Privileged Christian Youth

Privileged Christian Youth

The LED lights were smashed out of the sign in what was obviously an intentional act of destruction.

I struggle with that sentence. It is my sentence. I said it and I believe it to be absolutely true. I struggle with the fact that I had to say it in the first place.

Part of my role in the inner-city non-profit organisation, in this city, in the middle of the prairies is to take care of all of its buildings and its assets. This includes the $9,000 electronic scoreboard in our gym that is used by high-risk youth six days a week through partnership organisations. These organisations put a considerable amount of effort into going around the neighborhood and picking up kids to bring to our youth center where they run their programs.

These kids come from broken homes and for the most part are very rough around the edges. They tend to get into trouble a lot, don’t take to authority very well, and make poor choices resulting in consequences more times than they would like to admit. At the best of times these kids are a handful.

But none of them did this damage to our scoreboard.

Instead the damage was done by a visiting Christian youth group coming from another province and a large city there. They were staying and using our facility for the weekend as a base of operations as they went out to ‘minister’ at some locations around our city. A bunch of youth showing the Love of Christ to a bunch of other people who they thought needed it. And to us and our facility they decided to damage it.

Well wouldn’t Jesus be proud of them.

I am really struggling with many aspects of this scenario. I struggle with the idea of a bunch of white, self-actualised, privileged ‘Christians’ coming to care for and share the love of the gospel message to who? To our first nations communities. Ugh. Didn’t anyone take notes about what happened through colonisation? Hasn’t anyone been paying attention to the genocide brought about only a generation ago by these same white, self-actualised, privileged ‘Christians’? Why is our Savior coming to us from some wealthy youth group in some neighboring province or even country sitting as a passenger in a large white rented van towing a u-haul trailer behind it filled with stylish matching luggage sets?

How is any of this a good idea?

This city and especially the neighborhood in which I go to work everyday seems to be the epicentre of religious pity. They come and sing some songs in our youth center, make some food in our kitchen, sleep in our gym, and then go out to ‘bless’ this neighborhood telling them that if only they accepted Jesus as their Savior their lives would be just as blessed as them. But perhaps they never get that bold and all they do is paint someone’s fence the wrong color, or clean up a street while avoiding the needle stash in the alley, or play games in some glorified babysitting gig. Whatever it is that they do it is a flash in the pan. They come from afar and show off their privilege before packing back into their rented vans and driving away desperately trying to forget what they saw and experienced.

Oh, and perhaps because they had a bit too much time on their hands they also decided to use our basketballs to have target practice on our scoreboard – all in the name of Jesus I imagine.

Sickening. All of it.

Mountain Escape

Mountain Escape

I find myself in the early morning moments of my day yearning for a simpler time when the sun is waking everything up, the sky brilliant blue, and birds are singing in the tree branches. There is something embedded in those moments that take me out of where I am and place me in some mountain plateau with only the scenery to keep me company. It is as if my soul is recharged in those moments and my world begins to make sense again, all the foolishness fading away into the cool grass beneath my feet. In a handful of days I hope to have that opportunity when my wife and a couple of our children embark on a western road trip back to that mountainous province full of streams, rivers, ocean, and all the things that come with that.

But I am worried that I will miss it all. That it will fly by and I will not have figured out how to relax enough in the moment to take it all in.

It is like the meaningless actions of commuters. They take advantage of a break in the traffic just large enough to race ahead and cut off someone only to be right in front of the person they just cut off. All they have accomplished is to be a few feet ahead but here we both are stuck in traffic, desperate to get home and to escape the misery of it all and they are none the better for such an aggressive move. Meaningless but yet so many of us tend to do this – scratching away at our existence in order to derive one moment of personal victory, one moment of joy in the day.

In my world these days – no, these months it has all seemed to be one endless traffic jam. Winter is a constant in this province, relenting in April/May to the sudden and abrupt arrival of spring leading to an intense burst of summer before it all goes to hell in late September, early October when winter wants her prize back. Then, if winter isn’t hard enough life has thrown so much at me over this last year that I have quite honestly found myself on several occasions shouting out to anybody or anything that gives a damn, “Enough! Stop it!” When this is compounded against the content of my job, working with the marginalised and broken aspects of our population there becomes a narrowing place for hope to reside.

This is why the sunshine and blue skies are so very important to me. This is my rainstorm – bringing with it hope and a way to see my way out of my circumstances. I never want to take for granted the view from my office, looking at a park across the street – no office buildings to block my view. I never want to take for granted the view from my living room window, looking at the beautiful garden oasis that my wife has created in our front yard. No, it is so very important that I don’t take those things for granted.

