Sunday, October 30, 2005

GR Marathon 3:17 … it’s the coffee

Marathoners in Grand Rapids couldn’t ask for a better day to run. The weather was beautiful, the sun was out, and the temps were in the 50’s… perfect marathon weather. We had 600 marathoners and 400 half-marathoners.

I stuck close to one of the marathon pacers today. The pacing team did a remarkable job keeping us on track and teaching us along the way. Here are a couple of reminders I remember…

• Touch your thumb to your ring finger when you run… it keeps you from making a fist, tensing up, and wasting energy.
• Save steps, consider your positioning on the course
• Be patient… let the marathon come to you.
• Relax… relax… relax.
• Everyone sees you at the start… but they record the finish.
• And then many of the runners wanted the pacers to tell them about Boston… which was fascinating to me and will be the subject of my next post.

I ran a consistent race. I would have loved to break 3:15 but just didn’t have enough gas at the end. The 3:17 is enough for me to qualify for the Boston Marathon, so that’s pretty cool. I’ll have to see if we’ll do it. The secret weapon for me today… coffee. I usually don’t drink it before a race. Today, I had a half-cup during my pre-race routine and I think it helped. Even if it didn’t, it felt good to drink coffee!

Mucho thanks to the best fans in the world- the Argue and Livermore girls! They were awesome cheerleaders and even threw leaves at me at mile 16. All the kiddos liked the go-gurt at the end of the race, food station.

Oh, and I’m going to lose a toenail. I think that’s cool.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

getting a good number...

There's one advantage to having a last name that begins with "A"... you usually get a good number. I'm 24 for this race. Speaking of 24... less than 24 hours till we get this party started. Can't wait.

My friend Chris got some great news from the Mayo Clinic this week. Looks like his cancer is less serious than originally anticipated. This is wonderful news for him and his family. My run for him tomorrow will feel like a celebration.

I saw a great sign at the expo today:

Run world, run.

That about sums it up.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Grand Rapids Marathon– October 30, 2005

This Sunday I’m running the Grand Rapids Marathon. It will be my 10th marathon. Ironically, the first one I ran back in the early ‘90s was after I recovered from back surgery. Each one of these is a thrill and a big “thank you” for my recovery and the chance to run.

The challenge in a marathon is that one has to plan for it and train over the long haul. No one can spontaneously decide to do one. For first-timers, I like to tell them that the race is actually the victory lap after months of training and miles.

I’ve gone through three pairs of shoes and 800 miles to get ready for this one.

What makes this race special for me is that I’m dedicating my run to a friend and college roommate who was just diagnosed with cancer. Pray for Chris’ healing as he and his family run a greater race than I can ever imagine…

Monday, October 24, 2005

Little Girls, Sr. Citizens, and How a Funeral Really Goes…

I’ve had a hard time writing since the funeral, as everything seems so trite in comparison. So here’s my feeble attempt to unpack my weekend…

So how does a funeral really “go?”
People have been kind to me all weekend asking me “How did it go?” I know what they mean. They mean, “We’re thinking of you,” “We’re with you,” “We’ve prayed,” or “We’re sorry for all of this.” It’s rather encouraging to know that many are so concerned for Branden’s family and for those who knew him.

But how does a funeral really go? Can we say “good?” Funerals are horrible. No matter how look at them, they are about loss of loved one. We can say that one who has died is “with Jesus in heaven” but that only reminds me that this same one is not here with us… there’s little comfort in that at all, especially for a family.

Do we say that a funeral goes ‘badly?” I can’t vouch for this either. Christian funerals embrace the grief of a loss in a loved one but hold on to the present hope rooted Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of all things. The grave is not the end, though now we feel it’s devastating effects.

I guess a funeral… is a funeral… and is filled with “If onlys…”, grief, and hope all balled up into one. It’s certainly not linear. I don’t think one ever really gets over a death. Those who love deeply, grieve deeply. Those who love a lifetime, grieve a lifetime. Maybe that’s why John sees Jesus bursting into tears. The face of Jesus, for me this week, is a person with bloodshot eyes… and continual tears.

