by Jeremy Langill
World peace. Just economic systems. An end to racism and sexism — I have a lot of things that I hope for. And while I do think that we make headway on a daily basis (here at All Saints and the many other places that all of us live our lives) on these big, weighty topics, sometimes I have to concern myself with the “small” places where I can make a difference.
In comes youth group… talk about a group where the advent themes of hope, patience, waiting, and waiting, and waiting really come into play. Don’t get me wrong—I absolutely love every young person that I get to work with—I also know that they, like so many of us, are on a journey, and sometimes that journey is messy, unorganized, and doesn’t always have a clear path.
This past year our theme on Wednesday nights has been multi-culturalism and diversity — I know, real light topics. We been taking a hard look at all the “isms” in our lives—things like racism and sexism, for example. Last week we began a two part series on gender, and with our junior high group it was quite a revelatory, complicated, and joyful experience.
We began the evening by setting up what looked like a soccer field in the Learning Center—a set of cones on each side of the room that stood for the goals and a beach ball in the center that would serve as our ball. As excitement began to build for the game we explained that there were only a couple of rules that everyone had to follow.
The first rule applied only to the boys—they wouldn’t be able to kick the ball forward (only side to side and backwards) and they could only pass to girls. The second rule applied to the girls—they could do whatever they wanted. As you can imagine there was quite the protest (from the boys) that erupted amongst the group—cries of how unfair it was, how they were being treated differently, etc. etc. After playing the game for awhile, we sat everyone down and asked for their reflections on the activity—their insights and reflections were definitely very interesting.
Although most of our young men were still upset at having special rules applied to them, other boys and especially our young women present understood the deeper issue that we were trying to address—that there are many people in our world, especially women, who are treated unequally in our society and are often forced to “play” life by a different set of rules. Many of our junior high girls shared their own personal stories about how they have experienced sexism already in their own lives—and at the end of the night, we spent time with everyone talking about what we can do to make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others around us, especially when it comes to how we treat one another and being careful about the deeper things we communicate when we say hurtful, sexist things.
Talk about hope—I and all of the volunteers left inspired and encouraged that a little bit of God’s love and justice made its way into youth group that night—we left hoping that somehow, through these small encounters on a Wednesday night, that we are sending transformed and equipped young people out to do the work of “turning the human race into the human family” in all the places that they live their lives.