Archive for the ‘youth’ Category

Priests and Abuse: Misplaced Anger?

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

(Originally published in PULP)

It seems almost cliché to write about religious sexual abuse scandals in a faith-oriented column, but sometimes news stories simply demand a response.

First of all, I want to make clear that, as a leader in a faith community, I’m personally both saddened and outraged every time I hear about another innocent soul falling victim to a sexual predator who uses the context of the ministry to cloak themselves in protective immunity. With every new revelation of such abuses, my question isn’t why these predators aren’t defrocked; it’s why they’re not sitting in a cell somewhere.

That said, I think some of us are focusing our righteous anger in the wrong direction. Yes, priests and other religious leaders who exploit their position to take advantage of anyone in their congregation, be they of age or not, have no business in ministry. And yes, those in positions of greater power who knowingly obfuscate the scale of the problem, making it even worse by moving guilty priests around, should also be removed. But simply to direct our ill feelings toward these individuals is to ignore the deeper, more disturbing reality.

By its very nature, church leadership roles present extraordinary opportunities for abuse. Few other jobs offer such a combination of power, lack of accountability and social pressure to present oneself a certain way. People trust ministers – or at least have done so historically – because of their positions. It’s assumed that it takes a special kind of person to accept a call to act as a servant of a church and its followers.

The problem is that, although this is generally true, it also is an imperfect system. True, some potential predators see ministry as a system waiting to be taken advantage of, but more often than not, I am of the opinion that the systems of religion themselves are guilty of creating these monsters, and not just letting them slip through the cracks.

Imagine being told that, for the rest of your life, people will look at you as if you’re set apart, different. In some ways, they will hold an unnatural admiration for you, but this same perception also will distance you from the rest of the culture. Add to this that, in some cases, you’re expected never to act on your natural sexual impulses, or even the innate craving for emotional and physical intimacy, all sexual acts aside.

Then you’re given a uniform and are afforded authority over people that, by its very nature, places them in a vulnerable state, while also being drawn to you. And though it’s assumed you’re carrying out the duties assigned to you by the higher authorities from day to day, the level of oversight generally doesn’t match up with the level of responsibility you have.

We’ve all heard the stories about how lots of men “turn gay” when sent to prison for long periods of time. It’s not that these guys actually are suddenly more attracted to men than women, but for lack of a woman, a guy will have to do. This is not uncommon throughout the animal kingdom, with same-sex animals pairing off when it’s the only option.

So is it that these priests who molest boys are actually gay? Some may be, and may likely aren’t, in the sense that a homosexual act does not a gay person make. But the system itself places young boys in the trust of male priests all the time, and lo and behold, the combination of personal repression and otherworldly expectations find an outlet, though in a chilling and violent way.

An immediate reaction to such moral tragedies is to clamp down, enacting “zero tolerance” policies and throwing the so-called book at perpetrators. And although such action might make us all feel better for the moment, it’s not likely to change the behavior of a person who is already risking everything they have in the world for what amounts to a licentious thrill.

I believe that the biggest problem is the repression. When we ask people to be something they’re not by nature, those repressed dimensions find a way of seeping through the tiniest of cracks. And when they do, it’s usually not pretty. If we were actually more open about allowing our spiritual leaders to accept that their sexuality is actually a beloved gift from God rather than a dirty thing to be despised, it would go a long way toward allowing them to be what they actually are: human beings.

Not only that, but it also would give those followers within the church permission to accept as much about themselves, hopefully coming to realize that healthy sexuality expressed in mutually consenting relationships is as God meant it to be. Otherwise, none of us would be here!

From the first stories in the Bible, we’re wrongly taught to hate our bodies and to understand our sexuality as detestable and wrong. But as I’ve heard it said many times before, how’s that working out for you?

Couldn’t it be that reading stories like those about Adam and Eve could tell us why we tend to view our bodies with shame, rather than taking from it that we should hate our physical selves? Couldn’t it be that, if we are indeed created in the image of a Creator, our impulses and urges are supposed to be there, to be used and expressed in wonderfully creative ways?

If we can learn anything from history it’s that nature wins over the will of humanity every time. We may like to think that having the appearance of control over our sexuality makes us more highly evolved, or even somehow closer to God. Ironically, it’s those same God-given impulses that, when repressed find other ways into the light.

The problem is that, by then, it’s too late, and the shame continues.

New Podcast: Time, death and the Brain

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

I just posted a new podcast called “Time, Death and the Brain”

http://christianpiatt.podbean.com

Let me know what you think.