So a funeral goes. And as this past funeral went… I discovered something about myself. A few images have been seared into my memory…

First, during the wake, there was an adorable little girl, maybe 3 years old, standing by her parents, oblivious that here she was next to the coffin… and she was dancing in her little three-year-old way. I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast of a grieving line of people and, next to them, a dancing 3 year old. Though it’s not true throughout the world, I see a protection over kids from having to face life’s hard realities to soon. She wanted to dance. She felt like dancing at the wake. Truthfully, there was something beautiful and hopeful in it.

Second, I noticed that older people knew how to handle death better than younger adults.
I never know what to say. I fumble for words and feel completely inadequate. Older people who have been through death seem to have a calming effect on me. They speak good words. They are present … almost comfortable. I found myself staring at the older generation to find grounding in the mist of so much upheaval around me and in me.

And so I thought about myself.
I think I just want to just dance… all the time.
I want to be oblivious to tragedy around me and find some excuse to dance and play and ignore the hard parts of life. I even find myself getting frustrated when hard times take me away from my dancing… and I long for more of what the older generation has… an embracing, rather than an avoiding of death.

This isn’t pessimism.
Nor is it the end of dancing.
But maybe I’m discovering how much of a hard-life aversion I have. And this aversion is creating in me a myopic view of the world.

The more I embrace death and suffering, the more solidarity I have with the world and this is where hope may find it’s greatest meaning. This seems to be the way of a dancing and blood-shot eyed Jesus who embraces the cross and calls us to do the same…

These words were my mantra for me and others this weekend. Thank you David Crowder…

Deliver me out of the sadness
Deliver me from all the madness
Deliver me courage to guide me
Deliver me Your strength inside me

All of my life
I've been in hiding
Wishing there was someone just like You
Now that You're here
Now that I've found You
I know that You're the One to pull me through

Deliver me loving and caring
Deliver me giving and sharing
Deliver me this cross that I'm bearing

Oh, deliver me

Jesus, Jesus how I trust You
How I've proved You o'er and o'er
Jesus, Jesus precious Jesus
Deliver me
Come and pull me through
Come pull me through

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Remembering Branden Atherton 1981-2005

Tragic news this week.

Branden, a former student from our youth Ministry at Elmbrook Church, was involved in a tragic, highway accident early Sunday morning in Wisconsin. I am headed to Milwaukee tomorrow and will be speaking his funeral on Friday. Read the Story

Please pray for the Atherton family, close friends, the students and families at Chippewa Falls HS where Branden was student teaching, and his friends at UW Eau Claire. Our love and prayers go out to all the families of those killed in this terrible accident.

We grieve with you.

I am stunned.
It’s not supposed to be like this.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Youth Specialties- Pittsburgh: Women and Balance

We had a great time at NYWC – Pittsburgh this weekend. Thanks to all of you who came to our seminars. The continual feedback we’re gaining is helping us present our own material more clearly. On a separate note, I never tire of listening to David Crowder.

So I took my own advice and went to a YS seminar that I recommended on Saturday morning called “Balancing Your Life as a Woman in Youth Ministry,” led by Kara Powell of Fuller Seminary. I was the only guy there and maybe I experienced, first hand, what it feels like to be the minority gender in a ministry context.

I’m embarrassed to say that, in past conferences, attending a course like this hasn’t been on my radar screen. I am a guy, after all. Further, I wondered if my presence would make me look like a spy, a needy male, or a party crasher. So I snuck in the back and tried to go unnoticed. Like any good presenter, Kara started her session by asking who was in youth ministry, who was married to a youth pastor, who was a mother, etc. and as she got more specific on women’s categories, she (and others) quickly noticed that I didn’t fit them! I was warmly greeted by her and braced myself for the inevitable question, verbalizing what many of the women were probably thinking, “Why are you here?”

It’s rare that I feel nervous speaking up in a group, but this was one of those times! I answered the question by saying that I was here to learn and gain perspective from a group of people that make up over half of the church.

A deeper reason for me being there might be my increasing realization of how skewed my perceptions can be. I don’t mean to depreciate myself other than to state that we all bring our perspectives to the way we view and live in our worlds. My experiences, among other things, come from a male (white, suburban, privileged, etc.) background. My perceived needs for the church, community, world, start with assumptions based on my perspective and I’m realizing that unless I’m willing to listen and to change, my teaching, counseling, leading, speaking, and living will lean in a disproportionate direction and I’ll miss the broader (majority) perspective.