Which is why this trip is so very important. And why it is so very important that before I actually leave on the trip I can figure out a way to slow my brain down, to turn it off from the endless misery that seems to follow me around. To deflect other people’s problems, to block other people’s drama/misery long enough to break free for a few days to pour into myself once again. To feast on the geography of this most western province and escape the doldrums of prairie landscaping in this quasi-spring season. Various shades of brown with sticks of yellow just isn’t doing it for me lately.

 

 

Popularity

Popularity

I used to be popular.

Well, now, I don’t know if that statement is actually true.

Perhaps another way of writing it is to say that I used to be known by more than a few people.

But, no – wait a second – that isn’t true either because in that sense I am known by far more people now than before. So, what am I saying?

What is popularity?

I started wondering about this after reading through some other blogs by other people who post how many followers they have – and they have a lot. Thus, they must be popular. But then again, being a blogger I have been approached with ads that for only a few hundred dollars I could have thousands of followers as well. Then there is all that shit about fake news and nothing seems real any more. I am sure that those blogs that I were reading who had those thousands of followers are all legit. I think.

But, regardless of whether those followers are real or not I was more interested in my reaction to those numbers. I wanted the same numbers on my page. I don’t post how many followers I have and quite frankly I would have to spend a lot of energy to figure out where to find that number and I don’t know if I want to know.

Lies. All lies.

I do know. I just wrote that to make myself feel better. I do know how many followers I have and it isn’t thousands. It isn’t even a thousand. Yet.

I remember back in the early days of Facebook for a few years I was racking up the ‘friends’. I was posting funny and witty content everyday and I enjoyed reading everyone’s responses to it all. Yes, then I was popular. Very popular. But then the trolls started coming out – and this was before trolls were even a thing. These were the pre-trolls – the troll’s parents per se.

I didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy reading their comments about my comments. All of a sudden in the moment it was as if there were some underlining social structure that I was not aware of – some way of acting, some way of being, some way of behaving that I had missed the briefing on and when my eyes left my screen and started wondering about these imposed behavioural expectations I realised that all that I had before – back in those days of Facebook – in terms of popularity, was merely “Dust in the Wind” as the rock group Kansas sang about way back in 1977.

I was berated. My comments and opinions and general observations about life were not correct and therefore not acceptable. Suddenly it seemed I cared about their comments and so I stopped. Actually, back in the day when this first happened not only did I stop but I deleted my social media accounts and poured myself into my research, turning my Master’s thesis into research around what I came to call, “Experiential Authority”. I then wrote a book and self-published it under the same title.

I don’t think I like popularity.

I like affirmation but popularity comes at too high of a cost. It opens oneself up to the vastness of public scrutiny – whether it is fake or not – real or contrived – worthy or worthless. I like affirmation but only from those who have a vested interest in me. Only from those who have taken the effort to get to know me. The rest of it is so fragile, so temporal, so uncertain of itself that I need to make sure I don’t give in to the temptation to be liked that I reach out and grab this thing called popularity for like the wise author of Proverbs once wrote the seductress will taste sweet on the lips but bitter in the stomach.

 

To Be Known

To Be Known

I write because that is my love language. It is my medium by which I choose to communicate. I remain a stranger hidden behind this screen and although I allow myself to be vulnerable in this venue I am aware that I have also made sure that I cannot be found thus exposing my fear and insecurity to everyone. Like most of us, I imagine, we want to be known and in that most vulnerable of places we want to also feel safe and therein lies an unspoken problem. That most intimate of combinations – feeling safe and being vulnerable is so elusive and so intimidating to try and create that I suspect most of us don’t bother.

I know I don’t.

My vulnerability to my reader – and I do desire to remain vulnerable to my reader – is covertly made safe because I keep my identity hidden. It would take a lot of effort on my reader’s part to read my entire blog in order to piece together the clues as to who I am and I suppose if my reader were to put in such an effort and discover who I am then perhaps that effort alone would compel me to be known to them as well.

But.

In the meantime I use this disguised medium to allow myself to write, to be vulnerable, to search my heart and my mind, exposing both the lovely and the dark. I find it therapeutic. I find it real. Because, in my day job there is not a lot of space for real. I need to be professional. I need to lead. I need to instruct. I need to inspire. But it is dangerous to be real.

And I am not ready to be known like that.

It’s My Right After-all

It’s My Right After-all

We seem to be living in a world where the demand on others around us to let us do whatever the hell we want as some sort of individualistic right that has been granted to us by our mere existence is getting too much to swallow. Last time I checked we were living in what is supposed to be a civilised society – a ‘developed nation’, and a leader of countries to the rest of the world. Although that last bit is funny to me because it conjures up this exact scenario of an argument now being played out by a bunch of over-compensating men (for the most part) pushing and shoving each other for the spotlight on the world stage. Okay, maybe only one over-compensating man but that is a different story indeed….

