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Friday, February 17, 2006

Justice and Service

ok, enough goofin off. Back to youth ministry! Yeah!

Today's lesson (I feel like a teacher or something) is on Justice and Service.

Every orthodox, semi-conservative minister just did a shudder, didn't they? Why is it that everytime we hear these words we think "Tree Huggers!!"? I heard a very smart man on a radio program say once that the left has hijacked social justice and the right has hijacked pro-life work. When one side hears about the other they do this roll of the eyes and shudder.

Well, folks, they belong to both and I'm going to talk about Justice and Service:

We cannot call ourselves followers of Jesus unless we take up his mission of bringing "good news to the poor, liberty to captives, and new sight to the blind" (Luke 4:18) -Communities of Salt and Light,p. 3
Yes the poorest of the poor in our country IS the unborn. However there are thousands of the born who are in need of care. Furthermore, there are thousands of youth who need to learn to go beyond themselves and care for their neighbor:

-engages young people in discovering the call to justice and service in the Scriptures
-involves (them) actions of direct efforts to address the causes of injustice and inequity
-develops promoting gospel values in their lifestyles and choices
-incorporates doing the right thing with attention to why and how we do what we do (includes involvement, exploration, reflection and action)
-involves a supportive community that builds a sense of togetherness
-nurtures a lifelong commitment to service and justice involvement
-from Renewing the Vision, 1997

I am strong opposed to telling kids in a Confirmation program "You have so many hours of service. Go do them and tell me what you did". Are you kidding me? Where is the "sense of togetherness" where is the reflection, where is the developing of assetss and faith??

When I worked in Southie, the Director did it briliantly and I will always do it this way:

We had a day each week dedicated to a service project. We did 3 a month and always went together as a group. At the end of each time we did "Mad, Glad Sad".

So, for instance, I have set up a couple of places where the Confirmation kids can come to all at the same time. We arrive at the Nursing home on a Saturday morning and I do a prayer and short introduction. I let them know that they will smell, see and hear things that they'd really rather not, but my challenge is to ask God to give you the courage and grace to walk into that residents' room and engage them in conversation, talk to them about their life, spend time with them and let them experience the dignity of being human and cared for.

We always did it as a community, as a group, because there are some kids who jump right in and do it and some kids who are scared to death. Solution? Put those kids together. When we work together we can support one another and help each other grow.

Why did I pick the places? Because I refuse to call dog grooming or yard raking Justice. Or Service. Some parents complained that their kids weren't outgoing, or wondered why they couldn't use their talents to serve where they wanted to.

Why? Because Justice and Service are not about us. Certainly there is so much need in the world that we can almost pick and choose what works for us, where we feel most comfortable. However, this being their Confirmation prep time I believe very strongly that they need to see that service IS ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE. If your brother is in need, you help pick up THEIR cross. You don't say "Oh, wait for someone who can do that kind of work" (like those who passed by the man in the story of the Good Samaritan). No, we need to respond to others' needs, not our own. (Think St Francis and the Leper. Hello? Are we called to anything less?)

At the end of every service opportunity we gather for the last 10 minutes for reflection. We always circle up so that everyone can see each other and share if our experience made us "Mad, Sad or Glad". I found that giving them those words helped them think about what was going through their minds as they served. And they weren't alwasy glad-and sometimes kids would say that they were mad that they had to be there. Good! Cry me a river! That's exactly the kid that I wanted there!

So, in closing, we are ALL responsible for our brothers and sisters. As youth ministers we need to develop in the youth a sense of thinking about others rather than ourselves. There is also ways that you can involve youth in areas of injustice, both globally and locally. Talk about why there are homeless people. Talk about China's human rights violations. Talk about St Francis and the Leper. Talk about what we can do as a Church (not as a government) do ease the sufferings of our neighbor.

"For as you did to the lest of my brothers, you did for me" Matt 25:40


Anonymous Kai Risdau said...

I think it is great that you are getting these kids out there and doing some great survice. Working at a nursing home is a great idea.