Peace,

Christian

Pew Study Affirms: Younger people love God, but not church

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of decades, the recent results of a study by the Pew Research Center should come as no real surprise. In fact, at the risk of being self-referential, it confirms much of what my wife and I wrote in our book, MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation, more than two years ago.The Study arrives at a few key points, which include the facts that younger people are as interested in making space for both God and prayer in their lives as the generations that precede them (in some ways more so), but they increasingly don’t see the church as the necessary mediator for that experience.

There are tons of reasons for this, including general mistrust of and disaffection with institutions as a whole. Since Vietnam and Watergate, our perceptions of institutions have been in precipitous decline; add to that daily news stories of corporate malfeasance and millions of layoffs and you have a villain in the making.

And let’s not revisit the scores of religious figureheads who have succumbed to temptation and corruption, and the institutions that too often have tried to justify, minimize or even cover up the problems. On top of all of this, our understanding of community has become more disparate and virtualized with the advent of social networking. Though some may see this as a poor substitute for “real” community, at least it’s something.

After all, where were all these people when front porches were replaced by attached garages? Or when nuclear families gave way to professional upward mobility? Or when more than half of our parents got divorced and moved hundreds or thousands of miles apart? to blame social networking for the dissolution of physical community is to focus on the finger, ignoring the thing it’s pointing to.

But I digress…

A changing/evolving sense of community aside, there are some other interesting differences between younger people today and those older than them, summed up well by this paragraph in the Pew Study:

In their social and political views, young adults are clearly more accepting than older Americans of homosexuality, more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life and less prone to see Hollywood as threatening their moral values. At the same time, Millennials are no less convinced than their elders that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. And they are slightly more supportive than their elders of government efforts to protect morality, as well as somewhat more comfortable with involvement in politics by churches and other houses of worship.

Though some may read these more “progressive” social values as an indicator of younger people straying from the moral values imparted by traditional church, we in mainline and more moderate to progressive independent congregations should see this as a tremendous opportunity for relevance. But be careful not to read this as an opportunity to pack your pews with youth and young adults. It’s more about a chance to connect over shared values of social justice and change, and in so much as we can be an agent or facilitator of that change younger people seek in their communities, they may find a great ally in the church.

But they still may never come to worship. So what’s it going to be, church? Real, relevant, gospel-inspired change, or survival of the institution of church as we know it/ There’s a real possibility we may not be able to have both.

When I speak and lead workshops for congregations and denominations, I often pose this question: if you could fully live in to you church’s mission today, but if the cost would be shutting your doors forever, would you do it? Of course this is a hypothetical posed in extreme language on purpose, to push people within the church to consider what’s really most important to them.

Consider Jesus (I know, a radical concept). He never had a church building, no budget and no salary. He walked around, noticed needs before him and went about meeting them, then he called others to do likewise. He shared wisdom through story and didn’t worry about retirement packages, balance sheets or mortgages. He focused instead on living out what he believed every day, and left the rest up to God.

Now, I’m not one to leave myself out of the group that this challenges. Though I don’t get paid by my church, my wife does, and the prospect of giving that up and simply walking the earth and meeting needs – especially with two kids – seems nuts. And I’m not saying this is necessarily what we’re all called to as church leaders, but it’s a question worth asking.

If, like the rich man in the Gospels, we’re coming to Christ and asking what is required of us, what will be our reaction if the answer is “leave everything behind and follow me”? What if the trend of younger people walking away from church is the kind of necessary pruning back that scripture calls for, rather than the cultural crisis of faith that many churches label it as?

Yes, there is still a need for communities of people offering one another love, wisdom, support and mutual accountability, to challenge people to put their faith into transformational action and to give them the tools to do so. And insomuch as institutional church can facilitate that, I believe there is a place for it in today’s culture. But the degree to which the existing buildings, paid staff, boards of directors and bylaws will – or even should – be a part of that, I’m not so sure.

BE A MAN book survey – share your views

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Below is a link to a survey I’m conducting for my book on postmodern male identity and faith, tentatively called BE A MAN. Please take the 10-15 minute survey if you’re a guy, and pass it along to anyone else who might be willing to share their thoughts for this book.

You do not have to be practicing a particular religion or have any faith at all to take this survey. In fact, we want to hear from people inside and outside of organized religion, and those who believe in God, those who aren’t sure, and those who do not.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/beaman

Thanks for your help with this. And please do pass this on to as many men as you can!

