vote for zach hunter
Wednesday November 07th 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: church, youth specialties, books, news

51XJ4qCc9TL-_AA240_.jpgwe at youth specialties just found out that zach hunter has been nominated as a cnn hero in the youth category. the winner is determined merely by vote (which, since zach doesn’t have a big organization behind him like some of the other nominees, is unfortunate). but we’d love to get the votes going!

winning would allow zach to appear on a prime time special with anderson cooper, to talk about modern day slavery, and how he (zach) feels god is calling his generation to bring freedom. there’s a cash price also; and zach has already said he would donate it for aftercare and education of rescued child slaves.

help us get the word out — to your churches and youth group and friends.

vote here (btw, the info is wrong: it says zach has raised $20,000 to end slavery. that’s how much zach has personally given, from speaking fees and book royalties. he has raised well over 10x that amount.)

you can vote as many times as you like until monday at noon.

Z does manga right with their new “graphic novel” lines for kids
Friday October 26th 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: youth ministry, books, youth work

in the past few years, a few christian publishers have taken a stab at developing “christian manga”. but their attempts (in my opinion) have failed, because they’ve taken short-cuts on developing art that was true to the form. i realize my opinion is a bit suspect here, since zondervan is my parent company. but when i’d heard Z was developing several series’ of manga books, i was nervous. i was skeptical. but they were patient, and developed the books using experienced manga artists and storytellers. and the result is fantastic: five different series, with two books in each released at this point.

as a “test”, i took them to my daugher, and to the guys in my middle school small group. they LOVED them. and my son max is currently devouring them. i highly recommend them for pre-teen and young teen kids, particularly.

here’s an article on christian manga

here’s the Z graphic novels site

an interesting wired magazine “article” on how manga became so popular with kids (really creative, they tell the history of manga in the u.s. using manga)


boxed in and bored
Monday October 22nd 2007, 3:13 am
Filed under: youth ministry, books, youth work

, by peter scales.

This search institute report, released in 1996, is now out of print. I got a used copy through amazon for about forty bucks, if I remember correctly. But the cheapest used one on amazon right now is $100! (total crack up, since my copy has a price sticker on the back from a goodwill store, pricing it at 49-cents!) it’s not worth $100. And since it’s out of print, I won’t worry about liberally copying paragraphs that caught my attention (it’s a shame: search institute has a downloadable bookstore on their site, but they don’t offer this title).

the book starts by tracing a bit of the history of the middle school movement, which sprung up as a corrective measure to junior high schools. The middle school movement was an attempt to bring a shift to some of the less-than-effective practices of junior high schools. Problem is – as the book states over and over again – very few middle schools actually apply the best practices and values that originated the movement, even if they have “middle school” in their name, and have a 6th - 8th grade format. Next is a section with definitions and an overview of early adolescent development. Finally, a section on what schools can do to help young teens succeed.

Those best practices (of middle schools), again stated several times throughout the short book, are:
- students are challenged and empowered to use their newly emerging cognitive skills to really think, and not just to parrot back facts.
- Students are exposed to thematic, team-taught interdisciplinary curricula that help them meaningfully connect content that has relevance in the real world beyond school.
- Students have families and teachers who set (and model) high expectations for achievement and personal behavior from them; have opportunities to serve and help others, offering their time and talents to make their communities better places in which to live.
- Students go to schools that strengthen their motivation to learn, not for the end of getting good grades, but for the end of experiencing joy, growth in capacity, and increased understanding of their worlds through learning (ironically, those youth will probably end up with better grades too).

Here are a handful of paragraphs that caught my attention:

More and more educators, parents, policy makers, and researchers have concluded that early adolescence is the “last best chance” (Carnegie council on adolescent development 1989) to significantly influence in a positive way the paths that adolescents take in their development.

for a variety of reasons, the structure and curriculum of many – perhaps most – middle schools continues to be out of synch with young adolscents’ developmental needs.

the net result of this [failure of middle schools] is that too many middle school students too often feel boxed in and bored. Too many young adolescents are lectured to just when they need to explore and interact in small groups. Too many are left without effective guidance and connections with caring adults just at the time when their physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and cognitive selves are undergoing great change. Too many are given curriculum that is less challenging and rules that are more strict than they experienced in elementary school, just when they need more academic challenge and a greater sense of participation in developing and enforcing the rules that regulate their behavior.

young adolescents might be said to be asking themselves three psychological questions that correspond to erickson’s crises of establishing a sense of industry, identity, and intimacy (Erickson 1968). Am I competent? Am I normal? Am I loveable and loving? (scales 1991). Some days the answers to these questions are reassuring and some days they are not, and young adolescents’ emotional response can vary commensurably. Whether at home, in school, or in community settings, the job of adults is to ensure that all young adolescents can answer “yes” to these questions.

young adolescents share with people in other age groups a number of basic human needs; they also have some needs that are especially crucial in their particular developmental stage. All people need to feel safe and have a sense of structure and coherence in their lives. All people need to belong to a group, or several groups. All people need to feel self-worth, a sense of control over their own lives, a closeness in at least one sustained relationship, and a sense of competence. Young adolescents especially need to have varied opportunities to explore themselves and their environments. They need a lot of physical activity, a balance between supervision and clear limits, and increasing opportunities to participate meaningfully in their schools, families, and communities (dorman 1985; pittman and wright 1991; scales 1991).

good middle schools build intimacy and connection and give all students a sense that they are cared for. They have a smallness of scale, through arranging schools with hundreds of teachers and students into much smaller teams. They use team teaching and block scheduling to reduce the number of class changes and teacher changes young adolescents have to make each day. Such structural stability is important to middle school youth, whose socioemotional and cognitive capacities are in flux. Young adolescents whose teachers are in teams typically mention how teams improve teacher-student relationships even more than they mention the activities they do in their teams (Kramer 1992).

