Acknowledgment

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We all want acknowledgement for what we can do. This is really obvious in our workplaces. We do our work we want to be acknowledged by our co-workers, by our bosses, in our paychecks, the size of our office etc. Also, we parade this acknowledgement in our personal lives with the car we drive, the size of our house, the clothes we wear. We have a desire to be good at something, to be the best at anything. Either we tell the best stories or we are the funniest or the best at a video game or a sport… whatever our thing is, we want to be known.

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Well that’s not so bad, is it? All we want is recognition for the things we do well and for the contribution we make to society. It is a natural desire we have. The question it leaves us with, however, is why do we need to be acknowledged? Do we really need recognition for the things that we do? The answer is a very clear and resounding NO! We don’t need it, we want it.

It goes deeper than that though. It is not just that we are whiny children who want someone to notice them. What we really want is not just recognition for what we do, but for who we are. That is something very different. The truth is when my Dad does acknowledge me for my skills on the baseball diamond, it feels empty. When he wrote me a letter for a retreat and he talked so much about how proud he was when he watches me hit a baseball, all I could think was “So what? What if I lost my arm in an accident and could never swing a bat again? Would you be proud then?”

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At the root of it is an insecurity that eats away at us from the inside out. Thinking about all this I realized that I have this deep, dark voice that repeats the same thing… “If they only knew who you really are deep down, they wouldn’t love you.” It gives me chills to put that voice in writing. I don’t know if I believe in a personified Satan, maybe Satan is just that thought lurking in the shadows of my unconscious. If you read that line and it did not strike a chord with you, then I am seriously scared for your humanity! That line is fundamental to who I am. I’ve been running away from that very sentence my entire life.

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The solution is always the trickiest part, isn’t it? This is why I think vulnerability is the key to happiness. I spent a lot of my life trying to be perfect, especially in a moral sense. I was so hard on myself and I used every ounce of energy I had to do the right thing. I didn’t swear, I never did drugs, I never smoked, I didn’t even drink alcohol until I was 24. I tried to be a kind, sincere, compassionate person to everyone and I always felt like I was a step behind because of it. The truth though was that I was hiding from that voice. If I did everything right, no one would find out who I really was. No one would know the dark thoughts I had, that we all have. When you are sitting in a quiet place and a baby starts crying. All you can think is “Why isn’t someone making that stop!” even though we might not say it, or at least not like that!

Vulnerability is admitting our flaws. It is saying to the world, look at me, this is who I really am! That is the most terrifying thing in the world to do. It’s like walking down the street naked, completely stripped of all the things that we are ashamed of. It is difficult to do that for all of us. For men I know, it means crying in front of people. It means admitting that you don’t know the answer, or you don’t understand. Maybe it just means asking questions. There is no one more courageous than someone who asks a “dumb” question. It means being goofy, embarrassing yourself, sometimes maybe even on purpose. It means stop pretending like you actually enjoy the stupid crap that other people say they enjoy (even though they don’t) just to fit in. All of this is much easier said than done of course. It starts small though and then it grows. God knows I am not practising what I preach, in fact, I think I have further to go than most people. I suppose recognizing it is only the first step, living it is the challenge.

 

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Dave Chappelle

*Language warning* I don’t usually swear but I use a swear word to quote Dave Chappelle, if you don’t like it, don’t read it. Also Dave Chappelle’s comedy is very offensive, again if you can’t handle it don’t watch! You’ve been warned!

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Dave Chappelle has another new Netflix special out and they are pretty dark. Now Dave Chappelle has a tendency to talk about some pretty heavy subject matter. Race being his main component of his performance. I love Dave Chappelle because he barely does comedy… most of his material isn’t funny because it’s too real to be comedy. In “The Bird Revelation” he tells a story about a pimp who uses fear and devastating deception to trick one of the prostitutes into sticking around instead of leaving. He suggests that this is an analogy for how Comedy Central treated him while doing “Chappelle Show”. I’m guessing he legally is not allowed to say that this is what happened, so this is a clever way for him to get the truth out there. It’s scary if he is legally bounded not to say what happened, it shows how much power an organization like Comedy Central has.