Further, I believe that if we think of the world systemically, the balance in the life of women is not merely a woman’s issue, but a community issue where, if my male friends are honest, we men have probably contributed to the imbalance in lives of women. If we’re part of the problem, I better be willing to be part of the solution.

So I came to learn and listen. I have great respect for Kara and for her expertise and I wanted to hear how others in the room would process her questions and comments. So here are a few take-aways of what I heard…

- Women feel imbalanced due to the pressures and expectations they put on themselves. The internal pressures seem to out-pressure the external pressures. When Kara asked the group which seemed to be a stronger force in their imbalance, all in the class said their internal pressure was greater than external pressure.

- Women feel knocked off-balance by the mixed-messages they receive, especially in the church– they are to be strong… but not too strong; they are to be nice… but not too nice; they are to be attractive… but not too attractive; they are to be competent… but not too competent; they are to lead well… but not lead too much; they have authority… but not too much authority, etc. etc.

- Kara called for women in ministry to seek balance of soul, relationships, and ministry. This becomes increasingly difficult as the relationship category grows with being married and having children. As much as the husbands can share in the caring for children, a lot still falls on the woman and they feel this pressure (and it’s a legitimate pressure as studies show that women work an hour more per day than men when home and work hours are factored in!).

What also struck me was that here was a group of women who really desired to pursue balance in their lives. I wonder if it’s a losing battle if we say that balance in women’s lives is only a women’s issue. Seems like we’re just heaping more pressure… and imbalance on them.

I wonder what would happen if more men began to show up at seminars like Kara’s. It certainly would change the dynamic and maybe take away from the affinity focus. But what a wonderful problem this would be! I urge more men to attend Kara’s seminar in Nashville! Kara, I hope that’s okay.

As for me, I have an amazing wife, Jen, and three incredible daughters. I hope to learn how to be a balancing force… and not an absent or negative force in their life pursuits. And this certainly means striving toward my own life-balance of soul, relationships, and ministry.


Ah… so sweet. Just had to share my joy with you all.

I bet my Gopher friend, Joe, that whoever lost this game, would have to put the opposing team’s letter on their site.
So, please go to Joe’s blog, touch the red “W” and leave a Badger message on his site. I don’t want him to forget this glorious moment.

On Wisconsin!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Youth Specialties: National Youth Workers Convention- Pittsburgh, PA– October 13-17

Dave and I will be at the YS NYWC this week in Pittsburgh, PA. If you’re in the neighborhood, look me up. I have margin, especially on Friday to hang out over a good cup of joe.

We were really glad for the response we received in Sacramento. A lot of thoughtful, passionate youth workers showed up. We're look forward to leading our two seminars again...

Oct 15 (Sat) 2.00-4.30 PM (Super Seminar)
  • “Pursuing a Theological Matrix for Youth Ministry: Intersecting Theology with Real-Life Youth Ministry”

  • Our approach to shepherding has been to recognize that there are many lenses that create our own matrix of understanding and interpretation that quickly spill over into our leadership, shepherding, and following of Jesus. We’ll share what we’re discovering and move it very quickly toward case studies and group dialogue.

    Oct 16 (Sun) 8.00-9.30 AM (Seminar 4)
  • “What is the Gospel?: Helping Students Articulate their Faith”

  • This has less to do with “evangelism” and much more to do with how we frame the story of God and help students embrace what they (and we) are actually a part of.

    There's a lot of great seminars from which to to choose. The ones that seem to float to the top my list for Pittsburgh and may be worth a look are...

    Dan Kimball (Friday, 10/14, Seminar 1)
  • “New Generations, New Questions: Issues We Need to Address that Our Emerging Culture is Asking”

  • Kara Powell (Saturday, 10/15, Seminar 2)
  • “Balancing Your Life as a Woman in Youth Ministry”

  • Will Penner (Sunday, 10/16, Seminar 4)
  • “Sacred Journeys: Recapturing the Value of Pilgrimage”

  • Tony Campolo (Sunday, 10/16, Seminar 4)
  • “Christians in Politics”

  • Tony Jones, Duffy Robins, Dan Kimball (Sunday, 10/16, Seminar 5)
    Also, see my reflections on this conversation in Sacramento...
  • “Postmodernism: Good and/or Bad? A Brotherly Conversation,”

  • Don Perini (Sunday, Oct 16, Seminar 5 )
  • “Healing the Spiritually Abused Teen”

  • Chap Clark (Monday, 10/17, Seminar 6)
  • “Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenager”

  • Oh... and the picture above? I'm dong my Toby Mac impersonation...
    I'll keep you posted. Peace...