We live in a time where being second in line is no longer okay. If we are second in line the shout out is for the venue to create a second line so we can be first in one of the lines. We live in a time where it is impossible to keep up with the trends, the fads, the who’s who and the what’s what. They change in any given moment, based on the manipulation of social media and slick marketing disguised as ‘real-life’ because the reality is that no-one seems to know what reality is anymore.

Fake news. Fake celebrities. Fake advertising. We are all living a giant lie it seems and no-one gives a shit because all anyone wants is to be first in line or at the very least to be given what they want when they want it where they want it to be.

When I drive in the city my defensive driving now includes studying the faces of the other drivers around me and those whose faces betray their selfish ambitions fuelled by their rage of not being singled out and given passage to their wanton desires – those drivers I will turn off the road into any old parking lot in order to avoid. The problem is this severely limits my ability to drive in the city because frightening to me is the growing realisation that everyone’s face is becoming like this one individual.

Our society is crumbling. It is being defined and massaged to a place where selfishness is the currency. Circle the wagons indeed except there is no imminent attack there are only individuals circling their wagons, trying to force their circles into the space of the people next to them who are circling their wagons – making the whole scene rather sad.

I’m no better. I have firmly secured my own parking spot at work and I carry enough authority to make sure I get to keep it – even going as far as to make other people move their vehicles to accommodate mine if necessary. The kicker in that? My parking spot is on a public street.

Selfishness Masquerading As Loyalty

Selfishness Masquerading As Loyalty

Power brings with it a ferocious loyalty – however it is my assertion that this loyalty is incredibly selfish. I make the following observation based on my life experience to date. An employee with low-level positional authority, in a place of supervising other employees shows a disproportionate amount of loyalty to their employer. What I mean by disproportionate is that they take the implied goals of the organisation and through a zealot-ed approach to management they make sure those goals are met. Consequently, in my experience this looks a lot like the supervisor being an ass-hole and even worse is when that supervisor is an ass-hole doing unscrupulousness things in order to make sure those goals are met.

Allow me a moment to unpack this a bit further with a couple of examples. A supervisor responsible for scheduling employees utilises guilt, intimidation, and outright threats of loss of employment in order to make sure that shifts are filled by employees. Why would the supervisor feel the need to stoop to such methods in order to coerce and intimidate the employees? They have no financial stake in the business as they are simply a lower level employee themselves. I suggest that it rests in insecurity around their own positional authority and the power associated with it. They feel inclined to demonstrate their loyalty to their employer through archaic methods of intimidation, which really only betray their own deep-seated insecurity around the power that they currently possess. They don’t want to lose the power so this is their attempt to hang onto it. Thus what looks like loyalty is really only a thin veil covering their own vain ambitions to pursue even more power.

Power does that after all. It is all-consuming to the best of us.

The second example is of an implied supervisor but technically is a peer employee. This person is someone who has been with the organisation longer than their peers and has been provided some measure of positional authority based on tenure. A term that I have heard to describe this person would be ‘key-holder’. I find this example even more perplexing because with this key-holder who stoops to using the same types of intimidation they are actually at the very same organisational level as the employees they are intimidating. In a lot of cases they could even be making the same amount of money and yet here we see a heightened sense of loyalty to the employer, which as I have already pointed out is only a selfish attempt to retain that measure of power that they have been given by the employer.

Again power corrupts.

These are examples of a flawed organisational system. One that rewards this type of loyalty without actually understanding the vanity and selfishness associated with the loyalty. Every organisation would love to have their employees demonstrate loyalty however a pitfall is seeing this type of thing play out and to think that what is going on is actually loyalty. It’s not and it is best to not get caught up in thinking that it is for selfish individuals seeking power is a dangerous thing indeed.

Instead a healthy organisational structure would put in place clear policy and procedures, which remove the emotion from the supervision. A healthy organisational structure would work to create a culture that minimises power while recognising authority structures. A healthy organisational structure would focus on building clear communication tools that transpose through each level of authority with ease and function.

How the hell do you do that?

  1. Clearly defined supervisory roles through well thought out job descriptions
  2. A clear organisational structure with titles and reporting authority shown
  3. Clear communication structures such as:
    1. Structured coaching
    2. Annual reviews
    3. Monthly or weekly meetings (a min. of monthly) with subordinates
    4. Easy to find / locate / use group communication tools such as schedule, minutes from staff meetings, upcoming events, company information
    5. Well defined disciplinary procedures

In my experience the more structured the workplace can be the less opportunity power has to corrupt and consequently the less frequent one would encounter loyal employees.