However, the real kicker is when he calls this analogy the “Capitalist Manifesto”. He’s not just talking about a pimp or Comedy Central but the entire system we live under. First, what does he mean when he calls this analogy the Capitalist manifesto? I would suggest that he is trying to say that we are all prostitutes. We sell our bodies out to corporations who use fear and deception to keep us coming back even after we have reached our mental limit. He compares the pimp to McDonald’s and even says this explicitly, “Why do you think most of us work 9 – 5? Because 9 – 6 might kill a bitch.”

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In the book “Pimp” by Iceberg Slim, The more experienced pimp says to Iceberg, beat the prostitute and then draw her a bath and give her some pills. He says she will be so grateful that you fixed her, that she’ll forget you’re the one who beat her. Earlier in the show, Dave talks about how every time someone stands up for something good we as a society beat them down. Colin Kaepernick stands up for justice and gets crucified, Chappelle even makes a suggestion towards what happened to Jesus. You don’t have to agree with everything someone says, but we should admire people willing to stand up even if we disagree. Chappelle also says, and repeats with emphasis, that the best prostitute (or “bottom bitch”) keeps the other ones in line. This means that in a Capitalist society, the people who make it to the top are the ones who keep the rest in line. AKA the more money you make, the more you work for the system. There is even a sense of Stockholm Syndrome going on here.

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Isn’t this the story of our society today? Donald Trump has to come to mind, doesn’t he? He is a rich, “successful” businessman that the average person looks up to and even idolizes. Who doesn’t want tall buildings with their name in gold on it? People admire him and his ability to make money so much that they elect him as president. This makes it official that he is in charge of keeping everyone else in line. In the analogy, the Capitalist system is the pimp, Donald Trump is “bottom bitch” and we are all the other bitches. That is a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true.

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The pimp in Iceberg’s story is trying to control a woman that he has no control over. He uses fear and deception to get her to work for him just a little bit longer and just a little bit harder. This is Capitalism. We work for society, get paid as little as possible to work as long and hard as possible to make money in order to buy things because that stimulates the economy which is good for society. Great! Now we can work harder and buy more stuff and it just keeps going in a vicious cycle for no reason with no one ever wining.

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The crazy thing is, we blame the government or we blame individual people, but it’s no one person or one group of people’s fault. We can blame society or Capitalism, but these aren’t actual things, these are concepts. They are concepts that we invented as an experiment to try to make the world work. The experiment has failed. No one is winning. Even the bottom bitch is still a bitch to this system which is pimping us out, even though it’s nothing! It is as if we created our own slavery to live under with no ruler, no pimp, no one to blame but our lack of courage to try something new!

The good thing is that we can change this. If we created it, we can break it and try something new. We hand our sovereignty over because we are afraid of what real freedom looks like. This is what Christ really came to offer, true freedom. True detachment from the system. Jesus said something significant about money and Capitalism, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar” (Matt. 12:17). We need to break this vicious cycle, let’s find a new way.

 

“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’
    She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit,
    a haunt for every unclean bird,
    a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.
 For all the nations have drunk
    the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
    and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.” Rev. 18:2-3

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Breaking the Cycle

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I watched this fantastic Documentary called Breaking the Cycle on Netflix. (The trailer for it is above.) It is a comparison of the Maximum Security Prison system in Norway to the United States. The movie is about how in Norway prisoners are isolated from society, including their family and friends, and that is the punishment. In American Prisons, the prisoners are treaty poorly. Prisoners are treated, even right now in Canada, as a lesser human being than the average citizen. Even after they leave prison and have served their time, experienced their punishment, it is hard to find a job that will hire them. There are people who think that prisoners have it too easy, they can watch TV, get exercise, eat three meals etc. but what good does it do to take any of that away from them? How does making prison more miserable help society?

