So the 'yob culture' is back in the news with a brutal attack on an elderly war veteran, and a juvenile crime rate ever increasing. Whether these young 'hooligans' are racially motivated or just bent on destruction the results are pretty much the same - life is at risk and fear is on the streets. This week we've heard more suggestions for addressing the problem: a call for long custodial sentences, compulsory community service, or offering material incentives for youngsters to stay out of trouble.
I feel that these well-intentioned answers often miss the target, because they don't realise that beneath the obvious visible issues, is a fundamental spiritual problem. For the 'yob culture' is not just a culture of crime and vandalism; not just youngsters enjoying themselves perversely at the neighbourhood's expense. It's also a culture of despair with high levels of self-inflicted violence, pent-up destructive anger and growing rates of suicide. It's an example of what one sociologist calls a 'sibling socety' where deeply troubled children parent each other, and adults back off from constructive, committed involvement. The problem at its heart isn't simply one of behaviour, or even of masculinity. It's a crisis of identity - a lack of meaning, purpose, point, direction.
Christians are having to face this issue in how we use our resources. We're now freeing up more young adults to work among adolescents, engaging with youth culture, encouraging teenagers in their own church gatherings. Christian youth leaders have moved into troubled housing estates just to hang around with youngsters, to listen to them, and give them that precious ingredient which is so short in our culture - time. It's an effective way forward, following the model of Christ, who shared his life with the people he came to serve. It's also a costly, high risk strategy. Christ was executed. Youth workers get mugged.
But it does take seriously the way in which behaviour and spritual issues go together, and recognizes that finding faith in God has life changing implications. For angry young people, God's relationship with them offers identity and new purpose, meaning and worth; and shows them a love that removes the need to be destructive.