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    The World of Challenging the Call...

    My other observation from my trip to the Big House this weekend, had to do with the number of plays that were challenged. In the pros, and now in college football, teams can challenge the referee’s calls. The plays are reviewed in the press box and referees plays either stand or are overturned, to the boos or cheers of the fans. Our seats where right by the “red phone.” Note that Lynn Swan is in the tan suit, too.

    People have opinions on challenging the play. I could hear it in the stands around me. Some think it’s a great idea, while others think it wrecks the spirit of the game. Nobody likes it when the call goes against them.

    I wonder if there is not something to notice about this phenomenon in Christian circles. I wonder if many people are threatened by questions and the challenge that some call for to re-think theological ‘calls.’ Maybe some think that it wrecks the spirit, or slows down the ‘mission’ of the church. Maybe some like it when calls are just made and everyone just lives with it.

    But if we, as people, are called to seek the truest reality we can, are not challenges part of the mission, the journey, the calling? Challenges of behavior, tradition, practices, and theology, have been, and must be part of our faith dna, or else we rest on a tradition that feels more like sentimentality than a passionate pursuit.

    I hope Jesus followers live as questioners who are willing to not only ask questions that challenge the world in which we live, but who are also willing to challenge their own faith community of which they are connected. The trick is, that challenges go both ways. If we are willing to challenge, I hope we have a gracious spirit to be challenged, and all this is for the purpose of, together, attempting to see things a little more clearly.

    The Little Brown Jug…

    This past weekend, I went with my good friend JP to the Michigan game. As a Wisconsin Badger alum, it was a bit strange to walk into a sea of 100,000 blue and maize fans, when “red and white” feels much more at home to me. Nonetheless, it was a terrific game against Minnesota, and now as an official Michigander, I found myself rooting for the home team.

    The sad part for Michigan, was that they lost on a final second field goal. The rivalry between Michigan and Minnesota centers around… a little brown jug. As I understand it, about 100 years ago, Michigan and Minnesota played each other and Minnesota left their little brown water jug at Michigan by mistake. They asked for it back, and Michigan said that they only way they could get it back would be when they won the annual football game. The battle for the jug has raged ever since. And, for the lat 16 years (since the late 80’s!), Michigan has had the jug… until this weekend.

    When the clock ran out, there was a mad dash by the Minnesota players to the Michigan sidelines to reclaim the jug. The team and the 50 Minnesota fans… silenced the blue and maize masses. It was quite a site.

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005


    There once were boys and girls who loved their parents. Their dad and mom loved them and were good to them. They fed them, protected them, and played with them. Sometimes the children got in trouble, but the mom or dad was quick to discipline them and the kids learned quickly what was acceptable and what was not.

    As the kids grew, they had more questions for dad and mom about home, relationships, and life. The parents tried their best to answer their questions in order to keep them fed, protected, and happy.

    Some of the kids found mom and dad's answers satisfying and felt right at home.
    Others found their answers meaningless but played along because they liked to be fed, protected, and happy.
    Still others were seeking to understand their home and their world and would ask their dad and mom more and more questions.

    As the kids grew up, the parents continued to do their best to keep their kids fed, protected, and happy.

    The kids who were satisfied with mom and dad’s answers seemed to be very happy at home, and felt no need (and were even afraid) to venture out. Mom and dad encouraged that.

    The kids, who found mom and dad’s answers wanting, began to venture outside the home. Sometimes they would tell them where they were going, a lot of times they just snuck out. And they began to see that the world mom and dad described, was not as black and white as they made it to be. This made living at home harder and the food, protection and fun felt more and more suffocating.

    The kids, who kept asking more and more questions, began to really annoy the mom and dad. Whether it was fear for them, fear for themselves, or them just not knowing how to handle the situation, they began to discipline their questioning kids. They appealed to the family rules and threatened them saying, this is what it means to be in the family. Believe or else.