Good middle schools have teacher-based guidance and advisory programs, and they extensively use various cooperative learning strategies that allow teachers to act as coaches to small groups of students – instead of as classroom lecturers to thirty youth who are discouraged from talking with one another. Good middle schools understand that nurturance is not incompatible with high academic performance and that, for many youth, it is a prerequisite.

researchers have found that youth are best supported by people with five characteristics:
- they see genuine potential in youth.
- They put youth at the center of their programs.
- They believe they can make a difference with youth.
- They feel they are contributing to the community something they owe.
- They are “unyieldingly authentic.”
[teachers and other adults] who truly enjoy and have been specially prepared to teach young adolescents will describe them not as loud, nosy, naïve, undiplomatic, stubborn, or unrealistic, but instead as energetic, curious, idealistic, honest, confident, and optimistic.

So… just a few implications for middle school ministry in churches? Uh, yeah.


odd girl out
Tuesday October 16th 2007, 6:01 am
Filed under: youth ministry, books, youth work

odd girl out.jpg, by rachel simmons

i’m not sure how i missed this book. it was published in 2002, and is absolute must reading for EVERY youth worker (male or female) and every parent of a girl.

it’s a tough read and an easy read. easy, because simmons is an excellent writer and fills the book with real stories of real girls. tough, because the real girls she profiles reveal a profile of aggression (almost universally experienced) that is so painful, so destructive, it’s difficult to read (especially if you care about teenage girls).

i had a great chat with my 13 year-old daughter, liesl, after reading this book. she was very open about how girls treat each other. i may be fooling myself, but i do think that liesl’s private school (a waldorf school, which is particularly nurturing and has no tolerance for mistreatment) protects her from the fullest extent of what this behavior would look like in the vast majority of schools. in fact, i could easily see liesl being the aggressor (the rumor-creator, the silent treatment-giver, the “we don’t like you” club-originator), were she in a different context.

the book talks at length about why this alternative aggression is so commonplace amongst girls. it also talks about why schools are so poor at addressing it. it’s a bit light on suggestions for what we all (who care about girls) can do about it - but there is some of this, especially near the end of the book.

given my passion for early adolescent ministry, i was intrigued to read that this behavior is at its peak during the young teen years. the author focuses all of her research on girls from 5th grade through 9th grade, with the “sweet spot” (bad choice of words, i suppose) between 11 and 14.

here’s one particular paragraph i found fascinating:

at first glance, the stories of girls not being allowed to eat at the lunch table, attend a party, put their sleeping bag in the middle, or squeeze inside a circle of giggling girls may seem childish. yet as carol gilligan has shown, relationships play an unusually important role in girls’ social development. in her work with girls and boys, she found that girls perceive danger in their lives as isolation, especially the fear that by standing out they will be abandoned. boys, however, describe danger as a fear of entrapment or smothering. this contrast, gilligan argues, shows that women’s development “points toward a diffrerent history of human attachment, stressing continuity and change instead of replacement and seperation. the primacy of relationship and attachment in the female life also indicates a different experience of and response to loss. the centrallity of relationship to girls’ lives all but guarantees a different landscape of aggression and bullying, with its own distinctive features worthy of seperate study.


what kind of reader are you?
Monday October 15th 2007, 12:10 pm
Filed under: books
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader

i’m a bit freaked by how accurate that written description is of me.

take the test here

(ht to bob carlton)


barna report on teenagers and church
Sunday October 14th 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: youth ministry, books, youth work, news

a new barna report is out, and it’s about teenagers and church. read the summary here.

as our culture continues toward spiritual syncretism (and teen culture is notorious for this), this finding surprises me a bit:

However, the research raises caution that teenagers’ prodigious appetites for spiritual activity may be waning. Since a decade ago, teenagers are less likely to pray (down from 81% in the mid-nineties), to attend worship services (down from 53%), and to read from the Bible on their own time (down from 37%).

actually, i’m not surprised bible reading is down; but i’m surprised less teenagers say they pray.

there’s a new book out by the lead researcher of the study, along with gabe lyons, called .


the new christians, teaser review
Friday October 12th 2007, 6:01 am
Filed under: church, books, emerging church, emergent

new christians.jpg, by tony jones

i read the manuscript for tony’s book the other day. but the book doesn’t come out until march. so i’m just going to post the endorsement i wrote now a teaser review for now; and i’ll post a full review closer to the release of the book.