Sincerely,
Christian Piatt

You can’t say that in church!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Request for Qualifications – Draft

Smells Like Spirit

By Christian Piatt

 

(Originally published in PULP)

 

I’ve been co-editing a new book series for Chalice Press, a Christian Publisher connected to my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Yes, that’s really the denomination’s name, including the parentheses. Don’t ask why.

 

Anyway, I recently traveled to Indianapolis and Kansas City to speak to a few hundred folks about the new series titled WTF? (Where’s the Faith?)

 

We Disciples seem to have a thing for parentheses.

 

Obviously, the title is provocative, which is purposeful. The series, created by young adults, primarily for young adults, is intended to speak to them where they are. This includes addressing a lot of things in a lot of ways that most folks in church have never been comfortable doing. So the relatively cheeky title does serve a purpose beyond unadulterated obnoxiousness; it’s supposed to break down barriers.

 

True to form the first book, due out early next year, is about faith and sexuality, and is called Oh God, Oh God, OH GOD! Trust me, you’re not the only one who’s a little bit amazed we even got that one past the editorial board, but kudos to them for having the barnacles to print it.

 

So you’d think that anyone aware of the connotations of both the series title and the first book would have at least a basic idea of what they were in for coming to one of our workshops. But my partner in crime and co-editor, Brandon Gilvin, took even me off guard when he said the word “blowjob” in the middle of our church event.

 

The room got pretty quiet for a minute. Then, thank goodness, we really started talking, which was the whole point to begin with. It should be noted that he didn’t just blurt out “blowjob” for no reason. He actually was making a point about some college girls who came to his counselor girlfriend some time back to ask her which was worse: kissing a boy or giving him a blowjob. This, they said, was a conundrum because “kissing a boy is so intimate.”

 

The point was made that there is more brushed under the rug in faith communities than is talked about with care, thoughtfulness and candor. A few people never lost the look of shock from their faces, but no one left. Maybe they just wanted to see what we would say next, but to their credit, they hung in there.

 

Afterward, I had several people come to me and thank me both for the books and the discussion. People confessed everything from personal struggles with pornography addiction, to eating disorders, and the level of honesty became nearly overwhelming. 

 

It was clear that people have been dying to talk about these kinds of things with people they can trust, who won’t judge them, but who will listen and respond with compassion and love. Though this was only a small step, it’s amazing to think that saying a word like “blowjob” in a faith-based workshop could be such a cathartic and healing experience.

 

As they say, God works in mysterious ways – I guess even through a couple of heretics like us.

Why standardized testing in our schools SUCK

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Why CSAP Sucks

By Christian Piatt

 

(Originally published in PULP)

If the ridiculous school supply and uniform bills weren’t enough to signal the beginning of school, there are plenty of other signs that the academic season is upon us: nervous-looking kids; slightly euphoric parents; bulging backpacks and the telltale crossing guards posted at strategic locations around town.

 

We also know it’s back-to-school time since we’re finally getting a glimpse of the CSAP test results from last year. The CSAPs – which stands for “Colorado Student Assessment Program” – is given to most students on most grades throughout the state, supposedly to track student progress. A love child of George Bush and his No Child Left Behind legislation, the CSAPs and similar testing batteries across the nation have drawn mixed reviews.

 

In general, the sentiment toward the tests is negative, but the problem is most folks agree we should have some sort of accountability for student achievement; the problem is that no one seems to have a clue about how to make the tests better.

 

For starters, the tests historically have compared apples to oranges, holding one third-grade class’ scores up against the third-graders that follow them the next year and so on from grade to grade. But aside from any kids who failed and had to repeat a grade, these are entirely different students, so it’s impossible to get much useful data this way.

 

Recently, the bureaucrats and administrators have wised up at least a little, and they’re now tracking cohorts. This means we get to see data from one group of students as they progress throughout their academic career. But this still has huge flaws, particularly in a highly mobile community like Pueblo. In some schools, where the mobility rate exceeds 100 percent, most of theses aren’t the same kids from beginning of year to end, let alone from one year to the next.

 

A more reasonable solution is to implement a longitudinal system that follows each individual students from kindergarten to graduation. This would require more consistency from state to state, but it’s really the only way to use the tests to tell if a particular student is where they need to be or not. 

 

Another issue is the test’s sensitivity, on two levels. First, though some strides have been made to try and make the tests culturally sensitive, there are still issues surrounding the assumption of prior knowledge, much of which comes from a middle class, primarily Anglo background. Simply put, middle class kids have seen and done more than poorer kids, which gives them an advantage over kids who may have never left their home town.