Maybe you think that if we make something as terrible as possible then people will do everything they can, not to go there. We know this does not work. I can re-quote the statistics from the movie of recidivism: when people who serve their time in prison go back repeatedly, but I don’t think I need to. The idea is that some people are just bad people. They were born bad, they are bad now and they will always be bad. We know, however, that everyone has reoccurring bad habits. We know we do things that are bad for us and yet we keep going back to it. Maybe for you, it’s smoking, overeating, laziness, or even media! (You are reading this blog….) Breaking a habit is hard but when it comes to prison, breaking a habit becomes crucial to society.

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You might also respond to this by saying, “However bad they are treated in prison it is not bad enough.” If someone murdered someone, deep down we know there is no justice. You can never give back a life that you’ve taken. This is where forgiveness and compassion come in. To say to someone who has had a loved one murdered, “you need to forgive” is hard. The thing is, forgiveness heals the person who forgives not the murderer, once you can let go of that pain it heals you. As the bible says when we show kindness to people who don’t deserve it from us, “it is like we shovel burning coals on their head.” (Proverbs 25:22) It’s painful to be filled with hate and have someone show you compassion. Forgiveness creates the pain of healing. 

This video is one of the most amazing stories of forgiveness that not enough people have heard about. It’s easy to forget that this story is not fiction, this really happened and it can happen in every one of our lives.

The bottom line is that these people, good or bad, are going to serve their time in prison and come back into society. Helping them become better functioning members of that society isn’t even compassion, it’s just common sense. I believe that when people are treated a certain way, that they accept their role and act out that role accordingly. So if you treat someone as if they know everything, they will become a know it all. If you treat someone as a delinquent, they will act like delinquents act. Therefore, when we treat people in prison as if they are an animal, they will accept the role and integrate it into their very being.

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You might respond to this, “Good! They deserve to be treated like the dogs that they are!” In the last blog, I stressed that there are no bad people, only good people who make bad decisions. If we treat people as a human being first, and judge him or her for their actions second, I think the world would be a better place. I’m not saying to ignore or dismiss their actions either. People released from prison have served their time. They have been separated from society and they don’t need further humiliation and punishment. What they need is the opportunity for change. We give them that by focusing on rehabilitation in and after prison. This comes down to one principle; love your neighbour as yourself. When the Pharisees ask Jesus who is their neighbour, his answer is any person who is “other”.

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The Motivation of Fear: Elf on a Shelf

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I think we see this use of fear as a motivator in so many different ways.  Last blog I talked about using fear to coerce people into doing the right thing. Today I want to talk about using fear as a motivator at Christmas. In other cultures, people use some really dark and twisted things to scare kids into being good. In Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Tyrol and parts of Northern Italy Krumpus is a thing. Ya, the half-goat/half-demon thing they made a horror movie about. His job is to punish children by drowning them, eating them or taking them to Hell… terrifying. Less scary but far more racist is Black Pete! Or Zwarte Pete is a white person dressed in blackface with painfully racist stereotypically black features such as big red lips, nappy hair and gold hooped earrings. Black Pete is a helper to Santa but also punishes children, at least in Dutch culture, by bringing them back to Spain… sorry Spain.

In North America, we think these traditions may be weird at best but more likely, we think they are horrible. My self-reflective question is, are we any different? Enter the infamous Elf on a Shelf! At our office at the church in London, we had one named Jacques. Let’s start by admitting the Elf is creepy! He watches you to see if you are good and then he moves around at night but when you see him he never moves…  ahem, Trilogy of Terror, Chucky, Annabelle, Night of the Living Dummies…. need I go on, terrifying! So the truth is we are no better than the European countries who have basically just different versions of the same idea, scare your child into being good.

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Here is where the pill gets even harder to swallow. Isn’t it the same idea with our beloved Santa Claus too? I mean, he’s not going to steal children and drown them but a lump of coal? In the end, it is just more fear to coerce kids to be good. The real issue though is what we talked about in my last blog. We use God for this purpose as well. A man in the sky who can see everything you do to make sure you are being good with eternal punishment in Hell if you are not good. An Atheist might say, “Oh all of these are just myths for children that we don’t need to listen to once we are an adult.” However, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. It is logical to think that there is more than just our physical world and therefore reasonable to believe in God.

