Paul Wilkinson blogs at Thinking Out Loud and edits Christianity 201, the latter of which is always looking for submissions.

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