Be the Change

When I took the leap and decided to become a youth minister at my new church, I faced my own heavy expectations.  A cradle Catholic, I was certain my knowledge and faith would far exceed all of the other volunteers, many of whom are still in high school and recently went through Confirmation.  High school students, after all, are self-absorbed punks who have no respect for others and no regard for religion or morals.  Right?  From my own experiences, my image of the youth was considerably distasteful. I fully prepared myself to be the beacon of light, the change that brought these misguided high school youth “leaders” closer to Christ.

Is anyone really proud of their high school years?  Do any of you look back years later on high school and think, I really did have it all together back then?  If you answered affirmatively to that question, you are either lying or still in high school (and you will discover years later that you were lying).  My high school persona was as arrogant and foolish as so many others; I cursed too often, I drank, smoked, and disrespected my parents and other authority figures in general.  Many of my actions were focused on getting a rise out of my peers – most of whom shared similar unholy interests.  Seeing as how it has only been about five years since I graduated, I anticipated that most high school teens, including those in my new location, had the same morals and motives.  I was ready to use my own story, my own faith to set them straight.

As months of youth group meetings went by, I befriended many of the teens, but I was making little to no progress.  The youth group nights were going great, but my role was more reserved than I had intended.  Suddenly, it hit me.  These students were not in need of some faith transformation.  In fact, these “punk” teenagers turned out to be young men and women of such strong faith, capable of inspiring so many others and leading them to God.  Every Wednesday night, an atmosphere of community, hope, and love came to life in a large part by the twenty-two teenagers who willingly give their time to serve others.  They weren’t just outstanding youth ministers, they were outstanding Christians.  They weren’t just exceptional teenagers, they were exceptional people.  Their brains may not be fully developed – but their hearts certainly are.  I had failed on my mission to change these youth.  They had changed me.

We’ve all heard the age-old saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  I agree with this wholeheartedly; however, I would like to add to it.  When you see others creating positive change, stop and take time to appreciate them, to praise them, and to share them with the world!  I spent hours fretting over how I could “be the change” in an environment in no need of it. But there are many places that are in great need.  Anyone who regularly watches the news likely understands our world’s need for a positive difference in the limelight.  Amid the violence, racism, abuses and political differences facing our world, I have found a great beacon of hope, of truth, of positivity.  I hoped it might have started with me.  But someone already beat me to it.

Fellas: We’ve Lost Our Touch

When I was in kindergarten, a girl kissed me on the cheek.  I can barely even remember it, but I must’ve done something fairly sweet that won her over.  The entire fling was wrapped up in a child-like innocence, one that many teens and young adults would look at and chuckle.  But I would argue that these same teens and adults could learn something from what took place on that playground.  She was seven.  She liked me.  I liked her.  And she didn’t need the approval of all of her closest girlfriends; she didn’t need to chat with me online first.  She just acted bravely, and I think grown men, me included, could take notes from this unabashed seven year-old girl.

Nothing about the way our fling played out would be protocol in today’s digitalized era.  Along came computers, then the internet, then social media, and then we all put our guards up.  Dating stayed fairly the same; the steps leading up to dating took a turn for the worse.  I know “social” media has made us less social beings, and I don’t think anyone would argue that.  I certainly use it.  But there is a right and a wrong way to use social media to meet/talk to/observe women, and more often than not I think we men take the wrong way.

The old method used to be this: meet a person, get to know them, then add them as a friend on Facebook or follow them on Twitter once you have become friends.  Many people have put a negative spin on this, namely: see a girl in passing or come across a picture of her, add her on social media, talk to her ON SOCIAL MEDIA with “cute” messages, finally meet face-to-face.  A very observant individual recognized this trend and created the monstrosity that is Tinder, in which you determine whether or not you might want to “chat” electronically with someone based solely off of their photos.  I do not have the statistics, but the trend seems to be that more of the connections made on this app end up in one night stands and not dating.  And please don’t think that I am against dating websites like Match, because I am not.  Dating sites can be helpful for people in a rut, as long as they are honestly looking for a companion, someone they want to get to know better.  If dating sites end in face-to-face contact, where people do fall in love with others due to their personalities, I think that’s a plus.