Now I have no problem with Elf on a Shelf, I think it’s a great and fun family thing to do. Same with Santa and obviously God… other cultures, you do you. The point is that we are teaching children a terrible message if we use any of these figures in this way. We teach them that they are only as valuable as what they do. We teach them conditional love rather than unconditional love. The message is “if you are good, you will get a gold star.” Ask Job from the Bible how that works out! I think this perpetuates the Utilitarian principle that you are what you do. If you commit crimes, you are a criminal. If you don’t do well at school, you are dumb. It becomes an identity and an identity is hard to shake once it is ingrained. I tell kids all the time, there are NO bad people. People are all inherently good, but some people choose to do bad actions. Once you define a person as something, once that label is associated with who they are as a human being, how can they ever act without it influencing them?

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Freedom of Conscience

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Freedom of Conscience is an important part of religion and is regularly overlooked. The job of the Church’s teaching office is to outline truth. When it comes to ethics and morals this means defining what is right and wrong. The church does this well, however, Karl Rahner says,

“The Church’s teaching office can provide this pure presence of the truth of revelation in the Church, but it is not in a position to supervise the conformity of the individual’s specific faith with the Church’s doctrine.” [1]

While the Church sets guidelines for morality, it is the responsibility of the individual to use their freedom of conscience to discern where and when to apply those rules. Rahner goes on to say,

“In respect to the individuals faith, when this faith takes on tangible form in society, the teaching office can only ascertain that this particular expression of faith does not contradict the universal faith of the Church”.[2]

“Ascertain” means to find something out for certain. Rahner is saying that the job of the church is to say with certainty whether or not a particular act goes against Goodness itself.

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The Catholic Church has not always been supportive of the freedom of conscience in its members. The Fourth Lateran Council made it obligatory to confess sins once a year in 1215 and then issued the states secular authorities to enforce excommunication.[3] People obeyed the Church’s moral obligations, however, “Fear of Divine Judgement loomed large among the motivational forces”.[4] Moral obligation expressed only as “Fear of Divine Judgement” is often minimalistic; i.e. People perform the minimum amount they feel obligated to do and no more. This use of fear and secular authorities contradicts the primacy of freedom of a person’s conscience according to the Catechism.[5] 

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Now, this is not to say that we do not need the Church’s teaching office. As I stated earlier, it is necessary to have the boundaries of right and wrong set for us. However, laying out what the boundaries are is very different from supervising the conformity of an individual’s faith. As soon as you enforce the rules, you set yourself as opposed to anyone who does not follow every rule. The coercion into conformity is the basis of almost every argument against the Church. From Nietzsche and Karl Marx to the modern high school student; each one has a problem with the act of forcing conformity to a certain way of living. Moral theology is about determining what a person ought to do and communicating it with people. What good does it do people to use guilt, fear, coercion or state imprisonment as a way of forming someone’s conscience?

This has doomed the Catholic Church especially. We have people who are members of the Church, yet they feel as if they are also enemies of the Church. The role of the Christian church should be to help people understand why the rules exist so they can see that God desires their ultimate happiness. The church needs people who follow God’s will because they love God and because they trust that God knows and wants what is best for them. If they feel as if they are in opposition, they become consumers. They are Consumers of Sacraments, consumers of prayer and worship. Consumers do not volunteer, they do not fully engage in prayer and worship and they are quick to complain. This leads to a culture of whining. Consumers complain about inefficiency, volunteers complain about the non-volunteers, the fully engaged complain about the unengaged, the choir blames the people, the people blame the music, and the Church leader complains about everything.

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We need to build a culture of trust. Just as the teaching office needs to trust Christ, the people of God need to trust the teaching office of the Church. People need to be able to trust Church leaders and Church leaders need to trust people to judge themselves. This means we need to teach, as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 11:31, that if we are “more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment”. If people do not trust the Church it is the Church who has failed the people and it is the Church who must work to earn trust back.