And believe me…. organisations today need a hell of a lot less loyal employees…

 

Comparison Brings Despair

Comparison Brings Despair

Perhaps most of us are not – as they say – comfortable in our own skin.

I write that sentence, sitting in my chair by my living room window, typing on my laptop and enjoying the early morning sunbeams filling the space around me. A perfectly idyllic situation but wrought with insecurity and various levels of emotional uncomfortable-ness and I wonder – no I assert – that surely I am not the only one who feels this way. As I daydream through my living room window I wonder if most of us are fleeing a current reality while trying to construct some other ‘thing’.

Take me for example. I am currently wearing some sort of weird elastic belt – meant for hernias in an attempt to keep ‘everything in’ while I wait for surgery. I don’t want to wait for surgery. I don’t even want surgery. I want to wake up and not have a hernia and I most certainly don’t want to face the fact that my health is not at a place where I would have no need for such medical intervention in the first place. But it is more than a poor self-reflection or more than self-imposed body shaming that I struggle with – although my mind is riddled with the various complexities of comparing myself to the physique of ‘The Rock’ and how that self-depreciating approach to life impacts how I view everyone else around me as well.

My struggle finds its roots in a hedonistic way of life that I long to embrace and live every moment of my life by. I love how John Piper explains this philosophy with his work on Desiring God. I paused here and went to search for a link to a reference to explain further to my readers on what I mean by this, however what I found was a growing critique of his work and some of the weird directions his work has taken over the years.

And therein lies my point.

I haven’t followed John Piper for years. I connected with his philosophy of finding joy in everything around us – to purposefully pursue joy in the most unabashed and selfish way I possibly could – rooted in a deepening desire to know God more and to enjoy Him as He delights in me. It was enough to have my eyes opened in the moment that I didn’t feel it necessary to continue to follow ‘him’ as in John because it was the pursuit of ‘Him’ as in God that I was most interested in and this hedonistic methodology seemed so intriguing to me.

But it would appear that others did continue to follow John and inevitably they were disappointed with what they found.

I have a distant friend – or at least someone whom I once called a friend – who has taken to writing a blog about his mental illness – his depression – in an attempt to come to terms with this monster in his life appearing to steal everything he loves so dearly from him. I have been intrigued with how he writes – so fleeting, so despairing, as he seems to reflect that any joy in his life is merely ‘accidental’ at best because Depression is lurking around the next corner. His inevitable comparison to absolutely everyone and everything around him both in circumstances and ‘other-ness’ only seems to reinforce to him that he must embrace a life worthless, a life devoid of pleasure and sensational happiness.

On several occasions after reading his blog I have thought why doesn’t he simply embrace the moments of joy for what they are? Why be so suspicious of them? So much energy spent on the comparison to others that it has most definitely revealed his own intense level of not being comfortable in his own skin.

And then my thoughts go toward my children and perhaps in less dramatic ways, even mundane ways, as I hear their stories of employment woes the same theme seems to emerge and I am left to wonder, “Is no-one comfortable in their own skin?” The complaints of other staff members or customers only seem to emphasis their cry to be known and to be appreciated for what they have to offer and the growing reality that they are not and what that would do to someone’s sense of worth and value in the moment.

But why is any of that important after all? If we could learn to find contentment with who we are and where we are then what would any of that peripheral stuff matter? If I could get over the fact that I am in poorer health today than I was even a few years ago and stopped beating myself up about it what would change? Well, for starts I would be happier and more content and in those circumstances I would find it easier to pursue joy and consequently to experience joy.

If my children could look beyond the pettiness and negative actions of their co-workers or customers that they interact with and focus on the aspects of their work that they do enjoy – then what would change? This is hard to do of course because each of us long to be affirmed in what we do and in who we are and in this world of comparison and judgement finding a place where our need for those things are truly met is getting harder and harder to find.

My heart grieves for my children as they navigate this world on their own. My heart grieves for my long ago friend who has decided that to embrace his despair is somehow his lot in life. My heart grieves for me as I find myself missing out on moments in which I could be experiencing joy but instead find myself dwelling too long on the sideways looks that people give me, judgement written upon their faces and me suddenly thinking that what they are thinking means something to me.

It is a rotten way to live and yet I get trapped by it all and in the moment I am taken away from my blissful morning, enjoying the birds chirping, my dog curled up by my feet, basking in the sunbeams. I look out my living room window and miss the beautiful blue sky and the flowers in the window box and instead I dwell entirely too long on the comparison to others and their judgements of me.

A morning wasted.