That being said, I think Tinder is toxic to our society, not only because it demeans someone to merely a picture or two, but because it reinforces some peoples’ idea that the right way to approach someone is via a screen where you work your smooth moves.  I have had multiple people tell me how confident and bold they are because of the clever innuendos they posed to a girl they are sending messages to.  I’m supposed to be impressed and praise them for how good they are with women.   Really?  Is that how we now define confidence?  Have we gotten to the point as a society where women fall for whoever has the most creative pick-up line on an app, or who sends them enough Facebook messages? Or where that is the perception at least?  What happened to approaching others in person, or meeting them through groups, clubs, church, or social events?  But many people don’t want to make that kind of time commitment.  And why should they when a gorgeous girl is right at their fingertips, just as long as they swipe right enough times?

I do not like the trend that I am seeing.  And as I have begun living on my own, I have found it difficult to meet young people.  The approach of meeting people face-to-face is difficult, and I am far from mastery on the subject.  But maybe that’s also what makes it so special.  I’ll be the first to admit I need to lay off the Facebook creeping a bit myself.  But let’s agree-as men, as women, as a society, to try to do a little better.

A Recent Graduate’s Guide to Being Alone

I hated college until the minute I left.  I then realized how much I had loved college.  Alas, I can’t go back.  Not to the fairy tale that was undergraduate at least.

Now many of my friends have taken completely different routes since graduating college.  Some are going on to further their education, some are staying at home for a while, others moving in to strange, new places for work.   Despite the different paths we are all taking, there is one common thread among us-we’re grown ups now.

It hit me especially hard.  I moved three hours away from home, three hours away from college, three hours away from life as I knew it.  And I am still learning every day how to deal with these new experiences as they come at me.  And I’ll be the first to admit I still kinda suck at it.  But based off of my experiences so far, here is a brief guide to living alone.

1. The first friend is the toughest

Friends do not come nearly as easy in the real world because it is so hard to find that starting point.  In college, you literally live in a network of people.  Everyone you meet in college is connected to dozens of other people the same age as you.  In the real world,  “networks” are very different.  Many of the people you meet are much more focused on caring for their families than making new friends.  You will have to put forth much more effort, and go out of your way to make friends.

2. Don’t hang around terrible people

If you didn’t learn this in college, congrats on your online degree.  Difference in the real world is, awful people become harder to avoid.  But don’t spend your time with someone who does not make you feel better about yourself only because you need a “friend.”  Take your time to develop positive, meaningful relationships.  Because for every awful person, there are ten wonderful people who would be happy to make your acquaintance.

3. Get involved, even if you don’t see an immediate payoff

I made the mistake of joining a running group only because I thought I could meet young people.  When, to my dismay, I realized that the demographic was 40-something year-olds, many of whom regularly ran ultra-marathons in double knee braces.  But the reward came in a different manner than I had expected; I gained new friendships and perspectives from a variety of people, despite the fact that there was barely anyone within ten years of me!

4. Treat people as ends, not means to an end

This lesson applies to everyone in any stage of life, but I think it has particular meaning for young people.  In my quest for meeting fellow youth, finding a girl who shares similar interests and having a group to go to the bar with, I found myself wondering how everyone could help me get there.  Who had friends they could introduce me to?  Who had a daughter who would like to meet me?  Who is close with this group of people?  This type of thinking is selfish and it can interfere with communication.  Form relationships with all your coworkers, group members, fellow churchgoers, even your neighbors.  Sure, they might not set you up on a blind date with the love of your life, but chances are some of them could end up being your best friends.

5. Learn to be comfortable alone

I’m still not good at this one-but it seems important.  It is extremely difficult to swallow your pride and go it alone in public-no headphones, no companion, nothing.  Society places so much importance on being “social;” social status, social media, etc.  Our natural reaction is to feel sympathy when we see someone walking or dining alone.  But I am willing to bet (though I’m not quite confident enough yet) that there can be great outcomes to learning how to feel comfortable in the silence.