The only thing that chaffes a little bit is the fact that somehow this work is more "authentic" than raking leaves or helping families out with their dogs. I can understand your desire to make sure these kids don't shirk their responsibilites, but at the same time you need to understand that each child has a skill set that will allow them to contribute the most they can in different environments. So where one student might shine at entertaining at a nursing home, another might be detrimental if his or her grandparant has just passed away. Or maybe a person has a difficult time dealing with terminal diseases because of something in his or her family. Or honestly, maybe some people are just not cut out to help the elderly and should focus their energy into a place where Jesus could use them more fully according to their talents.

The problem is that there is no such thing as "real service." Going to a nursing home once a month for 3 monthes is no better than raking leaves or washing dogs. Because "real service" isn't about who you are helping or where you are serving - it is about why you are doing it. It is about helping out others in their time of need, not because you want to feel good about yourself, not because you need to fulfill a confirmation requirement, and not because Jesus told you to. Authentic service is about helping someone out of love. Love for your fellow human in a time of need. Love that forces you to suffer when others are suffering. And love that changes hearts and minds.

Until your kids grow up and learn about love, they will just be raking leaves, washing dogs, and visitng old people. And maybe these empty service gestures will one day awaken a sense of love deep inside of them - at least that is our hope, right? But until then I wouldn't dictate to the kids what qualifies as authentic service or not. Because another person can never know if service is authentic or not - we can only hope that it is done out of a sense of love.

So a suggestion might be to diversify your group projects away from just nursing homes. Or better yet, get the kids imput in how they think they might use their talents the best. Because in the end, the reality is that we cannot help everybody. So we each have to make a decision about how we can use our individual talents to help as many people as we can. Why? Because we love.

3:44 PM  
Blogger TCYM Lounge said...

Kai-you just made my day! Someone actually read a long post AND responded!

Well, my thinking is, again: It's about OTHERS, especially those pushed aside and may not have anyone else caring for them.

We do go other places other than the Nursing home. We also have done soup kitchens for the homeless and a St Vincent de Paul kind of place.

I have no problem with requiring kids to do things that are difficult, even scary. Again, it's not about them, it's about their neighbor in need. In my philosophy, this also sets up a fanTAStic ability to teach them about grace. We do ANYTHING because of God's grace.

I have a quote from Kimberly Hahn "...she doesn't say, 'Behold, I am sufficient to raise the Son of God. I have what it takes.' Rather, Mary said, 'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word (Lk 1:38). Mary does not say she is adequate to the task, but rather, she is available. That is what God asks of us."

And that's how I approach ANY service. Yeah, there is so much out there that sadly we think we can pick and choose-but doesn't that say to God "Got it. I can do this myself, Don't need you!"

Rather, I want to also teach the kids that God reQUIRES them to use His Grace, they WILL have difficulty, who will they turn to then, themselves or God? I use this time as training for them to learn to rely on God. That they have difficulty with it is really of little consequence. Why do we require so little of them? They are in training to take on the task of the Church-and it ain't no easy task!

4:26 PM  
Blogger Dorian Speed said...

I'm actually a religion teacher and not a youth minister, but I am totally, totally Catholic.

Our school has a service requirement - 6 hours per quarter. I'm trying to set up various service "events" like what you've described but it's been a low priority so far, as our school is brand new and we are also trying to recruit, build, etc., give exams, yada yada...

Anyway, I've chosen to tell the students that "anything you do that is selfless counts." I do see your point of view (totally!) and I love the structure you give to the service events you do. Really like the "mad, sad, glad" thing. OTOH, I spent a few years saving the world and neglecting my family - really good at working at the homeless shelter overnight, not so great at voluntarily helping my mom unload the groceries. That kind of thing. So I want my students to understand that being selfless is the essence of service.

Now, of course, I'm hoping to get them more and more "real service" experience like what you've described. But I don't feel comfortable mandating that they attend certain events to meet the requirement. I'm particularly uncomfortable (not saying this describes *your* Confirmation program) with sacrament prep that has an inordinate number of required projects, retreats, etc., to the exclusion of other activities which might be equally beneficial and more to the students' liking.

Anyway...rambling. I just discovered your blog and am enjoying your posts. Came here via Mark Shea.

1:59 PM  

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