I devoured this book! Like A New Kind of Christian gave words to the experiences and thoughts of so many, early in this decade, The New Christians provides language, theology and a nudge toward a path out of our bi-polar morass of left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, mainline vs. evangelical. It cuts sideways across all the rhetoric, entrenchment and warfare-positioning of modern-day Christianity. I’m confident Tony’s book will provide definition for many, helpful disequilibration for others, and – best of all – new hope for those who cannot (or refuse to) continue trudging numbly along the cattle paths of the American church.


off to be silent
Sunday October 07th 2007, 4:23 pm
Filed under: personal, books, family

i’m overdue for one of my quarterly 3-day silent retreats. it’s been four months. and i REALLY feel it.

so, i’m pumped to be heading up to a time-share condo in carlsbad today for a 4-day silent retreat.

jeannie and i own a time-share condo at this resort, but we normally use it for trading. but we had an extra week we were going to lose, so we grabbed one at the home resort. i’m using the first 3 nights, jeannie will go up for a retreat of her own the 2nd half of the week, and we’ll go up with the kids on the weekend for a couple days of games and family fun.

books i’m taking with me:

, by scot mcknight. i’m about 25 pages into this book. i’ve been SO looking forward to this book, as i’ve struggled with my own understanding of atonement for a couple years.

, by rachel simmons

, by Frans Johansson

, by Will Self

, by Charlene C. Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese

(a novel), by Steven Hall

i don’t expect to finish them all, especially as i’m going to give myself an hour a day for writing, and really try to spend some time being silent and not DOING anything. maybe four of ‘em. we’ll see.

i have a post set to go live each day while i’m disconnected. later!


punctuation game!
Friday October 05th 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: books

the things some people consider fun. me, i think this is fun. it’s a punctuation game (really a quiz), in connection with the fabulous and fun book, eats, shoots, and leaves.

here’s the game

i scored a 92% punctuation stickler. i got one wrong. dang!

(ht to len evans)


from magical child to magical teen
Monday October 01st 2007, 6:01 am
Filed under: youth ministry, books, youth work

magical teen.jpg, by joseph chilton pierce.

after a confusing and wordy intro, this book had a fantastic opening paragraph that gave me great hope for the pages to come:

in the summer of my sixth year a great expectation arose within me; something overwhelming was pending. i was up each morning at dawn, rushed to the top of dorchester hill, a treeless knoll of grass and boulders, to await the sun, my heart pounding. a kind of numinous expectancy loomed everywhere about and within me. a precise shift of brain function was afoot; my biological system was preparing to shift my awareness from the pre-logical operations of the child to the operational logic of later childhood, and an awesome new dimension of life was ready to unfold. instead, i was put in school that fall. all year i sat at that desk, stunned, wondering at such a fate, thinking over and over: something was supposed to happen, and it wasn’t this.

unfortunately, the rest of the book was seriously downhill from there.

people occasionally mention to me that i only write positive book reviews. well, i suppose that’s because i try to be careful about what i read; so i’m pre-selecting books i expect i’ll enjoy. my pre-selection abilities failed me on this one.

robert chilton pierce is a bit of a guru to the waldorf crowd (my kids attend a waldorf school). part of me can see why: he’s a spiritual person, and approaches education and development with an assumption that children and teens are spiritual also. and i can dig that; of course, i agree with that. a book about adolescent development that acknowledges, even embraces, the spirit, would be a welcomed read. but the problems with this book (from where i stand) are so far reaching, it’s hardly even worth listing them all. ok, just a few:

1. i was ticked — actually, pissed — that the subtitle of the book is “a guide to adolescent development”, but the book is anything but. i kept soldiering on in my reading, waiting for the part about teenagers. it never really came. somewhere a bit over halfway through the book he wrapped up his summary of childhood development, and i thought to myself, “finally! more than halfway through, and he’s finally getting to adolescent development.” i was wrong. the book turns to development (of the spirit, kinda — see below) that could take place in adolescence, or adulthood, or anytime an individual chooses to self-actualize (my sarcasm).

2. it’s wordy and convoluted and clunky and wanders all over the place.

3. the author uses overstatement and generalization liberally, and regularly present his opinions as fact. one little example of hundreds:

by 1980, sixty to seventy percent of all american children under the age of four were in day-care centers for periods up to twelve hours a day, sevene days a week.

ok, hold on there. yes, some parents overuse day care, to the detriment of their children. and, this was much more true “by 1980″ than it would be “by 2007″ (see next point). but to imply that 60 - 70% are in day-care for 72 hours a week is just irresponsible and misleading information presentation (and irresponsible editing, on the part of the publisher).

4. this book was originally published in 1985 under a different title. in the “publisher’s preface” to this re-titled 2006 edition, the publisher states that the book was published before its time originally, and is only now truly timely. well, that may or may not be true in terms of people swallowing pierce’s buddhist take on development, but it doesn’t change the fact that the book sounds extremely dated, like it was, well, written in the early 80s. i regularly felt developmental findings and cultural trends of the past 25 years were being ignored.

ok, i wrote more words than i meant to.

that was a great opening paragraph, though, huh?