    The questions kept coming.

    They resorted to harsher discipline, taking away privileges, withholding allowances, grounding them from activities… and making more rules.

    The questions kept coming.

    Finally, they told the questioning children, “Stop with the questions!” Your questions about home and relationships and life are dangerous questions that threaten our home. Stop questioning and believe or declare that this house isn’t your home and leave.

    So was the family who grew up and lived. Today the children are scattered and few are fed, protected, and happy… and all are looking for home.

    They, who have ears, let them hear.

    Sunday, October 02, 2005

    Postmodernism- Good or Bad?

    I decided to hit the Saturday, 8AM seminar with Duffy Robins and Tony Jones, moderated by Dan Kimball. As from the title, this seminar was designed to be a softer, more positive discussion than the one set up a few years ago with a panel (of which Tony, Duffy, and Dan were on) that was called “Crossfire.” That experience was exhilarating, but left too many loose ends for youth pastors still trying to get their arms around modern-postmodern debate and the implications for their youth ministries.

    Today’s dialogue was much more constructive and in some ways enlightening. Kudos to both Tony and Duffy for their thoughtful, provoking, and kind words to each other. Thanks to Dan for always bringing it back to the pragmatic (and I mean that in the best sense).

    As I thought about the exchange, there was one statement that came out that probably (in my mind) captured some of the tension/confusion/misunderstanding/angle on the modern-postmodern dialogue.

    The statements came out of a question. And the question asked by Dan was, “How would you define the Gospel?”

    Duffy commented on Jesus’ words, “The Son of man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Lk 19.18)
    Tony said, “I can’t give you one.”

    I understand Duffy. I resonate with Tony. I’m waiting for Dan’s follow up question.
    Let me explain…

    I understand Dufffy…
    More specifically, I understand where Duffy is coming from. I do not believe that Duffy is trying to be a reductionist. Rather, he is using this statement as a basic starting point from which people can start to understand Christianity. He regularly said throughout the seminar that current constructs do not need to be overhauled, but merely modified because the foundational assumptions still stand. I respect his position and understand it, but I’ve seen too many people simply stick with a foundational assumption as the total truth and never move from square one.

    I resonate with Tony…
    Tony explained that there was no way he could (or would) fall into the modern trap of reducing the gospel to a one-word sentence. How does one reduce the gospel to… a statement? The gospel is experienced, discovered, and grown into through community, relationships, through life. Thus when people attempt to reduce a complex belief to a statement, it’s meaning is distorted (at best) or it’s statements are used as litmus tests for “orthodoxy” (at worst). I don’t belief that Tony is saying that the Gospel is immaterial. I think he’s saying just the opposite and I couldn’t agree with him more.

    This leaves me waiting for Dan’s follow-up question…
    Dan has a way of bringing discussions back to the every-day youth pastor world. He did a good job moderating today. I think he’d ask next, “now what?” And actually, the last question was asked by a youth pastor (I’m paraphrasing), “I’m in a modern church yet a resonate with a lot of the emergent thinking. How do I live in both worlds so as to be consistent with my beliefs and respectful to my leaders?” (Interestingly, a similar question was asked at the McLaren, Wittmer, Dobson panel a few weeks ago (see earlier post)).

    With the evident conversation/conflict in many of our churches, is the conflict over semantics, or epistemology, or a about a different theology? Semantics can be ironed out, epistemology challenges our approach, theology forces us to re-think our assumptions, re-visit our metaphors, and re-define our terminology.

    Lest we think this is an esoteric exercise. We are faced with more teens than ever unable to articulate their faith and rising percentages of teens and adults leaving the institutional church. However we process the preceding paragraph is probably how we’ll attempt to respond to the concerns in this paragraph. We can protest existing churches or fire emergent leaders, call modern and postmodern good or bad, but the questions will remain and the problems won’t go away until we address these central issues.

    Saturday, October 01, 2005

    YS National Youth Workers Convention- Sacramento!

    So we made it! The conference is off to a good start. I’m mulling over my reflections. More to come…

    The first of our sessions is this afternoon.

    Livermore took this shot and stopped traffic to make it happen (kudos to him).