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[1] Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations: Final Writings New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992 pg. 85

[2] Rahner, Theological Investigations: Final Writings

[3] Norman P. Tanner. “Papal Encyclicals Online” Kindle, Nook, EPUB: Last updated February 20, 2017, http://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum12-2.htm 21

[4] F. Stanley Lusby, Encyclopedia of Religion (Linda M. Tober; Detroit USA: Thomson Gale. 2005) 1941

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1790

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13 Reasons Why

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This is 13 reasons why adults should watch the new Netflix show “13 Reasons Why”. I wish you were hearing my slow deliberate voice through an old cassette player but it’s a blog…

(P.S. There are some spoilers ahead, although I think I warn just before I say them each time. But you’ve been warned!)

1. Your kid is watching it

First off, I’m not here to say if this show is appropriate for teenagers or not. I’m a Youth Minister and I decided to watch this show for the same reason I went to go see The Fault in Our Stars, because teenagers are going to watch it. You may not let them, but they may still watch it and you are going to want to have seen it if your kids start asking questions! I think as parents, teachers, youth ministers etc. we need to watch what they are watching, especially when it involves emotionally heavy content like this.

2. It’s actually good!

I am wrapped up in the characters of this show, I think it is well written and gripping television. Now it can be a little “teenagery” but I mean that is what the shows about! Like any good show though when that Netflix countdown starts it takes every ounce of me to turn it off at 2 am when I’ve already spent too much time watching it! I can’t stop watching it and I am emotionally involved with the characters, the sign of a good show!

3. It’s real

We can live in a fantasy world or we can admit this is basically what high school is like. I asked a high school student if the show was an accurate depiction of high school and she said it was dead on… be horrified! Now some things happen that are a little over the top but I think that is on purpose. When you are a teenager everything feels much more dramatic than it actually is, everything feels like it is life and death, and it is to a teenager. The difference is in this show it just is that dramatic. Ask your kids if they think this is an accurate depiction of high school, prepare for a yes!

4. It reminds you what it feels like to be 17

Oh the drama that was involved in being young, if you want to feel those dreaded feelings again watch the show. If not, well suck it up and watch it anyway! Watching this show is hard for me because I relate so much with Clay, the main character. High school was hard and awkward and I always felt so different from everyone and I’m sure that is true for many adults looking back. This show feels like your in high school all over again, I think that feeling helps us understand what its like to be 17 again. Your kids are probably dying to hear about what your high school experience was like, tell them about it even if you have to leave out some details…

5. Self-Reflection

In the show Clay judges everyone for the things they’ve done wrong and he tries to right everyone else’s wrongs. Until he gets to his tape and says “I’m just like everyone else.” I was writing this right before that episode and I was disappointed Clay came out as clean as he did. No one is innocent. What he does realize is that inaction can be just as bad as actions. This show made me think about who I was in high school, I was a good kid who didn’t party, but I judged everyone else. I only realized much later how arrogant and conceited I was being. I was hoping Clay would realize this too. The point though is to help us take a good long critical look at ourselves, a good message to reiterate to your kids.

6. Feeling Alone

There is a lot of loneliness going on in this show, Clay, Hannah, Jessica, Clay’s Mom, Hannah’s Mom, even Justin. A key reason people commit suicide and/or suffer from depression is loneliness. We should become more aware of our own loneliness and other people’s loneliness so we can talk about it. When people are lacking solid social supports it leads to addiction, depression and just bad decisions in general. It becomes harder in high school when you don’t know who you can trust and when you and everyone around you are trying to figure out who they are. We care about the kids we parent or work with but I know they don’t always feel like it, we need to continuously remind them that we are there for them.

9. Communication

I think this show is bringing to light how important good communication is between parents, kids, teachers, guidance counselors…etc. When I was a high schooler I had no secrets with my parents… mostly because I was a loser who didn’t drink or swear… This show reveals the importance of honest and open communication by showing the suffering that comes with keeping secrets. In the show the teenagers keep secrets from adults WAY too much! Use this as a teaching tool, as an opening into better communication between you and your kids. I think this is the most important thing to come out of this show.