 

A second sensitivity problem is more technical, primarily regarding the higher and lower extremes of the scale. In general, all we hear about is whether or not a kid performs at or above the “proficient” level, which constitutes two of the four possible quartiles within which scores can fall. Each school can see scores in a bit more detail, but for a child who began as a non-English speaker, or as functionally illiterate, a gain of a year or more may not even create a blip on the score chart. Some concessions are made for “special needs” students, but this hardly addresses the fundamental flaw, which is a test that is akin to taking a chainsaw into surgery.

 

Finally, there’s the problem of what the tests actually measure. The testing protocols, which are timed, try to tell if a child has mastered a set of skills necessary to solve a problem, whether it is a math proof or answers at the end of a reading passage. For the kids who get the right answers, all is well, but for the rest, the tests really tell us nothing.

 

For example, say a child misses all five questions at the end of a story passage. Though we can see they got all the wrong answers, did they fail because they didn’t understand the story? Maybe they misunderstood the questions? Or perhaps the directions for what to do in the first place? Did they read too slowly to even get to the questions? Did they have so many words they could not decode in the story that they lost the story’s point? Did they lack the vocabulary to comprehend three dozen words in the first few paragraphs?

 

We have no idea.

 

That’s because these are achievement tests, which do just that: measure overall achievement. If, however, we really wanted to mind some valuable data from this effort, we should be conducting diagnostic assessments. This not only tells you where a child does well, but where, across the board, they are weak. This helps teachers target the low points so that the entire end-result can come up, and so that some problems for which kids may compensate early in their school careers don’t suddenly blow up in their faces come junior high or high school.

 

Some are calling for the whole testing concept to be trashed, which would be a mistake. The problem isn’t that we’re testing our kids; it’s that we don’t know how or why. For now, though, the CSAPs and their counterparts in others states score well below proficient. 

New Live Concert on my Podcast

Friday, September 18th, 2009

I traveled recently to Lee’s Summit, MO for an event where I was leading some workshops, speaking and such. On Sunday night, I got to close out the evening with a concert for a couple hundred very welcoming folks. It was probably the highlight of the weekend for me.

I love getting to share music and spoken word with people, and though some of the stuff I introduced may have been a new experience for many in attendance, they all seemed to have a good time.

Check out the podcast by searching my name on iTunes, playing it on the streaming audio player on my website (www.chrstianpiatt.com), or hit the link below to go directly to the podcast site.

http://christianpiatt.podbean.com/

All episodes of the podcast, including the concert, are free. Let me know what you think.

Peace,
Christian

Two new webinars, open for registration

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

My first webinar (online workshop) on “how to use Facebook as a ministry tool) was great fun and well-received. since then I’ve gotten several requests to host this workshop again, so it’s back along with an exciting webinar on how to select a literary agent an, ultimately, how to get published!

If you want to learn more about the events, go to christianpiatt.com, or email me directly at cpiatt@christianpiatt.com.

CLICK ON THE EVENT TITLES BELOW TO REGISTER:

Using Facebook as a Ministry Tool

Wednesday, Sept. 30th, 1pm (MST)

Learn the basics of “2.0” social networking, how to set up a Facebook account, take a tour of Facebook and learn strategies for using it as a tool to connect with people throughout the week, beyond the  walls.


From “Writer” to Agented and Published “Author”
(w/ Lit. Agent Anita Kushen)
 

Tuesday, Oct 6th 11am (MST)

Join the conversation with Author Christian Piatt and Literary Agent Anita Kushen about what it takes to move your passion for writing to the next level. Learn valuable information like how to find and select a literary agent, and how to become a published author.

My new BANNED QUESTIONS book series

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Great news! Chalice Press has approved the first two titles for my proposed BANNED QUESTIONS book series.

The first two titles are:

BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE

BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS

These are both due out in 2011, and I am currently working on the first book about the Bible.

I have a new Facebook Group where we can discuss these topics, generate ideas for upcoming titles, and where you can propose questions you’d like to see in the books.

CLICK HERE TO JOIN THE BANNED QUESTIONS BOOK SERIES GROUP

I look forward to your input as this exciting new series takes shape.

Peace,
Christian Piatt

A city is what it eats – PULP NewSpin

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

A city is what it eats – PULP NewSpin

By Christian Piatt

You can tell a lot about a place by looking at its people. There are certain things one will notice walking around town – particularly about hairstyles and wardrobe selections that seem to say, “only in Pueblo.”

