I like documentaries. I think it is an interesting way to learn about things in an auditory/visual way that maybe you don’t get from reading. Especially if the documentary is chronicling events as they are unfolding on the spot rather than retracing long gone history.
Some documentaries try to insert their own agenda into the film. That’s always disappointing. While others simply let the story unravel without their intervention.
The latter was what I saw in a documentary I watched last night. The title? “The Decline of Western Civilization Part III“. I DO NOT recommend watching this with kids around as it chronicles the punk rock scene of the mid-90’s…and more specifically the gutter punk scene which was a large scene of homeless punk rockers living on the streets in California. So simply keep that in mind if you decide to approach this film.
But what it offered to me was a glimpse into the condition of a lot of people in our society that I always knew was there, and even brought back a lot of memories of what I experienced with the youth in my first youth group as a blossoming youth pastor back in 2004.
You see, most of the kids in this film weren’t even in their 20’s yet, and most were living on the streets by the time they were 12 or 13. When asked why they were on the streets, the vast majority of them would say something like “Because my parents physically and/or sexually abused me and I needed to get away from that” or “My parents kicked me out and here I’ve been ever since.”
Another question they would ask the kids is, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Their response was startling to say the least…”Probably dead.”
A follow up question would inevitably come along of, “Doesn’t that make you feel sad to even think like that?” And their response was yet again startling…”No. Why should it? This world doesn’t want me, and I hate it here.”
Most of the kids they interviewed were already alcoholics and/or drug addicts before they were even out of their teens.
Sadly, a large portion of them came from Christian or at the very least “religious” homes. And even though most of them still had parents and a home they could go back to, they said they lived on the streets and in this manner because for them it was better than what they got at home and acted as a sort of community and family for them.
Ironically, if that’s even the appropriate word, one of the kids who, along with his girlfriend, was calling this scene a community and family was murdered by that very same girlfriend only months after filming. He was in the ground and she was in the pen waiting to be handed down her sentence.
The entire film was utterly heart breaking. I laid in my bed and couldn’t stop thinking about what I had just seen. After I fell asleep I even had some strange dreams about these kids.
Why? Because what I was watching took place in 1996-1997, and many of those kids were the same age as I was at the time. While little ol’ me on the east coast was traveling around the nation with my marching band, playing sports, going home to a loving home, having food on my table, and not worrying about the days ahead of me…there were kids my age on the west coast battling drug addiction, potentially getting stabbed in their sleep by a homeless skinhead, and generally fearing what both day and night would bring.
After watching I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them made it to their 20’s, or their 30’s, or eventually grew up to have a family of their own? How many were in the grave like the kid at the end of the film? How many were in jail? How many looked more like me than what they were in this film?
Who is to say? I would dare say it is probably a mixed bag of all of the above and more.
As I mentioned earlier, this film made me remember the kids in my first youth group that I pastored. Those kids weren’t punk rockers though. No, they were goth and emo kids. I mean I literally had an entire youth group of somewhere between 15-20 high school and middle school kids who were goth and/or emo.
Basically, they traded in their mohawks, and ripped up denim for white face paint and black eye liner, black finger nails, and trench coats.
But many of their problems were the same.
The kids in my first youth group struggled with drugs, sex (and one I know of an abortion), cutting themselves, suicidal thoughts, parents who physically and/or sexually abused them, and generally feeling rejected by society and their families.
I met some of their parents, and they were certainly a piece of work. They only really let them come along with me to the church and youth stuff because it kept them out of their hair and let them get drunk or stoned without interruption.
The home life of these punk rockers and goth/emo kids was in stark contrast to my own upbringing. My parents never made me feel unwanted. My parents never abused drugs or alcohol. My parents were involved in church, and kept me engaged in my faith. They never laid a hand on me outside of a hug or an act of discipline (like a good spanking) when I needed it. I didn’t grow up hating myself, hating my parents, or hating the world.
So you can imagine what the experience was like for me when I began to pastor my first youth group compromised of the exact opposite of what I knew as “normal”.
Two worlds collided.
There were certainly times of tension. I no doubt got frustrated when these kids would do some of the most insane things in the middle of a bible study. Things that a person like me would look at and go, “do you have any common sense?” Fact is…no…they didn’t.
But in that group I saw some of the most amazing things begin to happen.
I saw kids getting saved.
I saw them finding purpose.
I saw them finding a place to belong that actually cared about them.
One of the kids, who couldn’t have been but 5 or 6 years younger than me at the time once told me that I was the only father figure he had ever had in his life. You see, that boy’s mother got rid of him when he was a baby and gave him to his grandmother. Her reasoning? She didn’t want kids. He later found out he had siblings that came along not long after that still lived at home with his mom. He told me how much it hurt to think that his mom wanted his siblings but not him.
I started off being so frustrated with those kids. Who wouldn’t? When one of the kids drops down and lights a fart on fire as you’re trying to read the bible or pray during a youth meeting, it’s hard not to. But I grew to love them in a very deep way. Even to this day I think of them often, and miss them a lot.
If only I had kept up with them a little better after we moved away.
My point is simply this…God ordains moments that my pastor calls “Divine appointments”. He places people in our paths who need to hear what God has done in our lives…who need to see that there is a hope beyond anything they could begin to imagine. They need to know there is something better waiting for them.
Two worlds MUST collide for this to happen.
As believers, we have to condition our responses to the people we collide with to be less repulsion and more compassion. This doesn’t mean we don’t speak truth. This doesn’t mean we don’t stand firm on the guiding principles of God’s Word. This doesn’t mean we compromise.
It simply means that we must alter how we respond to receive them in their moment of pain and utter lostness (new word), to guide them to a moment of freedom and complete foundness (new word) in Christ.
It could take years.
It could take mere moments.
But God has ordained that moment for those two worlds to collide for a reason. Don’t be the one who misses out on an opportunity to have an eternal impact because you’re too busy sticking your nose in the air and crying “foul”.