7. Suicide

Suicide is real. Depression is real. It is happening more and more in teenagers and we need to be more aware of it and talk about it openly. However this show isn’t really about suicide or mental illness, it’s more about how our actions can hurt others, how doing the right thing at the right time can help in ways we may never see. A good person is someone who does the right thing even when no one is watching. This show reveals the worst consequences possible for making a bad choice. Talk to your kids about how every choice matters no matter how small we may think it is.

8. Ethics

The heart of this show is about doing the right thing no matter the consequences. It is also about the consequences of not doing the right thing. Some things are less serious than others but everything in the show has the cumulative consequence of Hannah killing herself (oh and spoiler alert: Jeff). Some things that happen make you wonder if any real wrong was actually done. Like when Zack doesn’t do anything after getting a note with a pretty deep confession from Hannah. Our actions matter and even our inaction can have huge consequences. 13 Reasons Why teaches us to say the things we need to say. Talk about consequences and about what “doing the right thing” means with your kids. I think they will surprise you with the depth of their thoughts on these big questions.

 

10. Sexual Assault

Spoiler Alert! A sexual assault takes place in the show. We hear increasing accounts of this exact thing happening in colleges and in adult life. We would be naive to think that this is not happening in high schools too. This is yet another issue that this show brings to the forefront and forces us to deal with whether we want to or not. Guys learn to be misogynists and, as a guy who was once in high school I can say, it starts in high school. Talk to teenage men about what kind of a man they want to be and what kind of man you expect them to be. Talk to teenage women about being safe and avoiding dangerous situations.

11. “Bullying”

I hate the term “bullying” because it has become meaningless. When I was a kid a bully was the kid who wore dirty clothes and stole your lunch money. Now we use it to describe everything from teasing to joking to a look. The one truth about human beings is that people are often terrible to each other, it’s a fact of life. It doesn’t matter how old you get or where you are in life some people are going to be awful to you. Clay’s Mom asks him “Are you being bullied at school?” I just want to ask her if she has ever left the house? Ever met another human? Everyone has been both bully and bullied. We are all guilty at some point in our life. The key is, cut the people who consistently treat you bad out of your life and hold on to the ones who treat you well. It took me a long time to figure this one out and I still feel the effects from the “friends” who treated me terribly. Talk to your kids about how to deal with people who are mean to them and how to treat others with respect. If we leave out the latter then we act as if everyone is a victim but everyone acts as the victim sometimes and the bully at other times.

12. It’s important

The issues addressed in this show are so important and relevant to our society and we are talking about them in simplified and cliche ways. Having real, deep and honest discussion about these issues with your kids is as difficult as it is necessary. If we don’t talk about these things, they will get worse and then they will happen to more and more young people. This show is all about paradigm shift, changing the culture by going against the grain. Even if you never watch this show, talk about this stuff at home, in classrooms, in churches etc. The heart wrench you feel when watching this show is what your kids are dealing with every single day.

13. Your kid is watching it and it’s real!

In the last episode you watch Hannah Baker kill herself in the bathtub. It is devastating. I do not think it is a good idea to let a teenager deal with the gravity of this show on their own. That’s what this show is trying to say. You will probably say something stupid or wrong or insensitive… Talk anyway. Your kid probably won’t want to talk about rape, depression, suicide, loneliness… Talk about it anyway. Don’t look at this show as another thing you have to deal with. Look at this show as a fantastic opportunity to open some discussion about things that are real in your kids life.  This is scary stuff but its a reality for them.

You’re not ready, I get it. You feel inadequate, I hear ya! You don’t know what to say, mhmm. 13 Reasons Why is a show about saying what needs to be said. It’s about doing what is right. It’s about not being a spectator. So parents, teachers, youth ministers, quit reading and go for it, and maybe say a prayer first!

 

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Brutality on Our Streets

Here is a song I recorded a long time ago with Ryan Scott on the drums. Our band at the time was called Fear of Falling. Ryan’s Uncle, Patrick Ballantyne, recorded us in his kitchen because his studio (Shark Tank Studios) was being renovated. This is probably my favourite song that I’ve ever written.

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