But there’s another characteristic that’s a lot more disturbing; we’re fat.

A recent nationwide survey found that, once again, Colorado is the healthiest state in the county. And once again, Pueblo did little, if anything, to contribute to that. We remark about feeling as if we’re an island set adrift by the rest of the state here in Pueblo sometimes, but then something like this comes along to show us just how out of touch we really are.

And the disconnect literally can be a killer.

I spoke with Cathy Dehn, the LiveWell Pueblo Project Coordinator for Pueblo County, by phone recently about the obesity problem in Pueblo, and about what’s being done to address it.

So why does Pueblo stand alone in being so pervasively overweight in such a healthy state, and with so many natural resources seemingly at our disposal. One clear connection is poverty. Historically, when a community has a lower median income, the residents weigh more, generally due to the fact that cheaper food often isn’t the healthiest for us. But there’s more going on than just that.

We’re a sedentary community. Although we have the mountains nearby, a fantastic reservoir and some pretty decent trails around town, we don’t exercise as much as other Colorado communities. Part of this, I think, is because in the past, we haven’t had to. If you perform back-breaking work all day long tending to crops or on the line at the steel mill, you burn enough calories that working out is superfluous. So it’s not a part of the culture. But as jobs have become more automated, we’ve become less active, with no history of extracurricular activity beyond high school sports to fill the void.

Finally, there’s the matter of regional diet, which is related to the manual labor culture described above. If you’re performing hard physical labor all day, you need food that will stick to your ribs, with plenty of calories, protein and even fat to sustain you until the workday is done. And although we’ve reduced our overall expenditure of calories in an average day, the diet and portion sizes have not adjusted accordingly.

I spoke with Cathy Dehn, the LiveWell Pueblo Project Coordinator for Pueblo County by phone recently about these issues and what is being done about it.

We’re trying to slowly change the culture,” she says. “What’s happened is people are less physically active and not eating as healthy. By giving opportunities and exposure to fresh fruits, vegetables and opportunities for activity, we’re taking small steps in a longer-range goal.”

Asked if she’s seen progress toward the goal of reducing obesity in Pueblo in the several years the government has been trying to intervene, she was frank. “We haven’t yet made an impact on obesity stat,” she says, alluding to the deep cultural systems they find themselves up against. “We’re just now scratching the surface.”

All due credit to the county for trying, but the fact is you can lead a person to a treadmill, but you can’t make them walk.

For five years, we benefitted from a federal grant that funded our Steps to a Healthier Pueblo initiative. Unfortunately, the grant was not renewed, but the effects of the program remain throughout town. Most efforts focused on training schools, workplaces and health care providers about how best to address the issue in their own environments.

There are other examples of programs put into place that now have been picked up and continued by local partnerships, like the riverwalk steps program, which was started through the Steps grant, but which now is sustained by community partnerships, including the HARP Authority.

Other efforts include research, planning and publicity about increasing the walkability and bikeability of our county. Since some do not have the means to drive out to the mountains or the reservoir, we have to bring opportunities for more activity right to the neighborhoods. There are also programs emphasizing diabetes prevention, tobacco use reduction and ongoing clinics for healthcare providers.

If there’s a true frontline in the battle of the bulge, though, it’s in the schools. Decades ago, when public schools struggled to make ends meet, partnerships were forged with private vending and other foodservice companies to bring in packaged food for sale, with a portion of the revenues returning to the school coffers. Ironically, the sale of sodas, sugary snacks and even meals prepared by fast food joints, helped subsidize the athletic programs.

Now, we’re seeing the generations-long effects of such choices, but we’re so dependent on the revenues these contracts create that we’re not sure how to wean ourselves off. Unfortunately, it’s taking federal intervention in the form of phase-out plans for vending machines and fast food contracts to work our way out of the mire we created.

Fat kids become fat adults, and generally, they raise more fat kids. If we’re going to ever get the upper hand in this war, it will hinge on the battles fought for the health of our children. And the consequences reach far beyond the stigma of Pueblo as a community behind the times. Our health care services and costs suffer as a result, as does the economy as a whole.

One of the biggest challenges I see is getting economic development groups like the Chambers of Commerce and PEDCO actively on board. The problem is, they have a conflict of interest; their own members benefit from things like the school vending contracts and restaurants purveying massive amounts of comfort food we don’t need.

So what’s it going to be? Will we continue to limp along, playing the role of state whipping boy, or will we take responsibility as a community to whip our flabby asses into shape?

Originally published in PULP.